Hamaayan / The Torah Spring
Edited by Shlomo Katz
Volume XII, Number 43
30 Av 5758
August 22, 1998
The Lando family
in honor of Rabbi Chayim Shlomo Lando
on his completion of Shas
The parashah opens: "See, I place before you today, a blessing
and a curse." R' Eliyahu Schlesinger shlita writes: Many people
believe that the only consequences of observing Torah and mitzvot
are in the World-to-Come. It is true that Chazal have said,
"There is no reward for mitzvot in this world." Nevertheless,
our verse teaches that "the blessing and the curse" exist "today"
as well. How so?
Keeping the Torah is itself a blessing, while living a life of
hefker (loosely translated: "unbridled freedom") is a curse.
Living a true Torah life gives a person a special grace and
gentility. It causes a person to be careful and deliberate, not
only in his relationship with G-d, but in his relationships and
interactions with men. This is not true of a person who sees
himself as free to do whatever he wishes.
We read in this parashah that Hashem divided Bnei Yisrael into
two groups, each of which would stand on one mountain (Har
Gerizim or Har Eval). The Levi'im were to stand in between the
two mountains and recite certain blessings while facing Har
Gerizim and curses while facing Har Eval. What was the purpose
of placing the two groups on two mountains? It was to
demonstrate the vast gulf which exists between one whose life is
a "blessing" and one whose life is a "curse." These two people
cannot stand in the same place.
The midrash on our parashah says: "Not only have I shown you
that there are two ways before you, I have done you a favor and
told you, 'Choose life'." What is the favor that Hashem did us?
It is that he revealed to us that the path we choose affects not
only our place in the World-to-Come, it is a choice which can
give us life in this world as well. (Eleh Ha'devarim)
"You may slaughter from your cattle and your flocks that
Hashem has give you, ka'asher tziviticha/as I have commanded
you . . ." (12:21)
The gemara (Chullin 28a) states: "This verse teaches that Moshe
was commanded regarding the windpipe and the esophagus, and
regarding cutting the majority of one of these organs in a bird
and the majority of both in a four-legged animal." [When
slaughtering a four-legged animal, a shochet must cut through the
majority of both the esophagus and the windpipe. When
slaughtering a bird, cutting the majority of one or the other is
Rashi writes that these laws are not alluded to in the verse
itself; the gemara only means that Hashem taught Moshe the laws
of shechitah as part of the Oral Law.
Tosfot writes that the above laws are alluded to in the quoted
verse, as follows: The Hebrew word "asher" (the root of
"ka'asher" in the verse) can be seen as an acronym for: "echad" -
one [organ]; "shenayim" - two [organs]; "rov" - the majority.
Logically, the smaller requirement ("one") would apply to the
smaller creature (the bird), and the larger requirement ("two")
to the larger creature (the four-legged animal).
Also, the word "ka'asher" is the acronym (backwards) of "Rov
shel echad ka'mohu"/"The majority of one [organ] is like [the
Finally, R' Yaakov of Corbeil z"l observes: The gematria of
"ka'asher tziviticha/as I have commanded you" equals the gematria
of "Rov echad be'ohf, ve'rov shenayim be'behemah"/"The majority
of one for a bird and the majority of two for an animal."
(Based on Da'at Zekeinim Mi'Baalei Hatosfot, Devarim 12:21,
and Tosfot, Chullin 28a)
"If there shall be a destitute person among you . . . you
shall not close your hand . . . Rather, you shall open your
hand to him." (15:7-8)
The Torah recognizes that some people and causes that seek
tzedakah are deserving of larger donations than others. This is
alluded to in the above verses.
"You shall not close your hand" - when one makes a fist, all of
his fingers appear to be of equal length. "Rather, you shall
open your hand to him" - when the fingers are extended, it is
obvious that some are longer than others.
(Heard from R' Yosef Braver z"l)
Mishlei (3:9) states: "Honor Hashem from your treasure."
Making a play on rhyming words, Rashi comments, "Not only from
your treasure, but from your throat."
R' Akiva Eiger z"l commented in a letter: It is obvious that
one must give tzedakah when he has a "treasure." However, one
must give tzedakah even if he is so poor that he would be have to
give away the very food that is in his throat.
(Quoted in Mi'drushei Ve'chiddushei Rabbi Akiva Eiger)
In context, Rashi's comment means that a person who has been
blessed with a pleasant voice is obligated to serve Hashem with
that voice, for example, by leading the services.
We read in Melachim I (Ch. 21) that King Achav had a neighbor
by the name of Navot Ha'yizraeli whose land he coveted.
Eventually, Achav found a false pretense to kill Navot and take
The Midrash Pesikta Rabati (Ch. 26) elaborates on this story:
Navot had a beautiful voice and many people would gather in
Yerushalayim every yom tov to hear his prayers. One year, Navot
decided not to come to Yerushalayim, thus disappointing many
people. Shortly afterwards he was killed and his land
The midrash explains further: The Torah says (Shmot 34:24), "No
man shall covet your land when you go up to appear before Hashem,
your G-d, three times a year." Had Navot gone to Yerushalayim,
Achav would not have coveted and taken his land.
How was Navot's punishment measure-for-measure? R' Chaim
Friedlander z"l explains that Navot thought that his voice was
his property to use, or not use, as he saw fit. He did not
recognize that it was given to him by Hashem to use in serving
Hashem. Since Navot failed to use his "possessions" for the
public good as Hashem intended, he lost all of his possessions.
(Siftei Chaim III, p.342)
From the verse in Mishlei quoted above, one Talmudic sage
attempts to prove that a person must spend his own money to honor
his parents. "Just as one must 'Honor Hashem with [his]
treasure,' so one must honor his parents with his treasure."
Another sage disagrees, saying that one can learn from this verse
only that a person must take time from work if it is necessary in
order to honor his parents (i.e., he must lose income), but not
that he must actually spend money to honor them. (See Kiddusin
Of course, the latter sage does not exempt one from honoring
his parents. The story is told of a man who asked R' Chaim
"Brisker" Soloveitchik z"l (1853-1918), "Is it true that I do not
need to spend my own money to honor my parents? My father wants
me to visit him, but the train is too expensive," he explained.
"So walk!" R' Chaim replied.
An Astonishing Midrash
"Aser t'aser"/"You shall tithe the entire crop" (Devarim
14:22) - thus it is written (Bereishit 13:9), "If you will
go left then I will go right, and if you will go right then
I will go left."
The difference in spelling between the Hebrew words "aser"/"you
shall tithe" and "osher"/"wealth" is only the small dot which
distinguishes the letter "sin" from the letter "shin." The
former has the dot on the left and the latter has the dot on the
Hashem promises: If you place the dot on the left, i.e., you
give tithes faithfully, I will make you rich. If you place the
dot on the right, i.e., you horde your wealth, I will see that
you are left with only one-tenth of what you had.
R' Yehonatan of Lunel z"l
born approx. 4910/1150 - died approx. 4975/1215
R' Yehonatan ben David Hakohen was a leading Talmudist during
the golden age of Torah in Provence (the Mediterranean coast of
France). He greatly revered Rambam, and after studying Rambam's
code, Mishneh Torah, addressed 24 questions to its author in the
name of the Chachmei Lunel/Sages of Lunel. (These questions
appear in the work She'eilot Uteshuvot HaRambam, beginning with
chapter 286.) Rambam replied to R' Yehonatan's inquiries,
pleased that his work was being studied in such an erudite
manner, and referring to R' Yehonatan as "my chosen one, may he
see descendants and live long, and may Hashem cause him to
succeed." Rambam ends his letter by stating that Torah
scholarship is dying out throughout the world and that the
scholars in R' Yehonatan's region are the last hope to save it.
At the request of R' Yehonatan, Rambam sent him a copy of Moreh
Nevochim/Guide to the Perplexed, written in Arabic. In response
to R' Yehonatan's request that Rambam translate it, Rambam wrote
that he was too busy to do so, although, "It would have given me
great pleasure to extract the holy [Torah] from the debased
[i.e., Arabic]." Instead, Rambam suggested that R' Yehonatan ask
R' Shmuel ibn Tibbon to translate the work.
R' Yehonatan is perhaps best known for his running commentary
on R' Yitzchak Alfasi's Sefer Ha'halachot dealing with Tractate
Eruvin. That work by R' Yehonatan appears in the standard
edition of the Talmud. His work on Tractate Chulin was published
in 1871 and his works on other tractates have been published more
recently. Some say that R' Yehonatan composed a work refuting
all of Ravad's criticisms of Mishneh Torah. R' Yehonatan's
halachic decisions are cited frequently in the works of later
generations, in the overwhelming majority of cases in connection
with the laws of eruv. In one 16th century responsum dealing
with yibum, R' Yehonatan is listed together with the better known
Rif, Ra'avad, Rambam, Ramban, Rashba, Ritva and others as one of
history's leading "geonei olam" (loosely translated: "giants of
scholarship"). (Sources: The ArtScroll Rishonim, p.168; She'eilot
Uteshuvot HaRambam; Igrot HaRambam, Iggerret HaRambam Le'Chachmei
Lunel; She'eilot Uteshuvot Radvaz Vol. IV, No. 108)
Copyright © 1998 by Shlomo Katz
and Project Genesis, Inc.
The editors hope these brief 'snippets' will engender further study
and discussion of Torah topics ("lehagdil Torah u'leha'adirah"), and
your letters are appreciated. Web archives at Project Genesis
start with 5758 (1997) and
may be retrieved from the Hamaayan page.
Text archives from 1990 through the present
may be retrieved from
to HaMaayan are tax-deductible.