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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


See! I present before you today a blessing and a curse. (11:26)

The Daas Zekeinim m'Baalei Tosfos offer a novel interpretation of the word reeh, see, focusing on what it was the nation was to look at. Moshe Rabbeinu said to Klal Yisrael: "See - look at me. I chose the derech tov, the path which leads to blessing. As a result, I look different." This is reference to the karnei or, rays of Divine light, which emanated from Moshe, causing his countenance to radiate.

Horav Eliyahu Svei, zl, observes that, although Moshe presented the people with a choice of two divergent paths, one, which leads to blessing, and the other, which leads to curse, it was insufficient motivation to elicit a commitment. It was necessary for Moshe to concretize the necessity to make a clear choice with a statement: "Look at me!" The only way to achieve such radiance is by making the correct choice, the choice which leads to blessing. It was necessary for the people to see a manifestation of this blessing, to see the reality of Heavenly blessing and how it transforms a person. Awareness, however cogent, will not necessarily effect change. It does not always "do the trick." Seeing is believing. They must see blessing in action before they are ready to undertake to traverse the path that leads to it.

Horav Moshe Aharon Stern, zl, Mashgiach of Yeshivas Kaminetz, Yerushalayim, was very close with his rebbe, the venerable Horav Eliyahu Lopian, zl. Very often, he would converse with his rebbe after davening, discussing various questions and issues that arose in his daily life and endeavor. One Shabbos, following davening, the then young Rav Moshe Aharon Stern was speaking with Rav Elya, while his young children waited for him to go home. Seeing that their father was immersed in conversation, they began to play with some pebbles on the ground. These makeshift marbles provided a "game" for children with imagination. Seeing this, Rav Moshe Aharon told his children to stop playing with the pebbles, since they are muktzah on Shabbos (objects that are reserved for weekday use are not to be handled or moved on Shabbos). The children stopped momentarily, but soon returned to their play. Once again, they were exhorted to stop playing with the pebbles. They stopped for a few minutes, only to start up again shortly thereafter. Upon seeing this happen over and over again, Rav Elya said to his young prot?g?e, "They are young children and do not understand the concept of muktzah (especially when expressed in the context of quick admonishment without explanation). This is something that should be taught at home, by the Shabbos table, with the holiness of Shabbos as the backdrop for the conversation and the father in full Shabbos mode. When children see their father's personal Shabbos observance in full swing, then they will understand and accept the laws of muktzah (as they relate to Shabbos)."

We may add that this idea applies to everything that we teach to our children and expect them to accept. The meme of liberal hypocrisy: "Do as I say - not as I do" is a very difficult concept, hardly serving as a deterrent for the intelligent child. We cannot expect our children to do and act in a manner to which we personally do not ascribe. Instructing our children not to speak during davening - when we do not adhere to our own advice; admonishing our children to learn - when we do not seem to find the time to follow suit; and the list goes on. We must show them what it means, and what the advantages are of such living, if we expect them to listen and follow.

See! I place before you today a blessing and a curse. (11:26)

Noticeably, the Torah begins with the word Reeh, see, in the singular, and concludes with nosein lifneichem, "(I) give before you," in the plural. Why is this? The Kotzker Rebbe, zl, explains that each and every person has his own unique perspective and individual understanding of Torah which coincides with his spiritual level. Thus, it says, "See," to the individual. The Torah, however, was given to all Jews collectively, which is alluded to by the words lifneichem, before you, in the plural.

Horav Yitzchak, zl, m'Vorka, traveled together with Horav Avraham Moshe, zl, m'Peshischa to visit a certain tzaddik, holy, righteous, person, whose identity was covert and known only to a unique few. The Vorkever commented on the parsha of the week (Reeh), "Moshe presented Klal Yisrael with two paths: blessing and curse, prefixing his words with Reeh, "See!" When a young child refuses to go to cheder, he is "encouraged" with a reward of some sort, usually a sweet treat. When he has entered the classroom and then refuses to learn, the rebbe will point to the stick in the corner, which serves as the symbol (and often more than a symbol) of the corporal punishment that might be administered if the child will not take his lessons seriously. When the child has matured, he no longer requires a symbol of punishment to convey the message that school is a place of learning. It is neither a place to visit for a vacation, nor is it a place for fun and games. The student understands all of this, since with maturity comes a deeper understanding of life in general, thus negating the need for punishment/reminder.

Moshe Rabbeinu was telling the people: "See! What I placed before you today - reward/blessing and punishment/curse." Even after forty years of miracles and constant exposure to Divine guidance and protection, you still lack the spiritual maturity to understand on your own (without motivation and reminder) that you must choose the path of blessing. I should not have to encourage you to observe the mitzvos. By this time it should be a given. The fact that it is not is the reason that I must reiterate the possibility of curse for non-observance.

Perhaps we suggest another reason for the use of Reeh, in the singular. Each and every Jew is exhorted to look at himself - first. We all want to save the world, to point out the faults of others, and to urge them to change their ways. Often we do so without first taking a close introspective view of ourselves. Are we perfect? Have we personally chosen the path of blessing? Do we have the right to admonish others before seeing to it that our lives are in order? Reeh - see yourself; then look at others.

"You are children to Hashem, your G-d; do not mutilate yourselves and do not make a bald patch between your eyes for the dead." (14:1)

Imagine the waiting line to see the king. Many people of all backgrounds and positions are each waiting for a moment of the king's time. The king's son, crown prince of the country, takes his place at the back of the line. A minister comes over and asks: "What is his royal highness doing at the back of the line? The king is your father! You can go in at any time! Why wait in a line with everybody else?" This is the meaning of, "You are children to Hashem, your G-d." He is our Heavenly Father, and, as such, we are privileged. We do not wait in line, nor do we require an appointment to meet with Him. Hashem is always available to us. If we do not realize this, it is our problem. We are lacking in understanding of our relationship with Hashem.

Horav Aharon Kotler, zl, would often inspire his students to realize how deeply obligated a Jew is to understand this verity. The more one realizes his profound relationship with Hashem, the greater is his inspiration to act in a manner becoming his noble "pedigree." Indeed, prior to carrying out any action, we must stop to think and ask ourselves, "Is this something that the king's son would do? Is this the manner in which the king's son would act?" Furthermore, the concept of being a "son" is singular. A father can have many children, but each one is a ben yachid, singular/individual child. There is a sense of uniqueness and exclusivity to the term "son." Horav Shlomo Wolbe, zl, writes: "The adam ha'maalah, prominent man (a man of virtue who acknowledges his qualities and potential, and who understands his extraordinary uniqueness as compared to the rest of the world), should be amazed by the knowledge that from all the world - everyone - he is unique; there is no other person like him! Indeed, from the beginning of Creation, from Adam HaRishon, Primordial Man, until this very day - never has there been anyone like him - nor will there ever be anyone like him. His talents, qualities, potential, both positive and negative - are unique and exclusive to him alone. (No two children are the same.) This is the meaning of bishvili nivra ha'olam, "For me (alone) was the world created." Each and every one of us is uniquely endowed with our personal qualities, neither repeated nor emulated.

Horav Moshe Soloveitchik, zl, (Zurich) observes: "If the Torah refers to us as Hashem's children, it becomes incumbent upon us to act as His children. Thus, when a child requires something, or if the child is in pain or in a dire circumstance, he immediately turns to his father for help. Should we be any different? Things happen in life and we run for help - to doctors, holy men, counselors, social workers, etc. How many take the time to speak to their Father in Heaven? How many take the time to realize that this is what He wants? Imagine, one's father is a distinguished physician, educator, psychologist, etc. and one has a problem with a member of his family; how would his father feel to discover that his child went all over town to every professional, all of whom do not come close to him in competency - yet did not come to him? Is this not what we do? We turn to everyone, but only pay lip service to Hashem. Horav Eliyahu Lopian, zl, asks a straightforward question which should be on the mind of anyone who reads this pasuk cogently: How is it that we are referred to by Hashem as His children, yet, in our daily lives, we seldom (if ever) think about or sense this unique connection? We understand and agree that we are unique, but it is not something that plays a significant role in our lives. Why?

The Mashgiach cites an incident which occurred during the Spanish Inquisition. A Jewish child was forcibly taken from the shelter of his home by rabid members of the religion that preaches love and tolerance. The child was noticeably brilliant and had a potentially bright future. Raised by Catholics, he went on to become a judge of the High Court which determined the capital punishment fate of the Anussim, Jews who had been forced to abandon their religion, that had either been caught practicing in secret or had refused to convert. In any event, the punishment was execution. This child-turned-judge was the final signature on the execution papers.

One day, they brought a number of papers for the judge to sign, which he did - except for one. For some reason, he simply could not affix his signature to one of the execution papers. No matter what he did, or how hard he tried - nothing worked. It just did not go! Finally, he asked to interview the prisoner. When they brought the prisoner to him, his hands and legs manacled, the judge asked to be left alone with the prisoner. He wanted to ask him a few questions. After grilling the prisoner for a short while, the judge discovered what had been bothering him his whole life: He was a Jew, and the prisoner who stood before him was none other than his father. This is why he could not sign the execution decree. His subconscious did not permit him to murder his own father.

Rav Elya commented, "When I heard this story, I understood the meaning of Banim atem l'Hashem, "You are children to Hashem." We have an innate relationship with Hashem. Since our neshamah, soul, is a chelek Elokai miMaal, part of Heaven Above, there is a miniscule component derived from Hashem imbued within each and every one of us. Our physical being and the many nisyanos, trials, which we undergo throughout life, however, take their toll and often override or cloud this relationship to the point that we become disconnected. We just need to take some time to think, to consider who we are, from where we descend, and begin to work on "cleaning up our act," changing our middos, character traits, purifying our desires; in short - acting as a Jew is supposed to act. I would like to supplement this idea with the following well-known story recorded by the Sefer Chassidim and Levush. The following sheilah, halachic question, was posed to Rav Saadya Gaon. A wealthy man had left home together with his slave, leaving his wife and a young male infant at home. He took a large amount of money with him with which to purchase wares for his thriving business. While he was overseas, the man died and the slave furtively "assumed" the position of "son." A number of years went by, and the real son grew up to discover the outrage committed against him. He also wanted his yerushah, rightful inheritance. The slave, of course, disputed the son, claiming that he was the rightful son, and the son was nothing more than an opportunist and charlatan.

Rav Saadya was unsure how to rule in such a case. He came up with a brilliant proposal. Ruling that the corpse could be exhumed, he did so and had the bones of the deceased placed in a jar. He then took blood samples from the slave, who claimed to be the son, and from the true son. He then placed blood from each one on the bones of the corpse. Lo and behold, the bones of the corpse absorbed the blood of the real son, but rejected the blood of the slave. Rav Saadya ruled that the one whose blood was absorbed by the father's bones was the true son.

We see from here that the father/son relationship is much more than casual. They are of the same mold. A son is part and parcel, a direct component, of his father. Likewise, our relationship with Hashem is much more than a religious affiliation. We are part of Him. His kedushah, holiness, permeates us. This may come across as sounding elitist, but that is what we are. We are His children. We are suffused with His essence. It is what it is - and we are what we are.

You are children to Hashem, your G-d, do not mutilate yourselves and do not make a bald patch between your eyes for the dead. (14:1)

The Baalei Tosfos comment, "You are children to Hashem, your G-d; therefore, if your father of flesh and blood dies, do not mutilate yourselves, for you are not orphans, since you have a living father." Every Jew should sense such a closeness with Hashem. Quoting this commentary, a gadol wrote the following to a woman who had sustained the tragic loss of her husband:

"True, you and your children have suffered a terrible blow, but, at the same time, you have received a Redeemer Who is closer to you than any other (being that she is now a widow and her children are orphans, they enter into a unique relationship with Hashem Who always listens to the cries of widows and orphans). You have a living Father Who is Omnipotent - everything comes from Him. Furthermore, He has promised you that, from this day onwards, you will lack nothing. Just call out, and He will answer. From Him, you will receive everlasting salvation."

Horav Shimshon Pincus, zl, offers a similar commentary with a somewhat different slant. One who grieves excessively demonstrates by his actions that life without the deceased is unbearable. It is for this reason the nusach, textual version, of the blessing we give to a mourner is HaMakom (applying to Hashem Who is Mekomo shel Olam, the Place of the world. The world is within Hashem - not the other way around. He is the Place - the only Place). The concept of "place" is something stationary, immovable, concrete, stable. Hashem is the basis, foundation, upon which everything in the world rests. Thus, we say to the mourner: "You are children to Hashem. Nothing has changed. He is still here for you. He is the Makom, Place, which never changes - never forsakes - never leaves. Those around us may be taken and leave, but our connection to the Place, Hashem, has not changed - and never will.

In an attempt to explain the unique relationship that a son has with his father, and how this bond plays itself out in our relationship with Hashem, to the point that it precludes our excessive grieving over the loss of a loved one, I came upon the following story. I feel that the father/son relationship is underscored in this story. It illuminates for us why, when confronted with a circumstance of grief, we refrain from letting go of our emotions. We understand that what has occurred has Divine implication, thus, our unabiding faith in Hashem kicks in. How and why does this occur? Well, that is where the story plays its role.

Charles Blondin (real name Jean Francois Gravelot) was a famous mid-nineteenth century French tightrope walker, a fearless daredevil who captivated audiences throughout the world. His feats of daring were, at the time, the talk of the day, having established for himself a following bordering on hero worship. His most notable undertaking, which earned him a special place in history books, took place on September 14, 1860, when he became the first person to stretch a tightrope 1300 feet long, two inches in diameter and constructed entirely of hemp, across the Niagara River connecting the American and Canadian sides. This young daredevil understood the appeal of the morbid to the masses (sadly, as society becomes more obsessed with the physical, having long rejected the spiritual dimension, this preoccupation with the aberrant and irascible has only become stronger and more overwhelming) and reveled when gamblers took bets on whether he would plunge to a watery death. On that bright, sunny morning, 25,000 people arrived by train and steamer and dispersed themselves on both sides of the Falls.

Blondin began his first walk across the rope slung 160 feet obove the Falls. He walked across several times, each time accompanied with different acts of daring. Once, he walked in a sack; another time on stilts, a bicycle, in the dark and even blindfolded. One time, he even carried a small stove and cooked an omelet in middle of the rope!

A large crowd had gathered and watched with excitement how time and time again Blondin amazed the crowd with his daring. It was almost as if his feet were glued to the rope. They "oohed" and "aahed," as he carefully took one dangerous step after another. One last time, he pushed a wheelbarrow filled with a sack of potatoes across the rope. The crowd let out a chant: "You are the greatest - the absolute greatest!" Blondin stopped, looked at the crowd and asked for a volunteer; "Who is willing to ride in the wheelbarrow while I push him (or her) across the rope?" Suddenly, there was silence. No one said a word. Then the crowd began to clap and roar with enthusiasm. Nonetheless - no one was prepared to be the guinea pig, to sit in the wheelbarrow and be pushed across the Falls.

"Do you believe that I can push a person safely across the Falls?" he called out. "Yes!" was the resounding response. "Yes! You are the greatest tightrope walker in the world. We believe!"

"So, if you truly believe, let me have a volunteer to sit in the wheelbarrow as I push him across the rope." Once again, there was silence. All the big talkers were nothing more than that - big talkers. The story goes that no one came forward. Oh yes - there was someone who volunteered. Above the din, they heard a young voice call out, "Yes, Daddy, I will go with you across the rope." Charles Blondin's son volunteered to accompany his father across the Falls. He trusted him, because, after all, he was his father.

It is a great story, which illustrates a real-life picture of what faith actually is (or at least what it should be). There are those who "talk the talk" but are not willing to "walk the walk". A son is different. He has an innate trust in his father. Thus, when a "son" loses someone that is close to him, he trusts that his Father in Heaven has His reasons for this decision. The pain is still there - and it will always be there, but the questions of "why?" and "how?" will be tempered. His grief will not be abated. It will, however, not be excessive, because it was his Father's decision.

Va'ani Tefillah

U'Mekayeim emunaso l'yisheinei afar. And maintains His faith to those asleep in the dust.

Simply, this means that, despite the years that have gone by since the passing of so many of our people, Hashem will keep His promise to resurrect the dead. They are only "sleeping" in the dust, waiting to be awakened when the time for Techiyas HaMeisim arrives. Shivchei Sofer introduces a practical interpretation of this verse, which regrettably presents a sad, but often true perspective on the state of affairs in the wider Jewish community. Many of our brethren are far-removed from religious observance. They follow their heart's desires and defer to the passions and whims of the nihilistic society in which we live. The shul is something foreign to them, with many only visiting its portals four times a year to recite Yizkor, the memorial service, for their loved ones. At least, however, they come to shul. They may be coming to shul only because of the yisheinei afar, but they are certainly a step ahead of those who did not bother doing that! This verse anecdotally refers to those whose emunah is observed in regard to the yisheinei afar.

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