Parsha Potpourri: Parshas Eikev


V’ragl’cha lo batzeika zeh arba’im shana (8:4)

In mentioning that the shoes of the Jewish people miraculously didn’t wear out during their sojourn in the wilderness, the Torah states explicitly (29:4) that they wore shoes during their travels through the desert. How can this be resolved with Rashi’s comment on our verse that the feet of the Jews miraculously didn’t swell during their travels in the desert as is customary for those who walk barefoot?

The Rogatchover Gaon resolves the apparent contradiction by suggesting that when the Jewish people exited Egypt and entered the wilderness, they were indeed wearing shoes. However, after the sins of the golden calf and the spies, they were legally considered in “niduy” – excommunication – until the end of their 40-year sojourn in the desert. Somebody who has been excommunicated must observe certain signs of mourning, including the removal of his shoes.

The earlier verse is addressed to the Jewish people, who were forced to wander without shoes for this period, and emphasizes the miracle that their bare feet didn’t swell during this time. Our verse is addressed to the Levites, who remained righteous and didn’t take part in these sins, and weren’t punished with excommunication. They were allowed to wear their shoes during their sojourn in the wilderness, and our verse refers to the miracle that their shoes didn’t wear out while wandering through the hot desert for so many years.

Eretz asher Hashem Elokecha doreish o’sah tamid einei Hashem Elokecha bah me’reishis ha’shana v’ad acharis shana (11:12)

            Parshas Eikev contains a passage which extols the many virtues of the land of Israel, which the Jewish people would be entering shortly. The section concludes by proclaiming that although Hashem controls the entire world, His primary attention is constantly focused on the land of Israel. However, a careful reading of the verse seems to reveal a glaring lack of parallel structure. The verse mentions the beginning of “the year” (me’reishis ha’shana), but concludes by referring to the end of “year” (acharis shana).

The Satmar Rebbe explains that Parshas Eikev is read toward the end of the summer, as our vacation periods slowly come to an end. The realization that the Shabbos on which we bless the upcoming month of Elul is only one week away serves as a wake-up call that the time for examining our ways is just around the corner.

            Every year, a person gets excited about this opportunity for spiritual rebirth, eager to improve his deficiencies. He convinces himself that this will be “the year” of all years, the year in which he is finally successful in addressing the issues which have haunted him throughout his life. He makes a list of the areas he plans to rectify. Upon its completion, he becomes filled with enthusiasm, convinced that he is on the home stretch to becoming the new person that he always dreamed of.

            Unfortunately, the sad reality is that the evil inclination is only too happy to let him repeat the process he engages in every year. It knows that with the passage of time, his dreams will be forgotten for another year as he becomes distracted by the responsibilities of everyday life. As the year draws to a close, he will look back with disappointment and realize that the year which he was sure would be “the year” was in reality just another ordinary year. The Torah hints to this phenomenon by referring to the start of the year as the beginning of “the” year – and the end of the year as merely the end of (yet another typical) year.

However, the Rebbe provides an insight full of consolation. In the Kedushah said during Mussaf (Nusach Sefard) the chazzan declares, “He is our G-d, He is Our Father, He is Our King, He is Our Savior. He will save and redeem us a second time, and will tell us in His mercy for all to see: ‘I have redeemed you at the end (of time) as at the beginning, to be to you for a G-d.’”

The Rebbe homiletically suggests that Hashem hints to us that we will be redeemed from the current exile “acharis k’reishis” – when the end (of the year) is like the beginning (of the year). The time will come when we won’t just begin the year excited that this will be “the year,” but when we will be able to look back at the end and declare proudly, “This was indeed ‘the year.’” When that time comes, Hashem will bring the ultimate redemption, may this be “the” year!

V’limadtem osam es b’neichem l’daber bam (11:19)

Rashi writes that when a child is learning to speak, his father should teach him Torah so that his first speech consists of words of Torah. He adds that one who neglects to do so is considered as if he has buried his son. Although it is admirable to begin a child’s education with spiritual and holy matters, why is one who fails to do so viewed so harshly, especially when he can fix his error by subsequently teaching his child Torah?

Understanding the following Medrash will help us answer this question. The Medrash (Bamidbar Rabbah 10:4) relates that on the night after the construction of the first Temple was finished, Shlomo HaMelech got married. The combination of the two celebrations was a cause for tremendous joy.

In order that Shlomo shouldn’t wake up early in the morning, his new wife hung a sheet on top of his bed and drew on it pictures of the moon and stars so that when he would wake up, he would think it was still the nighttime and would continue to sleep. On that night he slept uncharacteristically until four hours after sunrise, and the Jews waiting eagerly to offer the morning sacrifice had to wait until that time, as the keys to the Temple were underneath his head.

When his mother heard that the sacrifice was being delayed due to his sleeping late, she went and woke him up and rebuked him quite soundly. Although it would have been nice to bring the sacrifice at the earliest possible time, nothing was lost as it was offered four hours after sunrise, which is still within its acceptable time range. Further, Shlomo did nothing wrong as he was rejoicing with his new bride, and he had only slept late as a result of her deceiving him. Why, then, was his mother so upset with him?

Rav Moshe Shmuel Shapiro answers that Shlomo’s mother understood the importance of a proper beginning, both to the Temple and to one’s marriage, as everything which happens subsequently is an outgrowth of that foundation. She therefore wanted to emphasize to Shlomo that no excuse in the world justifies damaging the foundation of a new project.

Similarly, Rav Yerucham Levovitz explains that the entire success of a tree’s growth is determined by its beginning – the time of its planting. Rashi is teaching us the power of the beginning, which forms the foundation for a child’s entire life. Everything which will transpire subsequently is an outgrowth of that basis. Although it is possible to undo the damage which was caused by poor “planting,” the strong and solid foundation will still be missing for life.

As the summer draws to a close, we return to our daily lives. Whether we are returning to a new zman in yeshiva or the new school year, to our jobs or caring for our families, we should internalize this lesson, making sure to plant solid foundations which will help ensure success in all of our endeavors throughout the year to come.

Answers to the weekly Points to Ponder are now available!
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Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):

1)     A 12-year-old boy ate a meal just before sundown on the day before his Bar Mitzvah and recited the Grace after Meals. If the food hasn’t yet been fully digested and he is still satiated after sundown, when he legally becomes a Jewish adult and Biblically required to say Birkas HaMazon, must he say it again, as his Rabbinically-mandated recitation is unable to fulfill his new Biblical obligation? (Hagahos Rav Akiva Eiger Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 186)

2)     If three adult men eat a meal together, they are required recite Birkas HaMazon (8:10) together, with one of them leading the group by inviting the others to join him in saying the Grace after Meals. Generally, this honor is accorded to a Kohen, and in the absence of a Kohen, it is given to the most educated or pious member of the group. Under what circumstances would the most lenient of the men be required to lead the group? (Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 45:21)

3)     Moshe recounted that he descended from Mount Sinai with the second set of Tablets after spending an additional 40 days on the mountain (10:5). Rashi writes (Shemos 34:29) that this took place on Yom Kippur. How was he permitted to carry the Tablets from the mountain, which is a private domain, to the Jewish camp, a public domain, on Yom Kippur? (Ramban Shemos 18:13, Shu”t Rivash 96, Panim Yafos Parshas Ki Sisa, Chasam Sofer Shemos 20:22, Shu”t Yehuda Ya’aleh Orach Chaim 192, Tzafnas Paneiach, Rinas Yitzchok, Chavatzeles HaSharon Parshas Ki Sisa)

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