Weekly Parsha Review Laced with Humor and Sarcasm from The Oisvorfer Ruv

Netzovim- Vayelech 2020: Idolatry and Sex

Raboyseyee and Ladies,

Let’s begin with the mazel tov shoutouts of the week.


This past Monday, the eishes chayil and I attended the wedding of Elizabeth Berg and Josh Sasouness, and one beautiful and elegant wedding it was. Mazel tov again to our dear friends Naomi and Howie Berg and to the entire -and growing- Berg mishpocho. Mazel tov as well to Josh’s parents, Sophie and Baruch Sasouness and to the entire Sasouness family. May Elizabeth and Josh enjoy many decades of marital bliss. Judging by their first dance, they are off to a good start.


On a side note, a special thank you to the Bergs who made sure to seat their “older” friends at tables for two and as a result, the Ois and eishes chayil found themselves strategically seated near Shulem Lemmer, he a true phenom of a singer and composer, and the son of my 8th grade classmate. Shulem regaled the guests with his mellifluent voice and song selections. For those unfamiliar with Shulem, it’s avada worth your time to check him out here: https://www.iamshulem.com/ . This is real talent.

Over in Yirusholayim, a big mazel tov to Etti and Shmuli Brecher upon the birth of their first daughter. Mazel tov to our friends and very excited grandparents Mandy and Rubin Brecher and to the entire extended Brecher family. A very special mazel shoutout to great grandparents Esther and Charlie Spirgal (he the Oisvorfer’s 8th grade English teacher). May baby Brecher bring her parents, grandparents and great grandparents much nachas.


Idolatry and Sex

Long before Skype, FaceTime, and other technologies facilitated meetings without a physical presence, and long before Zoom which allows dozens and even hundreds to attend various weddings, bar mitzvahs and funerals without a physical presence, back in the year 2448 and again in the year 2488, the RBSO facilitated something way bigger and better. Ober what can be bigger and better than zoom?  Where else can you attend a meeting while sitting in your gotchkis (underwear) and no one is the wiser?

How else can you attend, but not be in attendance at a wedding? How else can you mamish attend two weddings at the same time? Ober not to worry because to the RBSO, Zoom and FaceTime are old technologies; been there, done and seen that. Ober where? When?

Nu, to answer these and a few other questions, let us begin this abbreviated posting by reading the first two pisukim of this week’s very shortened parsha of Netzovim, the front part of the last doubleheader of the year. Grada with its 40 pisukim, Netzovim ranks as the second shortest parsha in the heylige Toirah. Parshas Vayelech ranks #1 with but 30. Another interesting factoid: there are opinions that Netzovim and Vayelech -typically read together in most, but not every year- were, or are, really one parsha. Stuff happens, they split up. How, when and why the split came, ver veyst? The bottom line: following the 98 curses in last week’s parsha, the Yiddin needed a shtikel break to recover, they were left shellshocked and depressed. Shoin, it’s a shabbis later and we will read how Moishe assembled the people and the RBSO arranged for “all” to be in attendance. All is meant to include even those not yet born. Mamish? They were in attendance before birth? And that Raboyseyee and Ladies only the RBSO can arrange. Let’s read the pisukim innaveynig, here we go. Our parsha begins with these verses (Devorim 29:9-10).

9. You are all standing this day before the Lord, your G-d the leaders of your tribes, your elders and your officers, every man of Israel, טאַתֶּ֨ם נִצָּבִ֤ים הַיּוֹם֙ כֻּלְּכֶ֔ם לִפְנֵ֖י יְהֹוָ֣ה אֱלֹֽהֵיכֶ֑ם רָֽאשֵׁיכֶ֣ם שִׁבְטֵיכֶ֗ם זִקְנֵיכֶם֙ וְשֹׁ֣טְרֵיכֶ֔ם כֹּ֖ל אִ֥ישׁ יִשְׂרָאֵֽל:
10. your young children, your women, and your convert who is within your camp both your woodcutters and your water drawers, יטַפְּכֶ֣ם נְשֵׁיכֶ֔ם וְגֵ֣רְךָ֔ אֲשֶׁ֖ר בְּקֶ֣רֶב מַֽחֲנֶ֑יךָ מֵֽחֹטֵ֣ב עֵצֶ֔יךָ עַ֖ד שֹׁאֵ֥ב מֵימֶֽיךָ:

Did you read the list of all those in attendance for Moishe’s last speech? Let’s recall this all takes place -according to most- on the last day of his life. Moishe calls for a town hall meeting and all are invited. The list includes the regulars, but mysteriously also includes the converts, woodcutters and water drawers. So far so good. Our sages will tell us the list was further extended to include many others. Why are they not listed? Poor internet connection? Trouble downloading Zoom? And who are the unmentioned but seemingly invited and present others? But wait! Before we answer the questions posed, let’s quickly take a look at another confusing posik where we read this (Devorim 29:13-14) azoy: “But not only with you am I making this covenant and this oath, but with those standing here with us today before the Lord, our G-d, and [also] with those who are not here with us, this day.” Who is standing before G-d that day? Others besides those specifically delineated? Other people? A covenant was seemingly entered into between the Yiddin and the RBSO with people not physically in attendance? What’s pshat? Who represented those unnamed people? Did those not named but seemingly in attendance appoint proxies? Have we met these people before?

Shoin, from the time the future Ois was a young boy, he had been taught that “everyone” was present when the Yiddin received the heylige Toirah on har Sinai, even the unborn souls. What that meant back then, ver veyst? Avada if the rebbe said so, especially while holding the feared shtekin in one hand, it had to be so. Then again, there were times when a rebbe or two held a shtekin of a different variety in their hands; that was even scarier! The bottom line: I have always accepted this teaching to include even me, born thousands of years later. Ober from where do we derive this miraculous idea that we were all present? And, who else was included?

Shoin to get come clarity on who the players were in this, and efsher an earlier covenant, let us hearken back to Parshas Yisroy where Matan Toirah (Revelation) is recorded. There we learn from the text but mostly from other midrashic exegesis that all Yiddin were there. Even you! And me? Azoy? Ober how is that shayich? How could we, who are alive today in 5780 (2020 on our calendars) have been present at Sinai when the RBSO arrived to present us with His Toirah? Shoin, our sages teach us that all Yiddin were in attendance to include those not yet born. In other words: you were mamish there, and you too are bound by the covenants entered into in the years 2448 and 2488. Shoin! The bottom line: you cannot defend your errant behavior and breaking of all rules by raising the “I wasn’t there and didn’t sign on to these rules” defense when trying to convince the RBSO that you deserve more chances. You were there and you are guilty. Shoin, luck for most of you, the RBSO is all about second, third and even more chances. More good news: Rosh Hashono and Yom Kippur are mamish days away and the RBSO is open for business: say you’re sorry, tell Him you’ll try harder and mistama you’ll get a pass. As an aside, this year, He’s also open for business in many backyard minyonim.

Shoin, with the pisukim quoted above, Moishe began his final oration to the Yiddin. They had been through a great deal together – from Egyptian bondage to the revelation at Mount Sinai; from the miraculous experience at the Reed Sea to the defeat of their enemies in the desert. Moishe speaks to the next generation -recall that the first generation of men all died in the midbar during their forty-year trek- to tell them that they must learn from the past and gain lessons for the future. He addresses all the Israelites from the most powerful to the weakest, from those of high status to those of low status, everyone is part of the collective. In other words, all Yiddin born at that time, and yet to be born, symbolically stood before Moishe at that very moment. Not only are the Yiddin included but also future converts. Ober, all that being said and taka it’s a mouthful, how do we know that the unborn were signed onto the covenant?


Nu, when it comes to proof, what better source than a medrish to add some color and veracity and in this case, it’s the Medrish Tancḥuma which says azoy: “You should know that every soul, from Odom to the end of the world, was formed during the six days of creation, and that all of them were present in Gan Eden (the Garden of Eden) and at the time of the giving of the Toirah, as it is said: “But with he who stands here with us this day, and also with those who are not with us here today.”Bottom line: of course we were all there! Want more proof? Says the heylige Gemora (Shovuis: 39a), azoy: From the phrase: “But with he who stands here with us this day”, I have derived only that those who stood at Mount Sinai were included in this covenant. From where do I derive that the subsequent generations, and the converts who will convert in the future, were also included? The verse states (in our parsha): “And also with he who is not here with us this day.” Shoin. Ober what about the converts? Do Moishe’s words mean those who converted back then as the Yiddin were prepared to enter the Promised Land? Or, do they also refer to converts from later generations to include ours? The bottom line: the heylige Gemora makes it all very clear:  those who are not with us here this day applies to all subsequent generations of those born Jewish and all converts in the future. As can been seen from these sources, as well as many others, the heylige Toirah notes the inclusion of two distinct groups among all of those who were present: (1) the unborn souls of future generations; and (2) the converts.


Let’s chazir: where were you just before Shovuis in the year 2448, some 3,332 years ago? You probably don’t remember, ober according to tradition -and who are you to argue with tradition- we were -all- standing together at the foot of a mountain in the Sinai Peninsula known as either Sinai or Horeb – a mountain whose location is unknown today. Tradition says that at that time, not only were the newly released slaves from Egypt there but they were accompanied by the souls of all Israelites that would be born in the future. The bottom line: the covenant is hardwired into us. Seemingly it was arranged for those not yet born to be represented by our souls. How all that works is avada above the Oisvorfer’s pay grade; he’s still having trouble understanding how the fax machine moves paper from place to place in but minutes.


Nu, let’s cover one more parsha theme, one that repeats itself many times over in different variations in Moishe’s speeches. We speak of the prohibition of idolatry. The Oisvorfer has not found a final tally but is relatively certain that warnings against idolatry -especially so in Sefer Devorim- exceed warnings about every other negative commandment. Moreover, he found 19pages full of references to idolatry in Tanach; the RBSO abhors it. He insists on loyalty. In our parsha Moishe again admonishes the Yiddin to be extremely vigilant against idol worship because in spite of having witnessed the abominations of Egypt, there will always be the temptation to experiment with foreign philosophies as a pretext for immorality. The heylige Toirah spells out the warning against any foray into the world of idolatry in the strongest terms, delineating many types of temptation and a multiplicity of scenarios in which a person, group or nation might find themselves attracted to avoida zoro (foreign worship, or idolatry). Seemingly, his repeated warnings were from the get-go ignored and as the Yiddin, mamish days after witnessing open miracles to include redemption from slavery, splitting the sea and much more, worshipped and partied around a golden calf when Moishe -according to their calculations- was lost. As an aside, our sages teach us that the RBSO never fully forgave the Yiddin for that grave sin; He is a jealous G-d and so the heylige Toirah tells us. For reasons which remain inexplicable, the Yiddin -for generations- were drawn to idol worship. In fact, a covenant broken as a result of idol worship is one of the reasons Moishe had the Yiddin enter into a new one in our parsha. And the good news? Thousands of years later, humanity has been weaned off idolatry. Ober we ask azoy: what was so tempting about idolatry? It seems rather bizarre to worship a tree, rock, or anything else. And the shaylo is azoy: why did Moishe feel the need to repeatedly warn the nation about it?


Efsher we can kler azoy: we have to imagine that Moishe was avada well familiar in history and if he wasn’t, he certainly got up to speed as the RBSO taught him the heylige Toirah and the events of the Mabul. We can also kler that the frightening account of divine punishment was efsher driving him as he narrated Sefer Devorim. What terrible sin could possibly warrant the total destruction of humanity and the world? Nu, let us for a moment recall how the great flood was introduced and let us revisit a few pisukim from Bereishis 6:11-13.

“The earth became corrupt before G-d; the earth was filled with lawlessness. When G-d saw how corrupt the earth was, for all flesh had corrupted its ways on earth, G-d said to Noiach, ‘I have decided to put an end to all flesh, for the earth is filled with lawlessness because of them'” 

What’s pshat corrupt? Says Rashi, “corruption” refers to “sexual abomination and idolatry.” Shoin, seemingly they go together, and that raboyseyee could explain a lot. Says Rashi, citing the medrish, “all flesh had corrupted its ways” was an indication that “even cattle, beasts and fowl did not consort with their own species.” Oy vey! And says Rashi, “wherever you find lewdness -as in sexual- punishment of an indiscriminate character comes upon the world killing good and bad alike.” In other words, when the ethics of sexual boundaries are broken, the floodgates of divine wrath are unleashed upon the world. The bottom line? One should never -as the Ois has warned many times in the past- mix sex and idolatry. Pick one or the other, sexual immorality having fewer consequences but do not ever combine them. The combo is always deadly as you will recall from the Yiddin’s transgression over in a place called Shitim where they engaged with Moabite and efsher Midianite shiksas while also performing some dastardly act of avoidozoro.


The bottom line: It is clear from the heylige Toirah and from the writings of the Novee (Prophets) that idolatry was rampant among primitive man all. Man possessed a drive which we do not have today. At one time, until the final centuries before the Common Era, man had a burning, inner desire for idolatry – not so different from the drive we have for sex today. Kabbalists tell us that the sex drive of today is comparable, on a physical plane, to the ancient spiritual urge for idol worship. This is why the Toirah often depicts sinners as going “a whoring” after idols. Don’t believe me? Check out the words in Shmois 34:15-16, Vayikro 20:5, and Devorim 31:16.  Then, almost as mysteriously, the drive for idol-worship vanished. According to some, we need to thank Christianity which began to replace the overwhelming desire for idolatry. Ober, how taka did it end?


Nu, as you know, all answers can be found in the heylige Gemora where in Sanhedrin (64a) we read azoy: In the early Second Temple, the great sages of the times realized that the drive for idolatry was just too strong for the Yiddin to withstand. It had destroyed the First Beis Hamikdash and was still going strong “dancing” among them, ready to again lure them to sin. The sages fasted and prayed for three days, begging the RBSO to remove man’s drive for idolatry. Shoin: He accepted their prayers. As the heylige Gemora describes it, a lion cub made of fire, representing man’s drive for idolatry, burst forth from the Holy of Holies of the Temple. The sages were able to capture it and contain it so it would no longer affect mankind. Shoin, exactly how all that worked, ver veyst?


And we close with this good news: the heylige Gemora – in the very same discussion on the very same page- also teaches that the sages of the time likewise attempted to annul man’s drive for sex, feeling that such desires too were more than man could handle. You hear this? Let’s quote the heylige Gemora (Sanhedrin 64a) which tells us azoy:

“When they saw that the evil inclination for idol worship was delivered into their hands as they requested, the Sages said: Since it is an auspicious time, let us pray for mercy concerning the evil inclination for sin concerning sexual matters.  They prayed for mercy, and it was also delivered into their hands.  The Sages imprisoned it for three days. At that time, people searched for a one-day-old fresh egg for the sick but could not find one. Since the inclination to reproduce was quashed, the chickens stopped laying eggs. They said: What should we do? If we pray for half, i.e., that only half its power be annulled, nothing will be achieved, because Heaven does not grant half gifts, only whole gifts. What did they do? They gouged out its eyes, and this was effective in limiting it to the extent that a person is no longer aroused to commit incest with his close relatives.”

Raboyseyee, that was mamish a quote verbatim from the heylige Gemora; our sages wanted to eradicate sexual appetite!? They actually did so for three days but realized that the world requires it. They did, however, annul the desire for one’s close relatives. Shoin! According to some, they forgot to inform most Jewish married women that the ‘desire ban’ was no longer in effect.



A gittin Shabbis-

The Heylige Oisvorfer Ruv

Yitz Grossman




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