A short summary of V'etchanan

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Before Deuteronomy, we read about Moshe and receive the word of God thru him; in Deuteronomy, he truly becomes our eternal teacher, Moshe Rabbenu, when he recasts God's Torah in his own last words to us, along with his memories of, and reactions to, his grand life mission with Israel. After reviewing Israel's 40 year desert trek, Moshe now reveals, for the first time, his own passionate prayer, when God said that he must die in the desert diaspora: "I THEN STROVE TO MAKE MYSELF WORTHY OF GOD'S FAVORABLE RESPONSE, SAY WHAT HE WILL: `GOD, LORD, YOU'VE BEGUN TO SHOW YOUR SERVANT YOUR GLORY AND STRENGTH... PLEASE LET ME CROSS OVER AND SEE THE GOOD LAND OVER JORDAN...'. GOD IGNORED ME FOR YOUR BENEFIT, AND GOD SAID TO ME: `ENOUGH FOR YOU! DON'T SPEAK TO ME ABOUT THIS AGAIN. GO TO THE TOP OF PISGA... AND SEE WITH YOUR EYES... FOR YOU'LL NOT CROSS THIS JORDAN. COMMAND Y'HOSHUA, ENCOURAGE AND STRENGTHEN HIM, FOR HE'LL GO BEFORE THIS PEOPLE AND CAUSE THEM TO INHERIT THE LAND WHICH YOU'LL VIEW'. WE SETTLED IN THE VALLEY OPPOSITE BET P'OR". (3:23-29, as translated by S. R. Hirsch)

Last week, Moshe recalled Israel's instant smashing defeat of two murderous despots, Sichon and Og; their Transjordanian territory became the chosen homeland of 2 1/2 Jewish tribes, annexed to Israel (Jordan IS Palestine); Moshe hoped that God, by thus letting him start Israel's conquest, had negated His vow to retire him, and would let him complete the conquest (Rashi). Why indeed did Moshe have to die in the desert diaspora, his prayers rejected?

After sadly recounting how he had to delegate teaching and judging to others, Moshe tells the (resulting?) tragic tale of the spies, concluding: "IN THIS REALM (ALIYA), YOU LACKED FAITH IN GOD YOUR LORD (of nature, who can lead you in war)... GOD HEARD THE TONE OF YOUR WORDS, WAS ANGRY, AND SWORE SAYING: `NOT ONE OF THESE MEN, THIS EVIL GENERATION, SHALL SEE THE GOOD LAND...'. GOD WAS ALSO ANGRY WITH ME FOR YOUR SAKE, SAYING: `YOU TOO SHALL NOT COME THERE-- Y'HOSHUA B. NUN, WHO STANDS BEFORE YOU, HE'LL COME THERE; ENCOURAGE HIM, FOR HE'LL CAUSE ISRAEL TO INHERIT IT'" (1:32-38).

Apparently Moshe's condemned to retire and die, when his aliya mission fails; he couldn't inculcate true faith in Jews who, tho pious, feared the fight for Israel. This happened on the 9th of Av, leading to the destruction of Israel and its 2 Temples on that date-- all due to Israel's lack of deep faith in God.

Moshe was given another chance to raise Israel's God-awareness, and then continue as their leader, at the Waters of Merivah; he muffed it and had to yield his leadership to Y'hoshua, the right leader for the new generation (AND ISRAEL SERVED GOD ALL THE DAYS OF Y'HOSHUA...-- Joshua 24:31); Moshe understood and yielded. In America, however, some older, more learned, but ineffective, rabbis stifled young rabbis who had better rapport with modern Jews (see Reasonable Rav Aaaron Rakefet's writings on American Orthodoxy). Similarly, many European style Israeli rabbis have little contact with, leave alone positive influence upon, most non-observant Israelis; some such rabbis, even some called "gdolim", attack modern rabbis who do reach out successfully, e.g. Rabbis Riskin, Schneerson, and Steinsaltz. Israel really needs a Board of Reasonable Rabbis. See our Dvarim study.

Tho Moshe begs God to cross the Jordan, he accepts his impending death. His presence, tho he was retired, would crimp Yehoshua's leadership; also he'd rather die than live jealous of his disciple's proximity to God (Deut. Raba 9:9). Shalom Greenberg deduces that Moshe's no longer so reluctant to be Israel's leader. One may get used to anything-- even the annoying womb, after the tranquility of the World of Souls; even to life itself, after the comforting womb (Freud doesn't go back far enough!).

Some say that Moshe was TOO GOOD to continue! Had HE led Israel into Israel, the Temple couldn't have been destroyed; w/o that substitute target for Divine Wrath, the corrupted Jews would have died in Israel, rather than just winding up in the tragic exiles of Rome and South Africa, Berlin and Vilna, Bagdad and Scarsdale (eventually to return to Jerusalem-- see Klei Yakar, Or Hachayim). Only an empty temple would have remained. In other words, having Moshe die may have been God's kindness to Israel, anticipating and preventing the far worse possible consequence of His anger at their defection. Such concepts of Divine Wrath and/or Punishment naturally lead us to--

THEODICY & SYNCRETISM: True Jewish tradition is clear about 3 things-- 1) God, Who's totally just, perfect and powerful (Deut. 32:4f), creates a world which is all good (Gen. 1:31). 2) The prophets (e.g. Yoel and Isaiah) proclaim that the world will once again be all good, Edenic; war, disease and existential despair will disappear; all will draw close to God, via Israel. So Judaism posits immortality of the soul and revival of the dead-- that the day of reward and retribution will come (cf. Ps. 6, Is. 38, Ecc. 9:10, Is. 26:19, Is. 66 and Daniel 2). 3) meanwhile, back at the ranch, between Edens and Eternities, so much of existence, especially of our lives, is destructive and evil, due to human corruption-- the failure to develop, with God's help, our Divine Image (Gen. 1:26: "Let US"-- God and Man-- "make Man in Our Image"-- JBS), to become close to Him (Deut. 32:5f).

But how do we reconcile this clearly existing evil, howbeit temporary, with the the popular image of a merciful God, the abundance of suffering with our belief in one God of Infinite Love AND Infinite Power? A Midrash comments that God's promise of redemption from Egypt didn't, indeed, relieve Moshe's anguish-- what about all those Jewish babies already killed and tortured, immured in Egypt's buildings (Ex. Raba 5:23)? Did Anne Frank have to go thru the concentration camps to achieve eternal bliss? Judaism's answer, proclaimed at the end of Yom Kippur, is clear-- they ARE reconcilable, Hashem Hu Haelokim: The God of Infinite Love and Concern is also The Lord of Nature, of our physical existence, tho we mortals cannot always see Him as such; great prophets, e.g. Jeremiah and Daniel, divine lovers of truth and honesty, indeed limited their praise of God's awe and might, when they didn't experience it (would they have been expelled from Brisk and Satmar?), tho they retained faith that it exists: "It's good to thank God and to sing praise to Your Name, Exalted One-- to proclaim Your Kindness in the morning and (only?) your faithfulness at night" (Ps. 92). But the Men of the Great Assembly disagreed, reinterpreting "awe and might", in formulating our prayers-- see Yoma 69b, Deut. 10:17.

Many Sephardim read Job on the 9th of Av, suggesting that national tragedy, as that of the individual, is simply beyond human explanation and protest, given man's limited power and perspective (see Ch. 38f). So Moshe begged God to show him His ways on earth-- this realm, apparently, as science, is not part of the Torah, God's teaching to Moshe on Sinai (Ex. 33:13-23). While God shows him His "back", i.e. enables him to sometimes understand, in retrospect, why the cookie crumbled as it did, even Moshe can not see God's "face", i.e. predict His future actions-- unless they're revealed to him.

DIVINE WRATH is one, howbeit unpleasant, way of explaining evil in this world; it assumes that the extraordinary love and kindness most of us experience every moment (and arouse and acknowledge via blessings), e.g. the functioning of our bodies, fresh air, and food and drink, are only one side of God. He also, howbeit justly, punishes (but much suffering, e.g. of infants, cannot be due to any sin on their part). Kabbalists teach that this "tough side" only applies to God's WIll (Ratzon), His response to free will human activity, not to His Essence (Rav G. Fleer); indeed, suffering may hurt Him more than us-- His Feminine side, Shchina, shares our pain, sorrow and exile. A separate study is required to try to explain the overriding importance of human free will in God's eyes, justifying even outcomes such as the Shoa; but Job implies that this is way beyond us.

The most extreme application of the concept of Divine wrath, rendering it His essence in this world, may be the Christian doctrine of original sin, that all are condemned to sin and suffer, due to Adam and Eve; while Judaism also relates sin and suffering, it's basically Israel's own sins that determine its destiny, tho ancestoral sins may compound the punishment, e.g. +he concept of the 10 martyrs suffering for Joseph's brothers' sin; from belief in original sin, it's not a big step to crusades and inquisitions, to Luther's Hitlerian polemics, "holy" models for the Holocaust of those whose distant ancestors allegedly crucified Jesus. Now U.S. Baptists have launched another campaign to get rid of us, via conversion; they want no Jews around as living reminders that God has no body and that the Messiah hasn't yet come; they forget Isaiah 2, which predicts that all nations will come to learn about God and life from His Chosen Folk, Israel in Israel, not to teach them their own corruption of Judaism, mixed with ancient idolatry and anti-Semitism.

So writes German-born Princton Prof. Walter Kaufman, an exceptionally clear and bright thinker; he rejected Christianity's claim that a man was God and resolved to convert to Judaism, despite Hitler's ascent, when he was 12. He later discovered that all 4 of his grandparents were Jewish! Tho only observant for a limited period (cf. Alan Dershowitz's chutzpa), he devoted much of his later writing to showing how Christian focus on the next world and concern about one's own salvation led to immoral and destructive societies; it's the teachings of Moshe and other O.T. (Only Testament) prophets, who stressed effective good conduct towards other people in humbition (humility and ambition) as the main path to God, which can indeed save our real world. Kaufman analyzes and classifies the varied approaches to evil in the world, (The Faith of A Heretic, Suffering and the Bible, p. 137ff; it inexcusably lacks an index). Kaufman also criticized modern philosophy, which rejects the Socratic concern with being society's gadfly critic on the major issues of life, for insipid "professional" roles of hi-tech linguistics, etc.-- most students of philosophy I've met can't even clearly define the term "philosophy"!!

The prophets, who followed Moshe in trying to understand God's ways, stressed God as the source of evil too, evil being a response to human iniquity-- e.g. Amos 3:6, Lamentations 3:38, Isaiah 45:5, Job 2:10. So Jeremia acknowledges the evil fact that children suffer for their parents' sin thruout history (Lam. 5:7), but promises that one Messianic day this will not be so (Jer. 31:28ff; cf. Ezek. 18:2f). The rabbis even violated their own rule-- to experience only the past and future Edenic states on Shabbat, putting aside all sadness and world problems-- to make this point; we read 3 sad tragic haftarot on the Shabbatot preceding the 9th of Av, when the folk are assembled in synagogue-- lest they misinterpret or banalize evil and thereby postpone the Messianic era, the great Sabbath *. The prophets thus emphatically rejected two other approaches-- 1) the secular approach that all is luck or chance, with no Divine Providence, laws or purpose to life-- cf. Meretz; the 2 great native religions of China, Confucianism and Taoism, share this gloomy and destructive outlook. 2) Polytheistic religions, e.g. the Iliad and the Odyssey, recognize purpose and laws in one's fate, but attribute what happens to different powers with different purposes. So the Persian religion of Zarathustra (or Zoroaster) posited two gods, a god of light and goodness (Ormazd or Ahura-Mazda) and a god of darkness and evil (Ahriman). Isaiah replies: "I am the Lord and there's no other... I form light and create darkness, I make peace and create evil... (45:5ff)"; we repeat this message in our daily AM and PM prayers.

* A DIVERSION: In The Right to Feel Bad-- Coming to Terms with Normal Depression, Lesley Hazleton shows how, in our "feel good" (USA) society, feeling bad has become almost antisocial. We are made to feel guilty when we're depressed, as if there's something abnormal about it, and this only makes us feel worse. So instead of dealing with depression, we bury our unhappy feelings. She regards depression as a healthy part of the healing process we undergo after many kinds of loss. Depression is a process that can help us cope with the very real difficulties of living in a complex world. And, ultimately, if you never felt bad, you wouldn't know the exhilaration of happiness (cf. "all who mourn Jerusalem will merit to experience her rejoicing"-- Taaanit 30b, B.B. 60b). So I, so American, often feel peace and comfort on Tisha B'Av, just when we face the overwhelming sadness of our tragic history and blemished world; I attribute it to flowing with the tide, not pretending that all is A-OK, when it is not, a release from fighting depression. Then, and only then, are we reassured that, eventually, we'll shape up and all will indeed be A-OK, in the messianic era. As Rav Nachman claims, "It's a great mitzva (very hard indeed) to always be connected to joy (not "to rejoice")", i.e. never to enter existential despair.

A poignant illustration of Hazelton's thesis is Judith Mandel Novack's moving concise autobiography, The Lilac Bush. After barely surviving the horrors of "civilized" Germany's holocaust (her two sisters died 4/23/45, 12 days before her liberation), Judith, again observant, faced a new affliction in the kind generous U.S.-- the inability to express her pain and suffering; no one was interested in hearing about the war and her personal tragedy, in the land whose motto is: "smile-- and the whole world smiles with you, laugh-- and the world laughs with you, cry-- and you cry alone". She closes: "Sometimes I feel as if I have lived not one life, but several. We read in our prayer book: `God renews daily the work of Creation'. Every day is a new time of birth, a new beginning. Those we have lost continue to be alive in our memories, in our love for them, and in what I feel is their love for us. We can hope and pray that our children, their children, and their childrens' children will be spared the terrible calamity of my generation".

BACK TO THE BACKGROUND: Judaism also rejected the outlook of India's 2 great faiths-- Hinduism and Buddhism; they postulate, as science in the material realm, a lawful world order, but no purpose. The outcast of traditional Hinduism is held to deserve his wretched fate, a punishment for wrongs he did in a previous life. Transmigration of souls was not invented by the Zohar and Ari and was condemned by Saadya, Albo, etc. Abarbanel praised it as a great Greek discovery! (see our Shlach study). But today we have socially activist Buddhist groups, e.g. that of Indonesian Tich Non Han, based in France, and those based on ancient doctrines of "good omens". To learn about them, contact our high-tech oriented reader, Venerable Mettanando Bhikkhu, special advisor to the Secretary General of the UN for Buddhist affairs, 777 UN Plaza, suite 9-a, NYC, NY 10017, tel. (212) 687-2163 (e-mail: As we enter the Messianic era, all religions are coming to the prophetic realization that the true way to God is scientific development coupled with social involvement on this earth-- rather than attempting to escape Upstairs, we're to bring Upstairs Downstairs, to eventually bring Downstairs Upstairs.

The concept of "Satan", an independent evil force, is also polytheistic; if he indeed serves God, the problem of theodicy has just been pushed back, not solved (Satan isn't found in God's Torah, only in later books of the Bible, where each prophet writes in his own language and style-- cf. 1Ch21 and 2S24. The worst approach, that of Job's "friends" and those who blame the Shoah on the Jews or the Zionists, is that all deserve what they get and are judged in this world, that Anne Frank was much more wicked than Heinrich Himmler, is emphatically rejected by God in Job. But we do have notions that the wicked are rewarded for their bit of good in this world, where the righteous are punished for their bit of evil (Yev. 121b; Lev. Rab. 27:1; Sifre Haazinu 307).

Prof. David Blumenthal, in Facing the Abusive God, compares Holocaust victims with sexually abused children, whose tormentors are often the very people who are supposed to guide and raise them. Yet they are their only parents, with whom they somehow must come to grips; he compares this with our relationship to the one and only God, which we must deal with, tho so much of His world seems so terrible to us. God and Evil-- A Jewish Perspective, is David Birnbaum's innovative attempt to deal with the awesome dilemna of evil in a world created by a just God, within the parameters of an authentically Jewish halachic point of view; he place The Free Will Defense within a broader metaphysical framework. "... a framework for a renewed exploration into the most agonizing aspects of the meaning of religious belief... It is an impressive attempt to focus intellectually on the Holocaust, w/o diminishing the primal outcry of pain" (Rosh Yeshiva N. Rabinovitch). The book is praised by leaders of many faiths.

Moshe also mentions his death sentence when he later exhorts the Chosen People-- he stresses that they, who heard the 10 Words, may not idolize any earthly entity. He then adds: "GOD WAS ANGRY WITH ME FOR YOUR WORDS, AND SWORE THAT I NOT CROSS THE JORDAN OR ENTER THE GOOD LAND (even for a visit?), WHICH GOD'S GIVING YOU... FOR I DIE IN THIS LAND; I WON'T CROSS..." (4:21-2). Moshe is explaining his intense non-stop warnings to Israel-- about to depart, this is the only way he can still fulfill God's command to guide them in the Promised Land (Ramban).

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Moshe now addresses the Almighty as "God, Lord", invoking both divine justice and mercy; so did Avraham, when praying for children (Gen. 15:2); the righteous plead for mercy, as a gift, not sure they deserve it, not sure justice is on their side (Rashi). "R. YOCHANAN SAID: `HENCE YOU LEARN THAT NO CREATURE HAS ANY CLAIM ON HIS CREATOR, FOR (EVEN) MOSHE, THE TEACHER OF ALL PROPHETS, MADE USE ONLY OF BEGGING PRAYERS, TACHANUNIM'" (Deut. Raba 2:1). Every child needs to feel loved, despite sins and errors, success or failure (Rav S. Carlebach). Vis-a-vis God, we're all children; our natural parents MUST eventually fail us, due to human weakness and mortality-- "THO MY FATHER AND MOTHER WILL FORSAKE ME, GOD WILL GATHER ME CLOSE" (Ps. 27:10).

RAV GEDALIA FLEER comments: Prayer, t'fila, = 515 = derech eretz (the way of the earth) = v'etchanan, I ENTREATED, the first word of Moshe's prayer. Prayer is the request for that groundless love with which God granted Creation, the way of the earth, to Man, who hadn't yet done His will. We proclaim "FOR HIS KINDNESS IS FOREVER" 26 times, corresponding to 26 generations sustained by God, before Israel accepted His Torah. God's treasury of free kindness is for those who can't acquire merit on their own, but must pray for it (Deut. Raba Ki Sisa 45).

Moshe pleads to complete his experience of Divinity by experiencing the "GOOD LAND", Israel, especially the "GOOD MOUNTAIN AND LEVANON" (i.e. Jerusalem and the Temple, tho not yet built; per Malbim, Moshe would build them right away, should he enter Israel-- 3:25; see Ber. 48b, Yoma 39b). Israel, Jerusalem, and the Temple possess unique progressively intense ability to link man with the ultimate "good"-- God. True, God's glory fills the world (Is. 6:3); but outside Israel, one meets Him as a multi-national executive, in one of his many elegant global offices; tho impressive, it pales in comparison to meeting him at home, especially in his den, with his pipe and slippers. So Ziggy's universal, inspiring, but impersonal Lord of sunrise and sunset is revealed as the loving God of Infinity at home, alive and well, in Yerushalayim, where so many sense his ongoing Providence-- people so often seem to meet whom they should meet here (Ps. 135). The Kotzker Rebbe (Ohel Moshe) says that Moshe prays to be able to see Israel's GOOD SIDE (sometimes hard!-- cf. the spies and modern bureaucracy, Howard Jacobson's angry biased Roots Schmoots, and Stephen Langfur's plaintive deep Confession From A Jericho Jail).

A GOOD land is one suitable for its inhabitants (Ramban); Israel's great potential as a "good" land requires lots of hard work and brains to develop-- there's no Nile to inundate it. Those who work hard to do so become GOOD-- strong and capable-- cf. Tzahal, Entebbe. Israel's "good" as it's not naturally good. So it's a BROADENING land, because it's not broad! Topography develops personality types (mountain men, sea men, plains men, etc.). So one's soul is broadened, combining all such types, by Israel's variegated topography and climate-- all is found within a small area, reachable by everyone (Rav J. Soloveichik).


Moshe now, for the first time, tells Israel of his unsuccessful attempt to revoke God's death sentence; he then ADDS that he can't even cross the Jordan (3:27), and that they camped at Bet P'or, site of their orgiastic idolatrous debacle (3:29). Moshe ADDS that he must be buried in Transjordan; he won't even finish his mitzva, bringing up the bones of Yosef, who merits burial in the holy land, tho he died in Egypt. Some see this as a punishment-- Moshe identified himself to Yisro's daughters as an Egyptian, not a Jew: AN EGYPTIAN MAN DELIVERED US OUT OF THE HAND OF THE SHEPHERDS... (Ex. 2:19). Yosef, however, stressed his Israeli identity-- FOR I WAS STOLEN AWAY OUT OF THE LAND OF THE IVRIM... (Gen. 40:15, Deut. Raba 2:8). But Ivrim just denoted Semites back then; the only "Jews" in Yosef's time were Yaakov's family, who didn't yet control Canaan. This exposition also doesn't explain Moshe's reference to Bet P'or. Perhaps Israel's orgy demonstrated his inability to lead the new generation (cf. The Arad "Festival").

Others claim that Moshe had to be buried in the desert, near Baal Peor, to finally lead his lost generation to Israel, in God's eschatological resurrection of the dead (cf. Deut. 33:21). One wouldn't bother to pick up small coins, unless gold pieces were among them; so God wouldn't bother to redeem the wilderness generation, buried in the desert, were they not accompanied by Moshe! (R. Levi, Deut. Raba II:9-- but were they all buried only in Baal Peor?). Some midrashim say that Moshe's burial near Bet P'or atones for Israel's sin there; they stress the greatness of the rebbe, Israel's leader, in saving sinners-- cf. chassidus; in Kol Chevre, many write of Shlomo Carlebach's great impact on their lives and souls. Other midrashim stress that Moshe's greatness disappears, once he's deposed, no longer fit to govern; Moshe, as leader of God's Chosen Folk, could even speak strongly to God and COMMAND the earth to open up and swallow Korach & Co. Once retired, his historical hour past, he has to meekly beg God's mercy (ibid 3,4; cf. retired political leaders and chief rabbis today). These statements reflect traditional talmudic and misnagdic critical non-veneration of ANY mortal, even the greatest Rebbe; other religions deify their leaders. "HAVE NO FAITH IN PRINCES, IN THE SON OF MAN WHO LACKS SALVATION-- HIS SPIRIT DEPARTS, HE RETURNS TO HIS EARTH" (PS. 146). Rav A. Y. Kook urged pupils to be especially (but quietly and respectfully) critical of their own rebbe, whose faults and lacks they're most likely to copy (everyone has some faults! Cf. M. T. Taaniyot 5:1, Lev. 26:40, re parents).

CH. 4: Moshe now begins Part II of Dvarim-- a review of Sinai's Revelation, the Torah and its detailed commandments. The PURPOSE of all the wonders, trials, and tribulations of the desert trek just reviewed is to develop Israel as a model holy nation, who bring and accompany universal man back to Eden via Jerusalem.

Even the new generation sinned at Bet P'or, many dying; yet their hope-- to be a holy free people in their land-- is not lost. Jerusalem can reverse even the impact of Las Vegas and Peor. The tainted survivors can fully return to God; this comforting message is read after Tisha B'Av, as the season of return to ourselves, God and Torah opens. Some Israeli Jews are openly pagan Hebrew speakers; they exchange the deep holiness and peace of Shabat for obsessive absorption with who can kick a ball better; they add vicarious savage aggression against similar practitioners of triviality from other teams and towns. Those only covertly pagan might never extol a sports hero over a great torah scholar or medical researcher; yet even some of them might ask who won the soccer match, in the middle of services. The Sifre contrasts the Jews, forgiven for gross sin, with Moshe-- he's dismissed for only slight deviation from the high standards of Jewish leadership (3:29; cf. UJA). Many warnings of future Israeli backsliding follow.

To keep God's law, one mustn't ADD TO IT NOR DIMINISH FROM IT (4:2). Misnagdic Ha'amek Davar applies this warning to those seeking "religious experience"-- their own subjective inner feelings are not to be their guide; they may not ADD means, other than study and practice of God's law, to achieve religious ecstasy (e.g. fasts, sacrifices, abstinence, Umen?); nor may they DIMINISH, eliminating laws which don't "feel right", seemingly limiting "spirituality"-- "looking down from their pedestal of mystic elevation and considering themselves released from the prosaic discipline of Jewish precept" (e.g. fixed times of prayer); cf. a down-to-earth woman, raising a bunch of kids, with all the difficulties involved, with one whose life is only poetry and meditation (spiritual ice cream). If my subjective judgment adds to God's words, it's likely to later diminish them (Klei Yakar); see Rav Y. Chait's modern misnagdic Maimonidean video on cool intellectual study of Torah, science and philosophy, mind over heart, as the route to Love of God. See his debate with Rav Gedalia Fleer, moderated by the author.

But women must also love God! Yet they're not commanded (or even, traditionally, encouraged) to study theoretical Torah realms, perhaps to keep peace in the family-- talmudists are always arguing (see our Matos-Masay study)! Thus Rambam (M.T. Y.H.) says that study of science and nature is the route to Love of God, rather than study of Torah, which he'd included in his earlier commentary on the Mishna; he doesn't exclude women from such scientific study. But many rabbis attribute equal or higher spiritual value and efficacy, than that of formal intellectual Torah study, to woman's intuitive emotional and spiritual faculties, especially in prayer-- its laws are indeed learnt from Chana. Women proclaim: "Blessed are You... Who's created me like Your Own Will (or Personality)"; they have innate love for God. Only they can create a Temple in their homes, inspiring their husbands and sons (Hirsch), receiving in return the fruits of their Torah learning. Only they determine their children's Jewish essence.

Purists attempt to rid Judaism of either its rational or irrational components-- Nachman of Breslav banned rationalist commentators and texts, e.g. The Guide, the Radak & Ibn Ezra. Rav Yosef Kapach's grandpa, great saintly scholar Rav Yechya, led Yemenite Dordaim in removing the mystical Zohar from their purified rational scientific Maimonidean faith, about a century ago. Most commentaries conclude that only Man and Woman together form a complete Divine Image, learning from each other's perspectives (but see Abarbanel, Gen. 1:27ff); so a balanced approach to Love of God must selectively embrace both philosophic and talmudic rationality (masculine?) and mystical intuitive hassidic affect and spirituality (feminine?). Alon Goshen-Gotstein and Zev Falk led an impressive recent Elijah Summer Schoolinterfaith seminar on achieving this balance in academia.

Perhaps God sets out how much human energy should be expanded in each religious life realm, e.g. work, prayer, and study; overstress of any realm may eventually lead either to rejection of the whole discipline as being too life- limiting, or to ignoring other valid realms of life, e.g. national service, friendships, gainful employment. Munk sees dynamic harmony, the balance of all true and valid realms, as the prime ongoing task of man (Ascent to Harmony). The snake tries to get Eve to sin by suggesting that God prohibited ALL the fruits of Eden-- she disagrees, but adds, on her own, an alleged prohibition of touching the tree, before she eats the forbidden fruit (cf. separate seating at Shabat tables and weddings, children rebelling against overly restrictive discipline, Salem-like persecution of broader souls by Manchester's constipated community, and demonic haredi attacks on non-orthodox prayer groups at the Wall).

YOUR EYES HAVE SEEN... THAT ALL THE MEN WHO FOLLOWED BAAL P'OR, GOD, YOUR LORD, DESTROYED FROM YOUR MIDST-- BUT YOU WHO CLEAVE TO GOD YOUR LORD ARE ALL ALIVE TODAY (4:3-4). This refers to the death of 24,000 Jews, after the idolatrous orgy (Ibn Ezra; cf. the 24,000 pupils of Rav Akiva, lacking mutual respect, who died during the omer period). Rav Kook says that the verse speaks of spiritual life and death-- ONE WHOSE SELF-IMAGE IS AN ANIMAL, SEEKING POWER AND PLEASURE, IS "LIVING DEAD"; DEATH'S THE END OF ALL ANIMAL LIFE. BUT ONE WHO CLINGS TO GOD, WHOSE SPEECH AND DEEDS REFLECT A SENSITIVE ALIVE SOUL, HAS LINKED WITH ETERNITY-- HIS SOUL NEVER DIES. Truly modern well-dressed Grand Rabbi M. Gafni views clothing as a cover-up, repressing awareness of our mortal bodies; sometimes it expresses our unique eternal souls, but often it tells lies about who we are, ashamed to express our essence, meekly following fickle fashions or group traditions.

ALL Torah laws must be followed IN THE MIDST OF (in all aspects of life in) THE LAND (OF ISRAEL; 4:5); many are only applicable there. Per Ramban, one can only truly fulfill God's commandmants in the Holy Land; the name of the game's to create a holy model state of Israel, priests to mankind (Ex. 19:6); then-- "I'll bless those who bless you (Avram), and curse those who curse you, for thru you (Avram's descendants) all families of the world shall be blessed" (Gen. 12:3); "... for IN (not all of, not Esav) Yitzchak (not Yishmael) shall seed be called for you" (your mission; Gen. 21:12). Yet we must also keep mitzvot abroad, perhaps only to retain familiarity with Torah until Israel's redemption (cf. children's mitzvos).

Only keeping and studying God's Torah in Israel, bringing us in close proximity to God, earns us respect from other nations (how to solve the Arab problem)-- ... FOR IT IS YOUR WISDOM AND UNDERSTANDING BEFORE THE EYES OF THE NATIONS WHO HEAR OF ALL THESE STATUTES... (4:6). When non-Jews experience the gestalt, the totality, of Jewish life, they sense its life wisdom, tho each statute may not seem sensible by itself, e.g. the red cow (Klei Yakar, quoted by Boston's Tolner Rebbe, Harvard Prof. I. Twersky-- cf. Howard Jacobson's ridiculing the laws of mikva, w/o seriously attempting to understand them, in Roots, Ch. 11-- a simple test of the basic belief of Jews, including Conservative rabbis, in the Divinity of the Torah and its laws is whether they observe the laws of nidda, whether their wives duly immerse in a mikva or natural body of water). So a small segment of the Jewish people might be cursable by Bilaam, when viewed in isolation from Clal Yisroel, the Nation of Israel, an existential entity which transcends time and place. But blindness to Creation is blindness to the Creator; the Torah must also be integrated with all basic human wisdom, especially science, for Israel to be respected and influential among mankind (Rav S. Riskin). ONLY TAKE HEED OF YOURSELVES... LEST YOU FORGET WHAT YOUR EYES SAW (4:9)-- An Israelight must retain observance to retain his international renown-- Rashi.

Ramban disagrees-- 4:9 warns against DOING MITZVOS AS ROUTINE, WITHOUT CONSCIOUS AWARENESS OF THE WHOLE REVELATION ON SINAI, THE WORD OF GOD (cf. Haamek Davar above). Children are likely to reject or change uninspired religious life, howbeit traditional (cf. M. Kaplan's Jewish Civilization). Speaking ability and scholarship aren't enough-- a true Jewish leader must also radiate God-awareness, love, kindness and patience, e.g. Shlomo. Rav Gedliah Fleer, in his annual TOP Tisha B'Av lecture, noted that routine observance must, sooner or later, become boring and abandoned; but truly inspired observance and prayer must go beyond our sense perceivable experience-- we must open ourselves up to experiencing our own innermost depths of soul and the infinite essence of God Himself. Tamuz and Av, our time of tragedy, are related, per Kaballa, to the letters chet and tet, and to superficial "seeing" and "hearing", e.g. the spies' overwhelming vision of the powerful Canaanites and Israel's listening to their pessimistic predictions (see Bnei Yissaschar, Mahut Chodoshim Tamuz V'Av). On Tisha B'Av, we try to expand our consciousness to overcome our narrowness of vision and insight.

The Koliver Rebbe (speaking for the Diaspora Yeshiva) noted that it might be better not to doven at all, than to do so w/o enthusiasm and focus-- you might disgrace God's name and Torah, should someone like Howard Jacobson see you and be turned off (cf. Carlebachian "happy minyanim", proliferating thruout the Jewish world-- the latest is in Givat Shmuel). I suffered a "virtual inquisition" when I repeated the rebbe's remarks in my popular class at a local, allegedly modern, Orthodox center; Jacobson was indeed turned off at the very same center by a low level close-to-Kahana lecture. The Root and Branch lectures, organized by Arye Gallen at the Falk Israel Center, however, show how true Torah study can interface with all modern knowledge, to inspire both Jews and sympathetic non-Jews, learning together. Kol Hakovod to the directors, Shai and Phil, for their support of Arye's broad and broadening programs. Mayanot, a high level open Habad Yeshiva, is heading in the same right direction, featuring high level university professors, both male and female, not necessarily affiliated with Habad, in its public lectures.

God, revealed without shape or form at Sinai, may not be worshipped via images, even those of His own Creation. Over-adoration of nature is the first step toward idolatry (M.T., A.Z. 1). The Jews might turn to idolatry, once comfortably established in Israel; their corrective will be expulsion from Israel to become minorities elsewhere, where they WILL serve lifeless idols, tho they will, outwardly, still be religious Jews. Jewish efforts to build themselves and their host country ultimately benefit local idoatrous cultures (Rashi)-- ANYONE living outside of Israel is as tho he worships idols (Ramban quoting Ket. 110b). Jews gradually, tho unconsciously, assimilate values and lifestyles (i.e. "idols") of their host cultures (Shalot Yavetz, II:15, e.g. Ashkenazic assimilation of medieval Catholic disdain of the body-- see our Naso study).

One can, with great effort, find God even in harsh exile (e.g. Sharansky, Mendelovitz). His covenant and mercy are always available to the Jews, who WILL eventually return to Him. Per Ramban, this section speaks of our brief 1st exile; Ch. 28 portrays our Great Exile & Return. We have the world's only tradition of Divine Revelation to a whole nation; such a thing cannot be made up and believed by even minimally intelligent people-- they would have already heard of it were it true and transmitted! Therefore Christianity and Islam, who claim that God "changed His Mind", dare not claim such Revelation (Kuzari). Today's miraculous return of Israel to Israel, after so many centuries among alien nations (as Egypt's Exodus), is evidence of Torah's Divine Origin and God's fulfillment of the Patriarchal covenants. Torah physicist Dr. Yaakov Schroeder pointed this out to Nobel Physics Prize Lauriate recipient, Dr. Leon Lederman; the latter, far, at least consciously, from the world of Torah, responded: "Spooky"!

Moshe then sets up 3 manslaughter refuge cities in Transjordan, a step in the conquest of Israel (4:41f), and resumes his sweeping overview (Ch. 5): THIS IS THE TORAH WHICH MOSHE PLACED BEFORE THE CHILDREN OF ISRAEL. THESE (items about to be stated-- Rashi) ARE THE TESTIMONIES, STATUTES, AND LAWS WHICH MOSHE PROCLAIMED TO THE CHILDREN OF ISRAEL, WHEN THEY LEFT EGYPT (Rashi: now repeated) IN TRANSJORDAN... (4:44-46; God appends these statements to Moshe's Mishnaic review of the Torah-- Abarbanel). Moshe once more recalls Israel's smashing conquest of Sichon and Og; this entitles him to demand their respect for the laws of the Torah (Rashi)-- he reviews them, starting with the Decalogue, rephrased for the new generation; so he may have spoken to Israel differently at each stage and place in their trek (Deut. 1:1); every leader must know both God's eternal Torah and his flock's own experiences and perceptions. We too have to constantly reformulate Torah into our contemporary weltanschauung and modes of expression (ids and atoms replace demons and evil eyes), while retaining halachic norms. Thus we give "reasons" for mitzvos, i.e. how we experience them, and extract and translate great ideas from their medieval and kabbalistic settings (Rav JBS).

Moshe reaffirms God's approval of Israel's awe of Divinity, their religious humility-- they begged NOT to experience God directly, but to hear His subsequent words only via Moshe; only he was great enough for direct Divine contact. Mitnagdim, traditional ashkenazic Jews, stressed this "religious modesty"; they rejected hassidic pursuit of Divine ecstasy and free expression of one's holiest feelings in song and dance (JBS). But Rav G. Fleer claims that many are afraid to express their meager spirituality, lest they have nothing further to express; they don't realize that spiritual experience self-renews and deepens, as many more flowers appear after one's cut the first ones. The Jews, including prophet Aharon, returned to their tents (i.e. their wives), direct Divine Contact completed; Moshe, who continued such contact, remained celibate. Jewish success or failure are linked to Torah, from which one mustn't deviate left (cf. Meretz) or right (cf. Kach).

SHMA follows: HEAR ISRAEL, GOD IS (first) OUR LORD (OF NATURE), GOD IS ONE (6:4)-- all nations will accept Him someday (Rashi; see Is. 2:3, Zech. 14:9). Peace and ethics will prevail only when the nations proclaim: HEAR O' NATIONS, THE LORD IS THE JEWS' GOD, THE LORD IS ONE (Rav S. Riskin). He's the only reality-- this truth must permeate our deepest depths, per Nefesh Hachayim. Even when He appears as the Lord of Justice, he's still the God of Mercy (Zohar); but chaos results if justice isn't proclaimed, if one's not informed of his faults, tho forgiven-- Rav G. Fleer, Av 9, 5754. Love of God is linked to one's unique personality and resources-- "with all YOUR heart and all YOUR soul and all YOUR might"-- says Rav Chayim Lifshitz. Only when words penetrate your own heart, can and must you pass them on-- "and you shall teach them to your children and speak of them...". "Words that go forth from the heart enter the heart; those that don't won't even enter the ears" (Moshe Ibn Ezra, Shirat Yisroel 156; words of one who has awe of God will be heard, per Ber. 6b)

Tefillin and mezuzot, God's word upon one's arm (the symbol of power), head (the symbol of thought), and gates (representing family and society, their interface and separation) precede (prevent) warnings of Divine wrath, should the Jews turn to idols, while enjoying unearned Canaanite wealth. One may not "test" God by linking her faith to miracles and his well-being (cf. timeless Job; see ). As specific laws cannot cover all situations, one must be generally decent and honest to succeed in acquiring Israel. Conversely, one can meticulously observe every commandment and remain an obnoxious person (Ramban; many such people, often the most vociferous opponents of non-Orthodox Judaism, hang around the Wall, Bnei Brak and Mea Shearim; besides Torah, one must sensitively understand the world and respond to it appropriately). We must review Exodus and our religious Zionist mission with future generations. False mercy mustn't interfere with the ultimatum to the perverse 7 Canaanite nations (no longer extant) to accept a Jewish idol-free Israel or leave it.


Marriage with memnbers of the 7 nations is clearly prohibited by the Torah: "And you shall not marry with them (pl.)-- you may not give your daughter to HIS (sing.) son, and HIS daughter you may not take for your son (implying that men "take" women, proclaim them their wives, with their assent). For he will cause your son to deviate from following Me, and THEY will serve alien gods, and then God's indignatiopn will be kindled against you, and He will destroy you quickly (7:3-4; even tho your son "takes" her into his family's ambiance and influence-- Hirsch)... For you are a holy people to God, your God! It is you whom God, your God, has chosen to be a people belonging exclusively to Him, from (or more than) all the peoples who are on the face of the earth (7:6)".

Talmudic rabbis dispute whether this Biblical marital prohibition extends to gentiles, even idolators, other than the 7 nations, tho there is clear rabbinic prohibition of even cohabitation per se with them (A.Z. 36b). Great worldly talmudist Conrad Bleich (Contemporary Halachic Problems II), intuitively feels that sexual relationships between Jews and Gentiles are, per se, terribly wrong (see Zohar, Shmot 3b)-- he struggles to find Biblical legal grounds to ban them, just as he strains to find clear halachic bans on women wearing slacks (very unsuccessfully, in my opinion)--

Rambam (Isurei Biah 12:1; also see Sefer HaChinuch 427) rules that 7:3 refers only to common law marriage, not to sexual relations per se, and includes all other nations, per Rashby's opinion: "A Jew who cohabits with a non-Jewish woman (goya) of any of the gentile nations (mshar haumat), IN A MATRIMONIAL MANNER (or v.v.), incurs the Biblical punishment of lashes..."-- see Neh. 10:31, 13:23-5; but TUR (E.H. 16, following Yev. 76a) limits the Biblical prohibition to the 7 Nations, and only AFTER they convert, the only possibility of entering an otherwise legal marriage (kiddushin) with them-- Kidd. 68b. So Bleich seeks other Biblical sources.

Open public cohabitation with an idolatrous women indeed permits a zealot to kill the violators (Numbers 25:6-8), tho he is discouraged from doing so; if not, Divine excision is the penalty (San. 82a-- see Malachi 2:11-12, urging God to cut off he who has married the daughter of a strange god). But this does not apply to relations in private, nor with a non-idolatress, especially a Noachide, who won't "turn thy son away from following Me", but may even encourage him to do so-- Bleich, as his sources, completely ignores this basic distinction thruout his article. Is producing noachide children, who improve our world and spread belief in God's Torah, indeed such a bad thing, tho our ideal is certainly to perpetuate the Jewish people, to have as many Jewish kids as possible? Could one do both? Did Rebbe Akiva's second wife, ex-Mrs. Turnus Rufus, HAVE to convert before he married her and, possibly, purchased a Jerusalem of Gold for Rachel with her dowry (a guilt offering?).

Rambam (Mishna San. 9:6) and Ramban (shoresh 2, commentary on Sefer HaMitzvot) assume that Malachi's prayer implies that there was a Divine prohibition on intermarriage with heathens, halacha l'Mosheh miSinai, transmitted by Moshe, tho not recorded in the Torah (see San. 22b). Authorities differ as to whether Malachi's prohibition also applies to private cohabitation, tho some consider a common law marriage to be the equivalent of public cohabitation, and thus desecration of the Divine Name, a clear Biblical violation. According to those (e.g. Targum Onkelos) who consider one who slept with someone whom she/he may not marry a zonah or kadesh, Bleich would conclude that a Jew who slept with a gentile violates Deut. 23:18 (even tho they could convert?-- But then they're considered a newborn person). Bleich notes that Nehemiah only deals with intermarriage after he raises Jewish consciousness and identity, by closing the Shabbat Shuk.

Bleich concludes that the time to prevent intermarriage is early childhood, via an education geared to promoting observance of mitzvos. "Where one finds intensive education, deep commitment and maximum observance, instances of intermarriage are much much lower... we live in an open society (should we?) and, of course, there may well be individuals who will be lost to our community no matter what we do (cf. Michael Bernays)... Quite apart from the gravity of the formal (Bibical?) prohibition, Jews have always seen intermarriage as the greatest threat and danger to their very survival. Rashi's expounds S. of S. 8:9 as Israel's promise to God-- Ani Chomah-- that they will be a "wall", rather than a "door", to other nations, jealously guarding the security and integrity of our nation (Meah Shearim?). In the middle of writing this, I noticed some down-to-earth common sense Aish Hatorah pamphlets strewn in the street; I picked them up-- of course, the first one was "How to Stop An Intermarriage".

Jewish sacrificial love of God is exhibited by Israel thru the ages, e.g. the Crusades and Tzahal; it engenders His love and promises to the Patriarchs, whom He chooses, tho they're few and weak. God rewards goodness for 1000 generations; He EVENTUALLY punishes the evil, who may lose eternal life; He first rewards them downstairs, for whatever good they did; He give them many chances to repent, and sometimes waits for them to produce righteous descendants, e.g. Hezekiah from Ahaz, Josiah from Amon, Korach's kids-- Trotsky's descendant learns in Bnei Brak! The Lubavitcher Rebbe's early Trotskiite brother Leibel's brilliant son is now studying in Switzerland. Having children may be your best life insurance! Aharon's descendant, spiritual teacher Andrew Cohen, frequently in Israel, has discovered a lot of truth from his own Divine Priestly soul, transmitted from generation to generation of cohanim, and from much searching and seeking, mostly in the passive spaced-out East; but he hasn't yet linked up with intensive learning and experience of God's Torah, which the cohanim are to teach, and so far has no children; let's pray that he does both soon-- both his teachings and their effects will then be far greater.

The 10 WORDS (5:6-18), The Decalogue, are basic catagories for the 613 detailed commandments (Saadya). The rabbis downplayed the central role given the 10 by non-Jews, who somehow ignore the 4th-- Shabbat's not Sunday or Friday. Tho the 10 Words are directed only to Israel, all mankind has a share in Torah-- the 7 Commandments of the Sons of Noach (see study sheets, books, tapes and videos at TOP). Only Jews observe Shabat with its many complex laws; they thereby act out the first messages of the 10 Words-- God is the continuing Creator of all reality and intervenes in history, e.g. Exodus. He, only He, must be worshipped; He'll reward man's devotion. These Basic Words go on to command Israel not to take His Name in vain, to honor parents, not to murder, not to take another's wife, not to kidnap, not to perjure as a witness, and not to crave or attempt to get, via pressure, something belonging to another (see our Yisro study).


It is the first of 7 prophecies of consolation, after 3 of disaster and exile. Restoration of ruptured relationships is gradual. God at first only urges others (e.g. His prophets) to comfort Israel; the Jews thus still feel rejected, tho blessed; Israel, as after the Calf atonement, yearns for the return of Divine Intimacy. To achieve this, Jews must deeply experience God as the exclusive Source and Perpetuator of all existence. Rav Hertz, whose son tragically fell in love with a non-Jew, notes that Jews, as Moshe, admired mountains, reaching toward heaven; Romans despised these annoying obstacles to their conquest of earth, e.g. Jerusalem. Yet Isaiah too speaks here of pulling down mountains to pave the road to Jerusalem! Perhaps he refers to the "mountains" of Esau and Yishmael, their false claims to transcendance, to true heights of Divine Revelation; they keep man away from the true word of God, which only comes from Sinai, via Jerusalem (but see the writings of Eliyahu Benemozegh and Chaim Hirschenson, who see a role for purified Islam and Christianity in the Messianic era too.

E. GREAT GOD, GREAT ISRAEL-- by Rav Yehudah Henkin.

Let's read 4:5-8. ?: The Torah calls Israel a great nation, who observes God's laws. But the Jewish people have usually been a very small nation!

Answer: True, God promised Abraham his offspring would be "like stars of the heavens" (Gen. 22:17). But in Devarim (1:10; 10:22), Moses described Israel as already being "numerous like the stars of the heavens". There were then only 600,000 adult males, enough to fulfill Avraham's blessing. Yet the Torah declares Israel will enter Canaan and conquer nations "greater and more numerous than you" (Devarim 7:1). Moses states categorically: "... for you're the fewest among all the nations" (7:7). "Gadol"-- great-- refers sometimes to quantity, but more often to quality. When Moses mentions "the great and awesome God" (10:17), he refers to God's attributes and not, obviously, to His number (perhaps to the multitude of his Creation-- YF). In most nations greatness is a factor of size; in Israel it's a matter of religious and ethical elevation.

4:7, usually translated: "Which great nation has God close to it?", should be: "Which is a great nation?-- one with God close to it!" (cf. Psalms 95:4). So 4:8 should be rendered: "Which is a great nation?-- one which has righteous laws and statues", not "Which great nation has righteous laws and statutes?". Neither numbers nor power define greatness, but closeness to God and to his Torah. The nations say that Israel's a great nation only in that they're wise and understanding. God commanded Israel to inherit Canaan. He promised that all nations will bless themselves by us. Yet He warned Israel that they might "forget" that God gave them the ability to prosper (Ch. 8). Our source of pride and our measure of success should be closeness to God and the righteousness of our laws.


Many considered Rambam, Moshe ben Maimon, the Moshe of his day; some even said that: "From Moshe to Moshe, there was no one like Moshe"! In any event, he was one of the greatest teachers and organizers of the Torah Tradition, who expounded its words virtually every free moment, in his home and on the way. In Mishneh Torah, he explains the basic duties of learning and teaching, posited by God in this week's reading of Shma: "These words... shall be upon your heart. You shall teach them to your children and speak in them, when you dwell in your home and when you travel on the way, and when you lie down and when you get up (6:6-7)"-- The following is a compilation of Rambam's Laws of Talmud Torah, from Abraham J. Karp's The Jewish Way of Life and Thought ($20 from TOP):


When must a parent begin to teach his son the Torah? As soon as the child begins to talk, the parent must begin to teach him the Biblical verses: "Moses commanded us a law, an inheritance of the congregation of Jacob" (Deuteronomy 33,4) and "Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one" (Deuternomy 4). After that, the parent is to gradually teach the child other Biblical passages, until the child reaches his sixth or seventh year, dependng on the child's capacity, and then he is to take the child to the teacher.

If it is customary in the locality to pay the teacher, the father must pay for the instruction, and he must continue paying until his child is able to read the whole Bible. Where it is customary to accept payment for teaching the Bible, it is permissible for a teacher to be remunerated, but he is definitely forbidden to teach the Oral Law (Talmud and other non-Biblical texts) for any remuneration as it is written, "Behold, I have taught you the statutes and ordinances, even as the Lord my God commanded me" (Deuteronomy 4,5). The Rabbis interpreted this text thus: " As I (Moses) have been taught gratuitously, so when you will instruct the future generations, do so without remuneration, in the same manner as you were taught by me."

Should one fail to find a teacher willing to teach without remuneration, the instruction must be paid for, as it is written, "Buy the truth" (Proverbs 23). Lest we infer from this that it is also permissible to teach others for remuneration, the verse cautions "and sell it not." We are therefore to infer that it is not lawful to teach for payment, even if one has paid for his education.


Every Israelite is obligated to study the Torah, whether he is rich or poor, in good health or physically afflicted, very young, or so old that his strength fails him. Even if one is so poor that he is supported by public or private charity, or if one is married and is the father of a large family, he is still bound to set aside a definite time for the study of the Torah, both during the day and during the night, as it is written, "Thou shalt meditate therein (in the Torah) day and night" (Joshua 1,8).

Among the eminent sages of Israel, there were hewers of wood drawers of water, and some who were even afflicted with blindness. Yet they devoted themselves to study the Torah, both by day and by night. These were the distinguished men who handed down the oral tradition from man to man, as it was received from the mouth of Moses our Teacher. How long is a man obligated to study the Torah? Till the day of his death, as it is written: "Lest they (the words of the Torah) depart from thy heart all the days of thy life" Deuteronomy 4,9). For as soon as a man ceases to study, he begins to forget...


It is obligatory to appoint teachers in every province, in every district, and in every city. If there is a city which has no school for children, its inhabitants are to be excommunicated, and the ban is not to be lifted until teachers are appointed. If despite the excommunication, the inhabitants fail to appoint teachers, the city itself is to be put under the ban, for the foundation of the world rests on the education of our children.

A child is to be entered in the school at the age of six or seven, depending on his capacity for learning and his physical strength. But under no circumstances should a child be taken to school under the age of six (vs. contemporary haredi practice?). The teacher may inflict slight corporal punishment for disciplinary purposes, but he may not beat the children cruelly or mercilessly. He is therefore to use neither whip nor cane, but a small strap.

The teacher should teach the children thruout the whole day, as thru part of the night, in order to train them to study by day and by night. These studies must not be interrupted (by any vacations) except for half days preceding Sabbaths and festivals, and on the festivals proper, but not on the Sabbaths, when the children may review their old lessons, but may not begin new work. The general principle is that one is not to interrupt the children in their study-- even for the purpose of so holy a task as the building of the Temple in Jerusalem.

Any teacher of children who goes away and leaves the children alone, or attends to some other business while engaged in teaching the children, or carelessly neglects their studies, is to be included among those concerning whom the prophet says: "Cursed be he that doeth the work of the Lord with a slack hand" (Jeremiah 48,10). It is therefore not proper to appoint teachers, unless they be God-fearing, industrious and conscientious. A teacher may not teach more than twenty-five children (cf. today). For classes from twenty-five to forty, the community must appoint an assistant teacher; for classes beyond forty, there must be two teachers.


Prayer rests on the conviction that God exists, and that He hears and answers our prayers (Gen. 18:17ff, Is. 29:13f-- but only sometimes according to what we think should be His answer). We proclaim that return, charity, and prayer turn aside the evil decree. Yet God decided that Moshe should die soon. Father knows best and He loves Moshe. Why protest? Why beg? Laudatory prayer makes sense-- I become sensitive to the wonder and miracle of all that affects me; thanksgiving prayer makes sense-- I become sensitive to the huge debt of gratitude I have to God and others. But petitional prayer is difficult from a RELIGIOUS perspective-- it implies that God's decisions should be disputed, that He'll change His mind. It's sometimes forbidden (Jer. 7:16) and sometimes God answers even before man prays (Is. 65:24, Dan. 9:20f); one should not overdo reflective petition (Ber. 32b). Yet we find petition to God from Avraham on (Gen. 28:20f, 24:12-4, 18:23-33, Ex. 32:31-2, Josh. 7:6-9, IIK19:15-19, etc.). No intercessor is needed (Ps. 145:18)-- God's near to all who call upon Him in truth (T.J. Ber. 9:1, 13a); no angel or rebbe is required-- Vilna Gaon eliminates prayers to angels, e.g. Shalom Aleichem and Yom Kippur's Aramaic additions. Yet certain great people have a power of prayer and its good to have them on your side (Ber. 34b, Ta'an. 3:8, 23).

Albo (Ikarim 4:18): prayer is one criterion by which God decides one's fate; but He's also given man natural and logical means to achieve goals; by using them, one moves Him to favor his plea. One who goes to Business school in the US is likely to make more money than a waiter, especially a dumbwaiter. Rambam (Letter to the Jews of Marseilles) claims the Jews could have repulsed Rome and saved their land and temple, despite their sins, had they really studied political and military science, rather than wasting their time with silly astrology. Rav G. Fleer says that God gives the potential for every alternative-- life and death, poverty and wealth, etc. What's actualized depends on human free will, making oneself a vessel for blessing; by praying, I focus my will to obtain one of several possibilities in my life. So Marasha (Ber. 10) says that persistant intense insistant prayer has limitless power. Another approach is that God decreed death on the Moshe we know. Via reflections and intentions of intense prayer, a new Moshe emerges; Moshe II may indeed so value life and God that he doesn't deserve a death sentence. Prayer changes man, not God. Rambam simply claims that prayer is commanded, tho we may not know why (Yad Tef. 1:1; cf. Y. Leibowitz's doctrines).

Mabit (Bet Elokim, Sharay Tefila, I:4-5) defines prayer: The act in which man ASKS GOD for something he NEEDS, which he CAN'T achieve himself: MAN-- not an angel; angels needn't pray-- God provides for all their needs w/o it. ASKS-- doesn't demand; prayer's an appeal to God to exercise His mercy; prayer's answered by His grace, not by right or justice. OF GOD-- not of angels; it's forbidden to pray to any creature. FOR SOMETHING HE NEEDS-- not for luxuries. WHICH HE CAN'T ACHIEVE HIMSELF-- man should pray only when his own efforts may be futile. Don't just rely on prayer to earn a living, win a war, spouse etc.-- God helps only those who help themselves (Deut. 15:18, per Sifrei-- should those seeking a mate pray 40 days at the kotel or spend time with a good psychologist?).

Perhaps it's human nature to pray, regardless of logic. Man then appreciates his benefits as gifts of God, SHOULD He decide to grant them. The Talmud states that even God "prays". What is written in his Siddur? "May My Mercy overcome My Judgement" (Ber. 7a-- may harsh parents and teachers emulate His prayer!). So prayer does not alter God's judgement or decision-- He's already thought of whatever you argue. His mercy and love may nevertheless respond to the tears, anguish, and love behind the words of prayer. A parent, with every argument to deny a child what he wants, may succomb to his tears. The Gates of Tears are never closed (Ber. 32). The Zohar differentiates between the unchanging eternal ein sof, essence of God, and His self-imposed constriction, via the 10 sfirot (which, as reincarnation, are not part of all kabbalistic systems, the 1278 Zohar being only one such system). Prayer only affects the latter aspect of God. Prayer also focuses one's attention on what's needed; hopefully, he'll then do what he can to remedy the situation himself. So fixed prayers remind one of all human needs, tho not now his own; always pray for others too (Ber. 29b), but not for the impossible, e.g. to change the past (Ber. 9:3). Prayer's a bridge of communication between the Creator and His Image on this earth.

Rav Moshe Feinstein concludes that a non-Jew isn't OBLIGATED to pray, but it's a mitzva if he does so (Iggerot Moshe, O.H. #24; cf. women re sukka and shofar). Gentiles are welcome at the Wall (proclaim it in Mea Shearim! Conservatives too?-- how tragic when hundreds of Jews are turned away from the Wall on Tisha B'Av by police representing the Ministry of Religions; perhaps the Wall should be turned over to The Ministry of Tourism, who would appoint a sensitive modern rabbi to deal with religious issues): "FOR MY HOUSE SHALL BE CALLED A HOUSE OF PRAYER FOR ALL PEOPLES" (Is. 56:7). Tho prayer isn't a Noachide mitzva, it flows from faith, the implied basis of all mitzvos (L. Jacobs).


Louis Jacobs (What Does Judaism Say About...?) notes that Chassidic masters were bothered by the self-centeredness of most petitional prayer, e.g. Sfat Emet on Ps. 18:7: Tho it apppears obvious that one in need should pray, prayer's chief value is when his mind is focused on the prayer itself, the praise of God, not the request for his needs. His request may then be granted just because it resulted in his turning to God in prayer. A hassidic leader prayed for his food with tears, AFTER his well-laden table was set-- why should God be deprived of his prayers just because He anticipated his needs? R. Hirsch of Rimanov noted that Avraham didn't pray for Yitzchak, only for S'dom-- a tzadik doesn't pray for himself or his children, only for others. But Moshe prays to live! A simpler explanation is that God ORDERED Avraham to sacrifice Yitzchak, but not to overthrow S'dom, where He just "consulted" with him, sought his opinion. Before praying, the Tzanzer Rebbe used to pray to pray properly. Only he who has faith and good human relations will have his prayers answered (Rav Nachman). Unlike most Jewish sources, he stressed prayer over action, but only for the highest tzadikim (G. Fleer). Donations to Israel bring one into its pure atmosphere, conducive to prayer (The Hassidic Anthology, L. Newman)-- so ...

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