Raboyseyee and Ladies,
We begin with late breaking mazel tov news. Late last night as the Oisvorfer was reviewing emails, he came across a paperless post with an invite to attend the engagement party of Dana Berg, she the beautiful and very accomplished daughter of our close friends Naomi and Howie Berg. Having introduced Howie to Naomi a few decades back, the Oisvorfer takes great delight in attending all Berg simchas. Mazel tov to Dana and to her chatan, Itai; may they build a beautiful life together. A big mazel tov to the entire Berg family. Details to follow.
And big mazel tov wishes to our friends Rena and Marc Kwestel upon the wedding -later today- of their beautiful daughter Rachel, to David Goldsmith, he the son of Rochelle Goldsmith and David Apfelbaum. May Rachel and David be blessed with many decades of blissful marriage. Mazel tov to the entire Kwestel gang, and to the extended Goldsmith and Apfelbaum’s families.
May you be Inscribed and Sealed for a Good Year:
Has the Oisvorfer gone mad? Why is he wishing his readers tidings typically heard on around Rosh Hashono time? Nu, with shabbis Nachamu behind us, it’s just about time to start thinking about Rosh Hashono and Yom Kippur. Ober, is it? In mid-August? Doesn’t Rosh Hashono only begin on Sunday evening, the 30thth of September! What’s pshat? Moreover, though we ended our three weeks or mourning as Tisha Beov – this year on the 10th of Av- were coming to a close, many of us – the Oisviorfer included- remain saddened that Grossinger’s was -in our times- destroyed. Some of us wonder if Grossinger’s and other hotels of years past – to include the Pioneer, the Pine View, and even the Homowak, will ever be rebuilt when the Moshiach comes? Does his mission also include such resurrection? Nu, one can hope. Ober, why is the Oisvorfer talking about Rosh Hashono now? Is there a connection to this week’s parsha of Eikev? Not! Ober…
This past Friday night, just when the Oisvorfer –who was leading the davening- completed the Olaynu prayer, a gentleman walked over, shook my hand and said “yashar koiach, a gitten shabbis and k’siva va’chasima toiva,” meaning that I should be inscribed and sealed for a good year. The last of those greetings are the wishes we typically exchange with our fellow Yiddin -even a few we can’t stand- beginning on Rosh Hashono eve and all the way until the end of Yom Kippur. Ober, who wishes ‘ksiva, vachasima toiva’ in mid-August? Avada this piqued the Oisvorfer’s interests as the fellow doling out the blessing was donning chasiddic garb and told me that for a living he travels to the Five Towns three times a week to study and learn with local resident. Not a bad gig. He had a shtikel chuckle when the Oisviorfer suggested he might fare better economically were he to stay home and on his own learn for those individuals paying him. He could just have them in mind; hec, doesn’t having something or someone in mind, cover many of our practices and minhogim? Hec, it worked for Yishochor and Zivulin! In any event, being that he was in fact chasidish, the Oisvorfer figured there must be some mikor -some foundation- for his having blessed me in mid-august. Ober the question remains: why did he –on shabbis Nachamu wish me a k’siva va’chasim toiva? When is the proper time to begin exchanging these greetings? And before we share a short thought on the parsha and examine how it was that the Yiddin came to inherit the Promised Land, and since we began with k’siva va’chasima blessings, let’s find out why we do so.
As it turns out, there are many variations of the traditional Rosh Hashano greeting. One of the most common is “k’siva v’chasima tova,” which is a blessing that good things should be written down and sealed (in the Book of Life) for the person upon whom we are bestowing the good wish. Those who hail from Europe and specifically those who grew up speaking Yiddish, will typically wish their friends and family “a gut yur,” meaning a wish for “a good year.” In there and four year nursery and also in kindergarten, the schools –for which we pay many thousands to per year- will teach the kids how to sing the greeting of “Li’Shono tova u’mesuka,” meaning “a good, sweet year” in Hebrew. The bottom line: whether in English, Hebrew, Yiddish or any other language, the words are warm and are meant to warm the cockles of our hearts as we both give and receive such blessings. Ober who started this custom? Is it but a custom? Is it now Jewish law?
Says the Maharil (Rabbi Jacob ben Moshe Halevi Moelin) known as the complier of Ashkenazic customs so gishmak, azoy: once we enter the month of Elul, anytime a person writes a letter to someone, it is incumbent upon the writer to somehow allude to the fact at the beginning of the letter that he wishes and hopes that the person have a good year. Does everyone agree? Not! Others write that such wishes may be expressed as one closes out a letter. Mistama a few argue if such wishes should precede, follow or even preempt “sincerely” or “very truly yours.” The bottom line: though the Maharil lived in the 1300’s some 600 years before Al Gore (claimed to have) invented the internet and years before anyone heard the word email or even texting, mistama he –through ruach hakoidesh- foresaw that this mode of communication would explode in the late 1900’s and that it would -as a result- be easy to fulfill this mitzvah. And taka today, millions of Yiddin all over the world send each other -free of charge- such greetings. Yet another givaldige reason to be online and make use of the heylige internet: it helps us perform this great mitzvah.
Ober wasn’t it but the 15th of Av this past Friday? Why was a Chassidic fellow wishing me a good year so early, at least two weeks early? Nu, as it turns out, he was efsher correct. Says the Sefer Sharei Yisoschor, azoy: it is a minhag (custom) to bless each other with the words of kisiva vachasima toiva (may you be inscribed and sealed for a good year) from the 15th of Av and onward. Why so? Because the gematria (the total numerical value of the words kisiva vachasima toiva comes to 928. And? What is the significance of this number? Nu, it so happens that you will also get the number 928 by adding up the letters (in Hebrew ) of the words “chamisho osor b’ov.” Shoin: if both share a numerical value, they must be related. And there you have it! Let’s review some parsha.
Shoin, as parshas Eikev opens, Moishe is still talking. He’s now week’s mamish from death and he’s still reminding the Yiddin of the terrible sins they committed these past 40 years later. No one wants to be reminded of their past even days and weeks later, ober can you imagine bringing them up 39 years later? What’s pshat, and what did Moishe say? The emes is that he began his rebuke as Sefer Devorim opened, and he’s still going strong. Let’s first set the scene. As mentioned above, the Yiddin are –after 40 years of wandering about the midbar, getting ready to cross the Jordan river and enter the Promised Land. We can only imagine how excited they were. Ober along comes Moishe playing psychological warfare by simultaneously lifting their spirits while also smacking them around, by heaving upon them praise and chastisement in the same breath. Let’s quickly read a few pisukim innavaynig: Says the heylige Toirah (Devorim 9:1-7), azoy:
“Listen Israel, today you are about to cross the Jordan to conquer and inherit the land of the nation’s greater and stronger than you, cities enormous and fortified up to the heavens; a people big and tall, sons of giants whom you know (and who inspire fear in all around them); know that you will conquer them, but not because you deserve it! Remember; don’t forget how you angered the Lord in the desert.”
Did you hear that? The Yiddin were still not land worthy, were they ever? Ober a promise is a promise and when the RBSO makes a promise, though it took several hundred years to fulfill, and no matter how despicable the behavior of the Yiddin, they were finally going to enter. Was the Promised Land given to them as a free reward?
The RBSO has been known to dole out free rewards, decent ones, even to those whose behavior is less than admirable. We are all living examples. Avada that’s givaldige news for many of you. It’s zicher not a license to continue your chazerishe behavior and ways, if you chap. Just saying that the RBSO has in the past, and continues from time to time, to offer loyalty and other rewards for reasons we may not immediately chap.
Though we hear and read that bribery is bad, efsher even illegal, and that from time to time, a few otherwise good guys, get jammed up as a result, in this week’s parsha of Eikev, Moishe, representing the RBSO, will do just that. He will mamish bribe the Yiddin. He’s offering deals and will tell them azoy: If you (the Yiddin) will but follow in the ways of the RBSO, by hearkening to His decrees and by performing them diligently, good things will happen. In the first five pisukim of the parsha, he will delineate the many benefits of being good. The RBSO will love you, He will bless you, multiply you, bless the fruit of your womb, the fruit of your land, your grain, wine and oil. And there’s even more.
It’s not the first, or last time bribes and incentives will be offered to the Yiddin in exchange for good behavior. As the parsha opens, Moishe is still talking as he has since the beginning of Sefer Devorim, and as he will be until he passes away in parshas V’zois Habrocho (last parsha in the heylige Toirah). Does everyone agree? Not! According to some, he was still talking and writing after his passing. How is that shayich (possible)? Are you questioning the RBSO’s abilities? Let’s hope not. In any event, whether he was or wasn’t talking and also writing the last few pisukim of the heylige Toirah after passing away, is not for today. We will zicher cover that topic in a few weeks. Ober for today, let’s stay focused on the rewards or bribes Moishe will offer the Yiddin in exchange for their good behavior. In Eikev, after having tried -and mostly failed- to reign in the Yiddin and their natural penchant for mischief and worse, he will roll out a new strategy. Moishe will introduce a rewards program. In other words: he will attempt to coax and bribe the Yiddin into better behavior. Did it work? Not for very long.
Moishe will not be offering cash or mileage rewards. Those will be introduced generations later by American Express and others. Besides, the Yiddin had little interest in collecting miles; they had seemingly logged enough during their 40 years of desert hopping. It’s the last thing they wanted. Moishe will introduce a new concept: he is offering them brochis (blessings). The Yiddin enjoyed receiving brochis, the concept caught on. Generations later, rebbes, mikubolim, (Kabbalists), and others preying on those who either want, or, are in need of a brocho, will follow suit but will flip the model on its head. These good folks will ask that you bribe them with cash, checks and even credit cards, in advance of receiving the brocho and with promises of more of the same – efsher on a regular basis – in exchange for their blessings. A number of the brocho dispensers have become general practitioners -neither college nor licensing a prerequisite, in fact, efsher an impediment- dispensing blessings as needed or requested. Others, will hone their craft and become specialists. Having fertility issues? Seek out mikubil A. Dealing with an illness -heaven forbid- avada you should run to mikubil B for a brocho. Need a yishua (are you in big do do), have your people find mikubil C. The list goes on. Having bribery issues? Surely there is a mikubil with experience in such matters, efsher himself having been involved, ver veyst. Whatever, find the mikubil who specializes in the matter at hand, offer him an inducement (bribe), and avada all your troubles will be behind you. If one is not offered, not to worry: either he, or one of his inner circle (bagmen) will zicher ask. Says the heylige Oisvorfer azoy: forget about pay-for-play- and pray brocho dispensers; heed instead the words of Moishe. Do the mitzvis! Or, if that’s too hard for many of you and mistama it is, refrain from doing the avayris (sins) that really anger the RBSO; it’s the least you can do. It’s zicher a cheaper and more reliable option. The RBSO delivers. Moreover, the bribes offered by Moishe -good tidings in exchange for good behavior- won’t get you jammed up. The deal being offered does not require you to perform the more difficult mitzvis; the deal Moishe offers, requires that one be diligent with easy to fulfill commandments, the ones we give short shrift.
Speaking of delivering on promises, let’s chazir (review) how Moishe, playing good and bad cop throughout, will again remind the Yiddin of their poor behavior during the eygel caper, and how he needed to go to bat for them and his own brother Aharoin as a result. He will, efsher to awaken them, or, perhaps to get them ready for the rewards program, also tell them that they remain perhaps unworthy of entry into the Promised Land.
Says the heylige Toirah (Devorim 9:4-6) azoy: “Do not say in your heart, when Hashem pushes them away from before you saying “Because of my righteousness did Hashem bring me to possess this Land, and because of the wickedness did Hashem drive them away from before you.” Not because of your righteousness and the uprightness of your heart are you coming to possess their land, but because of the wickedness of these nations does Hashem, your God, drive them away from before you, and in order to establish the word that Hashem swore to your forefathers Avrohom, Yitzchok and Yaakov and you should know that not because of you righteousness does Hashem your God, give you this good Land to possess it, for you are a stiff necked people.” Nu, stiff necked and more, if you chap, they were: many times with the wrong people.
Moishe reminds the Yiddin not to be fooled into thinking that they were good and or that they are gaining entry davka because the goyim -the other umois ho’oilom- that are its present occupiers are being expelled for even poorer behavior. Such behavior avada included avoido zoro, something the RBSO mamish abhors as He has told us over and again especially so in Sefer Devorim. Moishe will drive home this point: It’s taka emes that the goyim were bad and are being expelled. Ober, that has nothing to do with you, the Yiddin. The Yiddin were efsher not much better: they are getting the Promised Land for one reason only. The RBSO promised it to their forefathers Avrohom, Yizchok and Yaakov. Hence its name.
Shoin, efsher we need to brush up on our understanding of the rewards and punishment program Moishe has laid out. Rewards are seemingly, at times, thankfully awarded even when a recipient is undeserving. Efsher the recipient will do something good in the future, efsher he did something good a long time ago. Or, efsher, He, the RBSO just feels like issuing a reward because your parents in the past, or your kids in the future will, or you yourself might surprise Him with good behavior. We cannot fully chap all this. And while we should avada be on our best behavior and try to chap what He wants and how the system works, we cannot assume that one who received an award is davka a good guy while one who is being punished, was or is particularly bad. Certainly, one should not attribute one’s success or failure to one’s good and or bad deeds. The system of rewards and punishment is seemingly far more complex.
The bottom line: the RBSO keeps His promises and that’s why the Yiddin were getting the Land. Was their overall behavior good? Not! Was it less than admirable? Yes! Those facts notwithstanding, the Yiddin were the beneficiaries of a reward. Or, efsher a bribe in the form of an inducement to do better in the future.
Ober if not, should they -after accepting the reward- still misbehave- all hell will eventually break loose: if the nation is unfaithful, the rains will not fall at the times they are needed, the produce will wither, and the people will “perish from the land.” Has that mamish happened? Several times at least! Is the global warming or climate change we’ve been hearing about and even experiencing efsher related to our bad behavior? Es ken zeyn, gantz myglich (quite possibly)! Was Moishe bribing the Yiddin, threatening them or offering some magic? Maybe all of the above.
Efsher you’re klerring (thinking) azoy: will all these rewards and punishments come our way if but one of us is bad or does the entire nation need to behave or violate? Can one bad apple ruin it for the entire batch? How many have to go bad? Efsher you’re thinking…can I alone bring down the entire nation? Says Rashi (and others) azoy. Avada you recall that last week’s parsha contained the first paragraph of the Shema and we already discussed that this week’s, contains the second paragraph. And what does the Shema have to do with this concept of reward and punishments and whether or not good or bad tidings are based on individual or the entire community’s good or bad behavior? Taka and excellent kasha ober listen to this even better and gishmake answer. And to chap this, let’s examine the relationship between the first paragraph of the Shema (last week- Perek 6) and the second paragraph of the Shema, found as we said above, in this week’s parsha. Though at first glance they are seemingly repetitive, they do taka deliver a similar message, ober upon closer examination, not quite. Given that you recite the Shema several times daily and a few might even recite a paragraph just before bedtime (people still do that?), you may have noticed that the first chapter- that of the Ve’ohavto (You shall love)…is written in the singular tense, while the second- Vi’hoyoh (And it will be)… is in the plural. It’s the second that speaks of reward and punishment and efsher we can kler that the behavior of one single individual cannot bring or withhold rain. Ober when as a group, where the gantze (entire) community follows and obeys the Covenant, then the rains will come in their due time and the ground will be fertile. In Eikev, Moishe will make it abundantly clear over and again: there will be great reward for us if we are but faithful to the commandments. Do mitzvis come with rewards?
The bottom line: though seemingly not land worthy, the news was still good! Is bad behavior part of our DNA? Is it efsher uncontrollable? Seemingly the RBSO gets us; He did create us and He did choose us. Once married, for better or for worse, mostly worse, He never walked out on His wedding vows. Moishe tells the Yiddin that though their behavior was at times quite despicable, the nations that were at the time occupying that very land were much worse. Let’s keep that in mind: we the Yiddin were taka bad but there were many others that were much worse. Moreover, when being judged, it seemingly all depends against whom. And more good news? Yom Kippur is just around the corner; all can be turned around and forgiven.
A gittin Shabbis and of course a kisiva, va’chasima toiva!-
The Heylige Oisvorfer Ruv