Themes of the Parasha
Following the last parashiot
which dealt with collective issues or ones relating to
morality in general, we now come to a parasha which stresses
the form I-you:
--- the first word of the parasha is "I besought,"
--- the shema says: "you will love
The time, the Torah is speaking of our individual relationship
This is an important concept:
the issues concerning the land of Israeli are presented
in this very personal way, for it is in the inter-personal
realm that union will be created. This is a long way from
the usual perspective we see on the media or in politics.
To be Jewish means to have received this
about the land of Israel and its role in the world, and
to live according to it.
See Verse 6, 5.
Let us now read Ch. 3.
Moshe beseeches Hashem to let him enter the land of Israel.
But, angry with the people, Hashem refuses his plea and
tells him to go and look at the land from afar (3, 27).
Here is a photo
taken from the top of Pisgah,
looking towards the land of Israel, which allows us to
share in the view which unites Moshe and Hashem through
the intermediary of the land of Israel.
(Click here in order to feel
this state, and read the commentaries under the images.)
Now let us read chapter 4
Ch. 4 describes the transmission of the mitzvot or statutes
and their goal (4, 1 and 4, 5): that the people may live
and possess the land which Hashem has given them. We stress
again that the function of the land of Israel is a special
one, which does not involve the usual parameters. It is
therefore important to think differently, to think according
to the Torah and according to Judaism, and not according
to what we read or hear in the press. We find the line
of thought described in the preceding parasha. This mitzva
is presented as a holy statute and it will be perceived
as such by other nations. The first rules are to remember
the events described and not to make idols.
If we transgress these rule, says Moshe, Hashem will disperse
you and it is only after great suffering that you will
come back to God.
Let us read ch. 5. Moshe recalls
the glory of the past, the revelation and the 10 commandments,
and he stresses several times that if the people live
according to these commandments, they will be happy.
Let us read ch. 6. Here is
the famous phrase Shema Yisrael. I have filmed it from
the Torah scroll in my synagogue so that you can open
it and read it directly from the Torah scroll. This is
followed by the description of the exodus and Pesah seder:
"When thy son asketh thee in time to come, saying:
'What mean the testimonies and the statutes and the ordinances
which Hashem our God hath commanded you?'then thou shalt
say unto thy son
.." (6, 20-21).
Let us read ch. 7. It forbids
all compromises with the nations thatho surround us and
stresses that these statutes have been given to us because
Hashem loves us. This is repeated many times. We see that
all the elements of Judaism are present here. And we have
received the transmission of these teachings, to which
Jews remained faithful in the face of great suffering.
Will our spoilt generation be faithful like them and transmit
like them the teachings of this parasha?
The haftara of Devarim (Isaiah
40) takes up these themes.
In keeping with the method of study we have been following,
two things must be understood:
--- the connection between all these themes, which the
mitzvot will help us to understand more clearly;
--- the connection between our intellectual understanding
of these teachings, our emotional understanding, and,
finally, our moral understanding or musar.
The mitzvot in the parasha
Mitzva no. 416 commands us
not to "covet" the belongings of our neighbors.the
10th commandment commands us not to see to "acquire"
the belongings of our neighbors.
Mitzva no. 417 commands us to declare the divine unity
of God in the shema (6, 4).
Mitzva no. 418 commands us to love God at all times (6,
Mitzva no. 420 commands us to say the shema twice a day.
Mizvot nos. 421 to 423 commands us to put on tefilin on
our arms and on our head and to place mezuzot on the doors
of our homes.
Mitzva no. 424 commands us not to try God (6, 16) by asking
him for miracles, which shows that we have not studied
the Torah or our history for the answers are in there.
Mitzva no. 425 commands us not enter in an alliance with
the 7 nations who occupy the land of Canaan (7, 1).
Mitzva no. 426 commands us to have no pity towards idol
worshippers (7, 2).
Mitzva no. 427 prohibits all mixed marriages with members
of these nations.
The meaning of these mitzvot
Moshe reviews the events of the last 40 years because
the generation which received the Torah at Sinai has disappeared
and the new generation must also receive it and understand
its meaning and obligations. This is why he repeats it
and stresses the importance of knowing our history and
the proofs of Hashem's presence.
Moshe shows us, in this way, how to teach our own children
He tries to lead the people to "adhere" to Hashem,
with their minds and with their hearts.
This connects well to the mitzvot of tefilin and mezuzot,
and with the prohibitions against worshipping other gods
and idols, or adhering to other nations who do not walk
with the God of Israel. Everything is in harmony. The
Shema Yisrael is also understood in this context of listening
and uniting with Hashem, of being united in ourselves,
in our hearts, in our strength and in our possessions,
If we do this, Hashem promises
something extraordinary: He then will be "unified."
At this moment, what is said (the first phrase of the
shema) and what is secret (the second phrase which is
said in silence), are unified and the unification of these
two dimensions is symbolized in the large letters of the
shema.. The first phrase is said aloud, and the second
in silence, for the union created in the shema is the
union between this world (visible and audible) and the
other world (real but invisible and inaudible). It is
also the union between the written Torah (visible) and
the oral Torah (invisible since it is not written). As
Rashi comments on Bereshit 1, 26, pity the ignorant who
did not understand this and erected new religions by playing
around with the Torah.
This way the beginning of Genesis is united with the Shema:
this world and the world to come are united. The land
in which we live and "THE land" which is in
His image are united and in harmony with each other. It
is in the same sense that we say: "Celestial Jerusalem
will descend when men will have built terrestrial Jerusalem."
This is not an evangelical vision for tradition shows
how much God wanted that "Jerusalem On High be like
Jerusalem Below" (Yerushalayim mekhuvenet lemala
kemo Yerushalayim shel mata. I Zohar 183 b).
A moral lesson
Moshe thus teaches us something
truly simple: that
--- the most complex teachings of the Torah,
--- the emotions of the heart,
--- moral behavior,
--- material possessions,
are one and the same thing; when they are adhere to Hashem.
This is a union of love which governs mankind and the
See below the poem called Land of Israel.
Moshe also teaches us something
else: he wondered and pleaded with Hashem if he could
enter the land of Israel. Thus he, the only one to whom
God spoke face to face, questioned the link between the
Torah and decisions of life.
The Shla says that we should submit all our decisions,
actions and behavior to the scrutiny of the Torah.
Moshe asked himself this question because he was unsure
he had understood correctly the signs of the text.
All the more so, should be study the texts in order to
be sure we have fully understood them, before we make
The Shla says that everything that Moshe recounts involves
the three presents of beauty which Hashem gave to Israel:
--- the beauty of the Torah,
--- the beauty of the land of Israel,
--- and the beauty of the world to come.
I have often spoken of the luminous glory of the Torah.
In the preceding parasha we spoke about the land. How
is all this connected to the world to come, and to the
prohibition not to enter an alliance with the nations
who dwelt in the land of Israel?
The reason is that these 7 nations, through the way they
lived, represented 7 forces which disturbed and impeded
goodness in the world. They were incapable of compassion.
It is in reaction to them that Yaakov left for Egypt,
with the perfect antithesis
.(7 x 10 = 70
The number 70 also refers
to the number of nations for whose good Israel keeps the
Torah. This is why one makes 70 sacrifices at Succot.
So Israel received negative prohibitions only with regard
to these 7 nations.
The oneness of God
The mitzva of the tefilin shows to what extent we must
be in a state of devekut (adhesion, joining, literally
and symbolically) with Hashem. Indeed, the tefilin, which
the verses of His Torah, are placed on our hearts, which
is the site of our emotions, and on our heads, the site
of our intelligence.
This devekut reminds us that we are made in the image
of God. But this closeness with Hashem is also the goal
of our lives here on earth, which is a temporary phase
before we attain the world to come.
Certain exceptional Sages,
tzaddikim, are able to live within this union in our world.
The role of sacrifices was to bring these levels of existence
closer together. The 3 prayers, in particular the morning
prayer, also have the same aim. Sometimes, the sacrifice
of a martyr (kiddush hashem) is made for this goal. Jews
must be ready every day for this union and study ensures
that it is constant.
But, as is written in Tractate
Sanhedrin 90b (and which we say before beginning the Ethics
of the fathers, Pirkei Avot): "kol Yisrael yesh
lahem helek le olam haba, all Israel has a portion in
the world to come." This means that the soul of every
Jew is connected to the world to come. The Shla says that
the image used by our Sages for this level is that of
the moon when it is as luminous as the sun (we have expressed
this in an image).
All individual reflections
and ideas must be separate from the transmission of the
teachings of our Sages, because they reflect only our
personal judgment and level of study.
I beg readers not to isolate
one word from the text, but to understand every word within
the meaning of the whole text.
The fact of living in Israel,
surrounded by heated debates, makes us aware
" of all the forces that
are at play
" and of the teachings of the Sages on the importance
of the land of Israel and of our attempts to avoid living
here, as was described by Moshe.
If Moshe doubted the word
of the Torah, it is clear that we too have doubts and
that every word is marked with uncertainty.
On these days preceding the
9th of Av, the urgency of the situation in Israel and
the problems raised by this parasha should lead us to
" the Temple was destroyed
because of blind hatred between Jews and because of the
extreme rigidity on the part of the judges,
" Moshe and the Torah constantly repeated in these
last parashiot that the land of Israel is good, that we
must live here, that we must not speak ill of it, that
it is our inheritance, that we must take up our inheritance
even in the midst of enemies with trust and strength,
that we must live here according to the Torah and, if
we do so, the nations will reward us and we will be able
to live here in peace (this is the only condition for
shalom) and we will be happy because the Torah is the
fountain of life; and if we do not live according to the
Torah, to justice, respect for strangers and fraternity,
then the land of Israel will expel us.
Today, as in the past:
--- the leaders of Israel do not make it a priority to
educate the nation in order to carry out this teaching
of the Torah and ensure social justice,
--- insults are hurled at entire communities (religious
or traditional, women, the Sephardim, the right, the left,
Today, for the first time in our entire history, and this
is in our generation, the solution for the problems of
our nation is not being sought "within the teachings
of the Torah," but in a solution that involves giving
a part of the land of Israel to another people. We propose
giving to others half of the Judean desert, the very land
from which Jews derive their name, when there is no reason
to do so since this land is un-populated: we are doing
this simply because a foreign power has asked us to. It
is a symbolic gesture which reflects
--- it is written and history has taught us this time
and again: the achievements of our ancestors is not enough
if our own conduct is negative and if we lapse in our
responsibilities. All nations are proud of their history
and uphold it; only we reject it! And yet we were given
the teachings and warnings of the Torah, and even the
gift of the Land and the ingathering of many exiles.
We urgently need the help
of God; we must pray and correct our individual lives
in order to halt this process of collective destruction.
Are there signs of hope?
--- the Torah is alive in
Israel; there have never been so many institutes for the
study of the Torah, so many students and so many publications;
--- we have been witness to
the fulfillment of promises;
--- in spite of the hatred
disseminated by the media, there are many who are quietly
working for the Torah, building the country, in solidarity,
in fraternity, avoiding lashon hara (speaking ill of others)
and insults, and living in extreme poverty;
--- many Jews are still coming
to join in this magnificent work, and do not speak ill
of the country but only wish to improve it and live according
to the Torah in this land which is its sanctuary;
--- contrary to what is portrayed
in the media, the haredi population is becoming more and
more integrated in the national life of the country, through
a common language, through their own well-informed press,
through the awareness of the importance of their own contribution
to the nation, through the renewal of halakha, through
their participation in many national activities, and through
their wish for the unity of the nation;
--- many are aware that destroying
the specific character of Israel in order to make it like
other nations (with all their faults) is suicidal and
that the people will not accept this;
--- we know that we are a
difficult nation and the difficulties Moshe had with the
people teaches us that the problem is endemic, constant
and is not just linked to the current political leadership;
--- there is dissatisfaction
at every level of society with the internal quarrels and
the level of education which has distanced itself from
What can be done?
First and foremost we must
" pray for our leaders,
whatever their allegiance,
" pray for our religious leaders so that they will
transmit to the nation the moral teachings of the Torah
they know so well but do not sufficiently communicate;
" do everything we can possibly do at our own individual
level to HALT immediately all manifestations of hatred,
all extreme language, all rifts between the people and
to work for reconciliation, social justice, and knowledge
of each group's traditions (this is a test because if
one speaks ill of the music of a particular group, it
is proof that we do not love them and we are not trying
to understand them).
We have been given all the
keys necessary to succeed: we hold in our hands the hopes
of all the generations and we must and can fulfill them.
We do not have the right to
fail; we do not have the right to despair; we do not have
the right to abandon our land; and we do not have the
right to hate one another.
We have the right to demand
of our leaders that they know their patrimony and its
values, if they wish to direct the country, its history
and its people, and that they respect this patrimony in
words and in action.
The issue is solely in our
hands, for the guardian of Israel never sleeps and is
always true to his promises.
This is not a manifesto but
simply my own individual ideas,
--- based on reality
--- and on adherence to the teachings of this parasha.
If I have taken the risk of including my ideas here, it
is in order to encourage readers to follow this line of
study and reach the stage of personal reflection which
follows the study of the parasha. My thoughts are worth
as much and not more than those of every reader.
Truth is found only together.
Women's love for Israel
Men and women should respond
to this question of the land like a mother responds to
the child she is carrying, in her rehem (womb) -- from
which one gets the word rahamim (mercy) -- which can never
be physically separated from her child. We should not
treat this issue coldly, as a simple political matter
that can be resolved through maneuvering or skullduggery.
Why do I say this?
Because Rashi, our master,
tells us through his admiration for the women of Israel
who always save their people: in Bamidbar 26, 64, when
Moshe counts the men before the people corss the Jordan,
he notes that not one man is still alive among those who
refused to enter the land of Israel and who rebelled because
they feared the nations around them.
All these defeatist politicians
who preach peace through the relinquishment of the land
and who believe that reality is stronger than the Torah,
were all already physically dead when the people of Israel
entered the land, just as they were already spiritually
dead when they chose to abandon the land (read verses
Rashi comments: "aval
al nashim lo nigzera gezerat hameraglim, lefi she hen
mehabevot et ha aretz, but the punishment given out to
the spies did not apply to the women for they cherished
the land (Israel)."
And he goes on: the men said
(Bamidbar 14, 4): "give us a leader and let us return
to Egypt" (just like some say today: let us find
another leader and adopt the solution proposed by the
United States and Europe), while the women said (Bamidbar
27, 4): "give us a heritage," and this is why
the women were given the heritage in the following verses,
in contrast to the traditional way of passing a heritage
through the male lineage.
This is Rashi's commentary
and it is clear that he was referring to the indomitable
hope which stayed alive only in Miriam while all the spirits
of the men were crushed during slavery. This is the indomitable
hope of the Jewish midwives who refused to obey Pharaoh
and of Miriam who saved her baby brother, in the knowledge
that his future would be assured by Hashem. (read Rashi's
commentaries on Shemot 1, 15-19 and 2, 1.)
This is why, say the commentators,
Miriam was called Ha nevia (the prophetess), for the letter
he indicates the presence of Hashem which she cherished
in her. This is also why Miriam's tambourine is called
ha tof, "the" tambourine.
Let us hope that the women
of Israel will save our generation just as it did the
And that they will correct
the spies of today who maintain that we must abandon the
heritage that was passed to us from generation to generation
to be safeguarded and certainly not to be abandoned in
their name. May the women of Israel teach us to cherish
this land like they do, lehabev et ha aretz.
If someone has had the misfortune
to be told to leave their apartment, such a person known
in his rehem, in his gut, what it feels like. So should
we feel at the awesome thought of taking away this land
from He who owns it, from He, whom as Rashi says at the
beginning of his commentary of the Torah (Bereshit 1,1),
who give it to those He chooses. One should not play around
with these issues. Our history has always followed the
path chosen for it in the Torah.
Men are also capable of these
Men must and can emulate this visceral feminine relationship
with the land of Israel, as the link with the divine presence.
Moshe was capable of this, and his name, as Ribbi Yaakov
Abuhatzera notes, has the same gematria as the word ratson
which we have seen is women's highest quality.
Now read the haftara, and you will understand why it was
Moshe's art of prayer
We find the same line of thought in Rabbenu Bahya's commentary,
when he notes that Moshe begins the parasha with the word
vaethanan. In order to understand this, one must read
Proverbs 19, 17: "he that hath pity [honen, same
root as vaethanan] upon the poor lendeth unto Hashem,
and that which he hath given will he pay him again."
The quality of honen or hanina (compassion) is one of
the 13 middot or characteristics of Hashem.
It is an un-pretentious quality, like that of a mother
towards her child.
It is this which is symbolized in the link which the land
creates between God and his people. This is why tradition
says that those who are aware of this only leave the land
of Israel out of true necessity and never for pleasure
or self-interest: just as a devoted husband does not leave
his wife in order to wander round the world looking at
other women. Moshe had this quality and his prayers reflected
this. (Readers can see on the page devoted to prayer that
there are 10 forms of prayer.)
Prayer is Judaism is called tefila (Isaiah 1, 15), which
comes from the root pll meaning to examine and judge oneself
(lehitpallel). This tells us that prayer is as much for
man as for God.
According to Ribbi Yohanan, prayer has 10 different names
which designate 10 different modes of prayer (asara leshonot
--- shavea (Shemot, Exodus 2, 23) which means supplication,
--- tzeaka (Shemot, Exodus 2, 23) which means a cry,
--- neaka (Shemot, Exodus 2, 24) which means sigh and
--- rinna (Jeremiah 7, 16) which means lamentation
--- pegiya (Jeremiah 7, 16) which means to strike, hurt
--- bitzur (Psalm 18, 7) which means anguish
--- keria (Psalm 18, 7) which means to call
--- nipul (Devarim 9, 18) which means to prostate oneself
--- pallul (Psalm 106, 30) which means to do justice
--- and tahanunim (Devarim 3, 23) which means to implore.
Moshe only used this mode of prayer.
Learn by heart these 3 very important phrases from the
ve atem hadevakim ba Hashem elokekhem hayim kulekhem hayom
but ye that did cleave unto Hashem the Lord thy God are
alive every one of you this day (Devarim 4, 4).
kol yisrael yesh lahem helek le olam haba
all Israel has a portion in the world to come
Shema Yisrael Hashem Elokenu Hashem Ehad
Hear O Israel, Hashem our God, Hashem is one
Re-read the entire parasha
in this perspective.
Memorize the plan until you know it by heart.
Try to feel with your heart the teachings and commandments
of this parasha.
Integrate them into your actions.
Read the indicated commentaries of Rashi and reflect on
Many reader have asked me to teach them how to distinguish
between the different levels of interpretation, the peshat,
drash, remez and sod, in relation to the same verse.
I am torn between two poles:
--- the wish to teach this method,
--- the hesitation of disseminating on anonymous wavelengths
teachings that require enormous respect and an environment
that ensures they will not be distorted.
The peshat in this parasha refers to the precise commandments
and statutes that are given (for example, the wearing
of tefilin and their function). I always begin here.
The drash is the symbolic meaning that can be attributed
(for example, the total bonding created when the tefilin
are tied to the body). This level requires much intellectual
The remez refers to meanings that do not come from logical
thought but which are principally transmitted by tradition
(for instance the concept of the world below which is
in the image of the world above). This dimension cannot
be attained by pure reasoning or pure symbolism.
The sod, what is secret, refers to the heart of the message
which the Shla gives here and which I have tried to communicate
in simple terms. But the teaching of the sod (which I
do not do here) is made through a precise demonstration
based on the text; for example the number or types of
letters in the shema Yisrael represent the message, after
which there are analogies with identical words in other
parts of the Torah and with their numerical value.
This method can be illustrated by one well-known example.
The recitation of the Shema is preceded in the prayers
by the word ahava (love) and followed by the word veahavta
(you will love): now the word ehad (one) has the numerical
value of 13 like the word ahava, thus creating a harmony
at every level of interpretation (linguistic, numerical,
etc.). Referring to the qualities of Moshe which are described
in this parasha and to what Rashi says about the righteous
in his commentary on this parasha, Ribbi Yaakov Abuhatzera
notes that the name Moshe (346
.) has the same
numerical value as ratson, the will of God.
Each word therefore can represent the highest levels of
meaning, according to this traditional method of interpretation.
But the first task is to understand the simplest level,
the peshat (the literal meaning of a word in its context),
before one embarks into other spheres. As Rashi says,
the meaning of a text must always be in harmony with the
Read (even in English) Rashi's commentary on the first
verses of the parasha and try to distinguish the different
levels: the peshat, drash, remez and sod.
Let us take an example of
these levels in Rashi:
Why do the women also receive
One could add to this question
posed by a reader: why do the women also receive the inheritance,
when this was not the custom?
Rashi explains this at another
level in his commentary on Bamidbar 26, 36.
He begins with the peshat:
the men numbered 65 in all.
Then he moves on to the meaning
of the midrash which makes a symbolic extrapolation: Devarim
7, 7 says: "for ye were the fewest (hameat) of all
peoples" (65 instead of 70).
Then Rashi makes an interpretation
at the level of remez based on the numbers of the letters:
he interprets hameat as "less 5" for the letter
he has the numerical value of 5. Thus he can say "you
are 5 less than all the family of nations which number
70." Indeed, it is well known that in the Jewish
tradition, the number 70 symbolizes the nations of the
What is Rashi telling us or,
rather, in what direction does he want to take us here.
It is that his remez is directing us toward the secret,
the level of the sod.
I shall try to explain this
simply. Israel is 65 and this is the numerical value of
Adonut: thus Israel is the people of the divine presence
in the world; it is smaller than the others just like
the shekhina is discreet and fragile, but it has the presence
of Hashem (he, 5). It is because of this that Israel can
be cohen lagoyim, a priest unto nations through the light
of the Torah, or lagoyim.
But in order to fully carry
out this role, the outstanding 5 must be not only abstract
but also concrete, and this is why the five daughters
of Zelofehad were added to the 65 men and had the same
rights as the men. They deserved it even more because
their virtue symbolized the divine presence and because
they loved the land which is the place of the divine presence,
It is through the inclusion
of women that the people can fulfill their role in creation
with regards to the other nations. Israel is thus 70,
just as Joseph went with 70 to Egypt and just as we offer
70 sacrifices at Succot for all the nations of the world.
These are not my personal
interpretations but the interpretations of tradition.
As always, Rashi develops
the different levels, connects them and stresses the most
important level. Those who know his method, know what
direction to follow.
The above is an example for
the reader who wanted to understand the 4 different levels
of meaning in a verse.