1. Choosing – Moshe tells us see that I placed before you a blessing and a curse. If we choose to follow Hashem’s path we will be blessed. If we choose not to listen to His Mitzvos we will be cursed. The word “See” is singular; and the word “you” is plural. The Kli Yakar explains that one individual can influence everyone to a particular path. Such is the power of one person! A Hitler y’mach shmo influenced all of Germany to be Nazis. A Churchill influenced the British to fight them. This is a remarkable lesson.
2. Unity in Worship – Moshe tells us to surely destroy all the Avodah Zarah in the land and not to worship Hashem the way the nations in Eretz Yisroel l’havdil worship their gods. We offer Korbanos only in the place that Hashem will choose. Why the double language Abaid t’abdun – you shall surely destroy? Rashi explains that when it comes to such vile evil as Avodah Zarah- it is not enough to destroy it, but to uproot it and steps must be taken to ensure that it not rise again. The Torah warns us against “merely mowing the lawn” with Avodah Zarah. This lesson is contemporary as well, and surely applies to countenancing murderers and terrorists within our midst too.
3. Meat not from a Korban – Moshe tells us that Hashem widens our borders and we will desire to eat meat we may do so in the manner that Hashem has taught us. The Kli Yakar points out that desire and the need for consumption only comes when we have a broadening of belongings. In other words, more belongings and material acquisitions breeds a greater desire for more. This is a lesson in providing for ourselves self-imposed limitations.
4. Worshipping Hashem with Avodah Zarah – The Torah warns us against utilizing foreign ideas in our worship of Hashem. Why is there a need to warn us, is this not obvious? Perhaps we can observe from here that the appeal of modern culture and the street is extremely strong and could warp our very method of thought.
5. The False Prophet – The verses tell us that if the words of a false prophet come out true and he tells you to follow other gods do not listen to him. The Ramban explains that some people have prophet-like powers (Koach Nevi’i) by virtue of extra insight into knowledge, even though they are not prophets. They do not know where this comes from and attribute it to prophecy. The lesson is that we should not be overly enamored by seemingly unimpeccable knowledge and insights – there are natural explanations for it.
6. A Maisis – Avodah Zarah Missionary – The punishment for someone who attempts to convert others to Avodah Zarah is that he is put to death by the very people he tried to influence. Rav Pam zt”l pointed out that this is a serious punishment for someone who was woefully unsuccessful. The very person that he tried to influence turned against him – yet the punishment is so severe. Rav Pam explains that when someone is involved in outreach – even if he is unsuccessful, imagine how much more so is the reward!
7. An Ir HaNidachas – A City of Avodah Zarah. The Torah tells us to destroy it if it is in one of the cities that Hashem gives us. No mention is made of Eretz Yisroel. There is a debate between the Netziv (Yes) and the Vilna Gaon (No) as to whether this applies outside of Eretz Yisroel or not. Perhaps, according to the Vilna Gaon the Torah was purposely vague here as to how to darshen the verses in order to create doubt about we should interact with such a city outside of Israel and thus stay away from them. If so, we see that the Torah uses all sorts of methods, including purposeful vagaries, to ensure our adherence to Torah. We should learn to emulate this as parents and teachers in teaching.
8. Responsibilities of a Chosen People – The verses begin with the realization that we are Hashem’s children. The Ibn Ezra and other Rishonim point out that the realization that we are loved – even more so than children, will inspire us to careful adherence to Hashem’s Mitzvos which are ultimately for our good. This notion needs to be stressed more regularly. Realizing how and the extent of our being loved is crucial in leading the proper Torah life. This needs to be stressed.
9. Forbidden Animals
10. Fish and other Water Creatures
11. Birds. Hashem forbade the consumption of many animals, fish, and birds. The Ramban explains that there is a koach haTumah – a negative spiritual energy that descends upon a Jew who consumes the foods that the Torah forbade. This negative energy prevents us from thriving in Torah as well as in cleaving to Hashem. The laws of Kashrus are the flag of the Jewish people. Just as it is wrong to desecrate the American flag, it is wrong to desecrate the Jewish flag. People who were raised in a place where the values of America are not stressed, do not understand this. They should still respect the flag. Jews who were raised in a place where the values of Judaism are not stressed should likewise respect the Jewish flag.
12. Maaser Shaini
13. Maaser Ani – We switch to Maaser Ani on the 3rd and 6th years. The values of Maaser Ani is to teach us to help people, while the value of Maaser Shaini is to connect to Hashem in Yerushalayim. Rab SZ Revach explains that the Maaser years overlap in that at times we must remove one from the previous crop and the other from the current. This teaches us the importance of ensuring that we always retain both values.
14. The Shmitta Year – The Mitzvah of Shmita includes forgiving a loan to your brother. The Sefer HaChinuch explains that the purpose of this Mitzvah is to introduce into our souls the qualities of giving, of generosity, and of faith in Hashem. Forgiving a loan also assists us in staying far away from theft and robbery. While the introduction of the pruzbul (a workaround that enables loans to be collected even in Shmita) may have been necessary to ensure the economic viability of our system, it is still very important to imbue these values on perhaps some of our outstanding loans.
15. Charity- The pasuk introduces the Mitzvos of charity with the words “If there will be within you a poor person.” – The Alshich explains that the word – b’cha WITHIN YOU is used here to tell you that Hashem sent the poor to you for YOUR BENEFIT. This is a lesson not to forget and to ensure that you never send them away empty-handed for your own benefit.
16. The Eved Ivri – The Torah tells us to provide for the Eved Ivri with Haanaka – cattle, sheep, and what Hashem has blessed you with – when he is about to be set free. The Midrash Lekach Tov explains that this assistance is whether or not you have seen success from his work from you. The implication is that if we have seen success from his work, we should give him even more. Our great Rabbis have said that we should treat employees following the same blueprint as the Eved Ivri. Behaving in such a manner not only fulfills Hashem’s will – it improves our nature as well.
17. First Born Animals – The Pasuk tells us that one may not consume the blood of the firstborn animal – rather it should be poured upon the ground like water. The Gemorah (Chullin 83a) derives from here that there is no Mitzvah of Kisui HaDam on domesticated animals – only upon birds and upon Chayos – undomesticated animals. Why the difference? Rav Malka of Carmiel cites a remarkable answer. The bird and the chaya prefer to cast their lot only with Hashem and always try to escape the dominion of man. Their blood must be covered because of the profound nature of their reliance upon G-d. The domesticated animal has severed its Bitachon in Hashem and prefers to cast its lot with man alone. Its blood can be cast upon the earth like water. Contemplating this idea can significantly improve our Emunah and Bitachon in Hashem.
18. Pesach – The Psukim previously had discussed the exodus from Egypt and the sanctification of the first born animals. Now the Psukim tell us of the Mitzvah of guarding the month of Aviv – which emans to ensure that this month will always come out in the spring (through adding an extra month every so often to make up for the 11 day discrpency between 12 lunar months and the solar year). The Psukim then tell of the Mitzvah of keeping Passover. The Tzror HaMor explains that this Mitzvah of guarding the month is given to us specifically because in this month the great redemption happened as well as the sanctification of the firstborn. We show appreciation even to inanimate and abstract things such as a month – to develop ourselves in appreciative human beings who recognize good and show hakaras hatov. This is a fundamental of the Torah way of life.
19. Shavuos – The Torah tells us to observe Shavuos and remember that we were once slaves in Egypt and should therefore observe these Mitzvos. The Chezkuni asks why Shavuos is the only Yom Tov where this is mentioned. He answers that since there are no other holiday specific activities to Shavuos – there is a concern that we will be lax and not observe the Mitzvah of going up to Yerushalayim. The Pasuk thus reminds us that we were slaves in Mitzrayim unable to be happy – therefore we must do it. We see from here that when we are not actively engaged, there is a chance of slacking off. The Torah teaches us to address these possibilities whenever there the issue of non-engagement arises. This is an important lesson.
20. Sukkos – The Torah tells us to celebrate Sukkos for seven days and to make the holiday joyous. The Baal HaTurim asks why the command to make the holiday joyous was not stated in regard to Passover. He answers that at this point, a person’s crops are still in the field and it is not known whether they will be stricken. Thus, the command to be joyous would be hampered by the underlying anxiety. The Torah here is teaching us that we must be subtly sensitive to people’s situations, particularly as it concerns anxieties. Rather than demanding adherence to a near impossible requirement, the Torah realized our limitations and did not write the obligation of Simcha. The biblical obligation for Simcha does exist (See Tosfos Chagiga 8a), however, but the Torah realized that some will be unable to fulfill it, and thus did not mention it specifically.
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