Gaining Credibility in Order to Give Effective Critique

Gaining Credibility in Order to Give Effective Critique

Accounting for an odd place-name by interpreting it as reflecting an aggressive argument unleashed by Moshe in defense of the Jewish people.

In R. Jonathan Sacks’ internet Devar Tora for Parashat Devarim, “The Effective Critic”, he begins by citing a Talmudic passage that seeks to explain the last place-name in the Parasha’s opening verse:

Devarim 1:1

These are the words which Moshe spoke unto all Israel beyond the Jordan; in the wilderness, in the Arava, over against Suf, between Paran and Tofel, and Lavan, and Chatzeirot, and Di Zahav.

(While R. Sacks notes that the last place, i.e., Di Zahav, “hasn’t been mentioned before, nor is it mentioned again anywhere else in TaNaCh, the same could be said for “Tofel,” and even “Lavan” does not have an exact parallel referent.

Arava—BeMidbar 25:1
Suf—Shemot 15:4
Paran—BeMidbar 10:12
Lavan—Devarim 3:25 (~Lavanon)
Chatzeirot—BeMidbar 11:35
Di Zahav–???

Ibn Ezra on Devarim 1:1 s.v. Bein Paran U’Bein Tofel VeLavan, VeChatzeirot VeDi Zahav suggests that at least some of these places had alternative names and that is why we have difficulty identifying them. The fact that the same evaluation of Di Zahav could be made regarding other places in Devarim 1:1 does not apparently deter the Midrash from making its homiletical comment.)

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Tisha B’Av and the Shoa—Events that Should Not Be Intermingled

Tisha B_Av and the Shoa—Events that Should Not Be Intermingled

Revisiting the thoughts of a spiritual giant associated with the Shoa.

In R. Binyamin Lau’s third essay for Parashat Devarim, i.e., Shabbat Chazon

(known as such because of the first verse of the Haftara, [Yeshayahu 1:1] “’Chazon’ [the vision] of Yeshayahu the son of Amotz, which he saw concerning Yehuda and Yerushalayim, in the days of Uzziahu, Yotam, Ahaz, and Chizkiyahu, kings of Yehuda.”),

entitled “Chazon Kasheh SheBeChulan—Mah Bein Tet B’Av LeShoa?” (Etnachta: Kriyot BeParashat HaShavua, Vol. 2, Yediot Acharonot, Tel Aviv, 2009, pp. 427-31), he begins by quoting a sermon by R. Kolonimus Kalman Shapiro, the Rebbe of Piaseczno, Poland, delivered on Shabbat Chazon, 1942, the last Shabbat on which he was able to address his Chassidim before the horrific terrors imposed by the Nazi invaders culminating in his murder at the end of 1943, and included in the collection Aish Kodesh, published in the 1960’s.

R. Shapiro commented in this sermon on the following Midrash:

(Beraishit 15:1 “After these things the Word of the LORD came unto Avram in a vision, saying: Fear not, Avram, I Am thy Shield, thy reward shall be exceeding great.”)

Beraishit Rabba 44:6

Divine Communication Is represented by 10 expressions: 1) Nevua, 2) Chazon, 3) Hatafa, 4) Dibur, 5) Amira, 6) Tzivui, 7) Massa, 8) Mashal, 9) Melitza, 10) Chida.

And which is the most difficult? R. Eliezer says: 2) “Chazon,” as it is said: (Yeshayahu 21:2) “A grievous vision is declared unto me: The treacherous dealer dealeth treacherously, and the spoiler spoileth. Go up, O Eilam! Besiege, O Media! All the sighing thereof have I Made to cease.” …

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Accounting for the Attribution of Yitro in Shemot, but not in Devarim

Accounting for the Attribution of Yitro in Shemot, but not in Devarim

Comparing Yitro’s recommendation in Shemot with Moshe’s recapitulation in Devarim.

In R. Amnon Bazak’s first essay for Parashat Devarim, “Atzat Yitro VeHa’atzat Moshe” ((Nekudat Peticha: Iyunim Ketzarim BePeshuta Shel Parashat HaShavua, Machon Tzomet, Alon Shevut, 5766, pp. 185-6), he compares the accounts of Yitro’s recommendations in Shemot regarding the appointing of judges to assist Moshe in leading the people, and Moshe’s recollections some forty years later of these events:

Shemot 18:13-26

13 And it came to pass on the morrow, that Moshe sat to judge the people; and the people stood about Moshe from the morning unto the evening. 14 And when Moshe’s father-in-law saw all that he did to the people, he said: What is this thing that thou doest to the people? Why sittest thou thyself alone, and all the people stand about thee from morning unto even? 15 And Moshe said unto his father-in-law: Because the people come unto me to inquire of God; 16 When they have a matter, it cometh unto me; and I judge between a man and his neighbor, and I make them know the Statutes of God, and His Laws. 17 And Moshe’s father-in-law said unto him: The thing that thou doest is not good. 18 Thou wilt surely wear away, both thou, and this people that is with thee; for the thing is too heavy for thee; thou art not able to perform it thyself alone. 19 Hearken now unto my voice, I will give thee counsel, and God Be with thee: be thou for the people before God, and bring thou the causes unto God. 20 And thou shalt teach them the Statutes and the Laws, and shalt show them the way wherein they must walk, and the work that they must do. 21 Moreover thou shalt provide out of all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating unjust gain; and place such over them, to be rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens. 22 And let them judge the people at all seasons; and it shall be, that every great matter they shall bring unto thee, but every small matter they shall judge themselves; so shall they make it easier for thee and bear the burden with thee. 23 If thou shalt do this thing, and God has Commanded thee so, then thou shalt be able to endure, and all this people also shall go to their place in peace. 24 So Moshe hearkened to the voice of his father-in-law, and did all that he had said. 25 And Moshe chose able men out of all Israel, and made them heads over the people, rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens. 26 And they judged the people at all seasons: the hard causes they brought unto Moshe, but every small matter they judged themselves.

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Faith in the Tradition of The Nine Days

Faith in the Tradition of The Nine Days

In a recent FaceBook Devar Tora discussing the Nine Days, Sivan Rahav-Meir quotes R. Yoni Levi, who attempts to offer a spiritual sense of what these days, beginning with Rosh Chodesh Menachem Av and culminating in Tisha B’Av, should ideally signify to the contemporary Jew.

R. Levi states unequivocally that we are not commemorating the destruction of particular buildings, i.e,. the First and Second Temples, but rather a spiritual context and environment. However, our challenge is to sense and call to mind the lack of something that we have never actually personally experienced. The two metaphors for such a phenomenon that R. Levi invokes, are:

1) We are like poor people who have no awareness that they are poor, and how rich they could be.

2) We are taking our first steps, whereas we are meant to fly in a jet.

(The first of the two metaphors calls to mind Talmudic passages, a Midrash,  and the comment of a relatively recent Rabbinic authority:

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Different Perspectives Vis-à-vis the Stranger

Different Perspectives Vis-à-vis the Stranger

How should the “other” be viewed by those “inside” Judaism?

In Professor Hannah Kasher’s 2014 essay on Parashat Devarim, “’Hear Out your Brethren—Between any Man and his Brother and his Stranger’—On Brotherhood and Whom It Includes”, she calls attention to the diverse opinions regarding the identity of the “stranger” in Devarim 1:16, as well as other contexts within the bible.

Devarim 1:16

And I charged your judges at that time, saying: Hear the causes between your brethren, and judge righteously between a man and his brother, and his stranger.”

An “Aggadic” standard that suggests and extreme negative definition.

Kasher first references several verses with respect to the experiences of Avraham and Lot. Avraham states that because he and Lot are “brothers,” it is a high value that peace exist between them:

Beraishit 13:8

And Avram said unto Lot: Let there be no strife, I pray thee, between me and thee, and between my herdmen and thy herdmen; for we are brethren.

Avraham’s determination to rescue Lot is based upon his recognition that he has special responsibilities towards his “brothers”:

Ibid. 14:14-6

14 And when Avram heard that his brother was taken captive, he led forth his trained men, born in his house, three hundred and eighteen, and pursued as far as Dan. 15 And he divided himself against them by night, he and his servants, and smote them, and pursued them unto Chova, which is on the left hand of Damascus. 16 And he brought back all the goods, and also brought back his brother Lot, and his goods, and the women also, and the people.

Lot appears to wish to expand the universe of brotherhood by including the inhabitants of Sodom, his chosen place to live, within its implications:

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Character Development as Part of Teaching

Character Development as Part of Teaching

Trying to determine what the book of Devarim is really about.

In R. Aharon Lichtenstein’s 2003 presentation for Parashat Devarim, “Moshe Rabbeinu—Educator Par Excellence”, he posits that the very first sentence of the Parasha, and for that matter the book of Devarim, encapsulates what the theme(s) of the Sefer are:

Devarim 1:1

These are the words which Moshe spoke unto all Israel beyond the Jordan; in the wilderness, in the Arava, over against Suf, between Paran and Tofel, and Lavan, and Chatzeirot, and Di Zahav.

While the term “words” could refer to the entire contents of Devarim that follow, at least where Moshe explicitly addresses the people—

Ibid. 1:6-4:40; 5:1-27:8;

(Ibid. 9-26 describes the ritual whereby the people agree to the blessings and curses pronounced by the Levi’im on the mountains Grizim and Eival.)

Ibid. 28:1-31:6;

(Ibid. 7-8, 23 describes Moshe charging Yehoshua who is to succeed him; Ibid. 9,24-5 recounts how Moshe wrote the Tora and handed it to the Levi’im.)

Ibid. 10-3;

(Ibid. 14-21 records HaShem’s Prediction to Moshe that the people will sin in the future, and that Moshe has to present them with a poem, i.e., Ha’azinu, that will describe these future events so that they will be forewarned.)

Ibid. 26-32:43;

(Ibid. 44-5 constitutes a description of how Moshe presented Ha’azinu to the people.)

Ibid. 46-7.

(Ibid. 48-52 describe God’s Instructing Moshe to ascend Mt. Nevo to prepare to die.)

Ibid. 33:1-29;

(Ibid. 34:1-12 tell of the death of Moshe and provide a summary of his lifework.)

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Metaphorical Journeying

Metaphorical Journeying

The perpetual motion of the Jews as symbolized by their “starts and stops” in the wilderness.

In R. Jonathan Sacks FB Devar Tora for Parashiot Matot-Masai, “Miles to Go Before I Sleep”, he extrapolates from the listing of places where the Jews encamped over the course of their forty years of journeys in the wilderness:

BeMidbar 33:5-37, 41-9

5 And the children of Israel journeyed from Rameses, and pitched in Succoth. 6 And they journeyed from Succot, and pitched in Eitam… 7 And they journeyed from Eitam, and turned back unto Pi HaChirot… 8 And they journeyed from Penei HaChirot… and pitched in Mara. 9 And they journeyed from Mara, and came unto Eilim… and they pitched there. 10 And they journeyed from Eilim, and pitched by the Red Sea. 11 And they journeyed from the Red Sea, and pitched in the wilderness of Sin. 12 And they journeyed from the wilderness of Sin, and pitched in Dofka. 13 And they journeyed from Dofka, and pitched in Alush. 14 And they journeyed from Alush, and pitched in Refidim … 15 And they journeyed from Refidim, and pitched in the wilderness of Sinai. 16 And they journeyed from the wilderness of Sinai, and pitched in Kivrot HaTa’ava. 17 And they journeyed from Kivrot HaTa’ava, and pitched in Chatzerot. 18 And they journeyed from Chatzerot, and pitched in Ritma. 19 And they journeyed from Ritma, and pitched in Rimon Peretz. 20 And they journeyed from Rimon Peretz, and pitched in Livna. 21 And they journeyed from Livna, and pitched in Risa. 22 And they journeyed from Risa, and pitched in Kehila. 23 And they journeyed from Kehila, and pitched in mount Shefer. 24 And they journeyed from mount Shefer, and pitched in Charada. 25 And they journeyed from Charada, and pitched in Makheilot. 26 And they journeyed from Makheilot, and pitched in Tachat. 27 And they journeyed from Tachat, and pitched in Terach. 28 And they journeyed from Terach, and pitched in Mitka. 29 And they journeyed from Mitka, and pitched in Chashmona. 30 And they journeyed from Chashmona, and pitched in Moseirot. 31 And they journeyed from Moseirot, and pitched in Benei Ya’akan. 32 And they journeyed from Benei Ya’akan, and pitched in Chor Hagidgad. 33 And they journeyed from Chor Hagidgad, and pitched in Yotba. 34 And they journeyed from Yotba, and pitched in Avrona. 35 And they journeyed from Avrona, and pitched in Etzyon Gever. 36 And they journeyed from Etzyon Gever, and pitched in the wilderness of Tzin–the same is Kadesh. 37 And they journeyed from Kadesh, and pitched in mount Hor… 41 And they journeyed from mount Hor, and pitched in Tzalmona. 42 And they journeyed from Tzalmona, and pitched in Punon. 43 And they journeyed from Punon, and pitched in Obot. 44 And they journeyed from Obot, and pitched in Iyei Avarim, in the border of Moav. 45 And they journeyed from Iym, and pitched in Divon Gad. 46 And they journeyed from Divon Gad, and pitched in Almon DiVlatayim. 47 And they journeyed from Almon DiVlatayim, and pitched in the mountains of Avarim…. 48 And they journeyed from the mountains of Avarim, and pitched in the plains of Moav by the Jordan at Jericho. 49 And they pitched by the Jordan, from Beth Yeshimot even unto Avel Shitim in the plains of Moav.


To be a Jew is to be on a journey… We are the people who travel. We are the people who do not stand still. We are the people for whom time itself is a journey through the wilderness in search of the Promised Land.

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Living in Israel as the Means for Containing Certain Human Desires

Living in Israel as the Means for Containing Certain Human Desires

Seeking a uniform structure in the last two Parashiot of BeMidbar.

In R. Shlomo Ze’ev Pik’s 2008 essay for Parashiot Matot-Masei, “Matot and Desire”, on behalf of the Bar Ilan Parashat HaShavua series, he seeks to identify the underlying common theme that bind together not only the subject matter in each Parasha, but even the two Parashiot that are being read together.

R. Pik feels that the clearer unifying idea can be discerned in the three major topics that are found in Parashat Masei:

  1. BeMidbar 33:1-49:  The journeys of the Jews through the wilderness;
  2. Ibid. 33:50-chapt. 35: The distribution of lands in Israel to the tribes, cities to the Levi’im, and cities of refuge to protect inadvertent murderers from the blood redeemer;
  3. Ibid. 36: The prohibition against the daughters of Tzelofchad marrying men outside of their tribe of Menashe to assure that the amount of land given to this tribe remained the same.

All three topics deal with preparations for the Jews to enter the Promised land and to live there. Therefore, we are told how they approached the land over the course of their forty years of wandering in the wilderness, the manner in which the land was to be parceled out to the members of the Jewish people, and an adjustment to the pronouncement in Ibid. 27:7 authorizing the inheritance of land by daughters in the event that there are no sons.

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Keeping One’s Word and General Honesty

Keeping One_s Word and General Honesty

In one of Sivan Rahav-Meir’s short FB Divrei Tora for Parashiot Mattot-Masai, “Baya: Chashiva Lo Mitztalemet Yafa”, she focusses upon the rules of Nedarim (vows) that appear in this weeks’s reading, particularly the global statement concerning the importance that one should grant the honoring of his verbal commitments:

BeMidbar 30:3

When a man voweth a vow unto the LORD, or sweareth an oath to bind his soul with a bond, he shall not break his word; he shall do according to all that proceedeth out of his mouth.

(When a particular action is stated in both its positive and negative forms, i.e., as a Mitzvat Aseh as well as a Lo Ta’aseh, the Tora is indicating how significant this behavior is considered.)

Rahav-Meir then quotes Neil Postman, one of my own favorite social critics

(I am particularly enamored with the book he wrote together with Charles Weingartner in the 60’s, Teaching as a Subversive Activity, followed by a volume that he authored in the ‘80’s, Teaching as a Conserving Activity each intended as a counter-balance to extremes associated with the particular zeitgeists during which they were written. A similar “point/counterpoint” with respect to Jewish and general studies were written by R. Aharon Lichtenstein, when he published in the ‘60’s an essay entitled “A Consideration of Synthesis from a Tora Point of View”, and later in the 80’s “The End of Learning.”)

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The Case of the Tribes of Reuven and Gad as a Study in the Wiles of Materialism

The Case of the Tribes of Reuven and Gad as a Study in the Wiles of Materialism

Reuven and Gad’s request, and Moshe’s initial responses.

In R. Aharon Lichtenstein’s 2002 Sicha for Parashiot Matot-Masai, “The Legitimacy of Living Outside the Land of Israel”, he focuses on the negotiation conducted between the tribes Reuven and Gad, on the one hand, and Moshe on the other, regarding whether the two tribes would be allowed to give up their share of a portion of the land of Israel in exchange for pasture land on the far side of the Jordan River:

BeMidbar 32:1-33

1 Now the children of Reuven and the children of Gad had a very great multitude of cattle; and when they saw the land of Yazer, and the land of Gilead, that, behold, the place was a place for cattle, 2 The children of Gad and the children of Reuven came and spoke unto Moshe, and to Eleazar the priest, and unto the princes of the congregation, saying: 3 Atarot, and Divon, and Yazer, and Nimra, and Cheshbon, and Elealeh, and Sevam, and Nevo, and Veon, 4 The land which the LORD Smote before the congregation of Israel, is a land for cattle, and thy servants have cattle. {S} 5 And they said: If we have found favor in thy sight, let this land be given unto thy servants for a possession; bring us not over the Jordan.

6 And Moshe said unto the children of Gad and to the children of Reuven: Shall your brethren go to the war, and shall ye sit here? 7 And wherefore will ye turn away the heart of the children of Israel from going over into the land which the LORD hath Gven them? 8 Thus did your fathers, when I sent them from Kadesh Barnea to see the land. 9 For when they went up unto the valley of Eshkol, and saw the land, they turned away the heart of the children of Israel, that they should not go into the land which the LORD had Given them. 10 And the LORD’S Anger was Kindled in that day, and He Swore, Saying: 11 Surely none of the men that came up out of Egypt, from twenty years old and upward, shall see the land which I Swore unto Avraham, unto Yitzchak, and unto Yaakov; because they have not wholly followed Me; 12 Save Calev the son of Yefuneh the Kenizzite, and Joshua the son of Nun; because they have wholly followed the LORD. 13 And the LORD’S anger was kindled against Israel, and He made them wander to and fro in the wilderness forty years, until all the generation, that had done evil in the Sight of the LORD, was consumed. 14 And, behold, ye are risen up in your fathers’ stead, a brood of sinful men, to augment yet the Fierce Anger of the LORD toward Israel. 15 For if ye turn away from after Him, He will yet again leave them in the wilderness; and so ye will destroy all this people. {S}

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