Volume 30, Issue 4
INSIGHTS from the SEDRA
Insights from the Sedra is a project of the Scholar’s Kollel of Great Neck. It aims to provide several questions and answers about the Sedra, culled from various commentaries, including the following: Baal Haturim, Darash Moshe, Vedebarta Bam by Rabbi Moshe Bogomilsky, Torah Treasures by DovFurer, Wellsprings of Torah by Alexander Friedman, and Kol Dodi by Rabbi Dovid Feinstein, Great Torah Lights by Rabbi Yitzchak Meir Goodman, Something To Say by Rabbi Dovid Goldwasser, The Vilna Gaon, Growth Through Torah by Zelig Pliskin and The Call of the Torah.
ראה אנכי נתן לפניכם היום ברכה וקללה
“Behold I set before you this day a blessing and a curse…” (11:26)
QUESTION: Our Sages ask: why does Moshe speak here in the present tense: I set before you and does not say: “I gave before you?”
ANSWER: The Torah wishes to teach us that the fundamental principle of Judaism is that of individual choice and free will and that we can set aside the bad and choose good any time that we wish to do so. As long as you breathe you stand before the temptations of the evil inclination and it remains a constant battle. Hillel would say, “Do not believe in yourself until your dying day”. With these words he warns man not to depend on the good he has achieved in the past, but to look ahead at the new challenges set before him each and every day. This awareness will help him succeed in choosing the right path.
Moshe says clearly: Every single day a person has the ability to choose between the blessed or the cursed paths and recognizing these paths for what they are will help an individual choose the path that is blessed. (Vilna Gaon)
את הברכה אשר תשמעו…והקללה אם לא תשמעו
“The blessing that you shall listen…and the curse if you shall not listen… (11:27)
The SfasEmes observes that in referring to the blessing the Torah uses the word – “asher” – that – whereas in referring to the curse, the Torah uses the word “im” – if. Man must realize that the Divine curse, as it is true of all evil that exists in the world, is a result of his misdeeds. Thus, the very existence of this sign of Divine displeasure comes about because man failed to listen to that which G-d commanded.
OhrHaChaim comments that the decision not to listen to the words of the Torah is itself a curse. As the verse continues, one who fails to listen to the Torah will find that he strays from the path until ultimately, he worships false gods. (Torah Anthology)
The Gemara states that Hashem rewards a person for merely intending to do a mitzvah but does not punish one for intending to sin – with one exception. Idol worship is punishable for the mere intent (Kiddushin 40a).
This engenders a novel interpretation of the pesukim. Hashem says that He will bless the Jews for “listening” to His laws. This means that even if they listen, i.e. intend to perform the mitzvot, but ultimately are not able to perform them, they will be blessed. But the curse for “not listening” will only befall them even if they only intend to “follow gods of others,” i.e. worship idols. Only that sin warrants punishment for mere intent. (TiferetYehonatan)
ואת החזיר כי מפריס פרסה הוא ולא גרה טמא הוא לכם מבשרם לא תאכלו
“And also the pig, because it is cloven-soled but does not chew its cud; it is ritually unclean for you. From their flesh do not eat…” (14:8)
The Torah lists two signs of Kashrut for animals: those whose sole is cloven, whose hoof is truly split into two, and those that regurgitate its cud within the animals (14:6). The verse then proceeds to name four animals that bring up their cud but do not have split hooves; shesuah, a creature with two backbones (Rashi), the camel, the hyrax, and the hare. It then lists the one animal that has split hooves but does not bring up its cud: the pig. On this, the Gemara makes the following statement: The Ruler of the Universe knows that there is no other animal that parts the hoof and is unclean except for the pig; therefore, the verse specifically stated it (Chullin59a). Chazal are unequivocally clear that there are no other animals that possess only one of the two signs of Kashrut.
RavAharon Yosef Bakst zt”l would often cite these words of Chazal to prove to skeptics and non-believers that the Torah is of Divine origin. Reb Archik(as he was called) would exclaim: “Now, in all these years, no one ever found an animal to disprove those sentences in the Torah! Isn’t that proof that Torah is min haShamayim?” (Vedebarta Bam)
ולא יראה את פני ה’ ריקם
“And you shall not see the face of G-d empty handed…” (15:16)
The DivreiShaul observes that just as we test students regularly to see whether they have understood what they learned, so too G-d commands us to appear before Him three times a year to be tested and to see whether we have grown spiritually. The Torah instructs us that when we appear before G-d for these periodic tests, we are not to appear empty handed – i.e., we should not be empty of Torah learning. Moreover, we are commanded to bring a sacrifice so that we can demonstrate that we desire to draw closer to G-d. (TalelleiOros)