Present, Past and Future

In Sivan Rahav-Meir’s third essay for Parashat Ha’azinu, “Right Now”  (#Parasha: Weekly Insights for a Leading Israeli Journalist, trans. Chava Wilschanski, Menorah Books, Jerusalem, 2017, p. 313-4), she focuses upon the following verse in the Parashat HaShavua:

Devarim 32:39

See, now, that I, I am the One; there is no god beside Me.
I Deal death and Give life; I Wounded and I will Heal: None can deliver from My Hand. Continue reading

Yom Kippur as a Form of Spring Cleaning

Yom Kippur as a Form of Spring Cleaning 10 3 22

In his Sunday 2008 essay for Parashat Ha’azinu (S.A.L.T. – Parashat Haazinu | vbm haretzion) R. David Silverberg focuses on a Midrash that depicts Yom HaKippurim as an act of cleaning up our souls, @6 months after we have physically cleaned our external surroundings for Pesach:

Tanna D’Vai Eliyahu Rabba (Ish Shalom) #1 Continue reading

Everyone Being a Shliach Tzibbur

In R. Yehuda Amital’s 1987 pre-Selichot Sicha, “How Can We Speak? How Can We Justify Ourselves?” (“How Can We Speak, and How Can We Justify Ourselves?” | vbm haretzion), he begins with a quotation from the Selichot prayers recited during the Days of Awe:

How can we complain, what can we say, how can we speak, and how can we justify ourselves?  We will examine our ways and scrutinize them, and we will return to You, for Your Hand is outstretched to accept returnees.  Not with abundance and not with deeds have we come before You; like paupers and mendicants we knock on Your door. Continue reading

Parashat Ha’azinu (Devarim 32:1-52) – Questions for Consideration and Discussion III

questions

Rishon: (Devarim 32:1-6)

(v. 4) This verse is an example of Tziduk HaDin (lit. justifying the law; fig. whatever the punishment, God Is Correct in Giving it.) What specifically is being justified?

See RaShBaM who claims that Ha’azinu is for all future generations, and therefore, all things terrible that occur, has to attribute to God justification. Continue reading

Jewish Values in Liturgy – October 2022: “Shir Shel Yom—Second Day of the Week”

Tehillim-R

(For an introduction to the “Shir Shel Yom” theme, see the essay for September 2022, “Shir Shel Yom—First Day of the Week.)

The Talmud on Rosh HaShana 31a states:

… On the second day, what would they recite? Tehillim 48 (:2) “Great is HaShem and much praised…” because He Divided up His Creations and Ruled over them

MaLBIM (Meir Leibush ben Yehiel Michel Wisser 1809 –1879) on Tehillim 48:2 states in accordance with his standard biblical approach to commentary,[1] that “Greatness” should be distinguished from “Much praised.” The commentator posits that because an entity is “great,” s/he will typically not pay much attention to those who are more lowly, i.e., in this case, His Creations, and consequently, his deeds will not be praised in the “gates” by them.  HaShem is Different in this regard, because within the context of His Greatness, one encounters His extraordinary Humility

(Megilla 31a [This Baraita has been incorporated in the prayer recited on Motzoai Shabbat, “VaYiten LeCha…”]

Rabbi Yocḥanan said: Wherever you find the might of the Holy One, Blessed be He, you find His Humility. This fact is written in the Tora, repeated in the Prophets, and stated a third time in the Writings.

It is written in the Tora: “For the Lord your God is the God of gods and the Lord of lords” (Devarim 10:17), and it is written afterward: “He executes the judgment of the fatherless and widow” (Ibid. 18). 

It is repeated in the Prophets: “For thus says the High and Lofty One that inhabits eternity, Whose name is sacred” (Yeshayahu 57:15), and it is written afterward: “In the high and holy place I dwell with him that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones” (Ibid.).

It is stated a third time in the Writings, as it is written: “Extol Him Who rides upon the clouds, Whose name is the Lord” (Tehillim 68:5), and it is written immediately afterward: “A father of the fatherless, and a judge of widows” (Ibid. 6).) 

It is assumed that Divine Humility can be perceived in the concern that God Extends even to his most insignificant Creations. See Iyov 40:15-31.)

Consequently, God is Great in terms of Himself, and He is duly praised (by all of His Creations) due to His Humilty.

While MaLBIM’s distinction between “greatness” and “praise” is well-taken, it does not explain the consequence perceived by the Talmud, i.e., “He Divided His Creations and Ruled over them.”  The means by which the Talmud assumes that HaShem is much praised by His Creations, is precisely because He Separated them in the world and left them to worship Him in many different ways. In one of R. Jonathan  Sacks’ many works, The Dignity of Difference, the cover is decorated with Peter Breugel’s rendering of the Tower of Babel.

Shir Shel Yom—Second Day of the Week

R. Sacks feels that the Bible’s description of what occurred in Bavel is an important stage in the development of mankind:

Beraishit 11:1-9

1 And the whole earth was of one language and of one speech. 2 And it came to pass, as they journeyed east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar; and they dwelt there. 3 And they said one to another: Come, let us make brick, and burn them thoroughly. And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for mortar. 4 And they said: Come, let us build us a city, and a tower, with its top in heaven, and let us make us a name; lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth. 5 And the LORD Came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded. 6 And the LORD Said: Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is what they begin to do; and now nothing will be withholden from them, which they purpose to do. 7 Come, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech. 8 So the LORD Scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth; and they left off to build the city. 9 Therefore was the name of it called Babel; because the LORD Did there Confound the language of all the earth; and from thence did the LORD Scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth.

Aside from the theological implications of man defying God, which traditionalists often attribute to the story–building a tower to reach to the heavens–, and for which the scattering of humanity in every direction’ is a type of punishment, R. Sacks wishes to claim that whereas universalism applied to people who spoke a single language, when they no longer understood one another and were scattered to different ends of the earth, particularism  of culture as well as religion originated as well. From this point on, individuals expressed themselves spiritually in terms of their own lights. Granted, some of these religious forms became “idolatrous,” immoral practices that were prohibited by the Seven Noachide Commandments that included “Avoda Zora.”[2] However, it also made possible multiple varieties of worship that God prized and that we ignore to our detriment.

And if people who live in different parts of the world worship differently, Perek Shira’s (Perek Shirah – Wikipedia) assumption that if only we could hear what animate and inanimate life forms located along the hierarchy of Creation, were “saying,” we would be overwhelmed by the variety of praises for God that would be continually issued, the different species to be found in different parts of the world might be praising God differently.

Co-existing with others will not necessarily lead to praising them, even if they prove to be exceptional at what they do. However, if the Existence of God, Who by definition, is the best Ruler and Creator, is made known via different modalities, praises for Him and His Rule will pour in from every corner.


[1] MaLBIM is very committed to a text’s simple meaning, and therefore, regularly distinguishes between words that other commentaries consider synonyms of one another.

[2] The Noachide Commandments: 1) You shall not kill; 2) you shall not steal; 3) you shall not commit sexual immorality; 4) you shall not blaspheme; 5) you shall not cut off a limb from a living animal; 6) you shall establish criminal courts; and 7) you shall not commit idolatry.

The Importance of Music in Judaism

In R. Jonathan Sacks’ 2015 essay for Parashat VaYeilech, “Tora as Song” (Covenant & Conversation | Vayelech | Torah as Song | Rabbi Sacks), after admitting that the simple meaning of the text in question:

Devarim 31:19

Now therefore write ye this song for you, and teach thou it the children of Israel; put it in their mouths, that this song may be a witness for Me against the children of Israel. Continue reading

The Appropriate Mood for Selichot

In R. Binyamin Lau’s second essay for Parashat VaYeilech “Sha’at Rachamim VeEit Ratzon” (Etnachta: Kriyot BeParashat HaShavua, Vol. 2, Yediot Acharonot, Tel Aviv, 2009, pp. 497-500), although the beginning of the essay appears to be more pertinent to a Shabbat when the two Parashiot Netzavim-VaYeilech are read together, rather than only VaYeilech is read, the bulk of R. Lau’s insights deal with Selichot, which Ashkenazim begin to recite in 2022 on Motzoai Shabbat of Parashat Ki Tavo, joining Sepharadim who have been saying Selichot during the entire month of Elul. Continue reading

Tora Should Not Only Be Imbibed, but Made to Matter

In R. Aharon Lichtenstein’s 2001 Sicha for Parashat VaYeilech “’Place the Tora in their Mouths’” (Place the Torah in their Mouths | vbm haretzion), he analyzes in particular the third element in a verse from the Parashat HaShavua, the most vague and least readily defineable aspect of it:

Devarim 31:19

Now therefore 1) write ye this song for you, and 2) teach thou it the children of Israel; 3) put it in their mouths, that this song may be a witness for Me against the children of Israel. Continue reading

The Mixed Message of Rosh HaShana

In R. Binyamin Lau’s essay for Rosh HaShana, “Kefufim VeZekufim BeRosh HaShana” (Etnachta: Kriyot BeParashat HaShavua, Vol. 2, Yediot Acharonot, Tel Aviv, 2009, pp. 515-7), he states that the symbol for Rosh HaShana, the commemoration of the beginning of the Jewish calendar year, is the Shofar, that is mentioned in two verses in the Tora, with the common denominator being “Terua”:

VaYikra 23:24

Speak to the Israelite people thus: In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall observe complete rest, a sacred occasion “Zichron Terua” (commemorated with loud blasts.) Continue reading

Contemporizing a Rosh HaShana Theme

In R. David Silverberg’s Sunday 2018 essay for Parashat VaYeilech (S.A.L.T. – Parashat Vayelekh | vbm haretzion) he attempts to further explicate the Talmud’s imagery of how each of us pass before the Holy One, Blessed Be He, on Rosh HaShana:

Rosh HaShana 16a, 18a

Mishna (1:2): …On Rosh HaShana, all creatures pass before Him like sheep (B’nei Maron), as it is stated: “He Who Fashions their hearts alike, Who Considers all their deeds” (Tehillim 33:15)…” Continue reading