A big hearty mazel to our friends Lisa and Howie Rubin upon the wedding this past Monday of their beautiful daughter Alexandra, to Zevi Litwin, he the son of Sharona and Avi Litwin. Mazel tov to Alexandra’s grandparents, Lisa’s parents, the Rubinsteins and to Zevi’s grandparents, Rabbi and Mrs. Isaacs.
The Oisvorfer has very fond memories of spending Pesach with Howie’s parents, OBM, who invited a much younger not yet Oisvorfer, his eishes chayil and very young daughter to join them at their table for the Sedorim. May Alexandra and Zevi be a source of great joy and pride to their parents and grandparents, and may they enjoy many decades of blissful marriage.
Raboyseyee and Ladies:
The Calendar Edition
Let’s begin with a summary of the gantze parsha, this time in two sentences. If we obey the RBSO’s commands, He will shower us with many blessings. Conversely, if we do not hearken to the voice of G-d, then the RBSO has many curses in store –just shy of 100 -but who’s counting. The gory details are specifically delineated in the parsha and are designed to chastise us and whip us into shape; most are quite unpleasant.
Pashas Ki Sovoy, from which you will zicher not derive too much pleasure, will be read this shabbis and it’s that time in Moishe’s life, the end mamish, one more speech to give. He will begin that one towards the very end of the parsha ober first, he will scare the living daylights out of the Yiddin. He will spew forth 98 count ‘em curses that are coming their way if the Yiddin do not follow the RBSO’s mitzvois and decrees. And if you don’t want to hear them, you’re not alone. In fact, many shuls, though zicher not all, have the minhag of reading these giferliche threats in an undertone; in other words, we can barely make out the words. Why some do and some don’t, ver veyst? That’s one of the beautiful aspects of our religion; it seemingly comes in many flavors, each practitioner may select a particular flavor or change flavors from time to time. What’s taka pshat? If they’re meant to scare us straight, why not yell them from the rooftops or at least have the Baal Koirah (reader) raise his voice several decibels? How are we to chap this seemingly mixed message? Ver veyst!
Lommer unfangin with what the Toichocho is. It’s a dramatic ritual – that was to be performed by the Yiddin when they first crossed the Jordan and entered into the Promised Land. As a reaffirmation of the Yiddin’s acceptance of their covenant with the RBSO, they were instructed to inscribe the heylige Toirah upon twelve stones, erecting them as a monument on the top of Har (Mount) Eval. Next: the Shivotim (tribes) were to be divided with six to ascend to the top of Har Grizzim, and six to the top of Har Eval. The Koihanim, the Leviyim, along with the Oroin (Ark of the Covenant), stood in the valley in between. There, they called out a list of curses that would befall anyone who ignored the RBSO’s commandments and a list of brochois (blessings), not too many, that would inure to the benefit of those who followed the RBSO’s ways. One of the brochois the RBSO promises to bestow upon us is: “You will make us as a head, and not as a tail. Exactly what that means ver veyst, ober this particular brocho has made its way into one of the Rosh Hashona rituals; more on this later. After each statement, all of the people said, ‘Omen’.
Though the reading of the Toichocho (curses) and chapping what they mean could easily cause nightmares, palpitations, bedwetting, anxiety, reflux, a change in religion and much worse, and though the minhag (custom) to read them in a shtikel undertone so as not to empty out the entire shul during the laining still exists, it appears that Moishe, in mittin dirinin mamish (smack in the middle) informs the Yiddin of the particular cause of these calamities and also snuck in the anti-dote to these harsh potential punishments.
Avada we have covered these admonitions in prior posts on this parsha, and zicher you are invited to check out the archives at www.oisvorfer.com to read previous thoughts on this parsha, ober this year we will instead focus on what might just be the underlying and root cause for all this bad stuff Moishe is warning us about. And if this parsha has over the years left you a shtikel down and melancholy, the Oisvorfer plans to change all that. In future years, reading this parsha will give you pleasure mamish.
Says the heylige Toirah (Devorim 28:47) azoy: “Tachas Asher Loi Ovadetei Es Hashem Elokecha Be’simcha” (on account of the fact that you did not serve the RBSO your G-d with joy). Is that it? Is not being in a constant state of happiness so giferliche as to warrant these horrifying punishments? Isn’t a happy ending, if you chap, enough? Zicher, each of you has done much worse than not being happy ober almost shockingly, the heylige Toirah is not referring to your less than admirable behavior, at least not this week and not according to this pshat. Seemingly, this parsha is not geared to bums who simply disregarded the mitzvois; it speaks of a generation of Yiddin who are and will be loyal to the RBSO. They follow His ways ober without simcha; they make their way through the mitzvois, efsher grudgingly and without joy and enthusiasm. Seemingly we are commanded to obey the Mitzvois and that we rejoice and take pleasure in their performance.
Say the Rabaynu Yoina and the RambaM azoy: even if a person keeps all the Mitzvois properly, if he does not do them out of a genuine happiness, he cannot serve the RBSO correctly, and can therefore bring disaster on himself. Does this make sense? And how can we expected to be happy when the RBSO is describing punishments that are shereklich, gory and mamish worse; what could be worse? Doesn’t every person want to be happy? And taka many spend their entire lives pursuing happiness, unfortunately, few of them actually achieve this state. Ober Raboyseyee, if the heylige Toirah demands that we live and serve the RBSO with joy, it’s also mashma (understood) that we are capable of achieving a state of happiness. Ober how? Is there a secret to attaining true joy and contentment? Ver veyst?
Wrote Dovid Hamelech (Tehillim 100:2): “Ivdues Hashem Be’simcha” (Serve God with joy). He didn’t instruct us to merely, “Serve God,” but rather than we must do so “with joy.” Seemingly, halacha requires an increasing or decreasing level of joy at different periods of the year, ober we must maintain some level of simcha (joy) at all times. Shoin! And says the heylige Gemora (Megila) azoy: Mi’shenichnas Adar Marbim Be’simcha – When the month of Adar comes, we increase our joy. And says the heylige Gemora (Ta’anis): Mi’shenichnas Av Mema’atim Be’simcha – When the month of Av comes, we decrease our joy. Shoin, case closed and from these two passages we chap that Yiddin must constantly live in some state of happiness.
And says Rabbi Shimon Schwab: the requirement of simcha is compared to a pilot light on a gas range. The flame must always remain lit, and one lowers or raises the fire as needed. Similarly, a Jew must live each day of the year with a certain degree of happiness, which he increases or decreases depending on the particular season. Gishmak, mamish!
Asks the heylige Gemora (Shabbos 25): “Who is truly happy”? The Gemora cites four opinions. Reb Meir says: the happy man is one who is satisfied with his wealth. Reb Tarphoin says: it is one who has 100 vineyards, 100 fields, and employs 100 slaves. Rebbe Akiva says: it is anyone who has a virtuous wife. And says Reb Yossi azoy: it is anyone who has a toilet next to his dining room. Gishmak! Though you’re thinking that Reb Yossi really chapped the concept of happiness and avada we all know how pleasant this experience can at times be, ober de emes iz (the truth is) that according to the heylige Mishne (Ovois), only Reb Meir’s position seems to be the correct one. Who is wealthy? One who is happy with his lot in life. Surprisingly none of them suggested that happiness comes from learning a blatt Gemora or chapping the Shita Mikubetzes. And efsher you’re taka wondering why all these great and holy Tanaim gave only physical suggestions for happiness? Were they so shallow to only consider one’s wealth, wife, or health in the complex and elusive emotional equation for happiness? Ver veyst? Nu, if you have a good answer, send it in and get shouted out.
Says Rebbe Nachman of Brelov azoy: “mitzvah gedoilah lihyois b’simcha (it is a great commandment to be happy). Some however suggest that being happy is hard work and read Rebbe Nahman’s words azoy: Avoidah gedoilah lihyois be’Simcha (It is a difficult service/job to be happy.)
Said The Kotzker (among the leading Chassidic Rebbes of the mid-19th century) azoy: the words of the Toirah must be read with punctuation and vus meynt dos (what does that mean)? We need to insert a comma before the word, “happily.” And with that comma, the true meaning of the verse in which Moishe tells us that we will be severely punished because we performed without happiness, looks epes a shtikel different. Let’s see.
“Because you did not serve your G-d, happily.” In other words, not only did we reject the RBSO’s ways; we did so happily. We were naughty and bad and enjoyed being bad. Avada for such chutzpa, we deserve to be afflicted with the 98 curses. Gishmak mamish!
The Oisvorfer once heard from some Rabbi who heard this from another Rabbi and that Rabbi mistama heard it from another or efsher made up the whole story ober this is what he said: Once, I encountered two of my congregants who were violating the heylige Shabbis. Later, I said to my wife that one of these people will probably do teshuvah (repentance) and change for the better. “Which one?” she asked with a puzzled look. “The one who was embarrassed when I saw him,” I replied. That one had a red face and looked down at the ground, clearly ashamed of what he was doing. The other fellow was perfectly content — even happy — about his actions, and so his chances of overhauling his behavior were slim.
Nu, one more thought on being happy, it’s mamish gishmak and good for the shabbis tish and since we’re mamish in choidesh Elul, mamish days before the big ones, the high holy days when tshuva is in high season, efsher it would be better to stop the loshoin horo, the rechilus and other badmouthing for a few minutes and focus instead on being joyful and happy. Said the Maharal azoy: joy is a fundamental component in motivating a person. Without a basic feeling of enthusiasm, a person is essentially helpless to function normally. Service of the RBSO is no exception. If an individual doesn’t feel any drive to perform the heylige Mitzvois, he will certainly get burnt out rapidly, and eventually abandon mitzvah observance altogether. He closes with this great comparison between the word אדם (man) and the word אדמה (earth)and says that just as earth which is not tended to will not yield any produce, so to a man who does not have enjoyment in his mitzvah performance will not be able to bring out his true inner strengths, and will wither and die. On the other hand, with inner satisfaction and gladness, he will blossom in his service of the RBSO and reach his full potential. Noch a gishmak!
Nu, seemingly we have time for one more shtikel Toirah, A few pages ago we mentioned one of the bribes…or brochois promised for good behavior. “You will make us as a head, and not as a tail”. Nu, some might be puzzled by this. Nu, unless you’re a deviant rebbe in yeshiva, or elsewhere, doesn’t everyone chap that a head, if you chap, is better than a tail? Moreover, what does this mean? Finally, the last part “and not as a tail” seems to be superfluous. Zicher if we are the head then we are not the tail. Ober if the RBSO said this is our reward for good behavior, zicher He knew, and one day we too will know. Ober our job is to listen, to believe and to avada follow the heylige Toirah. And this year on Rosh Hashono eve while consuming the head of a fish and reciting this prayer, you should taka be giving this some thought.
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’s family 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 14 years and one coming up on 13, 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.oisvorfer.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 are 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 Toirah 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 parsha 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 gittin Shabbis
The Heylige Oisvorfer Ruv