In this week's parsha, Ki Tavo, right before he dies, Moshe calls the B'nei Yisrael to him and says, Vayikra Moshe el kol Yisrael vayomer aleihem: Atem rei'item et kol asher asa Hashem l'eineichem beretz mitzrayim, l'pharoah ul'chol ahvodov ul'chol artzo, "And Moses called all of Israel, and said to them, "You have seen all that the Lord did before your very eyes in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh, to all his servants, and to all his land" (29:1). 

 

Moshe's intention here is to help the B'nei Yisrael recognize all of the good that Hashem has done for them in the past years: The powerful plagues that He brought over Egypt, the splitting of the sea, and all of the other wondrous occurrences that Hashem had shown his people over the 40 years in the desert. But a moment later in 29:3, Moshe says, V'lo natan Hashem lachem, lev lada'at ...ad hayom hazeh, "And Hashem has not given you a heart to know...until this day." 

 

"Hashem hasn't given you a heart to know"? After all the time that the B'nei Yisrael spent in the desert, and after everything Hashem did for them, they still didn't have a lev lada'at, a knowing heart, to realize the greatness of Hashem? 

 

He supplied them with clothes. All of the people in the midbardesert, had one set of clothing; the garments never got dirty or worn out, and they grew with the people over their forty-year tenure. Hashem also gave them food. He said, Lechem lo le'echol, "you will not eat bread," meaning that every morning, manna will fall from the sky and that food will be the tastiest thing they have ever eaten. The same goes for drink; the Jewish people had the Be'er Miriam, the well of Miriam, follow them throughout their travels. After all of this, how could Moshe say that the Jewish people received a lev lada'at, a knowing heart, only at the end of the forty years, right before he died? How is it possible that the Jewish people didn't have a heart to know Hashem when he was doing all of the miracles for them from Egypt through the desert? Couldn't they recognize Him? 

 

The answer, says Rashi, is a very sentimental one. On the day that Moshe died, he wrote a sefer Torah and gave it to the tribe of Levi. Later, the rest of the shevatim came complaining to Moshe, asking him why they did not get a Torah written for them, too. They told him that they were afraid that one day, after Moshe was gone, the Levi'im would keep the Torah for themselves. They kept reiterating the fact that they, too, wanted a Torah. It was because of this incident that Moshe rested in happiness, because he felt that the Jews had really captured the crux of lev lada'at

 

So what is this "knowing heart"? It is the WILL, the DESIRE, for the merit of Torah! Surrounded by Hashem and the Torah 24/7 in the desert, perhaps they took the miracles that surrounded them for granted. The mere fact that the B'nei Yisrael were terrified of losing the Torah shows their recognition of the importance of the Torah and of Hashem, which brought out their lev lada'at. The B'nei Yisrael finally recognized that Torah is the essence of life!

 

At some point in everyone's school life, thoughts have crossed our minds like,Why should I learn this piece of gemara, or why should I daven right now? But after we graduate and our religious observance is left completely up to ourselves, we should realize the importance of Torah and--to a point--be scared of what life would be like without it. The Jews complained A LOT in the desert; but they became upset at the mere thought of the Torah not being with them after Moshe died! That shows the true acknowledgment of, appreciation of, and indebtedness to Torah, and the quintessence of our religion.

 


Shabbat Shalom,

 

Sam Kalnitz, Grade 12

Atlanta Jewish Academy Upper School

"Paying it forward" is a phrase that describes a Jewish idea, recently popularized by a beautifully produced movie. The idea is that, by bringing goodness into the world through any act of g'milut chasadim, kindness to others, we create a chain reaction of blessings that will, over time, return blessings to the contributors to the chain many times over.



This week's parsha reinforces this idea. The Torah assures us that, when we do the right thing, we will experience a blessing that allows us to continue doing the right thing, and enjoy ever-increasing blessings.



Our rabbis described this phenomenon as mitzvah goreret mitzvah, one good deed inspires another, and so on, and so on...



Returning lost objects to their rightful owners, a beautiful mitzvah to fulfill, will result in a blessing from Hashem that leads to owning a new garment. Ensuring that the garment is not made of shatnez, or a mixture of wool and linen, will lead to the mitzvah of tzitzit when these ritual fringes are placed on the four corners of the new garment, which will, in turn, lead to the blessing of building a new home. Putting proper fences on the roofs of that home to ensure that visitors are safe will lead to the blessing of planting a new vineyard, from which we will be able to feed and support the needy. And the blessings continue, mitzvah goreret mitzvah!



The opposite is also true: Averah goreret averah, one sin leads to another. Doing the wrong thing or missing the opportunity to do the right thing can start a negative downward spiral.



Paying it forward is Hashem's way of motivating us to do the right thing. Of course, on the ladder of possible motivation for goodness, the higher rungs involve elements of selflessness--doing the right thing because it is the right thing. At the same time, those higher rungs are attainable only after we safely climb the lower rungs of the ladder; and they are sustainable only as long as all of those rungs are tight and secure. The proper motivation for our children to encourage them to do good should not be limited to selfless altruism. Paying it forward, or mitzvah goreret mitzvah, is completely legitimate, and very much the message of this parsha.

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Rabbi Pinchos Hecht

Head of School, Atlanta Jewish Academy

In Chapter 12:8, our parsha states: "Lo taasun ish kol hayashar be'eynav, one should not act only in accordance with what seems right in one's own eyes."  An individual's personal judgment is not the scale the Torah permits for deciding what is correct, just as, "might does not automatically make right." 


Further in the parsha, the Torah restates this thought in the positive, "ki ta'aseh hayeshar vehatov be'eynai Hashem, do what is right and good in the eyes of Hashem," asking that the scale we use to determine what is straight, right, and good be calibrated by Hashem's judgment, rather than our own. 


From the context, it is clear that the Torah does not refer here to following "the letter of the law."  Just as in Parshat Vaetchanan, the Torah here is directing us to act above and beyond the letter of the law in our daily interactions.  But how do we know what is straight, right, and good in the eyes of Hashem? 


A society built solely on the letter of the law will not thrive.  The rabbis in the Midrash taught that the Temple and Jerusalem were lost because the courts and society rigidly adhered to the letter of the law, refusing to step beyond. 


A beautiful illustration of this application is found in the Talmud (B.T. Bava Metzia 83b), which records an incident in which two porters transported wine barrels for Rabbah bar Bar Hanan, a wealthy scholar and sage in his own right.  Through an act of negligence on their part, they broke the barrels; Rabbah took their cloaks in payment for their negligence, which is what the law allows.  They complained to Rav, the legal decisor in that area, and he instructed Rabbah to return their cloaks.  "Is this the law?" asked an astonished Rabbah.  "Yes", replied Rav, "based on the verse 'in order that you walk in the way of the good people''' (Proverbs 2). 


The porters once again went to complain to Rav:  "But we are hungry, since we worked all day and received no payment"; whereupon Rav further instructed Rabbah to provide them with a salary as well.  Once again, Rabbah asked:  "Is this, too, the law?" to which Rav replied, "Yes, in accordance with the verse 'and the paths of the righteous shall you observe''' (Proverbs 2).  Clearly, Rav was telling Rabbah that for him--Rabbah bar Bar Hanan, the wealthy scholar, as compared with two poverty-stricken porters--the law would expect that he would act beyond the legal requirement and provide the porters with payment for their day's labor, despite the losses they had incurred for Rabbah as a result of their negligence. 



Rabbah acted in accordance with the law. The workman broke his barrels because of their negligence. The workers claimed their salaries, yet Rabbah rightly refused payment for services not rendered. In his eyes, he owed them nothing. But the great sage and legal expert Rav had Rabbah restore the payment to the workmen, and also pay them their wage so they could feed their families.  


This Talmudic story is more than just a tale. It is part and parcel of the legal tradition and code of Jewish law. It illustrates for us with absolute clarity the intent of what is expected of us in acting yasher and tov in the eyes of Hashem. At AJA, we understand that living a caring and loving life--one that does not hold only our own needs front and center, but also has the best interests of our fellow man at its core--is a learned behavior. Even the great Rabbah had to be reminded of this by the wise sage, Rav. Teaching and living Torah, for us, is learning to be straight and right in the eyes of Hashem in all that we do.


 


Shabbat shalom,


Rabbi Pinchos Hecht

Parshat Shoftim is replete with reminders to us to ensure that justice is enjoyed by all.  We are commanded, "Tzedek, tzedek tirdof; righteousness, righteousness shall you pursue." The Midrash shares a reason behind the repetition of tzedek, and teaches that it is incumbent upon us all to do all we can do to pursue justice, even when it works against our own best interests. 

 

It may be for this very reason that our sages, may their memory be a blessing to us, have such profound respect for even the radically divergent opinions of their rabbinic colleagues.  The lesson of "Alu ve'elu divrei Elokim chayim, both the opinion of the minority as well as the majority are the words of the Living G-d," confirmed that all informed opinions are divinely inspired.  The goal behind this attitude is the creation, development, and growth of an open minded, trained, disciplined, and dedicated group of scholars, judges, rabbis, teachers, and students to lead and direct the people toward a purposeful and fulfilling life of service to both the Divine and mankind. 


The minority opinion is always recorded alongside the majority opinion.  Yet one has to ask: Once the decision is made, why record the abandoned opinion? 


The rabbis, in their great wisdom, knew that by preserving the minority positions issued by trained and accepted scholars, they left open the possibility that a later court could decide an issue in accordance with the minority.  An example of this follows. 


Rav Moshe Isserles, known as the Rema, served as the Chief Rav of Krakow, Poland, during the sixteenth century.  He was considered one of the outstanding experts and judges in Jewish law, and his religious-legal decisions are accepted as authoritative for Ashkenazic Jewry to this very day.  Rav Moshe Isserles opens his responsum (no. 125) with the words, "I hear behind me a great rushing noise," the roar of an angry community who questioned him--and were even thinking of deposing him from his rabbinical position--because he allowed a wedding to take place on Friday night! 


This was viewed as problematic because the Mishnah (Beitzah 5, 2:20a) forbids conducting a wedding ceremony on the Sabbath. The reasoning behind this decision is explained in the subsequent discussion of the Gemara as, "lest you come to write out the Ketuba, marriage document," without which the couple cannot live together as man and wife.  Nevertheless, Rav Moshe Isserles performed such a ceremony. 


In a rare introduction to his responsum, the great rabbi explained that the bride's parents had promised a considerable dowry to the groom's parents, but that the bride's father had died shortly before the wedding. The bride's lack of dowry meant that the wedding had been called off at the last moment.  At 10:30 on Friday night, an aunt of the groom had convinced her nephew to go ahead with the marriage despite his parents' objections. They arrived at the rabbi's home at that very late hour, and since the rabbi understood that the groom could easily change his mind should there be a delay, the Rema immediately performed the ceremony. Only an immediate wedding would save the bride from the shame of the broken engagement and poverty that would most assuredly have doomed her to spinsterhood. 


Rav Moshe Isserles goes on, in his responsum, to cite the minority view of Rabbeinu Tam--that the prohibition against a Shabbat wedding only applied to a couple who already had children from a prior marriage--noting the fact that even Rabbeinu Tam himself would only permit a Shabbat marriage "under extreme duress" (bedohak gadol). The Rema felt that this minority opinion was sufficient to rely on in the case of the couple who stood before him; thus, the importance of preserving every minority opinion!  


In a similar vein, why was the School of Hillel recorded as the source of all final halachot, and not the School of Shammai? Were not the words of Shammai also called the words of the Living G-d?  


The scholars of Bet Hillel were accepted as the decisors "because they were sweet-tempered, modest, and accept rebuke; moreover, when asked the law, they first presented the opposing opinion of the Academy of Shammai, and then presented their own view" (BT Rosh Hashanah 14). A system of laws taught and developed by such great rabbis is truly a testament to the words of our holy and eternal Torah, "Tzedek, tzedek tirdof."  


Shabbat Shalom,


Rabbi Pinchos Hecht


Head of School, Atlanta Jewish Academy


 

This d'var Torah is sponsored by Leslie and Chuck Lowenstein in honor of Betty and Malcolm Minsk, for their wonderful hospitality and devotion to Jewish education.

 


Parshat Aikev retells the story of Moshe's breaking of the first set of luchot, tablets, and Hashem's command to Moshe to carve a second set of tablets to bring with him upon his return to Mt. Sinai.   


This begs the question: What is the difference between the first set of tablets and the second set? If Moshe was correct to break the first set--and, according to the Midrash, Hashem thanks him for breaking them--why does Hashem command Moshe to carve a second set?   


We hope to compare and contrast the two sets of tablets with the two batei mikdash, Holy Temples--both destroyed, may they quickly be rebuilt in our day--that we just finished mourning during the recent three week period. 


Rav Kook, the first Chief Rabbi of what was then called Palestine, taught that the Jewish people possess two distinct kinds of kedusha, holiness. The first he called segula, defined as the innate holiness that resides in each and every Jew, flowing through us as it accumulates and brings holiness from us to all people and to the land of Israel.   


The second type of holiness Rav Kook spoke of is "acquired holiness". It reflects the earned kedusha that we accumulate through keeping the mitzvot, doing good deeds, prayer, and the study of our holy Torah.   


By his nature, man tends to value what is earned by effort more than what is given and requires no effort. The Talmud teaches that "adam rotzeh bekav sheloh yoter mitisha kabin shel chaveiroh". At the end of the growing season, the farmer prefers one measure of his own homegrown produce over nine measures that were grown by his friend. Acquired holiness is therefore more valuable than segula, innate holiness.  


The kedusha of the first Temple, like the holiness of the first set of tablets, was innate, or segula. It was a gift from the Almighty to his beloved children, and it was far more precious than any holiness man could achieve on his own.


But regretfully, we point to the adage, "easy come, easy go". Unearned, the first tablets and the first Temple were not sufficiently appreciated and did not last, despite their unique greatness. We failed to grasp the gift with which we had been blessed.   


The second set of tablets was the work of Moshe, sanctioned and made holy by Hashem. Likewise, the Judaism that emerged during and after the second Temple, what we refer to as "Rabbinic Judaism," is the work and development of the sages and the people, sanctioned and made holy by Hashem. 


It is the creation, creativity, imagination, and works of man that follow from the dictates of our holy Torah--using the G-d-given creativity and talent instilled in us by our creator--that take on an eternal quality, and stand the test of time. Our Rabbis teach us, "kol mah shetalmid atid lehitchadesh nitan beSinai, every word of Torah and every new insight in Torah study was already included and given at Sinai."  


The message to us is clear. Holiness that lasts takes effort and sacrifice. The lasting impact of our Yiddishkeit is directly commensurate with the effort and investment we make. Holy families and holy children are the product of our intentional and engaged lifestyle.   


May we all merit that our efforts on behalf of our people, Torah, and land are sanctioned by the Almighty with the eternal qualities that we seek for ourselves, our families, and our community.



 


Shabbat shalom,

Rabbi Pinchos Hecht