by Zvi Akiva Fleisher
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SEDRAH SELECTIONS PARSHAS VA'YEI'LECH 5762 BS"D
Ch. 31, v. 17: "V'histarti fonay mei'hem v'hoyoh le'echole um'tzo'uhu ro'ose rabose v'tzorose" - The first of the calamities to befall the bnei Yisroel is "v'hoyoh le'echole." This refers to the oppression of unbearable tax burdens placed upon thm by their enemies, as we find "Ki ochal es Yaakov" (T'hilim 79:7). This punishment can be attributed to all sorts of sins. However, when this is exacerbated by the addition of "um'tzo'uhu ro'ose rabose v'tzorose," referring to the destruction of the Beis Hamikdosh, where the bnei Yisroel suffered both financially and physically, the following comes to mind: One is not to be punished both physically and financially because of the maxim "kom lei bidrabo mi'nei" (gemara Gitin 52b and Makos 16a), only the greater punishment is to be administered. However, we find an exception to this rule by the case of a community sinning with idol worship, "ir hanidachas," where their property is destroyed and they are put to death (Dvorim 13:16,17). Thus when "um'tzo'uhu ro'ose rabose v'tzorose," one correctly comes to the conclusion that it is the result of "hallo al ki ein Elokai b'kirbi," Hashem is not within me because I ch"v worship false gods, that "m'tzo'uni horo'ose ho'ei'leh," these, plural, calamities. (Ponim Yofos)
Perhaps with this insight we can answer the question raised by many commentators. Why is "V'onochi hasteir astir ponay" an appropriate response to one who realizes that Hashem is lacking in his life? As the Ponis Yofos explains, the sin of this person is idol worship. The gemara Shabbos 88a says that at the time of the giving of the Torah, Hashem forced the bnei Yisroel to accept it by lifting Har Sinai above them and saying that if they accept the Torah, good and fine. However, if they wouldn't then they would all ch"v be buried under the mountain. Tosfos d.h. "shekofo" asks, "Since they had already willingly accepted the Torah, as indicated by their responding with 'naa'she v'nishmo' (Shmos 24:7), what need was there for coercion?" Tosfos answers that there was a fear that they might renege after being exposed to the sight of the awesome fire. The Mahara"l of Prague is dissatisfied with this answer and explains that the coercion is not to be interpreted in the literal sense as having the mountain suspended above them, but rather to be taken in a spiritual sense. This means that Hashem exposed the bnei Yisroel to such an intense level of clarity of spirituality that they had no choice but to accept the Torah, clearly understanding the folly of rejecting it (Tiferes Yisroel chapter #31). With this concept we can say that once a person has denied Hashem and now wants to enter the path of return, Hashem, in His infinite kindness hides His countenance, meaning that He does not shower upon this person an abundance of spirituality to make the choice abundantly clear. Although this might make the return to Hashem extremely easy, it would not be considered proper teshuvoh, since it was only done because of Hashem's pouring into this person's soul an inordinate amount of exposure to His countenance, His presence. Thus by hiding His countenance, the sinner's opportunity to properly repent is maximized.
Ch. 31, v. 17: "Um'tzo'uhu ro'ose rabose v'tzorose" - The gemara Chagigoh 5a explains that "ro'ose" and "tzorose" refer to calamities that vie one with another, (as we find the term "litzror" (Vayikroh 18:18), referring to the prohibition of taking two sisters as wives so as to avoid their competing with each other for the attention of their husband). This happens when a person is both stung by a hornet called a "zibura," and bitten by a scorpion. The remedy for the scorpion bite is heat, while for the hornet it is cold. Treatment with cold for the scorpion bite or cold for the hornet sting is fatal, as is explained in the gemara Avodoh Zoroh 28b. Thus this situation has no way out. How is this retribution in kind for the sin of idol worship? The Beis haLevi explains that the driving force behind a person's false ideology of non-belief in Hashem is haughtiness. When one is very self-conceited he is not ready to accept the authority of a Greater Power. Thus it becomes ideologically very convenient to deny ch"v in Hashem. If this is the person's mindset, it is totally contradictory to accept another god. (This seems to be expressed by the prophet Yirmiyohu. "Ki shtayim ro'ose ossoh ami osi ozvu m'kor mayim chaim lachtzove lo'hem borose borose nishborim" (Yirmiyohu 2:13), - For my nation has done two wrongs. They have forsaken Me, the source of living water, to excavate for themselves broken wells.) If a person is so wise that he does not accept the Supreme Authority of Hashem, the Creator of the world upon himself, how can he subordinate himself to an inanimate stone or hunk of metal? This contradiction is paid back in kind. He is likewise punished by two misfortunes whose remedies are in contradiction with each other.
Ch. 31, v. 19: "V'atoh kisvu lochem es haSHIROH hazose" - Tosfos on the gemara P'sochim 116b d.h. "V'ne'emar" says that the correct text in the gemara is "v'ne'emar l'fonov SHIROH chadoshoh" and "v'nodeh l'cho SHIR chodosh al geulo'seinu." He quotes the Mechilta that says that a SHIROH, female form, connotes a song for a redemption that is not final, as more trials and tribulations are in the offing, just as a woman who has gone through labour pains and has given birth will go through this again with a later birth. The male form SHIR indicates a song for a final lasting redemption. Thus when we say "v'nodeh l'cho SHIR chodosh al geulo'seinu," we are praying that we will merit to say a praise for the final permanent redemption.
Perhaps with this insight of Tosfos we can understand the choice of the word SHIROH in our verse. One might think that the Torah in its entirety is the written word. However, that is not the case, since the complete Torah includes "Torah sheb'al peh," the verbally transmitted explanation of the written Torah. Thus our verse calls the Torah a SHIROH, to indicate that there is more to the Torah than just the written text.
Ch. 31, v. 27: "Hein b'o'deni chai imochem hayom mamrim heyi'sem im Hashem v'af ki acha'rei mosi" - The M.R. Breishis 92:7 states that these words are one of the ten "kalin vachamurin" in the Torah. Actually, there are only four in the Torah itself, this being the final one, but the medrash also counts those found in NaCh as well. The logic of Moshe's concern is: If you were rebellious against Hashem even during my lifetime, all the more so will you be rebellious after my death. The gemara Sanhedrin 37a relates that there were wayward people living in the neighbourhood of R' Zeira. Rabbi Zeira spent time attempting to bring them closer to Hashem and observance of His Torah in spite of the displeasure of other Rabbis. When R' Zeira died, they repented, saying that as long as R' Zeira was alive his merits protected them against retribution. After his death, they discontinued their bad ways, fearing punishment from Heaven. The Maharsh"o on this gemara asks, "According to this story, isn't Moshe's "kal vo'chomer" refuted? During Moshe's lifetime people might have been rebellious against Hashem, with the hope that Moshe's merit would save them. However, after his death, they may not sin for fear of retribution." Two answers to this question were offered in Sedrah Selections parshas Va'yei'lech 5759. Perhaps another answer can be offered based on the seemingly superfluous word "hayom" in this verse. The Ohr Hachaim Hakodosh says that it is to be understood as "you were continually rebellious, even up to this day." He adds that with the use of the word "hayom" Moshe was reminding them that he only had that day left to be with them, as he had already announced that he would die on that day, the day he completed the one-hundred and twentieth year of his life (see Rashi on 31:3 d.h. "onochi hayom").
Possibly, in this point lies the answer. Since this was indeed the last day of Moshe's life, we apply the verse "V'ein shiltone b'yom hamo'ves" (Koheles 8:8). This means that even a king on the day of his death has no mastery. Rashi points this out in verse 28, explaining that this is why the trumpets weren't used to assemble the masses. Included in Moshe's lack of mastery was the loss of his wellsprings of wisdom and special transmission of messages from Heaven (see Rashi on 31:3 d.h. "onochi hayom"). We can now comprehend Moshe's "kal vochomer." If you are rebellious, even TODAY, the day on which you know I will die, as I have announced to all (in verse 2 as explained by Rashi), and you know that TODAY I have no special powers, thus you are not relying on my power of prayer to intercede for yourselves, surely after I pass on you will be rebellious.
This situation did not arise by the story of Rabbi Zeira, as no one knew when he would die. Thus his posthumous "baa'lei teshuvoh" assumed that his prayers for their well being were effective.
Ch. 31, v. 28: "V'o'idoh bom es hashomayim v'es ho'oretz"- The letter Vov of the word "V'o'idoh" appears as the first letter of the first word on a new column in a Torah scroll. Although it is unusual to have any letter besides a Vov as the first letter of a column, this word is accentuated, because otherwise another word beginning with a Vov might have been the first word of this column. What is the importance of emphasizing the Vov of this word? Rabbeinu Bachyei says that the verse tells us that Moshe has picked the heaven and earth as witnesses to the bnei Yisroel's accepting his warnings to fulfill all the Torah requires. Rabbeinu Bachyei says that the letter Vov represents the heavens. Thus having this letter of this word placed in such a prominent position points out that the heavens were called witnesses. Possibly, we can say that the earth is also represented by the letter Vov. The Boruch She'omar, the work of a Rishon on the details of the formation of the letters of the Alef-Beis as they should appear in ritual script, says that the letter Vov's vertical stroke begins thick and as it descends it narrows, until at its bottom it is a thin point. This is explained by Kabalists. They say that the four letters of Hashem's Holy Name indicate by their shape the following concepts: The letter Yud, basically a point, is the "n'kudas ho'emes," the essence of Hashem's truth. The next letter, Hei, is both wide and long. This represents the next stage of the "essence" in its expanded form in length and width, "hispashtus n'kudas ho'emes." The next letter, Vov, is the letter Yud plus an extension downward, representing the descent of the "n'kudas ho'emes," the essence of Hashem's truth, from the heavenly realms down to our physical earth. This is why the letter Vov narrows as it descends. The "emes" of Hashem is less and less apparent as it descends through different realms, until it finally reaches our physical world and is at its thinnest point, where it is most hidden. The final letter Hei, once again represents "hispashtus n'kudas ho'emes" down here on earth. We see from this Kabalistic insight into the form of the letter Vov that this letter represents both the "n'kudas ho'emes" in heaven and on earth. Thus this letter embodies both the heaven and the earth, the two witnesses upon whom Moshe called.
Last week's question: Which parsha of the Torah is not read at all during this year 5761?
Answer: Parshas Va'yei'lech. It was read on the final Shabbos of 5760 together with Nitzovim, and is read this Shabbos, the first Shabbos of the year 5762 independent of parshas Nitzovim, and was not read in the year 5761.
Regarding the devastating attack on NYC, USA, see N'tzi"v in Haa'meik Dovor on Dvorim 28:34. May Hashem have mercy on us all!
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See also Oroh V'Simchoh - Meshech Chochmoh on the Weekly Parsha
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