Aliya-by-Aliya Parashat R'ei 5760

Numbers in [square brackets] are the mitzva-count of the Sefer HaChinuch.

KOHEN - First Aliya - 17 p'sukim (11:26-12:10)

After setting down the fundamentals of Judaism (including the formative history of the Nation, Aseret HaDibrot, Shma, and more) in the first three sedras of D'varim, Moshe Rabeinu proceeds with the "Tachlis" part of the Book - its mitzvot. The sedras of R'ei, Shoftim, and Ki Teitzei contain 170 mitzvot, the greatest concentration for 3 consecutive sedras, 3 of the top 6 mitzva-sedras of the Torah.

Blessing = keeping the mitzvot; curse = not keeping them. These are the simple equations that Moshe presents here and that Yehoshua will again present when the People stand on Har Grizim and Har Eival.

Note the phraseology in the opening p'sukim: the Blessing - THAT you will keep the mitzvot. The Curse - IF you won't... There is an implied "recommendation" to choose Blessing (similarly, "And you shall choose Life"). The Bracha, of course when you choose it... The curse, IF you are misguided enough to go that way...

Another comment on the imbalance of the two sides: The blessing comes from "listening to the mitzvot", even before doing them. The opposite comes from "not listening AND veering from the proper path". This is in keeping with the notion that G-d considers our good thoughts as deeds, but not so with bad thoughts. Only when we actually do bad are we then subject to punishment. (Idolatry is an exception - we accountable for idolatrous thoughts.

The Nation was born in Egypt, had its infancy in the wilderness, and will grow and flourish in the Promised Land. "These are the mitzvot to be preserved in the Land..." (note that not all the following mitzvot are strictly Israel-related, yet it is possible to suggest that ALL mitzvot were meant to be observed in E. Yisrael).

Sites, altars, idols, etc. of the nations in Eretz Yisrael are to be destroyed [436]. However, we must be careful not to do the same to G-d [437] - this mitzva includes the prohibition of erasing G-d's Holy Names.

Follow this, please. The Torah commands us to destroy objects of idol-worship, and not to do the same to G-d. One would assume that this refers to destroying sacred Jewish objects, shuls, Torahs, etc. So where do we see that this prohibition involves not erasing G-d's names? We do not see it. We are taught it as part of the Oral Law. Not rabbinic legislation inspired by the Torah. Actual Torah law, equal to the Torah having written it out. This is the nature of the Written & Oral Torah.

While their places are to be eliminated, THE Place (site of the Mikdash) is to be the focal point of Jewish spiritual life and energy. All sacrifices and offerings are to be made there and only there, at the first festival encountered [438]. It is on those occasions (Pilgrimage Festivals) that sacred foods (such as Ma'aser Sheni, Neta Reva'i) are eaten in Jerusalem. Things won't be as "do your own thing" as they are in the wilderness. Soon we will be entering the Land for a more "permanent", down to earth form of living.

MITZVA WATCH There is a fairly common situation among the Taryag mitzvot of a positive and a prohibition basically commanding the same thing. We have a mitzva to fast on Yom Kipur and a prohibition of eating or drinking. Same thing. We may not do Melacha on Shabbat and we must abstain from Melacha on Shabbat. Same thing. In this week's sedra, we are commanded to "cancel" uncollected loans at the4 end of the Sh'mita year. We are forbidden from collecting loans after the Sh'mita year has past. We are required to give a freed Jewish servant gifts when he finishes his service for us. It is forbidden to set him free empty-handed. Again. Same thing. There are many examples of these "two-sides of the same coin" mitzvot. And there are reasons for the positive mitzva and the prohibition. Not for now.

What is for now is another mitzva observation. Less common than the perfectly matched and overlapping positive mitzva and prohibition, is the pair of mitzvot that overlap, but not completely. Back to the first type for a moment. If a person eats on Yom Kipur (without halachic sanction), he is simultaneously in violation of the prohibition against eating on YK, and in non-fulfilment of the mitzva to fast. If you eat, you are not fasting. If you fast, you are not eating.

But take a look at [438], the mitzva to fulfil a pledge of a korban or other donation to the Beit HaMikdash. There is a partner prohibition (in Ki Teitzei) which forbids delaying the fulfilment of a pledge to the Mikdash. These mitzvot do not perfectly align. To fulfil the positive mitzva, one must "pay up" by the next Pilgimage Festival (Regel). However, one is not in violation of the prohibition unless three Regalim have past since the pledge was made. If we had a Beit HaMikdash today, and a person designated one of his animals as a Korban today, then he must bring it as a korban by Sukkot in order to fulfil [438]. If he brings it only at Chanuka time, he has not fulfilled [438], but he has not violated [574], Bal T'acheir. Only if the animal is still around after next Shavuot would there be a violation of [574]. There are other mitzva-pairs like this, but not as many as the first-mentioned type.

LEVI - Second Aliya - 18 p'sukim (12:11-28)

There, a special place will be designated for the bringing of all offerings. There, spiritual rejoicing will take place and there, we shall help the Levite and the less fortunate to also have cause to rejoice. It will be forbidden to bring sacrifices anywhere else [439]. Korbanot are to be brought only at the Mikdash [440]. Only those consecrated animals that become unfit for the Altar due to blemishes must be redeemed [441] (without an invalidating blemish, the animal may NOT be redeemed) and then may be eaten as "regular" meat. The animals' blood, of course, may not be consumed.

We next come to a truly remarkable pasuk (12:17). It is forbidden to eat Ma'aser Sheni outside of Yerushalayim, neither of grain [442], nor wine [443], nor olive oil [444]; nor to eat sacred first-born animals outside of Yerushalayim [445], nor the more sacred sacrificial meat outside of the Temple courtyard [446], nor eat the meat of an Olah (completely-burnt offering) at all [447], nor other korbanot before their blood is properly sprinkled on the Altar [448], nor eat First-Fruits before they are placed in front of the Altar [449].

This one pasuk contains 8 mitzvot! The closest any other pasuk comes is 5 mitzvot (also from this sedra). Here too is an example of how we would be lost in trying to understand all that this pasuk is commanding us, without the Oral Law. Again, it is not rabbinic interpretation or legislation we are dealing with, it is Torah as much from HaShem as Anochi HaShem Elokecha.

SDT - Note the introductory phrase in this (Nolan Ryan) pasuk: "you will not be able to eat..." It does not say "Thou shalt not eat". Torat Chayim observes that this is an ideal of a Torah life - we should actually be incapable of doing that which G-d forbids.

All of the above-mentioned foods are to be eaten where they are supposed to be eaten. Be careful not to forget the Levi, the gifts due him, and other forms of help [450].

"When G-d will expand your borders as promised..."

Notice that the Torah speaks of prosperity immediately folowing the portion about generous charity-giving and concern for others. This is G-d's "illogical" promise: the more you give, the more you will have.

If and when we desire to eat meat (other than the sacred meat of korbanot), we may do so anywhere we choose, but we must properly slaughter the animals we eat first [451].

In the pasuk commanding Sh'chita, G-d says "(slaughter the animal) as I have commanded you." Yet we do not find the details of Sh'chita in the Written Word. This pasuk is one of the sources for the concept that the Torah consists of a written portion and an Oral Law - both considered the Word of G-d.

Non-sacred meat does not have the same restrictions as sacred meat (i.e. ritual impurity - yours or the animal's - is not an impediment). Many other halachot, of course, do apply.

An animal must be killed before its meat is taken. This is the universal prohibition (it is both one of the 613 and one of the 7 Noahide Laws) of "Limb from a living animal" [452]. Blood must be removed from meat before we may eat it. Korbanot shall be brought from all over (even from outside of Israel) to the "Place of G-d's choosing" - the Mikdash [453]. These korbanot shall be offered on the Altar, the blood sprinkled thereon, the meat (when permitted) to be eaten there. Be careful to do all that G-d asks, so that things will be good for us and our children.

SHLISHI - 3rd Aliya - 22 p'sukim (12:29-13:19)

A warning is reissued: do not get interested in the idolatrous practices of the nations whom we will replace in the Land, lest we too anger G-d and be punished by Him.

We shall do all that we are commanded, neither adding to [454], nor diminishing from [455] Torah and mitzvot.

If (when) there arises among us a prophet or dreamer - even one who performs miracles or signs to back up his words - who prophesies in the name of idolatry, it is forbidden to heed him [456]. This is a test by G-d of our faith in Him. We must be true to G-d, follow Him, revere Him, keep His mitzvot, serve Him, and cling to Him. The above-mentioned false prophet shall be put to death for his attempts to turn us away from G-d. We thus uproot evil from our midst.

If any fellow Jew (even if he be a close relative or beloved friend) attempts to entice us to idolatry of any type (familiar or exotically foreign), we must show no love towards such a person [457], nor overcome our hatred of him [458], nor rescue him from danger [459], nor speak on his behalf in court [460] nor refrain from speaking against him [461].

MITZVA WATCH The Torah must be very clear and strong in these commands, because it has become second-nature to us to love our fellow, not hate him, and try to save him. Not in this case.

This is the 5-mitzva pasuk referred to earlier. These mitzvot stand in startling contrast to the mitzvot from K'doshim which command love of fellow Jew, not to hate him, to save him from danger, etc. These mitzvot (from this week's sedra) underline the seriousness with which the Torah treats the enticer. He is a cancer in our midst that must be removed. The enticement to idolatry is considered more serious than even idolatry itself. Or, at least, it is considered a graver threat to Jewish life.

That this is so is demonstrated by the Talmud's advice that one may/should entrap the enticer. If he speaks to one person only, then there will be insufficient testimony against him. We are taught to ask him to repeat his suggestions in front of others. If he refuses, then we plant unseen listeners who will become witnesses against him. With these witnesses in place, we then must respond to the enticer with a challenge that it is not proper to forsake G-d for another religion or belief. If the enticer backs down, then we leave him alone. If he continues in his attempt to entice, then the witnesses reveal themselves and "press charges" against him in Beit Din.

But rather, the enticer shall be put to death by stoning (after trial and conviction), the accusing witnesses initiating the execution. And (it almost goes without saying that) it is forbidden to entice a fellow Jew to leave G-d and worship idols [462].

If we find out that an entire city is being enticed to idolatry, we must very carefully investigate the matter. This command is generalized to require thorough examination and questioning of witnesses in all types of cases [463]. If the charges are substantiated, the population of the "city gone astray" is to be killed by sword, the possessions of the people are to be burned and the city itself destroyed [464]. The city may not be rebuilt ever [465] (unless security considerations determine other wise). No one may benefit from anything from the city [466] so as not to provoke G-d's anger. Proper fulfillment of these and other mitzvot will find favor in G-d's eyes.

R'VI'I - Fourth Aliya - 21 p'sukim (14:1-21)

As "G-d's children", it is forbidden to gash oneself (for idolatrous purposes or to mourn the dead) [467] nor tear out hair in grief [468]. (Mitzva #467 also prohibits factionalization when it is destructive to Jewish unity). It is our destiny to be the chosen among the nations of the earth. It is forbidden to eat of korbanot that have become "disqualified" {469].

The Torah next lists 10 types of mammals that are kosher (3 domestic and 7 wild), and then gives the signs to determine a kosher animal (split hoof and cud-chewing). This is followed by four examples of animals we may not eat. (FYI, in Sh'mini, only non-kosher animals are named.)

Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan z"l identifies the 7 wild kosher animals (CHAYOT T'HOROT) as gazelle, deer, antelope, ibex, chamois, bison, giraffe. There are different opinions about the Hebrew terms for the different animals.

Fishes with scales and fins are permitted to be eaten; that which has no scales or fins is forbidden to us. Scales (that overlap and that are easily scraped off) determine the kashrut of a fish.

We may eat kosher birds. We are therefore obligated to examine and determine the kosher status of a bird we would like to eat [470]. (The corresponding mitzvot for the other types of animals have been counted from Parshat Shmini.)

In the spirit of the positive commandment to check for kashrut of an animal, this rule does not only include checking a fish for scales, but looking for the kashrut symbol on packaged products or the kashrut certificate in a restaurant.

The Torah lists 21 types of birds that are forbidden.

The characteristics of kosher and non- kosher birds are NOT mentioned in the Torah (in contrast to animals and fish). The Gemara gives us guidelines that help us distinguish between kosher and non-kosher birds. Practically speaking, neither the list nor the guidelines are what determine which birds we eat. Tradition does. Basically, we do not trust ourselves to be able to properly identify the birds named in the Torah (modern Hebrew sometimes does not match Biblical or Mishnaic Hebrew). If we have a tradition in our communities that a particular type of bird is kosher, then we will eat it. Otherwise we take the cautious position of SAFEK (doubt) and choose to be strict with ourselves.

It is also forbidden to eat non-kosher locust and other winged insects [471]. Notwithstanding permission to eat the meat of animals, it is forbidden to eat of an animal that died other than by sh'chita. This prohibition is called "N'veila" [472]. Benefit may be derived from "n'veila" but not from milk-meat mixtures.

Although this third occurrence of Meat in Milk teaches the prohibition of benefit, it is not counted as a separate mitzva, but is included in the prohibition of eating M-in-M from Ki Tisa.

CHAMISHI - 5th Aliya - 8 p'sukim (14:22-29)

(Approx. 2% of the yield of a crop is given to a Kohen as T'ruma. One tenth of the remainder is separated as Ma'aser to be given to a Levi.) One tenth of what is left is separated as Ma'aser Sheni [473], which remains the possession of the owner but is considered sacred and must be brought to Yerushalayim and eaten there in a state of ritual purity. If the amount of Ma'aser Sheni is great, a person is permitted to redeem the produce for fair market value plus a fifth. If one redeems the Maaser Sheni of his neighbor, fair-market value is sufficient. The proceeds of the redemption are to be spent on food and drink in Yerushalayim. Once again the Torah reminds us to care for the Levi, who has no property of his own. (This rule of Ma'aser Sheni applies in years 1, 2, 4, 5 of the Shmita cycle.) In the 3rd (& 6th) year of the Shmita cycle, the second tithe is to be given to poor people. This generous act of tzedaka will be rewarded by blessings from G-d.

SHISHI - Sixth Aliya - 18 p'sukim (15:1-18)

If Shmita year passes, repayment of personal loans may not be demanded [475]. This rule applies when both lender and borrower are Jewish. Loans due from a non-Jew must be collected [476], but it is a mitzva to cancel the personal debt of a fellow Jew following the Shmita year [477]. If the Jewish People follow the Torah and mitzvot properly, we will be blessed by not having poverty among us. We will also dominate among the nations of the world.

However, when we are confronted with poverty, we must not hold back generous poverty, we must not hold back generous support of those in need [478]. Rather it is a great mitzva to give tzedaka and support those less fortunate than ourselves in a giving and dignified manner. Be especially careful not to withhold loans to the poor because the Shmita year is approaching [480]; if the poor person cries out to G-d, He will hold you accountable for not helping. Be generous in areas of tzedaka and Chessed, thereby meriting blessing from G-d. Poverty will be a "fact of life" under normal circumstances; give tzedaka freely.

If a Jew becomes an indentured servant to a fellow Jew, he shall work no more than six years and be freed in the seventh. One must not send the freed "eved ivri" away empty- handed [481] but rather he shall be given a generous allotment upon discharge. We are to remember that we were "avadim" in Egypt and that G-d redeemed us and expects us to be sensitive to those less fortunate than ourselves. If the "eved ivri" does not want to be released, his ear is ceremonially pierced and he remains in his master's service until Yovel. Do not be stingy with the servant, for he has served you hard and long.

SH'VI'I - 7th Aliya - 22 p'sukim (15:19-16:17)

First-borns of cow, goat and sheep are sacred; they may neither be worked [483] nor benefited from [484]. They are given to a Kohen as one of his Torah-granted gifts (after 30-50 days from birth).They are to be eaten by the kohen and his family after being brought as a korban - within a year, unless "unfit for the Altar", in which case they are the Kohen's property, to do with as he pleases. B'chor of this type applies even in our time, without a Beit HaMikdash. Except that the Sages forbid us to do this mitzva because without a Beit HaMikdash for the moment, there would be hardship imposed on the kohen-recipient of the B'chor and temptations for various transgressions by the Kohen.

Preserve the spring month and bring the Korban Pesach. (This is a reiteration of the mitzva to adjust the calendar when necessary, by adding a month - a second Adar - to push Pesach into the spring.) Chametz is forbidden on Erev Pesach afternoon [485]. The Chagiga cannot be left over beyond two days [486]. K.P. cannot be brought on a private altar [487]. Rejoice on the Festivals [488]. Bring korbanot to the Mikdash for the Chagim [489]; do not appear there empty-handed.