FROM THE TORAH
In Sedra Re’ey, Moses continues to link Israel’s obedience of the commandments to its fortune in the Land: in the succinct dichotomy of blessing and curse. He stresses the exclusive validity of the sacred place that the Eternal will choose to inhabit in the Land, in contrast with idolatrous altars of the incumbent nations and even local altars that may be built in the future by Israelites. Idolatry is condemned as abhorrent practices of the dispossessed indigenous nations. The possibility of Israelite attraction to those practices is examined and condemned according to their possible origins. Offerings shall be brought only to the place that He shall choose. Yet provision is made for the slaughter and eating of non-sacred meat in local precincts far from that place. Similarly, the management of tithe and firstborn offerings over long distances from the future Sanctuary is provided in detail. Certain other practices are condemned as unworthy of a holy people, and clear distinctions are drawn between permitted and forbidden foods. The Sedra concludes with provisions for the attenuation of personal hardships of Israelites, limitations upon domestic indenture, and a summary of festivals to be observed exclusively in the future central Sanctuary.
Exclusive Obligations in the Land
CHOICE BETWEEN BLESSING AND CURSE
See (Re’ey) that I am presenting you this day with a choice between blessing and curse: blessing for heeding the commandments of the Eternal your God which I am enjoining upon you, and curse for not heeding them and turning away from the path that I am enjoining upon you this day and following other gods which you have not known.
When the Eternal your God brings you into the Land which you are about to enter to possess, place the blessing upon Mount Gerizim and the curse upon Mount Eyval. They are on the other side of the Jordan, beyond the western road, in the land of the Canaanites who dwell in the plain opposite Gilgal near the terebinths of Moreh. When you possess the Land and settle in it, be careful to observe all of the statutes and the ordinances which I am placing before you this day.
DESTROY PLACES OF IDOLATRY
These are the statutes and ordinances which you shall observe in the Land as long as you live upon the earth. Destroy completely all of the places that you take in possession, where the nations worshipped their gods, on the high hills and in the valleys and under every verdant tree. Tear down their altars, smash their sacred stones, burn their sacred trees, hew down the sculptured images of their gods—destroy their name from the place.
CHOSEN PLACE OF THE ETERNAL
But you shall not so act with respect to the Eternal your God. To the place that He chooses, from among all of your tribes, to establish His name there, as His habitation, shall you be drawn. You shall bring to that place your burnt offerings, your sacrifices, your tithes, your sacred donations, your votive and freewill offerings, and the firstborn of your herd and your flock. Eat there before the Eternal your God, and rejoice in all that you and your households may achieve with the blessing of the Eternal your God, including you, your sons and daughters, your male and female slaves—and the Levite who is within your gates, as he has no portion or inheritance with you.
When you have crossed the Jordan, you shall not do there what you do here, namely whatever is right for each in his own eyes. When the Eternal your God grants you inheritance, relief and security from the enemies who surround you, then to the place that the Eternal your God shall choose, you shall bring all of those offerings that I command you.
Take care not to offer up your burnt offerings, or anything that I command you, in any place that you should choose, but rather only in the place that the Eternal chooses in one of your tribes. You may not eat within your gates the tithe of your grain or wine or oil, the firstborn of your herd or flock, your votive or freewill offerings, or your sacred donations. Any sanctities that you may have and your votive offerings you must take up and bring to the place that the Eternal shall choose. You shall make your burnt offerings, the meat and the blood, upon the altar of the Eternal your God. The blood of your sacrifices shall be poured upon the Altar, and the flesh you may eat.
However, when the Eternal your God expands your territory, as He has promised you, so that the place where He shall choose is far from you, you may slaughter your animals of the herd and flock for food that you wish to eat, as the Eternal your God may bless you, in any of your gates, one who is unclean as one who is clean, and eat it, like the gazelle or the deer. Only do not eat its blood, which is the life, together with the meat, but pour the blood upon the ground as water, in order that it may be well for you and for your children after you for doing what is right in the sight of the Eternal.
Take care to heed all of these words which I command you in order that it may be well for you and for your children after you for doing what is right in the sight of the Eternal.
NATIONS’ ABHORRENT PRACTICES
When the Eternal your God cuts down from before you the nations which you are coming to dispossess and, having dispossessed them, you are dwelling in their land, be careful not to be drawn after them, even after they are destroyed from before you, to seek out their gods and serve them as did those nations. For they have done for their gods every abhorrent act which the Eternal your God hates. They even burn their sons and their daughters for their gods!
From Prophet or Dreamer
Do only what I command you to observe, not more, not less. Heed not the words of a prophet or dreamer who bids you follow after other gods, which you have not known, to worship them, even if his sign or wonder seems true. The Eternal your God is testing you to see if you love Him with all of your heart and with all of your soul. Only the Eternal your God shall you follow, Him shall you fear, His commandments shall you observe, His voice shall you heed, Him shall you worship, and to Him shall you cleave. That prophet or dreamer shall be put to death because he preached apostasy against the Eternal your God, who is bringing you out from the land of Egypt and redeeming you from the house of bondage. He would deflect you from the way the Eternal your God has commanded you to go, so you should eliminate that evil from your midst.
From An Intimate
If your intimate, be it your brother by your mother, your son or your daughter, your own wife, or your closest friend, should confidentially urge you to go and serve other gods, which neither you nor your fathers have known, from among the gods of other peoples close to you or far from you, do not give assent or heed to him, show him no compassion, provide him no protection, but by all means kill him, by your hand first, then by the hand of the rest of the people. Stone him to death, because he sought to turn you from the Eternal your God, who is bringing you out from the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage. Thereby shall all of Israel heed and fear and not again act in accordance with this evil word in your midst.
From An Aberrant City
If you should hear that the residents of one of the towns that the Eternal is giving you to inhabit have succumbed to the influence of a bad element in their midst to serve other gods which you have not known, then investigate the matter well. If the report of this abhorrence (to’evah) in your midst is sustained, then strike the inhabitants of the city with the sword, as well as its cattle; zealously destroy all that is in it. Gather all of its spoil into an open place—burn the city with fire and all of its spoil, in its entirety, for the Eternal your God. Let it become a perpetual mound, never to be rebuilt. Let nothing of its banned contents (cheyrem) adhere to your hand, so that the Eternal will turn from His wrath and show you compassion and increase your number as He promised your fathers, that you may obey the Eternal your God to keep all of His commandments which I enjoin upon you this day, to do that which is right in the sight of the Eternal your God.
MOURNING AVOIDANCES AS A HOLY PEOPLE
As children to the Eternal your God, do not cut yourselves or put baldness between your eyes for the dead. For you are a holy people (am kadosh) to the Eternal your God, chosen by the Eternal to be His treasured people (am segullah) from all the peoples that are upon the face of the earth (cf. Deuteronomy 7:6).
PERMITTED AND FORBIDDEN FOODS
Do not eat anything abhorrent.
These are the animals that you may eat: ox, sheep, goat, deer, gazelle, roebuck, wild goat, dishone, antelope, zemer, and any animal that both has hoofs completely divided in two and brings up the cud.
These are the land animals that you may not eat: camel, hare, rock-badger—unclean (tamey) for you because, while they bring up the cud, their hoofs are not completely divided; and swine—unclean for you because, while its hoofs are divided, it lacks cud. From their flesh you may not eat, and you may not touch their carcass.
Of anything that is in the water, you may eat only those which have fins and scales. If not, you may not eat it; it is unclean for you.
You may eat any clean (tahor) bird. Among the named birds which you may not eat are (possibly): eagle, vulture, black vulture, kite, falcon, ostrich, nighthawk, sea gull, little owl, great owl, white owl, pelican, bustard, cormorant, stork, hoopoe, bat, and all varieties of buzzard, raven, hawk and heron. All winged swarming (sheretz) things are unclean for you and may not be eaten.
DIETARY AVOIDANCES OF A HOLY PEOPLE
You may not eat the carcass (neveylah) of any animal. You may give it to the stranger within your gates to eat, or you may sell it to a foreigner. For you are a holy people to the Eternal your God. You may not boil a kid in the milk of its mother.
TENTH OF PRODUCE AND FIRSTBORN OF LIVESTOCK
Separate a tenth of all of the produce of your grain, wine and oil, from year to year, to consume in the place which the Eternal shall choose as the habitation of His Name, along with the firstborn of your herd and your flock, in order to learn to fear the Eternal your God always. If that place be too far from you for transport, as a result of the blessing of the Eternal your God, then convert them into money which you shall carry physically to the place and there spend it on whatever you wish—of the herd, of the flock, of wine, of shaychar—for you and your household to enjoy before the Eternal your God.
However, you must not overlook the Levite within your gates, who does not have an inherited portion like you. So, at the end of every three years, leave the entire tenth of your produce in your gates for the consumption and satisfaction of the Levite, as well as for the stranger and the orphan and the widow who are within your gates. For this, the Eternal your God will bless you in all that you achieve.
SHEMITTAH AND YOUR NEEDY BRETHREN
At the end of seven years you shall effect a remission (shemittah) of the claim of a creditor upon his fellow or his brother, a remission authorized by the Eternal. You may still demand payment of a foreigner. However, there should be no needy among you, for the Eternal will bless you in the Land which He is giving you as an inheritance to possess, if only you would obey the Eternal your God to keep to observe all of this Mitzvah that I am commanding you this day. You shall cause many nations to give pledges, but you shall not need to give a pledge; you shall rule over many nations, but they shall not rule over you.
Now if there should be, among your brethren in any of the gates of your Land, which the Eternal your God is giving to you, one in need, do not harden your heart or close your hand from him, but open your hand to him and lend him sufficient for his need. It would be wrong of you, in addition, to deny him because of the proximity of the seventh year, the year of remission. If you do, he could well cry out against you to the Eternal, and you would be guilty of sin. Rather, even so, should you provide him without hesitation, and the Eternal your God will bless you for this in all that you do. To the extent that the needy will not cease to be in the midst of the Land, I command you to open your hand to your poor and needy brother in your Land.
SEVENTH YEAR OF A HEBREW SLAVE
Your Hebrew slave, male or female, who was sold to you and works for you for six years, you shall set free in the seventh year. Do not send him away emptyhanded, but provide him from your flock, from your threshing-floor, and from your wine-vat. Provide him of the blessings you have received from the Eternal your God. Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Eternal your God redeemed you. Therefore I command you this rule today.
If your Hebrew slave prefers to remain with you, considering his attachment to you and your household and his good treatment, then drive an awl through his ear to the door, and the slave, male or female, becomes your servant for ever. But, otherwise, do not hesitate to free your Hebrew slave, who has provided you with twice the value of what you would have paid a hired servant for six years, and the Eternal your God will bless you in all that you do!
Every male firstborn of your herd and of your flock shall you sanctify to the Eternal your God. Do not work your firstborn ox, and do not shear your firstborn sheep. You and your household shall eat it, from year to year, before the Eternal your God, in the place that He shall choose. But do not sacrifice it to the Eternal your God it if it has a serious defect such as lameness or blindness; instead eat it in your gates, the unclean and the clean of you alike, as you would eat the gazelle or the deer. But do not eat its blood: pour it out on the ground like water (cf. Deuteronomy 12:23).
PESACH AND MATZOT
Keep the month of Aviv to observe Pesach to the Eternal your God, who brought you out of Egypt in that month at night. For the Pesach you shall sacrifice to the Eternal your God from flock and herd in the place where He shall choose to establish His Name. Do not eat with it anything leavened. For seven days you shall eat with it Matzot (Unleavened Bread), bread of affliction, as in haste you departed from the land of Egypt, so that you may remember the day of your departure from the land of Egypt all the days of your life. Let no leaven be seen by you in all of your territory for seven days, and let none of the meat that you sacrifice in the evening remain overnight to the morning of the first day.
You may not sacrifice the Pesach in any of the gates which the Eternal your God gives to you, but only in the place where He shall choose to establish His Name (cf. Exodus 12:42-46). There shall you sacrifice it, in the evening, at sunset, precisely the time of your departure from Egypt; there shall you cook it and eat it. Then, in the morning, turn around and return to your tents. After you have eaten Matzot for six days, on the seventh day you shall hold a sacred convocation to the Eternal your God and do no work.
Count for yourself seven weeks, from when sickle is first applied to standing grain, and observe a Festival of Shavuot (Weeks) to the Eternal your God, your freewill offering in accordance with how the Eternal your God has blessed you. Rejoice before the Eternal your God—you, your son and your daughter, your male and female slave, the Levite who is within your gates, and the stranger, orphan and widow, who are in your midst—at the place where the Eternal your God shall choose to establish His Name. Remember that you were a slave in Egypt, so shall you maintain and observe these laws.
Observe for yourself the Festival of Sukkot (Booths) for seven days, when you gather in the produce of your threshing-floor and wine-vat. Rejoice in your Festival—you, your son and your daughter, your male and female slave, the Levite, and the stranger, the orphan and the widow, who are within your gates—and observe the Festival for seven days before the Eternal your God in the place which He shall choose, as the Eternal your God shall bless you in all of your produce and in all of the work of your hands, and you shall be only happy!
SUMMARY OF THREE APPEARANCES
Three times in the year shall every male appear before the Eternal your God in the place that He shall choose: on the Festival of Matzot, on the Festival of Shavuot, and on the Festival of Sukkot. Let him not appear before the Eternal emptyhanded, but each man in accordance with his gift, in accordance with the blessing that the Eternal your God has bestowed upon you.
FROM THE PROPHETS
Third Haftarah of Consolation
The Eternal Protects His People
O afflicted one,
driven by the storm,
as yet unconsoled,
I shall cause your stones to shine
and reset your foundation in sapphires!
All of your children
shall be learned of the Eternal,
and great shall be the peace of your children!
You shall be reestablished in righteousness
and safely distant from calamity.
If there is strife, it will not be from Me,
and whoever attacks you
shall fall because of you!
For I have created the forger of weapons,
I have created the assailant—
whatever weapon is forged for you
will not succeed;
whatever complaint is lodged against you,
you will defeat.
Such is the inheritance
of the Eternal’s servants;
their victory in righteousness
is from Me, says the Eternal.
O, whoever thirsts, go to the water!
Lacking money, go, buy, and eat!
Buy wine and milk without money!
Why spend money on that which does not satisfy?
Listen to me, and eat that which is good!
Incline your ear, come close to Me:
I shall make an everlasting covenant with you,
the lasting mercy shown David (cf. II Samuel 7:8-16).
I made him witness and commander
of the nations,
whom you will summon
without knowing them,
and who will flock to you
without knowing you—
for the sake of the Eternal your God!
for the Holy One of Israel!—
because He has glorified you.
FROM TALMUD AND MIDRASH
Deuteronomy Rabbah 4:1,3
Blessing and Curse
“See, I place before you this day
blessing and curse:
blessing, if you heed the commandments…
curse, if you do not heed the commandments…”
Halacha: Are we permitted to divide the total reading of the curses (cf. Deuteronomy 28:7-69 or Leviticus 26:14-43) into several smaller portions? Thus taught the Sages: We do not divide the curses, but one person reads all of them.
Our Rabbis provided reasons for not dividing the curses:
Rabbi Chiya bar Gamda cited the teaching (Proverbs 3:11) not to disprize the Eternal’s full rebuke by administering it in small pieces, “for the Eternal reproves the one whom He loves as does a father the son whom he favors” (ibid. 12).
Rabbi Joshua of Sichnin taught in the name of Rabbi Levi: The Eternal has promised the one who is devoted to Him, “I shall be with him in his woe” (Psalms 91:15). Hence, it is not fair that while my children are rebuked I should be blessed. How so? If the curses are divided and read in several aliyot, each of the several honorees will repeat two blessings, one before and one after. Therefore let one person read the entire portion of curses straight through!
The Rabbis teach: The Holy One, blessed be He, did not intend the actual reading of the curses to be harmful to the listeners but as an announcement of the path to be avoided in contrast to the path which they should choose in order to earn due reward. Such a meaning inheres in the opening words: “See, I place before you the choice between blessing if you heed the commandments, and curse if you do not heed…” (cf. Deuteronomy 11:26).
Extensive detail of blessing and curse (cf. Leviticus 26:3-45) is surrounded by “The Eternal spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai, saying…” (Leviticus 25:1) and “These are the commandments that the Eternal commanded Moses concerning the Children of Israel on Mount Sinai” (Leviticus 26:46). Therefore, Rabbi Elazar understood, “See, I place before you this day blessing and curse…” (Deuteronomy 11:26), to have been spoken by God to Moses at the same time (“this day”) on Mount Sinai as were the details of blessing and curse, and so, “Curse and blessing will not proceed by the direct command of God” (Lamentations 3:38), but they are built in by God (“placed before you”) to unfold by themselves from your evil acts and good acts, respectively.
Rabbi Chaggai looked ahead to: “Life and death have I set before you, the blessing and the curse: choose life, that you may live, you and your offspring” (Deuteronomy 30:19)! Not only have I placed before you two paths from which to choose, but I am venturing, as it were, inside the legal lines that I have drawn (lifneem mishurat hadeen), with the choice that you should make: “Choose life!”
Deuteronomy Rabbah 4:4
“He shall redeem and protect my life
from those who would attack me,
for many are they with me.”
David’s perception was like that of the prophet Elisha, who, when confronted by the horses and chariots of the king of Aram, reassured his servant, “The many who are with us are greater than the many with them” (II Kings 6:16), and when the Eternal opened the eyes of his servant, “He saw the mountain around Elisha full of horses and chariots of fire” (ibid. 17)!
“For many are they with me,” and who are they? They are the angels who guard a man. Said Rabbi Joshua ben Levi: An image proceeds in front of man as the heralds cry out before him, and what do they say? Make way for the image of the Holy One, blessed be He (cf. Genesis 1:26-27)! See how many attendants are guarding you! When? When you guard the words of Torah. For I have placed before you two paths, blessing and curse (cf. Deuteronomy 11:26-28): blessing, if you guard My words by heeding them; curse, if you do not guard My words by heeding them!
Sifre Deuteronomy 3, 54
“These are the words of rebuke
which Moses spoke to all of Israel
across the Jordan…
after he defeated
Sichon king of the Amorites…”
Moses thought: If I admonish Israel prematurely, they will view my words as a pretext, an excuse, for not bringing them to the Land and waging war against Og and Sichon, as if I were blaming them for my own failure. So he waited until he had brought them to the Land and had defeated Sichon and Og. Then he admonished them. This is the reason for declaring that the admonition was “after he defeated Sichon king of the Amorites!”
“See, I set before you this day
blessing and curse…
Curse, if you do not heed the commandments…”
We therefore learn that just as Jacob our Father exhorted his sons only after his days were complete, and he was about to die, and he had witnessed all of the miracles that would occur for him in his lifetime, so also Moses our Teacher admonished Israel only after his days were complete, and he was about to die, and he had witnessed all of the miracles that would occur for him in his lifetime, as was said, “After he defeated Sichon king of the Amorites.”
Deuteronomy Rabbah 4:10
“Be careful lest you neglect the Levite…”
“When the Eternal your God
enlarges your territory…”
What is the connection between
caring for the Levite
and the enlargement of our territory?
Said Rabbi Levi: This may be compared to one who seeks a loan from his fellow. But his fellow is reluctant because he is ignorant of the applicant’s credit history. So the would-be borrower prevails upon his fellow to test him. He lends him a small amount, and the borrower repays in a timely way. Then, “whatever you need,” says his fellow, “you may borrow,” his reason being that the borrower has demonstrated his creditworthiness.
Similarly, one who is careful not to neglect the Levite (cf. Deuteronomy 12:19) by setting apart the tithes due him, finds that the Eternal his God enlarges his territory (cf. Deuteronomy 12:20). In accordance with your titheworthiness are you enlarged!
Deuteronomy Rabbah 4:11
The Land Like a Scroll
“When the Eternal your God
widens your territory…”
But is it possible for the Holy One, blessed be He,
to widen the Land of Israel?
Rabbi Isaac pointed to a scroll, the dimensions of which are unknown to us when it is wrapped up. But when it is opened, it shows us its dimensions. Similarly, the true dimensions of the Land of Israel are hidden in its hills and valleys: “The Land which you are crossing into to inherit is a land of hills and valleys which soaks up its water from the rains of heaven…which the Eternal your God watches and keeps His eye on from the beginning of the year until its end” (Deuteronomy 11:11-12).
Then when does it reveal to us its dimensions? “Every valley shall be raised, every mountain and hill shall be made low, the crooked shall be made straight and the ridges a plain, whereupon the glory of the Eternal shall be revealed…” (Isaiah 40:4-5)—when the Eternal ultimately opens the Land of Israel to its full length and breadth!
Mishnah Shevi’it 10:1, 3-4
Sifre Deuteronomy 113
The Takkanah of Hillel
“At the end of seven years
you shall effect a remission (shemittah)…
any creditor whose hand has a claim
upon his fellow or his brother (fellow Israelite)
may not go after him,
as a remission (shemittah) is authorized by the Eternal.”
“If there should be…one in need,
do not harden your heart or close your hand from him,
but open your hand to him and lend him sufficient for his need.
It would be wrong of you to deny him
because of the proximity of the seventh year, the year of remission (shemittah).
If you do, he could well cry out against you to the Eternal,
and you would be guilty of sin.”
The seventh year remits the claim of a creditor, but a prozbul does not remit the claim of a creditor.
When Hillel saw that the people refrained from lending, thereby transgressing what is written in the Torah, “It would be wrong of you to deny him (one in need) because of the proximity of the seventh year, the year of remission (shemittah)…, and if you do…you would be guilty of sin,” he ordained the prozbul for the sake of tikkun olam (providing a “practical remedy” for the aforementioned prevailing transgression).
What is the prozbul? It is a document executed by the creditor to a specific court which states, “Any debt that is due me I hereby transfer to you and may collect it at any time that I want,” and which is signed by the judges or by witnesses.
“Any creditor whose hand has a claim
upon his fellow Israelite
may not go after him
because of the Eternal’s remission.”
“That which is yours of your fellow Israelite
your hand shall remit.”
“That which is yours (as creditor)…your hand shall remit” (Deuteronomy 15:3) repeats what is taught in the preceding verse (Deuteronomy 15:2). The repetition, using the words “that which is yours…your hand shall remit,” emphasizes that that which is not yours, or which is no longer yours, viz. that which you have transferred to the court, is excluded from “your hand shall remit,” in which case a “hand” other than yours (the court’s) will collect. This Oral Torah supports the enactment (takkanah) of Hillel. (P’ney Moshe on Talmud Yerushalmi Shevi’it 10:2 and Malbim, HaTorah v’haMitzvah, Sifre 131 on Deuteronomy 15:3)
Menachem Elon in Hamishpat Ha’ivri
offers several additional background principles which support this takkanah
(initial references provided by Yosef Schechter in Lexicon Otzar Hatalmud):
The court has the power to cancel or transfer personal ownership of property. (Talmud Yevamot 89b)
“It is time to act for the Eternal; they have voided Your Torah!” (Psalms 119:126 in Talmud Berachot 54a)
Arise and perform an act that is prohibited by the Torah in order to forfend a violation of the Torah. (Talmud Eruvin 100a)
A temporary measure permitting specific conduct forbidden by the Torah in order to preserve all of the commandments of the Torah, such as violating one sabbath in order to be able to observe many other sabbaths in the future (Talmud Yoma 85b) and Elijah’s sacrifice on Mount Carmel (apart from the Temple in Jerusalem) in order to forestall the idolatrous worship of Baal (I Kings 18:19ff.).
Talmud Kiddushin 17b
How elastic are the Torah’s words?
“If your fellow Hebrew, male or female,
is sold to you and works for you for six years,
then in the seventh year you shall set him free…
but do not send him away emptyhanded.
Surely provide him from your flock,
and from your threshing-floor,
and from your wine-vat;
as the Eternal your God has blessed you,
you shall give to him.”
Our Rabbis taught: From “as the Eternal your God has blessed you,” it could be inferred: If your house was blessed because of him, provide him; but if your house was not blessed because of him, do not provide him. But the emphatic form, “Surely provide,” implies talmudically: Provide him in any case! If so, what is the talmudic implication of “as He has blessed you?” Adjust the amount (Rashi: above the minimum) in accordance with the blessing.
But Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah teaches: The verse should be understood as written, i.e., if your house was blessed because of him, provide him; but if your house was not blessed because of him, do not provide him. What then do you do with the talmudic implication of “Surely provide?” “Surely provide” is common language of the Bible and therefore does not bear a talmudic implication.
Talmud Berachot 12b-13a
Remembering the Exodus
“Do not eat with it (the Pesach)
anything that is leavened;
for seven days you shall eat with it Matzot,
Unleavened Bread, bread of affliction,
as in haste you went out from the land of Egypt,
in order that you may remember
the day of your departure from Egypt,
all the days of your life.”
MISHNAH: We mention the Exodus from Egypt at night (as part of the Shema, Numbers 15:37-41, containing also the commandment to wear tzitzit; Rashi: Even though tzitzit are not worn at night…, still we recite this passage at night because it includes the Exodus from Egypt at the end, verse 41). Said Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah: Even though I appeared to be as old (and wise) as a man of seventy years, I was not able to derive from the Torah’s words why the Exodus from Egypt should be recited at night, until Ben Zoma derived it from, “In order that you may remember the day of your departure from Egypt, all the days of your life” (Deuteronomy 16:3). “The days of your life” alone would mean just the days, but “all the days of your life” is meant to include the nights! But the Sages interpret the verse differently: “The days of your life” alone would mean just this world, but “all the days of your life” is meant to include the days of the Messiah!
GEMARA: It is taught in a baraitha—Ben Zoma went on to challenge the Sages: Should we actually mention the Exodus from Egypt in the days of the Messiah? For has it not already been said, “Behold the days are coming, says the Eternal, when they will no longer say, ‘As lives the Eternal, who brought up the Children of Israel from the land of Egypt,’ but ‘As lives the Eternal, who raised and brought the offspring of the House of Israel from the north land and from all of the lands to which I scattered them…’” (Jeremiah 23:7-8). They answered him: It does not mean that the Exodus from Egypt shall be removed from its place, but that the oppression by foreign powers shall be the general remembrance, while the Exodus from Egypt shall be a part of it! Similarly, when He says, “Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel shall be your name” (Genesis 35:10), it does not mean that the name Jacob shall be removed from its place, but that Israel shall be the overarching name, while the name Jacob shall be a part of it.
Note: This Mishnah passage (without the Gemara) is included in our Haggadah of Pesach, recited on the anniversary night of our Exodus from Egypt.
Tanchumah Ki-Tavo 3
Midrash Psalms 1:18
Seder Eliahu Rabbah 18:33
Thirst for Torah
“O, whoever thirsts (for Torah), go to the water!
Lacking money, go, buy, and drink!”
The Torah is being compared to water:
Just as the world cannot endure without water, and people are cleansed by it, so does the world depend upon Torah, and people learn from Torah how to cleanse themselves of sin.
Just as water is needed for trees to grow and therewith for houses to be built, so also is Torah needed for the commandments of planting and harvesting trees (cf. Leviticus 19:23) and for building houses safely (cf. Deuteronomy 22:8).
Just as water is the source of survival, so also is Torah the source of life.
Just as one who cannot swim will not survive in the water, so also one who knows not how to learn words of Torah will be lost from the world.
Just as water finds its way to wherever it wishes, so is Torah spread throughout the world.
Just as water is not preserved in containers of silver or gold but in earthen vessels, so also the Torah is not preserved in those who are haughty of spirit but in one who is humble in his own eyes. In this regard Rabbi Acha interpreted the verse, “Wisdom is found from nothing” (Job 28:12): From those who make themselves as nothing!
“Happy is one who walks not in the counsel of evil…
but whose desire is in the Torah of the Eternal
and is immersed in it day and night.
He shall be as a tree planted by rivers of water,
that yields its fruit in due season
and whose leaf does not wither.
To the extent that he makes the effort, he shall succeed!”
Just as water is granted from heaven, as was said, “At the sound of His granting an abundance of water in the heavens…” (Jeremiah 10:13), so are words of Torah granted from heaven, as was said, “You saw that I spoke with you from heaven” (Exodus 20:19)!
Just as water is free to the world, as was said, “Lacking money, go, buy, and drink” (Isaiah 55:1b), so are words of Torah free to everyone in the world, as was said, “O, whoever thirsts (for Torah), go to the water” (Isaiah 55:1a), which is Torah!
Just as water comes down to the world in thunder and lightning, so also did Torah come down to the world, as was said, “On the third day as the morning dawned, there were thunder and lightning” (Exodus 19:16) over Mount Sinai!
Just as water is life for the world, so also are words of Torah life for those who engage in them, as was said, “They are life to one who finds them” (Proverbs 4:22), and as is written, “It is no empty thing for you, but this word is your life” (Exodus 32:47)!
Just as water comes down drop by drop and is turned into many rivers, so it is with words of Torah: A person learns one precept today and another precept tomorrow until he grows full and overflowing like a fountain! Indeed Rabbi Onya taught: Just as water may be fenced in for a garden or an orchard, shall we say the same for words of Torah? No, from the prophet’s words we derive the oral teaching: “The ways of the Eternal are straight” (Hosea 14:10), not deflected!
Rabbi Chiya taught: Just as water conceals the nakedness of the sea, as the prophet said, “As the waters cover the sea” (Isaiah 11:9), so do words of Torah cover the nakedness of Israel, as he said, “Love covers up all sins” (ibid. 10:12)!
Just as with water, the elder would not be ashamed to say to the younger, “Give me some water to drink,” so for words of Torah, the elder would not be ashamed to say to the younger, “Teach me one chapter or one precept.”
Just as for water, one thirsty would not be too lazy to go for some to drink, so for words of Torah, a student would not be too lazy to go and learn Torah at the feet of his teacher.
“Pour out your heart
like water in the presence of the Lord…”
Just as this water is a pure mikvah open to all persons and to every thing that He has created in the world, as was said, “That which can withstand fire shall you pass through the fire, then shall it be made clean in the purifying water, and that which cannot withstand fire shall you pass through the water” (Numbers 31:23), so the words of Torah are a pure mikvah for Israel in all places of their settlements.
Come and see how great is the power of Torah, which purifies the sinners of Israel when they are engaged in repentance, even for idolatry that is still in their hand, as the prophet said, “Not for your sake do I act, O House of Israel…rather I shall pour upon you pure water, so that you may be purified from all of your impurities…” (Ezekiel 36:22-25), the “pure water” being words of Torah, as the prophet said, “O, whoever thirsts (for Torah), go to the water…” (Isaiah 55:1), and as was said, “The words of the Eternal are pure…” (Psalms 12:7).
Talmud Berachot 64a
The Prophet’s Blessing of Scholarship
“All of your children
shall be learned of the Eternal,
and great shall be the peace of your children!”
Said Rabbi Elazar said Rabbi Chaninah: Torah scholars increase the welfare of the world, as was said, “All of your children shall be learned of the Eternal, and great shall be the peace [shalom] of your children” (Isaiah 54:13)! How does the peace of children increase the welfare of the world? Do not read the last word simply as “your children” (banayich) when the same word can be read “your builders” (bonayich): Your children, learned of Torah, shall grow and build thereupon a world of well-being!
“There is much peace for those who love Your Torah,
and nothing will prevent them.”
“May there be peace in all that you build,
both inside and outside;
for the benefit of all of my own and my neighbors
I ascribe to you our well-being!”
“For the sake of the House of the Eternal our God,
I seek your good:
May the Eternal grant strength to His people,
may the Eternal bless His people with peace.”
(Psalms 122:9; 29:11)
Copyright © 2021 Eric H. Hoffman