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Torah Sparks

September 8, 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. 26:1-29:8; Hertz Chumash, p. 859
Triennial Cycle III: Deut. 27:11-29:8; Hertz Chumash, p. 864
Haftarah: Isaiah 60:1-22; Hertz Chumash, p. 874

(26:1-15) The bringing of the first fruits to the priests in the Temple; the declaration that all the tithes have been paid, and a prayer for God's blessing.

(26:16-19) Conclusion of the Deuteronomic Code, with a charge to keep all the mitzvot.

(27:1-10) Instructions to set up large stones at Mt. Ebal, on which all the words of the Torah were to be written. Another charge to obey God and keep His mitzvot.

(Both 27:11-26 and 28:15-69 are not divided; therefore the triennial cycle was arranged with some overlapping in years 2 and 3.)

(27:11-16) The covenant ritual at Mt. Gerizim and Mt. Ebal.

(28:1-14) The blessings for keeping the mitzvot, the terms of the covenant.

(28:15-69) The tokhechah, or rebuke: the list of curses that will befall those who break the covenant.

(29:1-8) A review of the good things God did for Israel since the Exodus.

Theme 1: Successful Service

Now, if you obey the Lord your G-d, to observe faithfully all His commandments, which I enjoin upon you this day, the Lord your G-d will set you high above all the nations of the earth. (Deut. 28:1)

  1. There are two kinds of servant: the one who has regular contact with the king and who serves him, and the one who almost never sees the king but who arouses him or herself to serve him, not asking for his or her own needs but requesting only that she or he be able to serve the king... that is, that he or she be able to be in G-d's presence always and to worship (serve) Him for, although such a person has the worry of sustaining a family, she or he nonetheless submits him or herself to G-d. From such a person, the Holy One, blessed be He, has great pleasure and He says to His ministering angels "Look at that person, filled with sin, yet whose heart is filled with the aspiration to serve Me and still she or he is happy in that service." Of such a person the rabbis said, "From one who returns, the Holy One blessed be He, has great pleasure since such a person has been ignorant and has walked in the way of fools but now he or she is enflamed in the service of G-d. (Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berdichev - see following note)
  2. For those with spiritual aspirations - and everyone should, indeed must, have them - there is always the danger of despair. To confront the reality of the intransigence of one's failures is depressing. To realize that one has compromised one's standards is crushing. To compare one's performance in life, and even one's aspirations, to G-d's expectations of us is heartbreaking - more so if we have tried, or at least yearned to be spiritually close to Him. Encouraging clarification of standards and self-evaluation is a part of the season of judgement; countering despair is also a part. Levi Yitzchak addresses the latter in this reading. (David R. Blumenthal; God At The Center; p. 158-159)

Discussion Sparks:

We are intimately aware of many of our failures but what about our successes? Can one do a heshbon hanefesh, an accounting of our souls, at this season without listing our accomplishments as well as our sins? How can our sins bring us closer to G-d? How can our sins keep us away from G-d? What do we have to do to turn our failures into successes?

Theme 2: Where Heaven and Earth Meet

Yet to this day the Lord has not given you a mind to understand or eyes to see and ears to hear. (Deut. 29:3)

  1. My Grandfather, of blessed memory, quoted the Rabbi of Przysucha, who said that all the miracles and wonders G-d had performed for them, since they were outside the realm of nature, were only one time events. But now that the whole Torah was completed and all their own behavior had been made into Torah, there was something fixed for all generations. This is the meaning here of "this day." All the lights were now cloaked in good deeds; Torah had been formed out of all their own actions. This was the great merit of Israel in accepting Torah. Torah itself is completely beyond measure, "Hidden from the eyes of all who live" (Job 28:21) But Israel deserved to "garb" that Torah; from all their deeds a cloak was made for the light of Torah, in teachings and commandments of that Torah which is before us. Understand this. (Yehudah Leib Alter of Ger; Sefat Emet 5:10 see following note on p. 326)
  2. Torah, classically the intermediary that Judaism poses between G-d and Israel, is here made up of the two of them, the product of their meeting. Torah in its deepest essence is nothing but G-d; what G-d gives at Sinai is G-d's own self, but now transposed into the medium of words and language, in order that humans can receive it, the specific details of Torah, as we have seen above, are derived from the actions and life-experiences of Israel. Through these Israel are "made into Torah." Torah is then at once a thoroughly divine and thoroughly human product. This way of thinking about Torah and revelation should provide the way for going beyond the challenge to Jewish faith posed by biblical criticism and historical study. To the seemingly crucial and vexing question: "Is the Torah of divine or human origin?" The Sefat Emet encourages us to answer "Yes!" All the rest proceeds from there. (Arthur Green, The Language of Truth; p. 327-328)

Discussion Sparks:

The origin of Torah is the basis of the differences between Jewish fundamentalists and non-fundamentalists. How do you see the Torah? Is it Divine or is it a human document? What are the advantages or disadvantages of each position? What does the Sefat Emet (above) say about this problem? Does this change the way you look at Torah? Why or why not?

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