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parashas Ki Seitze 5781

“When thou buildest a new house, then thou shalt make a parapet for thy roof, that thou bring not blood [guilt] upon thy house, if any man fall from thence.”

– Deuteronomy 22:8, JPS 1917 Tanach

“Roofs of houses in the ancient Near East were flat and were regularly used for a variety of purposes: drying and storing produce, strolling and socializing, and sleeping in warm weather.”  (p.201, The JPS Commentary Deuteronomy).  The danger of falling off the roof was a constant risk unless a parapet was put in place around the perimeter of the roof.

The literal translation of the verse is “lest a fallen one should fall.” How can that be? How can one be fallen, even before he falls? The phrasing implies that the one who might potentially fall was already a sinner. Therefore, the fallen one is due punishment from H’Shem, for some sin that had already been committed.

Yet, we are commanded to build a parapet so this “fallen one” does not fall and injure himself on our own roof. Following the commandment, prevents the punishment from being enacted upon a “fallen one,” through neglect, were the homeowner otherwise not as conscientious to put a protective fence in place.

That is to say, that bad things happen through the instrumentation of others who are lacking in character. Yet, G-d’s people are called towards righteousness, in all of our ways. Moreover, we have the responsibility of being considerate, for the sake of others. If something negative occurs, let it not be on our watch.

The Value of a Tree

“For is the tree of the field man, that it should be besieged of thee?”

– Deuteronomy 20:19, JPS 1917 Tanach

The Torah warns against the desecration of trees, when in the heat of battle, as if one would start chopping down trees that were in the line of battle, perhaps, out of an overzealous nature. Especially important to consider, is the value of fruit trees. Although, trees that do not bear fruit would be permitted for use as bulwarks in a siege. However, above and beyond these practical considerations, is the inherent comparison of a man with a tree, implying a likeness.

 A tree, part of G-d’s creation is not permitted to be destroyed without a specific purpose in mind that is constructive, bringing benefit to others. G-d’s creation, in some respect, may be viewed as “resources” to be used wisely. If left standing, rather than being chopped down indiscriminately, a fruit tree will bear fruit, according to its design. Man, who is able to stand upright (yashar) in righteousness, according to G-d’s intentions for him, is also, figuratively speaking, able to bear fruit.

Moreover, just as a tree needs roots to draw sustenance, and be grounded with a foundation, permitting it to stand, so does man need roots in his heritage, values, and community. All human beings are designed like unto trees, inasmuch that we need a solid foundation in life to thrive. Without strong roots, the storms of life can not be weathered. Just as a tree’s branches reach outwards, we also need to reach out to others, and even more importantly to stretch out our hands in prayer, and reach out to the heavens.

Nothing in life is superfluous; therefore, just as trees are to be valued for their benefits, so are we to draw appreciation in life from all whom we encounter. There are many trees in a forest. We can walk from end of a forest to another, assuming that we do not get lost along the way, without even paying attention to the many varied kinds of trees in the forest. We can unfortunately do the same in life, from beginning to end, without appreciating the many people we pass by day by day, without a second thought given to their uniqueness. Or, we can acknowledge our own uniqueness in G-d’s eyes, and therefore appreciate the other, too.

The Cost of Freedom

“And thou shalt remember that thou wast a bondman in the land of Egypt, and the L-RD thy G-d redeemed thee.”

– Deuteronomy 15:15-18, JPS 1917 Tanach

Because the Israelites were taken out of Egypt, having been freed from slavery, we are no longer meant to be slaves in perpetuity. Yet, certain circumstances would lead to a Jewish person having to sell himself as a servant to another person. This included when a thief was unable to make good on a return of the items, monetarily that he had stolen.


And, so, the midrash addresses this circumstance: “the ear which had heard G-d say at Mount Sinai: ‘do not steal,’ and which had heard G-d say: ‘the Children of Israel are My slaves,’ needs to be reminded of this by being pierced after having opted to ignore both of these statements by G-d” (Chizkuni on Deut. 15:17, citing Rashi; sefaria.org).


In other words, it is an insult to G-d as well as oneself, to disregard the status given to us at Sinai, via the covenant. G-d’s people are meant to serve Him; we should not forsake that priority, by serving another. Even so, we should not enslave ourselves to anything, that would deprive of us serving G-d, by way of the commandments.


To voluntarily choose a life that is devoid of acknowledging the One Who brought us out of bondage, is to forsake the purpose of our freedom. Unless careful consideration is given to the reason that G-d brought us out of Egypt, we will not have the full picture.

According to chazal (the sages), after being freed from physical bondage, G-d gave us the Torah, so that we would have a moral compass, in our lives, in order to prevent us from enslavement to sin. Therefore, by serving G-d, we are able to transcend our lower inclinations, that would otherwise compel us to stray from our pursuit of righteousness.

For Your Own Benefit

“And now, Israel, what doth the L’RD thy G’d require of thee, but to fear the L’RD thy G’d, to walk in all His ways, and to love Him, and to serve the L’RD thy G’d with all thy heart and all thy soul; to keep for thy good the commandments of the L’RD, and His statutes, which I command thee this day?” – Deuteronomy 10:12-13, JPS 1917 Tanach

Nachmanides explains, that “He does not require anything of you for His sake, only for your sake,” as is written, “to keep for thy good.” (Ramban on Deuteronomy 10:12-13; sefaria.org). He continues to explicate on this rendering, by comparing the following verse: “If thou be righteous, what givest thou Him?” (Job35:7). In other words, righteousness, in and of itself, benefits the one who seeks to conduct his life in a righteous manner, thereby, permeating all of his ways with kedushah (holiness).

According to Sforno, “all of this G’d asks only for your own good, so that you will qualify for eternal life in the hereafter.” Thereby, he points toward the ultimate benefit of serving the L’RD, with awe, respect, and reverence, in regard to the commandments, with all of the heart and soul. The verse is akin to the commandment, to love the L’RD thy G’d with all of thy heart, soul, and might (Deuteronomy 6:4).

If we only knew to what extent the soul benefits, by acknowledging the sovereignty of the L’RD in our lives; instead, keeping the commandments sometimes seems like a burden, being performed because of expectations or obligations. Yet, the well-being that we seek in our lives is dependent upon abiding in the word of G’d. All of us upon the earth, are called upon to “hear the word of the L’RD” (Jeremiah 22:29).

Vanquished Dreams

Moses, who lost out on permission to enter the land, pleaded one last time with H’Shem. He did not expect to change the L-RD’s mind, based upon any merit that he might claim for himself; for, it was precisely his demerit, having struck the rock, instead of speaking to the rock, that compelled G-d to decree that neither Moses, nor Aaron would enter the Land. Yet, try and try again, for the sake of making an appeal to the L-RD, Who on several occasions in the past, relented from strict judgment against the Israel.

To no avail, Moshe’s pleas only brought the retort that the L-RD had heard enough, he would not change his mind. Why, we may ask, when Moses acted on behalf of the people, the L-RD forgave them, and lessened the judgment; yet, in asking for himself, he is refused? Although I am not prone to speculation, one answer could be because of the high level of expectations the L-RD had of him, as well as Aaron, because of their leadership positions. For, as a scriptural premise, more is expected of those who have greater responsibilities to others.

Yet, consider, that all was not lost upon Moses, for his error; rather, as Rashi comments, his “consolation prize,” so to speak, was permission to enter Olam Haba (the World to Come). And, this, in all estimation, is really the greater reward – one that we should also look forward to in expectation. For, this world is like a corridor, where we prove ourselves to the L-RD, so that we may enter the banquet hall, symbolic of the World to Come (Pirkei Avos 4:21). Therefore, regardless of whatever unfulfilled dreams we may have in our own lives, G-d will reward us, if we remain faithful to Him.

Daily Potential

“The L-RD your God has blessed you in all your undertakings. He has watched over your wanderings through this great wilderness.” – Deuteronomy 2:7, JPS 1985 Tanach

While journeying from place to place in the wilderness, the L-RD provided the Children of Israel with sustenance, in the form of water from the well, manna from the sky, and quails, on that one occasion, that they ate for a month. Over a period of forty years, the fledgling nation of Israel was guarded, guided, and provided for by the L-RD. Although, this time was also used to test them, when provisions seemed to run scarce, or they had growing temptations about returning to Egypt, where there was not only more variety of food, rather, also, security in knowing where food would come from every day to put on their table. Their provisions in Egypt, even as slaves, seemed more sure, than the day to day trust that they needed to place in the L-RD, who only provided for them on a daily basis, as opposed to provisions that could be stored, after procuring what seemed sufficient for a week or two.

Perhaps, the adage, “one day at a time,” really seems significant, with respect to the way they lived their lives for forty years. And, the same adage can be applied to our lives today, with respect towards a trusting in the simplicity of life, when we focus on needs, as opposed to wants. For, only inasmuch that we can depend on the provision of the day, for both our material and spiritual nourishment, can we live in appreciation of each day, as a unique, unrepeatable basic unit of time, that brings certain opportunities for our growth as individuals. There is a teaching that each day has its potential that is offered in its own time. This is akin to the offerings of the moadim (appointed times), “each on its own day” (Leviticus 23:37). So, that in regard to the days of our lives, we may achieve what G-d’s expectations are for us, adding day upon day, in order to accumulate understanding, experience, and wisdom.

Guard Your Speech

B”H

holy scribbles: parashas Matos Massei 5781

“When a man voweth a vow unto the L-RD, or sweareth an oath to bind his soul with a bond, he shall not break his word; he shall do according to all that proceedeth out of his mouth.” – Numbers 30:2, JPS 1917 Tanach

Although the specific kinds of vows and oaths, referenced in the above-mentioned commandment apply to certain situations, within the context of Judaic law, the general principle is encapsulated, “he shall not break his word; he shall do according to all that proceedeth out of his mouth.” Therefore, the premise may be applied to more commonly found issues, regarding the integrity or lack of integrity of speech.

In our own lives, there are many stipulations that could be identified in terms of the words that we speak.  For example, oftentimes what is said in anger is not to be taken seriously.  It is better to acknowledge what may have been said out of anger as inappropriate, making amends for the emotional harm done.  This requires the counterpart of forgiveness by the recipient. 

Any commitments we make to ourselves or others should be kept or not made at all.  The Sages were very skeptical about making vows of any sort, saying that it is better to not vow at all.  The L-RD appreciates a sincere effort in all that we do for His sake; it is better not to boast about our intentions. Bragging will only lead towards a negative consequence, akin to the adage, pride before a fall.

Additionally, all of our words should be chosen carefully, in accordance with humility. Idle chatter will be scrutinized by the heavenly court at the judgment. We will be subject to the consequences of every idle word spoken. Ill-spoken words will also be taken into account, as well as words of judgment against others. Taking all of this into consideration, it is better to remain silent, than to speak without thinking. Let us guard our speech from now on.

“Set a guard, O L-RD, to my mouth; keep watch at the door of my lips.”

– Psalm 141:3, JPS 1917 Tanach

The Tamid Offering

“And say to them: This is the order of the oblations you shall offer before the L-rd; two lambs of the year, unblemished, daily, a perpetual burnt offering.”

  • Targum Jonathan on Numbers 28:3, sefaria.org

Everything was set in order upon the inauguration of the Mishkan, for the sake of the Levitical offerings, and the benefit of the people. Here, in parashas Pinchas is the daily tamid offering mentioned, to be brought in the morning and the afternoon. These two continual offerings denote the daily grind of avodas (worship) instituted in regard to the Mishkan, and later the temple, the central location of worship, as constituted within the framework of the offerings made for atonement, thanksgiving, and personal devotion.

This rigamarole reflects the constant focus on G-d that we should have in our hearts, if not in our daily activities; in other words. Even if we are living in the world, not exactly being engaged all of the time with outwardly godly pursuits, we can still keep our minds on H’Shem; regardless of how much opportunity we have to pray, study Torah, or do good deeds. This is the way of those who may be said to be pious of heart; regardless of externals in one’s life, the internal disposition is what matters most. This is otherwise known as kavannah (intention); although, in modern terms, could be associated with “mindfulness.”

Yet, this does not mean at all to forsake the commandments; all that we do must be within the designated guidelines set down for us in the commandments. The point being, that the righteous are righteous because of their conduct, regardless of vocation. In fact, many of the laws of Torah have to do with business, as well as our own personal conduct. The patriarchs who tended sheep, had plenty of time in isolation, like David to reflect on G-d. So, if we keep our lives simple, our hearts and minds can be on G-d, irrespective of our outward duties.

Response-ability

“Every situation requires a response.”

I believe that every situation requires a response. In reflecting upon, my own indecision, as well as my failure at times to respond at all, whether verbally to what someone else relates to me, or a situation that really requires my attention, I feel the need to articulate a stance. Towards the end of parashas Balak, the zealous Pinchas responds to a dire situation, whereof the Children of Israel were in the midst of being judged for idolatry and immorality; the plague was moving quickly amongst the people. Yet, Pinchas acted without haste, to protect G-d’s honor when a Prince of Israel and a Princess of Moab were flouting the moral integrity and directive of G-d’s divine commandments. In doing so, the plague was stopped, and Pinchas was given “a covenant of peace,” as delineated in parashas Pinchas.

Every situation requires an appropriate response. The Talmud emphasizes the commandment not to stand idly by, while others are in harm’s way. While on the one hand, it is not appropriate to act with zealousness in the manner that Pinchas did; on the other hand, it is necessary to assess every situation in order to reflect on the proper response. Keep in mind the following adage: “All that is required for evil to flourish is for good men [and women] to do nothing” (Elie Wiesel). Above all, discernment is necessary so that the best response may be made, after thoroughly thinking through the consequences of one’s own actions. If nothing else, prayer is paramount, as so many examples from scripture portray.

Kings HWY

“We will go along the king’s highway, we will not turn aside to the right hand nor to the left” – Numbers 20:17, JPS 1917 Tanach

The Children of Israel were ready to enter the Land. This was the generation after those who had believed the ill-report of the Spies. Yet, the shortest route into Eretz Canaan would pass through the territory of Edom. The Edomites were the descendants of Esau. Moshe appealed to the king of Edom, reminding him of the oppression of the Children of Israel, when enslaved in Egypt. Perhaps, he would have a moderate amount of compassion towards his brothers.

Moshe explained, that the Children of Israel would pass through Edom, travelling upon the king’s highway, neither deviating to the left nor to the right, as if to say, that the people would not enter the fields, nor the vineyards, and would pay for any consumption of water. (Incidentally, this is an excellent standard, for the lifetime journey of keeping to the straight and narrow). However, the king of Edom’s response was harsh; he refused passage through his kingdom. He backed up his refusal, saying that if they tried to pass, he would go against them with the sword. (His refusal represents the many obstacles in the way, on the derech towards Malchus Elokim).

The Sages emphasize that this is the way of Esau, based upon the blessing that his father, Isaac had given to him, “By your sword shall you live” (Genesis 27:40). On the contrary, Isaac, who was blind, said, “the voice is the voice of Jacob,” when his son, Jacob came to him for a blessing. The Sages infer that these words connote the value of prayer in regard to Jacob (Bereishis Rabbah 65:20). For, the sword of Esau is contrasted against the prayers of Jacob. Prayer is highly regarded as an effective means of seeking assistance from th L-RD. The sincere prayers of Israel will evoke a response from G-d (Rashi).