Sons and Brothers
By Rabbi Yitzchak Etshalom
As we outlined in a previous shiur in Sefer D'varim, the Sefer is made up
of three distinct sections:
* Historical Recounting (Chapters 1-11)
* Laws (Chapters 12-26)
* Re-covenanting Ceremonies (Chapters 27-33)
(Mosheh's death (Chapter 34) is an epilogue to the Sefer).
Until now, we have presented this tripartite division, focusing on the
content and implications of the "history-sermon" which is the content of the
first three Parashiot of the Sefer. Our assumption was that, beginning with
Parashat R'eh (a few verses in - since the first 7 verses are a completion
of the history-sermon), we have moved cleanly and totally into the "Law
Compendium" of D'varim.
We will see, during the course of this shiur, that this "clean" division is
not nearly as sharp as originally presented (and as conventionally
understood). Before proceeding, it is prudent to point out that the
"nickname" of Sefer D'varim presents us with some difficulties. Each of the
Humashim is known by at least one alternative name, found in the literature
of the Talmudic/Midrashic period and in that of the Rishonim.
* B'resheet is also called "Sefer Y'tzirah" (Book of Creation), for reasons
that are somewhat obvious.
* Sh'mot is called "Sefer haG'ulah" (see Ramban's introduction to Sefer
Sh'mot for a beautiful explanation of this) or, alternatively, "Humash
haSheni" (the second Humash - see Netziv's introduction to Sh'mot for an
insight on this term).
* Vayyikra is known, throughout Rabbinic literature, as Torat Kohanim (a
more or less literal rendering of "Leviticus" - the laws affecting the Kohanim).
* Bamidbar is called, as early as the Mishnah, "Homesh haP'kudim" (the
Humash of the censuses).
* D'varim is called - at least as early as Rabbinic literature - "Mishneh
Torah" - (either "a repetition of the Torah" or "a second Torah"). It may be
that the Torah is referring to Sefer D'varim when the king is commanded to
write a Mishneh Torah (D'varim 17:18).
The conventional understanding of "Mishneh Torah" is "repetition", the
notion being that Mosheh was presenting the new generation with a "recap" of
the Mitzvot found in the first four Humashim. As Rav Menachem Liebtag has
pointed out in one of his insightful Parashah shiurim, if the goal of Sefer
D'varim is to serve as a repetition/review of the Mitzvot and/or narratives
found in the first four books (as seems to be Rambam's intent in his
explanation of his naming his Code "Mishneh Torah" - see his introduction
there), it seems to fail its purpose - see Rav Liebtag's shiur for a full
treatment of this problem.
The upshot of the problem is that there are some Mitzvot which are repeated
from earlier Humashim - (e.g. the list of non-Kosher animals, pilgrimage
festivals), some which are not repeated here (e.g. Kohanic restrictions,
offerings, Rosh haShanah and Yom haKippurim), some which are new to us in
D'varim (e.g. marriage and divorce, certain components of juridical
procedure) and some which are "repeated" but from a distinctly different
perspective (e.g. Sh'mittah - compare Vayyikra 25:2-7 with D'varim 15:1-6).
What are we to make of this Law "Review"? As a "recap", it falls short of
the mark - yet it does not contain all new information. We will try to
answer this by assessing the goal of Sefer D'varim in general - thereby
understanding the inclusion of some of the Mitzvot here (and the sequence in
which they are presented).
For purposes of this shiur, we will limit the analysis to those Mitzvot
which appear in Parashat R'eh - such that this shiur will only answer part
of the question.
PARASHAT R'EH: THE BRIDGE FROM MITZVOT TO MISHPATIM
In earlier shiurim, we noted that the catchall word "Mitzvot", which is
literally translated as "commandments", is utilized in Sefer D'varim with a
unique meaning. As we can see from 6:1, 11:13 and other instances, "Mitzvot"
are the general attitudinal approaches to God which comprise the telos of
the covenant. Loving God, fearing Him, cleaving to Him, imitating His ways
etc - these are the "Mitzvot". When Mosheh completed his "lessons" in the
"history sermon" of Chapters 1-11, he had brought us well beyond the demand
to observe a series of obligations and restrictions - we were asked to fear
God, to walk in His ways, to cleave to Him, to love Him... (see 10:12-13).
As we noted in our shiur on Parashat va'Et'hanan, this was the ultimate
lesson of Mosheh Rabbenu - leading us into a constantly growing relationship
Whereas the Law Compendium which begins at 12:1 has been traditionally
understood as an entirely new piece of Mosheh's speech, it seems that the
selection of laws (and the order of presentation) suggests a different
A quick look at the first series of laws in Chapter 12 will give us some
You shall surely destroy all of the worship-sites where the nations who you
are uprooting worshipped, atop the high mountains and the hillocks and
underneath every tree. You shall take apart their altars, you shall destroy
their worship-pillars, their Asherot (worship-trees) you shall burn by fire
and you shall break their idols - and you will erase their name from that
place. You shall not act thusly with Hashem your God" (12:2-4)
The appositional phrase - you shall not actly thusly may be understood
several ways (see Ramban ad loc.); however, any way it is interpreted, the
Torah is making a demand of us which is quite extraordinary. We are called
to behave with great passion and aggression towards the worship-sites of the
pagans - and to promote and keep opposite characteristics regarding the
worship-site and Name of God. The Torah (like other religious disciplines)
incorporates the full range of emotional characteristics and traits into
Even our calendar reflects this range - from the unbridled celebration of
Sukkot to the solemnity of Yom haKippurim (without mentioning the hilarity
of Purim and the anguish of Tish'a b'Av - both Rabbinically mandated
commemorations). We find, in most cases, that people who find Tish'a b'Av
"easy" to observe have a difficult time celebrating Purim properly. There
are "Simchas Torah Yidin (Jews)" and "Tish'ah b'Av Yidin" - but there aren't
a lot of people who are capable of putting their full energies into the
proper moods of both types of commemorations. This is because people
generally have a particular disposition and those celebrations and rituals
which "fit" their emotional makeup are the ones towards which they
exuberantly run to participate.
The Torah here is demanding an aggressive approach to pagan sites - to
uproot, destroy and erase. There are people who would find this type of
behavior easy, as it fits their general emotional makeup. To ask of these
same people - who found uprooting and destruction so easy - to treat God in
the exact opposite manner is not such a simple task. Conversely, those who
"naturally" show the utmost respect and concern for the sanctity of God's
Name may find it difficult to act with vigor and determination in destroying
a pagan worship-site.
The ability to act with this emotional dexterity is grounded in motivation.
If someone is able to participate in the sadness of Tish'ah b'Av because he
is a natually dour person - Purim will be very difficult to celebrate. If,
on the other hand, he is sad on Tish'ah b'Av because he has a tremendous
love for God and for the Jewish people and is so distraught over the loss of
His holy place and the destruction of His people - then he will find it just
as easy to celebrate the sanctification of His Name and the salvation of His
people on Purim.
In the same way, for someone to be able to uproot and destroy one place
while demonstrating the necessary respect for another Place - he must be
motivated by more than just natural tendencies and personal character
traits. If he is motivated by an overwhelming love for God and a desire to
promote God's Name in this world, he will be as zealous in his protection of
God's holy place as he will in his readiness to destroy pagan places. This
first series of Mitzvot is an actualization of the ultimate lesson taught by
Mosheh Rabbenu - to love God. Following this analysis of the first series of
Mitzvot, we will then assay the rest of the Mitzvot in Parashat R'eh,
viewing them as a bridge between the lessons of Mosheh and the more
"legalistic" Mishpatim found in the next two and a half Parashiot (through
THE SECOND DISTINCTION: A CENTRAL WORSHIP-SITE
Much has been made of the relationship between the "novelty" of centralized
worship in D'varim and the Sefer Torah found by Hilkiyah hoKohen (II
Melakhim 22) and the subsequent reform by Yoshiah to remove all other
worship sites, bringing all worship into the realm of the Beit haMikdash.
The claims of the bible critics (who maintain that D'varim, or at least this
section, were enacted by Yoshiyah in order to strengthen the capitol city)
aside, it would be helpful to find an association between the centrality of
worship (first mentioned in 12:4-14) and the preceding section.
Following our thesis that the particular restrictions and obligations
presented in this first part of the Law Compendium represent expressions of
the ideal relationship with God that we are to develop, we can understand
the stress on centralized worship in a new light. The pagan nations of
K'na'an had multiple worship-sites; although this may have been born of
convenience, it certainly fit with their polytheistic approach. Multiple
"gods" can be served in multiple places. The opening line of Mosheh's
"ultimate lesson" (see our earlier shiur on Parashat va'Et'hanan) is Hashem
is our God, Hashem is One. In other words, the overwhelming and consuming
love which we are to have for God (see Shir haShirim 8:7) is predicated on
His singularity and uniqueness. This unique nature of God is mirrored in the
unique selection of 'Am Yisra'el (see BT B'rakhot 6a-b in the passage about
"God's T'fillin"), as well as in the unique selection of one worship-site
(and the uniqueness of Eretz Yisra'el - but that belongs to a different
shiur). We can now understand the association between the various
"relationship-Mitzvot" and the "new" (actually, newly presented) command to
maintain a centralized worship locale.
INTERNALIZING A DIVINE ASTHETIC
Along with the promise of God's broadening our boundaries, such that we will
not be able to bring all meat to the "place where He shall choose to place
His Name"(12:20-28), the Torah expresses a concern that we will want to
"adopt" pagan worship-styles for the worship of God (12:29-13:1). Following
Ramban's explanation, the concern is that the B'nei Yisra'el will associate
the destruction of the pagan nations with the aobject of their worship (they
backed a losing horse) as opposed to the method of their worship. Therefore
the Torah warns us not to make this mistake; indeed, "every manner of
abomination which Hashem loathes did they do in worship of their gods..."
(12:31). In other words, besides having a misguided approach to worship
(worshipping nothingness as deities), the methods they used (including, as
the verse states explicitly, child sacrifice) were hateful to God.
This warning is immediately followed by the injunction against adding to -
or diminishing from - God's commands. (Note that the Christian-based
division of chapters reads this command as the beginning of a new section
whereas the MT [Masoretic Text] sees this as the end of the section above.
While the other division is understandable, the MT break is much more
reasonable; since it follows the warning to be careful in our worship of God
by not introducing foreign elements into that worship.)
In other words, as S'forno explains, we should not bring our own methods of
worship - whether the result of our own creative thinking or adopting the
behavior of other nations - into the worship of God. We won't know if those
behaviors will be acceptable to God within the context of worship. (There
are certainly other ways to understand the role of creativity within Avodat
Hashem; Rabbi Michael Rozensweig of RIETS wrote a comprehensive article on
the subject in the first issue of the Torah uMada Journal.)
There is a curious assumption implicit in our distancing ourselves from that
which God abhors - and which is re-addressed at the end of Chapter 13 (v.
19). There seems to be an expectation that we will internalize the asthetics
and values of God, such that we will learn to distance ourselves from that
which He hates and we will know how to do that which is upright in His eyes
This is yet another step in the development and actualization of the
"v'Ahavta" ("and you shall love God") relationship: To learn what God finds
acceptable and what He loathes - and then to internalize those
sensitivities, such that doing that which is right (or Right) and avoiding
that which is abhorrent becomes "second nature".
[note: There is much to be written on this subject; as it seems to fly
directly in the face of the statement of our Rabbis: A person should ideally
desire non-Kosher food, but resist it simply because of the command of God.
We have treated this subject in an earlier shiur.]
This point is the tie which connects the three parashiot which make up
Chapter 13 - the prophet who threatens to lead us astray (vv. 2-6); the
"Meisit" who attempts to seduce people to worship foreign gods (vv. 7-12)
and the "Ir haNidachat" - the city which has "gone over" to idolatry. In
each of these cases, not only are we commanded to resist the resepective
temptation, we are also commanded to focus our approach in a way which is
the opposite of the usually desired direction:
Do not listen to that prophet... (v. 4)
(as opposed to loyalty to a prophet)
Do not have compassion... (v. 9)
(as opposed to acting compassionately)
Utterly destroy that city... (v. 16)
(as opposed to maintaining concern for our fellows' property)
The Torah is again giving us direction on what should motivate our feelings
- not by "natural tendencies", rather by our love for God. Although we are
generally called to compassion, loyalty, respect for elders etc., there are
situations where a greater value - love for God - "overrules" the other values.
The first part of our Parashah is a series of obligations and restrictions
which help guide us into actualizing the love for God which is the raison
d'etre of the Law. First, we are to demonstrate that our passions are not
guided by "natural tendencies", rather by a commitment to promoting God's
Name in the world. Next, we are shown how to demonstrate the singular nature
of God - via centralized worship. Finally, we are given the charge to
internalize the Divine system of values and asthetics which will help us
determine the Right from the Wrong.
So far, we have discussed the first half of the Parashah. Although we have
not explained why Sefer D'varim is called "Mishneh Torah", we have suggested
why particular Mitzvot were mentioned specifically here.
YOU ARE THE CHILDREN OF GOD
Chapter 14 begins with this powerful banner statement
Banim Atem l'Hashem Eloheikhem
you are children unto your God.
What is the implication of this statement and its purpose specifically at
this point in the Law Compendium?
If we follow the next part of the verse - that which seems to be the direct
consequence of the Banim Atem avowal - we find a particular and somewhat
peculiar ritual prohibition:
[At this point, it is prudent to note that we will find a number of
"repetitions" of laws from earlier Humashim; however, they will, at least in
some cases, be presented in a different manner than the earlier version.]
You are children of Hashem your God. You must not lacerate yourselves or
shave your forelocks for the dead. For you are a people holy to Hashem your
God; it is you Hashem has chosen out of all the peoples on earth to be His
people, His treasured possession.
What is the connection between our being children of God and not
participating in the self-mutilation mourning rituals endemic to the pagan
cults of K'na'an?
Rashi answers that since we are the children of God, it is appropriate for
us to look dignified and noble - something which would surely be violated by
Ramban points out that if that were the reason, the violation would not be
limited to mourning rituals, it would apply to any circumstance of
self-mutilation. If so, why does the Torah specifically say laMet- "for the
S'forno provides an alternative to Rashi which both satisfies Ramban's
challenge and is the key to understanding the rest of the Parashah:
For it is inappropriate to exhibit ultimate anxiety and sorrow over a
relative who dies if there remains a more dignified relative alive;
therefore, [since] you are "children of God" Who is your father and is
eternal, it is never appropriate to exhibit ultimate mourning for any death.
In other words, since we are God's children and He is always with us, there
is never an instance of death which we should experience as total
devastation - for even when all seems lost, our Father is still there.
This command is immediately followed by a further explanation - For you are
a holy people to God...
If we look at the end of the next series of laws, we find the exact same
phrase (v. 21) - thus bookending this section. What is the content of this
section which sits between the markers of "You are a holy people to Hashem
As mentioned above, along with laws which were never mentioned before and
laws which were mentioned from a different perspective, Sefer D'varim
includes some instances of laws which are nearly "cut-and-paste jobs" from
Chapter 14, verses 3-21, is a prime example of this type of "repetition".
The list of acceptable and unacceptable animals - along with the guiding
characteristics - is almost a repeat of the listing found in Chapter 11 of
Vayyikra (Parashat Sh'mini). In other words, the section which is identified
by the tag "You are a holy people..." is the laws of Kashrut. Why these laws
The Midrash Halakhah states:
R. Elazar b. Azariah said: From whence do we know that a man should not say:
'I cannot tolerate wearing Sha'atnez, [or] I cannot tolerate eating pork,
[or] I cannot tolerate illicit relations'--Rather that he should say: ' I am
capable and willing, but what can I do, my Father in Heaven decreed thus'
[that I avoid these things]? Therefore Scripture states: 'I have separated
you from the Nations to be Mine' --thus, he avoids the sin and accepts God's
Sovereignty." (Sifra Parashat Kedoshim) RABD's reading and comments here
seem to strengthen the challenge: "Therefore Scripture states: 'To be
Mine'"--in other words, practice this law for My sake and not due to your
own consideration. (commentary of RABD, ibid.)
Although we certainly do not apply this type of reasoning to those areas of
Halakhah which build the ethical self - e.g. proper social interaction and
respectful behavior towards others and their property - there is room for it
within the corpus of Halakhah. To wit, there are some areas of Halakhah
where the sole motivation for observance is commandedness. Unlike the
integration and internalization of Divine values, outlined above, the laws
of Kashrut (along with some other areas of Halakhah) should be driven by -
and result in - a conscious and deliberate awareness of God's direct role as
Lawgiver and Commander.
If the first consequence of the banner statement: Banim Atem... is the
awareness of God's constant presence in our lives, the second is the method
by which we maintain that closeness - by separating ourselves and preserving
a unique relationship which is "To be Mine".
SONS AND BROTHERS
As surely as "You are children of Hashem your God" implies a close and
special relationship with God, it also implies a special bond within that
family of children. If we are all children of the One God, we are also all
brothers and sisters to each other.
The rest of the Halakhot presented in Parashat R'eh are expressions of that
relationship - the second prong of "Banim Atem". Let's survey them:
[note: for purposes of brevity - and due to space considerations - I will
highlight the phrase in each section which points to the general thread
which ties these Halakhot together.]
* Ma'aser Sheni (Second Tithe) (14:22-27)
Note v. 27: As for the Levites resident in your towns, do not neglect them,
because they have no allotment or inheritance with you.
* Ma'ser 'Ani (Tithe for the Poor) (14:28-29).
V. 29: the Levites, because they have no allotment or inheritance with you,
as well as the resident aliens, the orphans, and the widows in your towns,
may come and eat their fill so that Hashem your God may bless you in all the
work that you undertake.
* Sh'mittah. (15:1-6).
As mentioned above, here is an example of a law which is presented in
D'varim and which appears earlier - but the presentation in D'varim is from
a different perspective. In Vayyikra, Sh'mittah is oriented towards
agricultural "resting"; here, it is focused on "Sh'mittat K'safim", the
cancellation of all debts on the seventh year. This is driven by the statement -
Of a foreigner you may exact it, but you must remit your claim on whatever
any member of your community owes you. There will, however, be no one in
need among you... (vv. 4-5).
* Tzedakah (15:7-11).
Note v. 11: Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I
therefore command you, "Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in
* Ha'anakah (gifting the Hebrew slave when he leaves your employ) (15:12-18)
Note v. 15, the justification for this gift: Remember that you were a slave
in the land of Egypt, and Hashem your God redeemed you; for this reason I
lay this command upon you today.
* B'khor Ba'al Mum (Sanctification of the first-born of the flock or herd
and the result of its having a permanent blemish) (15:19-23).
This one does not seem to fit the group so easily; however, note verse 22:
...within your towns you may eat it, the Tamei (unclean) and the Tahor
(clean) alike, as you would a gazelle or deer.
* Pesach (16:1-8)
This section is itself a bit strange, as it comes at the beginning of three
parashiot, each devoted to one of the pilgrimage festivals. What is odd is
that unlike the latter two, there is no explicit Mitzvah of rejoicing by
which we are enjoined here. One additional "oddity"; this is the only place
where the Torah refers to Matzah as Lechem 'Oni- the bread of poverty or
affliction. We will return to this section at the end of the shiur.
* Shavuot (16:9-12)
Note v. 11: Rejoice before Hashem your God - you and your sons and your
daughters, your male and female slaves, the Levites resident in your towns,
as well as the strangers, the orphans, and the widows who are among you - at
the place that Hashem your God will choose as a dwelling for his name.
* Sukkot (16:13-17)
Note (again) v. 14: Rejoice during your festival, you and your sons and your
daughters, your male and female slaves, as well as the Levites, the
strangers, the orphans, and the widows resident in your towns.
What we see throughout these last 9 parashiot of R'eh is a series of Mitzvot
where the motivation - and performance - focuses on mutual responsibility
for each other's welfare and inclusion. This is, indeed, the second
implication of the tenet: Banim Atem l'Hashem Eloheikhem - "You are children
unto Hashem your God".
PESACH AND LECHEM 'ONI
As mentioned above, Shavu'ot and Sukkot are both highlighted by explicit
commands to rejoice - and Pesach has no such command (although Halakhically
there is a Mitzvah of Simchah on Pesach, it is inferred from these others by
If we consider the "Banim" relationship as it affects our interactions with
other Jews, we find yet another motivation for treating each other with such
consideration - especially in ther realm of financial welfare and
sustenance. Besides the theologically-driven argument of fellowship by
virtue of a "common Father"; there is a historically-driven argument based
on the common experience of slavery. Much more than common success, shared
oppression serves to forge a people - as did happen for us in Egypt. It is
the commemoration and constant awareness that, although today some of us are
more comfortable and financially secure than others, we all were slaves,
with nothing to call our own.
This is the commemoration of Pesach - it serves as a second reason to treat
each other with consideration without regard (or perhaps with excessive
regard) for class distinctions. This is why the Matzah is called Lechem 'Oni
specifically here - because we are to utilize the experience of Pesach to
remind ourselves of common oppression - to motivate us to common concern and
Note that the section about Pesach is "bookended" by a reminder of our being
slaves - once in the section of Ha'anakah (15:15) and once in Shavu'ot
(16:12) - these bookends serve to highlight the place of Pesach within the
larger schema of the Mitzvot appearing in the second half of R'eh. These
Mitzvot are all methods of expressing and fortifying the theme: You are all
children of God.
Text Copyright © 2012 by Rabbi Yitzchak Etshalom and Torah.org. The author is Educational Coordinator of the Jewish Studies Institute of the Yeshiva of Los Angeles.