Category Archives: Scripture

Why Some People Don’t Repeat Mistakes in Their Lives

“Remember the days of old, understand the years of generation after generation . . .” (Devarim/Deuteronomy 32:7). Moses is nearing the end of his life so he urges the Israelites to reflect. Is nostalgia sufficient or are there specific events they should bring to mind?

Why Some People Don’t Repeat Mistakes in Their Lives

The parsha for this Sabbath is Haazinu. It is the song G-d commanded Moses to teach to the Children of Israel at the end of the previous parsha. Heaven and earth are called to be a witness to all of the disasters that will befall the Nation if it strays from the path that G-d has set. Then it describes the joy that will come at the time of the final redemption. At the end of the parsha G-d gives Moses his last mitzvah.

Rashi comments that “remember” refers specifically to those who came earlier, the people of the Golden Calf, who angered G-d and were sentenced to die in the Wilderness.

He goes on to explain that “the years of generation after generation” refers to the Generation of Enosh, which was so corrupt that G-d decided to destroy most of humanity. As well, it refers to the Generation of the Flood, which despite seeing the oceans inundate a third of the world and obliterate Enosh’s generation, did not learn to humble itself.

Both are examples of how with a proper internalization of history you will avoid the mistakes of the past.

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The Vilna Goan has a different take. He explains “the days of old” as referring to the Six Days of Creation. Only by examining history through G-d’s plan for the world and the development of humanity can you properly understand it.

As revisionist historians have shown in the last three decades, secular sources alter their views of history based on their own economic, social, and political beliefs. Where then is truth? The larger message of this week’s parsha is recited at the beginning of morning prayers: reishis chachmah, yiras G-d – the beginning of wisdom is the fear of G-d. Without the Creator, not even right and wrong, let alone an accurate view of history, exist.

Question – How do you insure you are properly learning history’s lessons?

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Every year beginning on Simchas Torah, the cycle of reading the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, ends and begins again. Each Sabbath a portion known as a sedra or parsha is read. It is named after the first significant word or two with which this weekly reading begins.

Do you have a question about the Old Testament? Ask it here and I will answer it in a future Parsha Nugget!

Keep Healthy by Understanding Enticement

“And you saw their abominations and their detestable idols . . .” (Devarim/Deuteronomy 29:13). The Torah talks about seeing idols but says nothing more about it. What are we to make of this?

Keep Healthy by Understanding Enticement

The parsha for this Sabbath is a double one: Nitzavim-Vayeilech. In Nitzavim, Moses reminds the Children of Israel about the covenant with G-d, to shun idolatry, that they will transgress but then repent and G-d will redeem them, that the Torah will always be near to them, and the famous charge that between life and death they should choose life.

In Vayeilech, Moses informs the Children of Israel that his death is imminent, appoints Joshua as the new leader, reminds them that G-d goes before them and that they should not fear their enemies, and commands the people to fear G-d and observe the Torah. G-d appears to Moses and tells him the people will rebel and turn to other gods so he must teach them a song by which they can redeem themselves, which Moses does. Then Moses finishes writing the Torah and gives it to the Levites.

Back to the idols. It is difficult for us to appreciate just how captivating they were to people living during Biblical times. The idea of praying to something made of wood or stone makes no sense.

But perhaps at some time you have been morbidly fascinated by something harmful. You knew what you were seeing was repugnant but you could not look away.

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Rabbi Yitzchok Zev Soloveichik, the Brisker Rav, commented that human nature is such that at first you may be repulsed. But the Torah’s warning to turn away should still be heeded. Everything you see makes an impression on you. The initial negative feeling may eventually give way to desire.

Better not to tempt or desensitize yourself. Train yourself to turn away from idols and abominations by turning to family, friends, beauty, and G-d.

Question – How do you create a bulwark against negative influences in your life?

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Every year beginning on Simchas Torah, the cycle of reading the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, ends and begins again. Each Sabbath a portion known as a sedra or parsha is read. It is named after the first significant word or two with which this weekly reading begins.

Do you have a question about the Old Testament? Ask it here and I will answer it in a future Parsha Nugget!

Do You Make This Friendship Shattering Mistake?

“And the Egyptians mistreated us and afflicted us . . .” (Devarim/Deuteronomy 26:6). When the Torah refers to “us” it usually uses the word lanu but in this verse it uses osanu. When an unusual word is used you can bet there is some deeper meaning behind it.

Do You Make This Friendship Shattering Mistake?

The parsha for this Sabbath is Ki Savo. Moses continues preparing the Israelites to enter the Land of Israel by discussing the mitzvah of the first fruits offering, reiterating the inseparability of G-d and Israel, and detailing the blessings and curses that will befall them depending on how well they adhere to the Torah. At the end of the parsha Moses begins his final exhortation.

Rabbi Mordechai Gifter, in Pirke Torah, notes that the Egyptians mistreated the Children of Israel by slandering them. By making them appear evil to others they caused people to think that the Israelites should not be treated justly or humanely. As a result, the Egyptians were able to enslave them even though a generation before a Jew, Joseph, saved their lives. The Nazis and Stalinists, among others, did the same thing in more recent history.

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This practice happens on the micro level too. When you hear someone denigrating another person do you stop to consider whether the reports are true or why the person is speaking negatively about someone else? Did the incident actually occur and was it as egregious as it is being portrayed or does the person have another agenda?

You are obligated to judge whether the story is true before lending it credence. If you cannot verify it consider what might be the storyteller’s ulterior motive. Possibly he is trying to cover up bad behavior on his part.

Even when you conclude that the person actually did something wrong, reflect on whether the incident justifies any improper treatment the storyteller is proposing. Everyone makes mistakes. Be careful to fully investigate before condemning someone or accepting another’s condemnation.

Question – How do you determine if criticism of someone is justified?

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Every year beginning on Simchas Torah, the cycle of reading the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, ends and begins again. Each Sabbath a portion known as a sedra or parsha is read. It is named after the first significant word or two with which this weekly reading begins.

Do you have a question about the Old Testament? Ask it here and I will answer it in a future Parsha Nugget!

Getting What You Really Want: Step 1

“And it will be if you did not desire her . . .” (Devarim/Deuteronomy 21:14). Again this week small details yield deeper meaning. The Torah uses the past tense phrase “did not” to describe an event happening in the future. It seems the verse should read, “do not (or will not) want her,” no?

Getting What You Really Want: Step 1

The parsha for this Sabbath is Ki Seitzei. It contains more mitzvos (74) than any other parsha including how to handle a beautiful female POW, the right of the first-born to an inheritance, how a wayward and rebellious son is handled, our concern for another’s property, men not wearing women’s clothing and vice versa (Ooops for Jack Lemmon,) and sending away the mother bird before gathering her eggs.making

Then it covers making tzitzis for a four cornered garment, how a libeler of a woman is to be treated, the penalties for adultery and rape, several rules about marriage and divorce, how the Israelites were to keep their camp tahor, laws concerning workers’ rights, kidnapping, lending and punishments, the penalty for embarrassing someone, the admonition to have honest weights and measures and finally the strange commandment not to forget to wipe out the memory of Amalek.

In his compilation, Maayanah Shel Torah, Rabbi Alexander Zusia Friedman explains Hebrew has two words for a person’s attraction to another: chaisek and chofaitz. The former is used when passion and lust are the driving factors. The latter, when you make a rational decision that something is good for you.

When dealing with a beautiful captive, in the above verse the Torah refers to her captor’s desire as lo chafatah, meaning rationally he did not want her. As you might imagine, after fulfilling her term of mourning, her captor’s ardor likely decreased or ceased altogether. Indeed this is one of the reasons for his having to wait. Had he been more self-disciplined from the start he would have realized his attraction was the aftermath of the lust of battle.

It is important to develop the ability to distinguish between what you desire and what you want. How often have you seen a friend marry someone purely because of physical attraction only to find the spouses end up hating each other because they have nothing substantial on which to base their relationship?

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The same principle applies to all major decisions including buying a car or a house. The sporty little two-seat convertible may stir your passion but can you afford the insurance and maintenance and will it transport your family of four?

Better to make decisions based on rational, well thought out wants. With respect to relationships, invest the emotion in them that will ignite passion.

Question – When do you think it is okay to be driven by lust?

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Don’t Confuse Trust in God with Irresponsibility

“Complete (in all ways) you will be with your G-d.” (Devarim/Deuteronomy 18:13). The Hebrew word for complete, tamim, is in the plural form. Rashi interprets this completeness as wholeheartedness.

Face Your Fear

The parsha for this Sabbath is Shoftim. In it Moses reviews the commandment to establish courts, how to handle certain crucial types of cases, the appointing of a King, the gifts for the Priests, how to tell if someone is really a prophet, setting up cities of refuge, how the Israelites will conduct war, and what to do about an unsolved murder.

Vividly do I remember when I was trying to join the navy Chaplain Corps and was not making any progress. The question that loomed largest was: How do I know when it is G-d’s will? Consulting with a friend more learned than me he said, “when you have tried everything and have no strength left then you can place your reliance in G-d.” Once I internalized his wisdom the rest of the process went much more smoothly.

When faced with a great challenge, it is tempting to put your faith in G-d. By why should He help if you are unwilling to commit deeply to your own growth and success? Here is the key to connecting completeness to wholeheartedness. Once your heart, mind, and soul are totaling invested in your pursuit, then you will be most likely to connect with the Almighty and in turn merit His assistance.

As well, if you chose not to avail yourself of the advantages of contemporary life, how can you expect to receive the Creator’s grace?

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Once Rabbi Yaacov Yisrael Kanievsky, better known as the Steipler, was told about a man who needed a serious operation but refused, saying he had bitachon, trust in G-d. The great sage replied that this person had not mastered trusting in G-d, he was just afraid. Trusting in the Almighty should not be used as an excuse for laziness or irresponsibility to yourself or loved ones. You are obligated to make hishtadlus, human effort, in order to receive G-d’s blessing.

This can be seen at the parting of the Reed Sea. The Children of Israel were trapped between the advancing Egyptian army and the water. Not until Nachshon walked into the sea up to his nose did it split. How much more fortunate are we that G-d rarely requires us to get to the point that we think we may drown before he helps us.

Question – How do you decide when to trust in G-d and when to work harder?

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Every year beginning on Simchas Torah, the cycle of reading the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, ends and begins again. Each Sabbath a portion known as a sedra or parsha is read. It is named after the first significant word or two with which this weekly reading begins.

What verse in the Old Testament would you like to know more about? Ask a question and I will answer it in a future Parsha Nugget!

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