Parsha Potpourri: Parshas Re’eh


Ki y’sis’cha … leimor neil’cha v’naavda elohim acheirim … lo so’veh lo v’lo sish’ma eilav v’lo ta’chos ein’cha alav v’lo sach’mol v’lo t’chaseh alav … ki harog tahar’genu … u’skalto ba’avanim va’meis ki bikeish l’hadich’cha me’al Hashem Elokecha (13:7-11)

The Torah is stricter regarding the treatment of the מסית – inciter – than it is with the transgression of any other sin. The Torah specifically instructs us not to have any mercy on him and not to attempt to prove his innocence, concepts which aren’t found by other suspected sinners.

The Alter of Kelm points out that this stringency is even greater when one considers that in reality, the inciter didn’t actually accomplish anything. Although he attempted to convince another Jew to worship idolatry, he was unsuccessful. The other person turned him in and refused to listen to him. Even so, the desire to intentionally sway another person from the Torah’s path is so severe that it receives this stringent penalty.

Rashi writes (Shemos 20:5) that Hashem’s reward for those who listen to His commandments is 500 times greater than the punishment meted out to sinners. Many times, a person who is engaged in kiruv rechokim – attempting to educate our not-yet-religious brethren – invests valuable time and energy trying to reach out to another person, only to find that his efforts are completely unsuccessful.

As frustrating as this experience must surely be, the Alter of Kelm offers inspiring words of comfort and consolation based on the aforementioned principles. If Hashem reserves His most severe and stringent punishments for one who merely tries to persuade another Jew to leave the Torah path, how much more must be the immense reward lying in store for a person who tries, even unsuccessfully, his utmost to draw our wayward brethren back to their Creator.

Aseir ta’aseir es kol t’vuas zar’echa (14:22)

The Torah commands us to tithe our crops. The Gemora in Taanis (9a) interprets our verse by playing on the similarity between the letters “shin” and “sin.” It renders the words “aseir ta’aseir” in our verse as “aseir bishvil she’tisasher” – tithe and you will become rich. What source is there for the Gemora’s teaching that tithing will make a person wealthy?

The Vilna Gaon notes that the Gemora (Bava Metzia 31a) understands doubled verbs as requiring a person to repeatedly do the action referred to as many as 100 times. In other words, he is not absolved from his obligation by performing it once. He must do the mitzvah as many times as is necessary.

In this light, our verse, with its doubled command to tithe, should be understood as requiring a person to tithe his money as many as 100 times. However, the Gemora in Kesuvos (50a) records that the Sages decreed that a person shouldn’t give more than one-fifth of his money to charity. If so, the Gemora in Taanis questioned how a person could be permitted to tithe by giving one-tenth of his money even three times, as this would require him to give more than one-fifth of his assets to charity. To resolve this concern, the Gemora answered that the Torah guarantees that a person who does so will become rich and will have enough money to continue tithing – even 100 times – without ever falling below the threshold of having given one-fifth of his original possessions to charity.

Ki yih’yeh b’cha evyon me’echad achecha … lo s’ameitz es l’vav’cha v’lo sikpotz es yad’cha me’achicha haevyon ki pasoach tiftach es yad’cha lo (15:7-8)

The Torah exhorts us to be compassionate toward the poor, commanding us not to close our hand to the destitute, but rather to open it. This statement seems redundant. If it is forbidden to close our hand to the poor, doesn’t it go without saying that we are required to open it? What is the Torah trying to teach us by emphasizing this point?

The Vilna Gaon explains that although a person is obligated to give tzeddakah, he is not supposed to disperse it equally to each poor person. There are laws governing to whom one must give precedence when distributing charity, such as family members or people in his community, and the needs of each pauper must be assessed when determining how much to give them.

The Torah alludes to the requirement to take these considerations into account when giving tzedakah. When a person closes his hand and looks at his fingers, they all appear equal in length. Opening one’s hand reveals that this is not the case, as each finger is a different size.

The Torah already commanded us to be merciful to our needy brethren. Our verse takes for granted that we will help meet their needs and is not coming to repeat this point, as it seems at first glance. Rather, it comes to teach that the manner in which we do so should not be one in which we indiscriminately give equal amounts to each beggar, as symbolized by a closed hand. Instead, we should open our hands and realize that each poor person’s needs as well as our obligation to him aren’t the same, and we should disperse our charity accordingly.

Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):
1)     The Torah prohibits (13:1) adding on to the mitzvos which Hashem gave. Does a person transgress this prohibition if he mistakenly believes that the act he is doing is a mitzvah, but if he would know the truth, he wouldn’t do it? (Maharil Diskin Parshas Vaeschanan)

2)     The Gemora in Sanhedrin (113a) rules that a wayward city which contains even one mezuzah may not be destroyed, as the burning of the mezuzah would violate the prohibition against erasing Hashem’s name (12:4). Why isn’t the burning of the city permitted based on the Talmudic rule that עשה דוחה לא תעשה – one is permitted to perform a positive commandment even if doing so entails the transgression of a negative one? (Toras Chaim Sanhedrin 71a, Minchas Chinuch 142 and 464, Peninei Kedem, MiTzion Mich’lal Yofee, M’rafsin Igri)

3)     The Gemora in Megillah (9b) relates that when the Greek king Ptolemy ordered the Sages to translate the Torah into Greek, they made a number of changes to avoid angering him. For example, because Ptolemy’s wife was named “Arneves,” the word the Torah uses for the non-kosher hare (14:7), the Sages changed the wording so as not to offend him. How were they permitted to do so in light of the ruling of the Yam Shel Shlomo (Bava Kamma 4:9) that a person is required to give up his life rather than alter a single word or ruling of the Torah to appease others? (Taam V’Daas Parshas Shemini)

4)     The Medrash in Tehillim (146) teaches that a pig is called a “chazir” (14:8) because in the Messianic period, it will return (chozeir) to being permitted in consumption. How can this be reconciled with one of the basic tenets of Judaism – that not a single letter in the Torah will ever be negated – when an explicit verse rules that pigs are forbidden (14:8)? (Ritva Kiddushin 49b; Rabbeinu Bechaye, Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh, Pardes Yosef and Taam V’Daas Parshas Shemini)

5)     The Torah requires (15:7-11) a person to be compassionate and merciful toward his poor brethren and to generously open his hand to dispense loans and charity to assist them. The Gemora in Bava Basra (10a) teaches that a person who closes his eyes to the poor and refuses to give them tzedakah is considered as one who worshipped idolatry. Although his behavior is far from commendable, why is it viewed in such harsh terms? (Peninei Kedem)

6)     Why does the Torah require us to remember the Exodus from Egypt twice daily (16:3) while sufficing with remembering Amalek’s wickedness (25:17-19) only once a year? (Darash Moshe)

© 2011 by Oizer Alport.