Parashat Re'eh always falls on or very close to Rosh Chodesh
Elul, the beginning of the annual forty day period when our
teshuvah / repentance is particularly pleasing to Hashem.
Appropriately, our parashah begins with the verse, "Behold I am
placing before you today a blessing and a curse." As the verses
which follow explain, this is the choice that we make when we
choose to observe the mitzvot or to be lax in their performance.
We do not always realize that we are making such a choice.
Many commentators note that most people - even objective people -
think of themselves as being quite righteous. R' Yosef Chaim
Azulai ("Chida"; died 1806) relates that such a person said to
Rambam (Maimonides), "I do not recite the vidui / confession
found in the Yom Kippur Machzor, for to do so would be a lie."
Rambam responded, "If you truly understood the extent of your
obligation to G-d, you would realize that you have committed
every single sin listed there many times over." It is not that G-
d is overly demanding, explains Chida, but simply that the more
intelligent and understanding a person is, the more that is
expected of him.
In this light, says Chida, we may understand the Gemara (Niddah
30) which teaches that before a child is born, he is made to take
an oath: "Even if the entire world considers you to be a tzaddik,
see yourself as a rasha / evildoer." Some explain that this is
because one's soul is accountable for the sins that "its body"
committed in prior incarnations. We may say more simply,
however, that the greater a tzaddik one is, the more strictly he
is judged. Therefore, he will always be found lacking by the
yardstick that he creates for himself by his good deeds. (Lev
David ch. 12).
"See, I present to before you today a blessing and a curse.
The blessing, if you hearken to the commandments of Hashem,
your G-d, that I command you today." (11:26-27)
Rashi comments: "Al menat" / "With the view that you should
R' Yosef Gruenwald z"l (the "Papa Rav" in Brooklyn; died 1984)
asks: What does Rashi add by his comment? He explains: Halachah
recognizes various ways of stating a condition. If a person uses
the formula "Al menat," his intention is that if the condition is
fulfilled later, the conditioned thing will be effective
retroactively to the time the promise was made. [For example, if
a man says to a woman, "Be married to me with this ring `al
menat' that I get a certain job," and he later gets the job, the
man and the woman are married retroactively to the time that he
gave the ring. Thus, if another man gave the woman a ring in
marriage in the interim, she is not married to the second man.]
By adding "al menat," Rashi is telling us here that Hashem is
eager to give us His blessings now, with the view that we should
obey His commandments later.
(Quoted in Otzrot Tzaddikei U'geonei Ha'dorot)
"You shall cross the Jordan and settle in the Land."
The Midrash teaches that the mitzvah of living in Eretz Yisrael
is equivalent to all of the mitzvot. R' Yitzchak Weiss z"l
(rabbi of Verbau, Czechoslovakia; killed in the Holocaust)
observes that this is alluded to in our verse. Specifically, the
gematria of the final Hebrew letters of the above phrase
(40+400+50+40+90) equals 620. This is equivalent to the number
of mitzvot in the Torah (613) plus the number of Rabbinic
"When a prophet will arise among you . . ." (13:2)
The Gemara (Bava Batra 12a) teaches: "A wise man is greater
than a prophet." R' Avraham son of the Rambam explains: The
prophet referred to by this statement is not one of the prophets
of the 24 books of Tanach, for they were all wise men and women
in addition to being prophets, and they were certainly greater
than someone who is only wise, but not a prophet. Rather, this
statement refers to the many people mentioned in Tanach who
experienced prophecy briefly, although they were not necessarily
wise (see Shmuel I 19:20-21). Why is a wise man superior to
them? Because he does not need them, but they do need him;
without the wise man's wisdom and Torah knowledge, these "part-
time" prophets would have no inkling of what is expected of them
in this world.
Such a prophet is even required to stand in the presence of a
wise man, for there is no level higher than that of a Torah
scholar. Knowledge of Torah is the ultimate purpose of creation,
as Hashem told the prophet (Yirmiyahu 33:25), "If not for My
covenant [being kept] day and night, I would not have created
heaven and earth." For the same reason, even the king is
required to have a Sefer Torah with him at all times.
(Igrot R' Avraham ben Ha'Rambam, No. 7)
"Give him, you shall give him, and let your heart not feel
bad when you give him, for in return for this matter,
Hashem, your God, will bless you in all your deeds and in
your every undertaking." (15:10)
R' Aharon Lewin z"l (rabbi of Rzeszow, Poland and member of the
Polish parliament; killed in the Holocaust) writes: There are two
attitudes that can lead one to give tzedakah / charity. One can
feel sorry for the downtrodden pauper and give him charity as an
expression of mercy. Such charity certainly is a worthy deed,
but it is not the highest form of tzedakah. The highest form of
charity is to give because it is a good deed; it is G-d's Will
and His commandment to us.
R' Lewin notes that R' Yosef Albo z"l (author of Sefer
Ha'ikkarim; 1380-1444) uses the above idea to explain the verse
(Yishayah 32:17): "The product [literally, `deed'] of charity
shall be peace; and the effect [literally, `service'] of charity
-- quiet and security forever." The deed of giving charity, no
matter why it is done, brings peace to the one who does it.
However, the service of tzedakah, giving charity because it is a
form of service to G-d, is far greater. Such tzedakah brings the
doer quiet and security forever.
R' Lewin continues (citing his grandfather, R' Yitzchak
Shmelkes z"l): One advantage of giving tzedakah because it is a
mitzvah rather than because one feels pity is that the feeling of
pity wears off eventually. Moreover, when we see that poverty is
widespread, we become insensitive to it. Not so if one gives
charity to fulfill the Will of G-d. That Will is unchanging, and
so one's charity will be unending. This is the teaching of our
verse: "Give him, you shall give him." Say Chazal: You shall
give to a pauper repeatedly, even a hundred times. How can you
train yourself to do this? "Let your heart not feel bad when you
give him" - don't give because you feel bad, but because G-d
"You may not slaughter the Pesach in one of your gates
[i.e., cities] which Hashem gives you." (16:5)
Chazal teach that the Jews in Egypt fell through the 49 gates
of impurity and Hashem had to lift them out. So too, at any
time, a person may fall through those gates, and Hashem may
rescue him. However, says R' Eliezer David Gruenwald z"l
(Hungarian rabbi; died 1926), a person should not be satisfied
with the "gates" that Hashem "gives" him. Rather, he should work
on his own to climb through further gates of holiness.
(Haggadah Shel Pesach Chasdei David)
From our Archives . . .
Tomer Devorah, authored by R' Moshe Cordevero z"l (1522-1570;
Tzefat, Israel) is one of the best known of the Mussar classics
written from a Kabbalistic viewpoint. The author was the most
renowned Kabbalist in Tzefat in the generation preceding the
"Arizal" (R' Yitzchak Luria). R' Moshe's teacher in Kabbalah was
his brother-in-law, R' Shlomo Alkabetz (author of many works
including the Shabbat song "Lecha Dodi"), and R'' Yosef Karo
(author of Shulchan Aruch) taught R' Moshe Talmud and Halachah.
Tomer Devorah is structured as an explanation of the "Thirteen
Attributes of Rachamim" (loosely translated "Mercy"). In
particular, the work demonstrates how man can -- and must --
emulate each Attribute. However, the work is based, not on the
best known version of the Thirteen Attributes found in Shmot 34:6-
7, but on verse in the book of Michah (7:18-20). This is based
on the statement of the Zohar that the verses in Michah describe
a higher manifestation of the parallel verses in Shmot.
In Tomer Devorah, "Ramak" (as the author is commonly known)
explains in Kabbalistic terms the effect of sin on the world. In
essence, the spiritual fulfillment which we seek may be thought
of as a nut within a shell (in Hebrew, "Kelipah"). Every mitzvah
that we do chips away a small piece of that shell, but every sin
restores part of the Kelipah to its place. Another point that
Ramak emphasizes is that the task of destroying all of the
Kelipot (the plural form) is impeded not only by sinners but by
their victims, if the latter improperly withhold forgiveness.
In emulating Hashem, says Ramak, we must love even those who do
not appear worthy of our affection. How can we achieve this?
The prophets taught that when we sin, Hashem still loves us
because He remembers the "Days of Old," i.e. when our nation was
born. Similarly, we should always remember that no matter how
unworthy a person seems, at least his parents loved him. If they
could find some redeeming quality in him, we can love him too.