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A Heart to Know - כי תבוא


A Heart to Know

In the final days of his life, Moses spoke to the Jewish people and told them that only now, forty years after receiving the Torah, are they ready to internalize its message and understand its teachings. Moses stated: 

Yet until this day, the Lord has not given you a heart to know, eyes to see and ears to hear. (Deuteronomy 29:3)

Indeed, based on this verse, the Talmud derives that the same applies to all teachers. A student will not comprehend the full depth of his teacher's wisdom until forty years have passed: 

Rabba said: Conclude from here that a person does not understand the opinion of his teacher until after forty years (Talmud, Avoda Zarah 5b)  

Nevertheless, the verse seems a bit difficult to understand. How can we say that the Jewish people who experienced the extraordinary Divine revelation at Sinai did not possess knowledge of the Torah? The sages refer to the generation of Moses as "the generation of Knowledge", how can the Torah imply that they lacked "a heart to know"? 

The Chassidic commentaries offer a beautiful interpretation. 

The verse does not say that the people did not have knowledge, or the ability to see and hear. The key emphasis of the verse is on the words "heart," "eyes," and "ears". At Sinai, and throughout the forty years in the desert, the Jewish people's experience was intensely spiritual. In a sense, they studied Torah in an effort to transcend the world, to escape the gravitational pull of earthly existence, and to become submerged within holiness and spirituality. So, while they certainly experienced knowledge, the knowledge did not permeate and affect their physical reality, their heart, eyes, and ears. 

Specifically after the forty-year period in the desert, as the Jewish people stood at the bank of the Jordan river prepared to enter the land of Israel, were they going to experience a life not of transcending the world but rather of transforming it. The holiness of the land of Israel and the Temple in Jerusalem represent the ability to sanctify the earth and permeate it with holiness. Only at that point did the Jewish people receive not only knowledge in the spiritual sense but knowledge that had the transformative ability to sanctify every aspect of our life. 

Adapted from the Sfas Emes 

Don’t Forget the Vinegar - כי תצא

Don’t Forget the Vinegar 

The commandment to remember Amalek, “remember what Amalek did to you on the way, when you went out of Egypt,” (Deuteronomy 24:17), is one of the six events in Jewish history that we are commanded to remember every day. What is the benefit of constantly reminding ourselves of Amalek? Would it not be more beneficial to ignore the negativity that Amalek represents and focus on living a healthy, positive life? Indeed, this is the meaning of the Midrash which records the Jewish people’s response to this commandment: 

Remember what Amalek did to you on the way when you were leaving Egypt — The Jewish people said: Moshe, our teacher! One verse says, Remember what Amalek did to you, and another verse says, Remember the Shabbos day to sanctify it. How can both be fulfilled? This one says remember, and that one says remember!...

The memory of Shabbat is one of the most important principles of Judaism. Shabbat reminds us of the creator who created the world in six days and rested on the seventh day; it reminds us that the world was created for a purpose, and we dedicate the Shabbat day to fostering and developing our spiritual life. The memory of Amalek, by contrast, seems to be the antithesis of the memory of Shabbat, it reminds us of the human ability to defy G-d, to undermine morality and to prey on the weak. Why then would the Torah tell us to constantly be mindful not only of the Shabbat but also of Amalek? 

The Medrash records Moses’ response: 

Moshe replied to them: “A cup of spiced wine cannot be compared to a cup of vinegar {even though} this is a cup and that is a cup. This is a remembrance to guard and sanctify the Shabbos day, and the other is a remembrance of a punishment.” (Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer ch. 44)

While it seems that the Midrash presents spiced wine (Shabbat) and vinegar (Amalek) as two matters which cannot be compared to one another, the reality is that the origin of vinegar is wine. The deeper meaning of the Midrash is that, like every reality in this world, including Amalek, originates from G-d. Amalek too can be transformed to serve a positive purpose. While vinegar cannot be consumed alone, when added to a dish it can improve and enhance the taste of the food. The negative energy and passion of Amalek can be transformed to positive passion that will bring us closer to G-d. The negative experience itself can become fuel that generates intense longing and closeness to G-d. 

Both Shabbat, the holy experiences in our life, and Amalek, the negative aspects of our personality, can both serve as “cups” that enable us to “receive” and experience the flow of holiness. The difference is that Shabbat is inherently a “cup of spiced wine”, whereas Amalek must be transformed before it can enhance our spiritual lives.  

Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe, Likutei Sichos 19 Ki Teitze 4

Hear O Israel - שופטים

Hear O Israel

When you hear the words "Hear O Israel," you probably think of the most important declaration in Judaism, the Shema prayer, which we are commanded to recite twice each day, in the morning and at night: "Hear, O Israel, the L-rd is our G‑d, the L-rd is One."

Yet, in this week's Torah portion, the words "Hear O Israel" appear in what seems to be a completely unrelated context. The Torah describes how, in preparation for battle, the priest would speak words of encouragement to the soldiers: 

And he shall say to them, "Hear, O Israel, today you are approaching the battle against your enemies. Let your hearts not be faint; you shall not be afraid, and you shall not be alarmed, and you shall not be terrified because of them. (Deuteronomy 20:3)

Rashi is sensitive to the connotation of the words "Hear O Israel" and explains that there indeed is a connection between the preparation for battle and the Shema prayer:  

“Hear, O Israel": even if you have no merit other than the reading of the Shema, you are worthy that He [God] save you.

The Chassidic commentary adds a deeper insight into the connection between a battle and the Shema. The Shema expresses the unity of G-d, that there is no existence or experience outside that is independent of the Divine oneness. G-d is present both in the "morning", when there is "light”, and His presence is felt, as well as at night, in times of "darkness", pain and suffering, when his existence is concealed.

When we face a challenge, either spiritual or physical, we may become terrified by the magnitude and difficulty of the battle we face. By evoking the words "Hear O Israel", our inner "priest" reminds us not to be afraid because the core and energy of our adversary is a spark of the one G-d. When we have faith that the challenge was created in order to lead us to greater heights, to help us discover the enormous potential in the most unlikely of places, we are able to be victorious in battle and ultimately transform the adversary by revealing its inner essence and core. 

Adapted from the Sfas Emes  


Why Was the Temple Mount Chosen? - ראה


Why Was the Temple Mount Chosen?

Maimonides refers to the Temple in Jerusalem with two different names: (1) the house of {G-d's} choice, and (2) the house of holiness; because these two words, choice, and holiness, each express a unique aspect of the Temple.  

Choice, Chassidic philosophy explains, is used specifically when there is no reason for the selection. If there was a compelling reason for the selection, it would not leaves room for a choice. Choice implies that the selection is based on nothing other than the choice of the selector. The term "choice " indicates that the degree of Divine revelation  is infinite, for it is generated not by a reason, which, by definition, is limited, but by the choice of the infinite essence of G-d.


Yet, "choice " has a disadvantage. If the revelation comes by G-d's own choice, not motivated by the effort of a human being, then the holiness cannot become internalized and transformed into an inherently sacred space. 

The term holiness, by contrast, represents the effort a human being invests to transform a space or object into a fitting space for the presence of G-d. While human action alone cannot elicit infinity, it does allow for the inherent refinement of the space. 

The temple mountain, the place that represented the home for the marriage of G-d and the Jewish people, possessed both the advantages of "choice" and "holiness". On the one hand, in this portion, the Torah refers to the temple mountain as "the place that the L-rd your G-d will chose", without offering any reason for the choice, indicating that the selection was generated by G-d Himself and is therefore not bound to the limitation of human action. On the other hand, after highlighting the aspect of choice, Maimonides emphasized the concept of "holiness". The space of the temple mountain had a long history of people's efforts to connect to G-d; as Maimonides explains:

It is universally accepted that the place on which David and Solomon built the Altar, the threshing floor of Ornan, is the location where Abraham built the Altar on which he prepared Isaac for sacrifice. Noah built [an altar] on that location when he left the ark. It was also [the place] of the Altar on which Cain and Abel brought sacrifices. [Similarly,] Adam, the first man, offered a sacrifice there and was created at that very spot, as our Sages said: "Man was created from the place where he [would find] atonement." (Maimonides, Beit Habechirah 2:2)

The same is true regarding the figurative temple we are enjoined to create within ourselves. We are “chosen” because G-d chooses to invest His infinite self within us, yet, for His presence to be internalized within ourselves we must be “holy”, for only human action can truly refine the nature of the physical world.  

Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe, Likkutei Sichos 19 Re’eh 2  

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