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Torah Sparks

August 23, 2008 – 22 Av 5767

Annual: Deuteronomy 7:12 – 11:25 (Etz Hayim, p. 1037; Hertz p. 780)
Triennial: Deuteronomy 7:12 – 9:3 (Etz Hayim, p. 1037; Hertz p. 780)
Haftarah: Isaiah 49:14 – 51:3 (Etz Hayim, p. 1056; Hertz p. 794)

Prepared by Rabbi Joyce Newmark
Teaneck, New Jersey

Torah Portion Summary

Moses tells the people that if they obey the commandments God will reward them. With God’s help they are to destroy the Canaanite nations, paying particular attention to wiping out all their idols.

Moses calls on the Israelites to remember both the hardships of the wilderness years and how God provided for them during that time. Be very careful that once you enter the good land you do not forget that God is still the source of all you have, he tells them. Abandoning God’s commandments can only lead to tragedy.

Moses reminds the people that all that God has done and will do for them is not a reward for their virtue and merits. He speaks about the many times when they defied and angered God, most notably the sin of the Golden Calf. Moses describes how he prayed for mercy for the people, so that God ultimately responded by inscribing a second set of tablets to replace the ones that Moses shattered.

Moses again charges the Israelites to keep God’s commandments and teaches them the second paragraph of the Shema.

1. There's No Such Thing as a Self-Made Man

Beware lest your heart grow haughty and you forget the Lord your God... and you say to yourselves, “My own power (kochi) and the might of my own hand have won this wealth for me.” (Devarim 8:14, 17)

  1. Rich man and poor man meet; the Lord made them both. (Mishlei 22:2) The rich man generally thinks that he amassed his wealth because of his brilliance, while the poor are generally looked down upon as ne’er-do-wells who cannot succeed because of a lack of ability. However, when the “rich man and poor man meet,” when they happened to be in the same place at the same time, we can in most cases see that the poor man is no less intelligent than the rich one. Rather, “the Lord made them both” – it is God’s will that matters should be as they are. (Rabbi Tzvi Hirsh Berliner)
  2. Koach, everything, all that makes your creative personality and your capacity to earn, the intelligence, the skill, the considering foresight, the physical and mental health, every factor of your existence, of what you wish for and are able to accomplish, is not the result of the food you eat but is given to you directly from God. And so also the combination of external circumstances which bring about the possibility and the success of your work and endeavors, is dependent on Him and Him alone. He gives you the koach, the power to make your fortune. The very smallest part of your good fortune can be ascribed to your own merit... (Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, 1808-1888, Germany)
  3. This verse is usually quoted in reference to having an awareness of the power of the Almighty and not becoming conceited due to financial success or success with an enemy in time of war. I heard from Rabbi Shalom Schwadron in the name of the Brisker Rav, Rabbi Yitzchok Zev Soloveitchik, that this verse also applies to someone who says, “It was due to my personal spiritual merits that we were victorious.” We should always realize that what the Almighty does for us is due to His kindness and compassion and we should not feel that it was our own righteousness and merits that brought success. (Rabbi Zelig Pliskin, “Growth Through Torah,” p. 406)

Sparks for Discussion

It is human nature to believe that we are responsible for our successes, while others are to blame for our failures. The Torah sees this as a very dangerous attitude. Why? How should a person acknowledge God’s role in his or her success? What do you do to express gratitude to God? How do you acknowledge or express gratitude for the contributions of other people – parents, teachers, colleagues, etc.? Are there people to whom you owe a thank you (and perhaps a nice bottle of wine)?

2. This is a Test

[The Lord your God] who fed you in the wilderness with manna, which your fathers had never known, in order to test you by hardships... (Devarim 8:16)

  1. Whether they will keep the commandments which are associated with it, that they should not leave any of it over and that they should not go out on the Sabbath to gather. (Rashi [Rabbi Shlomo Yitzhaki, 1040-1105, France] on Sh’mot 16:4)
  2. ...whether you would do His will when He grants you sustenance without pain (without effort). (Rabbi Ovadia ben Jacob Sforno, 1475-1550, Italy)
  3. The situation in which the Israelites were placed regarding the manna represented a great trial for them since they entered a desert without food of any sort and with no way out. They were totally dependent on the daily portion of manna which rained down and melted in the heat of the sun. They hungered for it greatly, but bore all their suffering in obedience to God who might have led them through an inhabited route. He chose, however, to confront them with this trial in order to test their eternal loyalty to Him... Ramban [Rabbi Moses ben Nachman, 1194-1270, Spain])
  4. [God said] it is essential that I find men for whom it suffices to be provided for wife and family for each day by itself. Men who can cheerfully and happily enjoy today, carry out their duties for today and leave the worry for tomorrow to Him Who has provided for today and Who can be trusted for tomorrow. Only such unreserved confidence in God ensures the fulfillment of His laws against infringement out of supposed or actual concern about material necessities. (Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, 1808-1888, Germany)
  5. Everyone knows that life is a test. We struggle to make a living, to raise our children, to build up our communities. Nothing comes easy, and our test is to deal with the hardships and frustrations in the best way possible.

    But what if our livelihood were served up to us on a silver platter? How wonderful that would be! No more worries about how to pay for the children’s tuition or the new roof. What if everything we needed came to us like manna from heaven? Would we consider this a test? Hardly. We would consider it a blessing. The Torah, however, seems to say otherwise...

    [The Lord your God] who fed you in the wilderness with manna... in order to test you. Sforno explains that the test is to see if the Jews would still follow the Torah when they do not have to worry about their livelihood.

    Yes, there is a great test in “bread raining down from heaven.” Affluence without effort is a dangerous thing. It comes with a great amount of leisure time and freedom of action. What do we do with that leisure time and that freedom of action? Do we use our leisure time and freedom of action to taste the forbidden? This is the great test of the manna.

    We are all aware of the test of poverty. We are all aware of the trials and tribulations of being poor. However, says Sforno, affluence also comes with great temptations. It puts a tremendous responsibility on a person. This is the test of the manna, and it is the test for many Jews in these affluent times. (Rabbi Yissocher Frand, “Rabbi Frand on the Parsha”)

Sparks for Discussion

In what way was the manna a test? The commentators offer several suggestions for what was being tested – obedience, faith, dealing with poverty or affluence. How do you understand the test of manna? Is it possible that it tested different people in different ways – some struggled with faith, others with obedience? How do you think the test of manna would challenge you?

Do you believe that God tests human beings? How? When God does test people?, is He gathering information about us or trying to teach us lessons about ourselves?

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