I met Gene shortly after his wife passed and consider him a close chaver, a good buddy. In fact, last year when he thought I looked run down, he stopped over and loaded up the cabinet with an assortment of vitamins. Gene was not raised orthodox nor was the family observant at the time of Evelyn’s passing. He never did plan on becoming observant but is today (not that there’s anything wrong with that). His life took yet another unexpected turn during the shiva observance for Evelyn. As word got out that a young family had lost their mother, the orthodox community in Far Rockaway and Lawrence opened their hearts and homes to Gene and his brood. During shiva and for months beyond, as he has told me on more than one occasion, community members, most of whom he did not know, took turns cooking, shopping and delivering meals. Gene recalls with gratitude until today how he was overtaken with emotion at the overabundant warmth and love being shown to him and his children by so many strangers.
Shoin, though it’s still two weeks away, one can mamish can feel Rosh Hashono in the air and quickly approaching. And with Rosh Hashono, also comes tichiyas hameysim (resurrection of the dead). It does? Isn’t that supposed to happen only upon the arrival of the Moshiach? What’s taka pshat? Nu, it’ the time of year when the yearly barrage of Hebrew calendars- their usage long extinct- begin stuffing our mailboxes. To date the Oisvorfer has received 21 different calendars. Pretty impressive a number, but not as impressive when compared to others.
As it turns out, the Oisvorfer’s parents, both deceased, one 11 years and one coming up on 10, suddenly come to life each September; they too are getting mail and calendars. Almost as many! They are still being solicited by yeshivas and other organizations asking for holiday donations. Nu, if live people have no use for these mostly antiquated calendars, it’s avada understood that the long departed cannot use them. Why these organizations refuse to update their databases and giveaways, ver veyst. Mistama they are still getting a decent return on their investment, ver veyst. One thing is zicher: if they would take a page or two out of the SI swimsuit edition, if you chap, the calendar would quickly be brought back to life. Response rates and donations too would soar.
Shoin: after bombarding the Yiddin with 74 mitzvois in last week’s parsha, Moishe is just about done. Approximately 605 have already been delivered and with but 4 parshas to go and but 613 mitzvois in total, he doesn’t have many left to teach. He’s also down to his own last days and will in Parshas Ki Sovoy begin the last of his three speeches, this one a long one that will take us to the end of his life. Moishe remains totally exasperated with the Yiddin and cannot make up his mind about how to get them to follow the RBSO, to be good Jews. He has tried every trick in the book. In the last few weeks, he’s bribed and threatened them, used the proverbial stick and honey routine, but he is seemingly not yet tzifridein (happy). This week, he takes out the big stick, just like a few rebbes did in yeshiva, if you chap, in the form of 98 potential curses coming our way for our wayward ways. He’s feeling it and holds little back. It’s quite shreklich (OMG).
Moishe will begin as he has in the past with promises for a few brochos (blessings) for good behavior. Immediately thereafter, he will spell out in very gory detail the threats of unimaginable punishment to be meted out to those who brazenly refuse to observe the Toirah’s laws and the terrible calamities destined to befall the errant people -a whopping eye opening 98 curses in all. Let’s not forget that the RBSO already had foretold of 49 seemingly other curses back in parshas Bechukosai. Luckily you long forgot those.
In fact, a closer examination of the potential risk/reward ratios reveals that the curses coming our way have the brochos outnumbered 5-1. Better odds can be found at the roulette table or in a mikveh stock. We have previously covered the Toichocho (rebukes) and some of the midrashic interpretations of why they were given and maybe the antidote. You can find these at www.toirahruv.com.
As you know from previous review of this parsha, Ki Sovoy is not for the faint of heart. As with potential side effects of many medications, the paying attention in shul or learning this parsha on your own, can cause great risk to your mind, body and soul. You might suffer from night sweats, bedwetting and thoughts about joining another less punishing religion. And if you feel like skipping shul or just talking throughout the entire laining, you won’t be alone. The good news is that Yom Kippur is just around the corner; the RBSO will surely forgive you after you plead guilty with an explanation and promise to pay attention next year. Of course you won’t, but broken promises is what Yom Kippur is partially about anyway.
So happens that besides the dreaded Toichocho, the parsha has a few other pearls and mitzvois to mine. Some say it’s six. This year we will skip ahead to one found later, towards the very end. To chap it, we must begin by quoting a few pissukim of the heylige Toirah (Devorim 27: 1-6) which says azoy:
“On the day that you cross the Jordan to the land which the Lord your G-d gives you, you shall set up great stones and plaster them with lime.And you shall write upon them all the words of this Toirah…you shall set up these stones, which I command you this day, in Mount Ebal. There you shall build an altar unto the Lord your G-d, an altar of stones; you shall lift no iron tool upon them. You shall build the altar of the Lord your G-d of unhewn stones; and you shall offer burnt-offerings on it unto the Lord your G-d. And you shall write upon the stones all the words of this law very plainly.” And shoin, long before Art Scroll envisioned the Stone Edition of the Chumash (Chumish in yeshiva reydt or language), stones seemingly played a significant part in the heylige Toirah. What exactly were the Yiddin to do, how many stones were involved, where they come from and many more questions are raised by these few pisukim. And as you can only imagine, these passages were the subject of many discussions and machloikes between many in the heylige Gemora and other places. What were they arguing about? About real pshat in the instructions which can of course lead to some confusion and many interpretations. Welcome to the heylige Toirah. Is it a wonder some say the Toirah has 70 faces.
And because you never knew any of this, we will dedicate a page or two to enlighten you and efsher enhance your shabbis tish.
Seemingly, Moishe and the elders commanded the people, that when they crossed the Jordan River (Yehoishua would lead them following Moishe’ passing), the very first mitzvah they were to perform was to pick up twelve large stones from the river bed (one stone corresponding to each tribe) and carry them into the Promised Land. Does everyone agree that there were 12 stones? Of course not! And says the heylige Gemora (Soitah 34a) azoy: there were three sets of stones, each consisting of twelve stones, and not just one. Shoin, whether there was one large stone or 12 or 36, ver veyst. Let’s go veyter.
Once there, they were to take them to Har Gerizim and Har Eival, two mountain tops, construct a Mizbei’ach (altar) with them and lime them. And then? They were to write or inscribe them. Write what? Let’s see those words again: the instructions were “and write on them all the words of this Toirah” ober which words? All the words? Some words and which words? How many words can fit onto 12 or even 36 stones? How large were the stones and what were they using for writing instruments? How were such large stones transported? So many excellent kashas, none of which you likely recall learning answers to. Let the Oisvorfer enlighten you with a few potential answers. Of course these are only potential answers because few agree on any one detail. Welcome to Toirah learning 101.
Nu, some are of the opinion that the entire heylige Toirah was to be written or etched into the stones. Others say that’s nothing: the entire heylige Toirah, in all 70 languages of the people needed to be inscribed so that all of mankind and maybe also womankind, would be able to read the stones. In how many languages? Some say 70 and some say 71. Why these numbers? Nu, efsher you recall that the RBSO, following the tower of Buvel incident, dispersed the people into 70 nations each with their own unique language. And the 71st? That would be loshoin koidesh (holy script, our very own language). Of course, this didn’t sit well with others who asked how that was possible? How could 12 or 36 stones fit all this information? Not to worry because says the Ramban azoy: One possibility was that only the 613 mitzvois were written, not the entire Toirah. Another view suggests that taka the entire Toirah, from the first letter in Sefer Bereishis to the very last in Sefer Devorim, was recorded but how? Is that your business? If the RBSO said to do it, mistama He had a plan even if that plan was miracle dependent. Can the RBSO not perform miracles? So pshat is like this. Either the stones were enormous and avada we can chap that big stones are sometime better than little stones, or it was a neys mamish (miraculous scribal feat) that allowed this to happen. Why not? Didn’t the RBSO perform other miracles that you seem to accept without questioning? Veyter!
Why would the RBSO require that His Toirah be etched into stone in 70 or 71 languages? How long would that take, who knew these languages and which of the non-Jewish nations would care about the RBSO’s Toirah? Ver veyst. Moreover, the Yiddin have yet to agree on one unified translation of the heylige Toirah, how were they going to etch it into 70 languages? Ver veyst? In any event, the heylige Gemora does present one logical argument on how this could have happened.
Not to worry because said Reb Saadya Ga’on that only the Taryag Mitzvos (613 commandments) were written on the stones. Ober says the Toirah Temimah azoy: only the 10 commandments were written down. Some say that only the 98 “curses” of the toichoco (rebuke) is what was written on the stones. Ober said the Kisav VehaKabala that only the Shema was recorded in stone. Which was it, ver veyst? And said Don Yitzchak Abarbanel, (Commentary on Sefer Devrim, 252b) azoy: only Sefer Devorim was inscribed onto the stones. Shoin, is it wonder the Yiddin don’t agree on anything?
How many stones were there? Says the heylige Gemora (Soitah 34a) azoy: there were taka three sets of stones, each consisting of twelve stones, and not just one. That’s 36 stones. The first set contained the words of the Toirah in all languages and was erected by Moishe in Arvos Moi’av (plains of Moiav) when he re-established the covenant that the Yiddin had broken and nullified with the eygel (golden calf) incident. The second set, at the behest of Yehoishua, were placed in the Yarden (Jordan River) itself as the Yiddin crossed over. For what purpose you may be wondering? Says Rabeinu Bachye, the function of this set was for the Kohanim (priests) who stood their ground holding the Aron whilst the people crossed, until the water returned to its original course, to stand on, to avoid having to stand in the mud. This makes it unlikely for the Tiorah to have been written on them, though in any event, there is no indication that it was. Gishmak. And the third set was initially erected on Har Eival in the form of a Mizbei’ach, as we explained, and then, after sacrificing on it, they took it apart and carried the stones to Gilgal, where they spent their first night in the holy land, and where they re-erected them. Got all that?
One Medrish will tell us that at least two miracles occurred in connection with these stones. Ershtens, both mountains, Har Gerizim and Har Eival were a distance of sixty Mil (one and a half days walking distance). Yet the Yiddin traveled there, set up the stones, wrote the entire Toirah on them in all seventy-one languages (70 plus the original Toirah language) and went through the entire ceremony described in this parshah and returned, all before nightfall. Ober says the Ramban, based on his assumption that the stones were not that gigantic, azoy: the Yiddin were able to write the entire Toirah on them seventy-one times, with all the Tagin (crowns) and that was a miracle too. In the end, of course there is no consensus. How large were the stones? The heylige Gemora (Soitah 34a) tells us that the volume of each stone was forty Sa’ah (one Amah by one Amah by three Amos. And how large is that? The measurement of a minimum size Mikvah.
And the bottom line? In the end, we accept that if the RBSO ordered that His Toirah be etched into stone, be it on the original set which Moishe brought down with the Ten Commandments, or the second replacement set, following a shtikel debacle, or, on the 12 or 36 stones referenced in our parsha, there must be a good reason. Exactly what that reason was, is of course none of our business. During this time of year, it’s the RBSO asking questions about what we’ve been doing with our stones, if you chap.
A gitten shabbis
The Oisvorfer Ruv