Haazinu Parashat Haazinu begins with the words “Give ear, O heavens, let me speak; let the earth hear the words I utter!” (Devarim 32:1) The Chatam Sofer, a 19th century European scholar, asked why Moshe called upon both the “heavens” and the “earth” to hear. The Chatam Sofer explained that this verse is meant to refer to two different kinds of people, individuals who are spiritual, whose thoughts are in heaven, and individuals who are down to earth, whose concerns are more materialistic. Taking the Chatam Sofer’s idea one step further, perhaps the Parasha’s opening Pasuk is meant to refer to different sides of us as we often have both a spiritual side and materialistic side.
- Which side are you leaning toward at the start to this New Year?
- Do you think that our materialistic and spiritual sides can complement one another?
Nitzavim/Vayelech Parashat Nitzavim explains that even when Bnai Yisrael stray from the ways of God, there are always ways to restore their relationship with God. When Bnai Yisrael return to their love of God, God will restore their fortunes and have mercy on them (Devarim 30:1-6). The Hebrew root of “Shuv,” “to return,” can refer to our internal process of transformation, a return from negative patterns of behavior, and a change in how we approach our relationship with God.
- How does this message of Nitzavim resonate with our current state as we lead up to the Yamim Noraim?
- How can we use these next few days to find ways to reconnect with Judaism or with our own spirituality?
Ki Tavo If the Container Store had existed when Bnai Yisrael settled in the Land of Israel, it would have certainly come in handy. Parashat Ki Tavo describes how farmers were prescribed to present a basket to God which contained some of the first fruits of the Land. The philosopher Philo, of 1st century B.C.E., described this ceremony as the “basket ceremony.”
When the farmer presented the basket to the officiating Kohen, he was to recite the following declaration: “I acknowledge this day, before the Lord your God that I have entered the land that God swore to our fathers to assign us” (Devarim 26:3).
- When speaking to the Kohen, why was the farmer supposed to refer to God as “your God” instead of “our God?”
- Do we project that spiritual leaders have a closer connection to God? Why or why not?
Ki Tetze When I was fifteen, I bought a purple sweater from a local department store. When I went to put the sweater on to wear it, something didn’t feel right. I looked at the tag to discover that it was 60% wool and 40% linen. “Shatnez,” I gasped as the sweater fell right to the floor. Shatnez, the prohibition to wear garments that combine wool and linen, is featured in this week’s Parasha, Ki Tetze. After returning the sweater, I wondered why Shatnez was prohibited in the first place. Shatnez is categorized as a “Chok,” a law in the Torah that cannot be explained. We do know, however, that the Kohanim were commanded to wear garments that contained Shatnez, so perhaps Shatnez was meant to delineate Bnai Yisrael from the priestly class.
- Why do you think there is no reason provided the biblical law of Shatnez?
- What are potential advantages and drawbacks to having such fashion restrictions?
Shoftim The Midrash in Bereshit Rabbah 5:10 teaches that on the third day of creation Gibborim, “strong ones,” were created. According to the Midrash, iron was one of the “strong ones” that was created, along with the mountains where it is deposited. The Midrash states that on the third day, the trees began to tremble. The trees were nervous that their wood, when combined with the iron, would be used for axes to cut them down. The iron said to the trees: “Don’t worry! As long as none of your wood enters me, no one will be harmed.”
Humanity was the missing link in this conversation between the iron and the trees. The destructive strength of the iron depended on the ability of humans to fashion it into a tool of destruction. In Parashat Shoftim, Moshe tells Bnai Yisrael that when they are in a war against a city, they must not destroy its trees and use an ax against them. Bnai Yisrael may eat of the trees but they may not cut them down. The only trees that Bnai Yisrael are permitted to cut down are non fruit-bearing trees. (Dvarim 20:19-20)
- Why do you think this law against cutting down trees specifically applied to wartime?
- What do you think was the rationale behind Bnai Yisrael’s permission to cut down non fruit-bearing trees?
- What do fruit trees represent to humanity?
Re’eh Among the many benefits to living in the land of Israel, one benefit stands out in this week’s Parasha: eating meat. Prior to living in the land, members of Bnai Yisrael only ate meat as part of a sacrificial offering. Now they did not need to share their steak with the Kohanim; they could slaughter an animal themselves and privately enjoy the meat among their family members. Parashat Re’eh provides us with a list of clean and unclean animals. Rav Kook, who was the chief rabbi in Israel before the state was founded, explained that this list of animal restrictions indicates that the Torah did not view meat consumption as the ideal situation for Bnai Yisrael. According to Rav Kook, if the Torah had stated that Bnai Yisrael was not permitted to eat any meat outside of the sacrificial system, this law would have never been observed. Rav Kook believed that the laws of Kashrut were meant to expose humanity to the hardships faced by the animal kingdom and even make humans think twice before slaughtering their dinner.
- How you do respond to Rav Kook’s understanding of the laws of Kashrut
- Do ethical considerations for animals play a role in your meat consumption? Why or why not?
Ekev I had the opportunity to visit Camp Ramah Nyack, a Jewish day camp. What impressed me about camp was not only the Ruach (spirit) with which campers approached Israeli dancing and Jewish singing but also the gusto with which they recited Birkat HaMazon, the grace after meals. In Parashat Ekev, Bnai Yisrael are told that God will bless them with the fruits of the Land of Israel. In order to remind Bnai Yisrael of their dependence on God, even in the midst of agricultural prosperity in this new land, the Parasha states: “And you shall eat and you shall be satisfied and you shall bless the Lord your God for the good land God has given you” (Devarim 8:10). This verse serves as the biblical basis for Birkat HaMazon.
- Why do you think the Torah emphasizes thanking God for our food?
- Is it rewarding for you to give thanks after eating? Why or why not?
VaEtchanan “Bind them as a sign upon your hand and let them serve as a symbol between your eyes” (Devarim 6:8). The V’Ahavta paragraph, which is found in Parashat VaEtchanan, describes how we are to internalize the Torah’s teachings and pass them on to future generations. Not only are God’s commandments to be remembered and spoken of constantly (when we wake up and when we lie down) but God’s commandments are also to be worn on the body. The rabbis understood Devarim 6:8 as the basis for the Mitzvah of laying Tefillin.
- Why do you think the rabbis chose Tefillin as a symbol of our dedication to Torah and to God?
- What does it mean to literally and/or figuratively bind the Torah’s teachings to our bodies?
- How do you incorporate Torah into your physical routine?
Devarim When we first met him back in Parashat Shemot Moshe said to God: “Lo Ish Devarim Anochi, I am not a man of words” (Shemot 4:10). Here in Parashat Devarim, however, Moshe is a man of many words. Like a movie on rewind, Moshe goes through a number of problems that Bnai Yisrael encountered throughout the desert, including the Amorites who chased Bnai Yisrael like Dvorim, bees. The Midrash in Devarim Rabbah 1:6 discusses a word-play between Dvarim, words, and Dvorim, bees.
- What do you believe is the significance of the similarities between these two words?
- How do Moshe’s words in this Parasha sting Bnai Yisrael?
- What is it like for you to revisit past disappointments with important people in your lives?
Matot/Maasei If foursquare had existed in biblical times, this app would have certainly come in handy for Moshe. In Parashat Maasei, Moshe lists all 42 places that Bnai Yisrael stopped in during their 40-year desert travels. Why did Moshe take the time to mention these stops at the very end of Bnai Yisrael’s journey? The Be’er Yitzchak of the 19th century writes how recalling these details of their journey in the desert enabled Bnai Yisrael to better appreciate how Hashem had helped them at each stage along the way. While the desert was not an easy place to dwell in and to navigate for 40 years, Bnai Yisrael were under God’s constant protection.
- How do you think this list of 42 “check-ins” served to support Bnai Yisrael as they were about to enter the Land of Israel?
- What are the journeys in our lives that enable us to better appreciate where we are today?
This concludes Midrash Manicures second cycle of Sefer Bamidbar! Chazak Chazak V’Nitchazek!