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Judaism, Torah and Talmud


Parasha No. 45
Va-ethanan: “I besought”

Devarim (Deuteronomy) 3, 23 - 7, 11

The land of Israel according to the Torah

Themes of the Parasha
The mitzvot in the Parasha
The meaning of the mitzvot
A moral lesson
The land
The oneness of God
Personal Reflexion
Women's love for Israel
Moshe's art of prayer
Exercise in memorization

Read the first verses

Song of the Parasha
Teamim ashkenazim
The song of the 10 commandments
The song of the Shema Yisrael
Read the Shema from the Torah scroll

Song of the Haftara
Teamim askhenazim


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," ve-ethanan
--- the shema says: "you will love…" ve ahavta.
The time, the Torah is speaking of our individual relationship with Hashem.

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 ….message 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, 5).
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 the Torah.
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, with Hashem.

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 universe.
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 any decision.

The land
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 people).

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).


Personal reflection

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 stringent self-examination:

" 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, etc. ).
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 our heritage.

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 26, 64-65).

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 previous generations.

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 feminine qualities
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 chosen here.

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 niket tefila):
--- 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 moan,
--- 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 in supplication
--- 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.


Exercise in memorization
Learn by heart these 3 very important phrases from the parasha:
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
(Devarim 6,4).



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 them.


Method of Study

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 thought.
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 peshat.


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 the inheritance?

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 world.

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, eretz hakodesh.

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.


- Psychology and Repentance
   (in french)

Part 15

Part 16

- Jerusalem excavations
- Terror and counseling
- Peace and peoples
- Israel and Iran
- Visual study & song on snow
for, through our union with the song of nature, the plan of Creation will be fulfilled

Poem: to be moon

In french

Avec Modia, vivez
vos vacances en Israël,
Texte et photos

- Par Modia, arrivez au Kotel
- La vie du Kotel
- Prières au Kotel
- Fête au Kotel
- La destruction du Temple
- Photos rares et émouvantes des abords du Temple
- Synagogues de Jérusalem
- Maisons de Jérusalem
- Les fleurs de Jérusalem
- Ici, tout sur Jérusalem
- "Le" texte sur Jérusalem
- Voir et visiter Israël
- Voyage dans le Nord d'Israël
- Belle carte d'Israël
- Jérusalem et les nations

- Vacances en Israël sur Modia
- Le Kotel en film direct
- et ici aussi, autre caméra

- Trahison historique:
L'antique synagogue de Jéricho


Part 17

- Love towards all people
- Light in war
- Before the hanukiah
- Land of Israel
- Jerusalem excavations 2007
  Proof of the lies propagated
  by the media

In french - Hope in Israel

Part 20
"Encounters with God
in the real"

- You are planning a tour in Israel - Photos
- My photos and judaism
- New year of beauty
- Flowers
Gallery photos

Part 21

- My english songs


Rav Professor
Yehoshua Rahamim Dufour
(Dipur, in hebrew)

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