Devarim 5763

June 23, 2009

7 min read


Devarim (Deuteronomy 1:1-3:22 )

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GOOD MORNING!  The apocryphal story is told of a man at the race tracks who sees a rabbi blessing a horse. Figuring the rabbi is close to God, the man places a bet and sure enough the horse wins! Before each successive race, the man observes which horse the rabbi blesses, places his bet and wins. However, even after following the same procedure for the last race, the horse comes in last. The man approaches the rabbi and asks, "How come every horse you gave a blessing won except the last horse?" The rabbi answers, "You need to know the difference between a blessing and a Kaddish (the prayer said on behalf of those who have died)."

Most Jews are familiar with the blessing over bread, the "HaMotzie." However, there are blessings for different type of foods, blessings for Mitzvot (commandments), for example: for putting on Tefillin or lighting Shabbat candles; blessings of thanks ("HaGomel") when one is saved from destruction; blessings for natural phenomena, e.g., seeing a bolt of lightning or hearing thunder; blessings for life events - the birth of a child or a death. There is even a blessing for after going to the bathroom. Don't laugh - imagine if you were unable to relieve yourself or unable to stop relieving yourself. You couldn't live!

What is a blessing? It is a statement or affirmation that begins "Blessed are Thou Lord, our God, King of the Universe..." It is not that we have any power to bless God. He is infinite and lacks nothing. What we are doing is recognizing that the Almighty is the source of all blessings.

Why do we make blessings? Life is a matter of focus. We can eat and sleep and work and eventually die without ever thinking what life is about or the significance of the moment. A blessing focuses us on the Almighty and our relationship with Him.

In the case of food, rather than just tossing the food into our mouths, we focus that this food comes from the Almighty. There are two verses. The first says, "The earth and its fullness is the Almighty's" (Psalm 24:1). The second says, "The Heavens belong to God and the earth was given to man" (Psalm 115:16). How is this seeming contradiction resolved? Everything belongs to the Almighty; however, after we recognize that fact through making a blessing, we have permission to partake in the goodness (the food!) He has given us. There is a blessing said after eating which give thanks to the Almighty for that which He has given us.

After hearing someone say a brocha (Hebrew for blessing), those who hear respond, "Amen." What is "Amen"? It is an acronym for "God is the faithful King." It is an affirmation that one places his trust in the Almighty. All of us trust in something - our intelligence, education, money, power. In truth, one can only truly place his trust in the Almighty. As it says in Psalm 20:8, "There are those who trust in chariots and those who trust in horses, but we, in the name of our God, call out."

There are two ways one can say a brocha. One is by rote with speed and no feeling - just to fulfill the requirement of making the blessing. The second way is to know the words and concentrate on the meaning of the words and the intention of why you are saying the blessing. Really, the second way is the only way to make a blessing. We just sometimes forget the reason why we make the blessing and how we are supposed to do it.

If one makes a blessing with thought and concentration, it is a growth experience. It makes him more spiritual, more closely connected to the Almighty. It helps him grow as a human being through his recognition of the source of his blessings and his expression of gratitude for them and trains him in these qualities. Just as it is incumbent upon us to thank God for what He has given us, it is important for us to thank our fellow human beings for what they do for us.

The other day I was meeting with a friend who is a devout Christian. After we finished eating, I explained that I need a minute to say an after-blessing for the food I ate. He was very excited; he sat down, bent his head forward and shut his eyes. As I was saying my after-blessing every few seconds he was saying with great devotion, "Yes" ... "Yes" ... "Yes." When I finished, I said to him, "I know what I was saying, but what were you doing?" He looked at me with great surprise and responded simply, "I was agreeing with you!" May we all recognize the Source of our blessings and remember to thank Him ... and remember to agree with those who do!

Torah Portion of the Week

This week we begin the last of the Five Books of Moses, Deuteronomy (which is the Greek name for the book of Devarim "Words" - as it is called in the original Hebrew). The Book is the oration of Moses (Moshe) before he died. It is the preparation of the Jewish people for entering and living in the Land of Israel. Moshe reviews the history of the 40 years of wandering the desert and gives rebuke so that the Jewish people will learn from their mistakes. It is always good to give reproof right before one dies. People are more inclined to pay attention and to take it to heart.

Moshe recalls what happened at Mt. Sinai, the appointment of judges and administrators, the story of the spies, the prohibition to attack Edom and Moav, the defeat of the kings Sichon and Og, and how the land of Gilad was given to the tribes of Reuven, Gad and half of the tribe of Menashe.


Dvar Torah
based on Growth Through Torah by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin

Moshe gives reproof to the Jewish people in the book of Devarim, including the following:

"And you complained in your tents, and you said, because the Almighty hated us He took us out of Egypt to hand us over to Amorites to destroy us."

Is it truly possible that the Israelites thought that the Almighty hated them?

Rashi, the great commentator, elucidates this verse and gives us a profound insight into human nature. Says Rashi, that the Almighty really loved the Israelites, but because they felt hatred towards Him, they mistakenly felt that He hated them. As people say, "What you feel about someone else, you assume he feels about you."

There is a strong tendency for people to project their own feelings towards others. If you constantly think that other people should not be trusted, it could show that you feel that others should not really trust you. If you always think that others disapprove of you, it indicates that you don't approve of others - or perhaps yourself.

To use this positively, if you feel love and compassion for others, you will assume others feel that way towards you. Not only that, but your behavior and feelings will beget the same from the people you interact with. Try smiling at another person. You'll feel better towards him and he'll be more positive towards you!


"Who is rich? He who is happy in his portion.
As it is said, 'When you eat from the work of your hands you are happy and all is well with you' (Ps. 128:2).

"Who is honored? He who honors others.
As it is said, 'For those who honor Me, I will honor and those scorn me, they will be humbled' (I Samuel 2:30)."

    --  Ben Zoma

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The greatest discovery of any generation
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--  William James

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