“Parsha and Purpose” – Re’eh 5782 
Rabbi Kenneth Brander’s weekly insights into the parsha 

 “Mishneh Torah: The Role of Humankind in the Writings of God

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Parshat Re’eh

Mishneh Torah: The Role of Humankind in the Writings of God

In Parshat Re’eh, we find ourselves moving towards the middle of the Book of Devarim, the fifth and final Book of the Torah. The Rabbis refer to the Book of Devarim as “Mishneh Torah”. [Midrash Sifri]

Nachmanides explains that the reason why it’s called Mishneh Torah: it is a review of basic precepts necessary for the Jewish People to remember before they enter the Land of Israel and create a location, Eretz Yisrael, which is really the anchor of Jewish society of Torah and mitzvot.

And therefore Nachmanides says it’s called Mishneh Torah because it’s the basic ideals that are necessary when the Jewish People enter the Land of Israel. [Introduction to Deuteronomy].

The challenge with this wondrous idea of Nachmanides is it does not bear itself out in the list of commandments that are mentioned for the first time in the Book of Devarim. So many of them have nothing to do with the Jewish People entering the Land of Israel: the commandment to love God, the institution of marriage, to study Torah, to teach it, to recite the Shema, the responsibility of the Grace after Meals.

In our parsha, the institution of Kashrut, the idea of Shatnez, the prohibition of wearing a garment with wool and linen, the responsibility of giving charity or returning lost property. None of those things have anything to do with entering the Land of Israel.

And therefore the Talmud [Bava Batra 88b, Megillah 31b and Tosfot’s comments there (s.v. “Moshe”)], the Kabbalists [Zohar, vol. 3 (Deuteronomy), Parshat Va’etchanan], the Ohr HaChaim (Rav Chaim ibn Attar) [Commentary to Deuteronomy 1:1], the Gaon of Vilna [cited by Ohel Ya’akov, Deuteronomy, page 20], the Maharal [Tiferet Yisrael ch. 43] and so many others give a different explanation for why this final book of the Torah is called Mishneh Torah.

If the relationship between God and the Jewish People is to be guaranteed, there must be two partners in the scribing of the Torah.

The first four books of the Torah is the first paradigm of “God-speak”. It is written in the third person. It is completely articulated by God and scribed by Moshe.

The fifth book, the final book, is “Mishneh Torah”. It is literally a second Torah, a different paradigm of God-speak, in which Moshe scribes the text, God approves the text, Moshe scribes it with Ruach HaKodesh, God approves it and then Moshe finalizes the text.

The idea being that if we’re going to have a relationship between God and the Jewish People, it is not just God that has to convene and bring and share with us the Torah.

There needs to be a partnership with the Jewish People in its creation, completely approved by God.

These are the five books of the Torah. They are divine books, but we need to see, as we see in Devarim, a form of contribution by Moshe on behalf of the Jewish People, a book that is not written in the third person, but in the second person.

This is an important message for each and every one of us.

If Torah is going to exist forever, if we’re going to continue to guarantee its eternality, both partners have to play a role. We need to play a role. We need to understand how to bring Torah into the modern era.

Not that we should water down Torah, not that we should compromise Torah. But what makes Torah “ki heim chayeinu ve orech yameinu”, what makes Torah eternal is when it can deal with contemporary situations, contemporary realities.

And the reality of the “Mishneh Torah” celebrates the human role in the scribing of the Torah. The second paradigm of God-speak.

The responsibility for each and every one of us, as we read through Sefer Devarim, to remember that God is looking for our voice – based on the principles that God has established – to guarantee His future role in society, and to guarantee our participation in making this a more perfect society.

Shabbat Shalom

“Parsha and Purpose” – Ekev 5782 
Rabbi Kenneth Brander’s weekly insights into the parsha 

 “The Second Tablets: Building the Next Step in our Relationship with God

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Parshat Ekev

“The Second Tablets: Building the Next Step in our Relationship with God”

Relationships of any sort, to be meaningful and effective, must be reciprocal. This is obviously true in a relationship between husband and wife. And it’s true in a relationship between parent and children. Parents give so much to their children, and at a certain time in the relationship, the children begin to give back so much to the parents.

Throughout Tanach, we see relationships that fail when there isn’t a certain reciprocity.

When Adam and Chava are placed in the Garden of Eden, and they are passive in their relationship with God – they have no requirements – the relationship really fails.

Adam and Chava are banished from the Garden of Eden, and only then do they play an active role, a meaningful role, a strong role, in a relationship with God.

In fact, we’re told on the first Saturday night that Adam and Eve are outside of the Garden of Eden, they actually – with God – they create fire [Pesachim 54a].

And that is also true about reciprocity in a relationship between God and the Jewish people.

When God gives the Jewish people the first set of Luchot, our Rabbis tell us throughout the Midrashim, that God gives the Jewish people the Written and Oral Law together. [See Drasha 18 of the Beit haLevi, who elaborates on this point].

The role of the Jewish people is simply to be the receptacle of the Torah, but they really don’t play any role in developing the Torah.

And what happens to the first Luchot? What happens to this Torah, for which there is no Oral Tradition at all, and in which everything is written? That relationship fails.

When the Jewish people are passive, when there’s no engagement from their side in the relationship with God, that is a relationship that cannot work. And therefore, that set of Luchot are shattered [Exodus 32:19].

Those Luchot had a purpose. They demonstrate God’s interest in creating a covenant with the Jewish people and with all of society. But they fail because they cannot endure if etched within the covenant, the Jewish people are not a partner in the relationship and are not active.

And in this week’s Torah portion, Ekev, when we are told about the second Luchot, the Torah is very clear about what happens with the second writing by Moshe:

בעת ההוא אמר ה’ אלי פסל־לך שני־לוחת אבנים כראשנים…

God tells Moshe, ‘Write a second set of tablets that are like the first ones…’ [Deuteronomy 10:1]

They’re not exactly the same; they’re “ka-rishonim”, like the first ones.

And the text continues:

ואכתוב על הלוחות את הדברים אשר היו על הלוחות הראשונים אשר שיברת

And what does Moshe communicate?

‘I wrote on the second set of Tablets the messages that were found on the first Tablets when they were broken.’

Meaning, when there was a bifurcation between the Oral and the Written Tradition; when there was no longer this idea that God would give the Jewish people both the Oral and Written Torah together.

That the Jewish People would now be responsible for writing part of the Torah, and God would be responsible for writing part of the Torah.

That God would give the Jewish People the Written Torah, and it was the responsibility to communicate the messages of the Oral Tradition from generation to generation. 

That every generation would build on the messages of the generation of the past, that now the Jewish People had a role.

That is the promise of the second Luchot, of the second Tablets: a new paradigm of the relationship between God and the Jewish people.

It highlights the responsibility that each and every one of us has, not only to internalize the messages of the Torah, but to have the courage, and more importantly, the knowledge, to be able to build the next floor on what Torah is all about.

Judaism can only survive, and more importantly, can only thrive and be eternal, when we have the knowledge and the courage to build the next step, the next floor, in our relationship to God, based on Torah principles. 

A Judaism and a Torah that engages with modern challenges and makes Torah the eternal book that it continues to be.

Shabbat Shalom

Fertility of Mankind and Fruitfulness of Soil Rabbanit Amira Raanan teaches Halakha and Responsa Literature at the Robert M. Beren Machanaim Hesder Yeshiva The portion of Ekev begins: “And it shall come to pass, because you harken to these laws, and keep, and do them, that the Lord your God shall keep with you the …

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Shabbat Shalom: Parshat Ekev (Deuteronomy 7:12-11:25) By Rabbi Shlomo Riskin Efrat, Israel – “And it shall come to pass, because you hearken to these laws, safeguarding and keeping them, that the Lord your God shall keep the covenant with you and the mercy that He swore unto your ancestors, and He will love you, and …

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“Parsha and Purpose” – Ekev 5781 
Rabbi Kenneth Brander’s weekly insights into the parsha 

“Building the Jewish State with Human Initiative and Divine Guidance”

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Parshat Ekev (Deuteronomy 7:12-11:25)

“Building the Jewish State with Human Initiative and Divine Guidance”

At this point, we have all become used to explaining to others the necessity of a Jewish state – especially when we are confronted with threats of BDS, from those who seek to delegitimize and ultimately dismantle the Jewish state.

But there is an even more important audience and an even more basic question.

The more important audience is us. And the basic question that we need to be able to answer is, “What is our role in the Jewish state?”

I’d like to share an insight from this week’s Torah portion, Ekev, which offers a powerful answer.

In Chapter 8 of the Book of Devarim, the Torah describes the Land of Israel in the most beautiful of ways, noting its natural beauty, produce, resources and minerals.

However, beyond the poetic beauty of the description lies an important sequence which teaches us a crucial lesson about our relationship with God.

The first verse relates that God is bringing us to a good land with flowing streams and springs. (Deuteronomy 8:7)

These are things that exist independently from our involvement; we are passive recipients. 

In the next verse, our active partnership is required, as we must plant and reap wheat, barley, vines, figs and pomegranates. (Deuteronomy 8:8)

The verse continues, repeating the word “Eretz”, and speaks of things requiring even more human initiative, as it is not enough to simply harvest the olives or the dates; but rather, one must crush an olive to obtain its oil and squeeze a date to access its honey. 

Next, the Torah refers to the Jewish People in the land not lacking for food, using bread – the staple food – in this context. (Deuteronomy 8:9)

Making bread is an arduous process which requires a lot more human participation than any of the previously-mentioned items.  

And finally, the Torah discusses the natural resources and minerals found within the Land of Israel: copper and iron and gas and oil, all of which require an immense amount of work to mine before we can benefit from them. 

And then, immediately after this progression from passively receiving the Land’s bounty to becoming active partners in its acquisition, the Torah mentions the necessity of thanking God:

ואכלת ושבעת וברכת את ה’ אלוקיך

And you shall eat and be satiated and shall bless the Lord your God (Deuteronomy 8:10)

This is the verse where we learn about the mandate for Birkat Hamazon, the Grace after Meals, to be recited after eating bread.

Birkat Hamazon is longer and more comprehensive than the blessings “Bore Nefashot” and “Me’ein Shalosh”, which are recited after other foods.

Since a person doesn’t have to do much in order to benefit from grapes or other produce, and one can more clearly see God’s role in providing it, the blessing after consuming the product doesn’t need to be extensive.

However, the line from the wheat in the field to the bread on one’s table is less direct.

It’s not hard to start believing that the bread is the result of our own toil, rather than a gift from God.

It is human nature to forget about the central role that God plays in our lives when we invest so much into the initiative ourselves.

Therefore, the Grace after Meals after eating bread is more extensive.

And now, to answer our original question: What is our role in the Jewish state?

The messages of these verses are clear:

  1. The Land of Israel, given to us by God, requires human initiative in order to flourish; this is shown in the movement we see in the verses that describe the land. We must be actors in the ongoing drama known as Yishuv Eretz Yisrael.
  2. Whether it is the tilling of the soil, or the technological advances that so often emanate from this “Start Up Nation”, or the engagement of the hearts and minds of others who live in the land, it is our responsibility to grow the land, to actualize the potential of the land and to realize that while God is the Senior Partner in this process, we must also be active participants in the experience.
  3. God wants us in this land to be brothers and sisters, to engage and to use its gifts to better our lives. To never use His Torah, a Torah of peace, or the Land and its holy sites to divide people, but rather to transform this land of milk and honey into a place of harmony and a light to the nations of the world.

For these reasons and so many more, we need – and the world needs us – to help shape our Jewish state.

And we can play a role in this process whether we live within its borders or anywhere else in the world.

May we merit to continue working to fulfill Israel’s potential and its promise. 

Shabbat Shalom.

Tamar Beer

Parshat Ekev: Reinventing the Covenant – Judgment, Mercy, and Second Chances Tamar Beer studied at Midreshet Lindenbaum  from 2016 -2018. She is currently enrolled at GPATS (Graduate Program for Advanced Talmudic Studies) and Azrieli Graduate School for Education, and directs a summer women’s beit midrash program called Bnot Sinai.   The concept of “shmartem et …

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This week’s “Shabbat Shalom” is dedicated in celebration ofYakira Bryna Elison’s 7th Birthday— 28 Avby her loving grandparentsIan and Bernice Charif of Sydney, Australia Parshat Ekev (Deuteronomy 7:12 – 11:25) By Rabbi Shlomo Riskin Efrat, Israel – “Remember the entire path along which the Lord your God led you these forty years in the desert, He …

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“Parsha and Purpose” – Ekev 5780
Rabbi Kenneth Brander’s weekly insights into the parsha 

“How Jewish should the ‘Jewish State’ Be?

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“How Jewish Should the ‘Jewish State’ Be?

What does it mean to be a “Jewish state”? A state whose laws are based on halacha – Jewish law? Or a state that serves as a homeland for the Jewish People, but which is more “kosher style” regarding halacha?

We are confronted with variations of these questions all the time, such as, for example, the perennial debate about whether or not public transportation should be permitted on Shabbat.

These questions are not just for the philosophers of Facebook and Twitter to debate.

How these and other questions are answered have a real impact on the lives of everyday people, Jewish and non-Jewish, in Israel and all over the world.

Our parsha, Parshat Ekev, provides guidance on how we might view this very sensitive issue.

Two arks accompanied the Jewish People, the second of which we learn about for the first time in this week’s Torah portion:

“V’Asita Lecha Aron Eitz,” “Make a wooden ark.” Deuteronomy 10:1

Moshe reports that in bringing down the second set of tablets from Sinai, God commands him to make a wooden ark to house the shattered first set of tablets.

Why do we need this additional ark, made of wood? Was not the beautiful one, built by Betzalel from wood and overlaid with gold, sufficient?

Rashi and Tosafot explain that in fact each ark had a distinct role. Rashi on Deuteronomy 10:1, Tosefta Sotah 7:18

The golden ark, containing the fully whole second set of tablets, remained permanently within the private domain of the Tabernacle and the Temple.

In contrast, the wooden ark was brought into the public domain – specifically in times of war and challenge.

The golden ark in the private domain represents uncompromising permanence; the responsibility of ensuring that the Jewish spiritual experience remains complete and whole – much like the second set of tablets housed within.

But we ALSO have a responsibility, particularly in the State of Israel, to bring the ark into the public domain, to engage Judaism with society.

This is symbolized by the wooden ark, housing the broken luchot, that was brought into the public domain at challenging times to serve as a unifying symbol of hope and purpose. 

The Shattered Luchot symbolize that there are challenges and sometimes even setbacks, when Torah engages in the public domain.

But it was never used as a coercive symbol to divide the camp of the Jewish people. 

People are looking for meaning and purpose in Judaism, but they are not interested in being told HOW to do IT or HOW TO believe.

And we’ve seen this at Ohr Torah Stone. Our engagement with 400,000 secular Israelis every year at dozens of local community centers and parks where we share the beauty of our [Jewish] heritage and tradition, we do so in a spirit of acceptance, without any attempt to coerce.

Our engagement with Jews in the larger society must be based on love and shared destiny, without preconceived notions of where their journey will take them.

Ultimately, this is perhaps the most constructive way of helping shape the conversation of what it means to be a “Jewish state.”

May we succeed in this sacred responsibility.

Shabbat Shalom.

Shabbat Shalom: Ekev (Deuteronomy 7:12-11:25) By Rabbi Shlomo Riskin Efrat, Israel – The biblical source for thanking the Almighty for the our worldly gifts is to be found in this week’s portion, Ekev. And if preparation of our meals takes a great deal of time and effort, if our tradition mandates so many laws about …

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