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V'etchanan 5771

V'etchanan (Deuteronomy 3:23-7:11 )

by Kalman Packouz

GOOD MORNING! The story is told of a man who came to his rabbi with a request.  "Make me a Cohen!"  The rabbi was puzzled because a person acquires the designation of Cohen through paternal heredity -- only if his father was a Cohen.  He replied to the man, "I am sorry; I can't make you a Cohen."  Before the rabbi could explain, the man insisted, "You have got to make me a Cohen; I'll give you $10,000!"  The rabbi again apologized that he couldn't help him and started to explain, but the man interrupted again to raise the offer $25,000.  In exasperation the rabbi asks, "Why is it so important for you to be a Cohen?"  The man replies, "Because my father was a Cohen, his father was a Cohen and my great-grandfather was a Cohen!"

Since not everyone is aware of tribal designations in the Jewish people, I will explain.


When the Torah is read, a Cohen (or Kohen) is called to make the blessings over reading the first portion. Then a Levite is called for the second portion.  A Yisroel (Israelite) may then be called for the remaining portions to be read.  A Cohen is usually accorded greater honor or precedence before a Levite or an Israel.  What do these titles mean and how did they come about?

Jewish history starts with our forefather, Avraham (Abraham).  His son Yitzhak (Isaac) continued the traditions and passed them on to his son, Ya'akov (Jacob).  Twelve sons were born to Ya'akov: Reuven, Shimon, Levi, Yehuda, Zevulon, Issachar, Dan, Gad, Asher, Naphtali, Yosef (Joseph) and Binyamin.  These were the original 12 tribes of Israel.  Because of a special blessing from Ya'akov to Yosef, his portion was given to his two sons, Ephraim and Menashe, who were then elevated to equal status with Yosef's brothers -- so there were really 13 tribes!

Until the transgression of the Golden Calf, the firstborn sons were the ones who were designated to do the holy service in the Mishkan, the Portable Sanctuary, in the Desert.  No one from the Tribe of Levi worshipped the Golden Calf and, therefore, the Almighty replaced the firstborn with the Tribe of Levi to serve in the sanctuary (Numbers 3:11-12).  Levi had three sons: Gershon, Kehath and Merari.  The work of the Sanctuary --erecting, dismantling, carrying, singing, assisting the Cohanim -- was divided amongst the three families.

Moshe (Moses) and Aharon (Aaron) were brothers -- descended from Amram the son of Kehath.  While Moshe was the leader of the Jewish people in the desert, the Almighty designated Aharon as the Cohen Gadol (High Priest).  For all time, Aharon and his descendants would be Cohanim (also spelled "Kohanim").  The Cohanim were the priests who performed the actual service in the Mishkan and later in the Temple in Jerusalem.

Throughout the 40 years in the desert, the Jewish people traveled according to their tribe.  When we entered into the Land of Israel (1273 B.C.E.), each tribe received a specific territory (except the Tribe of Levi which was given specific cities to live in).  After the split of the Kingdom into Israel and Judah following the death of King Solomon, the Assyrians conquered the Kingdom of Israel in 722 BCE and exiled the Ten Tribes.  Since then the Ten Tribes were not heard from and Jews can now only trace their lineage to the Kohanim and Levites.  The rest of us reside under the designation of "Israelites" -- not sure from which tribe we descend.

How does one find out if he is a Cohen or a Levi?  If you can't ask your father or your grandfather, then one can look through genealogical records for marriage certificates or official records.  If one knows where his paternal forefathers are buried, he can check the tombstones for inscriptions.  Sometimes on the tombstones of a Cohen are two hands with fingers spread as a Cohen would form his hands when blessing the Jewish people (Yes, Spock -- Leonard Nemoy -- is a Cohen and utilized the Cohen's "hand" for the Vulcan "Live Long and Prosper" hand sign).  On the tombstone of a Levi there is sometimes an engraving of a pitcher symbolizing the service of the Levite in washing the Cohen's hands before the Cohen would bless the Jewish people.

Then again, one can always wait for Eliyahu (Elijah) the prophet who will precede the Moshiach (Messiah) and who will be able to inform us of our true tribal lineage!

For more on "Tribal Lineage" go to!


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Torah Portion of the Week

Moshe pleads with God to enter the Holy Land, but is turned down.  (Remember, God always answers your prayers -- sometimes with a "yes," sometimes with a "no" ... and sometimes with a "not yet".)  Moshe commands the Children of Israel not to add or subtract from the words of the Torah and to keep all of the Commandments.  He then reminds them that God has no shape or form and that we should not make or worship idols of any kind.

The cities of Bezer, Ramot and Golan are designated as Cities of Refuge east of the Jordan river.  Accidental murderers can escape there to avoid revengeful relatives.  They then await there until tried.

The Ten Commandments are repeated to the whole Jewish people.  Moshe then expounds the Shema, affirming the unity of God, Whom all should love and transmit His commandments to the next generation.  A man should wear Tefillin upon the arm and head.  All Jews should put a Mezuzah (the scroll is the essential part) upon each doorpost of their home (except the bathroom).

Moshe then relays the Almighty's command not to intermarry "for they will lead your children away from Me" (Deut. 7:3-4).

* * *

Dvar Torah
based on Growth Through Torah by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin

The Torah states:

"When you beget children and grandchildren and will become old in the Land, you will grow corrupt and make an idol, the image of anything, and you will do evil in the eyes of the Almighty, your God, to anger Him" (Deut. 4:39).

How does having children and grandchildren lead to becoming corrupt and doing evil?  Shouldn't a person always be grateful for what the Almighty has given him?

The answer lies in the Hebrew word, venoshantem, "becoming old."  If one becomes accustomed to what he has, then he no longer appreciates it.  If he no longer appreciates it, he no longer feels a sense of gratitude to the Almighty.  And without a sense of gratitude, a person will not only neglect his obligations to God, but can turn against Him.

The same principle applies in our relationships with our fellow human beings.  Therefore, we must always focus anew upon our possessions and the favors we have received.  Each day look at your possessions as if you just received them that very day.  This will ensure gratitude.  This will enhance our lives and those around us!



Rabbi Zelig Pliskin will speak on "The Power of Words." Thursday, August 11, 2011, 11: 15 AM. Aish HaTorah World Center overlooking the Western Wall. Admission is free.


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Honesty without compassion is cruelty.


With Deep Appreciation to

Phillip W. Rothe

Wilkes Barre, Penn



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