We hope you enjoy this selection of short divrei Torah, presented to family and guests at our Shabbos table as a springboard for discussion. Each one is followed by a question. The responses shared at our table are enlightening, entertaining, and always thought-provoking.
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Parshas V’zos HaBerachah #1
The Time to Pray
“And Moshe was one hundred and twenty years old at [the time of] his death. His vision had not waned, and his strength had not diminished” (Devarim 34:7).
It was the end of an era; it was time for Moshe’s soul to leave his body. He was still as strong as a young man (Sotah 13b, Rashi), but it was Hashem’s Will that he live for one hundred and twenty years, and no more.
Moshe’s death is mentioned in the Torah ten times, both before and after he died.Based on these ten pessukim, Chazal tell us that it was decreed in Heaven ten times that Moshe would die in the desert, without entering Eretz Yisrael. The decree, although issued, was not sealed until the Heavenly Court appeared to Moshe and told him that the Divine decision was final: “You will not cross the Jordan” (Devarim 3:27).
Until then, Moshe had not truly believed that the decree was irreversible. He reasoned that the Jewish people had committed many very serious sins, and Hashem had responded favorably to Moshe’s prayers and forgiven them. Moshe himself was free of sin; surely Hashem would forgive him all the more easily if he prayed for himself. When Hashem saw that Moshe was taking the matter lightly and was not praying, He swore irrevocably that Moshe would not enter the Holy Land (Devarim Rabbah 11:10).
Rav Moshe Sternbuch cites an insight from Rav Elya Lopian on this midrash: had Moshe prayed for himself immediately, he would have been forgiven. It was only because he delayed that his prayers were not accepted when he finally did pray. Rav Sternbuch points out that Moshe did do teshuvah promptly and deeply regretted his transgression, but the element of tefillah – praying and beseeching Hashem that he be allowed to enter Eretz Yisrael – was missing. He had not sufficiently appreciated the importance of tefillah, and ultimately, this was what lost Moshe his chance for forgiveness (Taam V’daas).
In contrast, when Moshe’s sister Miriam was stricken with leprosy, he prayed for her at once (Bamidbar12:13). Apparently, he was more concerned for others than for himself, as evidenced by his delay in praying to save himself.
Question for Discussion:
Hashem is waiting to hear from us. What have you davened for recently, beyond the daily tefillos?
“And by all the mighty hand and the great power which Moshe performed before the eyes of all Israel” (Devarim 34:12).
The final passuk of the Torah sums up Moshe’s great accomplishments in his many years of leadership. Rashi explains each of the terms in this passuk:
“The mighty hand”: Moshe received the Torah, carrying the Luchos in his hands.
“All the great power”: Moshe carried out miracles and mighty wonders in the great and terrible desert.
“Before the eyes of all Israel”: Moshe decided to shatter the Luchos in full view of the nation, and Hashem agreed with his action.
The breaking of the Luchos in response to the Sin of the Golden Calf was one of the most tragic moments in our people’s history. After mentioning the Giving of the Torah and the other great miracles, why does the Torah conclude on such a painful note?
We can answer this question based on Rav Aharon Lewin’s insight into the chatzotzros, the silver trumpets Moshe used to assemble the nation in the desert. Unlike most of the other sacred vessels in the desert, the chatzotzros were not made by soldering a number of pieces together to produce a finished product; they were hammered out of a single piece of silver. Their solid, seamless construction was symbolic of the unbroken strength required by a leader. Even if his actions and decisions are at times less than popular, he should be able to stick to them, for the ultimate benefit of the community (HaDerash V’HaIyun, Parshas Behaalos’cha 80).
The greatness of Moshe’s leadership was in his strength, even in the face of opposition and very difficult decisions – above all the critical decision to shatter the Luchos. As shocking as it was, by breaking the Luchos, Moshe spared the nation from even greater punishment (Shabbos 87a, Rif).
For decades, Rabbi Moshe Sherer, chairman of Agudath Israel of America, was a leader of exceptional dedication and integrity. When his son, Rabbi Shimshon Sherer, took his first position as a rav, the senior Rabbi Sherer told him, “Remember that the rabbanus is not a popularity contest; any rav who is properly doing his job must stir up opposition. He buttressed his point by citing the blessing that Hashem promised Avraham Avinu at the beginning of his mission: “I will bless those who bless you, and he who curses you I will curse” (Bereishis 12:3). Would it not have been a greater blessing, Rabbi Sherer asked his son, if Hashem had simply told Avraham that he would have no detractors? He answered his own question: A rav who has no detractors is not properly performing his duties. In short, the desire for short-term popularity is antithetical to leadership.”
One motzei Shabbos a few months later, Rabbi Shimshon Sherer told his father that at least one member of the congregation had not been pleased with his halachah shiur that Shabbos. Rabbi Sherer was delighted: “Baruch Hashem,” he said, “my son is now on the road to success.”
Question for Discussion:
Leadership can call for taking actions that are not popular. When did you or someone you know take an action that was not popular, but was right nonetheless?