Thursday, August 18, 2011

Hebrew Insights into Parashat Ki Te’tzeh – Deuteronomy: 21:10 – 25:19

Hebrew Insights into Parashat Ki Te’tzeh – Deuteronomy: 21:10 – 25:19

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 within each respective group. One such example, where the rulings almost form a story line, is right at the beginning of the Parasha. The first one deals with 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. The next ruling deals with a criminal who is sentenced to hanging (ref. 21:10-23). At the very end of the Parasha (in 25:14-16), to mention another example, we read about unjust weights and measures which are detestable in YHVH’ sight. 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 places them under the category of: “Anyone doing these things is hateful to YHVH your Elohim everyone acting evilly” (25:16), 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. They, in turn, were therefore to live their lives and express themselves in a manner worthy of Him.

The stubborn and rebellious son, of 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, or rebellious.” This conduct issues forth from the heart, as we read in Yirmiyahu (Jeremiah): “To this people there is a revolting and a rebellious – sorer u’moreh - heart” (5:23). 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 Vayera (see Gen. 21:27-31) 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’ with being “sa’veh’ah” and overindulges, 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. V. 21), which is the verb “ragom.” Another stoning was to occur in the event of a young woman who upon marriage was found not to be a virgin (ref. 22:21), 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). 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 21:21, the text goes on (v. 22) 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 [breaking] the Torah laws, having become a curse for us” (Gal. 3:13).

The next set of injunctions in chapter 22 focuses on concern for the property of one’s fellowman and his welfare, as well on sensitivity toward YHVH’s creation. “You shall not see your brother's ox or his sheep driven away, and hide yourself from them. You shall surely turn them back to your brother” (v. 1). “You shall hide” here is “hit’a’lamta,” of the root a.l.m (ayin, lamed, mem), and means “hidden or concealed,” and in this context also “disregard, neglect or pretend not to see.” It is from this root that we obtain “olam,” which in Biblical Hebrew speaks mostly of “eternity” (future but also past), that from the human point of view is indeed concealed and uncharted (e.g. Gen. 17:7; Ex. 12:24; Ps. 77:5, 7). “Young man, or young woman” are “elem” and “alma,” respectively, as their character is still unfolding and their future unknown also derive from the same root. 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 God 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 literature. 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 doing so) being the same. Our Parasha, to cite another such example, also exhorts us to “have a perfect and just ephah; so that they prolong your days in the land” (25:15 italcis added).

In 23:8-9 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 direction is in opposition to the one relating to the Ammonites and Moabites, who were not to enter the assembly of YHVH for 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]

Several rulings are laid concerning 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 “female prostitute” (in pagan worship) is “k’desha,” while “male prostitute” is “kadesh.” This is one more example of contradictory terms being closely linked in the Hebrew language and mind, 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 God 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, noon) which is to “give,” or to “offer” of t.n.h (tav, noon, hey). Regret for betraying Yeshua led Yehuda of Krayot - Judas Iscariot – to give back to the priests the 30 pieces of silver he had been given 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 (v. 19, 20), using “neshech” for “usury, or interest,” whose literal meaning 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 hand” – “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’, - “to send”, and hence “messengers, angels, sent out ones”), which by its very definition conveys the idea that one’s work is a goal or an accomplishment that does not remain in confinement or within one’s own vicinity only. Rather, it is something rendered or performed as a mission (for the community), and therefore was not to be considered incidental or self serving. The same idea is expressed in “mishlach yad,” of the root (shin, lamed, chet), which also means “to send.”

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 the same 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). “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 rabbis’ discussion as to whose right it is to partake of the above-mentioned, is followed by a concluding comment by Nechama Leibowitz (spanning more than just this particular commandment): “From all the opinions we have surveyed it seems apparent that the Torah was not concerned with favoring one side or according privileges to the other. It does not underwrite the privileges of a particular class but is concerned with human welfare. It does not approve of man conducting his life on the principles of strict justice alone, but calls for consideration and lovingkindness in human relations”. [3]

Interestingly, the “wielding of the sickle” (which one is forbidden to do in a neighbor’s field (in 23:25 the verse we looked at above), recalls an act of “felling” or “cutting off,” which in Hebrew is “k’ritut.” Indeed “k’ritut” is what the next chapter (24) takes us to. “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.” “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 exposing [erva] of something.” 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” - nakedness, a.r.h (ayin, resh, hey) also lends itself to the verb “to pour out” and is used in Yishayahu (Isaiah) 53:12, when describing the Messiah: “And with the strong He shall divide the spoil; because He poured out [he’era] His soul to death” (italics added).

In 24:19 we come to a precept that has caused quite a stir in rabbinical polemics. “When you cut down your harvest in your field, and have forgotten a sheaf in the field, you shall not turn back to take it. It shall be for the alien, for the orphan and for the widow; so that YHVH your Elohim shall bless you in all the work of your hand.” It would hardly seem plausible that this 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 is therefore that, “if a man has no deliberate intention of performing a good deed [and] it is nevertheless reckoned to him as one,” therefore “he who deliberately performs a good deed, how much more so [is it reckoned to him]!” [4] Verse 20 follows on the heels of 19 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 [lehit’pa’er] Myself” (italics added). And although the boughs have been broken, yet the Olive Tree of Yisrael, when fully redeemed, is destined to be a glory 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. In contrast, and yet in connection to verse 19 which featured forgetfulness, are the commands in verses 17-18 and 21-22 (of chapter 24). In both these verses one is exhorted to remember having been a slave in Egypt and therefore 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.

Thus, when dried up and dead, as Yisrael’s stick/tree was, the collective outcry went forth: “Our bones are dried, and our hope is perished; we are cut off to ourselves” (Ez. 37:11). Yet through redemption Yisrael is to be resurrected. 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 thus in Modern Hebrew “t’kuma” (of the same root) is resurrection, while Vayikra (Leviticus) 26:13 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). The following verse (Lev. 26:14) warns Yisrael lest they “reject My statutes.” Those engaged in such activities, that is rebelling and rising against YHVH, are called “te’komemim” (Psalms 139:21). Thus, those whom YHVH has caused to rise must do so in uprightness and in circumspection, lest they find themselves rising against Him.

[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] Davrim with Daat Mikrah Commentary, Pub. Mossad Harav Kook, Jm. 2001.
[3] New Studies in Devarim
[4] Ibid.

Hebrew Insights into Parashat Shoftim – Dvarim (Deuteronomy) 16:18 – 21:9

Hebrew Insights into Parashat Shoftim – Dvarim (Deuteronomy) 16:18 – 21:9

In Parashat Shoftim (“judges”) several institutions and their relevant supervisory regulations, are being set up for the future administration of Yisrael’s national life. To begin with, the appointment of judges and officers is provided for, leading to a number of ‘religious’ prohibitions and to the consequences resulting from breaking them. The institution of arbitrators and judges in all matters is followed by instructions concerning the monarchy, and the life of the Levites and priests. Cities of refuge and matters pertaining to witnessing crime, war regulations, and resolving cases of unknown murders seal off our Parasha.

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

Right at the core of the account of these, mostly executive matters, there is a passage, which although at first glance may appear to be compatible with the others is nevertheless of an altogether different genre and purpose (18:13-22). It is, above all else, prophetic in nature, describing an individual who will appear on Yisrael’s horizon. This individual’s qualifying characteristics are specified to some extent in this passage, and are contrasted with potential false claimants or counterfeits (vs. 20 – 22, with more on the subject refer also to 13:2-8, in Parashat R’eh). The instructional aspect of this text is simply, “Whoever will not listen to My words which he [this prophet] shall speak in My name, I will require it at his hand” (18:19). Moshe says of Him: “YHVH your Elohim shall raise up to you a prophet from among you, of your brothers, One like me; you shall listen to Him” (v. 15), and again in verse 18 YHVH is speaking, addressing Moshe: “I shall raise up a prophet to them from among their brothers, one like you; and I will put My words in his mouth; and he shall speak to them all that I shall command him.” Mention is also made in verses 16 and 17 of the fact that before the giving of the Torah in Chorev (Horeb), the Israelites had asked Moshe to interpose between them and YHVH, a request that YHVH apparently looked favorably upon. This future prophet, like Moshe, will also have this characteristic of mediation. Some of his others attributes will be: granting deliverance from bondage, being mighty in word and deed, offering strong leadership yet being humble beyond any man who had ever lived, willingness to offer up his own life for the people, acting as a teacher and a judge and being raised from among the ranks of his own people. Dvarim (Deuteronomy) 34:10 appends, “And never has a prophet like Moses arisen in Israel, whom YHVH knew face to face,” thus adding another trait to the portrait of this (Moshe-like) individual.

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

In comparison with this passage, which portrays Yisrael’s supreme ruler, we read in 17:8 – 12 about the Levites and the priests who are to judge and instruct Yisrael: “If a matter is too hard for you in judgment, between blood and blood, between cause and cause, or between stroke and stroke, matters of strife within your gates… And you shall come in to the priest, of the Levites, and to the judge who is in those days, and shall inquire. And they shall declare the sentence of judgment to you” (v. 8-9). Summarizing the passage:

(1) The place where these arbitrations are to take place is “the place which YHVH your Elohim shall choose” (v. 9).
(2) The litigants’ response is to be obedient “to the word which they [the judges] declare to you,” and “you shall do according to the mouth of the law which they direct you, and according to the judgment which they deliver to you. You shall not turn aside from the word, which they declare to you right or left” (vv. 10, 11).
(3) The consequences of disobedience are: “And the man who acts with pride so as not to listen to the priest who is standing to serve YHVH your Elohim there, or to the judge, even that man shall die” (v. 12).

If we compare this set of conditions to those applied to the “prophet” of 18:15 – 21, we find that there are marked differences. Whereas obeying the above-mentioned priestly judges is to be preceded by some specific judicial matter, obeying the “prophet” is not subject to such prerequisites: “I will put My words in His mouth; and He shall speak to them all that I shall command Him” (18:18), says YHVH. And while it is YHVH who appoints this One, the judges are simply mentioned as: “the priest, of the Levites, and… the judge who is [that is, who happens to be officiating] in those days” (17, 9). Chapter 18 verse 19 points out: “And it shall be, whoever will not listen to My words which he shall speak in My name, I will require it at his hand.” And although the person who does not obey the priest or the judge is also subject to a death penalty, yet his proverbial hand is not being required by YHVH Himself. In addition, the priests and judges, unlike the “prophet,” are not mentioned as speaking in YHVH’s name, but rather as “standing to serve Him” (17:12).

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

We have seen that the “prophet” whose coming is predicted here, unlike the institution of the judging and teaching priests which is set up in response to the people’s needs, will be “raised up” by YHVH Himself. Unlike the priestly judges, He will not respond only to problem cases, but will represent YHVH in an overall manner. Another institution which is dealt with here is the monarchy (17:14-20), and it too will be set up in response to Yisrael’s request to have a king: “When you come into the land which YHVH your Elohim is giving to you, and have possessed it, and settled in it; and you shall say, ‘Let me set a king over me like all the nations around me’” (17:14). Once Yisrael decides to “place” (“sim” – “put”) a king over itself, this one is to be “from among your brothers” while YHVH will do the selecting. It will be incumbent upon the king to study the injunctions of the Torah. In fact, he is to make a copy of it in a book for his own use – termed here “mishneh Torah,” of the root sh.n.h, meaning to “repeat, or secondary.” The king is also to live modestly “so that his heart may not be lifted up above his brothers and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, to the right or to the left” (17:20).

Last week we examined the word “truma,” translated as “the offering of your hand”, and noted that its root “rah’m” means “lofty or high,” while here we encounter “lifted up” (in relation to the king’s heart) which is “rum” (or “room,” being again of the same root). The word for "king" in Hebrew is "melech." The root of (mem, lamed, final chaf) makes for a verb which means "consult, consider different views," such as we see, for example, in Nehmiah 5:7 where the verb is translated, "serious thought" or "consulted." Thus, the prime task of the king is to be consulting and considering different views; a very far cry from the common idea of kingship, certainly from the one that prevailed at the time.

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

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

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

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

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

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

[1] Da’at Mikra, Dvarim, Aha’ron Mirski, Rav Kook Inst., Jerusalem, 2001
[2[ Etymological Dictionary of Biblical Hebew, based on the commentaties of Samson Raphael Hirsch, Matityahu Clark, Feldheim Publishers, Jerusalem, - New York, 1999.
[3] Da’at Mikra

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Hebrew Insights into Parashat R’eh – Dvarim (Deuteronomy) 11:26 – 16:17

Hebrew Insights into Parashat R’eh – Dvarim (Deuteronomy) 11:26 – 16:17

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

In order to maintain the blessings, the Israelites are commanded: “You shall utterly destroy all the places where the nations whom you shall possess serve their gods… and you shall obliterate their name from that place” (12:2a.3b italics added). The verb used for “utterly destroy” is the same as for “obliterate” - “abed” of the root a.b/v.d (alef, bet/vet, dalet). The first reference is a double rendering, “a’bed t’abdoon (singular),” while the second is “ve’eeba’de’tem (plural).” “Abed” forms a pun with “avod” (ayin, vet, dalet), which is “work” but also “worship and service rendered to Elohim or to idols,” and may be an intentional device employed in our text. Thus we read above, “The places where the nations… serve [av’du] their gods”, and in 13:6-8: “If your brother… or your son or daughter, or the wife you cherish, or your friend… entice you secretly, saying, ‘let us go and serve [na’avda] other gods…’ you shall not yield to him or listen to him…” (emphasis added), as serving other gods will indeed bring about utter destruction and obliteration upon those thus engaged (ref. 13:8-11; 13-16).

Having been nomads in the wilderness, the Israelites have not yet experienced the “rest and the inheritance” promised them by YHVH (12:9). It is precisely in order to obtain those two that they are to “not do according to all that [you] are doing here today, each doing all that is right in his own eyes.” “And you shall cross over the Jordan, and shall live in the land which YHVH your Elohim is causing you to inherit. And He shall give you rest from all your enemies all around; and you shall live securely” ((12: 8, 10, italics added). “Rest” is “menu’cha” (root – noon, vav, chet), and “inheritance” is “nachala” (root – noon, chet, lamed), with the first two consonants of “inheritance” - “nachala” - forming the word for “rest,” thusly making these two (inheritance and rest) an indivisible unit. In Yishayahu (Isaiah) 30:15 we read: “For so says the Lord YHVH the Holy One of Israel, ‘in returning and rest – nachat - you shall be saved [but you would not].” From Hebrews 4:2 we learn that “the word [of the promise to enter the rest and receive the inheritance] did not profit those hearing it, not having been mixed with faith in the ones who heard.”

Large portions of our Parasha deal with YHVH’s place of choice, where He is to be worshipped. As we saw in Parashat Va’ye’tze (Genesis 28: 10 – 32:3), “place” is “makom,” and originates with the verb “kum” which means “to rise, stand up, or go up.” This place is defined as: “The place which YHVH your Elohim shall choose out of all your tribes; for you shall seek His dwelling, to put His name there” (12:5). It is there that the Israelites will “go” (v. 5); it is there that they will “bring” their “offerings, sacrifices, tithes, contributions and oaths” (v. 11); it is there that they will “do” all that He commands them to do (v. 14). It is to be a place for both individual and corporate service to and worship of YHVH. The Pesach sacrifice will also be offered there (ref. 16:2, 6), as will the “rejoicing” during the Feast of Shavu’ot (Feast of Weeks ref. v. 11). Finally, “three times in a year shall all your males appear before YHVH your Elohim in the place which He shall choose” (16:16 emphasis added). The word here for “males” is not the usual “z’charim” (singular, “zachar”), but another version of the same root ( zayin, chaf, resh), “z’churim.” The root means to “remember,” and thus a “male” is “one who remembers.” But here, the changed form (“z’churim”) means “those who are remembered.” If the Israelites remember to obey YHVH’s word, He will definitely not forget them and will maintain His faithfulness to them (and to their households).

Among the things that the Israelites were to bring to this place of worship were the”burnt offerings, and your sacrifices, and your tithes, and the heave offering of your hand” (12:6). In Parashat Vayikra (Lev. 1 – 6:7) we saw that “burnt offerings” were, as they are here too, “olot,” of the verb “aloh” (ayin, lamed, hey) which is to “go up,” and in a different conjugation to “lift up or raise.” It is only natural that offerings to Him who is “high and lifted up” are to be “raised”! Similarly, the “offering of your hand” (v. 6) - “trumut” (singular – “truma”) - is of the root “rah’m,” meaning “lofty or high.” Yisrael, then, is not only to “rise” or “get up,” but is also to “lift up” their all to El Elyon (Most High God).

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

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

Chapter 13 begins with a challenge concerning false prophets or dreamers of dreams, which the Israelites are not to heed if they truly love YHVH their Elohim. Accordingly, we read the following in verse 3: “You shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams; for YHVH your Elohim is testing you to find out if you love YHVH your Elohim with all your heart and with all your soul.” The Hebrew for “you love…” is “hayeshchem ohavim…” This is an unusual usage of “yesh,” which means “there is, substance, or existence” and is generally not attached to pronouns. The particular usage employed here indicates that the love the Israelites are supposed to have for YHVH is to be part and parcel of their very being, their make up and fiber. The rest of chapter 13 and the first part of 14 deal with idolatrous practices, about which it says: “You shall put away evil from among you” (13: 5). The verb for “put away” is “(u)ve’arta,” of the root (bet, ayin, resh) , which literally means to “burn.” In Bamidbar (Numbers) 11:1 we read: “And when the people complained, it displeased YHVH and YHVH heard it; and his anger was kindled, and the fire of YHVH burnt among them.” That fire of YHVH, which burnt among them, was also denoted by the same verb. And thus, we may infer that here (in 13:5) they are not only to “burn” the articles which are “evil,” but that failing to depart from evil they will be incurring YHVH’s burning anger. Moreover, another word that is spelt the same, means “brutish or ignorant,” and by inference also “beasts and cattle” (e.g. Gen. 45:17). The fools are addressed in Tehilim (Psalms) 94: 8 – 11 in this way: “Understand you beastly ones [“bo’arim”] among the people; you fools, when will you be wise? He who planted the ear, shall He not hear? He who formed the eye, shall He not see? He who chastises the nations, shall He not punish, He who teaches man knowledge? YHVH knows the thoughts of man, that they are vain.” It appears that (“burning”) is applied to those who have incurred YHVH’s anger (or are likely to do so).

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

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

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

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

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

Hebrew Insights into Parashat Ekev–Dvarim (Deuteronomy) 7:12–11:25

Hebrew Insights into Parashat Ekev–Dvarim (Deuteronomy) 7:12–11:25

“And it shall be, because you hear these judgments, and keep and do them, even YHVH your Elohim will keep with you the covenant and the mercy which He swore to your fathers” (italics added)), is the opening verse of Parashat Ekev. “Because” is “ekev,” from the root a.k.v (ayin, kof, bet/vet) whose primary meaning is “heel.” In other words, taking the right step (of hearing and obeying) will result in the desired consequences. Our forefather, Ya’acov, was so named because he was born holding his twin brother’s heel (Gen. 25:26). He literally came in the footsteps of his brother, and thus his name, which means to “follow,” perfectly matched the birth condition. His, however, was not the kind of following of the faithful disciple, who walks in the footsteps of his master. The image of ‘heel-holding’ or ‘heel grabbing’ refers to hindering or trapping someone, such as we see in the following examples: “Dan shall be a serpent... that bites the horse’s heels” (Gen. 49:17 italics added); “The trap shall take him by the heel” (Job 18:9 italics added); “They mark my steps [heels]” (Ps. 56:6). In the following words of Psalm 41:9, we find an allusion to Messiah’s destiny: “My own familiar friend... which did eat of my bread has lifted his heel against me” (italics added). This type of follower will possibly steal quietly behind the one whom he follows, with a crafty intent (as was the case with Messiah’s “familiar friend”). Indeed, from the same root of “heel” and “follow,”(a.k.v.) stem words like “crafty, cunning, and deceptive,” as we see, for instance, in Yirmiyahu (Jeramiah) 9:4: “... surely every brother deals craftily [akov ya’akov]” (italics added). When Esav (Esau) was startled by his younger brother’s cunning, in B’resheet (Genesis) 27:34, 36, “He cried out with an exceedingly great and bitter cry: ...’Is not he rightly named, Ya’acov? For he has supplanted (“akav”) me...?’” (italics added). The prophet Hoshe’a (Hosea), many centuries later, traces the waywardness of the nation of Yisrael (who in this prophecy is called “Ya’acov”) to their progenitor: “In the womb he took his brother by the heel” (Hos. 12:4, italics added). In the wake of this ‘birth mark,’ Ya’acov (the man and the nation) remained true to his (and their) nature. “In the wake of” or “as a result of” - in short “because” - is “ekev,” such as is cited here. Quite often YHVH declares: “And in your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because (ekev) you have obeyed my voice“(Gen. 22:18 italics added). David answers the prophet Na’tan (Nathan), who told him a parable following his sin with Bat-Sheva (Bathsheba), and says: “He must make restitution for the lamb, because [ekev] he did this thing and had no compassion” (IISam.12:6 italics added). Thus, this little “ekev,” - “because” - becomes the fulcrum on which the balance of justice depends, much like the heel in terms of the physical body. And just as this section of the Parasha started with “And it shall be, because [EKEV] you hear these judgments, and keep and do them…” so it ends with: “So you shall perish; because [EKEV] you would not listen to the voice of YHVH your Elohim…” (8:20).

Parashat Ekev features two major themes, which alternate throughout; the physical conditions of the Land and the connectedness of these conditions to the people’s obedience to YHVH. The second topic is in the form of reflections on the people’s rebelliousness during their wilderness journey. The recounting of the latter is for the purpose of illustrating sin and rebellion, and warning the people in face of the new circumstances that they are about to face.

In 7:12-13, “keeping the judgments,” as we saw above, guarantees a promise of love, blessing, and multiplication, a promise which is built into the two-sided covenant (the other side being the curse incurred by disobedience to the “judgments,” as we shall see next week). “Covenant” is “b’reet,” of the root b.r.t (bet, resh, tav), leading to the verb “barot” whose primary meaning is “separate out the parts” [1], thus rendering the covenant as a very special agreement with a special and separated out people. “Blessings” – “bracha” is primarily “growth, or unhindered prosperity.” Its root, (bet, resh, kaf) is also the root of “berech,” which is “knee.” This all-important word, to “bless, or blessing," is surprisingly not attached to the imagery of the more regal hand-stretching posture, or to the mouth which is often an instrument of (verbal) blessings, but rather to the humble action of kneeling which connotes submission. Neither is there a special word to describe Elohim's blessings (so as to distinguish it from blessings conferred by men); time and again this ‘humble’ term, ba’rech" is used just as we see here: “YHVH your Elohim… will bless you”.

The words uttered in 7:12,13 are echoed in 8:13, in a manner that confirms the above-definition of “blessing”: “And your herds and your flocks will multiply, and your silver and your gold will have multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied…” However, this multiplication (of the root “rav”) may “rise up into your heart, and you [could and will] forget YHVH your Elohim who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slaves” (v. 14). Thus, the very blessing may turn into a temptation leading to sin which will, in turn, lead to destruction (ref. 8:20). The wilderness, therefore, was to serve as a place of refinement, humbling and trial (ref. 8:2,3,16) in order to obviate just this kind of outcome. Some of the blessings (in 7:13) will entail “the increase of your oxen and the wealth of your flock.” Here “increase” is “sh’gar”- “cast or throw” in Aramaic, hence “that which comes forth from the womb.” [2] “Oxen” in this context is “alafim,” which also means “thousands” (“elef” singular). We already encountered this term in Parashat Chayey Sarah (Gen. 23 – 25:18), where we found that its root, alef, lamed, fey, is also shared with “aluf” which means “prince or chief” and with “alef,” the name of the first letter of the alphabet). The prominence of “alef” makes it, by implication, also of great numerical value – hence “elef” - a “thousand.” Thus, the oxen mentioned here allude to great wealth. The “wealth of the flock” is the rare “a’shtarot” (used in this way only in Dvarim) of the root (ayin, shin, resh), related to “osher” – “wealth” and to “eser,” which is the figure “ten” (and is also connected to Ashtaroth, the goddess of fertility, hence multiplication and riches).

In Shmot (Exodus) 23:27, 28 (Parashat Mishpatim), we read the following promise: “…and I will confound all the people among whom you come. And I will give the neck of your enemies to you. And I will send hornets before you which shall drive out the Hivite, the Canaanite, and the Hittite before you” (italics added). Here, in 7:20 we read again: “And YHVH your Elohim shall send the hornets among them, until the ones who are left perish, even those who hide themselves from your face” (italics added), and in verse 23: “And YHVH your Elohim shall…. confuse them into great confusion until they are destroyed” (literal translation). Both “confound” in Shmot 23:28 and “confusion” here in 7:23 are of the root h.m.m (hey, mem, mem) meaning to “make noise, confuse or discomfort” (and is an onomatopoeic word, just like the English “hum”). This, then, in not only a promise for the future; but also in looking back, the Israelites could recall that YHVH had “confused – “va’yaham” - the camp of the Egyptians” (Ex. 14:24), when they were emerging out of the “house of bondage.”

In spite of all the material wealth and the increase promised, both in the beginning of the Parasha and later (in 8:7-10), sandwiched in between these two passages, in 8:3, is the following: “And He has humbled you, and caused you to hunger, and caused you to eat the manna, which you had not known, and your fathers had not known, in order to cause you to know that man shall not live by bread alone, but man shall live by every word that proceeds from the mouth of YHVH” (italics added). All material goods, whether plentifully or scantily supplied, are the outcome of a “word that proceeds from the mouth of YHVH.” One way or another He ‘calls the shots’. Moreover, it is not these provisions, again whether in great or small quantities, which determine life or the quality thereof but “every word that proceeds from the mouth of YHVH.” When Yeshua cited this very scripture, in a situation somewhat similar to that of Yisrael which was (according to 8:2,3,16) “tried,” like Him, in the wilderness, He passed the test and overcame his trial. The word “bread” - “lechem” - is many times translated “food,” as indeed it is a generic term for man’s sustenance. The root of “lechem” is (lamed, chet, mem), with the last two consonants - ch.m - making up the word “chah’m,” meaning “hot” or “warm.” Only by baking the dough in a hot oven will it turn into the desired edible substance. Hence, heat, energy and effort are all part of the bread-making process. Another noun that shares the root is “milchama,” which is “war,” as does the verb to “fight, or struggle for one’s existence or survival” – “lachom.” The closeness of these two terms is well illustrated by two verses in Mishley (Proverbs) 23. Verse 1 says: “When you sit down to eat with a ruler, look carefully at what is before you.” The Hebrew for “eat” reads here “lilchom,” which literally means “to fight,” but because of’s dual meaning it is possible to read the verb as “eat” or more literally “to partake of bread.” Verse 6 of the same chapter, says: “Do not eat the bread of one who has an evil eye, and do not desire his delicacies.” Here “eat” is “tilcham,” which again could be read as “fight.” Thus, we may infer that man cannot live solely by the bread of his own fighting and striving neither “by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, says YHVH of Hosts” (Zech. 4:6).

The circumstances awaiting the Israelites in the land will differ vastly from those that prevailed in the desert, yet just as until now every detail pertaining to their lives and needs was determined by “every word proceeding out of the mouth of YHVH,” so will it continue to be the case in their new home. But for this principle to stay afloat, the people must keep and guard His every word and live in accordance with it. The section of 8:7-10 is regarded “as the classic description of the fertility and other wonderful qualities of the holy land. But we must not ignore its other implication. The Torah sings the praises of the land to emphasize too the moral dangers and pitfalls that such gifts might bring with them. Although the life of the Israelites in the Promised Land would no longer be dependent on water being extracted from the rock or on manna dropping from heaven, nevertheless even the normal rainfall and all the natural gifts of the land were similarly derived from the Creator and not in virtue of their own power and might of their hand.”[3]

The land YHVH promises to Yisrael is a land “in which you shall eat bread without poverty – miskenot” (8:9). “Misken” (of the same root, is a “poor person, one to be pitied” (e.g. Ecc. 9:16). In Shmot (Exodus) 1:11, we are told that the storage cities that Yisrael built for Par’oh were “arey miskenot.” Ironically, the Hebrews themselves were very “miskenim” (plural of “misken” - poor and to be pitied) when they built those “miskenot cities.” Now, not only will they not experience poverty and want, neither will they have to labor for someone else. In fact, last week we read in 6:10,11 about their future dwelling places: “…to give to you great and good cities, which you have not built, and houses full of every good thing which you have not filled…” Moreover, there will be so much provision that they will not even need to erect for themselves “arey miskenot,” cities of storage, as storing up for the future will not be called for. However, this plenty will require “watchfulness” lest they forget YHVH (ref. 8:11), who “took you out of Egypt… who led you through the wilderness,” and “who fed you” (vv. 15, 16). There is always the danger of saying in one’s heart: “My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth” (v. 17), while it is YHVH “who gives to you power to get wealth” (v. 18). Wealth is a translation of “cha’yil.” Remember “not by might…” (Zech.4:6)? “Might,” in Z’chariah 4:6, is also “cha’yil.” Thus, it is only YHVH’s spiritual might – cha’yil - which is able to grant all this wealth. It is therefore paramount that you should “remember YHVH your Elohim, for He gives to you power – “ko’ach” - to get wealth.” Again, Z’chariah’s “nor by power” (4:6) is “lo be-ko’ach,” but it is by YHVH’s “ko’ach”.

Chapter 9 continues to center on YHVH’s promises of “consuming the enemies” in the land, and also recounts Yisrael’s golden calf rebellion and the need that arose then to inscribe anew the two tablets of the Torah. It opens with the famous words: “Hear oh Yisrael…” implying that Yisrael is to hear and obey, as “hearing the voice…” is a Hebrew idiom for obeying, as is evident from the previous verse (the last one in chapter 8): “…You shall perish; because [EKEV] you did not listen to the voice of YHVH your Elohim” (v.20, emphasis added). In 9:6,13 reference is made to Yisrael’s “stiff neck,” or literally “hard nape.” Having a “stiff neck” implies a literal inflexibility, which does not allow one to turn one’s face (panim - “face” - from the root p.n.h which is also the root for the verb “turn,” while “pina” is “corner”). Thus, the proverbial stiffness of the neck speaks of a head that is facing in one direction only, and of a person who is headstrong and unable to turn (from his old ways). We have already noted in the past that “panim” - “face” - stemming from the verb “to turn,” exposes the essential nature of YHVH’s approach toward us, and that is His relational nature of which we are to partake. Yisrael’s “stiffness” and “hardness” of neck and uncircumcised heart are addressed in the following: “And you shall circumcise the foreskin of your heart, and you shall not harden your neck any more” (10:16). “Such an exhortation is made to bring men to a sense of their need of it [that is, of the exhortation], and of the importance of it, and to show how agreeable it is to the Lord, and so to stir them up to seek unto him for it”. [4] In chapter 30:6 there is a promise that YHVH will circumcise their heart, so that they may love Him, thus laying the foundations for the new covenant of the heart, in the course of which the latter becomes the ‘parchment’ on which the Torah is inscribed (ref. Jer. 31:33).

The Parasha ends with another look at the land; “a land which YHVH your Elohim cares for; the eyes of YHVH your Elohim are constantly on it, from the beginning of the year to its end” [5] (11:12). “Care for” is “doresh,” whose literal meaning is to “seek.” YHVH is very intent in His constant surveillance of the land, “from the beginning of the year to the end…” (1:12), meaning that He is involved in every part of the natural cycle to which this land is subject. And as pointed above, Yisrael’s conduct toward Him will also have its ramifications on the land (e.g. 11:13 – 17). These words of YHVH were to be inscribed on the hearts and are also to be for a sign on frontlets – “totafot” – between the eyes and on the hand (ref. 11:18). One of the explanations for “totafot” is that it is a derivative of the Egyptian hair ornament “tataf.” [6]

Above we noted that multiplication (of the root “rav”) of both people and livestock is mentioned several times in our Parasha. In summation of the Parasha we read: “And you shall teach them [YHVH’s commands] to your sons by speaking of them as you sit in your house, and as you go in the way, and as you lie down, and as you rise up. And you shall write them on the side posts of your house, and on your gates, that your days and the days of your sons may be multiplied [“yirbu”, again of the root “rav”], and the days of your sons in the land which YHVH has sworn to your fathers, to give to them, as the days of the heavens over the earth” (11:19-21). These “heaven and earth,” according to last week’s Parashat Va’etchanan (4:26), are YHVH’s witnesses in His dealings with the people of His choice, both here and also when He proclaims a new covenant in Yimiyahu (Jeremiah, 31:37).

1 Etymological Dictionary of Biblical Hebrew, Rabbi Matityahu Clark, Feldheim Publishers,
Jerusalem. New York.
2 The New Brown, Driver, Briggs, Gesenius Lexicon, Francis Brown Hendrickson. Publishers,
Peabody, Mass. 1979.
3 New Studies in Devarim, Nechama Leibowitz, trans. Aryeh Newman. Eliner Library,
Department for Torah Education and Culture in the Diaspora. Hemed Books Inc., Brooklyn,
4 Online Bible, Gill Commentary.
5 The spelling of the word used here for “beginning,” “reshit”, is irregular. This spelling of
“reshit” hints at “ree’sh,” which is poverty (ref. Parashot Matot/ Masa’ey), since the beginning
of the year in the month of Aviv occurs at the end of the winter dormancy.
6 Chumash Dvarim with Daat Mikrah comentary, Pub. Mossad Harav Kook, Jm. 2001.