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Vedibarta Bam — And You Shall Speak of Them
Volume V — Devarim


by Rabbi Moshe Bogomilsky
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"It shall come to pass because you will listen to these laws." (7:12)

QUESTION: Instead of the word "eikev" — "because" — it could have said "keshetishme'un" — "when you will listen" — or "im tishme'un" — "if you will listen"?
ANSWER: On Mount Sinai Hashem gave the Jewish people the Ten Commandments, which included the six hundred and thirteen mitzvot of the Torah (see Shemot 24:12, Rashi). In the version of the Ten Commandments as they are recorded (ibid. 20:2-14), there is a total of one hundred and seventy-two words. The word "Eikev," has the numerical value of one hundred and seventy-two. Hence, the Torah is saying, "It shall come to pass, 'eikev tishme'un' — because you will listen i.e. observe 'eikev' — the six hundred and thirteen mitzvot which are in the one hundred and seventy-two words of the Ten Commandments. Thus, your G-d will safeguard for you the covenant and kindness that He swore to your forefathers."

Alternatively, the Gemara (Yoma 28b) says that our father Avraham kept the entire Torah, as Scripture states, "eikev asher shama Avraham bekoli" — "because Avraham hearkened to My voice [kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My laws] (Bereishit 26:5). In light of the above, the proof that Avraham kept the Torah may be deduced from the word "eikev," which refers to the one hundred and seventy-two words of the Ten Commandments, that contain the six hundred and thirteen mitzvot of the Torah.

Alternatively, the Gemara (Avodah Zarah 9a) says that the world will exist for six thousand years. Two thousand of these are utterly void of Torah, two thousand are years of Torah without Mashiach, and the last two thousand years will start the era of Mashiach. The first two-thousand-year period concluded when Avraham reached the age of fifty-two and was introduced to Torah. The second two-thousand-year period ended one hundred and seventy-two years after the destruction of the second Beit Hamikdash, and then the era of Mashiach began (see Rashi).

With the word "eikev," which has the numerical value of one hundred and seventy-two, the Torah is hinting that "eikev" — one hundred and seventy-two years after the destruction — "tishme'un" — "you will hear" — the footsteps of Mashiach.

"You will be the most blessed of all the peoples; there will be no infertile male or infertile female among you." (7:14)

QUESTION: What is the connection between being blessed and infertility?
ANSWER: According to the Midrash Rabbah (Bereishit 60:13), the matriarch Rivkah was childless (until Yitzchak prayed for her), so that the nations of the world would not be able to claim credit that the Jewish nation grew as a result of Lavan's blessing: "Our sister, may you come to be thousands of myriads" (Bereishit 24:60).

According to the Midrash Rabbah (3:6), "Baruch tiheyeh mikol ha'amim," means that "all the nations of the world will bless you." Consequently, Hashem is assuring the Jewish people that, "Although all the nations of the world will bless you, it will not prevent you from increasing (to deny them credit), for I will bless you with future generations which will ensure your continuity.

"He afflicted you and let you hunger, and He fed you the manna." (8:3)

QUESTION: There is a midrash peliah — wondrous Midrash — that says, "From here we can learn that candles must be lit in honor of Shabbat." What connection is there between this pasuk and the obligation to light Shabbat candles?
ANSWER: While eating the manna, the Jew was able to imagine and enjoy any food. If one wanted a rare delicacy, the manna would assume this taste, and if one wanted a sumptuous dessert, one would taste that. Why, then, does the verse mention the manna in connection with affliction?

Although the taste of the manna varied according to one's desire, the Gemara (Yoma 74b) explains that, "You cannot compare one who sees what he eats with one who does not see what he is eating. This is the reason that blind people glut themselves without becoming satisfied." Thus, while it is true that a person would experience any taste imaginable, since he did not actually see his food, he did not truly enjoy it.

Scripture instructs us, "You shall proclaim the Shabbat 'oneg' — 'a delight' " (Isaiah 58:13), and our sages (Shabbat 118b) explain that the way to experience delight is by eating delicious foods. Hence, if the home is not lit, regardless of the quality of the food, not only will one not enjoy the food, but, on the contrary, it will be an affliction. Therefore, one is obligated to light candles to illuminate the Shabbat table, so that everyone sitting at the table will proclaim the Shabbat an "oneg" — "delight."

"You should know in your heart that just as a father will chastise his son, so G-d, your G-d, chastises you." (8:5)

QUESTION: In what sense is Hashem's chastising of the Jewish people similar to a father chastising his son?
ANSWER: Even when a father is displeased with his son's behavior and hits him, he would be very upset if a stranger hits his son. The father would become protective then and defend his son.

However, when a person hits a stranger for committing a wrongdoing against him, he is grateful to every outsider who intervenes on his behalf.

Although Hashem may exile the Jewish people due to displeasure with their behavior, He is not happy with the countries that mistreat them while ruling over them. Even before they became a nation, Hashem promised Avraham that He would punish the nations that oppress them (Bereishit 15:14).

"A land of wheat, barley, grape, fig, and pomegranate; a land of oil-olives and date-honey." (8:8)

QUESTION: For the first five species with which the land is praised the pasuk mentions the fruits themselves while for the last two the fruits themselves are not mentioned (olives and dates), but the extracts — oil and honey. Why?
ANSWER: The Gemara (Horiat 13b) says that eating olives can cause one to forget Torah learned over a period of seventy years. The Gemara (Pesachim 88a) relates that Ulah once came to Pumpedita and he was served a small basket of dates. He inquired, "How many of these can be purchased for one zuz" (Talmudic currency)? They told him, "Three [small baskets or one large one] for one zuz." In amazement he said, "A basketful of honey can be purchased for one zuz, and yet the Babylonians do not engage in Torah study (with the cost of living so low, surely they have plenty of time to study)?" At night he became ill and said, "A basketful of poison can be purchased for one zuz, yet the Babylonians study Torah!"

From these two Gemarot, it is evident that olives and dates have a detrimental effect on one's Torah study. On the other hand, the Gemara (ibid.) says olive oil can help one remember the Torah which he learned over seventy years, and the Gemara (Yoma 83b) says that honey, "enlightens the eye of man."

Consequently, the Torah did not praise Eretz Yisrael with fruits (olives and dates) that interfere with learning, but with foods (oil and honey) that benefit man and enhance the study of Torah.

"A land of wheat, barley, grape, fig, and pomegranate; a land of oil-olives and date-honey." (8:8)

QUESTION: Why does the Torah write "eretz" — "land" — a second time for "zeit shemen u'devash" — "olive-oil and honey"?
ANSWER: When the brothers went down to Egypt for the second time, Yaakov told them, "Take of the land's glory and bring it down to the man [Yosef] as a tribute...a bit of honey" (Bereishit 43:11). When the Jews complained about the wilderness they said, "Why did you bring us up from Egypt to bring us to this evil place — not a place of seed or fig or grape or pomegranate?" (Bamidbar 20:5).

From the fact that Yaakov brought honey to Egypt, and that the Jews did not complain in the wilderness about lacking olive-oil and honey, it is apparent that they also did not have these items in Egypt. Therefore, to emphasize the excellence of Eretz Yisrael, the Torah separates olive-oil and honey from the other items with the word "eretz," to emphasize that, in this land, the Jews would enjoy something which they did not have previously.

"A land whose stones are iron." (8:9)

QUESTION: The Gemara (Ta'anit 4a) says, "Read not 'avanehah' — 'stones' — but 'bonehah' — 'builders' " — referring to talmidei chachamim — Torah scholars. Why does the pasuk compare talmidei chachamim to iron and not to stones?
ANSWER: King Shlomo says, "As iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens his fellow" (Proverbs 27:17). The Gemara (Ta'anit 7a) says that Torah scholars are compared to iron because one sharpens the other in halachah.

When one stone is rubbed against another, fire is created (see Pesachim 54a). Fire represents machloket — arguments and disputes — because just as fire destroys a home, so machloket destroys families and friendships. By comparing Torah scholars to iron the pasuk is teaching us that talmidei chachamim should sharpen and assist one another, and not be like stones, creating potentially catastrophic sparks of dissension.

"Who leads you through the awesome wilderness, of snakes, fiery serpents, and scorpions, and thirst where there was no water, who brings forth water for you from the rock of flint." (8:15)

QUESTION: Why is Hashem's leading the Jews through a wilderness with all sorts of snakes and his bringing forth water from the rock, mentioned in the same pasuk?
ANSWER: The Gemara (Berachot 33a) relates that in a certain city people were being harmed by a snake. When they informed Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa about this, he asked to be shown the snake's burrow. He put his heel over it, and when the snake came out and bit him, it died. According to the Jerusalem Talmud (Berachot 5:1), a spring of water had miraculously opened under Rabbi Chanina's heel and that sealed the fate of the snake, for when a snake bites a person, if the person reaches water before the snake, the snake will die, but if the snake reaches water first the person will die.

Describing the miracles Hashem performed for the Jewish people in the wilderness, the Torah states, "Who leads you through a great and awesome wilderness, of snakes, fiery serpents, and scorpions, and thirst where there was no water." These conditions were extremely dangerous since they were likely to be bitten by snakes in places where water was not available. The Torah therefore states that Hashem miraculously brought forth water from the rock, which provided water instantly to any person bitten, killing the snake and saving the person.

"And you may say in your heart, 'My strength and the might of my hand made me all this wealth.' " (8:17)

QUESTION: Since the pasuk already says "kochi" — "my strength" — what is the purpose of the words "ve' otzem yadi" — "and the might of my hand?"
ANSWER: When a Jew is blessed with affluence, the Torah expects him to give tzedakah and share his wealth with the needy. Sometimes there are wealthy people who are "tight-fisted" and refrain from giving tzedakah, thinking erroneously that what they give away will reduce their assets. The word "otzem" in Hebrew can also be interpreted as "closing up" (see Isaiah 33:15). To dispel the illusion of some wealthy people regarding sharing wealth with the less fortunate, the Torah says, "Do not think that 'my strength' and 'otzem yadi' — 'my closed up hand' — made me all this wealth. On the contrary, open your hand, and then you will be blessed with even more.

"Carve for yourself two stone Tablets." (10:1)

QUESTION: From the word "lecha" — "for yourself" — which seems superfluous, the Gemara (Nedarim 38a) deduces that Moshe was permitted to keep the chips of the Tablets, which made him very wealthy. Why is it important to know how he became wealthy?
ANSWER: Many businesses have major expense accounts and also a petty cash fund for small expenditures. Careful watch over the small expenditures is crucial to the overall success of the business, and negligence regarding the petty cash fund can sometimes run the company into serious financial difficulties.

The Tablets contained the Ten Commandments, which in reality represent the six hundred and thirteen mitzvot of the Torah (see Shemot 24:12, Rashi). Among the mitzvot of the Torah there are those which people consider important, and others which they consider trivial. They compare some of the mitzvot to precious stones, and regard others as mere "chips," which are much less valuable. The chips of the Tablets are symbolic of often-neglected mitzvot.

The Gemara is not merely telling us the source of Moshe's material affluence, but also describing his spiritual wealth, which, according to our sages, derived from his careful observance of every mitzvah, even those some people consider to be merely "chips."

"And now Israel what does G-d your G-d require of you but to fear G-d your G-d." (10:12)

QUESTION: The Gemara (Berachot 33b) asks, "Is fear, then, such a small thing?" The Gemara replies, "Ein legabi Moshe milta zutrata hi" — "Yes, in the case of Moshe it is a small thing." The answer of the Gemara is incomprehensible, for it is written, "What does G-d require of you?"
ANSWER: People who may occasionally violate Torah rule, will not do so when someone whom they highly revere is present. The Gemara is saying that "legabi Moshe" — if one envisions himself in the presence of Moshe — it will be very easy for him to fear Hashem and not transgress.

When the prophet said, "Vehayu einecha ro'ot et morecha" — "And your eyes will behold your teacher" (Isaiah 30:20), it does not necessarily mean physical seeing, but imagination. When one "sees" his teacher in front of him, then he will conduct himself properly.

Before Eliyahu parted with his student Elisha and went up to heaven, Elisha asked him, "May twice your prophetic power be mine." Eliyahu said, "You have made a difficult request; [however], im tirah oti lukach mei'itach yehi lecha chein — if you will see me taken from you, it shall be so for you — but if you do not, then it will not happen" (II Kings 2:9,10). What does Elisha's seeing Eliyahu being taken away have to do with his request?

Eliyahu was telling Elisha, "I consider you to be my most dedicated disciple, and I know how much respect you have for me. However, I am wondering what our relationship will be when I am no longer physically with you. Thus, im tirah oti — if you will continue to see me — i.e. envision my presence at all times even when 'lukach mei'itach' — I am physically taken away from you — then you will have proven your greatness and you will merit twice my prophetic power."

Another explanation: the words of the Gemara "legabi Moshe" can be interpreted as "being close to Moshe." It is indeed not easy for every individual to attain the proper fear of Hashem. However, the Gemara is advising us that "being close to Moshe" — being connected to a tzaddik, a Torah leader of the generation — will help one achieve the proper level of yirat shamayim — fear of Heaven.

"Now, O Israel, what does G-d, your G-d, ask of you." (10:12)

QUESTION: The word "mah" — "what" — seems to be superfluous. Instead of asking a question, "What does Hashem ask of you?" Moshe should have simply said, "Hashem asks of you the following...."
ANSWER: On the pasuk, "G-d, your G-d, shall you follow" (13:5) the Gemara (Sotah 14a) asks, "How is it possible for a human being to follow Hashem, of whom it is said, 'For G-d, your G-d, is a consuming fire"? (4:24) and answers that the Torah means that one should emulate Hashem's attributes. Just as He performs acts of kindness, so shall you; He clothes the naked, visits the sick, and buries the dead, so shall you" (see also 13:5, Rashi).

In light of the above, it can be explained that Moshe did not begin his remarks with a question, but He was making a statement. He was telling the Jewish people that "mah Hashem Elokecha" — "What G-d, your G-d, consists of" — i.e. what He represents and practices — "sho'eil mei'imach" — "He asks of you" — to emulate him in your daily lives.

Alternatively, in the Hebrew alef-beit, there are twenty-two letters. Each letter can also be written out in full, for example, alef, beit, gimmel. Thus, there is an external part of the letter and a hidden internal part, reflected in the full spelling.

The way to write out in full a mem or hey is by adding the same letter i.e., mem-mem, hei-hei. Thus each of these two letters are tocho kebaro — the inside is identical to the outside.

Among people there are some who are wicked on the inside but appear to be righteous on the outside. Moshe was not asking, but telling the Jews that "mah" — to be like the letters "mah" i.e., true inside and outside, is what Hashem Elokecha sho'eil mei'imach — G-d, your G-d, asks of you.

"For the land to which you come, to possess it, it is not like the land of Egypt... and water it on foot like a vegetable garden. But the land to which you cross over... from the rain of heaven shall it drink water." (11:10-11)

QUESTION: Rain water, unlike river water, is not always available. If so, what advantage would the Jews experience in Eretz Yisrael in the watering of the fields?
ANSWER: The Gemara (Yoma 76a) relates that, "Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai was asked by his disciples, 'Why didn't the manna come down for Israel once annually?' He replied, 'I shall give a parable. There was a king of flesh and blood who had one son; he provided him with his maintenance once a year, and he would visit his father only once a year. Unsatisfied with seeing his son so rarely, he provided him maintenance daily, so that he would call on him every day. The same applies to the Israelites. One who had four or five children would worry, saying: "Perhaps no manna will come down tomorrow, and all of us will die of hunger." Thus, they were forced to constantly turn their attention to their Father in Heaven.' "

The constant availability of water in Egypt denied them the opportunity of realizing that they are constantly dependent on Hashem. The blessing of living in Eretz Yisrael and having to rely on water from Heaven is that they always have to look up to Heaven (Hashem) and pray to Him for sustenance. A constant relationship with Hashem is a blessing.

After the serpent instigated Chava to eat the forbidden fruit, it was cursed, "Upon your belly you shall go and dust shall you eat all the days of your life" (Bereishit 3:14). Since he will always have food available wherever he will be, what is the curse?

Hashem provides food for everybody, including animals, as King David says, "The young lions roar after their prey and to seek their food from Hashem" (Psalms 104:21). The greatest punishment a father can give a child is to hand him a large sum of money and say, "Take this, and I do not want to see your face anymore." Thus, by making food available to him at all time and at all places and denying him the opportunity to look towards Heaven (Hashem) for food, Hashem was, in effect, saying to the serpent "I don't want to see you."

"You shall bind them for a sign upon your arm and let them be a frontlet between your eyes. You shall teach them to your children" (11:18-19)

QUESTION: Why, in this pasuk, does it first mention the mitzvah of tefillin followed by the mitzvah of teaching the children, while in the first portion of the Shema (6:6), it says first, "You shall teach them thoroughly to your children" and the mitzvah of tefillin afterward?
ANSWER: A parent is obligated to teach his child Torah as soon as he is able to speak (11:19, Rashi). When the child reaches the age of thirteen, he becomes Bar-Mitzvah and is required to wear tefillin. Many parents take an active interest in their child's education when he is very young. However, as he grows older, their participation wanes.

In the first portion of the Shema, the Torah is teaching us that the first obligation of a parent is to teach his child Torah while he is very young, and, when he reaches the age of thirteen, the parent must see to it that he puts on tefillin. The second portion is teaching us that even when the child is already wearing tefillin i.e. he has become Bar-Mitzvah, the parent is not free of his obligation to educate his children. He must continue to teach and always be involved in his children's Torah learning.

"You shall bind them for a sign upon your arm and let them be an ornament between your eyes." (11:18)

QUESTION: When tefillin fall to the ground they should be picked up immediately, and it is customary to give them a kiss. What is the significance of this custom?
ANSWER: When Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev once observed such a scene in his shul, he lifted his eyes to Heaven and said, "A-mighty G-d, when this simple Jew's tefillin fell down, he immediately picked them up and kissed them. The Gemara (Berachot 6a) says that You, too, wear tefillin and in Your tefillin is written Your pride in the Jewish people. Unfortunately, Your tefillin — the Jewish people — have fallen, and have been lying in disgrace for many years with the nations of the world stepping on them. Why don't You pick up Your tefillin — the Jewish people — and give them the 'kiss' they so well deserve?"

Rabbi Levi Yitzchak's heartfelt plea to Hashem to "pick up Your tefillin and give them a kiss," was that Hashem should immediately send Mashiach to redeem the Jews and take them out of exile.

The Gemara (Berachot 6a) says that Hashem wears tefillin containing the pasuk, "And who is like Your people like Israel, one nation on earth" (II Samuel 7:23), which testifies to the uniqueness and greatness of the Jewish people. The Gemara (Berachot 11a) also says that tefillin are called "pe'eir" — "magnificence" — as we find that when Yechezkeil was in mourning, he was told, "Pe'eirecha chavush alecha" — "Put on your magnificent headgear (tefillin)" (Ezekiel 24:17).

In the Selichot prayers recited on a fast day we say, "Asei lema'an pe'eirecha" — "Act for the sake of your magnificence." This may be explained to mean that we are asking Hashem to act on behalf of His "pe'eir" — tefillin — i.e. the Jewish people: "Please forgive the sins of the Jewish people and make them the 'one nation on earth.' Thus, Your tefillin, which declare the praise and uniqueness of the Jewish people, will be telling the truth. Otherwise, the kashrut of Your tefillin will be questionable."

"You shall teach them to your children to discuss them." (11:19)

QUESTION: The word "otam" can also be spelled with a "cholom vav" (see Vayikra 23:43, 24:6). Why is the vowel here without a vav?
ANSWER: The word "otam" without a vav, which is translated to mean "them," can also be read as "atem" which means "you." The Torah is instructing us that in order for a parent to succeed in teaching "otam" — "them" — Torah and mitzvot — to his children, it is imperative that it also be "atem" — you must be a living example to your children — i.e., the children should see you learning Torah and observing mitzvot.

A non-observant father once sent his child to a Hebrew school. As the child's Bar-Mitzvah was approaching, he took his son to the Hebrew book store and asked the salesman for a Bar-Mitzvah set. The salesman opened the box and the boy saw in it a pair of tefillin and a tallit. Having no knowledge of these strange items, he asked his father with a puzzled expression on his face, "What are these?" The father told him, "My son, this is what every Jew must have when he becomes Bar-Mitzvah." The young boy looked up to his father and inquisitively asked, "So father, when are you becoming Bar-Mitzvah?"

"You shall teach them to your children to discuss them, while you sit in your home, while you walk on the way, when you retire and when you arise." (11:19)

QUESTION: Why does the Torah have to specify all the conditions under which a parent should teach his children, instead of simply saying "teach them at all times"?
ANSWER: Often children, out of respect or fear, fulfill the wishes and desires of their parents. However, once that motivation no longer exists, the children do as they wish. For instance, many children observe Torah and mitzvot while their parents are alive in order to please them, but not after their parents' demise. True education consists of molding a person's way of life and thinking so that the principles instilled in him remain imbedded forever.

The Torah is not only instructing us when to teach children, but also specifying the kind of education to give them. The goal should be to permeate the children with Torah and firmly impress on them the importance of its observance. Thus, they will study and observe not only when the father is home with them, but even when he "walks on his way": when he does not have any further physical contact with them, they will continue to observe Torah and mitzvot on their own.

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