This week's parashah tells us (28:9), "You shall walk in His
ways," teaching that a person, through his good deeds, actually
can walk in Hashem's footsteps. R' Eliezer Zvi of Komarno z"l
(died 1898) observes, though, that most of us don't believe this
teaching; we do not believe in our own spiritual potential.
For example, how often do we pray, and, when we see that we are
not answered, we assume that our prayers cannot really make a
difference? The Ba'al Shem Tov z"l (died 1760) taught that this
is the result of excessive self-deprecation. A person must
believe that his prayers have untold consequences in the heavens,
even if he does not see those effects. If a person did believe
this, R' Eliezer Zvi adds, how joyfully would he pray?! How
carefully would he pronounce every letter, every syllable?!
If a person believed that he is (in the words of Bereishit
28:12) "a ladder standing on the ground with its head in the
heavens," if he believed that every movement, every word, every
step and every business deal makes a spiritual impact on the
world, he would do all of those things for the sake of Heaven.
Also, the Zohar comments, "If people knew the love with which
Hashem loves the Jewish people, they would roar like lions in
their eagerness to follow Him."
On the other hand, if a person thinks that he cannot make a
difference, he should know that he is on the road to heresy. If
a person thinks that way, it is a sign that the yetzer hara has
succeeded with him and will soon deprive him of life in this
world and in the next.
Rather than despair, one can learn from Yaakov, who said
(Bereishit 35:5), "I lived with Lavan and I delayed until now."
The letters of "Lavan" are the reverse of the letters of
"Naval"/"degenerate one," a reference to the yetzer hara. Why
was Yaakov successful in turning around the "naval" and
"whitening" (from "lavan"/"white") it? Because "I delayed until
now," i.e., because he did not expect immediate results from his
prayers and mitzvot, but rather had faith that the results would
come with time. (Zekan Beto, p.216)
"On this day, Hashem, your G-d, commands you to perform
these decrees and the statutes . . . You have distinguished
("he'emmarta") Hashem today to be a G-d for you . . . And
Hashem has distinguished you ("he'emmarcha") today to be for
Him a treasured people . . ." (26:16-19)
R' Yaakov Abuchatzeirah z"l writes: In these verses, Moshe
informed the Jewish people that their actions here "build worlds"
in heaven [i.e., have enormous spiritual consequences].
Accordingly, Bnei Yisrael should not take lightly the performance
of mitzvot, the study of Torah or proper prayer. Even man's pure
thoughts can "build worlds" above.
Man has this opportunity every single day; therefore Moshe
said, "On this day . . ." Chazal interpret this verse to teach
that one should approach mitzvot every day as if they are fresh,
as if the Torah had been given on that very day. Since man can
build new worlds every day, he should approach his task fresh
In the same vein Moshe continued: "You have distinguished
Hashem," i.e., through your speech ("amirah") (note the common
root "amar" of the two Hebrew words), your prayers and Torah
study, you create new worlds over which Hashem can rule.
The proof of the power of speech is that "Hashem has
distinguished you" through. His speech (again, note the root
"amar"). Indeed, everything Hashem does is said to be through
speech [see Avot 5:1].
"On this day you have become a people . . .
Rashi writes: "Every day should be in your eyes like the day
that you entered into His covenant."
The gemara similarly comments: "Was the Torah given on that
day? The Torah had been given 40 years earlier! However, the
intent of this verse is that Torah should be beloved by those who
study it as if it had been given that day. The sage, R' Tanchum
the son of R' Chaninah from Kfar Acco, said, 'A person may recite
Shma every morning and every evening, but if he misses it once,
it is as if he never recited the Shma'."
R' Moshe Sternbuch shlita explains: A person is obligated to
improve himself every day, and, having done so, to enter the
covenant anew on the higher level where he now stands. This, in
turn, will make him realize that he never kept the Torah
sufficiently before, and he will begin to observe it as if it is
This is the idea behind the daily recitation of Shma. Every
day, a person accepts the yoke of Heaven upon himself, but,
hopefully, on a different level than his acceptance on the day
before. And, if a person is improving himself daily, than
yesterday's Shma will be insignificant compared to today's - as
if he never recited the Shma. It follows that if one missed
today's Shma, it is as if he never read Shma at all.
The Midrash Tanchumah states that this parashah contains 99
distinct punishments that await the Jewish people if they sin.
Why that number?
R' Elazar Rokeach z"l (18th century) explains: The maximum
number of lashes that an earthly court can inflict is 39. Also,
the gemara (Chagigah 15a) refers to a punishment which is
inflicted by the Heavenly court called, "Sixty lashes of fire."
Together, these total 99.
Also, the Hebrew representation of 99 is the letters "tzaddi-
tet." The letter "tzaddi" is sometimes called "tzaddik." When
the names of the letters "tzaddik-tet" are spelled out in Hebrew,
the result is: "tzadi-dalet-yud-kuf-tet-taf," whose gematria is:
90+4+10+100+9+400 = 613. This teaches that the 99 punishments
come to those who fail to observe the 613 mitzvot. In
particular, we learn that G-d punishes us for failing to observe
the positive commandments, something which is not mentioned in
the Torah (See below).
Rashi writes (in next week's parashah - 29:12) that the number
of punishments is 98. However, writes R' Rokeach, another
midrash says that the punishments in this parashah were inflicted
at the time that the Bet Hamikdash was destroyed. If we add the
destruction of the Bet Hamikdash to the 98 punishments, there are
Does Hashem punish man for failing to observe the positive
commandments, or does man merely lose the opportunity to be
rewarded? For example, if a man misses an opportunity to wear
tzitzit, is he punished for it?
The gemara (Menachot 41a) teaches that Hashem does not punish
for such sins alone, but when He becomes angry and punishes for
other sins, he throws into the equation man's failure to observe
the positive commandments.
Is a person punished only if he wears a four-cornered garment
and fails to attach tzitzit to it, or also if he fails to wear a
four-cornered garment so that he will not have to wear tzitzit?
R' Yosef Dov Soloveitchik z"l (died 1892) writes that even the
latter person is punished because his actions demonstrate his
disdain for mitzvot.
(Bet Halevi: D'rush 11)
In contrast, the proper attitude towards mitzvot is
demonstrated by Moshe Rabbenu, who wanted to enter Eretz Yisrael
in order to observe its unique mitzvot. Although he was not
presently obligated to observe them, he wanted to be obligated.
(Tosfot: Shabbat 32a)
An Astonishing Midrash
"'There is no peace,' Hashem said, 'for the wicked'"
(Yishayah 48:22) - this proves that Hashem loves the wicked.
Chazal say that when the wicked are dispersed, it is for their
own good, so that they will be unable to conspire together.
Similarly, if there is no peace among the wicked, it is for their
own good, because Hashem loves them and wants to keep them out of
R' Menachem Ha'meiri z"l
born approx. 5009/1249 - died approx. 5066/1306
R' Menachem ben Shlomo Ha'meiri, who, until modern times, was
virtually unknown to any but the most erudite scholars, is today
one of the most quoted commentators wherever Talmud is studied.
Meiri's popularity is due to the rediscovery and publication of
his monumental Bet Ha'bechirah on most of the Talmud. Meiri's
commentary is unique in its lucid and facile presentation and in
its very arrangement. Strictly speaking, Bet Ha'bechirah is not
a commentary at all, but a digest of the gemara's comments,
arranged in the form of a commentary to the mishnah. This
digest, however, is given together with all the pertinent
interpretations of the greatest authorities up to and including
In addition to Bet Ha'bechirah (which he completed in fifteen
years), Meiri also composed novellae to many tractates in the
style of the classic Spanish commentators. His other works
include Chibbur Ha'teshuvah, on repentance; Magen Avot, defending
the customs of Provence; and books on other subjects. He also
authored a Tanach commentary, of which only the portions on
Tehilim and Mishlei are known.
R' Menachem was a student of R' Reuven ben Chaim and was a
descendant of several distinguished Provencal scholars. (Source:
The ArtScroll Rishonim, p. 175)
Sponsored by The Rutstein family in honor of the marriage of Eli Moshe Rutstein to Galit Nasirov
and Judy and David Marwick in honor of Eliana Aviva Benoff