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Torah Sparks

August 11, 2001 - 5761

Prepared by Rabbi Randall J. Konigsburg
Temple Sinai, Hollywood, FL

Edited by Rabbi David L. Blumenfeld, PhD
Department of Services to Affiliated Congregations

Annual Cycle: Deut. 7:12-11:25; Hertz Chumash, p. 780
Triennial Cycle III: Deut. 10:12-11:25; Hertz Chumash, p. 789
Haftarah: Isaiah 49:14-51:3; Hertz Chumash, p. 794

(7:12-26) Encouragement in following the commandments, and not fearing the Canaanites. You must destroy all the idols of the nations you conquer.

(8:1-18) A warning against overconfidence: Once you have occupied this good and fertile land, don't forget that God brought you there. Thank God for the land and its goodness whenever you eat. This passage forms the basis of the practice of reciting Birkat ha-Mazon (blessing after meals).

(9:4-29) As part of a long section of exhortation and teaching, Moses reviews some of the history of the Israelites in the wilderness in order to draw instruction from it. One example is the incident of the Golden Calf, the breaking of the Tablets, and Moses' prayer of intercession to God.

(10:1-11) The making of the second set of Tablets.

(10:12-22) The conclusion of Moses' second speech to Israel, a warning to "fear the Lord your God and walk in all His ways."

(11:1-12) A review of the miracles God did for Israel in the wilderness, and praise of the goodness of the Land that they will soon inherit.

(11:13-25) The second paragraph of the Shema, tying the bounty of the land to Israel's faithfulness to the covenant, followed by an additional exhortation to keep the Torah and its commandments.

Theme 1: The Fear of G-d

And now, O Israel, what does the Lord your G-d demand of you? Only this: to revere the Lord your G-d and to walk only in His paths, to love Him, and to serve the Lord our G-d with all your heart and soul. (Deut. 10:12)

  1. From this text the Rabbis derive the doctrine that everything is in the power of G-d except man's fear of G-d (which is left to his free will). The meaning is: In asking you to fear Him and keep His commandments, G-d does not require of you anything for Himself, but does so for your own good. (Rashi on Deut. 10:12-13)
  2. It is known that there are two types of G-d fearingness: upper fear and lower fear. Lower fear is the fear of sin which is not the fear of punishment alone... fear of sin is the fear of experiences when one does something which is against the will of G-d for now one wishes to be set apart and isolated from G-d... Upper fear is the annihilation in reality because of the grandeur and exaltedness of G-d which one arrives at by contemplating and meditating on the being of the Creator, may His name be blessed. He is infinite, absolutely simple, beyond comprehension... One is annihilated fully in reality and does not feel one's comprehension... One is annihilated fully in reality and does not feel one's self at all, nor can it be said that one is aware even of one's insignificance... The utter lack of awareness of self... (Levi Yitzchak of Berditchiv, in "G-d at The Center" by David Blumenthal, p. 148)

Discussion Sparks:

The Hebrew word for fear and awe is the same word. What is the connection between fearing G-d and being in awe of G-d? Americans have a tendency to rebel against fear but show reverence for awe. Awe is inspiring, fear is destructive. Why does Hebrew see these two concepts as related? Compare the feelings for G-d to our feelings for our parents. Do (did) we "fear"our parents or do (did) we treat them with "awe"? How does Rabbi Levi Yitzchak compare the two? Why does he call them "upper" and "lower"fear?

Theme 2: Study and Observance

And now, O Israel, what does the Lord your G-d demand of you? Only this: the revere the Lord your G-d and to walk only in His paths, to love Him, and to serve the Lord our G-d with all your heart and soul, keeping the Lord's commandments and laws, which I enjoin upon you today, for your good. (Deut. 10:12-13)

  1. The Master of the Universe Who is glorified by the whole of creation is not in need of Israel's obedience and worship, only because of the merits of their forefathers G-d chose Israel of all the peoples as the custodian of His law for their own good. (Ramban - Nachmonides - on our text)
  2. Once Rabbi Tarfon, Rabbi Akiva, and Rabbi Jose the Galilean were reclining at Bet Aris in Lod when this question was asked of them: "Which is greater, study or performance?" Rabbi Tarfon said "Performance is greater." Rabbi Akiva said, "Study is greater." They all agreed that study is greater because it leads to performance. (Sifre Devarim 41, 85 from Reuven Hammer, "The Classic Midrash" p. 325-326)
  3. Religions are frequently based on performance, which can become a kind of behavioralism. If Judaism is replete with actions that must be performed or avoided (the traditional number is 613), then religious achievement could be measured in the number of these that are fulfilled. By stressing study, these sages indicate both that study is itself a value and a way of following G-d and that study alone leads to performance that is meaningful. That is the meaning of the compromise formula. Performance is a dead end. Study, on the other hand, leads to performance, establishes and enriches it. (Ibid. p. 326)

Discussion Sparks:

Is the point of all of the Torah merely to tell us what to do? Why does it spend so much time telling us WHY we have to do these commandments? Should we perform a Mitzvah that we don't understand? Is such an action a meaningless action?

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