The Torah Portion of Re'eh - Shabbat Rosh Chodesh Elul
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
"See (in Hebrew: Re'eh), I present before you today a blessing and a curse." (Devorim 11:26)
The name of this week's Torah Portion, as well as its first word, is "Re'eh" (in Hebrew). The letters of the word "Re'eh" in Hebrew are Raish, Aleph, and Hey. These are the Roshei Teivot (initial letters) of the Hebrew words: "Re'eh Elul Higia" (in English: "Behold, Elul has arrived!" ). They are also the initial letters of the Hebrew words: "Elul Rosh Hashana" .
"You shall not do so to Hashem, your G-d. Rather, only at the place that Hashem, your G-d, will choose..." (Devorim 12:4-5)
Someone who erases Hashem's name or destroys items in a Bait Knesset (synagogue) transgresses this verse, "You shall not do so to Hashem, your G-d..." (Devorim 12:4). It is written in the Gemorrah Succah (53a), that at the time that David Hamelech dug deep pits for the Altar, he wrote the Divine Name on a shard of pottery and cast it into the depths, as Achitophel had advised him to do, so that the waters would not flood the world. And this is hinted at in the verse "You shall not do so to Hashem, your G-d" (Devorim 12:4), but for the Bait HaMikdash (Temple) it is permitted, and that is why the verse after that says, "Rather, only at the place that Hashem, your G-d, will choose..." (Devorim 12:5)
"After Hashem your G-d shall you walk..." (Devorim 13:5)
Rashi says that there are two forms of the word for "after" in Hebrew, "Achar" and "Acharei". The word "Achar" is a word which indicates a close distance, and the word "Acharei" is a word which indicates a far distance. For example, Rashi mentions that "Acharei" indicates a far distance in his explanation of the word "Acharei" in the phrase "...after the way of the going down of the sun..." (Devorim 11:30). The Chofetz Chaim asked the Imrei Emet of Gur at a big meeting of Torah Sages, if "Acharei" is a word indicating a far distance, why is it written "After Hashem your G-d shall you walk..." (Devorim 13:5) using the word "Acharei"? G-d forbid, this seems to imply that we should be distant from Hashem. The Rebbe from Gur answered him, I will give you a Chassidic explanation of the use of the word "Acharei" in this verse. If a person regards himself as being distant from Hashem, then in reality he is close to Hashem. [That is to say, to the extent that a person thinks he is distant from Hashem from both a spiritual and physical perspective, then and precisely then, he merits to be close to Hashem, because "Hashem is close to those with a broken heart", to someone whose heart is humbled and broken.]
"And the pig, for it has a split hoof, but does not chew the cud, it is impure to you... "(Devorim 14:8)
The Sages say that there is none as wealthy as the pig, and none as poor as the dog. The simple explanation is that the pig eats all kinds of filth, but the dog is always hungry. The Gr"a asks, why do the Sages teach us facts about nature? And he explains, that behold, the negative commandment regarding the pig is wealthy, because there are many that fulfill it, since many Jews avoid eating pig. But the dog, which hints at the prohibition of Lashon Hara (forbidden speech) is poor, because only a few people carefully observe the prohibition of Lashon Hara.
"You shall tithe..." (Devorim 14:22)
The Sages say "give tithes in order that you will become wealthy". (Note: In Hebrew, the linguistic root of the word for becoming wealthy has the three letters Ayin Shin Reish, and the linguistic root of the word for giving tithes has the three letters Ayin Sin Reish, so that there is a close linguistic connection between "tithes" and "wealth".) There are those that explain that it is written that the reward of a Mitzvah is a Mitzvah. That is, the best reward is that it is possible to do another Mitzvah. Thus the explanation (of the linguistic connection between the Hebrew word for giving tithes and the Hebrew word for wealth) is that you should tithe in order that Hashem will give you a blessing in the growth of your crops, so that you can give even more tithes. This concept (that the best reward for doing a Mitzvah is the possibility of doing another Mitzvah) is what underlies the story which is told about the Gr"a, that before his death, he was crying that he was leaving a world in which for a small amount of money it was possible to buy Tzitzit and fulfill a Mitzvah, and that in the Next World he would lose the opportunity to do that.
"And if the way be too long for you, so that you are not able to carry it, because the place is too far from you..." (Devorim 14:24)
If a person does a Mitzvah with enthusiasm and happiness then it won't be difficult for him. And therefore it is written "because the place is too far from you". The explanation is that the word for "the place" in Hebrew is "HaMakom", which can be interpreted as referring to the Holy One Blessed Be He. If a person is far from "HaMakom", that is, far from the Holy One Blessed Be He, then it is difficult for him . But if he had the enthusiasm for doing Mitzvot then it wouldn't be difficult for him.
THE MONTH OF ELUL
The Hebrew letters of the name of the month of Elul are: Aleph Lamed Vuv Lamed. These are the Roshei Teivot (initial letters) of the Hebrew words: "L'Bracha V'lo L'Klala Amen" (in English: "For a blessing and not a curse, Amen") . They are also the initial letters of the Hebrew words: "L'Chaim V'lo L'Mavet Amen" (in English: "For life and not for death, Amen") . And they are also the initial letters of the Hebrew words: "L'Sova V'lo L'Razon Amen" (in English: "For satisfaction and not for starvation, Amen" ).
On the first day of Elul we begin to sound the Shofar. The explanation of the Hebrew word Shofar is that it is similar to the Hebrew word "Shifru" , (in English: to improve), i.e., we need to improve our deeds.
"Of David, Hashem is my light and my salvation" (Tehillim 27:1)
On the first day of Elul we begin to say the psalm "L'David Hashem Ori V'yishi" (Tehillim 27:1 -- in English "Of David, Hashem is my light and my salvation" ) until Simchat Torah. According to the Midrash, the word "Ori" (in English; "my light") in this Psalm refers to Rosh Hashana. The word "V'yishi" (in English: "my salvation" ) refers to Yom Kippur. "Ki Yitzpinaini B'Succoh" (Tehillim 27:5 -- in English, "For he will hide me in his Succah" ) refers to Succot.
"One thing I request of Hashem...that I may dwell in the House of Hashem all the days of my life...and to visit in His Sanctuary" (Tehillim 27:4)
The above verse is written in the Psalm "L'David Hashem Ori" (27:1), which we begin saying on the first day of Elul. It has been noted that there seems to be a contradiction here, because the phrase "all the days of my life" implies that he would be there permanently, on a fixed basis, but "to visit" implies that he would not be there permanently. The explanation is that the nature of a person is that if he becomes accustomed to something, it doesn't arouse him and he doesn't get excited, but if he comes to a new place that causes him excitement. And that is why David said "One thing I request of Hashem...that I may dwell in the House of Hashem all the days of my life", on a permanent basis, but as if on a visit, with renewal and arousal.
It used to be in Israel that when the announcement of the sancitification of the month of Elul was heard, every person was trembling with fear.
The Torah Portion of Re'eh has 126 verses. 17 commandments. 37 negative commandments.Haftora: "Hashamayim Kisi" (Yeshayahu 66)Pirkei Avot, Chapter 6 in Israel (Chapter 5 outside Israel).
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