Va'etchanan 5773 – Gilayon #808


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Parshat Vaetchanan

You shall do no task, you, and your son, and your


And your male slave, and your slavegirl, and your ox, and

your donkey,

And all your beasts and your sojourner who is within

your gates –

So that your male slave and your slavegirl may rest like


And you shall remember that your were a slave in the land of egypt,

And the lord brought you out from there.

(Devarim 5:13-14)


…It says

here "So that your servant and your maid may rest like you, and you shall

remember that you were a slave etc." …He commands rest for the servant

as for yourself because you were a servant and the Lord let you rest, and you

shall let your servant rest, the reason being that when your servant and maid

rest as yourself, you will be reminded that you were a slave, etc".

 (Ramban ibid.,




entering the land will no longer be a national conglomeration under the direct

supervision of God; they are to be individuals on their own, and in their work

they will have to struggle with nature and with human competition in order to

merit independence. Therefore the Shabbat was to be impressed above all in its shmira

[‘guarding" i.e., observing the negative precepts] aspect, in its 24- hour

sacrifice of ceasing work in acknowledging homage to God. So that those who

henceforth would feel relegated to their own hand and own arm, their own "strength

and power", should not forget the truth that every ounce of strength and

every grain of power, and all that they might come to think was their own

production, comes from God and belongs to God; the God Who showed them His

strength and His power in the midst of the "might and power" of the

great Egyptian state on the slaves who had been "bereft of all strength

and power", and it is He Who has given them the strength and power they

now enjoy and call their own, and Who expects them to acknowledge this fact

with the 24-hour Sabbath sacrifice of refraining from work and carrying [from

one domain to another] … and on the other hand, all the members of this

sphere of man's power are joined to him by the copulative ‘and' in complete

equality with his own personality to place themselves with him at the feet of

God. That is why here "so that your male slave and your slave girl may

rest like you" is stressed as a special visible consequence of the

God-acknowledging festival of Shabbat when Man calls a halt to the exercise of "strength

and powers".

(RaShaR Hirsch, ibid., ibid., Y. Levi translation)



Raised Us Above All Languages?

Debbie Weissman

I would like to dedicate this to the blessed memory of my teacher and

mentor, Prof. Michael Rosenak, who died on Erev Shavuot. Because of Mike

– as he was called by all those who knew him – and his wife, Geula, may she

live a long and good life, I became an observant Jew. When I was 18, I came to Israel on the Young Judaea Year

Course. Mike taught us Jewish history and Jewish philosophy. He brought me into

the wonderful world of modern Jewish thought. Mike thus was my teacher, later

my colleague, and, in the end, my friend. The two of us, in the 1970's, were among the founders of the "Oz v'Shalom"


One of the central issues in the field of modern Jewish thought is the

concept of Jewish chosenness. Within the framework of these few pages, of

course, it is impossible to deal with the topic in a comprehensive way. I will

simply make one general comment and then a few personal ones: in the modern

era, one of the challenges facing Jewish thinkers , and especially those who

were influenced by the European Enlightenment, is the challenge of racism; in

other words, the belief that some peoples are superior to others. Many

philosophers in the modern period have confronted this challenge and tried to

interpret chosenness in different ways.

In our Parsha, Va'etchanan, we find the following (Deut.

4: 5-10):

5 See, I have

taught you decrees and laws as the LORD my God

commanded me, so that you may follow them in the land you are

entering to take possession of it. 6 Observe them carefully,

for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations,

who will hear about all these decrees and say, "Surely this great nation

is a wise and understanding people." 7

What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the LORD our God is near us whenever we pray to him? 8 And what other nation is so great as to have such

righteous decrees and laws as this body of laws I am setting

before you today? 9 Only be careful,

and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes

have seen or let them slip from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after

them. 10 Remember the day you stood before the

LORD your God at Horeb, when he said to me, "Assemble the

people before me to hear my words so that they may learn to

revere me as long as they live in the land and

may teach them to their children."

I want to argue that Jewish chosenness isn't – God forbid! – because of

some kind of essential superiority. It means that we received the Torah

and that our destiny is to share it with the nations of the world. In this, I

am following Rabbi Dr. Immanuel Jacobowitz, former Chief Rabbi of Britain:

"Maybe the Greeks were chosen for their unique contributions to

art and philosophy, the Romans for their pioneering services in law and

government, the British for bringing parliamentary rule into the world, and the

Americans for piloting democracy in a pluralistic society."1

Rabbi Jacobowitz writes that the Jewish people were chosen by God to be

His peculiar people. He interprets that as "pioneers of religion and

morality." For me, this is going too far; I would have said, "chosen

in order to receive the Torah."

In our blessings and prayers, we connect being chosen with the Torah.

For example, every morning we bless, "Who chose us from among all the

nations and gave us the Torah." In my view, one of the central

contents of Torah – including of the Ten Commandments – is the Shabbat.

In the Friday night Kiddush, we say: "For You have chosen us

from among all peoples and hallowed us above all nations, and in love and favor

have given us Your holy Shabbat…" Thus it is possible to say that

the Election of Israel, or Jewish chosenness, does not necessarily reflect any

superior traits of the people itself, but rather those gifts we received from

the Holy One – the Torah, and, within it, the Shabbat. As long as

we're talking about this kind of Election, without ascribing any qualities of

superiority to any particular people, it is easier to dismiss the danger of


But I still have difficulty with the expressions ascribing superiority

to our language. In the evening Kiddush for festivals, we say, "You

have raised us above all languages…" and in the festival Mussaf,

we say, "You have exalted us above all tongues."


Is Hebrew

really superior to the thousands of other languages in the world?

Exactly a century ago there took place, in the history of the Yishuv,

what is called the conflict or war of the languages. In 1913, the students of the Technikum in Haifa – what we call

today the Technion – rebelled against their professors, over the issue of the

language of instruction in that institution. Some of the professors preferred

to teach in German; the students insisted on Ivrit. Very quickly the struggle

spread to the whole organized Jewish community in Eretz Yisrael. As you

know, the Hebrew Language was victorious. We can see in the revival of Hebrew

as an everyday spoken language one of the important achievements of the Zionist


In Kehillat Yedidya, in Jerusalem, the community to which I

belong (as do many of the writers for "Shabbat Shalom"), we

held this year an all-night study session, a Tikkun Leyl Shavuot, around

the theme, "Hebrew as the Language of Revelation." It is a

fascinating and complex topic. In our study, we saw a text from the Admor

– the Hassidic master – Naftali of Ropschitz (1760-1827.) In his book, "Holy Seed, "he wrote

about the moment of revelation at Sinai: "It could be that the only thing

that was actually heard was the first letter of the first commandment, the Aleph

of Anochi." Aleph is a silent letter. For mystics,

revelation occurred through silence, or, perhaps, "the still, small voice."3

But I am not a mystic. What I have is language, words, and word-play.

The Torah is in Hebrew. And if we start with B'reshit, there's

nothing quite like Hebrew that distinguishes between bara, the word for "created"

when it's God's doing, and yatzar, when it's ours. There is a connection

between yatzar and yetzer, drive or inclination, amen, "so

be it," oman,

artist, emet, truth, and emunah, faith, hametz, unleavened

bread, and hahmatzat sha'ah, losing the opportunity. Adam, dam

and adamah – man, blood and the earth. Binah, wisdom, is

the ability to distinguish bain l'vain, between different things. The

Midrash doesn't read "Who is like unto You among the mighty, O Lord…"

Mi kamocha ba'elim Hashem," but rather "Mi kamocha ba'eelmim…",4 Who is like unto You, among

the silent…" for the works of Your hands are suffering on earth, and You

remain silent in the heavens.

We say "And you shall teach them diligently unto your children and

speak of them."5

The word for "them" is bam. It is made up of two letters, Bet

and Mem. The Bet is the first letter of the Written Torah,

B'reshit bara…"In the beginning, God created…"The Mem is

the first letter of the Oral Torah, Me’ematai korim…"From when do

we recite?" (At the beginning of the Mishnah in B'rachot.)

Both words – "in the beginning" and "from when?" – are

connected with time, because the Torah helps us to spend wisely the

limited time we have in our lives as mortals. If we take the word for truth, emet,

we see that it's composed of three letters, one from the beginning of the

Hebrew alphabet, one from the middle, and one from the end, because truth

involves a comprehensive perspective on reality. There is a common proverb, "A

lie has no legs to stand on." The three letters of the word for lie, sheker,

are crowded together at the end of the alphabet.

And a word about Purim, which is connected to Shavuot, the festival of

revelation, both through the issue of "the Jews confirmed and took upon


and through the fact that on both occasions, we read a Scroll named for a woman

(Esther and Ruth.) If we're dealing with Purim, on Purim we dress in costume,

called in Hebrew, mithapsim. The verb to wear a costume is l'hithapes,

in the reflexive form of hitpa'el; in other words, "to search for

yourself:" who you are, who you are not, who you would like to be, who you

really are deep down, and so on. And perhaps l'hapes, to search, is

related to its anagram, lahsof, to reveal?

And finally: the prophet Isaiah (54:13)

says "And all your children shall be learned of the Lord, and great shall

be the peace of your children." A well-known Midrash continues, "Don't

read this as banayich, your children, but as bonayich, your

builders." In 2009, at the Israel Prize ceremony, Professor Mordecai

Rotenberg, speaking on behalf of the laureates, said that children inherit the

past. Their task is to receive the tradition from their parents. But builders

take the tradition and build on it, shaping it for the future. With regard

to the Torah, the Jewish tradition and Hebrew culture – we are both

heirs and builders.

We could of course keep going and give many more examples. The bottom

line is that there is a deep connection between the Hebrew language, as it has

developed, and the Torah revelation. Perhaps other languages have a

similar potential, I don't know. To the best of my knowledge, other religions,

even when they have sacred scriptures, haven't developed a kind of Midrashic

tradition that de-constructs the holy text, in order to disclose different

possible readings. In Hebrew, this method developed of realizing a wide range

of hermeneutical and homiletical possibilities that are potentially to be found

within the text of the Torah. Thus Hebrew isn't superior to the other

languages; it's different, and the difference is evident in the Midrashic

method. And in this, I believe, lies the uniqueness of Hebrew and of the Jewish


1. The Condition of Jewish Belief, Jason Aronson, Inc., 1995, p. 111.

2. I am aware that there were Hebrew

speakers and supporters even before this. One of them was the Haredi

thinker Akiva Yosef Schlesinger.

3. See: First Kings 19:12.

4. This is a pun on Exodus 15:11.

5. Deuteronomy 6:7

6. Compare Esther 9:27 with Babylonian Talmud

Shabbat 88a.

Debbie Weissman, a founder of Kehillat Yedidya in Jerusalem, currently

serves    as president of the

International Council of Christians and Jews


And I

pleaded with the Lord at that time, saying. (Devarim 3:23)


gates of mercy are not locked"

When Moshe

entered the inheritance of the Children of Reuven and the Children of Gad, he

rejoiced and said: I am under the impression that I have been released from my

vow – he began to pour supplications before the King. To what may this be

compared? To a king of flesh and blood who decreed that his son never enter the

door of his hall. When the king entered the gate, the son followed, and [when

he entered] the reception room he followed, but when he came to the

bed-chamber, he said: My son, from here on you may not enter. Similarly, when

Moshe entered the inheritance of the Sons of Reuben and the Sons of Gad, he

rejoiced, saying: It seems that my vow has been cancelled, he began to pour

supplications before the Omnipresent. Is it not a logical conclusion: If Moshe,

who was a great sage, father of the sages and father of the prophets, even

though he know that he was bound by divine decree, still he did not refrain

from pleading for mercy, all the more so other people, as is written: "And

I pleaded to the Lord" (Devarim 3) – with

kinds of supplication.

(Sifri Balak, Piska 135)



not as servants who serve the master in order to receive reward"

You shall

not try the lord your god as you tried him in massah.

(Devarim 6:16)



shall not try the Lord your God – this is explained by the

phrase as you tried Him in Massah. That is, do not say

"If the Lord is in our midst to perform miracles for us, or if when we

serve Him we succeed, have enough food to satisfy us and live well – then we

shall observe His Torah," for the point of that

[the Massah episode] was that if the Lord would miraculously supply

them with water, then they would follow Him through the wilderness, but if not

they would leave Him. This was accounted to them as a great sin, for after it

had been demonstrated to them with signs and wonders that Moses was a prophet

of the Lord and the Lord's word was truly in his mouth, it was wrong for them

to make any further trial. Anyone who would do so would not be testing the

prophet – he would be testing the blessed Lord to see if His powers were

sufficient to the task. Therefore, it has been prohibited for all the

generations to test the Torah or the Prophets, for it is wrong to serve the

Lord in a doubting fashion, or based upon demands for miracles and tests. It is

not the Lord's will to perform miracles for all persons and at all times, and

it is wrong to serve Him in order to receive a reward. Rather, one may come

across sorrow and tragedy while serving Him and while walking in the

paths of Torah; one should accept that as just, and not be like the fools of

our nation who said [What have we gained by keeping His charge] and

walking in abject awe of the Lord of Hosts? (Malachi 3:14).

(RaMBaN Devarim 6:16)


Then moshe

set apart three towns across the jordan where the sun rises

To flee

there who murdered his fellow man without knowing

And he was

not his enemy in time past,

That he

might flee to one of those towns and live.

(Devarim 4:41-42)



one accused of murder is entitled to a decent attitude and a just trial


Moshe set apart three towns… towards the rising of the sun" – what

is the meaning of "the rising of the sun?"

Said R'

Yossi, son of R' Chanina – said The Holy One, Blessed Be He, to Moshe: Cause

the sun to shine for the murderer and provide him with refuge for exile, so

that he not be doomed because of the sin of murder, just as the sun lights up

the world.

An alternate

explication: "For fleeing to by the accidental murderer" – Our

Rabbis said: To what may this be compared? To an artisan who made an image of

the king; as he was making it, it broke in his hands. Said the king: Had he

broken it intentionally, he would have to be executed; now that he broke it

unintentionally, he is sentenced to exile and travel, so did The Holy One,

Blessed Be He, decree, "Whoever now sheds human blood, for that human

shall his blood be shed", but one who kills without intent is exiled

from his home, as is written, "He shall flee to one of these cities and will

live" – said The Holy One, Blessed Be He: In this world, where

the Evil Inclination is prevalent, people kill each other and they die, but in

the future to come, I will uproot the Evil Inclination from you and there

will be no death in the world, (Isaiah 25), "He

will destroy death forever."

(Devarim Rabba Parasha 2)



comfort you my people";


Conditional Promise or A Spiritual Challenge?


chapter of the Haftara (of Shabbat Nachamu) is cut off at verse 26, and the

four concluding verses are not recited, lest they – Heaven forbid – adversely

affect the pleasant feeling radiated by the preceding verses of consolation

and mission, verses coveted by the human soul, ideas with which the soul

amuses itself.

From the

words of the prophets we derive that consolation and the mission of redemption are

not a given reality or an event due to occur in the future. They are talking

about a direction and a goal towards which one must strive, and this is, in

effect, the meaning of all prophecies which contain promises.


study, without prejudgments regarding the redemption and the return to Zion,

which are actually the content and the main subjects of the "Seven

Prophecies of Comfort," will reveal – to our surprise- their true meaning:

they are always interwoven with presentations of demands; were this not so,

they would be devoid of any religious significance, and it would have been able

to relate to them as pronouncements of the Oracle, fortune tellers, and

diviners of idolaters, which existed from days of yore until this very day.

In contrast

to one Chazalic opinion which claims that there are only prophecies of

misfortune and that they do not materialize because of penitence which is

capable of nullifying the decree, there is no denying the fact (which we tend

to ignore) that there are to be found many prophecies of consolation which were

never realized. On this subject, too, Talmudic literature, midrashim, and

aggadot make forceful statements, such as those great consolations which

Yirmiyahu predicts for Efrayim and the ten tribes, and for our mother Rachel

who announces the future return of her sons. But we all know that the sons did

not return, and the Kingdom

of Israel has long passed

from the world, despite all these prophecies.


Amos prophesied that Israel will be exiled from its land, and in that same

generation there arose in Israel Yoravam son of Yoash, the powerful leader and

conqueror ' "who restored the territory of Israel from Levo-hamaath to the

sea of the Arabah" (II Kings 14:25), and

achieved victories and conquests hitherto unparalleled, but one generation

later, the Kingdom of Efrayim ceased to exist.

 (Y. Leibowitz, Discussions About The Festivals

Of Israel And Its Appointed Times, pp.146-147)




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