Sedra Shorts

Ideas and commentaries on the weekly Torah readings.

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Location: Bet Shemesh, Israel

I taught Tanach in Immanuel College, London and in Hartman, Jerusalem. I was also an ATID fellow for 2 years. At present, I work for the Lookstein Center for Jewish Education in the Diaspora, in Bar-Ilan University, Israel. The purpose of this blog is to provide "sedra-shorts", short interesting ideas on the weekly Torah reading. Please feel free to use them and to send me your comments.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Parshat Ha'azinu

Remembering the Days of Old

In his final address to Israel, Moshe advises his people to learn the lessons of history. What lessons are those?

"He found him in a desert region;
In an empty howling waste.
He engirded him, watched over him…" (Devarim 32:10)

Essentially, Moshe is saying that without God, Israel would have been still born, it would not have survived. Indeed, Israel's survival to this day baffles the statisticians and the anthropologists.

Already in Biblical times Israel's history was touch and go: "the Lord said to Mosh: 'I have seen this people and behold! They are a stiff necked people.
Now leave Me alone, and My anger will be kindled against them so that I will annihilate them'" (Shemot 32:9-10).
Israel's precarious steps continued throughout the Biblical period, the Second Temple Era, the Middle Ages, the Holocaust and even today, threats are continuously made.

How does Israel survive? "He spread His wings and take him,
Bear him along on His pinions;
The Lord alone guided him" (Devarim 32:11-12).

When Israel is faithful to God it will flourish.

Last year's Sedra Short on Parshat Ha'azinu entiled: "The Witnesses" appears at

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Thursday, September 06, 2007

Parshat Nitsavim-VaYelech

Alone in a Crowd

For much of Sefer Devarim, Moshe has been warning Israel as to the consequence of breaking the covenant with God. It is therefore with surprise that we read the following statement in the second of this week's parshiyot:

"The Lord said to Moshe: Behold, you are [about to] lie with your forefathers, and this nation will rise up and stray after the deities of the nations of the land, into which they are coming. They will forsake Me and violate My covenant which I made with them." (Devarim 31:16).

This statement is incredible. At the end of the day, fate dictates that Israel will sin, and so, what is the purpose of all the warnings and the threats; at the end of the day, they make no difference?

I believe that the answer appears at the beginning of this week's first parsha. There, another warning is given:

"Lest there should be among you man, or woman…whose heart turns away this day from the Lord our God, to go to serve the gods of those nations…when he hears the words of this curse, that he bless himself in his heart, saying: 'I shall have peace, though I walk in the stubbornness of my heart--that the watered be swept away with the dry'" (ibid 29:17:18).

It is interesting to note that these pesukim are written in the singular. A person, after hearing all the warnings may think that it matters not how s/he behaves. At the end of the day his fate is tied up with that of the nation. Therefore, if the people are loyal to God, he will benefit while if they are disloyal he will suffer. Therefore, his individual behavior is irrelevant as it is tied up with that of the nation. As a result, he will do as he wishes as the issues that decide his future are not in his control.

About such a person the Torah writes: "The Lord will not be willing to forgive him; rather, then, the Lord's fury and His zeal will fume against that man, and the entire curse written in this book will rest upon him, and the Lord will obliterate his name from beneath the heavens" (ibid 19).

While it is true that the nation as a whole would become unfaithful to God, the individual still maintains his freedom of choice to decide his own path. As individuals, we can always buck the trend of the majority and remain faithful to God, regardless of the direction that the rest of the people may be going.

If that means being the last loyal Jew around, than that is the path we must and can take. In that ways we will be the "she'arit hapletah" the surviving remnant, who will live to see God's promise that: "the Lord, your God, will bring back your exiles, and He will have mercy upon you. He will once again gather you from all the nations, where the Lord, your God, had dispersed you." (ibid 30:3).

Last year's Sedra Short on Parshat Nitsavim-VaYelech entiled: "The Hidden" appears at

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