Points to Ponder
See that I have set before you today a blessing and a curse (11:26) – Rav Schachter Shlita would often note that the Rambam refers to the power of Bechirah as the concept of Reshus. The reason for the difference, opines Rav Schachter in the name of Rav Soloveitchik ztl. is that while Bechirah involves a selection from the 2 choices before a person, Reshus allows a person to achieve an even wider set of choices – beyond those set before him. Rav Schachter would often add that a person is naturally inclined to assert his independence hence Gadol HaMitzuveh V’Oseh. However, by going L’Fnim Mesuras HaDin one also exerts his power of independence and still chooses to follow the word of Hashem.
When a Novi comes and brings you a sign (13:2-4) – Rav Yechezkel Levenstein ztl. points out that the signs and magic are not the reasons to trust the Novi. There are parallel signs in what he calls the Merkava Timeiya and the Merkava Tehora. The trick is to use the sign to open your mind and contemplate whether the message behind the dog and pony show is one of truth or falsehood. The job of the Yetzer HaRa is to try to make sheker appear truthful. Our job is not to be fooled – truth stands on its own forever.
Don’t listen to him (the Meisis) and do not show compassion (13:9) – The Rambam notes that we treat the Meisis extremely harshly --- we hide the witnesses, he needs no warning can be subjected to double jeopardy, and isn’t defended by the court among other anomalies unique to this Avaira. Rav Aharon Kotler ztl. notes that the desire to punish is 1/500 the desire to reward. Thus, if one Meisis is treated in such a difficult and harsh way – the opposite, namely, a Mekarev, must be the most righteous and will be rewarded 500 times more than the Meisis is punished.
Be careful lest you offer a Korban in any place you shall desire (12:13) – Rashi notes that if a Novi tells you to bring a korban outside of the Beis HaMikdash, you may – as we saw with Eiyahu on Har HaCarmel. The difference, notes the Maharil Diskin, is whether YOU are deciding what is Raui based on what appears to YOU to be an appropriate place versus the words of a Novi who IS a Roeh. He adds that this is why Manoach’s korban is not cited as a proof by Rashi – for Manoach was not sure if his korban was supposed to be brought out of the Beis HaMikdash until after he saw it was accepted.
You are children onto Hashem, Lo Titgodidu (14:2) – Rashi attributes an asthetic reason for not making the injuries. Ibn Ezra note that one needs to trust Hashem the way we trust a parent. Ramban adds that too much overt mourning is a challenge to one’s faith and needs to be put into check. The Chizkuni notes that we are not abandoned with the death of a loved one, it is merely the soul returning to its first family – Hakadosh Baruch Hu. Netziv adds that to go beyond the Torah’s demands is not respect for the dead, it is merely trying to remove pain and will not work.
If it has fins and scales it may be eaten (14:9) – Chazal tell us that a father has a responsibility to teach his child to swim lest he fall into the water and not survive. If that is the reason, why does the obligation not apply to a father to teach his child how to defend himself, fire a gun etc – why is it limited to swimming? Rav Elyashiv ztl. suggested that when a person learns to swim, s/he learns how not to fall prey to the current of the times and how to swim even against the current when necessary – as long as man know how to properly protect himself from the elements. We are blessed V’Yidgu Larov – to be able to be like the fish – to protect and direct our lives from the impurities of the world around us.
And you shall rejoice (16:11, 16:14) – Why does it not mention an obligation to rejoice on Pesach as it does by Shavuos and Sukkkos? Rav Moshe Feinstein ztl. suggested that on Pesach it is only logical to assume that one would share the simcha – after all, it celebrates going from poverty to freedom. The whole nature of Pesach is that it shows that wealth and poverty are inconsequential as it all belongs to Hashem and that in the end, he owns everything so why not share it with everyone?
Haftorah #1 (sefardim) – All of your children will be students of Hashem (54:13) – Rav Pam ztl. noted that in the times of Yerovam, guards were stationed at Har Efraim to stop the Jews from going to Har HaBayis in order to fulfill the obligations of Aliyah L’regel. Yirmiyahu mentions that in the future the watchmen will call out Kumah V’Naaleh Tzion – there will be a transformation wherein people would be ENCOURAGED to travel to Yirushalayim to serve Hashem in the Beis HaMikdash. Rav Pam noted the spiritual awakening in Eretz Yisrael and hoped to see the turnaround of Jewish life turned toward the celebration of Torah based living until Yeshayahu’s prophesy of everyone learning Torah is truly actualized.
Haftorah #2 (Ashkenazim—Shabbos Rosh Chodesh) – The end of Yeshayahu is one of the most intense and difficult sections of a dififcult Sefer to explain. Rav Shimon Schwab ztl. points out that the entire Gog U’Magog episode has been veiled on purpose and that man’s responsibilities are not to figure out the specifics but rather to know the general and be ready to understand the specifics when they materialize. Rambam notes that constant focus on these matters does not lead to Yirah or Ahava.
Eye on Elul: Rav Moshe Feinstein ztl. notes that Elul is the Roshei Teivos Ani L’Dodee V’Dodee Lee. Why is that the hint to the month? He explains that there are 2 approaches that exist to Mussar in general and Teshuvah specifically. One is fear and the other is love. While the first one motivates one not to slip up, the second way encourages man to grow and move forward. This is why the central motif of Rosh Hashana is not based on fear but rather on the notion of moving toward a warm relationship with Hashem of Aveinu first.