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Ekev 5771


Ekev (Deuteronomy 7:12-11:25 )

by Kalman Packouz

GOOD MORNING! Next year is the 75th anniversary of the destruction of the Zeppelin airship Hindenburg.  It was one of the greatest tragedies of the first part of the 20th century -- especially since the terrifying spectacle of the explosion and fire was caught on film by Paramount.  The newsreel was shown in movie theaters across the world. It horrified all who saw it and single-handedly spelled the death of blimps as a way of air travel.  (You can see what they saw at

If you ask anyone familiar with the incident, "Why did the Hindenburg explode and catch on fire?" he'll likely answer, "Because it was filled with hydrogen gas instead of helium; hydrogen is volatile and it blew up!"

How do we know that?  Is it through belief (belief is a point on a continuum between ignorance and knowledge; the more evidence you have, the stronger your belief)?  Is it by faith (faith is an emotional leap to a conclusion)?  Is it something we've accepted from our society?  It is important to know why we believe what we believe.  We take as truths what are often hearsay or popular misconceptions.  Perhaps one couldn't care less about the cause of Hindenburg explosion, but it demonstrates that we sometimes think we know something for sure, but haven't investigated deeply enough to know the facts.

Here is the story of the Hindenburg (according to a fabulous article in Smithsonian's "Air & Space Magazine" April/May 1997): Hydrogen gas played little or no part in the fire!  The outer covering which was over 6 acres of cellulose impregnated with aluminum and other chemicals is what burned.  How do they know? 1) The fire was multi-colored "like fireworks;" hydrogen burns colorless.  2) The smoking fire burned downward; hydrogen would have burned upward without smoke.  3) If the hydrogen had exploded and burned, the blimp would have plummeted to earth instead of remaining aloft.  4) NASA Materials Science Lab replicated the atmospheric conditions with an actual piece of the covering -- it ignited and disappeared in seconds.  5) Zeppelin electrical engineer Otto Beyersdorf wrote on June 28, 1937: "The actual cause of the fire was the extreme easy flammability of the covering material brought about by discharges of an electrostatic nature."  He also replicated the accident in his laboratory.  (His report was recently made public by the Zeppelin archives.)

It seems that the Zeppelin company figured that blaming the gas (which they had planned to replace with helium, anyway) would do less damage than placing fault on the covering material.  We have been misled through disinformation!

Now, let's look at a second question: "What does the Torah mean when it says, 'an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth' " (Leviticus 24:20)? Most people will answer, "Obviously, the Torah is advocating revenge on a measure for measure basis."  One has seen in the past that the major news magazines have used this quote to take a swipe at Israel -- and the Jewish people -- after Israel has made a retaliatory raid following a terrorist attack.  Besides their vengeful motivation and their failing to distinguish between "revenge" (you hurt me, I hurt you) and "retaliation" (a response and a message that there are consequences to their actions), the writers and editors are unaware of the true meaning of the verse as intended by the Torah.

It is important to understand that the Torah we received at Mt. Sinai included both the Written Torah (The Five Books of Moses) and the Oral Torah (the explanation of the Written Torah -- which was eventually redacted into the Talmud).  The Talmud tells us how to understand each verse of the Torah and fills in the details alluded to in the Torah. For instance, the Torah writes to "put a sign between your eyes."  It is the Talmud which explains that this means Tefillin (phylacteries) and details how to make them.

The Talmud (Baba Kama 83b-84a) presents 7 proofs that "an eye for an eye" refers to monetary compensation -- the money that an individual is entitled to receive when he is injured by another person. For example, the Talmud asks "If we are looking for ultimate justice --what justice can there be if a blind person destroys the eye of a seeing person?" What would one do to benefit the blind person?  The Torah uses the Hebrew word "tachat" which literally means "under" though it is translated as "for"; the Talmud proves that it means payment because of the verse "You shall surely pay for an ox 'tachat' an ox."  By the ox, it clearly means payment when it uses the word "tachat."  Therefore, the Talmud concludes that "tachat" always refer to payment.  If one thinks that an "eye for an eye" is literal, it is because of reading the Torah in translation without the benefit of the Talmudic explanation.

So, then, why does the Torah use the phraseology "an eye for an eye" if the intention is to command monetary compensation?

The answer is that even if we make financial restitution, we should feel the pain and loss of the person we injured as if our own eye was blinded. We must feel for others and emotionally internalize the consequences of our actions. In this way we will refine ourselves as human beings and be more careful in the future not to injure someone. The Torah does not want us to feel that we have taken care of our obligations by just paying money.

For more on "Torah Justice" go to!


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Torah Portion of the Week

Moshe continues his discourse guaranteeing the Jewish people prosperity and good health if they follow the mitzvot, the commandments.  He reminds us to look at our history and to know that we can and should trust in God.  However, we should be careful so that we are not distracted by our material success, lest we forget and ignore God.

Moshe warns us against idolatry (the definition of idolatry is the belief that anything other than God has power) and against self-righteousness ("Do not say because of my virtue that God brought me to occupy this land ... but because of the wickedness of these nations that God is driving them out before you.")  He then details our rebellions against God during the 40 years in the desert and the giving of the Second Tablets (Moshe broke the first Tablets containing the Ten Commandments during the sin of the Golden Calf.)

This week's portion dispels a common misconception.  People think that "Man does not live by bread alone" means that a person needs additional foods beyond bread to survive.  The quotation in its entirety is, "Man does not live by bread alone ... but by all that comes out of God's mouth" (Deut. 8:3).

The Torah then answers a question which every human being has asked of himself: What does God want of you?  "Only that you remain in awe of God your Lord, so that you will follow all His paths and love Him, serving God your Lord with all your heart and with all your soul.  You must keep God's commandments and decrees ... so that all good will be yours" (Deut. 10:12).

* * *

Dvar Torah
based on Growth Through Torah by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin

The Torah prefaces the rewards for the Jewish people for observing the commandments with the verse:

"For if you will certainly observe the entire commandment that I command you to do, to love the Lord your God to go in His ways and to cleave to Him...." (Deut. 11:22).

What does it mean "to cleave to the Almighty"?  The Almighty has no body or corporeality to hold on to.

Rabbi Meir Simcha HaCohen comments that this verse is the commandment to trust in the Almighty.  Cleaving, clinging to the Almighty means that we trust in him like a king's son who relies on his father.  His father loves him and, being a king, has the ability to supply him with all his needs.  This is our relationship with the Almighty.  He is our King and our Father.  We must make our efforts, but understand that success is ultimately a gift from the Almighty.

Cleaving to the Almighty means living with this awareness.  The immediate benefit to a person who internalizes this attribute is an inner feeling of peace and serenity.


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Jerusalem 6:44
Guatemala 6:05 - Hong Kong 6:39 - Honolulu 6:40
J'Burg 5:31 - London 7:55 - Los Angeles 7:18
Melbourne 5:30 - Mexico City 7:44 - Miami 7:35
New York 7:32 - Singapore 6:55 - Toronto 7:58


Reading without reflecting is like
eating without digesting.


Happy 60th Birthday

Chaim Waldman

Hollywood, FL


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