The Torah Portion of Va'etchanan - Shabbat Nachamu
Excerpted and Translated from the the Teachings of Rabbi Gershon Steinberg ztz"l
L'ilui Neshamat HaGaon HaTzaddik R' Gershon Avigdor Ben Chaim ztz"l
"And I implored Hashem at that time saying." (Devorim 3:23)
The "Ohr HaChaim" says that there are four aspects to prayer:
2. asking for a free gift,
3. appropriate timing,
All of these aspects are present in the verse "And I implored Hashem at that time saying" (Devorim 3:23):
"And I implored" -- this is a language which implies both supplication and asking for a free gift;
"at that time" -- this indicates that it was at an appropriate time;
"saying" -- this implies that Moshe prayed clearly.
"And I implored Hashem (in Hebrew: Va'etchanan) ..." (Devorim 3:23)
The first word of this week's Torah Portion in Hebrew is "Va'etchanan" (Devorim 3:23), which has the Gematria (numerical sum of the values of the Hebrew letters) of 515. The Sages say that Moshe prayed 515 prayers to Hashem, which is equal in number to the Gematria of the Hebrew word Va'etchanan. The Gr"a says that Moshe's prayer included 515 topics, that is to say, 515 additional concepts that were different one from another. In any event, if Moshe had added anything more to that and prayed one more prayer, it would have been effective to cancel the decree. The Hebrew word "Shira" ("Song" in English), as well as the Hebrew word "Tefillah" ; ("Prayer" in English) both also have the Gematria of 515.
"And I implored Hashem at that time saying." (Devorim 3:23)
The "Ohr HaChaim" says that even though the prayer of Moshe was not accepted, no prayer every goes to waste. And occasionally it helps after the passage of time, or even may help future generations. The "Chazon Ish" says that occasionally we see an important and great man who comes from a simple family, and that is because some grandmother prayed at the time of lighting candles.
"Please let me cross and see the good land..." (Devorim 3:25)
The Sages ask: "And is it because he needed to eat from its fruits?" The Tzala"ch asks two questions regarding this:
1. Why did the Sages establish in the Three Faceted Blessing (Birkat M'ain Shalosh) which we say after eating certain foods, the phrase "to eat from its fruits" , since regarding Moshe the Sages questioned whether he needed "to eat from its fruits" , and if so why should we say a blessing about that?
2. What is the meaning of the word "needed" ? Shouldn't it have said, "is it because he wanted to eat of its fruits" ?
The answer that the Arizal gives on these questions is that the fruits of the Land of Israel have within them qualities that enable one to go up in the levels of Holiness. And also it was written by the Ba"ch (in Tur Orach Chaim 208, 8) that the Holiness of the Land of Israel which flows to it, emanates from the Holiness of the Land which is Above (i.e., in the Heavenly realms), and that this Holiness also flows into its fruits, which draw down nourishment from the Holiness of the Shechina (Divine Presence). And therefore we find that by eating its fruits we are given nourishment from the Holiness of the Shechina. And this is the question, for behold, about Moshe it is written that "You have made him slightly less than the angels" (Tehillim 8:6) - that Moshe rose up in the 49 levels of Holiness and therefore he didn't need the Segula (i.e., the special spiritual benefits ) of eating the fruits. But we, who are very distant from the levels of Moshe, certainly we need the fruits of the Land of Israel, and certainly it is relevant to say in the Three Faceted Blessing "to eat from its fruits and to be satisfied with its goodness" .
"You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor shall you subtract from it." (Devorim 4:2)
The Maggid from Dovna asks, it is understood why you shouldn't subtract from Hashem's word, but why not add to it? And he explains by means of a parable: A person borrowed a chair from his friend, and returned him a large chair and a small chair. He told him "The large chair gave birth to the small chair and so the small chair belongs to you", and the lender was happy. Afterwards he borrowed a watch from his friend and returned him a large watch and small watch; he told him that the large watch gave birth to the small watch, and the lender was happy. And afterwards, he requested to borrow of large, expensive lamp made of gold. The lender agreed to give it to him because he thought that it would give birth to a small lamp made of gold. But the borrower didn't return it. The lender asked him: "Where is the gold lamp?" The borrower answered that it had died. The lender asked him "Is it possible that a lamp can die?" And the borrower answered him, "Just as you understood that it's possible to give birth, it's also possible to die." And that is what the Torah says, "do not add and do not subtract" , because if you add to it, it's also possible to subtract.
"And you who are attached to Hashem Your G-d, you are all alive today." (Devorim 4:4)
The first word in this verse in Hebrew is "V'atem" , which means "And you". It has the same letters as the Hebrew word "V'emet" , which means "And truth." Someone who walks with the truth is able to attach himself to Hashem.
"And you shall not covet your fellow's wife, you shall not desire your fellow's house, his field and his slave and his maidservant, his ox and his donkey, and anything that belongs to your fellow." (Devorim 5:18)
It is written at the end of the Ten Commandments, "...and anything that belongs to your fellow." (Devorim 5:18) If so, why was it necessary to specify a house, a field, a servant, etc.? A witty explanation of this is that if you covet what your friend has when you see that he has a nice house and other similar things, take also the problems and the debts that he has "and everything that belongs to your fellow."
"And you shall love Hashem... with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might." (Devorim 6:5)
When Rabbi Avraham, the young son of the Chafetz Chaim passed away, his father the Chafetz Chaim gave a moving eulogy, and within his words he said: It's told that in the time of the Inquisition in Spain in the year 5252 (1492 on the secular calendar), the Gentiles slaughtered before the eyes of one woman, her two precious sons. The mother was a Kosher Jewish woman, and lifted up her eyes to Heaven and whispered: "Master of the World! I confess before You that all the time that my sons were alive, my love for You was incomplete because there remained in my heart a corner for loving my sons. And now at this time with the death of my sons, behold, all of my love is given over to You. From now on I can fufill the Mitzvah of 'And you shall love Hashem...with all your heart' completely." The Chafetz Chaim concluded with feeling, "Master of the Worlds! The love that I felt until now for my son, behold, I am consecrating it to You!"
"And these that I command you today shall be upon your heart." (Devorim 6:6)
It has been asked, why doesn't the verse say "within your heart"? And the explanation is, that a person doesn't always have an elevated spiritual state of mind so that the words of Torah and Mussar (Ethics) can penetrate his heart. But first one needs to hear as much Torah and Mussar as possible, even if they are just external to his heart, and then at a propitious time when the heart opens, they will enter into his heart, and for that reason it is written "upon your heart".
HAFTORAH: "NACHAMU NACHAMU AMI"
There are seven Haftorahs of Nechama (Consolation) :
1. "Nachamu Nachamu Ami" (in English: "Comfort, comfort My people" )
2. "Va'Tomer Tzion Azavani Hashem" (in English: "And Tzion said Hashem has forsaken me")
3. "Aniah So'arah Lo Nuchama" (in English: "O Afflicted, storm-tossed, unconsoled one")
4. "Anochi Anochi Hu Menachemchem" (in English: "It is I, I am He who comforts you")
5. "Rani Akara" (in English: "Sing out, O barren one")
6. "Kumi Ori Ki Va Oraich" (In English: "Arise! Shine! For your light has arrived" )
7. "Sos Asis Ba'Shem" (In English: "I will rejoice intensely with Hashem" )
It is written that in the future to come, Hashem will say to the nations: "Comfort Israel, for you have done evil to them." And Israel will say, "But after an exile like this and all the difficulties the nations made for us, will they still be able to comfort us? We don't want to receive from them comfort." And Hashem will say: "If so, I will comfort you." And there are those who connect this concept to the beginning verses of each of the seven Haftorahs of Consolation, as follows:
1. Hashem said to the nations: "Comfort, comfort My people"
2. And Israel will say: "And Tzion said Hashem has forsaken me" -- Hashem doesn't want to comfort us
3. Hashem will say: "O Afflicted, storm-tossed, unconsoled one" -- they don't want to accept consolation from the nations
4. And therefore Hashem will say, if so: "It is I, I am He who comforts you"
5. And Israel will say, Now that's what we want -- "Sing out, O barren one"
6. They are happy to be comforted by Hashem: "Arise! Shine! For your light has arrived"
7. "I will rejoice intensely with Hashem" , the meaning is that we are happy with Hashem's consolations. May Hashem grant that the next Tisha B'av, will come to us for the Salvation of Klal Yisrael (the entire congregation of the Jewish people) and for Consolation, Speedily in our days, Amen.
HaTov V'HaMaitiv (Who is Good and Who Does Good)
The Evil Adrianos (i.e. the Roman Emperor Hadrian) had a vineyard of 18 miles by 18 miles, and commanded to make from the corpses killed in Beitar a fence for his vineyard, and they were placed there for several years. And when that ruler died and another ruler replaced him, the new ruler commanded to bury them, and that was on Tu B'Av. Upon this the Sages established the fourth blessing in the Blessing after Food (Birkat HaMazon), "Who is Good and Who Does Good" (HaTov V'HaMaitiv) . Hashem is Good, because the bodies weren't malodorous, and He Does Good, because they were given burial.
What else happened on Tu B'Av?
Tu B'Av is also the day that the men who died in the desert (for 40 years) stopped dying. It's the day that the 10 tribes were permitted to marry one another. It's the day that the tribe of Benyamin was permitted to become once again part of the general Congregation of Israel. It's the day that the King Hoshea ben Aleh canceled the guards that Yerovam ben Nevat had posted to prevent Jews from going up to Jerusalem for the Holy Days. It's the day that they stopped cutting trees for the fire which burnt on the sacrificial altar -- the happiness was that they had completed the Mitzvah, like when someone makes a Siyum (Party for completing the learning of of something, such as a tractate of the Talmud). And there are those that explain that the happiness was that they now had time to learn more.
The Torah Portion of Va'etchanan has 118 verses. 8 positive commandments. 4 negative commandments.Haftora: "Nachamu Nachamu Ami" (Yishayahu 40).Pirkei Avot, Chapter 4.
May you all have a light-filled and happy Shabbat.
L'ilui Neshamat HaGaon HaTzaddik R' Gershon Avigdor Ben R' Chaim ztz"l, Nilkach L'Bait Olamo Yud Gimmel Tishrei 5772