“And these are the journeys of the people of Israel” (33:1). The Torah lists over 40 stops along the long and winding route the Jewish people took on their journey to the land of Israel. Many of these names have never appeared before in the Bible and will never appear again. Their mention highlights the lack of purpose of so much of the stay of the Jewish people in the desert, going from meaningless place to meaningless place and accomplishing nothing—save for passing time so that a new generation could arise.
This week's d’var Torah is sponsored in memory of Dr. Solomon Burack, obm. by the Burack family. May his memory be a blessing.
“I am the Lord your G-d, who took you out of the land of Egypt”. While we associate these words with the first of the aseret hadibrot, the words above are actually taken from this week’s parsha. “If your brother becomes impoverished...do not take from him interest…I am the Lord your G-d, who took you out of the land of Egypt to give you the land of Canaan, to be your G-d ” (Vayikra 25:38).
“It happened that Rabbi Eliezer, Rabbi Yehoshua, Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah, Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Tarfon were reclining in B’nei Brak discussing the Exodus all night until their students arrived and said to them, ‘Rabbis, the time for reciting the morning Shema has arrived'”.
The line between greatness and failure is so small as to be unrecognizable, often revealing itself only after many years. This is true in the world of business, science, technology and the like, where the results of today's efforts can remain unknown for many years. It is equally true in the world of morality, where it is often most difficult to determine if a particular action is a great mitzvah or its opposite.
It is hard to imagine a more impactful ritual than that of our weekly Torah reading. While its origins date to Moshe Rabbeinu—acting in his capacity as a rabbinic sage, not as prophet delivering G-d's message—and Ezra the scribe, it was not until the Middle Ages that our annual Torah reading cycle was firmly established. It is through the prism of the weekly Torah reading that Jewish life operates. I shudder to think what would happen to our knowledge of the Bible if not for parshat hashavua; one need only examine how well versed we are in the rest of Tanach to get an inkling.
The primacy of Shabbat as the foundation stone of Judaism is self-evident. Shabbat is the culmination of the creation process; two distinct reasons for its observance—creation and the Exodus—are enumerated in the aseret hadibrot; Jewish law prescribes, in theory, the death penalty for its desecration, a punishment we do not have even for the desecration of Yom Kippur. The command to observe Shabbat appears in numerous places and contexts in the Torah.
We have all been taught that it is the holiday of Shavuot that commemorates the giving of the Torah at Sinai. Interestingly, nowhere is this mentioned in the Torah, which presents Shavuot in an agricultural context only.
Many commentaries suggest that the reason the Torah does not mention the date it was received is that each and every day, we must receive the Torah anew. While true, the simple explanation of why there is no mention of receiving the Torah on Shavuot would seem to be the fact that the Torah that was given on Shavuot is no longer.
Knowing the right people is, more often than not, the key to success in the modern world. We in North America refer to “connections”, but in Israel it's called by a less diplomatic but more honest name, protektzia.
“He kissed all his brothers and wept on their shoulders, and afterwards his brothers spoke with him” (45:14). What a change from twenty-two years earlier when “they hated him and could not speak to him in peace” (37:3). Even while they were plotting what to do with Joseph, the brothers spoke about him—but never to him. Only when the brothers are standing before the Egyptian Viceroy does the Torah tell us that Joseph had been pleading with his brothers to save him from the pit (see 42:21).