- Rabbi Twerski of Portland Oregon asked me how it could say Torah tziva lanu Moshe, morasha kehilat Yaacov “Moses commanded us a Torah, an inheritance of the congregation of Jacob” if Moshe is speaking. If we go back to the beginning of the Parsha, Moshe is called “the man of G-d” for the first and only time. When his blessing starts, it says vayomer Elohim misinai bah. This is translated as “He said, Hashem came from Sinai…” but it could just as easily be translated as “Hashem said, from Sinai came…” In other words, at this point Moshe is a man of G-d. And G-d and Moshe are speaking together. When did Moshe command G-d? After the Golden Calf, Moshe uses his favor in G-d’s eye to defend the people. It is his greatest moment of leadership and when – according to the pshat of the Torah – he changes G-d’s mind. Perhaps this is why the very next verse of this parsha says v’yehi veshurun melech, “there will be a King in Yeshurun (Israel)”.
- May Reuben live and not die, and not have his number die. We number names, number zachar, number circles & number animals. What does a number miss? Vs. Pekudim. It denies personal potential – or even group potential beyond bulk. Being without number is to rise above these statistical measures. But to have your number die is to fail to realize even them. It is the lowest measure.
- What army? Only military action by Leviim is internal – they aren’t in the army. But they strike the loins – literally gifts. Why? It points to a distinct army – one that might strike the offspring with its teaching so that those who rebel won’t recover. It is often more effective than killing.
- Mimeged comes up 5 times and these are the only places it shows up in Chumash and I don’t have it in my shoresh dictionaries. So what is it doing here? Let’s look at the first three: mimeged of heaven is dew, mimeged of sun is grain, mimeged of moon is garish – thrust out. Does heaven produce dew? No, it produces rain – dew is a result of temperature and condensation. Does the sun produce grain? No, it helps but it is just an ingredient. Does the moon produce that which is thrust out (I presume, children)? No, it is correlated. These are all indirect or related blessings, nothing direct. This is like Joseph – whose separation led to the survival of the brothers. It is in his character to bless indirectly and be blessed indirectly.
- Why does Zebulun rejoice in departure? They are sea people, fisherman and traders. Don’t sailors rejoice at return? This rejoicing speaks to a fundamental confidence in the success of their ventures. It is the best blessing for sailors.
- We come to the end of the tribes, but Shimon is unmentioned. Why? We are seeing the impact of human choices. The tribes aren’t blobs or groups – they have individual names. They go above Mispar and beyond Pekudim into real personalities and potentials. Moshe is blessing them – he is loving them far more clearly than Jacob whose ‘blessings’ were far more mixed. But things have happened in the intervening years. Levi was cursed with Shimon – but Levi changed paths and converted his curse to a blessing. Shimon did not. Levi rose, but Shimon – already – has lost the capacity to be blessed.
- “Fortunate are you, O Israel! Who is like you, O people whose salvation is through the Lord.” What is salvation? It is almost defined here as the magen (shield) and sword of Hashem. The most famous shield is the magen Avraham in the Amidah. But as Rabbi Bick of Yeshivat Har Etzion points out, that magen is promised to Avraham after his war. Avraham was fearful – but after the fight. Perhaps we see this today in those who suffer from PTSD. Hashem is his magen – his psychological shield against terror and fear. On Sukkot, when we perform Hoshanot (prayers for salvation), we live in Sukkot. We recognize, by living in Sukkot, that Hashem is our shield.
- The final words of Torah: Moshe is the greatest prophet. Why? Because of the evidence. We are, at bottom, a real-world religion. The p’shat is, in our lives, the truth. Our challenge is to take what we’ve been given and create a Loving relationship with Hashem – as our forefathers and Moshe had.
21st Century P’shat: 1-2 minute divrai Torah for each aliyah