Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Hebrew Insights into Parashat Ki Tavo – D’varim (Deuteronomy) 26 – 29:9 with Hebrew Tools for Everyday Use

When you have comeki tavo – into the land…” informs us that “living in Israel is the assumption behind the Torah itself,” to quote Nehemiah Gordon of the Karaite Korner web site (http://www.karaite-korner.org). And whereas last week’s Parasha raised the issue of the firstborn son, this week the Parasha deals extensively with first fruit (both of which belong to YHVH, ref. Ex. 13:2; 22:29; 23:19, Num. 18:13). Rendering to YHVH the first fruit that belong to Him can be done only in the land of Yisrael. The triune bond of the Heavenly Father, His people, and the land is expressed here in a most poignant way. “And it shall be, when you have come into the land which YHVH your Elohim is giving to you as an inheritance, and you have possessed it, and live in it; then you shall take of the first of all the fruit of the ground which you shall bring in from your land which YHVH your Elohim is giving to you, and shall put it in a basket, and shall go to the place which YHVH your Elohim shall choose to cause His name to dwell there” (Deut. 26:1,2 italics added). Once the Israelite person is well established in the land that YHVH has caused him to inherit, and once that land yields its produce that same Israelite is to render back to YHVH the first fruit of the produce, while doing so only in the place and in the manner prescribed by Him.

“And the priest shall take the basket out of your hand and place it before the altar of YHVH your Elohim. And you shall speak and say before YHVH your Elohim…” (26: 4). Now the Israelite is bidden to recount before YHVH some of the history of his people (v. 5ff), which of course highlights YHVH’s indispensable role, generating thanksgiving in the said Israelite worshipper, as well as a greater sense of oneness with his ancestors and with the future generations. And so (as we have noticed in many other instances), place, time and people all come together under the sovereign rule of YHVH.

However, the declaration: “… And you shall place it before YHVH your Elohim, and bow yourself before YHVH your Elohim” (26:2), along with the presentation of the fruit in the basket, does not end this particular activity. In verse 11 we read: “… and rejoice in all the good which YHVH your Elohim has given to you, and to your house, you, and the Levite, and the alien who is in your midst,” immediately leading to: “When you have made an end of tithing all the tithes of your increase the third year, the year of tithing, and have given it to the Levite, the alien, the orphan, and the widow, that they may eat inside your gates, and be filled…” (v.12).

In Parashot R’eh and Shoftim (2 and 3 weeks ago, respectively) we encountered the root b.ae.r (bet, ayin, resh), used in reference to YHVH’s burning anger, and also in regards to removing any and all impurities from Yisrael’s camp, and hence means “to burn, purge or consume.” Last week’s Parashat Ki Te’tzeh also made mention several times of this term in regards to sexual impurity (22:13-24), with one more reference to kidnapping (24:7).  Here this term is used once more, but surprisingly in a very different context: “When you have finished laying aside all the tithe of your increase in the third year -- the year of tithing -- and have given to the Levite, the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, so that they may eat within your gates and be filled, then you shall say before YHVH your Elohim: 'I have removed the holy tithe from my house… I have not eaten any of it when in mourning...‘” (Deuteronomy 26:12-13, 14 italics added).  In Hebrew both “I removed” and “I have [not] eaten” are rendered as “bi’ar’ti.” This further emphasizes the potential for YHVH’s burning anger if one were not to fulfill the above-mentioned requirement of rendering that which is set-apart (kadosh) for those to whom it is due (i.e. the Levite, the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow).  

Thus the individual Israelite, who is responsible before his Elohim for handing over the initial yield of his land, for thanking Elohim and rejoicing before Him, is at the same time also to encompass the needy ones within his gates, since doing so is as good as “lending to YHVH” Himself (ref. Prov.19:17).

The afore-mentioned address made to the Israelites (in chapter 26) is in second person singular, which constitutes, as noted before, a means to underscore the individual responsibility to be borne by each person (as well as the oneness of the people – one and all). The confession, however, that the Israelite worshiper is to make is in first person plural, denoting the collective national identity in relationship to YHVH (vs. 6-9). In verse 10 there is an immediate change, again to first person, as the focus shifts back to the individual’s responsibility and relationship with his Elohim. Verses 17-19 sum up the ‘transaction’ which will take place: “You have today declared YHVH to be your Elohim, and to walk in His ways, and to keep His statutes and His commands, and His judgments, and to pay attention to His voice. And YHVH has declared you today to be His people, a special treasure as He has spoken to you, and to keep all His commands. And He will make you high above all nations that He has made, in praise, and in name, and in glory; and that you may be a holy people to YHVH your Elohim, as He has spoken” (italics added). The verb “declared” in both instances is “he’emir,” of the root a.m.r (alef, mem, resh), meaning to “say, utter, declare, speak.” However, because “he’emir” is an unusual conjugation, rather than the regular “amar,” some translate it “elevate,” from the root word “a’mir,” which is “top or summit” (for example, “uppermost branch” in Isaiah 17:6). The wilderness journey had seen many incidents of rebellion, as Moshe states in Dvarim (Deuteronomy) 9:24: “You have been rebels against YHVH from the day that I knew you.” There, as in many of the other references to the Israelites’ rebelliousness, the word used is “mam’rim,” of the root m.r.h. This sad fact, as stated in alliteration form in Tehilim (Psalms) 107:11: “They defied Elohim’s words” – “himru ee’mrey El,” finds its ‘remedy’ in the present term - “he’emiru” -  that is in the definitive action of the Israelites “saying and declaring” YHVH’s “elevating” words, deeds and goodness toward them.

The rest of the Parasha is mostly devoted to the blessings and the curses (chapter 28). Even the undertaking in the future, of writing the Torah on “large stones” after crossing the Yarden and reading it to the people, is intended to illustrate vividly the extant dichotomy of “blessings” and “curses,” as this event was to take place between the “Mountain of Blessing” and the “Mountain of Curse.”  And, as if to make sure that the people will understand the simple equation of ‘obedience equals blessings - rebellion equals curses,’ it says: “And you shall write on the stones all the words of the law very plainly” (27:8). “Very plainly” is “ba’er heytev,” and while we have already examined once the verb “ba’er” (and its connection to “be’er,” “well” – in Deut. Ch. 1), here we encounter the additional “heytev,” of the root “tov” - well, good, pleasant.” “Ba’er hey’tev,” then, is plainly “do a good job of explaining and making the meaning clear and simple.”

Moving now to the blessings versus the curses, we take a look at 28:1 (regarding the blessings) and at verse 15 (the opening verse of the passage enumerating the curses) and read the following commentary: “Particularly remarkable is the difference between the emphatic double phrase of obedience used in the positive passage: ‘If thou shalt diligently hearken (shamo’a tishma)’ and the bare: ‘if thou shalt not hearken’ in the negative one. … Rashi, following Talmudic exegesis interprets the idiomatic doubling of the verb in a conditional sense: ‘And it shall be,’ im shamoa, ‘if thou shalt hearken,’ tishma, ‘then thou shalt continue to hearken.’ Though grammatically this is not the implication of the verb doubling, it nevertheless expresses a deep psychological truth that once man has started on the right path, his progress becomes easier, gathering momentum with each fresh good deed. Maimonides also observed: ‘The more man is drawn after the paths of wisdom and justice, the more he longs for them and desires them’”. [1]

The blessings and the curses are set side by side in chapter 28, and are parallel in content. But whereas it takes 14 verses to spell out the blessings, it takes almost four times that to go through all the curses. It appears that both blessings and curses are all-encompassing. Being blessed, one is blessed everywhere one goes or happens to be, and likewise when one is cursed. The blessings and the curses are therefore all-pervasive. The more the blessings sound pleasant and appealing, the more horrendous and appalling are the curses, and using some of the same words in both underscores this fact all the more. The word fruit, for example, is used this way. In 28:4 and 11 we read: “The fruit of your body shall be blessed, and the fruit of your ground, and the fruit of your livestock, the offspring of your oxen, and the young ones of your flock. (italics added).” “And YHVH shall prosper you in goods, and in the fruit of your body, and in the fruit of your livestock, and in the fruit of your ground in the land which YHVH swore to your fathers to give it to you” (italics added). In the next section we read about a fierce nation, which “shall eat the fruit of your livestock, and the fruit of your land, until you are destroyed” (v. 51, italics added. In the English translation “increase” and “produce” replace “fruit”). But what renders “fruit” and its usage much more macabre is verse 53: “And you shall eat the fruit of your body, the flesh of your sons and your daughters whom YHVH your Elohim has given to you… “ (italics added).

Let us review several other similar examples (where the same term or root is used in widely differing contexts, highlighting the severity of the message). In 28:11 it says: “And YHVH will grant you plenty of goods…” (emphasis added), which is “ve’hotircha” from the root y.t.r  -“that which surpasses” and is therefore a “surplus.” But y.t.r (yod, tav, resh) is also the root for “that which remains.” And so in 28:54 the root y.t.r is employed once more, though with a very different message: “The sensitive and very refined man among you will be hostile toward his brother, toward the wife of his bosom, and toward the rest – “yeter” - of his children whom he leaves behind – “yotir” - so that he will not give any of them the flesh of his children whom he will eat…” (emphasis added). These words, aside from highlighting the horrid situation, especially as juxtaposed against the blessings of y.t.r., also echo the same morbidity which characterized the passage we just read above (having had to do with “fruitfulness”). “Avod” - “work, labor, worship, serve” is another term which is used in this manner. “Because you did not serve/worship YHVH your Elohim with joyfulness and with gladness of heart for the abundance of all things, you shall serve your enemies whom YHVH shall send on you, in hunger, and in thirst, and in nakedness, and in lack of all things. And he shall put an iron yoke on your neck until he has destroyed you” (vs. 47-48 italics added). Verse 64 takes us even further: “And YHVH shall scatter you among all people, from one end of the earth even to the other, and you shall serve [of the root a.v.d again] other gods there, wood and stone, which you have not known, nor your fathers” (italics added).

Becoming “a proverb and a byword – ma’shal u’shneena - among all the peoples” (28:37) is another outcome of not heeding YHVH’s voice, as opposed to “all the peoples of the earth shall see that you are called by the name of YHVH, and they shall fear you” (v. 10). In Parashat Chayey Sarah (Gen. 23-25:18, in reference to 24:2), we examined the noun “ma’shal” extensively. We found that one of the verbs for “to rule” – mashol – shares its root (m.sh.l) with words such as “proverb, parable and example.” Thus, a ruler who represents his higher authority, as he is meant to do in YHVH’s kingdom, becomes a fit example of the latter. Here Yisrael is warned against misrepresenting YHVH and becoming an object lesson exemplifying what happens to those who betray trust. In Yoel (Joel) 2:17 the prophet laments: “And do not give Your heritage to reproach, that the nations should rule (“lim’shol”) over them. Why should they say among the peoples, 'Where is their Elohim?'"

The second term used in the above “proverb and byword” - “sh’neena” - stems from the root sh.n.n. (shin, noon, noon) and means to “sharpen, whet,” and by implication “repeat.” Thus, if Yisrael should set a negative example, that fact will be told repeatedly, over and over and in every place. However, if they obey the word, “vesheenantam… “teach repeatedly” YHVH’s Word to their children (Deut. 6:7), not only will they not become a “sh’neena” -  “a byword”- among the nations, rather  they will be at the “head” of all the nations (ref. 28:13).

The last phase of the fulfillment of the curses is a scattering among the nations. This entails unbearable conditions: “And among these nations you shall find no ease, nor shall the sole of your foot have rest – ma’no’ach…” (28:65). In Parashat No’ach we read: “The dove was sent to see if the water had abated and, found no resting place – again ma’no’ach - for the sole of her foot….” (Gen. 8:8-9). But the suffering, anguish and dread only continue: “And your life shall hang in doubt before you, and you shall fear day and night, and shall have no assurance of your life. In the morning you shall say, Oh that it were evening! And in the evening you shall say, Oh that it were morning! For the fear of your heart with which you fear, and for the sight of your eyes which you shall see” (28:66-67). Indeed, one Holocaust survivor chose to name the book he wrote about his experiences, Oh That It Were Evening. “Evening” as we noted several times already is “erev” of the root e.r.v (ayin, resh, bet/vet), with its numerous derivations such as, mix, pleasant, raven and guarantee (the end of the day, “erev,” is a guarantee of the coming of the morning). In the present case, the Guarantor of the ‘coming day’ is involved in the circumstances of those to whom He has pledged His guarantee. Yirmiyahu (Jeremiah) chapter 30, for example, contains tremendous (and guaranteed) promises to Yisrael. In verse 21 we read the following: “Their leader [“moshel” which we just encountered above] shall be one of them and their ruler shall come forth from their midst [remember Parashat Shoftim and the leader who was to be raised from “among their brethren”?]. And I will bring him near and he shall approach Me; For who would dare to risk his life to approach Me?”. “Dare to risk (his life)” is once again from the same familiar e.r.v - “a’ra’v.” The answer to the question is quite clear, as no one else but the Son could risk His life, as indeed He has, by “sacrificing” (which is identical to “approach”) Himself!

Finally (in 28:68), “And YHVH shall bring you into Egypt again with ships, by the way of which I said to you, ‘you shall never see it again’” (see Exodus 14:13).  The mention of ships is rather curious here, as it would not have been the normal passageway from Yisrael to Egypt. This imagery may be pointing to the sea which the Children of Yisrael crossed miraculously when coming out of their land of bondage. Returning to that same place would be very different from the supernatural and miraculous means they had once experienced; this time it would be more like “crossing the sea of distress” (ref. Zech. 10:11). There, in Egypt (literally and proverbially), the place where the Israelites had experienced deliverance from slavery, they will once again be in bondage. Should this happen, they will sell themselves as slaves, the word being “hit’makar’tem” from the root m.ch.r (mem, kaf/chaf, resh), which is a very unusual form of “to sell,” meaning “becoming sold by selling oneself.” However, while willing to sell themselves to slavery, “there shall be no buyer” (v. 68)!

Verses 1-9 of chapter 29, which form the epilogue of our Parasha, serve to remind the Israelites, once again, of the miracles that they had experienced in this Egypt, which just a moment ago was presented before them as a potential place of untold future sufferings. They are called to remember in the future the extent of YHVH’s past goodness toward them and His great mercy, love and power; a remembrance which will be essential for their conduct and wellbeing, hence the exhortation: “Pay attention to the words of this covenant, and do them, that you may act wisely in all that you do”! (29:9)



[1] New Studies in Devarim, Nechama Leibowitz, trans. Aryeh Newman, Eliner Library, Department for Torah Education and Culture in the Diaspora, Hemed books Inc., Brooklyn, N.Y.


Hebrew Tools for Everyday Use

Our Hebrew Tools this week will not echo the Parasha’s extremely sober tone. Rather, we will look at some of the words we encountered above, but here in their most simple and common form, which you should be able to make use of. The verb for selling (masculine gender) – mocher – in Hebrew is identical to the noun for “seller” or “vendor” (masculine), which is also “mocher” (this is also true for the feminine gender, “mocheret”). Also notice that in Hebrew the verb for ‘to love’ is used in instances where in English “like” would be used.  The Hebrew verb for “like” is “me’cha’bev” (infinite form - “le’cha’bev), but can only be used in relationship to people and not to anything or anyone else.


Good Morning
Boker Tov (lit. morning good)

Good Evening
Erev Tov (lit. evening good)

What do you sell? I sell good things
Ma ata mocher? Ani mocher dvarim tovim (lit. things good)

What do you sell? (feminine)
Ma at mocheret?

In the morning the vendor hears better
Ba’boker ha’mocher sho’me’ah tov yoter

I like the morning (masculine)
Ani ohev et ha’boker

I like the evening (feminine)
Ani ohevet et ha’erev



Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Hebrew Insights into Parashat Ki Te’tzeh – D’varim (Deuteronomy) 21:10 – 25:19 with Hebrew Tools for Everyday Use

Parashat Ki* Te’tzeh (“when you go out…”), consists of lists of commandments, some of which we have encountered earlier on in the Torah. Others are repeated in a modified form, while quite a few are mentioned here for the first time. It should be noted that even though at first glance the various injunctions seem to be placed randomly, a closer study reveals them to be organized in clusters wherein there is a common theme, or some other link which ties them together in each respective group. One such example, where the rulings almost form a story line, is right at the beginning of the Parasha (21:10-23). The first one is a case of a man desiring and marrying a foreign woman taken captive in war, but losing interest in her at a later stage. The next ruling focuses on the rights of the firstborn son of (again) an unloved wife, whose husband has another, favored, wife. From the firstborn son we are taken to a command regarding a rebellious son, whom some of the sages believe to be the offspring of the foreign wife mentioned above. This son’s behavior makes him a ‘candidate’ for stoning, and the following statute deals with a criminal who is sentenced to hanging.  At the very end of the Parasha (in 25:13-16), to mention another example, we read about unjust weights and measures which are detestable in YHVH’s sight (v. 16). The concomitant ruling is a reference to the Amalekites, who are to be completely wiped out because of their ill treatment of Yisrael during the Exodus, which also places them under the category of: “Anyone doing these things is hateful to YHVH your Elohim, everyone acting evilly” (v. 16 again), even though “these things” is actually in reference to using unjust weights. Parashat Ki Te’tzeh illustrates the extent of YHVH’s involvement in every aspect of the Israelites’ life - the individuals as well as the community. In turn, Yisrael is to live life in a manner that is worthy of Him.

The stubborn and rebellious son described in 21:18, 20, according to his own parents’ admittance “will not listen to his father's voice or his mother's voice; even though they discipline him, he will not listen to them.” “Stubborn and rebellious” is “sorer u’moreh”; “sorer” is of the root s.r.h (samech, resh, hey) and means “turn aside, defect, or withdraw.” “Moreh” is of the root m.r.h (mem, resh, hey) meaning, “contentious, defiant, or rebellious.” The type of attitude displayed here issues from the heart and so in Yirmiyahu (Jeremiah) 5:23 we read: “To this people there is a revolting/defiant and a rebellious – sorer u’moreh – heart.” This son is further described as “a gluten and a drunkard.”  The latter noun is “soveh,” the root being s.v.a. (samech, bet/vet, alef), recalling, “sovah” (sin/shin, vet, ayin) which is not only close in sound but also in meaning (albeit employing a different spelling). In Parashat Va’yera (see Gen. 21:28-33) we examined this root and found that “satisfaction,” or to “have had enough” (especially in reference to food) is “sovah,” relating to the number "seven" – “sheva.”  By calling the week "shavua" the language points to the fullness and completeness of what Elohim has achieved.  "In Your presence there is fullness ("sova") of joy; I will be satisfied ("es'be'ah") with Your likeness when I awake," (Ps. 16:11; 17:15). Thus, if one is not ‘satisfied’ - “sa’veh’ah” - and chooses to overindulge, he becomes a “soveh.” By making use of similar sounds Hebrew typically points to life’s fine demarcation lines. The rebellious son was to be executed by stoning (ref. 21:21), which is the verb “ragom,” one of several Hebrew terms used to denote this action.

Another stoning was to occur in the event of a young woman who upon marriage was found not to be a virgin (ref. 22:20-21), as well as when “a girl that is a virgin, betrothed to a man, and a man finds her in the city, and lies with her” (v. 23-24). In these cases the stoning is “sakol” (s.k.l, samech, kof, lamed), which means not only to “hurl rocks,” but also to “gather rocks” such as in Yishayahu (Isaiah) 5:2: “My Beloved has a vineyard in a fruitful horn. And He dug it, and cleared it of stones” (italics added). This illustrates again the close proximity between apparent contradictions, of which we shall see another example later on.

Following the prodigal son in 21:20, the text goes on to speak of “a man [who] has committed a sin worthy of death, and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree” (v. 22), appending, “he who is hanged is accursed of Elohim” (v. 23). This, of course, is how Yeshua “redeemed us from the curse [pronounced in the] Law [for breaking] it laws [or having redeemed us from the “laws of sin and death”], having become a curse for us” (Gal. 3:13).

The next set of injunctions, in chapter 22, focuses on concern for the property of one’s fellowman and his welfare, as well on sensitivity toward YHVH’s creation. “You shall not see your brother's ox or his sheep driven away, and hide yourself from them. You shall surely turn them back to your brother” (v. 1). “You shall hide” here is “hit’a’lamta,” of the root a.l.m (ayin, lamed, mem), and means “hidden or concealed,” and in this context also “disregard, neglect” or “pretend not to see.” It is from this root that we obtain “olam,” which in Biblical Hebrew speaks mostly of “eternity” (future but also past), being indeed concealed and uncharted from man’s vantage point (e.g. Gen. 17:7; Ex. 12:24). The terms for “young man” or “young woman” are “elem” and “alma” respectively, issuing from the same root (e.g. 1Sam. 17:56; Gen. 24:43); this being the case because their character is still unfolding and their future unknown.

At the other end of this cluster of injunctions we read: “If a bird's nest happens to be before you in the way in any tree, or on the ground, with young ones, or eggs; and the mother is sitting on the young, or on the eggs, you shall not take the mother with the young. But in every case you shall let the mother go, and take the young for yourself, so that it may be well with you, and you may prolong your days” (22:6,7 italics added). This somewhat obscure command holds a great promise, like that of the 5th Commandment of the Decalogue, which says: “Honor your father and your mother, as YHVH your Elohim has commanded you, so that your days may be prolonged” (Ex. 20:12, Deut. 5:16). The fact that this promise is common to both these injunctions has puzzled the sages all the way back to Talmudic days. Some of them concur that YHVH’s ways are higher than ours, and therefore various precepts are “passed finding out,” while others maintain that one should not even try and discover whether the Divine commands have reasons or not. On the other hand, Professor Yitzchak Heinemann contends that “it is incumbent on us to detect the finger of God in the wonders of nature and the events of our life, though they will still remain unsolved mysteries, so we must endeavor, as far as possible, to appreciate the wisdom and justice of His commands”. [1] The identical reward for honoring parents and for shooing the mother bird before taking her young, may serve as a clue to a principle which applies to every word spoken in the Torah: “kala k’cha’mura,” meaning that each precept (and/or word), whether insubstantial or weighty, is to be treated equally. Thus, all the way from the weightiest precept to the least esteemed, through those that are ‘in between,’ obedience is equally required, with the result (of so doing) being the same. Our Parasha, to cite another such example, also exhorts us to “have a perfect and just ephah [a measurement]; so that they prolong your days in the land” (25:15 italics added). Thus, applying this also to YHVH’s commandments, each one is to be ‘weighed’ by the same scale, not denigrating one and estimating another.

Right in between the lost ox and sheep and the nesting bird, is the oft-quoted verse: "A woman shall not wear anything that pertains to a man, nor shall a man put on a woman's garment, for all who do so are an abomination to YHVH your Elohim” (22:5). This injunction is especially used in order to “prove” the Bible’s disapproval of women wearing pants, or what is thought to be strictly male clothing.  However, this is not what the Hebrew text is expressing. The literal meaning of “lo yi-hi-ye kli gever al isha” is “there shall not be a tool/implement of a man upon a woman,” implying that she is not to carry or wield a tool or any implement which is characteristic of man’s responsibilities. In this case, therefore, Scripture is not concerned with women’s fashions but with certain types of activities that are to distinguish between men and women! As for the men, in their case they are indeed commanded, plain and simple, not to wear women’s garments.

In 23:7-8 we read: “You shall not despise an Edomite, for he is your brother. You shall not despise an Egyptian, for you were an alien in his land, sons of the third generation that are born to them may enter into the assembly of YHVH.” This directive is in contradistinction to the one relating to the Ammonites and Moabites, who were not to enter the assembly of YHVH even after ten generations. Da’at Mikra ponders: “Why is it that the Torah deals this way with the Edomites, not demanding from them what was demanded of the Moabites and Ammonites, which was to greet Israel with bread and water when they had passed by these peoples’ territories? Because Ya’acov tricked Esav and had wrested from him the birthright and the blessings; while for having chased Ya’acov, Esav and his progeny have already been punished by having been held off from the assembly of Israel for two generations. The Egyptians are also forgiven for their treatment of Israel, as [their reason for doing so was because] they were afraid lest Israel would join their enemies.” [2]

There are several commands regarding the purity of Israel’s camp and assembly. One of them is: “None of the daughters of Israel shall be a cult prostitute, nor shall any of the sons of Israel be a cult prostitute” (23:17). The word used here for the female cult “prostitute” is “k’desha,” while “male prostitute” is “kadesh.” This is one more example of contradictory terms being closely linked in the Hebrew language and mindset, since the word for “holy” is “kadosh” (and in feminine gender – “kdosha”). In verse 18 we read: “You shall not bring the hire of a harlot or the wages of a dog into the house of YHVH your Elohim for any vow, for both of these are an abomination to YHVH your Elohim.” This type of “wage” is “et’nan,” an unusual form of “natan” (noon, tav, hey) which is to “give,” or to “offer.”  Regret for betraying Yeshua led Yehuda of Krayot - Judas Iscariot – to give back to the priests the 30 pieces of silver he had been handed for committing this act. “The chief priests said, ‘It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, since it is the price of blood’. And taking counsel, they bought of them the potter's field, for burial for the strangers” (Mat. 27:6). The priests acted this way based on the above-mentioned ruling, to which they appended “price of blood.” Is it a coincidence that “wages of a dog,” which is included in this category, is followed by issues pertaining to usury (23: 19, 20), using “neshech” for “usury or interest, the literal meaning of which is “to bite”?

Before examining the next cluster, let us pause and inspect a certain term which appears in 23:20: “…that YHVH your Elohim may bless you in all that you set your hand to in the land where you go to possess it” (emphasis added). “Set your hand to” is literally the “sending of your hands” – “mish’lach yadeh’cha.” In the past we saw that one’s work or occupation was called “m’la’cha” (of the root l.a’a.ch - “to send,” and hence “messengers, angels, sent out ones”), which by its very definition conveys the idea that one’s work or task is more of a goal or an accomplishment outside the confinement of one’s own vicinity. It is something rendered or performed as a mission (for the greater community), and therefore was not to be considered incidental or self serving.

Two weeks ago, in Parashat R’eh, we discussed the noun “makom” – “place” - and the verb “kum” – “to rise or go up,” which shares the same root. In our Parasha we encounter other derivatives of this root (kof, vav, mem). In 23:25 we read: “When you come into your neighbor's standing grain, then you may pluck heads with your hand; but you shall not wield a sickle in your neighbor's standing grain.” The “standing grain” is the ripe sheaves ready for harvesting called “kama” (also in Exodus 22:6), stemming from the root to “rise up.” “Plucking heads” is “m’lilot,” the verb being “malol” (m.l.l. mem, lamed, lamed) and means “to scrape or to break into crumbs.”  And so we read in Luke 6:1: “And it happened on the second chief Sabbath, He passed along through the sown fields. And His disciples plucked the heads and were eating, rubbing with the hands.”

The next chapter (24) takes us to a broken relationship between husband and wife. “When a man has taken a wife and married her, and it happens that she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found a thing of uncleanness in her, and he writes her a bill of divorce and puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house” (v. 1 italics added). “A bill of divorce” is “sefer k’ritut,” literally “a book of cutting off.”  This bill, therefore, becomes an instrument of severing the relationship, much like a hatchet. “A thing of uncleanness” is “ervat davar,” literally “the nakedness/exposure [erva] of something” (the same term also appears in 23:14 as “unclean thing”). In a marriage relationship, whatever has been covered up is naturally exposed and revealed just prior to the time of severance.  The root of “erva,” literally nakedness, a.r.h (ayin, resh, hey), also lends itself to the verb to “pour out.” It is used in this way in Yishayahu (Isaiah) 53:12, in the description of the Messiah: “And with the strong He shall divide the spoil; because He poured out [he’era] His soul to death” (italics added) – and we may add, in order to cover up our nakedness.
In the very beginning of our Parasha we encountered a different type of man-woman relationship. It involved a man who in the course of war has taken captive a woman whom he has found desirable. If after having taken her as a wife, he no longer desires her he is admonished not to sell her for money, nor “to treat her brutally” (21:14). Similarly, in chapter 24:7 we are told that, “if a man is found kidnapping any of his brethren of the children of Israel, and mistreats him or sells him, then that kidnapper shall die.”  In both cases the terms “treat brutally” and “mistreat” are translations of “hit’amer,” of the root (a.m.r) ayin, mem, resh which is to “collect, glean, reap advantage.” The Torah is very strict in regards to using humans as merchandize or commodities for one’s advantage and monetary gain, hence the capital punishment inflicted on the above kidnapper. By contrast, in the following verse we are admonished (24:19): “When you reap your harvest in your field and have forgotten a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it; it shall be for the alien, for the orphan, and for the widow, in order that the YHVH your Elohim may bless you in all the work of your hands” (italics added). The “sheaf” mentioned is “omer,” of the same root that we have just encountered for “treating brutally.” Thus, rather than “reap advantage” from someone else’s life, you are to sustain the needy by letting him ‘take advantage’ of your forgetfulness.

Nevertheless, the above precept has caused quite a stir in rabbinical polemics, since it would hardly seem plausible that this ‘forgotten sheaf’ could be a source of relief and provision for the needy. Additionally, this injunction also raises another query. In the Tosefta, Peah tract 3, 8 it says: “…The Omnipresent has given all the other precepts in the Torah to be observed consciously. But this one is to be unconsciously observed. Were we to observe this one of our own deliberate freewill before the Omnipresent, we would have no opportunity of observing it.” The conclusion therefore is that, “if a man has no deliberate intention of performing a good deed [and] it is nevertheless reckoned to him as one… how much more so he who deliberately performs a good deed!” [4] Verse 20 follows on the heels of 19 (chapter 24) and is similar to the former: “When you beat your olive tree, you shall not search the bough behind you. It shall be for the alien, for the orphan, and for the widow.” The word for “bough” is “pu’ara,” of the root “p’er” (p.e.r, pey, alef, resh), which is also “beauty or glory.” Yishayahu (Isaiah) 60:21 is very appropriate in this connection, reading as it does: “And your people shall all be righteous; they shall possess the earth forever, a branch of My planting, a work of My hands, to beautify [lehitpa’er] Myself” (italics added). And although the boughs have been broken, yet the Olive Tree of Yisrael, when fully redeemed is destined to be glorious unto YHVH (ref. Is. 44:23), especially if the people of Yisrael, with the Torah inscribed on their hearts, will follow the above injunction of generosity and kindness to the alien, orphan and widow. On the other hand, and yet in connection to 24:19 which featured forgetfulness, are the commands in verses 17-18 and 21-22.  In both these excerpts one is exhorted to remember having been a slave in Egypt, and therefore having to consider the stranger, orphan and widow for justice and provision.  Thus, one’s memory, as well as one’s forgetfulness is to be ‘harnessed’ for the purpose of manifesting YHVH’s nature.

When dried up and dead - as Yisrael’s stick/tree had become - the collective outcry went forth: “Our bones are dried, and our hope is perished; we are cut off to ourselves” (Ez. 37:11). Yet redemption was to enable resurrection. This principle is captured in the precept delineated in 25:5-10, where if a man dies leaving no offspring, his widow is to marry his brother and together they are to have a child who will be considered the firstborn of the dead brother, in order to raise up “… the dead brother's name, and his name shall not be wiped out of Israel” (v. 6). We have already studied (above and in other places) the word “kum” (also “makom”, place) - “to stand up, rise.” Here its usage, as the “raising up” of a name for the dead brother, connotes “resurrection,” and in Modern Hebrew “t’kuma” (of the same root). In Vayikra (Leviticus) 26:13 it says: “I am YHVH your Elohim, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, so that you should not be their slaves, and I broke the bars of your yoke and made you walk erect – “ko’me’mi’yoot” (once again of the same root). In the following verse, (Lev. 26:14), Yisrael is warned lest they “reject My statutes.” Those engaged in such activities of rebellion and rising against YHVH are called “te’komemim” in Psalm 139:21. Typically, this one root epitomizes a wide range of situations that pertain to Yisrael, whom YHVH has caused to rise and who are therefore to walk uprightly and in circumspection lest they find themselves rising against Him.


* The conjunction “ki” is used very frequently in Dvarim. Many sections open up with “if” or “when”, in both cases being a translation of “ki,” which at times is also translated as “for.”
[1] New Studies in Devarim, Nechama Leibowitz, trans. Aryeh Newman. Eliner Library, Department for Torah Education and Culture in the Diaspora. Hemed Books Inc., Brooklyn, N.Y.
[2] Devarim with Daat Mikrah Commentary, Pub. Mossad Harav Kook, Jm. 2001.
[3] New Studies in Devarim
[4] Ibid.


Hebrew Tools for Everyday Use

This week’s Parasha affords us two verbs which are used very frequently in everyday speech:  “to go out” and “to give” – la’tzet and la’tet, respectively. The “la” (and sometimes “le”) is the standard Hebrew word for “to” (indicating the infinitive).  Above we paused to look at “olam”, which in Modern Hebrew means simply “world”, a useful word to know. The “neshech” for “usury” yields the verb “to bark” while our all-familiar k.u.m root (for “rising” and also for “place”), which shows up once again in this Parasha, will allow us to “rise up” and exercise some Hebrew!

You are giving (masculine, singular)
Ata noten
You are giving (feminine, singular) 
At notenet

You are going out (masculine, plural)
Atem yotz’eem
You are going out (feminine, plural)
Aten yotz’ot

The dog bit me
Hake’lev nashach oti (ouch…)

A good place in the world
Makom tov ba’olam


Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Parashat Shoftim – Dvarim (Deuteronomy) 16:18-21:10 with Hebrew Tools for Everyday Use

Last week’s Parashat R’eh ended with: "Every man shall (‘give as he is able’ – is not in the original text), according to the blessing of YHVH your Elohim which He has given [natan] you” (Deuteronomy 16:17). Parashat Shoftim (“judges”) starts with: “You shall appoint [“titen”/give] judges and officers in all your gates, which YHVH your Elohim gives you [noten]…”  Thus “giving” (in various conjugations) is clearly emphasized here, with the “giving” of YHVH making it possible for those who are His to do likewise. In fact, His “giving” appears throughout the Parasha, especially, but not exclusively, regarding “the land which YHVH your Elohim is giving you…”

Several institutions, and/or their relevant supervisory regulations are being set up here for the future administration of Yisrael’s national life. To begin with, as we noticed already, the appointment of judges and officers is provided for, leading to a number of prohibitions regarding just conduct. Idolatry and the consequences of its practice follow. The establishment of arbitrators and judges in all matters leads to instructions concerning the monarchy, and the life of the Levites and priests with once again severe warning against idolatrous practices, such as witchcraft. From here we skip to the much discussed topic of cities of refuge and the blood avenger, touching also on setting up boundaries. Matters pertaining to witnessing crime and false witnesses come next. The many issues associated with wars, and how to deal with the body of an anonymous slain person seal off our Parasha.

The expression that we encountered in last week’s Parashat R’eh, namely, “You shall put away [purge] – literally burn or consume - the evil from among you” (13:5), is another repeated theme in Parashat Shoftim, almost like a refrain (ref. 17:7,12; 19:13,19; 21:9), thus subtly pointing to the results of incurring YHVH’s burning anger (as we also saw last week).

Right at the core of this list of topics there is a passage (18:15-19), which although at first glance may appear to be compatible with the others, is nevertheless of an altogether different genre and purpose. It is, above all else, prophetic in nature, describing an individual who will appear on Yisrael’s horizon. This individual’s qualifying characteristics are specified to some extent in this passage, and are contrasted with potential false claimants or counterfeits (see vs. 20-22. For more on the latter refer to 13:1-5 in Parashat R’eh). The instructional aspect of this text is simply, “Whoever will not listen to My words which He [this prophet] shall speak in My name, I will require it at his hand” (18:19). Moshe says of Him: “YHVH your Elohim shall raise up to you a prophet from among you, of your brothers, one like me; you shall listen to him” (v. 15), and again in verse 18 YHVH Himself is speaking, addressing Moshe: “I shall raise up a prophet to them from among their brothers, one like you; and I will put My words in his mouth; and he shall speak to them all that I shall command him.” Mention is also made in verses 16 and 17 of the fact that before the giving of the Torah in Chorev (Horeb) the Israelites had asked Moshe to interpose between them and YHVH, and YHVH apparently looked favorably upon that request. This future prophet, like Moshe, will also have this characteristic of mediation. By inference (re Moshe) some of his other attributes will be: granting deliverance from bondage, being mighty in word and deed, offering strong leadership yet being humble beyond any other human being, willingness to offer up his own life for the people, acting as a teacher and a judge, and being raised from among the ranks of his own people. Dvarim (Deuteronomy) 34:10 appends about Moshe and hence also about the future prophet, “And never has a prophet like Moses arisen in Israel, whom YHVH knew face to face.”

Does the placing of this passage, amid the Torah’s judicial, civil and clerical instructions, which flank it on each side, points to the reason and end-all of these instructions themselves, and to that which imbues them with life? In Romans 10:4 we read: “For the goal at which the Torah aims is the Messiah.” Shim’on Keyfa (Peter) also identifies this prophecy with the “One proclaimed to you before” (Acts 3:20, 22), that is Messiah Yeshua.

In comparison with this passage, which portrays Yisrael’s supreme ruler, we read in 17:8 – 12 about the Levites and the priests who are to judge and instruct Yisrael: “If a matter is too hard for you in judgment, between blood and blood, between cause and cause, or between stroke and stroke, matters of strife within your gates… And you shall come in to the priest, of the Levites, and to the judge who is in those days, and shall inquire. And they shall declare the sentence of judgment to you.”

In summarizing the above passage we see the following points:
(1) The place where these arbitrations are to take place, is “the place which YHVH your Elohim shall choose” (v. 10).
(2) The litigants’ response is to be obedient “to the word which they [the judges] declare to you” and “you shall do according to the mouth of the law which they direct you, and according to the judgment which they deliver to you. You shall not turn aside from the word, which they declare to you right or left” (vs. 10, 11).
(3) The consequences of disobedience are: “And the man who acts with pride so as not to listen to the priest who is standing to serve YHVH your Elohim there, or to the judge, even that man shall die…” (v. 12).

If we compare this set of conditions to those applied to the “prophet” of 18:15 – 19, we find that there are marked differences. Whereas obeying the priestly judges is to be preceded by some specific judicial matter, obeying the “prophet” is not subject to such prerequisites: “…I will put My words in His mouth; and he shall speak to them all that I shall command him” (18:18), says YHVH. And while it is YHVH who appoints this one, the judges are simply mentioned as, “the priest, of the Levites, and… the judge who is [that is, who happens to be officiating] in those days” (17:9). Whereas YHVH will “require at His hand… whoever will not listen to My words which he  [the prophet] shall speak in My name” (18:19), the person who does not obey the priest or the judge, although subject to death penalty, will not be accountable to YHVH Himself. In addition, the priests and judges, unlike the “prophet,” are not mentioned as speaking in YHVH’s name, but rather as “standing to serve Him” (17:12).

Just prior to the passage about the “prophet like Moshe,” mention is made about the abominations of the people living in the Land of Promise. Yisrael is warned not to do as “these nations whom you shall expel [who] listen to observers of clouds, and to diviners” (18:14). Rather, Yisrael is to be “perfect” – “tamim” - “whole, wholesome, innocent, without blemish -  with YHVH” (18:13). This calls to mind Avraham, who was told, “walk before Me and be tamim” (Gen. 17:1 italics added). It appears that “wholesomeness” in one’s walk before YHVH is connected to the afore-mentioned passage, and to the Person at its center. It is only by Him that one is rendered tamim,” as Ephesians 1: 4-5 points out: “According as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, for us to be holy and without blemish before Him in love, predestinating us to adoption through Yeshua the Messiah to Himself” (Italics added).

The “prophet,” whose coming is predicted here, unlike the body of the judging and teaching priests which is set up in response to the people’s needs, will be “raised up” by YHVH Himself (ref. 18:15) and will represent Him in an overall manner.

In 17:14-20 the institution of the (‘earthly’) monarchy is being discussed. It will be set up in response to Yisrael’s request: “When you come into the land which YHVH your Elohim is giving to you, and have possessed it, and settled in it; and you shall say, ‘Let me set [place/put] a king over me like all the nations around me’” (17:14). Once Yisrael decides to “place” (“sim”- put) a king over itself YHVH will select him, providing he is “from among your brothers.” In this way the king would be like the “prophet” whom we just discussed, with the difference being that the coming of the latter was going to be solely by YHVH’s initiative.  It will be incumbent upon the king to study the injunctions of the Torah. In fact, he is to make a copy of it in a book for his own use, termed here “mishneh Torah” of the root sh.n.h, meaning to “repeat” or “secondary” (v. 18). The king is also to live modestly, “so that his heart may not be lifted up above his brothers and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, to the right or to the left” (v. 20). The word for “king” in Hebrew is “melech,” the root being m.l.ch (mem, lamed, kaf) and makes for a verb which means “consult, consider different views,” such as we see in Nehemiah 5:7, where it is translated “serious thought” or “consulted.” Thus, the king is to be consulting and considering different views; a very far cry from the common idea of kingship, especially in the ancient world.

Chapter 18 verses 3 and 4 present the “priest's due from the people, from those that offer a sacrifice, whether an ox or sheep, that they shall give to the priest the leg, and the two cheeks, and the stomach, the first of your grain, of your new wine, and of your oil, and the first of the fleece of your flock, you shall give to him.” Concerning “this order of giving the priests of the fruit of the land and the fruit of the flocks,” Daat Mikra observes that it was a way to ensure that the priests will not lack “even when there is shortage or famine in the land, because whatever the people have available will also be made available to the Levites. And moreover, since the gifts are handed from one person to another, from lay people to priests, these individuals will be encountering one another as well as exchanging views with each another, and thus drawing closer together. The Israelite (that is the “non Levite”) will learn the priest’s lofty manners, and the priest will get to know the customs and way of life of the ordinary farmer, his talk and concerns, and thus together all of them will become one single holy people”.[1] In reference to “customs” (mentioned by the commentator above), the text (18:3) reads: “And this will be the priests’ due….” The word for “due” is “mishpat” – sharing its root with the Parasha’s title, which aside from meaning “judge/judgment, litigation, govern” etc. also means “custom” or “manner” (e.g. Ex. 21:9).

Most of chapter 19 is devoted to the cities of refuge and to the “ancient boundaries.” The cities of refuge were set up in order to prevent the avenging of blood, in cases of unintentional killing. The blood avenger is called a “go’el dam,” literally “redeemer of blood” (vs. 6, 12). The role of a redeemer is to mete out justice (within his family), and bring about the required cleansing from pollution created by the shedding of innocent blood (ref. v. 10). All three of these terms, that is, “meting out justice,” “cleansing” and “pollution” are designated by the root g.a.l (gimmel, alef, lamed). In this way the term’s tri-fold meaning portrays accurately the ultimate Go’el – Redeemer - whose death, whereby He has taken upon Himself sin’s pollution, accomplished all of these and more.

As to the “ancient boundaries,” in 19:14 we read: “You may not remove your neighbor's landmark, which those formerly have set in your inheritance, which you shall inherit in the land which YHVH your Elohim is giving you, to possess it.” The word for “remove” is “tasig,” of the root “sug” (samech or sin, vav, gimmel), meaning to “move away” and therefore often accompanied by “achor” (“backwards”), as is seen in 2nd  Samuel 1:22: “the bow of Jonathan did not draw back (nasog achor”). According to Rashi, he who moves the marking of a property (in order to extend his own lot) is actually “backsliding,” or “retreating” away from the ones “formerly set” and from the way they were originally determined. The emphasis here on “the land which YHVH your Elohim is giving you to possess it” leads to the inference that it is He who sets these boundaries in the first place, and therefore altering them would indeed constitute  “backsliding.” In Proverbs we find the same verb, “sug,” used very similarly in 22:28 “Do not move the old landmark which your fathers have set.”

The war regulations (chapter 20) stipulate who will be exempt from the obligation to go to battle. In 20:5-8 four such cases are cited. The first is a man “who has not dedicated [or consecrated or inaugurated] his new house” (v. 5 emphasis added), being the verb “chanach” (ch.n.ch, chet, noon, kaf/chaf) which also means to “train” (e.g. Gen. 14:14, Avraham’s trained servants are called “chanee’chim.” See also, Prov. 22:6) as well as “consecrate and habituate.” The second person to be exempt from army service is he “who planted a vineyard and has not begun to use it” (v. 6 emphasis added). The verb here is “chalel” (of the root ch.l.l, chet, lamed, lamed, which we examined at the end of Parashat Yitro, relating to Ex. 20:25) and also means “profane, pollute, defile, begin, bore holes, entrust, release, dance and a dead body” (example of the latter, “chalal,” is found in 21:1). In a typical Hebrew fashion we find here that ‘ends meet’ and come full circle. ‘Profane,’ as stated, of the same root (ch.l.l) is also ‘hollow’ (void of real content), but ‘release’ (once again, ch.l.l)2 affords an opportunity for a (new) ‘beginning’ (ch.l.l) and for doing away with profanity. A dead body has certainly been emptied out of its content (soul and spirit), and the dead person is therefore released from obligations, BUT at the same time, as our verb points out, there is also a new beginning here… albeit in another dimension. And so, similar to the tern “chet,” - “sin” - into which is built the means for reform (“cha’teh” – “cleansing”), here too, profanity and defilement are couched in a term which provides for a transformation by way of a new beginning. The other two who are exempt from army duty, are he who is betrothed but has not consummated the marriage, and he who is fearful.

In last week’s Parashat R’eh we discussed the meaning of “male,” being “he who remembers,” and then pointed out the special reference there to those who belong to YHVH as “those who are being remembered” (16:16) – “z’churim.” Surprisingly, the same reference to males occurs here too (20:13), although this time it is applied to “all the men of a city which refuses to make peace” and who are to be “struck.” Thus, these men who are destined to be put to death are no less known and remembered by YHVH, who is indeed “in all and over all” (Eph.4:6)!

Lastly, the Parasha deals with the “decapitated heifer” – “egla arufa” (21:1-9), in connection with the case of an unknown murderer: “And the elders of that city shall bring the heifer down to an ever-flowing stream, which is not plowed nor sown. And they shall break the heifer's neck there by the stream” (v. 4). The word for the “nape of the neck” is “oref” (such as in “stiff necked” – “k’sheh oref”), hence the verb for “breaking the neck” is “arof.” Although the heifer is killed while the elders pray that their own sin be atoned for, its killing is not a sacrifice or an offering which is why it is slaughtered. For this reason its carcass is buried rather than burnt.3 The heifer symbolizes the restitution (atonement) of the blood of the dead person, as he cannot be fully avenged without his murderer being found. Additionally, the shedding of innocent blood defiles both people and land, thus this occasion renders the opportunity for the elders of the area to “wash their hands off of the matter” and be counted innocent of the blood of the deceased (ref. 21:6, 7). The usage of the “nape of the neck” for the action of decapitating the heifer also alludes to the Hebrew idiom of “turning the neck,” which means to “turn away from” or “reject” (Jeremiah 2:27 for example). In this way, the elders’ action constitutes a declaration that they have rejected and renounced the evil deed which has been committed, also applying vicariously to the entire people of Yisrael (ref. vs. 8,9) as well as to the land (see 19:10).


1 Davrim with Daat Mikrah Commentary, Pub. Mossad Harav Kook, Jm. 2001.
2 Etymological Dictionary of Biblical Hebrew, based on the commentaries of Samson Raphael Hirsch, Matityahu Clark, Feldheim Publishers, JerusalemNew York, 1999.
3 Da’at Mikra

  Hebrew Tools for Everyday Use

 The noun “mishpat”, “judgment” or “sentence”, also means “sentence” of speech, as it does in English. (We must be careful not to sentence anyone by the sentences we use in our speech…). Above we discussed the noun “king” – “melech”, and what Israel was told regarding the possibility of “putting” a king over them. Let us now try to apply these words to everyday use. The Parasha opens up by stressing “giving”, the verb “to give” is “la’tet”. No doubt, a very useful word for every day usage (as is the concept itself)! We will round off our list of ‘tools’ this time with a short conjugation of this verb.


The king reigns (this verb applies only to monarchial reign)

Ha’me’le’ch molech


The queen reigns

Ha’malka mo’le’chet


This is not a sentence

Ze lo mishpat


What to put in the sandwich? (this may not be the best English syntax, but it   

                                             does work in Hebrew).

Ma la’sim ba’ka’rich?


I (masculine) give

Ani noten

I (feminine) give

Ani notenet

You (masculine) give

Ata noten

You (feminine) give

At notenet

He gives

Hu noten

She gives

He notenet

Recording: http://vocaroo.com/i/s1ihan839e4i






Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Hebrew Insights into Parashat R’eh – Dvarim (Deuteronomy) 11:26 – 16:17 with Hebrew Tools for Everyday Use

Behold! – “r’eh,” “see, look” - I set before you today a blessing and a curse…” (Deut.11: 26, emphasis added). The imperative form of the verb “see, look or behold” is in singular person, while the “you” in this verse is in plural form. Thus, although that which is about to follow is a charge to the entire nation, each and every individual Israelite is to consider what is being said, and is to be personally responsible to obey YHVH’s Word.  Contrary to the English rendering that, a blessing will result “if you hear the commandments of YHVH your Elohim which I command you today; and a curse, if you will not hear the commandments of YHVH your Elohim” (11:27 italics added), in Hebrew it is simply: “Behold I set before you today a blessing and curse; a blessing [of] hearing the commandments…” The prepositional “if” is attached only to the curse.  Thus, keeping YHVH’s Word constitutes a blessing in itself, which is the very reason He gave Yisrael the Torah in the first place - instructions for life abundant!

In order to maintain the blessings in the land of their inheritance, the Israelites are commanded: “You shall utterly destroy all the places where the nations whom you shall possess serve their gods… and you shall obliterate their name from that place” (12:2a.3c italics added). The verb used for “utterly destroy” is the same as for “obliterate” - “abed” of the root a.b/v.d (alef, bet/vet, dalet).  The first reference is a double rendering, “a’bed ta’abdoon (destroying you will destroy - singular),” while the second is “ve’eeba’de’tem (plural).”  “Abed” forms a pun with “avod” (ayin, bet/vet, dalet), which here is “worship and service rendered to idols,” and may be an intentional device employed in our text. Thus we read above, “The places where the nations… serve [av’du] their gods,” and in 13:6-8: “If your brother… or your son or daughter, or the wife you cherish, or your friend… entice you secretly, saying, ‘let us go and serve [na’avda] other gods…’ you shall not yield to him or listen to him…” (emphasis added), as serving other gods will indeed bring about utter destruction and obliteration – avadon - of the above root a.b/v.d - upon those thus engaged (see also 13:10-17).

Having been nomads in the wilderness, the Israelites have not yet experienced the “rest and the inheritance” promised them by YHVH (12:9).  It is precisely in order to obtain those two promises that they are to “not do according to all that [you] are doing here today, each doing all that is right in his own eyes… And you shall cross over the Jordan, and shall live in the land which YHVH your Elohim is causing you to inherit. And He shall give you rest from all your enemies all around; and you shall live securely” (12: 8, 10, italics added).  “Rest” is “menu’cha” (root n.o.ch – noon, vav, chet), and “inheritance” here is “nachala” (root n.ch.l – noon, chet, lamed), with the first two consonants of the latter forming “nach” – rest, thusly making these two (inheritance and rest) an indivisible unit. From Hebrews 4:1, 2 we learn that “the word [of the promise to enter the rest and receive the inheritance] did not profit those hearing it, not having been mixed with faith in the ones who heard” (italics added).

Large portions of our Parasha deal with YHVH’s place of choice of where He is to be worshipped.  As we saw in Parashat Va’ye’tze (Genesis 28: 10 – 32:2, in chapter 28:10ff) “place” is “makom,” originating from the verb “kum” which means “to rise, stand up, or go up.”  This place is defined as: “The place which YHVH your Elohim shall choose out of all your tribes; for you shall seek His dwelling, to put His name there” (12:5).  It is there that the Israelites are to “go” -- it is there that they are to “bring” their “offerings, sacrifices, tithes, contributions and oaths” (12:6, 11). It is also there that they are to “do” all that He commands them to do (12:14).  It is to be a place for both individual and corporate service to, and worship of YHVH, with the Pesach sacrifice being offered there (ref. 16:2, 6), and where the “rejoicing” during the Feast of Shavu’ot (Feast of Weeks) is to take place (ref. 16:11).  Finally, “three times in a year shall all your males appear before YHVH your Elohim in the place which He shall choose” (16:16 emphasis added).  The word here for “males” is not the usual “z’charim” (singular, “zachar”), but another version of the same root (z.ch.r. zayin, chaf, resh), “z’churim.” The root z.ch.r means to “remember,” and thus a “male” is “one who remembers.”  But here the changed form (“z’churim”) means “those who are remembered.” If the Israelites remember to obey YHVH’s Word, He will definitely not forget them and will maintain His faithfulness to them (and to their households).

Whereas the sacrifices and offerings are not to be offered randomly (“take heed to yourself that you not offer your burnt offerings in every place that you see,” 12:13), the slaughtering and partaking of meat, once Yisrael enters the land, may be done at will (v. 15). This will enable the people to eat the meat of undomesticated animals such as deer and ram, which although kosher, could not be eaten in the wilderness as they were not to be used for sacrifices.  But in addition to this changed regulation, another change is now being enacted.  Because meat eating in the wilderness always involved a sacrifice (“peace offering” for the laymen), those partaking of it had to be “tahor,” that is in a state of ritual cleanliness. However, with the changed conditions and requirements for and in the Land of Yisrael, he who is ritually unclean, the “tameh,” will also be able to partake of meat (except, of course, meat which is to be sacrificed in the place designated by YHVH).  It is here that the prohibition of consuming blood is also repeated (12:16) and elaborated upon in verse 23, where it says (literally): “Only, be strong not to eat the blood, for the life is in the blood, and you shall not eat the life with the flesh” (emphasis added). Rashi, quoting Rabbi Yehuda, comments that it took “strength” to restrain oneself and not partake of the blood. He further quotes Rabbi Shim’on ben Azay who says that this indicates that if fortitude was needed to stay away from blood, which naturally does not constitute a great temptation, how much more so regarding YHVH’s other injunctions![[1]]  However, the  blood that we are obligated to ‘drink’ is Yehsua’s, for He said: “Truly, truly, I say to you, except you eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink His blood you do not have life in yourselves.  The one partaking of My flesh and drinking of My blood has everlasting life, and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:53, 54).

The expression “life is in the blood,” of 12:23, is actually the “blood is [or constitutes] the soul,” as we see also in B’resheet (Genesis) 9:4.  Soul - “nefesh” - stems from the root n.f.sh (noon, pey/fey, shin) meaning, “rest” or “refreshing oneself.” Shmot (Exodus) 23:12 provides a good example and illustration of the usage and meaning of this verb: “Six days you are to do your work, but on the seventh day you shall cease from labor [in order] that your ox and your donkey may rest, and the son of your female slave, as well as your stranger may refresh themselves” (emphasis added). Thus, embedded in the very word for ‘soul’ is YHVH’s original intent and design for it, which is “rest, repose and refreshment.”

Chapter 13 begins with a challenge concerning false prophets or dreamers of dreams, which the Israelites are not to heed if they are to truly love YHVH their Elohim.  Accordingly, we read the following in verse 3: “You shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams; for YHVH your Elohim is testing you to find out if you love YHVH your Elohim with all your heart and with all your soul.”  The Hebrew for “you love…” is “ha’yesh’chem ohavim…”  This is an unusual usage of “yesh,” which means “there is, substance, or existence” and is generally not attached to verbs.  The particular usage employed here indicates that the love the Israelites are supposed to have for YHVH is to be part and parcel of their very being, their make up and fiber.  

The rest of chapter 13 and the first part of 14 deal with idolatrous practices, about which it says: “You shall put away evil from among you” (13: 5c, see also v. 17a)).  The verb for “put away” is “(u)ve’arta,” of the root  b.ae.r (bet, ayin, resh) , which literally means to “burn.”  In Bamidbar (Numbers) 11:1 we read, “And when the people complained, it displeased YHVH and YHVH heard it; and his anger was kindled, and the fire of YHVH burnt among them.”  That fire of YHVH, which burnt among them, was denoted by the same verb.  And thus we may infer that Yisrael is not only to “burn” the “evil,” but that failing to depart from it they will incur YHVH’s burning (anger).  Moreover, another word that is spelt the same means, “brutish or ignorant” and by inference also “beasts and cattle” (e.g. Gen. 45:17).  The fools are addressed in Tehilim (Psalms) 94: 8 – 11 in this way: “Understand you beastly ones [“bo’arim”] among the people; you fools, when will you be wise? He who planted the ear, shall He not hear? He who formed the eye, shall He not see? He who chastises the nations, shall He not punish, He who teaches man knowledge?  YHVH knows the thoughts of man, that they are vain.”  It appears that b.ae.r (“burning,” but also “removal” and “brutish”) is applied to the ignorant ones who have incurred YHVH’s burning anger, or to those who may be in danger of doing so.

The laws of tithing are also repeated in our Parasha: “You shall surely tithe all the increase of your seed that the field yields year by year” (14:22).  “Aser te’aser,” you shall surely tithe” (lit. “tithing you shall tithe”) is emphatic, while the letters ayin, sin and resh which from the word “eser” - “ten” (the tithe of course being the tenth part of the whole, and called “ma’aser”) are also the root of ashir - rich (with a slight modification in the letter “sin,” placing the dot on the upper right hand side, turning it to “shin”).  Are we to surmise from this that he who pays his tithes is guaranteed riches?  The reason given here for the tithes (and for having to be faithful to eat it in the place chosen by YHVH), is for the purpose of teaching the “fear [of] YHVH” (14:23).  The commentator Alshikh asks, “How can eating, drinking and abundance of rejoicing teach people to be God fearing? … Perhaps the Holy One blessed Be He commanded them to take a tithe of all their possessions to Jerusalem, to deter them from repudiating the source of their bounty and that they should realize that this wealth did not originate with the power of their own hands. It was as if they were giving the king his portion. This tithe is ‘holy to the Lord’, and from the table of the Most High. They were partaking of the table of the Most High (this tithe was regarded as their own personal goods…) … The ‘living would take this to heart’ that he was a slave of the king of the universe, partaking of His bounty, and in this way never stop fearing the Lord continually.”[[2]]

The principle of the release of debts comes next. “Every seven years you shall make a release [“sh’mita”] (15:1), of the verb sh.m.t. (shin, mem, tet), which means to “drop, release, or let go” (as we saw in Parashat Mishpatim – Ex. 21-24, in 23:11).  The lesson learned thereby is not only the remission of debts, but also the remission of sins, granted us by YHVH who in forgiveness and grace “lets go” of our transgressions. The theme of generosity expressed in 15:3-4 is repeated in verses 7-11, where we find the  expression, “an open and free hand” (15:8). Such an attitude, with the resultant deeds, will produce conditions where there will be, “…no one in need among you, for YHVH will greatly bless you in the land that YHVH your Elohim is giving you for an inheritance, to possess it” (15:4).  But should the poor nevertheless remain in the land, “sh’mita” will afford an opportunity to “give freely” (ref. vs. 7, 8, 10, 11) and, further, to be blessed in return.  Even Yeshua made the comment that “the poor are always with you” (John 12:8).  The word used in our text for “poor” (15:7, 11) is “ev’yon,” of the root a.v.h (alef, bet/vet, hey) which is “submit to existing demand” [3], thereby describing the lot of the less fortunate member of society. In verse 2 we read:  “… every creditor shall release what he has loaned to his neighbor…” - while “loaned” here is “yasheh” (root n.sh.h, noon, shin, hey) and means “obligate, give up rights.” It also forms the root for name Menashe. In verse 6 we read again: “For YHVH shall bless you as He has promised you, and you will lend to many nations, but you will not borrow…” “Lend” here is “avot” (a.v.t. ayin, bet/vet, tet), meaning “obligate, be indebted.” [4] Conditions of full graciousness and generosity result in full freedom, with none having to “submit to the demands of others” to whom they are “indebted.” But, as mentioned above, when that is not the case, YHVH makes provision for those who fall under this category, thus giving an opportunity to the rest of society to be exercised in goodness and care for the needy.

In the latter part of chapter 15 we encounter instructions concerning Hebrew slaves, who are to be released on the seventh year: “And when you send him out free from you, you shall not let him go away empty. You shall richly bestow on him from your flock, and from your threshing floor, and from your winepress…” (v. 14, emphasis added).  The Hebrew reads: “bestowing you shall bestow,” while the verb for “bestow” is “ha’anik” (the root is a.n.k, ayin, noon, kof). According to Daat Mikra commentary [5] the usage of this verb here is connected to “anak,” a necklace, in order to point out that rather than ‘hang burdens on the neck’ (as the idiom goes) of the former slave, the master is to ‘hang on his neck’ gifts of every kind.

Still on the same theme, in 16:11 we read concerning the Feast of Shavu’ot: “And you shall rejoice before YHVH your Elohim, you and your son, and your daughter, and your male slave, and your slave-girl, and the Levite that is inside your gates, and the alien, and the fatherless, and the widow that are among you…” According to Rashi, the first group of four parallels the last four. The first lot belongs to man, while the second lot belongs to YHVH, who says to man: “If you will treat well those who belong to Me, I shall likewise be kind [literally, ‘cause to rejoice’] to those who belong to you”. [6]


[1]  Dvarim with Daat Mikrah Commentary, Pub. Mossad Harav Kook, Jm. 2001.
[2]  New Studies in Devarim, Nechama Leibowitz, trans. Aryeh Newman. Eliner  
      Library, Department for Torah Education and Culture in the Diaspora. Hemed
      Books Inc.,  Brooklyn, N.Y.
[3] Etymological Dictionary of Biblical Hebew, based on the commentaties of   
     Samson Raphael Hirsch, Matityahu Clark, Feldheim Publishers, Jerusalem, - New    
     York, 1999.
[4] Ibid
[5] Dvarim with Daat Mikrah Commentary, Pub. Mossad Harav Kook, Jm. 2001.
[6] Ibid


Hebrew Tools for Everyday Use

“R’eh”, the Parasha’s title, is a very common verb in the modern vernacular.
Li’r’ot is “to see”. “Ani ro’eh”, “at ro’ah” mean “I (masculine) see”, and “I (feminine) see”. In contrast, the verb for “utterly destroy” – a.v.d (alef, bet/vet, dalet) is not used in that sense at all, but as “losing” or “lost”. The similar sounding root of a.v.d (but this time ayin, and not alef, is being used as the first letter), means something totally different. In Modern Hebrew it is the verb and noun designated for “to work” and “work”. “Work” takes us of course to… “rest” – menucha – and to remembering to do so. “Remembering”, or “to remember” is “liz’kor”. In chapter 13 of the Parasha we encountered a very unusual verb, “yesh”, which at all other times is used differently (and commonly). We will therefore end our short Hebrew journey with “yesh”, which is somewhat equivalent to the English “is” or “have”. 

What do you (male, female) see?
Ma ata ro’eh?
Ma at ro’ah?

He lost the book
Hu ee’bed et ha’sefer

She lost the book
He ee’bda et ha’sefer

We remember to rest on Shabbat
Anach’nu zoch’rim (masculine) la’nu’ach be’Shabbat
Anach’nu zoch’rot (feminine) la’nu’ach be’Shabbat

No working on Shabbat
Lo ovdim be’Shabbat

I have a book (lit. is to me a book)
Yesh li sefer
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