Positions of Leadership in Parashat Shoftim

Positions of Leadership in Parashat Shoftim

In R. Binyamin Lau’s first essay exploring Parashat Shoftim, “Kavei Yesod LeTahalich Minui Shoftim VeDayanim” (Etnachta: Kriyot BeParashat HaShavua, Vol. 2, Yediot Acharonot, Tel Aviv, 2009, pp. 462-5), he begins by quoting a classical commentator who provide a general overview of topics found in the Parasha:

Seforno on Devarim 16:18 s.v. Shoftim VeShotrim:

Following the Commandments that concern the general population, he (Moshe) commands regarding their (the Jewish people’s) leadership, i.e., 1) the kings, 2) the judges, 3) the priests, and 4) the prophets, who, when functioning properly, have the ability to address the needs of the masses, but when corrupt, cause harm to them, as the prophet comments: (Tzefania 3:3-4) “3 Her princes in the midst of her are roaring lions; her judges are wolves of the desert, they leave not a bone for the morrow. 4 Her prophets are wanton and treacherous persons; her priests have profaned that which is holy, they have done violence to the law.”

Continue reading

Defining Who is Poor

Defining Who is Poor

Charity is included as one of the Mitzvot of the Tora.

In Michael Hellinger’s 2001 essay for Parashat Re’eh, “On the Commandment of Tzedaka”  on behalf of the Bar Ilan Parashat HaShavua series, he also addresses verses that deal with the alleviation of poverty (see yesterday’s posting “Poverty in Israel”):

Devarim 15:7-8

7 If there be among you a needy man, one of thy brethren, within any of thy gates, in thy land which the LORD thy God Giveth thee, thou shalt not harden thy heart, nor shut thy hand from thy needy brother; 8 But thou shalt surely open thy hand unto him, and shalt surely lend him sufficient for his need in that which he wanteth.

Continue reading

Poverty in Israel

Poverty in Israel

A stark contradiction regarding one aspect of the social dynamic that will occur when the people enter the land of Israel.

In R. Amnon Bazak’s third essay for Parashat Re’eh, “’Lo Yihyeh Becha Evyon’ Oh ‘Lo Yechdal Evyon’?” (Nekudat Peticha: Iyunim Ketzarim BePeshuta Shel Parashat HaShavua, Machot Tzomet, Alon Shevut, 5766, pp. 199-200), he draws attention to an ostensible stark contradiction between two verses included in this week’s Parasha:

Devarim 15:4

Howbeit there shall be no needy among you–for the LORD will surely Bless thee in the land which the LORD thy God Giveth thee for an inheritance to possess it.

Ibid. 11

For the poor shall never cease out of the land; therefore I command thee, saying: Thou shalt surely open thy hand unto thy poor and needy brother, in thy land.

R. Bazak asserts that it is logically impossible for both of these assessments to be equally true.

Continue reading

Ma’aser Sheini as an Exercise in Seeking Reasons for the Mitzvot

Ma_aser Sheini as an Exercise in Seeking Reasons for the Mitzvot

The Mitzva of “Ma’aser Sheini”.

In Devarim 14:22-6, the Mitzva known as Ma’aser Sheini is discussed.

22 Thou shalt surely tithe all the increase of thy seed, that which is brought forth in the field year by year. 23 And thou shalt eat before the LORD thy God, in the Place which He shall Choose to Cause His Name to dwell there, the tithe of thy corn, of thy wine, and of thine oil, and the firstlings of thy herd and of thy flock; that thou mayest learn to fear the LORD thy God always. 24 And if the way be too long for thee, so that thou art not able to carry it, because the Place is too far from thee, which the LORD thy God shall Choose to set His Name there, when the LORD thy God shall Bless thee; 25 Then shalt thou turn it into money, and bind up the money in thy hand, and shalt go unto the Place which the LORD thy God shall Choose. 26 And thou shalt bestow the money for whatsoever thy soul desireth, for oxen, or for sheep, or for wine, or for strong drink, or for whatsoever thy soul asketh of thee; and thou shalt eat there before the LORD thy God, and thou shalt rejoice, thou and thy household.

Continue reading

The Importance of Not Adding to the Commandments

The Importance of Not Adding to the Commandments

An issue whose importance is implied by its repetition.

In R. Amnon Bazak’s first essay for Parashat Re’eh, “’Lo Tosef Alav” (Nekudat Peticha: Iyunim Ketzarim BePeshuta Shel Parashat HaShavua, Machot Tzomet, Alon Shevut, 5766, pp. 197-8), he draws attention to a verse in this week’s Parasha, that echoes an earlier verse in Parashat VaEtchanan:

Devarim 13:1

All this Word which I command you, that shall ye observe to do; thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from it.

Ibid. 4:2

Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish from it, that ye may keep the Commandments of the LORD your God which I command you.

Continue reading

Religious Behavior Demands Adherence to a Different Standard than Civil Conduct

Religious Behavior Demands Adherence to a Different Standard than Civil Conduct

The Tora presents a stark, binary choice.

In Dr. Dror Ehrlich’s 2011 essay for Parashat Re’eh, “On Religious Mediocrity”, on behalf of Bar Ilan University’s Parashat HaShavua series, he focused upon R. Ovadia Sforno (Italy 15th-16th century) commentary upon the following verses that begin this week’s Parasha:

Devarim 11:26-8

26 Behold, I set before you this day a blessing and a curse: 27 The blessing, if ye shall hearken unto the Commandments of the LORD your God, which I command you this day; 28 And the curse, if ye shall not hearken unto the Commandments of the LORD your God, but turn aside out of the way which I command you this day, to go after other gods, which ye have not known.

Sforno s.v. Re’eh

Look and observe, so that your ways not revolve around “Ofan Beinoni” (“mediocrity,” in the Bar Ilan essay’s presentation), as in the rest of the nations, for indeed, He “Sets before you blessing and curse.”   These are two extremes, for blessing means to succeed more than that which would suffice, on the better way, and curse is a malediction that detracts, so that one does not achieve that which would suffice; and both are before you, in your reach, according to the way which you choose.

Continue reading

Basar Ta’ava

Basar Ta_ava

Permission is Granted by God for the Jewish people to consume meat other than as part of sacrifices once they enter the land of Israel.

In R. Binyamin Lau’s third essay for Parashat Re’eh, “Ta’ava Asura VeTa’ava Muteret—‘Kefi Yecholto’” (Etnachta: Kriyot BeParashat HaShavua, Vol. 2, Yediot Acharonot, Tel Aviv, 2009, pp. 457-61), he notes that this Parasha includes the topic known in Halachic terms as “Basar Ta’ava” (lit. meat that is passionately desired [to be consumed]; in contrast to meat associated with offering up sacrifices, constituting a Mitzva context.)

Devarim 12:20-7

20 When the LORD thy God shall Enlarge thy border, as He hath Promised thee, and thou shalt say: I will eat flesh, because “Te’aveh Nafshecha” (thy soul desireth) to eat flesh; thou mayest eat flesh, after all the desire of thy soul. 21 If the place which the LORD thy God shall Choose to put His Name there be too far from thee, then “VeZavachta” (thou shalt kill) of thy herd and of thy flock, which the LORD hath Given thee, as I have commanded thee, and thou shalt eat within thy gates, after all the desire of thy soul. 22 Howbeit as the gazelle and as the hart is eaten, so thou shalt eat thereof; the unclean and the clean may eat thereof alike. 23 Only be steadfast in not eating the blood; for the blood is the life; and thou shalt not eat the life with the flesh. 24 Thou shalt not eat it; thou shalt pour it out upon the earth as water. 25 Thou shalt not eat it; that it may go well with thee, and with thy children after thee, when thou shalt do that which is right in the Eyes of the LORD. 26 Only thy holy things which thou hast, and thy vows, thou shalt take, and go unto the place which the LORD shall Choose; 27 And thou shalt offer thy burnt-offerings, the flesh and the blood, upon the Altar of the LORD thy God; and the blood of thy sacrifices shall be poured out against the Altar of the LORD thy God, and thou shalt eat the flesh.

Continue reading

Living in Israel Constitutes a Life of Dependency upon God’s Largess

Living in Israel Constitutes a Life of Dependency upon God_s Largess

Parashat Eikev contains the justification for the land of Israel being Chosen by God as the proper environment of the Jewish people.

In R. Binyamin Lau’s second essay for Parashat Eikev, “’Eretz Asher Einai HaShem Elokecha Bah’—Yichuda Shel Eretz Yisrael” (Etnachta: Kriyot BeParashat HaShavua, Vol. 2, Yediot Acharonot, Tel Aviv, 2009, pp. 445-8), he notes that in contrast to the previous Parasha, VaEtchanan, which emphasized the responsibilities of the Jewish people as a nation, e.g.,

Devarim 4:1-9

1 And now, O Israel, hearken unto the Statutes and unto the Ordinances, which I teach you, to do them; that ye may live, and go in and possess the land which the LORD, the God of your fathers, Giveth you. 2 Ye shall not add unto the Word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish from It, that ye may keep the Commandments of the LORD your God which I command you. 3 Your eyes have seen what the LORD Did in Ba’al Pe’or; for all the men that followed the Ba’al of Pe’or, the LORD thy God hath Destroyed them from the midst of thee. 4 But ye that did cleave unto the LORD your God are alive every one of you this day. 5 Behold, I have taught you Statutes and Ordinances, even as the LORD my God Commanded me, that ye should do so in the midst of the land whither ye go in to possess it. 6 Observe therefore and do Them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, that, when they hear all these Statutes, shall say: Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people. 7 For what great nation is there, that hath God so nigh unto them, as the LORD our God Is whensoever we call upon Him? 8 And what great nation is there, that hath Statutes and Ordinances so righteous as all this Law, which I set before you this day? 9 Only take heed to thyself, and keep thy soul diligently, lest thou forget the things which thine eyes saw, and lest they depart from thy heart all the days of thy life; but make them known unto thy children and thy children’s children…

Continue reading

Sefer Devarim as the Means to Prevent the Decline in Jewish Civilization

Sefer Devarim as the Means to Prevent the Decline in Jewish Civilization

Addressing a portion of Parashat Eikev from a communal rather than individual point of view.

In R. Jonathan Sacks’ most recent internet essay for Parashat Eikev, “Why Civilizations Fail”, he keys on the same verses that served as the catalyst for yesterday’s posting, “Thinking More of Oneself than One Should, but from a different perspective.

(This type of broad variation confirms the oft-cited principle associated with Jewish religious study, “Shivim Panim LaTora” [lit. there are seventy “faces” for the Tora; fig. the number “seventy” is not to be taken literally, but rather is understood symbolically connoting multiplicity, perhaps even infinity.] Therefore, it is to be expected that Words emanating from an Infinite Source, i.e., God, will themselves contain infinite connotations.)

Devarim 8:11-20

11 Beware lest thou forget the LORD thy God, in not keeping His Commandments, and His Ordinances, and His Statutes, which I command thee this day; 12 Lest when thou hast eaten and art satisfied, and hast built goodly houses, and dwelt therein; 13 And when thy herds and thy flocks multiply, and thy silver and thy gold is multiplied, and all that thou hast is multiplied; 14 Then thy heart be lifted up, and thou forget the LORD thy God, Who Brought thee forth out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage; 15 Who Led thee through the great and dreadful wilderness, wherein were serpents, fiery serpents, and scorpions, and thirsty ground where was no water; Who Brought thee forth water out of the rock of flint; 16 Who Fed thee in the wilderness with manna, which thy fathers knew not, that He might Afflict thee, and that He might Prove thee, to Do thee good at thy latter end; 17 And thou say in thy heart: My power and the might of my hand hath gotten me this wealth. 18 But thou shalt remember the LORD thy God, for it is He that Giveth thee power to get wealth, that He may Establish His Covenant which He Swore unto thy fathers, as it is this day. 19 And it shall be, if thou shalt forget the LORD thy God, and walk after other gods, and serve them, and worship them, I forewarn you this day that ye shall surely perish. 20 As the nations that the LORD Maketh to perish before you, so shall ye perish; because ye would not hearken unto the Voice of the LORD your God.

Continue reading

Thinking More of Oneself than One Should

Thinking More of Oneself than One Should

Tora sources prohibiting personal arrogance.

In his 1997 essay on behalf of Bar Ilan Parashat HaShavua series, “’Beware, Lest Your Heart Grow Haughty’ (Devarim 8:14)”, Dr. Meir Gruzman states that while it appears to be agreed upon that the quality of haughtiness is antithetical to the true religious mindset of Judaism, the source of being opposed to this type of attitude is viewed by the Rabbis as surprisingly elusive. We find no verses in the Tora that state: “You shall not be proud”; or “Your heart shall not be uplifted”. In this week’s Parashat Eikev, opposition to this attitude is articulated indirectly at best, at least according to one Talmudic view, by the following:

Devarim 8:7-18

7 For the LORD thy God Bringeth thee into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and depths, springing forth in valleys and hills; 8 A land of wheat and barley, and vines and fig-trees and pomegranates; a land of olive-trees and honey; 9 A land wherein thou shalt eat bread without scarceness, thou shalt not lack any thing in it; a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills thou mayest dig brass. 10 And thou shalt eat and be satisfied, and bless the LORD thy God for the good land which He hath Given thee. 11 Beware lest thou forget the LORD thy God, in not keeping His Commandments, and His Ordinances, and His Statutes, which I command thee this day; 12 Lest when thou hast eaten and art satisfied, and hast built goodly houses, and dwelt therein; 13 And when thy herds and thy flocks multiply, and thy silver and thy gold is multiplied, and all that thou hast is multiplied; 14 Then thy heart be lifted up (fig. “grow haughty), and thou forget the LORD thy God, Who Brought thee forth out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. 15 Who Led thee through the great and dreadful wilderness, wherein were serpents, fiery serpents, and scorpions, and thirsty ground where was no water; Who Brought thee forth water out of the rock of flint; 16 Who Fed thee in the wilderness with manna, which thy fathers knew not, that He might Afflict thee, and that He might Prove thee, to Do thee good at thy latter end; 17 And thou say in thy heart: My power and the might of my hand hath gotten me this wealth. 18 But thou shalt remember the LORD thy God, for it is He that Giveth thee power to get wealth, that He may Establish His Covenant which He Swore unto thy fathers, as it is this day.

Continue reading