Thoughts on the Weekly Parshah by HaRav Eliezer Chrysler
Formerly Rav of Mercaz Ahavat Torah, Johannesburg

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Vol. 20   No. 43

This issue is sponsored
l'iluy Nishmas
Lipa ben David Ha'Kohen z"l
on his 43rd Yohrzeit
by the Braverman and Shapiro Families
of Givat Ze'ev and Woodland Hills, California
t.n.tz.v.h.

Parshas Va'Eschanan

Testing G-d

"Do not test Hashem your G-d, like you did at Masah" (6:16).

Rashi explains that this refers to the place Masah u'Merivah, where Yisrael tested G-d saying "Is G-d in our midst or is He not" (as we will explain shortly). According to Targum Yonasan however, it is a warning not to test Hashem again like the ten times that our ancestors tested Hashem in the desert (as mentioned in Pirkei Avos 5:6).

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Rabeinu Bachye explains that one is not permitted to try out Hashem, to serve Him on condition that He responds favourably.

Our duty is to serve Hashem faithfully out of (reverence and) love, and to believe that, if things do not go according to plan, this is part of Divine justice, which is always righteous.

They tested Him at Refidim (as cited by Rashi), when they threatened to serve Hashem only if He provided them with water. Moshe demonstrated G-d's displeasure by renaming the place 'Masah u'Merivah' (Trial and Quarrel), and they were immediately subjected to an attack by Amalek.

In fact, R. Bachye concludes, the only area of Torah and Mitzvos where testing Hashem is permitted is that of Tzedakah. There alone, based on a Pasuk in Mal'achi (see 'Parshah Pearls' on this Pasuk), the Gemara in Ta'anis (9a) a person is permitted to give charity on condition that G-d pays him back.

And the author brings further support from the Pasuk in Mishlei (3:9/10) "Honour Hashem with your wealth and He will fill your storehouses with plenty and your wine-presses will burst with wine."

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The prohibition against testing G-d fits nicely into the concept mentioned by the opening Rashi in the Parshah - 'Although Tzadikim have many good deeds on which to base their requests from G-d, they do not do that. They see G-d's goodness as a Divine, undeserved gift, and that is what they Daven for'.

After having performed those good deeds, it is permitted to evoke G-d's mercy by referring to them. But Tzadikim, who view G-d at a deeper level, refrain from doing so. Performing Mitzvos in order to elicit G-d's mercy is another matter entirely. It is something that Tzadikim and non-Tzadikim alike should avoid. We all need to understand that our performance of Mitzvos is not contingent on G-d's goodness. To be sure, He will reward us for performing them. But He will do so in His own way, in His own time. For our part, we are obligated to do His bidding because we are His subjects.

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The Gemara in Pesachim (Daf 8a) cites a B'raysa which declares someone who gives a Sela to Tzedakah so that his son should live or so that he will earn a portion in the World to Come is a complete Tzadik.

Tosfos query this from the Mishnah in Pirkei Avos (1:3) - that one should not perform Mitzvos in order to receive reward.

And they reply that provided one gives the Tzedakah with a full heart and does not retract should his son not live, he is considered a complete Tzadik. Whereas the Mishnah in Pirkei Avos is speaking of the case where he only gives Tzedakah on the understanding that his condition is upheld. In the event that it is not, he regrets having given it.

According to the Gemara in Ta'anis that we cited earlier, one could perhaps draw a distinction between Tzedakah and other Mitzvos. The latter one must perform for the sake of fulfilling one's duties exclusively, whilst the former is permitted even if one has other motives.

The Maharsha does indeed suggest this answer, but he concludes that if that were so, the Gemara's query in Pesachim from the case of Tzedakah on the suggestion that someone who searches for Chametz whilst simultaneously searching for a lost needle has not fulfilled the Mitzvah, would make no sense. And as for the Gemara in Ta'anis (that distinguishes between Tzedakah and other Mitzvos) - that is confined to testing G-d exclusively. It does not apply to performing Mitzvos with an ulterior motive.

I would suggest however, that it does. And this is implied by R. Bachye, who supports the Gemara in Ta'anis's distinction between Tzedakah and other Mitzvos with a Pasuk in Mishlei (50:9/10), which refers to the reward that accompanies the Mitzvah of Tzedakah, but has no bearing on testing Hashem). And the Gemara's query goes like this: If giving Tzedakah with an ulterior motive renders a person a complete Tzadik (or as some commentaries explain, it renders the Tzedakah a complete Mitzvah), then someone who searches for Chametz whilst looking for a lost needle should at least have fulfilled the Mitzvah (regardless of the fact that the Mitzvah is not complete).

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Parshah Pearls

Adding is Subtracting

"Do not add to the things that I am commanding you today" (4:2).

An amateur painter was once viewing paintings in an art-gallery, when his eye caught an eye-catching landscape. The details were truly magnificent and the colours breathtaking. Looking in the corner to see the name of the artist, he was not surprised to see that the painting was signed 'Rembrandt'. He spent a long time admiring the priceless masterpiece. He came to the conclusion that he had never seen such a beautiful painting, but was disturbed by a particular spot on the painting, which, in his opinion, could have done with a few flowers, where there was only grass.

So he went home to fetch a brush and some paints, and filled in the flowers.

Needless to say, the priceless masterpiece was priceless no longer.

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The Pasuk in Tehilim describes the Torah as perfect. Perhaps this is obvious, bearing in mind that its author is the personification of perfection. This means that if a word or a detail is missing, it is meant to be missing (otherwise it would not be perfect). Consequently, not only can adding to the perfect Torah not possibly perfect it, it actually detracts from its perfection.

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According to what we Owe Him

"If you will ask now about the days that preceded you Did a nation ever hear the Voice of G-d" (4:32)

If you want to know why Hakadosh-Baruch-Hu is more strict with you than He is with other nations, the Da'as Zekeinim mi'Ba'alei Tosfos explains, see whether He ever did for any nation since the world was created what He did for you - the miracles of Ma'amad Har Sinai, the Exodus of Egypt and the conquest of the Land of Cana'an.

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Testing Testing

"Do not test G-d" (6:16).

The only area in which testing G-d is permitted is that of Tzedakah (See main article), which the Gemara in Ta'anis learns from the Pasuk in Mal'achi "Bring all your tithes to the storehouse, and let it be provisions in My House. Test Me in this matter, if you will, says the Lord of Hosts, and see if I don't open for you the skylights of the Heaven and pour on you endless blessings".

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HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE BA'AL HA'TURIM

"Sh'ma Yisrael Hashem Elokeinu Hashem Echad" (6:4).

The 'Ayin' in "Sh'ma" is big, the Ba'al ha'Turim explains, because Yisrael has seventy names, and G-d gave them the Torah which has seventy names, can be explained in seventy different ways and distinguishes Yisrael from the seventy nations.

The 'Daled' in "Echad" is large, says the Ba'al ha'Turim, as is the "Resh" in the Pasuk in the word "acher" (in the Pasuk "Lo sishtachaveh le'Eil acher")so as not to read the former "Acher" and the latter "Echad" (chas ve'Shalom, as that would be blasphemy).

Another reason for the big 'Ayin' and the big 'Daled' (in "Echad"), which together read 'Eid' (witness), is that when we read the Sh'ma, we testify to the Oneness of G-d. That is what G-d is referring to when he says in Yeshayah (42:10) "Atem eidai" (You are my witnesses).

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"G-d you shall fear (tiro)" 6:13.

The Gematriyah of the word "tiro" is equal to that of 'talmdei-chachamim'. This bears out Rebbi Akiva, who explains that the word "es" comes to include talmidei-chachamim, which teaches us that reverence towards talmidei-chachamim should be on a par with one's reverence towards G-d Himself.

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