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Posted October 11, 2019 - 6:05am
Parashat Ha'azinu (Deuteronomy 32:1-32:52)

This week’s Torah portion is only a single chapter long. The Ha’azinu, the Song of Moses, spans all fifty-two verses of our Torah portion. When reading this parashah, there are several questions that come up. We will only have time to answer a few at this time. 

First, in a Torah scroll the Song of Moses is written in two columns, rather than one. Why does this passage merit this unique rendering? The song opens with the words:

Give ear, O heavens, and I will speak, and let the earth hear the words of my mouth. (Deuteronomy 32:1)

Moses introduces this song by calling upon two witnesses: the heavens and the earth. The Torah sets a precedent that a matter is only established by the testimony of two witnesses (Deuteronomy 19:15). By calling on both the heavens and the earth, Moses establishes his two witnesses against the Children of Israel to hold them accountable for their actions. The two columns of the Torah scroll are a reminder of this fact: two witness are being called to the stand; two witnesses are watching the Children of the Most High at all times.

Second, why does Moses ask both the heavens and the earth to listen to him? Why are the heavens and the earth called to be witnesses against humans? Just before giving us the details of the creation of man in Genesis 2, the Torah tells us that man is the combined product of both heaven and earth:

These are the generations [toldot] of the heavens and the earth. (Genesis 2:4)

The word toldot can mean generations, offspring, genealogy, etc. Man was made as a combination of both heaven and earth when the Creator breathed a small portion of Himself into the dust of the earth. Heaven and earth, therefore, are partially responsible to oversee the actions of mankind.

Posted October 3, 2019 - 12:43pm
Parashat Vayelech (Deuteronomy 31:1-31:30)

Parashat Vayelech, one of the shortest portions in the Torah, is only thirty verses long. However, if we look carefully, we can find within it a recipe for rebellion:

For I know how rebellious and stubborn you are. Behold, even today while I am yet alive with you, you have been rebellious against the LORD. How much more after my death! (Deuteronomy 31:27)

This passage is written as a kal vachomer, an argument going from the light to the heavy: If A is true, then how much more so is B also true. Moses recognized that if the Children of Israel rebelled and strayed against the Torah’s instruction while he was with them to take them by the hand and guide them in its requirements, how much more would they stray from it after his death. But who rebels against God’s commands and why?

There are generally two types of rebels. The first is the one who simply denies the truth and the authority of the Scripture and walks in outright rebellion against it. There’s nothing spectacular about this. There will be those in every generation who follow this path. The second type, however, is one who claims that Scripture is still authoritative, yet rationalizes his behavior based on his own interpretations, rather than following the mesorah, the accepted interpretations and traditions. This is the more deceptive road to a wayward life. Let’s explore the implications of this.

Posted September 27, 2019 - 6:13am

The Hidden And The Revealed

This week’s Torah portion is a continuation of Moses’ adjuration to the Children of Israel to faithfully obey the instructions the LORD has given them in the form of the commandments. The Children of Israel are about to renew their covenant with the LORD before entering into the Promised Land. In the midst of this, Moses tells them:

The hidden [things] belong to the LORD our God, but the [things that are] revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this Torah. (Deuteronomy 29:28 [29])

Most commentators understand this passage to be speaking about various types of sins. The “hidden” are the types of sins in a person’s life that were done unwittingly, and have not been revealed to him yet. According to this interpretation, a person is not responsible for those sins. They are the LORD’s responsibility, as the Psalmist states, “Who can discern his errors? Cleanse me from hidden faults” (Psalm 19:13). Obvious sins—“revealed” ones—however, we are personally responsible for. We will be held accountable for these sins.

However, I would like to suggest an alternate interpretation. What are the hidden and the revealed? What if they are the responsibilities of the two beings that support and sustain the world: the responsibility of God and the responsibility of man? Maybe we should think of the hidden things as the under workings of Creation, the hidden components of physical existence. As we know, these are entirely in the hands of Hashem. We have no control over them. But the revealed things are something entirely different. These are the things that place the world’s existence into our own hands. According to Simeon the Righteous, there are three components of our responsibility to insure against the collapse of the world:

Posted September 17, 2019 - 5:00pm
Parashat Ki Tavo (Deuteronomy 26:1-29:8[9])

When the Torah says things in an unusual way, it’s usually to teach us an important lesson. Normally, when we think of a person’s comings and goings, it is from the perspective of first leaving a place and then returning to it. The Torah, however, has a different frame of reference: 

Blessed shall you be when you come in, and blessed shall you be when you go out. (Deuteronomy 28:6)

According to the Torah, a person first enters and then departs. Rabbi Yochanan interprets this to mean that our coming in and going out are the points by which we enter and depart from this world:

“Blessed shalt thou be when thou comest in, and blessed shalt thou be when thou goest out” — that thine exit from the world shall be as thine entry therein: just as thou enterest it without sin, so mayest thou leave it without! (b.Bava Metzia 107a)

The point at which man comes into this world is his birth; his going out is his death. The thing we call life is that short span between these two points. We are merely sojourners during the course of our life here in this world.

Rabbi Yochanan connects these two points of entrance and departure with the common theme of blessing. He says that just as a person enters this world without sin, a person is truly blessed if he is also able to leave this world without sin. But how do we do this? Is it even possible? Evidently, Paul thought it was. His hope was to deliver his disciples into the hands of Yeshua “pure and blameless”:

And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. (Philippians 1:9–11)

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Latest Book Review

The Magerman Edition

Author: Daniel Rose & Jay Goldmintz
Publisher: Koren Publishers
Year: 2014

The Koren Ani Tefilla Siddur is one of the latest in Koren’s growing collection of siddurim (prayer books) geared towards a specific demographic. Koren describes Ani Tefilla as “an engaging and thought-provoking siddur for the inquiring high school student and thoughtful adult.” Koren says that Ani Tefillah has been developed in order “to help the user create their own meaning and connection during the Tefilla [prayer] experience.” The name of the siddur is connected with its objective. Ani Tefilla means “I pray.” 

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