ר"ע תיתד תונויצל ינויערה גוחה ,םולשו זוע logo

Click here to receive the weekly parsha by email each week.

Parshat Reeh

AT THE END OF EVEN YEARS YOU SHALL MAKE A SHEMITAH [REMISSION]. THIS SHALL BE THE NATURE OF THE SHEMITAH: EVERY CREDITOR SHALL REMIT THE DUE THAT HE CLAIMS FROM HIS FELLOW; HE SHALL NOT DUN HIS FELLOW OR KINSMAN, FOR THE REMISSION PROCLAIMED IS FOR THE LORD.

(Devarim 15:1-2)

 

To abandon debts in the Shemitah year, about which it is said but you must remit whatever is due you from your kinsman (Devarim 15:1). The charge of this commandment is made twice, for it is said This shall be the nature of the Shemitah: every creditor shall remit the due, and in the Tosefta they said that Scripture refers to two shemitot, one relating to land, the other to money.

I already wrote what I know regarding the reasons for this commandment in [the section on] the Shemitah of lands in [parashat] Mishpatim (commandment #84); the Shemitah of money is explained the same way, to teach our souls high virtues - the virtues of kindheartedness and generosity, to instill great trust in the blessed Lord in our hearts. Then our souls will be prepared to receive beneficence from the Master of all in blessedness and mercy. We shall also find in it a strong fence and a wall of iron to keep us far from stealing and coveting anything belonging to our fellow, for we shall make an a fortiori argument in our minds, saying: "Even if I lent my wealth and the Shemitah year arrived, the Torah told me to remit the claim against the debtor - certainly I should distance myself radically from stealing or coveting his property!

(Sefer HaHinukh # 477)

 

For the Shemitah year also gives rise to solidarity and peace. This occurs because one does not sew seed and grow [crops] and the poor can eat [whatever grows by itself], for one is prohibited from acting as the land-owner and taking hold of the seventh year's grain. All of this doubtlessly causes peace, since all conflicts derive from the trait of "mine is mine," i.e., "it is all mine." All of this is less evident in the seventh year, because while action [i.e. agricultural production] involves inequality, all are equal in inaction, and that is really what peace is about.

(Keli Yakar Devarim 31:12)

 

"The Curse in the Blessing and the Blessing in the Curse"

Shlomo Fox

See, this day I set before you a blessing and a curse. The blessing, if you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I enjoin upon you this day; and the curse, if you do not obey the commandments of the Lord your God, but turn away from the path that I enjoin upon you this day and follow other gods whom you have not known. (Devarim 11:26-28)

The parasha's opening passage offers two alternatives: the way of the blessing and the way of the curse. The blessing comes when we hearken to God's commandments and observe them; the curses come if we do not listen to God's voice. Apparently, it should have spoken of a punishment rather than a curse: "And if you do not listen to God's voice" - "you shall be punished" - why a "curse"? Perhaps the solution is that the blessing and the curse are interwoven? Every blessing can be a curse and curses can bring a kind of blessing.

Rabbi Haim ben Atar explains:

That is why He says this day I set before you a blessing and a curse. This means that the blessing is also a curse - tranquility for the wicked in this world...

...it becomes clearer in light of their dictum (here in the Sifrei): It is like someone who sat at a crossroads. There were two paths before him, one started smoothly but ended in thorns, the other began with thorns but ended smoothly. He would tell the passersby: "You see this path that begins smoothly? After two or three steps... and its end...

When He says to them this day I set before you etc. He refers to two different types of good things. Each of them involves a blessing and a curse; the path of the wicked begins smoothly and ends in thorns - that is a blessing and a curse. The way of life starts with thorns and ends smoothly - that is also a blessing and a curse... When He said a blessing and a curse - that means that this gift involves both a blessing and a curse. He continued and explained the blessing: if you obey - meaning: "If you obey, then this gift will be a blessing for you, but if you do not listen it will only be a curse; because of it all the nations shall be jealous of you and remove you from it [the land] with great vengeance." The benefit they draw from it shall also be their loss in the eternal world, as is says, Who instantly requites with destruction those who hate Him (Devarim 7:10). (Or Ha'Hayyim Devarim 11:26)

It appears that man decides if it is a blessing or a curse. Accordingly, deep contemplation is required; sometimes that which seems to be a blessing is actually a curse and vis-versa. The emphasis on today teaches us to think about tomorrow.

Later in the parasha, the Torah commands that those who preach idolatry be killed (be they individuals or an entire community). How is this commandment a blessing?

An individual who promotes idolatry is sentenced to death as is anyone who commits a capital crime. However, in the case of an ir hanidahat [a town that must be destroyed because it is completely involved in idolatry] (Devarim 13:13-19), the punishment is collective:

If you hear it said, of one of the towns that the Lord your God is giving to you to dwell in, that some scoundrels from among you have gone and subverted the inhabitants of their town, saying, "Come , let us worship other gods" - whom you have not known - you shall investigate and inquire and interrogate thoroughly. If it is true, the fact is established - that abhorrent thing was perpetrated in your midst - put the inhabitants of that town to the sword. Doom it and all that is in it to destruction: gather all its spoils into the open square, and burn the town and all its spoils completely to the Lord your God. And it shall remain an everlasting ruin, never to be rebuilt... in order that the Lord may turn from His blazing anger and show you compassion, and in His compassion increase you as He promised your father on oath - for you will be heeding the Lord your God... doing what is right in the sight of he Lord your God. (Devarim 13:13-19)

Put the inhabitants of that town to the sword - all - men, women, and children?

What of Abraham's question when God told him that Sodom was to be destroyed: Shall You destroy the righteous with the wicked? And what of the announcement made in the ceremony of the eglah arufa regarding a victim whose murderer was unknown - our hands did not spill this blood - and here an entire town to put to death! (See R. Zadok's comments in Yoma 23a).

When, in parashat Korah, God comes to kill Korah and his party, He says, Separate yourselves from this community, and Moses and Aaron reply: Shall one man sin and You become angry with the entire community?

What blessing can there be in the fulfillment of this commandment?

Tosefta Sanhedrin (Zuckermandle edition 14:3) softens the biblical decree. The execution of capital punishment in the ir ha'nidahat is not collective; offenders must be warned and testimony must be brought against them:

Minors from an ir ha'nidahat are not killed. R. Eliezer says: They are killed.

R. Akiva said to him: And how would I explain the fulfillment of [the verse] and show you compassion [literally: give you compassion], and in His compassion increase you? If it is about compassion for adults, it already said surely kill. If it refers to compassion for their animals, it already said destroy it and all in it and its animals. How do I explain the fulfillment of and show you compassion? It refers to the minors among them.

R. Eliezer says: Even the adults are not killed without warning and testimony. And how would I explain the fulfillment of [the verse] and show you compassion? Lest the judges say, "Now we are making an ir ha'nidahat and tomorrow the kinsmen and relatives will hate us in their hearts." But the Omnipresent says: "I will make them compassionate and place My love in their hearts, that they shall say, 'We have nothing against you, for you have judged truly.' And they shall not observe mourning; they shall only grieve, for grieving is entirely in the heart [i.e., it does not involve observable behavior).

R. Akiva deduces from R. Eliezer's words that the minors who live in the town should be put to death, and so he interprets Scripture in order to show that this is not so. R. Eliezer responds saying that even the adults (and the minors all the more so) could be executed only if they had been forewarned and testimony was brought against them, i.e., in accordance with proper legal procedures.

The NeTziV (Ha'amek Davar Devarim 13:18) explains the great danger involved in executing punishment on an ir ha'nidahat:

And show you compassion - The execution of the law of ir ha'nidahat causes Israel three evils: [1] He who kills someone develops a cruel nature. The execution of individual by a court is performed by agents of the court, but when an entire town is involved we cannot avoid making a group of people used to killing, making them cruel. [2] There is no one in that town who does not have relatives in other towns; thus hatred is strengthened in Israel. [3] Israel is diminished and unpopulated regions are created.

That is why Scripture requires that the commandment be carried out without profit from the booty, then the Lord will return from His wrath.

And will show you compassion - [instill you with] the virtue of compassion.

The NeTziV notes that the commandment must be carried out with sensitivity and responsibility in order to fulfill the rule "with no benefit from the booty." The commandment also requires some men of Israel to be come cruel. Can we imagine anyone gaining benefit from the execution of this commandment?

In exchange and as a defense mechanism, God promises and show you compassion, and in His compassion increase you. This commandment requires balance and a brake upon aggressiveness. Its observance involves a Divine prerogative - the taking of human life.

Let us consider another commandment in the parasha (Devarim 12:20-28) which involves a response to human urges - the urge to eat meat. The recognition of human urges comes together with a qualification that ties the urge for eating with that of killing, and which expresses anxiety over wanton cruelty:

When the Lord your God enlarges your territory, as He promised you, and you say, "I shall eat some meat," for you have the urge to eat meat, you may eat meat wherever you wish... and you may eat it to your heart's content in your gates... But make sure that you do not partake of the blood; for the blood is the life, and you must not eat the life with the meat... do not eat it - pour it on the ground like water. Do not eat it n order that it may go well with you and with your children after you, when you do what is right in the eyes of the Lord. (Devarim 12: 20-28)

One is permitted to eat meat, but the consumption of blood is forbidden, because the blood is the life. On the one hand, this prohibition comes to teach us: Learn to control your urges!! On the other hand, this qualification reminds us of another commandment:

God blessed Noah and his sons, and said to them, "Be fertile and increase and fill the earth... Every creature that lives shall be yours to eat; as with the green grasses, I give you all these. You must not, however, eat flesh with its life-blood in it. But for your own life-blood I will require a reckoning: I will require it of every beast; of man, too, will I require a reckoning for human life, of every man for that of his fellow man. Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in His image did God make man. (Bereishit 9:1-7)

The permission to eat meat could have brought man to think that blood is simply blood and that there are no limitations upon it, paving the road to murder. Therefore, Scripture warns us: The eating of meat is permitted, but we must remind ourselves that harm done to animals involves the taking of their lives, and that this does not give license to kill them purposelessly; injury against 'the image of God" is certainly prohibited.

God's blessing for Noah and his sons can - God forbid - become an obstacle and a curse if limitations are not observed.

R. Yitzhak Karo (Toldot Yitzhak Bereishit 9:1) explains the verse he who spills human blood:

According to Targum Onkelos, his blood shall be spilt, i.e., the murderer has to be tried before a court of law. The Sanhedrin cannot base judgment upon merely reasonable suppositions; it needs eye-witness testimony, so too in a court of twenty three [judges].

The murderer must be treated as an "image of God" who has attacked an "image of God."

Idolaters (the inhabitants of an ir ha'nidahat) and murderers must be punished through the agency of the legal system, and the court must assure that there be no unnecessary killing - rather it shall "pursue justice justly"!

These commandments demand restraint and complex understanding. Inheritance of the land can lead to cultural influences that lead to idolatry. Punishment of the idolaters can give rise to cruelty and overzealous prosecution, it can create a wrongful judicial system, leading the inhabitants of the land to think them uncompassionate. Permission to eat meat can lead to the consumption of blood and to the killing of people in God's name and through false justice.

Here is the mechanism of restraint that can prevent the erosion of values: And remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt. The Exodus from Egypt and our past enslavement (which would seem to be a curse) are recalled several times in the parasha in order to remind us not to backslide and act like slaves - slaves to our passions. We must leave Mitzrayim [Egypt] which means we must escape an outlook which is tzara [narrow].

As R. Moshe of Kobrin said regarding the verse remove your shoes[na'alekha] from your feet [raglekha]; you must remove the manulim [locks] from your hergelim [habits]. We must understand the blessing and the curse that are in each thing.

And as R. Yitzhak of Berdichev said (Kedushat Levi, Avot):

The explication of [the passage from the prayerbook] You have loved us with an eternal love you have shown us great and exceeding mercy:

We see with God's help that it would seem inappropriate to say "great and exceeding mercy," a formulation expressing the excessive nature of the mercy you showed us - that is to say, there was no reason to show mercy, but that notion cannot apply to Him, may He be blessed.

It would seem that this [passage] relates to that which is written in the Gemara (Shabbat 151b): "Anyone who is compassionate to others will enjoy compassion from Heaven" for it says and He will show you [literally give you] compassion and have compassion upon you - when we show compassion to our fellow creatures we arouse Heaven to show us compassion. Due to His great beneficence and compassion towards all, the blessed Lord in His great compassion and loving-kindness does not repay us in kind when we fail to arouse His compassion because we do not showing compassion to our fellow creatures. Instead, in His great goodness and loving-kindness he nevertheless [fulfils the verse] the good [God], for His compassion has not ceased, and the compassionate, for His loving-kindness has not ceased and He shows us compassion. And this is [the meaning of the verse] "You have loved us with an eternal love, You have shown us great and exceeding mercy." Even in a time of exceeding mercy - when, God forbid, we do not deserve His loving-kindness and compassion in light of our actions - even so "you have shown us great and exceeding mercy" He, may He be blessed, arouses his loving-kindness towards us in His great compassion."

"You who bring in compassion, bring our compassion before the Master of Compassion" (From the Selihot service)

Shlomo Fox teaches at Hebrew Union College, at Beit Shemuel and at Kolot. He is educational director for the IDF Project at Beit Morasha.

 

 

The Connection between "Broadening of Boundaries" and the Lusting for Flesh

When the Lord your God broadens your territory as he promised you, and you say: I want to eat meat... - [This verse] teaches that man enthusiastically lusts only in a situation of excessive expansion, "the lion roars only because it [possesses] a container full of meat" (Berakhot 32), therefore Scripture states: When the Lord your God broadens your boundaries - this will lead you to remove the mask of shame from your face, until you loudly proclaim, I want to eat meat - and this somewhat resembles the throwing off of the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven, to seek out the site of sacrifices. The cause of all this is Should the place which God chooses be distant from you, for one's awe of the Kingdom of Heaven is proportionate to his proximity to the Temple of God, as is written, My Holy Shrine you are to hold in awe meaning that awe of the Kingdom of Heaven will be drawn upon you from the Temple; Should the place... be distant from you will result in God being far from your consciousness, therefore all day you will lust, and you will not be ashamed to proclaim I want to eat meat. I hereby permit you this thing and you shall slaughter from you cattle, etc., as I have commanded you, not at all times but occasionally, when lust becomes overwhelming.

(Kli Yakar, Devarim 12:20)

 

The Torah delivers a veiled admonition regarding the eating of meat; only after And you say: I want to eat meat, because your appetite craves eating meat - do we read, You may slaughter and may eat. The only way to halt your inclination is by moral control, and this control is still beyond you; it is still needed for circles closer to you. And also the further perfection requires - after the fall - physical effort, and the replenishing of this [the physical effort] occasionally demands meaty nourishment.

(Rav Kook: Tallelei Orot, Chap. 8)

 

Shabbat Shalom is available on our website: www.netivot-shalom.org.il

If you wish to subscribe to the email English editions of Shabbat Shalom, to print copies of it for distribution in your synagogue, to inquire regarding the dedication of an edition in someone's honor or memory, to find out about how to make tax-exempt donations, or to suggest additional helpful ideas, please contact Miriam Fine at +972-52-3920206 or at ozshalom@netvision.net.il

 

If you enjoy Shabbat Shalom, please consider contributing towards its publication and distribution.

Issues may be dedicated in honor of an event, person, simcha, etc. Requests must be made 3-4 weeks in advance to appear in the Hebrew, 10 days in advance to appear in the English email.

In Israel, checks made out to Oz VeShalom may be sent to Oz VeShalom-P.O.B. 4433, Jerusalem 91043. Unfortunately there is no Israeli tax-exemption for local donations.

US and British tax-exempt contributions to Oz VeShalom may be made through:

New Israel Fund, POB 91588, Washington, DC 20090-1588, USA

New Israel Fund of Great Britain, 26 Enford Street, London W1H 2DD, Great Britain

PLEASE NOTE THAT THE NEW ISRAEL FUND IS NO LONGER ACCEPTING DONATIONS UNDER $100.

PEF will also channel donations and provide a tax-exemption. Donations should be sent to P.E.F. Israel Endowment Funds, Inc., 317 Madison Ave., Suite 607, New York, New York 10017 USA

All contributions should be marked as donor-advised to Oz ve'Shalom, the Shabbat Shalom project.

 

About us

Oz Veshalom-Netivot Shalom is a movement dedicated to the advancement of a civil society in Israel. It is committed to promoting the ideals of tolerance, pluralism, and justice, concepts which have always been central to Jewish tradition and law.

Oz Veshalom-Netivot Shalom shares a deep attachment to the land of Israel and it no less views peace as a central religious value. It believes that Jews have both the religious and the national obligation to support the pursuit of peace. It maintains that Jewish law clearly requires us to create a fair and just society, and that co-existence between Jews and Arabs is not an option but an imperative.

Oz Veshalom-Netivot Shalom's programs include both educational and protest activities. Seminars, lectures, workshops, conferences and weekend programs are held for students, educators and families, as well as joint seminars for Jews, Israeli Arabs and Palestinians. Protest activities focus on issues of human rights, co-existence between Jews and Arabs, and responses to issues of particular religious relevance.

5,000 copies of a 4 page peace oriented commentary on the weekly Torah reading are written and published by Oz VeShalom/Netivot Shalom and they are distributed to over 350 synagogues in Israel and are sent overseas via email. Our web site is www.netivot-shalom.org.il

Oz Veshalom-Netivot Shalom's educational forums draw people of different backgrounds, secular and religious, who are keen to deepen their Jewish knowledge and to hear an alternative religious standpoint on the subjects of peace and social issues.

Oz Veshalom-Netivot Shalom fills an ideological vacuum in Israel's society. Committed both to Jewish tradition and observance, and to the furthering of peace and coexistence, the movement is in a unique position to engage in dialogue with the secular left and the religious right, with Israeli Arabs and with Palestinians.

 

 

 

 

bar

home about whatsnew articles
Home The Movement

Objectives and Principles

You can Help!
What's New

Activities and Current Events
Articles and Position Papers

Peace

Judaism and Israel

parsha search links
Weekly Parsha (Hebrew)

Weekly Parsha (English)
Search Our Site Links To Peace Movements

bar

Contact Us
Oz Veshalom (Miriam Fine)
P.O. Box 4433, Jerusalem, 91043 Israel
9 Dustrovsky St. Apt 4
Jerusalem 9229816
Tel 0523920206
ozveshalomns@gmail.com
© Copyright 1997-2003 by Oz Veshalom. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.