Devarim 5772 – Gilayon #759

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Parshat Devarim

Remember, o lord, what happened to us,

Look and see our shame. (Echa 5:1)

'Wherefore have we fasted, and

Thou seest not? Wherefore have we afflicted our soul,

and Thou takest no knowledge?' – Behold, in the day

of your fast ye pursue your business, and exact all your labours.

Behold, ye fast for

strife and contention, and to smite with the fist of wickedness; ye fast not

this day so as to make your voice to be heard on high. Is such

the fast that I have chosen? The day for a man to afflict his

soul? Is it to bow down his head as a bulrush, and to spread sackcloth

and ashes under him? Wilt thou call this a fast, and an acceptable day to the

LORD? Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to

loose the fetters of wickedness, to undo the bands of the yoke, and to let the

oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke? Is it

not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast

out to thy house? When thou seest the naked, that

thou cover him, and that thou hide not thyself from thine

own flesh? 8 Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and

thy healing shall spring forth speedily; and thy righteousness shall go before

thee, the glory of the LORD shall be thy rearward.

(Isaiah 58:3-8)


Whoever observes this day perfunctorily and does not arouse his heart

to mourn over Jerusalem, will not see her in her joy, and it goes without

saying that we never totally forget her mourning, but we must recall her on

every festive occasion and reduce [our joy] at all of them in memory of the

destruction, as is written "If I do not keep Jerusalem in memory even at

my happiest hour" but we do not go to extremes lest our nature be unable

to bear it, and certainly such is the case with the public. For if we were to

judge ourselves by the measure of justice, we should have to refrain from

eating meat and drinking wine, and afflict ourselves with all forms of

mortification, and our ancestors taught that in generations of evil decrees,

when the study of Torah and performance of mitzvoth and circumcision were

forbidden, it would have been proper to decree upon ourselves not to marry and

not bear children, and the result would be the end of the children of Avraham. But rather let Israel be,

they will do what they can, and it is recorded in the third chapter of Bava Batra, not to mourn at all is impossible, because the

blow has fallen. To mourn overmuch is also impossible, because we do not impose

on the community a hardship which the majority cannot endure. The Sages

therefore have ordained thus; A man may stucco his

house, but he should leave a small area bare … A man may prepare a

full-course banquet, but he should leave out an item or two so that the diners

feel something is lacking. A woman may put on all her ornaments, but she should

leave out one or two. And similarly with all festive

occasions. And so we place burnt ash on the head of a bridegroom instead

of tefillin, for so it says, "to give the

mourners of Zion a garland [pe'er] for ashes [epher]"… Whoever

mourns for Zion as she deserves will be privileged to behold her joy, as it

says, "Rejoice with Jerusalem and be glad for her, all you who love her,

join in her jubilation, all you who mourned over her" and this is what is

referred to in "If I do not keep Jerusalem in memory even at my happiest

hour" This is symbolized by the burnt ashes placed on the heads of

bridegrooms… And there are places which the custom is not to use ashes but to

place a black napkin on their heads in memory of the destruction, and it is

also customary to smash a glass in memory of the destruction.

(HaMeiri, Taanit




They will not believe me (shemot 4)

Moshe Meir


                                                                                                                In memory of my rabbi and teacher,

                                                                                    Rav Yehuda Amital



Parashat Devarim, which

opens the Book of Devarim, Moshe summarizes all that

befell him since he accepted upon himself the leadership of the people. Two

similar expressions appear in close proximity:

            9 … I cannot carry you by myself.

            10 … O, how can I carry by myself

your trouble and your burden and your disputing?                                                                                                                                                       (Devarim



These are powerful expressions, if they are to be

taken seriously. The leader, the teacher and rabbi say to their congregation "I

cannot". My ability ends here. In Moshe's biography the phrase "cannot"

is especially grave. Let us recall the visit of his father-in-law, Jethro, who looked with a fresh and unprejudiced eye upon

Moshe's conduct:

…The thing that you are doing is not good. You will

surely wear yourself out – both you and the people

that is with you – for the thing is too heavy for you, you will not be able to

do it alone. (Shemot 18, 17)

What is the relation between the two statements? Perhaps

Moshe learned from his father-in-law, and internalized the fact that he cannot

function alone, or perhaps the voices clash within himself – one voice telling

him that he can function alone, the second warning that he cannot.

What do the people hear when their leader tells them

that he cannot? Rashi, following the midrash, gives voice to their


I cannot carry you alone. Is it possible that Moshe

was incapable of judging Israel?

A man who took them out of Egypt

and parted the sea for them, and brought down the sea, and swept up the quail,

was incapable of judging them? But thus did he say to them…

The people do not believe Moshe when he claims that he

cannot, so they interpret his words differently.

A similar occurrence is revealed with regard to the

first passage in the parasha:

These are the words that Moshe spoke to all the


The term "devarim"

[in Hebrew, 'words', 'things' 'occurrences'] takes on double meaning when we

recall Moshe's appearance at the beginning of his mission. When God attempts to

persuade him to take upon himself the assignment, He pushes him into a corner.

At the end of the charged exchange, Moshe says:

Please, my Lord, no man of words am

I, not at any time in the past nor now since You have spoken to Your servant,

for I am heavy-mouthed and heavy-tongued. (Shemot 4)

The disparity between what the Book of Devarim says about Moshe, and Moshe's

description of himself as "not a man of words" serves as the basis

for the following midrash:

These are the words" – Said Israel: "Yesterday

you said 'I am not a man of words' yet now you speak so much?! (Midrash Tanchuma,

Parashat Devarim, 2)

Here, too, we find expression of the people's lack of

trust in Moshe's leadership. They do not believe that when he says "I am

not a man of words" he really means what he says. They have substantiation

for their skepticism, for he is, indeed, a man of words, as the Book of Devarim confirms.

The midrash,

however, resolves this paradox, explaining how one who is not a man of words [devarim] can speak the Book of Devarim:

The mouth which spoke "I am not a man of words'

said "These are the words" and the prophet [Isaiah] cries out,

saying: "Then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue      of he dumb shall shout aloud" – why? Because "waters shall burst forth in the desert, streams in

the wilderness." Therefore is it written: "These are the words."

Moshe was truly not a man of words, one from whom

speech flows naturally. Only an unnatural eruption of his consciousness created

the words which evolved into the Book of Devarim.

My teacher and master, Rabbi Yehuda Amital, used to say: "I am an uncomplicated man – ish pashut. I was

not molded from the raw materials of roshei

yeshiva [yeshiva heads]". Many of his disciples and listeners did not

believe him; they did not grasp that he was speaking with profound seriousness.

Or perhaps they did not hear his words and only perceived him as a rosh yeshiva and a Torah master, or perhaps

they interpreted his words as a kind of humility. "I come from a family of

carpenters", he said, "Were it not for the Shoah

which instilled within me a sense of duty to continue the world of Torah, I

would have been a baal bayit

[lit. "house-holder'; common usage "an

unscholarly person']". Again, they did not believe him, he wasn't really

serious. Is it possible to describe him as a baal

bayit? As a proprietor of a

grocery store? As a merchant in the stock market?

Rav Amital took a heroic step.

He invited – after he had already served as the head of the Yeshiva – Harav Lichtenstein to be a Rosh Yeshiva. He well

knew that he was inviting someone who was, in terms of intellectual endowment,

several degrees above him. In the final result, the rare combination of

intellectual power of Rav Lichtenstein and the unique

being of Rav Amital created

the Yeshiva. But the amalgamation was not without pain. He once openly – as was

his way – confided:

Before Rav Lichtenstein

arrived, I would read the Gemorrah with the students,

elaborate, read Rashi,

and everybody was happy. But since Rav Lichtenstein

arrived, if I       don't bring five

approaches of Rishonim, my lesson will not be a


Again, they didn't believe him. They thought that

since he was functioning as a rosh yeshiva

he certainly lived as a rosh yeshiva

and learned like a rosh yeshiva and

loved to teach like a rosh yeshiva. They

did not believe that he really liked to learn a page of Gemorrah

simply, like a baal bayit.

And when, in his latter days, he joined his synagogue group in the learning

of Mishna and a quick 'superficial' daf yomi [daily

page of Talmud], they did not believe that these were true, authentic steps.

They rationalized – he is surely doing this only to express regard for the

common people (who were, of course, not like him).

My Rav Amital

– and every student has the teacher as he is etched in his consciousness – was

really an ish pashut

a plain person who really loved to learn a chapter of Mishna

and Daf Yomi, and therein –

not in complex and convoluted query – he found the roots of his soul.

His ability to function as a Rosh Yeshiva

despite his alternate identity, that of the baal

habayit, was what created his uniqueness.

He once related the following story:

Once there was a great rabbi who had a waggoner who would take him from town to town to lecture. Once

the waggoner said to the rabbi:

"Wherever you go, you are accorded great honor. I

am so envious of you. I would love just once to experience that honor".

Answered the rabbi:

"Let's change clothes. I will dress like a waggoner and hold the reins, and you will dress in rabbinic

garb, so that when we reach town, they will treat you with respect."

And so they did, and upon reaching town the waggoner, in rabbinic attire, was treated with great

respect and admiration. The waggoner was ecstatic,

until someone approached and said:

"Rebbi, I cannot

understand the Tosafot in Eruvin,

page 18, the second Tosafot."

The waggoner was taken

aback, not knowing how to react. But immediately he gathered his wits and


You don't understand the second Tosafot?!

It's so simple that even my waggoner can explain it

to you…

My Rav Amital

saw himself as the costumed wagonner, and his

greatness was that he was aware of this and was able to both express his pain

and to laugh at it. Aware of the gap between his identity and his role – or,

should you prefer, his costume – he developed an almost animalistic sense for detecting

anything counterfeit and misleading. Thus he was able to chide us whenever we

were not genuine, whenever we played roles and were not ourselves.

From Rav Amital

I learned to believe Moshe who says "I cannot", to believe him when

he says "I am not a man of words." In my opinion, one who says "I

cannot" can still be attuned to fate and to history which call upon him to

do the impossible, to be someone other than that who he is. The man of truth

who is called upon to do so succeeds in being himself even when he is not

himself. Such a man, in his vulnerability and his pain, becomes a living

compass, a counterfeit-detector who walks among us, sears us, educates us.

Dr. Moshe Meir, Research

Fellow at Hartman Institute, teaches at Kolot and at

the Hebrew Univ. His book "Shnayim

Yachdav" was published by Magnes.


"For you do not judge not on behalf of man" (II Chronicles 19:6) The meaning is: Do not think in your heart:

What difference does it make if we pervert the law to declare our friends

innocent and pervert the rights of the poor and favor the rich? Is it not so

that the judgment is not for the Lord? Therefore, it says, for the Lord. It is for Him. If

you convict the innocent, it is as though you take from your Creator's property

and pervert the law of Heaven, by bestowing a distorted verdict. Therefore,

"see what you are doing," and may your heart be in every judgment, as

if the Holy One, blessed be He, is standing before you in judgment, and this is the meaning of: "and

[He] is with you in the matter of the judgment." In Sanhedrin (6b) it

is stated "What are you doing, for you do not judge for man but for the

Lord." This is explained [as follows]: Perhaps the judge will say,

"How does this problem concern me?" Therefore, Scripture states:

"and it is with you concerning the matter of the judgment," i.e., it

is incumbent upon you to rule justly. And the judge must deal only with that

which he sees with his own eyes.

(Rashi on IIChronicles 19:6, Judaica Press translation)


And you shall judge justly between a man and his brother

and his strangerThere is no difference whether the

judgment is made between two Israelites from birth or between an Israelite from

birth and a convert. As soon as he joins the Israelite community, the stranger

becomes his stranger, and

his status becomes equal to that of any Israelite from birth.

(Rabbi S.R. Hirsch Devarim 1:16)


Jerusalem has sinned  Israel's Uniqueness as a Chosen


Commenting on the passage in

Lamentations – Jerusalem has sinned, therefore she

became an outcast, the Midrash asks: "Jerusalem has sinned – do not other nations of the world

sin?! But even though they sin, it is nothing, but Israel sinned and

was punished." This indicates that the responsibility weighing upon

the Jewish people is greater than that of the nations; when the nations sin,

they sometimes are successful despite their sins, whereas for the Jewish people

this is not so; iniquity and evil – which do not weaken the foundations of other

nations' existence – have the potential to undermine the existence of the

Jewish people. This is the uniqueness of the Jewish people which finds

expression is the well-known phrase "You have chosen us from all the

peoples," a choice which is the

acceptance of obligations and their fulfillment alone; this alone is its z'khut  its privilege – as the people of


(Y. Leibowitz, Sihot al Hagei Yisrael u'Mo'adav,

p. 138)




1.      First of all, yasher koach to

Mrs. Melamed on her essay. Permit me a few comments:

2.      The statement "Moshe, God's

chosen, uses his power in order to kill Korach"

is reminiscent of the people's accusation "You have killed people of God".

Regarding God's reaction to this אכ"ל

3.       The fact that in Bemidbar 26 "Korach is mentioned

a propos Datan and Abiram"

derives simply from the fact that we are dealing with the tribe of Reuven.

4.      According to 16:19, Korach and the 250 notables are present with their

fire-pans at the entrance to The Tent of Appointment, whereas Moshe and the

Elders go to the camp of Shimon (v.

25), and there "the earth

opened its mouth (32), and, concurrently "fire came forth"

(35). The two events appear far one from the other; the event in the camp

of Reuven made a tremendous and extraordinary impression,

and therefore Moshe's recall of the incident (Chap. 13). There are

many more such examples.        For us it

is important to know that the punishment was not collective; Datan and Abiram, "went out,

poised (complaining) at the entrance of their tents, and their wives and their

sons and their little ones", all perished, whereas as the sons of Korach, who repented, praised God in one of the most

exalted of the Psalms.

5.      The main thing to remember is

that to be "The Chosen People" means to strive constantly to "Be

Holy" as understood by Moshe (and God), and not as per the populist-superficial-nationalistic

"all the congregation are all holy" as per Korach.

Yitzchak Eldror


Thanks to Mr. Eldror for his response and


Regarding the explanation for mention (or lack of mention) of the Korach story in other Biblical sources – it seems to me

that there is no need to begin a discussion on this matter. Mr. Eldror's explanation is reasonable, but there are other

explanations. The reading I proposed is one of many, and everyone has the right

to accept or reject it.

Regarding the statement that Moshe used his power against Korach, I did not intend to switch the roles in the

narrative. Certainly Korach sinned, and certainly

Moshe does not need my defense. Even so, the idea that Moshe initiated Korach's punishment and "forced" God to execute

it, perhaps out of personal insult, is not my original idea. It is to found in

Talmudic literature. I mentioned this in my article, and I refer the reader to

the very interesting and thought-arousing midrash

in Tanhuma, Parashat Korach, end of of unit 8,

beginning with "to friends of the King's daughter".

I repeat and emphasize: Even if my argument be

correct, and the Torah does (very gently and indirectly) criticize Moshe, this

is not to compare his reaction to Cain's criminal behavior. There is, perhaps,

a statement regarding the great and destructive power of anger flowing from

insult, and about the need for its avoidance, also – and especially – when a

person has reached a very high level.

And finally: I agree with every word of Mr. Eldror's

final paragraph. Holiness is indeed a challenge demanding constant effort, with

willingness to admit weaknesses and, as much as possible, to correct them.

Esti Melamed


But why was the second Temple destroyed,

Seeing that in its time they were occupying

themselves with

 Torah, mitzvoth, and the practice of charity?

Because therein prevailed hatred without


                                                                                                             (Bavli, Yoma 9b)


If we were destroyed, and the world with us,

Through hatred without cause,

We shall be rebuilt, and the world with us,

Through love without cause.

                                                                                                 (Rav kook, orot hakodesh, 3:324)


Following the initiative of our dear member,

Prof. Gerald Kromer z"l,

This year, too, we shall go up to


grave of Yitzchak Rabin, z"l,

On Tish'a B'Av Eve, Motsei Shabbat

28/7/12, at 21:00


Authorized entry from the military cemetery



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