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 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 before you today a blessing and a curse."
R' Menachem Ben-Zion Sacks z"l (rosh yeshiva in Chicago; son-in-
law of R' Zvi Pesach Frank z"l) writes: This verse teaches us
unambiguously that there is no spiritual middle ground - there is
a blessing and there is a curse, and nothing else. There are no
spiritual vacuums in this world. If a person lets the spirit of
G-d out of his heart, the spirit of the yetzer hara will fill his
heart. The two goats offered on Yom Kippur symbolize this.
Man's lot is either with Hashem or with "azazel" (i.e., the
forces of impurity). There is no middle road.
There is another lesson in this verse. The Torah does not say,
"a blessing or a curse," but rather "a blessing and a curse."
They are one and the same, for a blessing may easily become a
curse. Halachah states that any blessing that does not include
Hashem's Name is not a valid blessing. We may apply this
halachah homiletically: any success that is accompanied by a
belief in one's own power, rather than a belief in G-d, is not a
blessing; it is a curse. This is what is referred to in Kohelet
(5:12), "There is a sickening evil which I have seen under the
sun -- riches hoarded by their owner to his misfortune." It is
no coincidence, R' Sacks notes, that the word "shefa" /
"munificence" has the same letters as "pesha" / "sin" and the
word "oneg" / "pleasure" has the same letters as "nega" /
"blemish." Munificence and pleasure can easily turn into a sin
and a blemish.
"See, I present before you today a blessing and a curse.
The blessing -- that you hearken to the commandments of
Hashem, your G-d, that I command you today. And the curse -
- if you do not hearken to the commandments of Hashem, your
G-d . . ." (11:26-28)
R' Raphael Baruch Sorotzkin z"l (1917-1979; Rosh Yeshiva of
Telshe) observes that the Torah does not say, "if you hearken,"
the way it says, "if you do not hearken." Rather, the Torah
says, "The blessing - that you hearken." That is itself the
blessing. One who performs mitzvot will merit to perform
additional mitzvot. This is a blessing because performing
mitzvot elevates and refines a person.
"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 a king is
required to have a Sefer Torah with him at all times.
(Igrot R' Avraham ben Ha'Rambam, No. 7)
"You are children to Hashem, your G-d . . ." (14:1)
R' Shalom Noach Brazovsky z"l (the Slonimer Rebbe; died 2000)
writes: If a Jew had any inkling of his own worth, he would
never sin. It was to convey this message that R' Avraham
Weinberg z"l (1804-1884; the first Slonimer Rebbe) interpreted
the verse (Mishlei 3:11), "Hashem's rebuke, my child, do not
denigrate" - Hashem's rebuke is, "You are My child." Therefore,
do not denigrate yourself. A Jew must remember that he is a
prince, and that a prince is expected to behave in a certain way
and not embarrass himself. One who appreciates his own worth
will not, so-to-speak, sell his birthright for a mere bowl of
R' Brazovsky continues: The legendary chassidic master, Reb
Zusia, once heard an itinerant maggid / preacher deliver a fire-
and-brimstone speech to a large assemblage of Jews. When the
maggid finished, no one seemed to have been moved by his words.
Then R' Zusia got up and said, "Dear brothers! Does not Hashem
love you and care for you? How is it possible to transgress His
will?" Immediately, heart-rending cries filled the synagogue.
Afterward, the maggid asked R' Zusia, "Did I not portray in
vivid detail the terrifying punishments of Gehinom? Why did that
have no impact on them, while your words, which were not
frightening at all, had an immediate effect on them?"
R' Zusia answered: "Your words had the effect of closing their
hearts, scaring them until they could no longer feel. My words
had the opposite effect."
The Gemara (Sotah 3a) says that a person does not sin unless a
spirit of insanity comes over him. What this means, says R'
Brazovsky, is that a person cannot sin unless he forgets who he
is and how much he is worth.
(Netivot Shalom: Kuntres B'chochmah Yivneh Bayit p.8)
"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 mitzvah; 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
Letters from Our Sages
The following letter was written by R' Shimshon David Pinkus
z"l (rabbi of Ofakim, Israel; died 2001) in response to a
question from a yeshiva student. R' Pinkus' response contains a
message for every person who is concerned with his or her own
To a beloved young man who is unknown to me, shlita:
I read your letter, and although I am not competent to offer
advice or tell you what to do, I will write what appears to be
correct in my humble opinion. First, I will summarize what you
It appears that you are striving mightily to grow in Torah
study and fear of Heaven. You are doing all that you can, and
have, in fact, already expended all of the effort that is
expected of you. Now you are at a stage where you need
assistance from the outside. The reason for this is simply that
your goals are so lofty and awesome, namely, you aspire to attain
Torah and to develop an inner drive to continue your growth.
Attaining these goals is simply above man's capabilities, and
although man certainly is required to make an effort, a time
comes when outside assistance must be sought.
Therefore, I will give you a name and address to which you
should turn, and there you will find assistance.
His name is "Hashem."
He is very powerful, for He created everything. I have
inside information that He has a great love for you personally,
and He is pining away for your call.
You will have no trouble finding His address, for He is
everywhere --literally. Even this minute, as you are reading
this letter, you can turn to Him.
I write this because many people believe that G-d is found
only though prayer, mitzvot and special regimens for spiritual
growth. Of course, He is in all of those "places," but those are
not the primary places to find Him. The main thing to know is
that G-d is a real and living being with whom it is possible to
form a personal relationship. No one who has tried this has ever
This is so simple and practical and therefore so beneficial.
The key is to have a simple personal connection in which you tell
Him your problems and ask Him again and again to help you.
If someone gives you different advice, it will be a pity on
the effort that you expend following it. Go straight to the One
who can really help, grab hold of Him and do not let go. Do not
be silent until you have attained whatever you desire.
Signed with great respect for a ben Torah who is truly
seeking, but unfortunately does not know where to look,