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Parshat Va'etchanan (5762)

The entire book of Deuteronomy (D'vorim) are the last orders of Moses to the Jews just as they are about to enter the land of Israel. In this book there are many new commandments but there are also repetitions of what they heard earlier. For instance here in this week's Torah portion Moses repeats what the Jews heard 40 years earlier at Sinai; the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-14).

But strangely they are different!! Moses says things here that weren't written in the earlier narrative in the book of Exodus.

One of the big differences is the fourth Commandment about Shabbos; in the Exodus 'version' it says,

"Remember the Sabbath …… because G-d made the world in six days and on the Seventh He rested."

But here it says;

"GUARD the Sabbath...Because G-d took you out of Egypt."

At first glance this seems to be a very gross mistake (G-d forbid)! How could such a thing go undetected for over 3,300 years?

But the Sages explain that it's no mistake: The truth is that the Jews actually heard G-d say two different things simultaneously! G-d said BOTH versions at the same time!

But although this explains the apparent mistake it creates another problem: Why did G-d do it? What was the point of saying them together?

To answer this, here is a very strange story.

When the Baal Shem Tov began to teach his new way of serving G-d called Chassidut he met with great opposition; his ideas were simply too different. Today, hundreds of years later, we know that the opposition was baseless but in the beginning it was very rough going.

One of the greatest opponents of the Baal Shem Tov was a genius and a Tzadik (righteous Jew) called Rabbi Yaakov Yosef of Polnoy.

His knowledge of all aspects of Judaism, including Kabala (Jewish Mysticism) was nothing short of phenomenal but his disdain for the Baal Shem Tov was even more so.

It so happened that the Baal Shem Tov was to speak in one of the Synagogues of Polnoy and although Rabbi Yaakov considered having him ousted from the city, from lack of clear evidence he decided not to do so. The people of Polnoy were no fools, he reasoned, and they would certainly pay no attention to this faker.

The Rabbi sat at home, opened a book and began to learn Torah as he did every evening but for some reason he couldn't concentrate. He tried making himself a cup of tea, lying down for a few minutes, praying to G-d for a clear mind and several other tested tricks but nothing seemed to work.

So he decided to take a breath of fresh air. Maybe that would do it. He put on his overcoat, stepped out into the street and in minutes found himself standing outside of the synagogue where the Besh't was speaking.

At first it was impossible to understand a word but suddenly he heard the Besh't say, "You should know that the Rabbi of this town is a very righteous Jew and a unique scholar in fact he almost has enough merit to bring the Moshiach, he is only lacking one thing."

It was cold outside but the Rabbi didn't feel it; the Besh't was talking about him and he was shaking with rage. He had the urge to just burst in to the synagogue and put a stop to all this nonsense but for some reason he just got nearer to the window and listened.

"Last Tisha B'Av (The fast-day mourning the destruction of both Temples which occurs this Mon. night) your great Rabbi was sitting on the floor of the synagogue mourning the destruction with a broken heart. His pain was so genuine that in heaven he made quite an impression. In fact he made such a celestial stir that, somewhat similar to the story of Job, the Devil actually requested from the heavenly court permission to tempt him and permission was granted.

The Devil appeared before your Rabbi as an old Jew with a long white beard holding an apple.

"Rabbi" he said "you look very pale. I know it is a fast day today but it is clear that your life is at stake. You are in serious danger and must eat. After all it is forbidden to endanger your life for the fast. Here," he said offering him the apple, "Just take a bite and save your life"

The Rabbi did suddenly feel very faint but he refused.

The old man didn't give up. "What a shame! All right, if that's what you want. But I just hope you don't die, you look very very bad! Are you sure you won't take just one bite?"

He began to feel even worse, his eyes began to hurt and he felt terribly weak and empty, could it be he was really dying?

But nevertheless he refused a second time.

Everything was going dark around him and it was becoming hard to breathe. "Just one bite!!" crooned the old Jew. The Rabbi was fading fast. He feebly grabbed the apple and made the blessing;

"Blessed are you G-d who created the fruit of trees!"

But before he put the apple to his mouth he suddenly realized it was a trick. He threw the apple at the stranger yelling "Be gone! Get away from me!" and suddenly both the old Jew and his fruit disappeared!

The night after Tisha B'Av your Rabbi went to sleep and had a strange dream. He dreamt that he was walking from the grounds of a massive castle. Just outside the wall he saw a beautiful fenced-in apple orchard with large fragrant trees full of luscious fruits. At the gate of the orchard stood a guard and the Rabbi asked him who the orchard belonged to.

The guard looked him in the eyes and said "It's yours"!

"Mine?" replied the Rabbi. "I have no orchard. My whole life I only sat and learned Torah, I know nothing about planting and harvesting, where would I get an orchard?"

"Oh, it's yours alright" answered the guard "these are all evil fruits created by the false blessing you made. You took G-d's name in vain when you said the blessing on the apple and you didn't eat it"

The Rabbi was paralyzed with fear. "What can I do? How can I repent?"

"I've been ordered to tell you that you should fast and pray to G-d for forgiveness" answered the guard. "When you see a vision of the trees upside down with their roots in the air know you have been forgiven."

"That next morning" the Besh't continued "your Rabbi accepted upon himself a severe program of repentance. He would fast and pray every day of every week drinking only small amounts of water each evening, until he saw the uprooted trees in a vision.

At the end of the first week he had a vision that the fruits had fallen. At the end of the second week he saw that the leaves had withered. At the end of the third he saw the branches had dried up.

But, concluded the Besh't to his audience, he won't see the trees uprooted until he becomes my follower."

The Rabbi standing outside, heard every word and was astounded. The Baal Shem was exactly right! He knew everything; even every detail of his dreams and how to fix his sins.

Rabbi Yaakov Yosef eventually became one of the most devoted of the Besht's pupils and wrote a book called Toldot Yaakov Yosef which was the first to put the Besht's ideas to print.

This answers our question.

The entire book of Deuteronomy is different from the previous four books of Moses; the first four books tell us what G-d said to the Jews through Moses. But in this Fifth book, Moses does all the talking himself: the Shechina (G-d's presence) speaks directly through Moses' throat.

In other words, here is a different relationship between G-d and the Jews. Previously, in the desert G-d did it all on His own, He provided everything from "above".

But here, just before entering the land of Israel when the Jews would have to survive 'on their own' the revelation of G-d came from "below" to let them know that G-d wants them to do the work and He will respond to their efforts.

That is why, in the first version of the Ten Commandments in the Book of Exodus, G-d says to observe Shabbot because He created the world i.e. He did it all on his own; from above to the physical 'below'.

But here gives the reason for keeping the Shabbos because of what WE did; we left Egypt and rose up from below to become spiritual).

But the reason these two versions were said together AT ONCE was to show that the goal of the Torah is to unify the physical and the spiritual and show that G-d is ONE: a unity of 'above' and 'below'.

It can be compared to the two types of Torah; Talmud and Kaballa. The LEGAL part (Talmud etc.) stresses that G-d came down to the earthly physical law. While the Mystical Kaballa stresses our elevation from below to be more spiritual.

This is like what Rabbi Yaakov Yosef in our story lacked before he met the Besh't. He had conquered all aspects of the Torah including the spiritual, but nevertheless they were not unified.

The Besh't would teach him how to let the Torah (the Giver of the Torah) conquer him and thereby unite all aspects of the Torah; and the world.

Just like the Ten Commandments.

The novelty of the Ten Commandments is not that they are physical or spiritual… they are G-DLY; they combined the physical and spiritual TOGETHER at once.

This is also the uniqueness of the Holy Temple whose destruction we mourn on Tisha B'Av; it combined the most physical of acts (slaughtering animals) with the highest spiritual revelations together. Because it was G-dly.

And that, explains the Lubavitcher Rebbe, is the reason for the repetition in this week's HafTorah "Nachamu Nachamu" (Isaiah 40) literally "Be Comforted, Be Comforted."

Namely G-d will comfort His people both for their physical and spiritual suffering and loss by bringing the third Temple from heaven.

But it all depends on us (from below) just one more good deed, word or even thought can tip the scales and hasten the redemption (from above) so we will all see...

Moshiach NOW!!

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