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Agricultural Dependence

Ekev (Deuteronomy 7:12-11:25 )

by Rabbi Ozer Alport

Moshe stressed to the Jewish people that the land of Israel would be different than the land of Egypt from which they were coming (Deut. 11:10-11). Whereas the fields of the land of Egypt were watered by irrigation from the Nile River, those in Israel received their water from the rain. Although Rashi notes that a natural water supply is advantageous in that it requires substantially less exertion, what deeper message was Moshe trying to impart?

After tempting Eve to eat from the forbidden Tree of Knowledge, the serpent was cursed that it would travel on its stomach and eat dust all the days of its life (Genesis 3:14). In what way does this represent a punishment, as other animals must spend days hunting for prey while the snake's diet - dust - can be found wherever it travels?

The Kotzker Rebbe explains that this point is precisely the curse. Other animals are dependent on God to help them find food to eat. The snake, on the other hand, slithers horizontally across the earth. It never goes hungry, never looks upward, and is totally cut off from a relationship with God, and therein lies the greatest curse imaginable!

Similarly, Rabbi Shimshon Pinkus symbolically explains that Moshe wasn't merely relating an agricultural fact. He was teaching that just like the serpent, the Egyptians were a totally "natural" people. Because it never rained in their country, so they never had to look skyward to see what the clouds foretold. As a result, their hearts never gazed toward the Heavens, which effectively cutting them off from perceiving any dependence on or relationship with the Almighty. Everything which occurred in their lives could be explained scientifically and deceptively appeared to be completely "natural."

In light of this, the Exodus from Egypt to Israel wasn't merely a physical redemption from agonizing enslavement, but it also represented a deeper philosophical departure. The Exodus allowed the fledgling Jewish nation to exchange a worldview devoid of spirituality, through which everything is understood and explained according to science and nature, for one in which we confidently declare that God runs every aspect of the universe and we are dependent on Him for every detail of our daily lives.

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In discussing the Golden Calf (Deut. 9:21), Moshe told the Jewish people, "Your sin which you committed, I took it and burned it in fire." Although Moshe took the physical calf and burned it, what did he mean when he said that he burned the actual sin, something which has no physical manifestation?

The Shelah HaKadosh explains that every action that a person does mystically creates a corresponding angel. Mitzvot generate good angels, while sins produce bad ones. Moshe recognized that simply burning the Calf itself, while necessary, wouldn't suffice to erase the spiritual effects of their actions. He therefore additionally took the destructive angel that was created through their sin and burned it as well. Moshe related this to teach that when repenting our misdeeds, we must sincerely regret our actions and accept upon ourselves not to repeat them in order to uproot not only the physical consequences of the sin but the spiritual ones as well.

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A 12-year-old boy ate a meal just before sundown on the day before his Bar Mitzvah and recited the Grace after Meals. If the food hasn't yet been fully digested and he is still satiated after sundown, when he legally becomes a Jewish adult and Biblically required to say Birkas HaMazon, must he say it again, as his Rabbinically-mandated recitation was unable to fulfill his new Biblical obligation?

Rabbi Akiva Eiger (OC 186) raises this question and writes that he is unsure of the proper ruling. He adds that his son-in-law compared it to a similar question raised by the Chochmas Adam (153), who discusses a case in which a person whose close family member has died and hasn't yet been buried eats a meal. Prior to the burial he is exempt from reciting blessings over his food. In a case where he is still full after the burial, the Chochmas Adam questions whether he would be required to recite Grace after Meals at that time.

However, Rabbi Akiva Eiger suggests that the two situations are not comparable, as in the other case the mourner is in fact obligated in the mitzvah of Birkas HaMazon at the time that he ate the food, but because he is currently occupied with the mitzvah of burying his family member, we exempt him from doing so. It therefore stands to reason that as soon as the dead has been buried, his obligation would return if he is still satiated. In our case, however, at the time that the 12-year-old boy ate his meal, he wasn't at all Biblically obligated in Birkas HaMazon, and it is quite possible that even after he becomes a Bar Mitzvah, he remains exempt. (Although in practical terms, he doesn't reach a clear conclusion.)

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Moshe recounted that he descended from Mount Sinai with the second set of Tablets after spending an additional 40 days on the mountain (Deut. 10:5). Rashi writes (Exodus 34:29) that this took place on Yom Kippur. How was he permitted to carry the Tablets from the mountain, which is a private domain, to the Jewish camp, a public domain, on Yom Kippur?

In discussing a different question, Nachmanides (Exodus 18:13) writes that Moshe descended from the mountain with the Tablets on the day after Yom Kippur.

Shu"t Rivash (96) maintains that the Jews weren't obligated to observe the Yomim Tovim until after the Tabernacle (Mishkan) was erected.

The Panim Yafos answers that God gave the Tablets to Moshe after he began walking, which is Biblically permitted since Moshe didn't uproot them.

The Chasam Sofer (Exodus 20:22) argues that just as one may desecrate Shabbos to save another person's life and enable him to observe Shabbos in the future, so too Moshe was permitted to carry the Tablets on Yom Kippur because the acceptance of the entire Torah and future observance of Yom Kippur was dependent upon it.

The Rogatchover (Tzafnas Paneiach) notes that Moshe mentioned that he descended the mountain but didn't say that he carried the Tablets with him, and he suggests that Moshe left them on the mountain because of the prohibition of carrying them.

Rabbi Yitzchok Sorotzkin challenges this explanation from Exodus 34:29, which states explicitly that Moshe did carry the Tablets with him when he descended. Instead, he answers that the Midrash (Pirkei D'Rebbi Eliezer 45) teaches that the Tablets miraculously carried not only themselves, but also Moshe. In other words, Moshe was allowed to "carry" the Tablets because he wasn't carrying them at all.

The Chavatzeles HaSharon suggests that the holiness of Yom Kippur only began at the time that God told Moshe that he forgave the Jews for the golden calf. As this occurred in the middle of Yom Kippur, Moshe was exempt from observing it until the following year.

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