In Parashas Re’eh, we are introduced to the concept of “Basar Taavah,” the consumption of meat for pleasure. According to one opinion, during the forty year trek through the desert the only meat permitted was that of a sacrifice. The only meat eaten was the layman’s portion of a peace offering. Upon entry into the Land, the law now allowed non-sacrificial meat. The Torah did not demand of us to travel to the Bais HaMikdash every time we wanted meat. But there is one point of interest: the Torah goes out of its way to stress that the method of slaughtering, which we call shechitah, must be preserved at all times and in all places. In other words, even if we eat meat outside of the Holy Place, we must preserve the Temple practice of shechitah. FROM THIS WE LEARN a powerful lesson. No matter where we are and when we are, a piece of the Bais HaMikdash must remain with us. We Jews must remember that even, and especially, with mundane activities, such as eating, we must act in a Holy manner and comport ourselves as if we were standing before G-d in the Holy Temple. We must sanctify our every act and turn each of them into a Divine Service. In truth, that is the secret of our survival in galus. To rephrase an old saying: “You can take a Jew away from the Bais HaMikdash, but NEVER should the Bais HaMikdash be removed from a Jew.”
Parshas Shoftim seems to deviate from the heavy mussar of the past three parshios, as it focuses on the “nuts and bolts” of halacha. But if one examines the presentation of these halachos he discovers that they too revolve around incorporating G-d into one’s life. One of the most commonly discussed topics in the Talmud and Mishna is that of the witnesses who testify falsely and are refuted by others who declare them totally removed from the scene of the crime and therefore without knowledge of the event. As we know, the Torah imposes the punishment of the accused upon the false witnesses. The commentaries explain that false witnesses are dealt with so harshly because they acted as if G-d was not present in the courtroom. Not only did they try to condemn an innocent man, they faked incorporating Hashem into their lie. Moreover, they violated the general prohibition of bearing false witness, which was one of the principles of Sinai, where we experienced the greatest closeness to G-d. The false witness in the capital case is the most dramatic example, but the fact is that whenever we lie we are denying G-d, who is standing right over us at that moment and knows the truth. FROM THIS WE LEARN THAT as we progress through the month of Elul when we hear a great deal about teshuva and fear of G-d, at the top of our list of improvements should be the need to be honest and truthful. Indeed, honesty and truthfulness are the vehicles by which we can measure just how G-d fearing a person really is.
Chazal tell us that three prophets prophesized using the word “Eicha,” “Alas.” These were Moshe, Yeshaya and Yirmiyahu. The most famous of the three is, or course, Yirmiyahu, since he authored the Book of Lamentations. But Moshe, who lived 850 years before the Churban, and Yeshaya, who lived 130 before, already recognized the seeds of ruin that sprouted much later. It is interesting to note that Moshe used the term Eicha when he appointed helpers to adjudicate the disputes of Klal Yisroel. He realized that this was the beginning of the end. Since the People no longer had to face Moshe himself, their spiritual level declined to the point that they were unworthy to enter the Land. In fact, the generation that merited entry were unable to maintain their level for very long. All this because they deprived themselves of Moshe’s direct guidance. There are many clues in Chazal as to how to repair the damage of the Churban, but one thing is for sure. FROM THIS WE LEARN that we must take advantage of the Torah scholars around us, and take every opportunity to benefit from their wisdom and guidance. That is the key in paving the way towards Redemption. If lack of exposure to a Torah sage started the illness, exposure to sages will begin the treatment.
As everyone is aware, there are slight variations between the Ten Commandments in Parashas Yisro and those of Parashas Vaeschanan. The most famous of these can be found in the directive of Shabbos. In the first set we are told to “remember” the Sabbath, “to keep it Holy.” In the second set the read is to “keep” the Sabbath. Our Sages tell us that “remember” refers to the positive aspects of Shabbos such as making Kiddush, and “keep” the Shabbos refers to the prohibition of work. The interesting thing is that even though we are more conditioned to “zachor” (remember) due to the recitation of Kiddush, “shamor” (keep) actually jibes more appropriately with the end of the verse “to keep it Holy.” We find through scripture that Holiness denotes restriction and abstinence. “Keeping” Shabbos is therefore more in line with its Holiness. Why then does the Torah first introduce the Holiness of Shabbos with the positive “remember?” The answer may be a very profound one. It is impossible to depict Shabbos as a negative, restrictive concept. Shabbos is such a basic, foundational thing that the Torah had to describe it in positive terms. The Torah made it clear that the Holiness of Shabbos is no ordinary Holiness. So to speak, Shabbos breaks the rules. The enjoyment, the eating and the sleep are all part and parcel of the Holiness. It is refreshing indeed to experience this kind of Kedusha. FROM THIS WE LEARN that as we observe this Shabbos and all future Shabbosos, we must keep in mind that we’re not only enjoying, but actually fulfilling thereby, the Fourth Commandment.
It is no coincidence that as we prepare to usher in the month of Elul we read the parshios that speak of both loving and fearing Hashem. The most famous of these readings is that of Shema, which states that we should love Hashem with all our heart, soul and might. The Gemara learns from this pasuk that one must give his life rather than submit to idol worship. The idea is that if one truly loves G-d he won’t betray Him by serving another. In Parashas Eikev, this choice is spelled out more explicitly. The Torah makes it clear that there are only two possible paths: either we love Hashem or we serve idols. This seems rather harsh, but this is the stark reality. The Torah is NOT discussing different levels of observance, but rather making an important point. One’s heart cannot be divided. Either we are committed to growing and moving forward, or we are complacent and stagnant. We must be constantly on the move, both in mitzvah observance and in kindness towards fellow human beings. While it is true that in many areas of life not everything is black and white, there is very little room for negotiation when deciding where to put your heart. May Hashem grant us the wisdom and sensitivity to walk wholeheartedly with him and may our service during Elul and the High Holidays be pleasing to Him and accepted by Him as well. Amen.