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.

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. 

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 a 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 “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 Israel 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 & 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 ear, two noses
Ozen achat, sh’ney apim

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 Parashot Nitzavim and Va’yelech – D’varim (Deuteronomy) 29:10 - Chapter 31 with Hebrew Tools for Everyday Use

Parashat Nitzavim may be subtitled “The Hebrew People - A Testimony of the Covenant and of the Promises.” Although Nitzavim is translated "You stand…" - it actually means "standing in position, standing firmly, or taking a stand," the root being y.tz.v (yod, tzadi, bet/vet) and the definition is “set, establish or take a stand.”[1] According to Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsh, however, the root is tz.v.v (tzadi, vet, vet), and means “cover while moving.” [2] Embodied in these two Parashot is the definition of the nation as well as the ultimate promise of grace. Interestingly, about the “nations” which “rage” and “the peoples” who “contemplate a vain thing”, with their “kings and rulers” (mentioned in Psalm 2:1-2), it is said that they “take their stand together against YHVH and His Anointed…” (v.2). In Hebrew “take their stand” is, again, “yit’ya’tzvu,” which places the latter in a parallel position to those who stood at the foot of Mount Horeb. Thus, with these two “stances” placed side by side, one is left with a choice of, where to stand and with whom

The familiar verb "avor" which means “to pass, go through, go over, enter,” and the noun and verb forms of "witness or testimony” ("ed"), show up more than once. The Hebrew people, YHVH’s witnesses, are characterized, as we know, by ‘crossing’ or ‘passing over,’ hence different aspects of this action are presented in the text.

But why are the “passers over” standing “in position” or “formation”? “That you may enter ("avor") the covenant with YHVH your Elohim, and enter ("avor") into His oath [alah – an oath that if broken incurs a curse; in 30:7 it is used as “curse”] which YHVH your Elohim is making with you today, in order that He may establish you today as His people and that He may be your Elohim, just as He spoke to you and as He swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Now not with you alone am I making this covenant and this oath, but both with those who stand here with us today in the presence of YHVH our Elohim and with those who are not with us here today" (29:12-15). ). With all the crossing over of the Hebrews, the passing/crossing over into the covenant is of prime importance. Notice also the far reaching aspect of the covenant, to those “not with us today,” thus pointing to the continuity of the people of Yisrael and to generational unity within the boundaries of the covenant. Moreover, in 29:10-11 the text stresses the all-inclusiveness of the covenant by addressing “all of you,” as well as by enumerating the entire social structure of the nation: “your leaders and your tribes and your elders and your officers, all the men of Israel, your little ones and your wives -- also the stranger who is in your camp, from the one who cuts your wood to the one who draws your water.”

Covenant” – “brit” – is of the root b.r.t (bet, resh, tav), meaning to “cut." “Making a covenant” – “karot”- is another verb for “cut” (or fell, a tree, for example). Consequently, in making the covenant there is a double cutting as it were, which points emphatically to separation from one’s former situation, both naturally and spiritually (and is signified by the cutting entailed in the physical circumcision). By the same token, by transgression one may experience a “cutting (again, k.r.t, e.g. Lev. 7:20)… away” from the boundaries prescribed by the covenant.

This covenant, being two-sided, is therefore like a two-edged sword. Abba laid down the conditions, but knowing the infidelity which is characteristic of His children’s heart, He also built into the covenant the promise of grace. In other words, ultimately it will be Him only who will make possible its fulfillment, as is seen so vividly in 30:3-10. In verse 6 He promises that at a latter time He will “circumcise the heart” of His people. “Circumcise” is designated by the root m.u.l (mem, vav, lamed), meaning… “to cut”, once again. In between this promise of grace and the warnings of transgressing His commandments (29:16-28), we read in 29:29: “The things hidden are to YHVH our Elohim, and the things revealed are to us and to our sons -- that we may do all the words of this Torah” (literal translation, italics added). Disobedience cannot be excused by claiming that the Torah is mystical and concealed, and as if this is not enough it says in 30:11-14: "For this commandment which I command you today is not too mysterious for you, nor is it far off.  It is not in heaven, that you should say, 'Who will ascend into heaven for us and bring it to us that, we may hear it and do it?'  Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, 'Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us that we may hear it and do it?'  But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may do it.” The word for “mysterious” here is different from the one employed in 29:29 for “hidden.” The present term (v. 14) is “niflet,” rooted in p.l.a (pey, lamed, alef. See Shoftim - Judges 13:18 and Tehilim - Psalm 139:6, in both this word is translated “wonderful”). However, having said all of the above, in the next Parasha (chapter 31) there is warning that could result in situations where YHVH will hide His face from His people (v. 17).  

Repentance and turning to YHVH will bring a restoration which is expressed in the 30:3-10 passage where all the verbs are in the ‘active causative form,’ denoting that He is both the initiator and the ‘enactor.’ Not only does He take it upon Himself to enable the fulfillment of the covenant, and at a latter date sends Yeshua to carry all of our afflictions and sufferings, in 31:13 it also says that, "YHVH your Elohim [is He] who will cross (“avor”) ahead of you" (italics added). YHVH is truly the Elohim of the Hebrews! He goes ahead of them by "crossing over" Himself! At the same time, together with the “crossing” or “passing over” we have here one of those Hebraic dichotomies indicated by “standing firmly.” The blend of both is the desired condition and status designated for the People of Yisrael. And indeed, we see Yeshua crossing  - “over”* – ahead of us, entering within the veil giving us a hope which is sure and steadfast – “yatziv” (ref. Heb. 6:19, 20, Hebrew translation of the Greek, being also of the root y.tz.v). Thus, with a “yatziv” (sure) hope, we are enabled to be steadfast and stand firmly in our crossing over journey.

In the meantime, this drama of the covenant nation, its unfaithfulness and the grace granted it, is to unfold in front of the entire universe and creation. The testimony – witness -“ed” – is being established by calling upon heaven and earth (ref. 30:19). The Song of Moses (referred to in Parashat Va’yelech 31:21 and presented in chapter 32) is the written record that serves as a witness, as does the Torah too, which is to be kept in the ark in the Holy of Holies (31:26).
The desolate land (29:23-28) will also bear witness to the unfaithfulness of the people, both before their own sons' eyes, and in front of the foreigners (v. 22), as will their banishment from it (i.e. the land). All this is with view toward the end that, the Hebrew people themselves will become a witness and a testimony nation. "You are my witness, declares YHVH" (Is. 43:10), to the fact that He is the Elohim of Yisrael, the Elohim of creation, and the Elohim of the universe.

As we have already seen, the covenant pertains to this preset day generation (see 29:14-15), just as much as it was to those who lived back then. Therefore we too are to "stand firm in position," standing our ground today, to be a covenant people and a witness to the Elohim of the covenant, the Elohim of Yisrael, the Elohim of the Hebrews - the Elohim of grace.

While Parashat Nitzavim (“standing” as compared to “and he went/walked”) focuses on the “crossing over” of the Hebrew people, Parashat “Va’yelech” starts with… the “going” of Moshe: “va’yelech Moshe,” that is  “and Moses went, and continues with: “and spoke these words to all Israel” (31:1). These words of introduction, “Moses went,” regarding the statements that the elderly leader was about to make to his compatriots is quite curious. Was it a hint of his impending departure, and that he was ready to proclaim this fact to all Yisrael? Indeed Moshe continues: “I am a hundred twenty years old today. I can no more go out and come in. Also YHVH has said to me, ‘You shall not go over this Jordan’” (31:2, italics added). Notice the elderly leader’s words, “I can no more go out and come in,” which in Hebrew is: “la’tzet ve-lavo” [literally “to go out” and “to come in”). The pervious Parashot [plural for Parasha], Ki Tetze, “when you go out,” and Ki Tavo,” “when you come in,” seem to be related (respectively) to these words of Moshe about “going out to war” (Deut. 21:10), and “coming into the land” (26:1). Thus, paraphrased, Moshe is implying the following: “I am not able to lead you in war, and neither am I able to enter the land with you.”

But whereas Moshe will not be accompanying the people, he consoles them saying that “YHVH your Elohim will cross before you” – which is once more the familiar “over” (a.v.r – the root of “Hebrew”).*  “He will destroy these nations before you,” and in addition Yehoshua will also “go – pass, cross - “over” - before you” (v. 3). Verses 6, 7 and 8, spoken to Yisrael and to Yehoshua summarize all of the above:  "’Be strong and of good courage, do not fear nor be afraid of them [the people of the land]; for YHVH your Elohim is the One who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you.’  Then Moses called Joshua and said to him in the sight of all Israel, ‘Be strong and of good courage, for you will be the one to go with this people to the land which YHVH has sworn to their fathers to give them, and you shall cause them to inherit it.  And YHVH is the One who goes before you. He will be with you, He will not leave you nor forsake you; do not fear nor be dismayed.’" Notice the repetition of “be strong and of good courage,” and of “YHVH is the One who goes with/before you.” YHVH is with His people, He is also with their leader, and at the same time is also going before/ahead of both.

The third expression which is repeated in the above passage: He will not fail you nor forsake you” is, “lo yar’pecha, ve-lo ya’azovcha.” “Yar’peh” – translated “fail” - is rooted in r. p/f. h (resh, pey/fey, hey), meaning to “become weak, let go, be negligent, or remove.” In Tehilim (Psalms) 46:10 it says, “Be still and know that I am YHVH.” However, in Hebrew the rendering is “harpu,” literally “let go,” or “become weak.” Because YHVH will not “let go” of His people, they are the ones who must do the “letting go” and become “weak” before Him, and in so doing they will know that He is the Elohim who alone can give them strength. Shaul (Paul) echoes this when he says: “And He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.Most gladly therefore I will rather glory in my weakness, that the power of Messiah may overshadow me” (2nd Corinthians 12:9 italics added). The next verb (of the above-mentioned expression, “lo yar’pecha ve-lo ya’az’vecha”) is azav (ayin, zayin, bet/vet), and means, “leave, abandon or forsake.” It is also used elsewhere in our Parasha, although in a different connotation, as we shall see at once.

Thus verses 16 and 17 of Dvarim 31 record: “And YHVH said to Moses, ‘Behold, you shall sleep with your fathers. And this people shall rise up and go lusting after the gods of the strangers of the land into which they are going, into their midst. And they will forsake Me – ve’azavani - and break My covenant which I made with them. Then My anger shall be kindled against them in that day, and I will forsake them - ve’azavtim…’” (Italics added). Verse 5 reveals to us that there is a condition for being preserved by YHVH: “…do to them [the nations in Cna’an - Canaan) according to all the commandments which I have commanded you,” to not “go lusting after [their] gods,” thereby forsaking the true One. Nevertheless, in verse 16 we read that, “This people shall rise up…” which is “ve’kam.” In  Parashat Nitzavim, above (Det. 29:13) it said: “…that He may establish you today for a people to Himself…” which is literally “that He may raise you up… - hakim.” Hence, it is the very people, whom YHVH was raising up – establishing - who “shall rise up and go lusting after the gods of the strangers…” (italics added).

In the two examples above (and in many similar ones throughout the Tanach, some of which we examined very recently), we see the usage of identical words, or derivatives of the same root for the purpose of conveying contrasting messages. This method highlights or enhances an idea, and at times adds a touch of irony and a moral to the story or the description at hand.

YHVH is commanding Moshe to call on Yehoshua in order for both to “present” themselves in the Tent of Meeting (31:14); a command which is designated by the imperative “(ve-hit)yatzvu,” of the root y.tz.v that we just encountered in Parashat “Nitzavim” above. In presenting himself, therefore, Yehoshua is to make a “firm stand” and a commitment.

Further connection to Parashat Nitzavim is evident in the concept of “witness” – testimony “ – “ed,” masculine, and “eda,” feminine. In the previous Parasha heaven and earth were mentioned as witnesses (30:19). Now the “Song” (which constitutes the following Parasha), the book of the Torah, and heaven and earth (again) are singled out as witnesses. The “Song,” in particular, is to “testify as a witness” against the people, “when many evils and troubles have found them” (31:21). “Testifying” in this particular case is “an’ta” (of the root a.n.h – ayin, noon, hey), meaning to “respond or answer,” as according to verse 19 the “Song” will be “in the mouths of the Children of Israel.” Therefore when they recite this Song, their own words shall “respond” to, or echo, their evil actions and become a testimony against them. This brings to mind Parashat Nitzavim’s: “the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, so that you may do it” (30:14 italics added), which is the other side of the same proverbial coin. Another usage of “ta’aneh,” “respond,” in relationship to “witness” is found in Sh’mot (Exodus) 20:16 and Dvarim (Deuteronomy) 5:20, where it says: “You shall not bear – “ta’aneh”- respond” - a false witness against your neighbor.” In view of this, we may ask: are the things that we say and do but mere responses, or answers bearing testimony to a ‘Primary Moving Cause’ (be it YHVH or the adversary)?

In 31:10-11 we read: “And Moses commanded them, saying, ‘at the end of seven years, at the set time of the year of release, in the Feast of Tabernacles, when all Israel has come to appear before YHVH your Elohim in the place which He shall choose, you shall read this law before all Israel in their hearing.’” The word for “read” is “kara” (k.r.a, kof, resh, alef), meaning to "read, recite, call.” At the end of the Parasha, in verse 29, it says: “For I know that after my death you will become utterly corrupt, and turn aside from the way which I have commanded you. And evil will happen to you in the latter end of the days…”  Moshe predicts that “evil” will “happen to you,” which is rendered here ve’karat, and shares the same root as the aforementioned “kara” (“read”). However, as a rule the spelling for “happen” (albeit of the same sound as “read” or “recite”), is different and therefore has another root. Thus, the special rendering and spelling of “happen” in this particular case incorporates, as it were, the verb for “reading.” Hearing the Torah read, while turning away from it and from its Giver will result in evil befalling or happening to those who know better yet choose to rebel against its Giver (and against their own better judgment).


[1] The New Brown, Driver, Briggs, Gesenius Lexicon, Francis Brown Hendrickson.
Publishers, Peabody, Mass. 1979.

[2] Etymological Dictionary of Biblical Hebrew, Rabbi Matityahu Clark, Feldheim
Publishers, Jerusalem, New York.

*  “Over” is pronounced like “overt,” minus the “t” sound.

Hebrew Tools for Everyday Use

Parashat Nitzavim makes reference several times to the witness of “earth”, and even more so to the “heavens”. It also makes reference to “land”, to its demise but also to its restoration, being a reflection of the people of Israel’s heart condition. Last week we used the verb “to love” – le’e’hov – and this time we will focus on the noun “love” – “ahavah”, being the required ingredient for the heart’s restoration. By the way, the word “shamayim” for “heaven” or “sky”, is made up of two words “sham” – there, and “mayim” – water, and together “shamayim” – there is water there. It is always in the plural form, as is also “mayim” – water.

In the heaven/sky there are stars
Ba’sha’ma’yim yesh kochavim (kochav – star; kochavim – stars)

The Land of Israel – the beloved land
Eretz Yisrael – eretz ahu’va (lit. land beloved)

I have love in my heart
Yesh li ahava ba’lev (lir. There is to me love in the heart)

You (m.) have – yesh le’cha
You (f.) have – yesh lach
He has – yesh lo
She has – yesh la

From Parashat Va’yelech we will glean several useful verbs.  “Going”
(or “walking”) and “leaving” are the first obvious ones, being used
in the Parasha in the same way. From the unique usage above of the verb
“to testify” we will ‘borrow’ its other meaning, as we saw above, which is
“to answer”. In the same way, we will ‘take advantage’ of the unusual
spelling of “happen” with its connection to “read” or “call”.

He called: “Don’t go!”
Hu kara: “Al tel’chi!” (feminine, i.e. he is addressing a female)

She called: ”Don’t go!”
He kar’a: ”Al telech!” (masculine, i.e. she is addressing a male)

We (masculine) are reading Hebrew
Anach’nu kor’eem Ivrit
We (feminine) are reading Hebrew
Anach’nu kor’ot Ivrit

There are Israelis that leave the land
Yesh Yisre’elim sheh’ozvim et ha’a’retz
(“sheh” – that – is part of the word. Ha – the – is part of the word)

Leave (singular)
ozev (m.)
ozevet (feminine)

Leave (plural)
ozveem (m.)
ozvot (f.)



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” (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.


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

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