Category Archives: Deuteronomy

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Devarim – Torah on Rewind

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. Continue reading

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Parashat Devarim

Standing on the brink of death, Moshe rebukes the generation before him, but promises that the future generation, those who do not yet know good from bad, will possess the land. The children who comprise the future generation are caught between the baggage of their parents’ desert experience and their own hopes for a future in the land of Israel. How will the children inhabit the land? How will they continue with the traditions from their past? Continue reading

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VaEtchanan – Bound by Love

“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. Continue reading

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Parashat VaEtchanan

“You shall not add anything to what I command you or take anything away from it” (Deuteronomy 4:2) At first glance, Moses’ instruction to Bnai Yisrael seems a bit extreme, given that the written Torah could not possibly cover every law that would ever govern society. In its context however, it is clear that Moshe is referring to the issue of pagan worship, as he makes reference to the fact that God wiped out the 24,000 members of Bnai Yisrael who worshiped Baal Peor. Continue reading

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Ekev: Giving Thanks

This past week I had the opportunity to visit 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. Continue reading

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Parashat Ekev

“In order to teach you that man does not live on bread alone, but that man may live on anything that God decrees.” (Deuteronomy 8:3) While Bnai Yisrael were journeying through the desert God provided them with a special kind of food, namely manna, in order to soothe their hunger. Food alone, though, was not enough to sustain Bnai Yisrael. Bnai Yisrael needed God’s love and God’s Torah in order to make it through the desert of their lives. Continue reading

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Re’eh: A New Menu

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.

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Parashat Re’eh

Parashat Re’eh contains a list of “clean” and “unclean” animals which became the basis for practices of keeping kosher today. According to Sue Fishkoff, author of Kosher Nation, only 14% of individuals who buy kosher products do so because they are following the laws of Kashrut. Many people simply believe that Kosher products are cleaner, safer, and higher quality, than non-Kosher products. Continue reading

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Shoftim: An Ax to Grind

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.” Continue reading

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Parashat Shoftim

The prophet Samuel is notorious for chastising the Jewish people when they asked for a king. In Parashat Shoftim, however, we see that God permits Bnai Yisrael to appoint a king for themselves when they settle in the land of Israel. Why would Samuel take such offense at the people’s request for a king when Parashat Shoftim explicitly mentions that God will allow this to occur?
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Ki Tetze: Fashion Faux Pas

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.
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Parashat Ki Tetzeh

“Do not take the mother together with her young” (Deuteronomy 22:6) Parashat Ki Tetzeh contains what some might view as an odd commandment, namely, “Shiluach HaKen,” the mitzvah for us to remove the mother bird from the nest before taking her young. This mitzvah is meant to inspire us to become more compassionate through sensitivity toward the mother bird. The Midrash in Devarim Rabbah 6:3 teaches us that even if we are not engaged in any particular work but are traveling along a road, the mitzvah of Shiluach HaKen, will always be with us. Continue reading

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Ki Tavo: Woven Gifts

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). Continue reading

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Parashat Ki Tavo

“Blessed shall you be in the city and blessed shall you be in the country.” (Deuteronomy 28:3) The Torah, unlike the character of Carrie Bradshaw from Sex & The City, does not make a judgment call for which is a better place to reside, the city or the country. The Midrash in Devarim Rabbah 7:5 teaches that the phrase “in the city” refers to the rewards for the active mitzvot we perform while in a city, including sitting in the Sukkah and lighting candles for Shabbat. Continue reading

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Nitzavim: Open Arms

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. Continue reading

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Vayelech: Wonders

The Midrash in Devarim Rabbah 9:4 explains that when it came time for Moshe to die, he asked God: “Why must I die after I have witnessed such glory and have had such power?” After all, Moshe had experienced many wonders, including the burning bush and the revelation at Har Sinai. God replied to Moshe by listing all of other great biblical figures who experienced God’s glory but eventually had to be laid down to rest. For example, even though Avraham was saved from a pit of fire, Yitzchak was rescued from the altar, and Yaakov had the experience of wrestling with an angel, each of our forefathers ultimately passed away. Continue reading

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Parashat Nitzavim-Vayelech

The Midrash in Devarim Rabbah 8:6 asks “What is the meaning of ‘it is not in the heavens?’”(Deut. 30:12) The Midrash explains that this Pasuk, found in Parashat Nitzavim, is meant to teach that the Torah is not to be found among astrologers whose primary work is to gaze at the heavens. It’s not that the rabbis were against star-gazing, but that they were against Torah-gazing. Continue reading

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Haazinu: Spiritual or Materialistic?

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. Continue reading

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Rosh HaShanah & Parashat Haazinu

Did you hear that God has gone digital? Moses must have forgotten to mention this in his final speech to the people of Israel mentioned in this week’s Torah portion, Parashat Ha’azinu. This year God will inscribe us in the newest version of the iPad, rather than the typical Book of Life. We have become what a graduating senior from the Jewish Theological Seminary called “People of the Nook.”
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V’Zot HaBrachah: Final Blessings

“V’zot HaBrachah” “And this is the blessing.” (Devarim 33:1) Why was Moshe given the special opportunity to give a final blessing to Bnai Yisrael? The Midrash in Devarim Rabbah 11:3 depicts a conversation that occurred between Moshe and famous biblical personalities in order to expose the underlying reasons for this honor having been bestowed on Moshe. Adam said to Moshe: “I’m greater than you because I was created in the image of God!” Moshe responded that he was superior to Adam because God’s radiance was within him. Continue reading

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V’Zot HaBrachah & Shemini Atzeret

In our whirlwind of holidays in the month of Tishrei, Shemini Atzeret tends to escape the spotlight. Why are we are commanded to celebrate Shemini Atzeret? The Babylonian Talmud in Sukkah 55b tells the story of a king who invited all of his children to join him in a feast for a certain number of days. When it came time for his children to leave, the king begged them to stay on for an additional day, as the prospect of separation from them was hard for him. Continue reading

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