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Torah Sparks

September 15, 2001 - 5761

Prepared by Rabbi Randall J. Konigsburg
Temple Sinai, Hollywood, FL

Edited by Rabbi David L. Blumenfeld, PhD
Department of Services to Affiliated Congregations

Annual Cycle: Deut. 29:9-30:20; Hertz Chumash, p. 878
Triennial Cycle III: Deut. 29:9-30:20; Hertz Chumash, p. 878
Haftarah: Isaiah 61:10-63:9; Hertz Chumash, p. 883

(29:9-28) A warning to preserve the covenant with God and His Torah, with a description of the punishment liable to follow the breaking of the covenant.

(30:1-10) After their return in complete repentance, God will have mercy upon His people, and the dispersed of Israel will return to their land.

(30:11-14) God's commandments are not "far away". They can be accomplished.

(30:15-20) "See, I place before you today life and good, death and evil - choose life in order for you and your descendants to live!"

(30:1-10) After their return in complete repentance, God will have mercy upon His people, and the dispersed of Israel will return to their land.

Theme 1: No Loopholes For The Individual

When such a one hears the words of these sanctions, he may fancy himself immune, thinking, "I shall be safe, though I follow my own willful heart" - to the utter ruin of everything. The Lord will never forgive him; rather will the Lord's anger and passion rage against that man, till every sanction recorded in this book comes down upon him, and the Lord blots out his name from under heaven. The Lord will single him out from all the tribes of Israel for misfortune, in accordance with all the sanctions of the covenant recorded in this book of Teaching. (Deut. 29:18-20)

  1. Verses 18-20 refute the notion that the predictions of blessings and curses apply only if the nation formally abandons the Law, and that therefore the individual may feel free to violate the Law in his personal life as long as the nation officially keeps faith with G-d and His Law. Here was the most appropriate time for dealing with this particularly dangerous error, since it was pointed out in Chapter 27 that though the members of the nation were about to disperse over the land, the nation was still bound together by ties of solidarity, so that its members were collectively responsible for the theoretical preservation and practical observance of the Law. As a consequence, no member of the nation, no matter how faithful he might be to his duty in his personal life, could consider his task fulfilled if he had not done his share also to promote the preservation and observance of the Law throughout his community. (Samson Raphael Hirsch, Commentary on the Torah, p. 786)
  2. Human beings depend on G-d for everything. The question is how to make them aware of it. Larger concepts - such as human life requiring the ever present heat and warmth of the sun or the presence of oxygen - are rather abstract. The rain as a symbol of our dependency is immediately and easily graspable. (In these days of environmental awareness, we know that human actions indeed can affect the rain and climatic conditions. Lack of rain may not be the direct result of moral laxitude, but the ruination of nature can be a result of evil conduct and human greed.) (Reuven Hammer; Entering Jewish Prayer; p. 126)

Discussion Sparks:

Is it right that all suffer for the sins of one person (see also Deut. 11:17 - the second paragraph of the Shema)? Is it fair that if most of the people do the right thing that the evil people should also benefit? If G-d brings the rain so that the wheat should grow, why does he also water the weeds, that choke out the wheat? What happens when we let others do for us what we know we should be doing ourselves? How does personal sin lead to communal sin? How would you resolve the issue of personal vs. communal sin and punishment?

Theme 2: Say What You Mean, Mean What You Say

No, the thing is very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart, to observe it. See, I set before you this day life and prosperity, death and adversity... I have put before you life and death, blessing and curse. Choose life... (Deut. 30:14,15,19)

  1. Rabbi Aryeh Levin, the renowned tzaddik of Jerusalem, visited the inmates of the British controlled prison every Shabbat. Though most of the Jewish prisoners were not observant, they quickly donned kippot before the revered rabbi greeted them. Then they joined in the Shabbat morning prayer service that Reb Aryeh had organized, and they read along with the Rabbi, as if they were observant Jews. The entire scene agitated one particularly nasty fellow named Yaakov, who tried in every way to irritate the gentle rabbi... One Shabbat, Yaakov stormed into the makeshift synagogue and snapped at the aged rabbi. "Why do you waste your time with these liars and fakes?" Yaakov demanded, "They are no more observant than I am. They only put kippot on their heads when you come here. Furthermore, they only pray and open their mouths to G-d when you are here. Otherwise, they have no feeling in their hearts!" Reb Aryeh turned to Yaakov and rebuked him with a firm but gentle voice. "Why do you slander these souls?" He asked. "They come to pray every single week. I do not look at their heads but rather into their hearts. And when I hear the prayers coming from their lips, I know that their hearts are following as well." Soon Yaakov also became a steady member of the group. (M. Kamenetzky: Parsha Parables 3; p. 178-9)
  2. Why did Moses stress that he was placing these choices before the people "today"? Perhaps this word's message is that each and every day of our lives, the same choices Moses described stand before us to be confronted anew. Certainly someone whose behavior has been improper until now is obligated to choose the path of good for the future. But even someone who has already chosen that path and remained firmly on it may not rely on his past performance to guarantee that he will continue to do good, and must make his choice afresh "today" and every day, because every day the path of evil and death also stands before him. Every day, therefore, he must once again consciously choose the good. (Moshe Feinstein; Darash Moshe; p. 323)

Discussion Sparks:

At this season of repentance, why is it important to confess our sins verbally? Do we say what we feel or is that we want our heart to follow our mouth? Do we believe that if we say the words, repentance may follow? In the 12 step programs for addictions, there is a similar stress on confessing addictions and making verbal confession, as well as verbal apologies to those hurt by the addiction. How does speaking our choices help us make better choices?

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