Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Hebrew insights into Parashat Ve’zot Habracha – D’varim (Deuteronomy) 33-34 With Hebrew Tools for Everyday Use

The Torah’s last Parasha, with its prophetic blessings upon the People of Yisrael and the individual tribes, is also the last curtain for Moshe who takes his leave off the stage of history. We have seen the Patriarchs bless their sons before their departure, and now we view Moshe blessing the people whom he had carried in his bosom like a father (sometimes in spite of himself, ref. Num, 11:12) for over forty years.

The opening statement, “ve’zot habracha” (“and this is the blessing”), indicates that the first and more general component of the blessing (33:2-5) is part and parcel of one singular blessing that Moshe delivers as YHVH’s Spirit rests upon him. That is to say that each tribe’s blessing is not separate from the word bestowed upon the nation as a whole. The very usage of “b’racha”, singular, implies that YHVH is considering each individual tribe as part of a complete entity. Moreover, employing the (seemingly unnecessary) “and” implies that the blessing is a continuation of what preceded its pronouncement. 

The glorious and majestic description of the giving of the Torah at Sinai is likened to an epiphany of YHVH Himself, denoted by His “coming,” “rising” and “shinning forth” over physical and geographical locations (ref 33:2). An equivalent description, although underscored by a more specific prophecy, found in Chavakuk (Habakkuk) 3:3-4 will perhaps help us realize that this expose’ of YHVH may not be restricted only to the event which took place at Chorev, as YHVH is not bound to, or limited by Time, even when He intercepts our dimensionally-confined world. Thus, we may infer that a wider scope of revelation of Yisrael’s Elohim is presented here. Interestingly, in “He came with ten thousands of saints” (33:2), it is not the usual “ba” (“came”), but rather the Aramaic “ata,” evoking the Aramaic “maranatha” – or “maran ata” (Revelation 22:20) - that is, “Master come” or “the Master has come.”  The enigmatic meaning of verses 2 and 3 is matched by the very words and syntax used, all of which are complex and extraordinary, presenting a challenging task for the commentators. The literal rendering, for example, of “ten thousands of saints,” mentioned in verse 2, is literally “ten thousands of holiness,” the word used there being “kodesh.” Thus, if the text is referring to “ten thousands of saints” or “holy ones,” why are “His holy ones” in the next verse (v. 3) rendered as “k’doshav” (“kadosh” - “holy one”), plain and simple? If in both cases the meaning is “His holy ones,” why are the terms not identical? Or, is it possible that “ten thousands of holiness” is not a reference to “saints” (or “angels” according to rabbinic interpretation) at all, but is a description of His abode (from which He is said to be coming) being “abundant in holiness”?

The next expression in the same verse (2) is no less problematic. That which is translated either “firey law” or “flashing lightning” is “eshdat” in Hebrew, being a term that appears nowhere else. If broken in two it is: “e’sh” – fire – and “dat” – “law, edict” or “manner of things”. However, “dat” is found only in Esther, one time in Ezra and in the Aramaic sections of Daniel, making its usage here, at such an early stage, totally doubtful. According to the B.D.B Lexicon “eshdat” was originally “esh yokeh-dat,” that is “burning fire” (with the first two syllables now missing). [1] According to this viewpoint we should read, “On His right (that is by the right hand side) is a burning fire”.

Verse 3 reads: “Indeed, He loves the people; all your holy ones are in Your hand, and they followed in Your steps, carrying Your words”. This presents several problems. It changes mid-sentence from third to second person. “He who loves the nations” or “peoples” is described as “chovev amim.” The root ch.v.v. (chet, vet, vet) – love dutifully – also forms the name Chovav, which is one of the names of Moshe’s father-in-law (ref. Num. 10:29). According to Daat Mikra, “even when He expresses love toward all peoples, ‘all His Holy ones’ are Yisrael and they are ‘in Your hand’”. Therefore the change to second person in the second part of the verse denotes YHVH’s closeness to His people. Daat Mikra adds that the rest of the verse should read: “And they will be smitten at Your feet, and receive Your Word,” [2] whereas according to BDB the verb “tuku,” (“smitten”) is of dubious meaning and should therefore be understood as: “will be assembled,” as it is more compatible with the context. [3]

Yisrael’s present and future destiny is defined in the next two verses (33:4, 5). Since Moshe is mentioned here in third person, the question arises whether he is speaking of himself, or is the assembly intoning the following: “Moses charged us with Torah, an inheritance for the assembly of Jacob. And there was a king in Jeshurun” [remember last Parasha’s Yeshurun, “the one who has been straightened,” in contradistinction to Ya’acov who is “winding” or “crooked”?]; when the heads of the people were gathered, the tribes of Israel together” (vs. 4, 5). For the “assembly of Jacob” we have here the unusual form of “kehila” (of the root k.h.l), rather than the frequent “kahal” or “eda.” “Kehila” appears to refer to a more organized form of the congregation, or society, rather than to a random assembly of the multitudes. Thus, when the People of Yisrael is in unison they become the redeemed community ruled over by YHVH while inheriting the Torah, rendering them no longer a wayward Ya’acov, but Yeshurun, whose paths have been made straight. 

At this point Moshe confers on each tribe its respective prophetic blessing.

The first three tribes to receive their blessings are the firstborn Reuven, who in spite of having lost the birthright (ref. 1st Chronicles 5:1, 2), symbolizes here this significant position; Secondly, Yehuda (Judah), who was to receive the kingly position, while Levi is third to be given his blessing which is the office of the priesthood. There is no mistake - this is the order of YHVH’s Kingdom: the birthright comes first, ideally consisting of kingship and priesthood. However, in the un-regenerated state the birthright had to be divided up into its two offices (namely the ‘kingly’ and the ‘priestly’), which were only brought together in Yeshua (ref. Zech. 6:13). But when YHVH’s kingdom will fully manifest upon the earth, His people will form the long-awaited-for nation of priests (after the order of Malchitzedek) and kings (e.g. 1st Peter 2:9).*

Since Yehuda, according to the blessing (v. 7), was destined to be “brought to his people,” it is apparent that he will be separated from them at some point. This prediction became fact when the ten northern tribes seceded from the united kingdom ruled by Yehuda, and were later exiled and dispersed and until now have not been reunited with their estranged southern brethren, albeit the many prophecies predicting their eventual union.  
 . 
Of Levi it says (in verse 9): “who said to his father and to his mother, I have not seen him; and he has not acknowledged his brothers, nor knew his own son, for they have observed Your word and kept Your covenant.” The word for “acknowledge” is “hekir,” also meaning to “recognize” and stems from the root n.ch.r (noon, kaf/chaf, resh) used in “nochri,” “stranger,” and in the verb “hitnaker,” to be “estranged.” This term describes Yoseph’s initial treatment of his brothers in B’resheet (Genesis) 42:7. The Levites, who were also to assume the position of judges, could not be “partial” to anyone, including their own family members, or as the Hebrew has it, they could not (in their official capacity) “recognize or acknowledge" their relatives, but rather, had to become “estranged” from them. “Estrangement” and “recognition,” although appearing to be contradictory, are in fact not that far apart; at times it takes the former in order to achieve the latter (as was the case with Yoseph and his brothers).

The description enumerating Yoseph’s blessing (vs. 13 – 17) resembles a trail going up and down hills, descending into valleys and underground resources and climbing mountain tops; a journey, which while topographical and geographical, also crosses the boundaries of Time and is ‘intercepted’ by the human element as well as by heavenly bodies, such as the sun and the moon (recalling to mind Yoseph’s dreams). “Meged” - translated “precious - is the leitmotif of this passage, as it is repeated five times within few verses. Its expanded meaning is “excellence, glory, and gifts of choice” in reference to nature.[4]  In verse 15, Yoseph’s hills and mountains are termed “ancient” (“kedem” - “first, initial, primary” and also connected to that which is "ahead"), and “everlasting” (the word being “olam,” which also means “futurity”). Both the heavens and the abyss are destined to contribute toward Yoseph’s well being. That which the ground will produce for him on a monthly basis will grow so fast, that it will seem as though “expelled” (“the best yield” is “geresh,” g.r.sh, to “expel, force out”) by the earth (v. 14). On the one hand “he shall push out the peoples” (v. 17), but his leadership position is not likened to the prowess of a king or a military leader, nor even to that of a typical priest, but rather to that of the Nazarite (ref. end of v. 16 – “n’zir ehcav”, literally the “nazarite among his brothers” and translated as “the one who was separated from his brothers,” or “a prince among his brothers”). The title used here originates in “nezer,” a “crown or a miter,” which is made up of the nazarite’s uncut hair (as we saw in Parashat Nasso, in Num. 6). The “nazarite” - or “nazir”- is one who takes upon himself an oath to abstain from worldly pleasures.

Z’vulun (Zebulun) is told to rejoice in his “going out” (v. 18). In Parashat Ki Tetze (in Deut. 21:10) we already noted that “going out” many a time connotes going out to war (ref. 1st Ch. 12:33), and in Z’vulun’s case also going out to sea (ref. Ya’acov’s blessings to his sons, in Gen. 49:13). Yisas’char’s (Issachar) tent dwelling is an antidote to Z’vulun’s “going out,” and refers to homestead and attachment to the land (the tent dwelling here does not seem to suggest a nomadic life style; cf. Jacob’s blessings, Gen. 49:14), and perhaps also to the wisdom and discernment characteristic of this people (ref. 1st Ch. 12:32). The mutual cooperation between these two neighboring tribes is captured by verse 19. Yisas’char “shall call the peoples to the mountain. There they shall offer sacrifices of righteousness,” while Z’vulun will make provisions of “the bounty of the seas and treasures hidden in the sand”.

Naphtali is “satisfied with favor,” which is “s’vah ratzon” (v. 23), while Asher, who is “favorable in the eyes of his brothers,” is “r’tzooy echav” (v. 24). Both these words emanate from the root r.tz.h., which is to “please, accept, favor”.

In verse 15 we read about the “ancient – kedem – mountains,” while in verse 27 Elohim, who is described as a “dwelling place” (“me’ona”), is also called “Elohey kedem,” translated here as “eternal”. Thus, He who always was from the very beginning, is also the One who will ever be and it is He who will enable Yisrael to “dwell alone securely” (v. 28, literal translation; cf Bil’am’s blessing, Num. 23:9), as He Himself is her dwelling place while “underneath [her] are [His] everlasting arms” (v. 27).

Moshe’s last words constitute an exhilarating exclamation: “Blessed are you, O Israel! Who is like you, O people saved by YHVH, the shield of your help, and who is the sword of your excellence! And your enemies shall be found liars to you, and you shall tread on their high places” (33:29). It is most likely that Moshe himself did not compose the last eight verses of D’varim (chapter 34, or even the entire chapter, consisting of 12 verses). About his body it is said, “He buried him…” (34:6), inferring the direct involvement of the Holy One of Yisrael in this task. And although in Sh’mot (Exodus) 33:20 YHVH said to Moshe: “You cannot see My face. For there no man can see Me and live,” here we read in verse 10: “And never since has a prophet like Moses arisen in Israel, whom YHVH knew face to face”.  These words do point to Moshe’s intimate knowledge of the Almighty, Who Himself is said to have “known” Moshe (cf. 1st Cor. 13:12). “Panim el panim” (“face to face”) implies exposure before someone, as in Hebrew “face” is not only an external image, with the root p.n.h (which we have noted several times in the past) meaning “to turn”.  Thus “face” is that which “turns” to look at and respond to another. And while “panim” is the “exterior,” or the “surface,” “p’nim” means “inner” (ref. Ezekiel 40:19,23 etc.). Thus “panim” - face – also reflects that which is on the inside. In 2nd Corinthians 3:18 this principle is applied in a powerful way to each individual believer: “We all, with our face having been unveiled, having beheld [‘turned toward’] the glory of YHVH as in a mirror, are being changed [on the inside] into the same image from glory to glory, even as by YHVH, the Spirit” (italics added).


[1] The New Brown, Driver, Briggs, Gesenius Lexicon, Francis Brown Hendrickson. Publishers, Peabody, Mass. 1979
[2] Da’at Mikra, A’ahron Mirski, Rav Cook Inst., Jerusalem, 2001
[3] The New Brown, Driver, Briggs, Gesenius Lexicon
[4] Ibid. 
* More information on the “firstborn factor” may be obtained
from our book, Firstborn Factor in the Plan of Redemption, which can also be read online. See www.israelitereturn.com


Hebrew Tools for Everyday Use

Our short Parasha yields several words which are common in Modern Hebrew.  “Yeshurun” is of the root y.sh.r. (yod, shin, resh), which means “straight” as well as “honest”. The verb “hekir”, for “recognize” and “familiar” (“mukar”) is also very useful, as well as “rotzeh” – “want” and “ratzon” – will. Finally, “face” – “panim” – is not something we want to miss, especially when we “recognize” someone… Notice “panim” is always plural in Hebrew.

He is an honest man
Hu eesh yashar

The road is straight
Ha’kvish yashar

Do you (m.) know him?
Ata makir oto?

I know (f) her
Ani makira ota

What do you (m) want?
Ma ata rotzeh?

What do you (f) want?
Ma at rotzah?

Is he familiar to you (m)?
Hu mukar le’cha?

Yes, his face is familiar
Ken, ha’panim she’lo muka’rot (lit. the face of his…)









Hebrew Insights into Parashat Ha’azinu – D'varim (Deuteronomy) Chapter 32 With Hebrew Tools for Everyday Use

Parashat Ha’azinu, which consists almost entirely of the ”Song of Moses” - Shirat Ha’azinu in Hebrew - is the crescendo that has been building up in the Dvarim (Deuteronomy) account. It is a recitation which summarizes the Israelites’ history, projecting future situations, while at the same time continually revolving around a central pivot - YHVH as the Almighty and as the loving Father of His people. Shirat Ha’azinu (the Ha’azinu song or poem) was to bear testimony for future generations. Last week heaven and earth were also summoned as “witnesses,” as they are, indeed, here too: “Give ear, O heavens, and I will speak; and hear, O earth, the words of my mouth” (32:1, italics added). The imperative “ha’azinu” (“listen”) is a derivative of “ozen” – “ear,” and would therefore be best translated “give ear.”  Psalm 80 also opens up with:Give ear- ha’azina - O Shepherd of Israel, You who lead Joseph like a flock; You who dwell between the cherubim, shine forth!...” Perhaps if we “give ear” to the Shepherd of Yisrael, He will also give ear to our cry.

The common Hebrew word for “scales” is “moz’na’yim”. The ancients must have known that it is the ear which is responsible for balance, thus connecting the two words which stem from the root a.z.n (alef, zayin, noon). With that said, the picture depicted before us is of the heaven and earth acting as scales which are to weigh Yisrael in the balance.

You will notice that many of the verses are made up of couplets, where the same point is stated once and then repeated with a slight variation. The first two verses of the poem serve as a good example of this poetic device, which is so typical of biblical poetry:

Give ear, O heavens, and I will speak;
And hear, O earth, the words of my mouth.

My doctrine shall drop as the rain;
My speech shall drop down as the dew,

As the small rain on the tender plant,
And.aslthe;showerslon;the;grass((vs.1-2).                                          

YHVH’s love and care for Yisrael form the backdrop against which Yisrael’s past and future are respectively described and cast. According to the poem, the people’s relationship with and toward YHVH appears to be a primary cause of the events (past, present and future) which befall them. 

Verse 4 exclaims that YHVH is “the Rock whose work is perfect.” The word used here for rock is “tzur.” This word is repeated a number of times in our song, and thus we read in verse 13, in reference to YHVH’s benevolence toward Yisrael, “He made him suck honey from the rock and oil out of the flinty rock” (italics added). In response, Yeshurun (Jeshurun) – rooted in     “straight,”?acts?more?like?apYa’acovt(derived?from crookedness”),land;“scorned9the?Rockbofftheir Salvation” (v. 15).  Verse 18 reads thus: “You forgot the Rock who birthed you.” The verb used here for “forgot” is “teshi,” of the root n.sh.h (noon, shin, hey), which is also the root for the name Menashe (Manasseh). The imagery of the “rock,” a substance that is definitely not associated with tenderness, much less with motherhood, is juxtaposed with metaphors related to birthing and suckling. This type of unusual imagery is echoed somewhat in 1st Corinthians 10:1 and 4, where we read: “Our fathers…. all drank of the spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Messiah.”

In verses 30 and 31 there are several more references to “tzur,” while in verse 37 the “rock” is the one in whom “refuge is taken” (“chasayu”, ch.s.h., chet, samech, hey – to “take refuge”), being a more conventional usage of the rock metaphor. Because the idols of the peoples were often made of stone, or carved into a rock, “tzur” is also used here in relation to the gods of the pagans (e.g. verse 31), contrasting the term with Yisrael’s Elohim, who is totally detached from the literal substance of the rock.

Other parts of our text appear to highlight different attributes of Elohim, one in particular is found in verse 27, but let us also include verse 26. YHVH says about His treacherous people:  “I will make an end of them, I will make their memory cease from among men. Were it not that I dreaded the enemy’s provocation, lest their adversaries should misconstrue, lest they should say, ‘our hand is exalted and not YHVH has performed all this’” (italics added). This last verse (27) contains a very daring anthropomorphism [personification-humanization of YHVH], “indeed attributing to Him the sentiment of fear, as it were… has no parallel in the Torah.” In this commentary Nechama Leibowitz includes other instances where Moshe expresses concern over the desecration of YHVH’s name among the nations and concludes: “This concern over desecrating the Divine name… assumes a much more intense and extreme form in our sidra [Parasha]. Here it is the Almighty Himself who is, as it were, “concerned” over the world being misled and diverted from the path leading mankind spiritually forward. He is filled with apprehension lest His name be brought into disrepute instead of sanctified and His sovereignty universally recognized and acknowledged, which is the ultimate goal of all creation.”[1]  

I will make an end of them…” (back to verse 26) is couched here in a very unique term, which appears nowhere else in the Tanach (O.T.) - “af’ey’em.” Several possible interpretations of this term have been extrapolated. Most “have traced its meaning to the word pe’ah – “corner,” others to af (“anger”).” Rashi breaks up the word into its three syllables, and comes up with: “af ey hem,” which is a question that reads as follows: “In anger (“af,” meaning YHVH’s anger), where are they?” Thus implying that YHVH’s anger has reduced them to non-existence.[2]?Da’attMikra4offersyanother interpretation, with the same “pe’ah” – “corner, edge” in mind: “I will not leave of them as much as an edge.”[3]

Another verse that requires some attention is verse 5 - where it says: “They have corrupted themselves: they are not His sons; it is their blemish; they are a crooked and perverse generation.” And although the Hebrew there is somewhat obscure, according to Da’at Mikra it should read, “His sons’ blemish is theirs” (literal translation), that is to say: “their perversion is of their own making, and therefore they are “lo-banav,” “not-His-sons.” This is similar to the name that will be given at a much later date to Ephraim - “not-My-people”0(“Lo-Ami,”oHos.1:9).rIn?contradistinction, verse 6 names YHVH as “your father, the One who purchases you” – “kone’cha.” Quite often the term “koneh” (k.n.h, kof, noon, hey) – to “buy, or purchase” – is synonymous with redeeming, and lends the latter act its graphic meaning, as the role of the redeemer is primarily to pay for and buy that which is lost (such as freedom or property). In 1st Corinthians 6:20 and 7:23, Shaul (Paul) reminds the redeemed community: “You are bought with a price.” “Kone’cha,” with its similarity to “ken” (a “bird’s nest”), inspired Rashi to suggest that this is a reference to the nest that YHVH is making for Yisrael (see also verse 11) [4].

At this point, starting with verse 6 and through 14, the poem expounds very tenderly on the establishing of the Israelite nation, and on the care and love bestowed on it by its Maker. That Yisrael, even in its nascent state, had a major role in global affairs is made apparent from verse 8: “When the Most High divided to the nations their inheritance, when He separated the sons of Adam, He set the bounds of the people according to the number of the sons of Israel” (italics added). When one takes into consideration the fact that the above separation took place after the Flood, and more particularly that YHVH scattered the people during the Tower of Ba’vel (Babel) era (see Gen. 10:25, 11:8), this statement becomes all the more significant and points to a future (for Yisrael) that is even greater.

A string of verbs, which follow one another in progressive intensity and describe YHVH’s involvement with Yisrael is introduced in verses 10 and 11: “He found him… He compassed him about … He cared for him…. Like an eagle that stirs up His nest… He hovers… He spreads his wings… He takes him… lifts him….”  The “desert land,” the “waste” and the “howling wilderness” mentioned here (v. 10), bring to mind a lost entity wandering around, and thus these verbs appear as the solution and response to the people’s dire condition. The usage of these verbs is fraught with activity: “vay’vone’nehu” (root b.n.h, bet/vet, noon, hey), translated “cared,” in actual fact could relate to “bina” – “wisdom” and thus may read: “endowed him with wisdom.” Another possibility is that the above verb stems from “hitbonen,” which is to “look closely, watch,” or to “boneh,” “build, build up, or edify.” “Guarded him” is a translation of “yitz’renhu,” which is of the root n.tz.r, (noon, tzadi, resh), meaning to “keep, guard, watch, hide, protect.” It is from this root that “netzer,” the “branch” of Yishayahu (Isaiah) 11:1 is derived, and the “watchmen” – “notzrim” – of Yirmiyahu (Jeremiah) 31:6. “Hovers” is particularly interesting, as it is “ye’ra’chef,” of the root r.ch.f (resh, chet, pey/fey), which is found in B’resheet (Genesis) 1:2 in reference to the Spirit of Elohim. We recall the idea of being protected from above as well as being airborne in Parashat Va’era, in Shmot (Exodus) 6:7, 8 where we read YHVH’s promise: “And I will take you…. to the land concerning which I lifted up My hand…” (italics added). In Sh’mot (Exodus) 19:4 YHVH addressed Yisrael: “I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Myself.” Parashat Ha’azinu, therefore, echoes and captures promises of the past, transferring them to the Israelites’ present reality on the threshold of the Promised Land.

Next is the enumeration of the goodness and plenty that was conferred upon Yisrael, and with which she shall be blessed in the future (vs. 13-14). Verse 15 witnesses a transition, and once again there is an inventory, if you will, of densely listed verbs. Unfortunately, not all of them can be translated into verb form in English: “Yeshurun grew fat… kicked… became fat… became thick… covered in layers… forsook Elohim his maker….” In Hebrew all these are in verb form and follow one another thusly: “va’yishman… va’yiv’at… shamanta, avita, kasita, va’yitosh… vay’na’bel,” almost in stampede fashion. Just as before, where YHVH’s intense activities around His people were depicted in verb form, action-laden, so too here - the Israelites’ intent on turning away from their Creator is described in a chain reaction of fast moves.

The excerpt of verses 28-35 presents a controversy, which has been engaging the commentators for generations. Who is the subject of verses 28-29? Is it Yisrael, or is it the enemies? In verse 30, again, who is being chased, is it Yisrael, or the enemies? Verse 36: “For YHVH will bring His people justice; and He shall have compassion on His servants…” seems to indicate that the former section would have referred to the enemy. However, according to verses 30 and 31, it would appear that Yisrael is the subject of the section: “How shall one chase a thousand, and two put ten thousand to flight, unless their Rock had sold them and YHVH had shut them up?  For their rock is not as our Rock, even our enemies themselves being judges.” Who is it that YHVH is “selling”? (Remember verse 6, where He was depicted as the Father and the “buyer”?) Does He not sell that which belongs to Him? And in verse 31, in the references to “their rock” and to “our rock,” is there not a distinction made between Yisrael and the other nations?  Verses 37 and 38 present a similar dilemma. Again, is it Yisrael or is it the nations that are the subject of this brief portion? Having just read that YHVH will have compassion on His people, this could possibly refer to the enemies, whose rock and god (the rock being the "god" and not a mere metaphor for strength, unlike the Elohim of Yisrael who is symbolized by the rock, but is not the rock itself) is unable to help them. Conversely, this could also be talking to Yisrael, who had been leaning on false gods whom they trusted to no avail. What do you think?

“And Moses made an end of speaking all these words to all Israel. And he said to them, ‘Set your hearts to all the words which I testify among you today, which you shall command your sons to observe and to do, all the words of this law; For it is not a vain thing for you, because it is your life. And by this word you shall prolong your days in the land where you go over Jordan, there to possess it’” (vs. 45-47 italics added). Thus Moshe seals these most solemn words of the testimonial poem. The words, “for it is not a vain thing for you, because it is your life” are rendered in Hebrew, “for it is not an empty word for you, because…” and here it is possible to read, “He is your life”…  “I am the way, the truth and the Life,” were Yeshua’s words in John 14:6. And just as Shirat Ha’azinu was to bear a testimony, so did the Word-made-flesh (John 1:14) who bore a testimony in His very being, “so that all may believe…” (John 1:7).


[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] Ibid
[3] Da’at Mikra, A’ahron Mirski, Rav Kook Inst., Jerusalem, 2001
[4] Ibid.

Hebrew Tools for Everyday Use

Without a doubt the first word we want to examine and learn this week is the word for “ear” – “ozen”. That takes us to the obscure term we examined above - af’ey’em, which may (or may not) be in reference to “af” (“anger” – literally the “snorting of the nose” - in Biblical Hebrew), and hence to “nose” (both in Biblical and Modern Hebrew).  Recently we learned to use “mocher”, being to “sell” and a “vendor”. Here too this verb appears, but also the verb for “buying” (and noun “buyer”) – “koneh”. Like the term referred to above, there is another ambiguous term in this Parasha, which is “vay’vone’nehu”, with the root of bet, noon, hey. As we noted above, it may take us in several directions. Out of the several possibilities mentioned, we will pick the verb “to build”, “livnot” – and “boneh” – “builds”, as well as the noun “builder”.
With this said, let’s go for it…


Everyone has two ears and one nose
Le’chol echad yesh sh’tey oznayim ve’af echad
(lit. to every one there are two ears and nose one)

One nose, two ears
Af echad, sh'tey ozna'yim

I buy in the market/I am buying in the market (masculine)
Ani koneh ba’shuk
I buy in the market/I am buying in the market (feminine)
Ani konah ba’shuk

The builder is building a building
Ha’ba’nay boneh bin’yan

The builder built a building
Ha’ba’nay banah bin’yan

The builders are building
Ha’bana’eem bonim

The buyer bought a building
Ha’koneh kanah bin’yan


Monday, August 21, 2017

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. 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, which is stated in alliteration form in Tehilim (Psalms) 107:11: “They defied Elohim’s words” – “himru ee’mrey El,” finds its ‘remedy’ (tikkun) 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” - this is the bet, alef, resh root, not to be confused with the bet, ayin, resh root  mentioned above (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’”. [2]

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 (at the end of the day “erev” is a guarantee of the coming 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 Elohim’s Son could risk His life, as indeed He has, by “sacrificing” (which is identical to “approach” above) 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] Karaite Korner http://www.karaite-korner.org.
[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.


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 in their most simple and common form, which should be useful. 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 instead.  The 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. Finally, "surplus" or "that which remains" - y.t.r - is used in Modern Hebrew "yoter" means "more" or "better" ('more good'). We will have an example of its usage below.


Good Morning
Boker Tov (lit. morning good)

Good Evening
Erev Tov (lit. evening good)

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

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

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

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

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

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, while 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 of [pronounced in the] Law [for breaking] its 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 fellow man 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). One of the Biblical terms for young man is “elem” (and “alma” for a young woman), 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). Applying this principle 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 apparel or fashion 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 are 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, if 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 (of 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”) stands 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 bite”, 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

https://vocaroo.com/i/s0hj4603Smvt