Parsha Potpourri: Parshas Re’eh


Lo sa’ason kein l’Hashem Elokeichem (12:4)

After instructing the Jewish people to break and smash the idolatrous temples and pillars which they will find in the land of Israel, the Torah warns against doing the same to Hashem. Rashi questions why a Jew would consider destroying the Temple. He explains that the Torah means to prohibit copying the immoral actions of the non-Jews which will cause the Beis HaMikdash to be destroyed.

Rashi also quotes the Gemora in Shabbos (120b), which derives from our verse that although it is forbidden to erase Hashem’s name, it is Biblically permissible to cause it to be erased in an indirect manner. How can our verse, which the Gemora understands as prohibiting only direct action and permitting indirect causality, also be interpreted as forbidding actions which will only indirectly bring about the Temple’s destruction?

Rav Aharon Kotler answers that the Medrash (Shir HaShirim Rabbah 3:6) refers to the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash as the grinding of already ground flour. In other words, although our enemies carried out the actual destruction of the Temple’s physical edifice, in reality its spiritual beauty and splendor had already been removed due to the sinful paths that the Jews followed. Had this not been the case, the non-Jewish army would have had no control or power over the place where Hashem’s presence dwelled.

When Rashi interprets the verse as an admonition against following non-Jewish practices and causing the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash, he isn’t referring to indirect causality, which is permitted according to the Gemora in Shabbos. Rather, just as the Gemora forbids directly erasing Hashem’s name, Rashi is teaching us that our sins and immoral choices directly destroy Hashem’s Temple!

Banim atem l’Hashem Elokeichem lo sisgod’du v’lo tasimu karcha bein eineichem l’meis (14:1)

The Torah prohibits extreme forms of mourning the death of loved ones. Since the laws of nature dictate that every living thing will eventually die, why is human nature to mourn the loss of a loved one, sad as it may be, with such intensity when we mentally recognize that death is inevitable?

In his work Toras HaAdam on the laws of mourning, the Ramban offers a fascinating explanation for this phenomenon. When Hashem originally created the first man, Adam, He intended him to be immortal and created him with a nature reflecting this reality. When Adam sinned by eating from the forbidden fruit, he brought death to mankind and to the entire world.

Nevertheless, although this new development completely changed the nature of our life on earth, it had no effect on man’s internal makeup, which was designed to reflect the reality that man was intended to live forever. Although our minds recognize that people ultimately must die and we hear about death constantly, our internal makeup remains as it was originally designed. We expect our loved ones to live forever as they were originally intended to do, and we are therefore plunged into intense mourning when confronted with the reality that this is no longer the case.

Ki yihyeh b’cha evyon me’achad achecha … lo se’ameitz es levavcha v’lo sikpotz es yad’cha me’achicha ha’evyon ki paso’ach tiftach es yad’cha lo (15:7-8)

            The Torah exhorts us to have mercy and compassion upon our poor brethren. The Gemora (Bava Basra 10a) records that a wicked Roman nobleman named Turnus Rufus asked Rebbi Akiva, “If your G-d cares for poor people so much, why doesn’t He provide for them?” Rebbi Akiva answered that Hashem allows them to remain poor to provide us the merit of giving them charity, which will protect us from punishment.

            The Alter of Kelm questions Rebbi Akiva’s explanation. Although the mitzvah of giving tzedakah is certainly a great one, aren’t there enough other commandments that we can do to save us from punishment? What is so unique and special about giving charity, and why must the poor suffer to enable us to specifically perform this mitzvah?

            The Alter explains that the mitzvah of tzedakah serves an irreplaceable function. Although one fulfills the technical letter of the law by distributing charity to those in need, in order to perform this mitzvah at its highest level a person must do more than this. It isn’t sufficient to give charity simply because Hashem commanded us to do so and we want to perform His will. A person dispersing tzedakah should feel the pain and plight of the poor beggar as if it were his very own. Just as a person who feels his own hunger naturally responds by feeding himself, so too should we strive to identify with the pauper’s anguish to the point that we would be moved to assist him even if we weren’t obligated to do so.

Rav Eliyahu Chaim Meisels, the Rav of Lodz in Poland, was renowned for his concern for the poor and downtrodden. On one fierce winter day, he knocked on the door of a wealthy, but stingy, man in his town to solicit a donation. After exchanging greetings, the man gestured that Rav Meisels should enter, but he remained outside and began his appeal. The rich man was puzzled by the Rav’s behavior, but he attempted to listen out of respect. After a few minutes he grew so cold that he was unable to continue. He interrupted the Rav and begged him to come inside.

The sagacious Rav explained, “I am here to collect money for a family which can’t even afford to build a fire on a day like today. If we enter your warm home, you won’t be able to relate to their suffering. Only by discussing their plight here at your door are you able to understand the magnitude of their pain.” Appreciating both the Rav’s wisdom as well as the extent of the family’s anguish, the miser gave a generous donation.

It is difficult for most of us to relate to the daily suffering that many of our brethren unfortunately know. Now that we understand that empathizing with their plights is an integral part of giving tzedakah, we should try our utmost, whether by volunteering at a soup kitchen or by walking through the park on a bitter winter night, to work on personally experiencing and feeling their pain. Our desire to generously assist them will naturally follow, and in so doing, we will be helping not only the poor but also ourselves.

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

1)     The Torah prescribes a harsh punishment in the case of one’s maternal brother who attempts to entice him to worship idolatry (13:7-11). Why does the verse specifically refer to a maternal brother more than to a paternal brother? (Daas Z’keinim, Paneiach Raza)

2)     The Torah prohibits (14:1) various forms of mourning the death of loved ones. Why is the mourning period for the more natural and frequent loss of a parent longer (12 months) than that for the unnatural and seemingly more traumatic loss of a child (30 days)? (Meged Yosef)

3)     One of the species of non-kosher birds is the “chasidah” (14:18). Rashi (Vayikra 11:19) explains that its name is derived from the fact that it displays kindness (“chesed”) by sharing its food with others. If it is so merciful and compassionate, why does the Torah forbid its consumption? (Chiddushei HaRim, Taam V’Daas, Even Meira, and Matamei Yaakov Parshas Shemini)

4)     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 charity to assist them. Rashi writes (15:8) that whatever a person had prior to becoming poor, we are required to supply him with. If a wealthy man used to give large donations to the synagogue and was honored with the sixth aliyah during the reading of the Torah but lost his money and is no longer able to continue his pledges, is the synagogue obligated to continue honoring him as if he could? (Lulei Soras’cha, Derech Sicha)

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