Ki Tavo: There Is Nothing Greater ~ Tzvi Abrahams

Parshas כִּי תָבוֹא

There Is Nothing Greater

אָמֵן: Amen

אֶמוּנָה: trust

אֻמָנוֹת: trade, artisan

אוֹמֶנֶת: midwife, nurse, babysitter

אַמְנוֹן: Amnon

אֶמֶת: truth

אֵם: mother

וְעָנוּ כָל הָעָם וְאָמְרוּ אָמֵן
And all the people answered and said Amen.

אָמֵן: Amen

In Parshas כִּי תָבוֹא, the Jewish People are about to enter Eretz Yisrael, Hashem’s home, so to speak. However, entry was on condition that they abide by the house rules. Like with any contract, there are terms and conditions that must be agreed upon. Standing on the mountains of Har Eival and Har Grizim, the blessings and curses were called out one after the other. After each one, the Bnei Yisrael’s affirmations resounded through the mountains with the power of one word: אָמֵן/Amen.

אָמֵן is so powerful that one who answers Amen in this world is zocheh to answer Amen in the World to Come.

The Midrash says that Amen has three connotations: one of acceptance, as in this week’s parshah; one of answering an oath, as in the oath of the Sotah woman; and one of affirming the truth.

אָמֵן also has the connotation of אֵמֶלֶך נֶאַמָן/all-powerful, trustworthy King. Hashem is נֶאֶמָן to keep His word that He will send the Mashiach and redeem us from galus, בִּמְהֵרָה בְּיָמֵינוּ אָמֵן

אֶמוּנָה: Trust

Just like we have trust in Hashem, He has trust in us, as we say each morning: מוֹדֶה אֲנִי לְפָנֶיךָ מֶלֶךְ חַי וְקַיָּם שֶהֶחֱזַרְתָּ בִּי נִשְׁמָתִי בְחֶמְלָה, רַבָּה אֱמוּנָתֶךָ
In your presence I thank you, living and existing King, that You have returned in me my soul with compassion, great is Your trust. 

Hashem’s trust in us is great. Each day He returns our neshamah to us, trusting in us that we will guard our souls from coming to any harm and that we will return our souls to Him at the end of the day in an elevated state.

This indeed is the meaning of one of the brachos that Hashem promises us if we listen to His commandments, בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה בְּבֹאֶךָ וּבָרוּךְ אַתָּה בְּצֵאתֶךָ/you will be blessed in your coming in, and you will be blessed in your going out. This means that just as we come into this world free of sin, so too we should be blessed to leave this world free of sin.

In Tehillim, the order of the blessing is switched around. There it says: ה’ יִשְׁמָר צֵאתְךָ וּבוֹאֶךָ מֵעַתָּה וְעַד עוֹלָם /Hashem will guard your going out and your coming in. There, it refers to Hashem guarding us when we go out to war and when we come back. 

The Ohr HaChaim explains that the verseכִּי תָבוֹא אֶל הָאָרֶץ /when we come to the land hints to the הָאָרֶץ הָעֶלְיוֹן/the upper world. When we come to the upper world, laden with our basket of fruits, symbolizing our Torah and good deeds, we will relate our story: that we came down to Mitzrayim, symbolizing this world of restriction, where the yetzer hara tried to destroy us, etc.

This explanation fits very nicely with the order of the two adjacent parshiyos of כִּי תֵצֵא and כִּי תָבוֹא/when we go out and when we come in, that first we must go out to war against our yetzer hara in this world before we are zocheh to come to the upper world. There, Hashem will guard our going out and our coming in, but on the one premise that we follow His Torah, because it is the Torah that protects us against our enemy.
תּוֹרָה תְּהֵא אֶמוּנָתִי/Torah should be my trade, that just like a merchant puts all his efforts into his trade, so too a person who immerses himself in a life of Torah will be guaranteed to be victorious over his enemy and come home from the frontline laden with the spoils of war.

אֻמָנוֹת: Trade, Artisan

We put our trust in the tradesman that he knows his trade.

אוֹמֶנֶת: Midwife, Nurse Babysitter

A midwife and a babysitter are called so because we trust them with our most precious possessions.

אַמְנוֹן: Amnon

Perhaps Amnon shares this root in that King David trusted him to be alone with Tamar, and he ended up abusing that trust.

After the incident with Amnon and Tamar, King David and his courthouse decreed the prohibition of yichud/men and women being in seclusion.

אֶמֶת: Truth

According to the Radak in Sefer HaShorashim, the word אֶמֶת comes from the word אֶמָנֻת, where the ‘נ’ has been dropped because in essence when we are saying אָמֵן, we are saying “it is true.”

אֵם: Mother

In the Gemara, it says that a son is allowed to be in yichud with his mother but with no one else. 

There is something sacred about the mother-son relationship that the Torah attests to its authenticity. Indeed, we trust the son comes from the mother more so than the father, as Hashem caused Yitzchak to look exactly like Avraham to cast away any aspersions that Avimelech was the father.

שְׁמַע בְּנִי מוּסַר אָבִיךָ וְאַל תִּטֹּשׁ תּוֹרַת אִמֶּךָ/Listen my son to the mussar of your father and do not abandon the Torah of your mother.
In this verse, the Torah connects a son to the mother more than to the father, hinting to us that just like we trust the relationship between the mother and son to be absolutely true, so too we trust the Torah to be absolutely true.

In conclusion, the relationship between us and Hashem is one of נֶאֶמָנוּת/trust, where both partners in the relationship have trust in the other. Hashem puts His trust in us, whether we are going out of the world of אֶמֶת/truth and coming into this world, or whether we are going out of this world and coming back to the upper world. He trusts that we will be responsible to return His precious neshamah intact. We also have נֶאֶמָנוּת/trust in Hashem, like we say in לְדָוִד ה’ אוּרִי during the month of Elul:
לוּלֵא הֶאֱמַנְתִּי לִרְאוֹת בְּטוּב ה’ בְּאֶרֶץ חַיִּים/if not that I have trust in Hashem to see the land of the living, where לוּלֵא back to front reads אֶלוּל/Elul, meaning that what keeps us going in this sometimes back to front world is the knowledge and trust that there is a World to Come, a world of אֶמֶת, where everything will be the right way up and we will see clearly the ways of Hashem. As we approach Rosh Hashanah, we put our hope in Hashem that He will put His trust in us and consider us worthy enough to merit another year of life. Amen!

אֵין גָדוֹל לִפְנֵי הַקָדוֹשׁ בָּרוּך הוּא יוֹתֶר בְּאָמֵן שֶׁיִשְׂרָאֵל עוֹנִין
There is nothing greater before Hashem more than Yisrael answering Amen.

1 Devarim 27:15.

2 Devarim Rabbah 7:1.

3 Devarim 28:6.

4 Bava Metzia 107a.

5 Tehillim 121:8.

6 See Shmuel II, chapter 13.

7 Kiddushin 80b.

8 Mishlei 1:8.

9 Tehillim 27:13.

10 Midrash Rabbah, Ki Savo.




Ki Savo: A Collection of Curses ~ Reuven Chaim Klein

The Torah says, “A judge you shall not curse and a prince/king in your nation shall you not curse” (Ex. 22:27). This passage forbids cursing a judge or king because one might otherwise be tempted to do so if the judge or king does something against one’s own personal interests. In other words, if a judge rules against somebody in court, or a king makes a decree which negatively impacts a given individual, that person might vent his frustrations by “cursing” the relevant authority. In order to offset this attitude the Torah expressly forbids cursing a justice or sovereign. Interestingly, in this context, the Torah uses two different words for “curse”. Regarding the judge the Torah uses the word kelalah to denote cursing, while regarding the king the Torah uses the word arur. Why, in the same verse, does the Torah switch from using one word to using the other?

The Vilna Gaon explains that there is a difference between the word kelalah and arur. The word kelalah, while colloquially used to mean “curse”, is literally a diminutive, which one might invoke to belittle another, but is not truly a “curse”. The word kelalah is related to the Hebrew word kal which means “light” or “easy”, as one who offers a kelelah about another essentially dismisses him as someone unimportant. When discussing one’s “cursing” a judge the Torah uses the word kelalah because, in general, the harm a judge can do to an individual is not usually so damaging (especially given that society always strives to appoint upright judges), so his “victim” will merely suffice with disparaging the judge and need not actually curse him.

However, when discussing an individual who feels wronged by a king, the Torah uses the word arur because a king’s powers are more overreaching than those of a judge, so he can potentially hurt somebody more than a judge can (especially given that kingship is commonly an inherited position and the king’s moral standing is generally irrelevant). In such a case of grave maltreatment one might be tempted to actually curse the king, not just disparage him. Because of this the Torah uses the more intense word arur when warning one not to curse a king.

Rabbi Yaakov Tzvi Mecklenburg writes that arur is a broad, all-encompassing curse that wishes all sorts of calamities and misfortunes to befall one’s adversary, while a kelalah is the word for a specific type of curse, and cannot be used to stand alone. In other words, one who curses another with an arur can simply declare that an arur shall befall him, while one who offers a kelalah must specify in what way that curse should affect his victim (i.e. he offers a kelalah that…).

Furthermore, Rabbi Mecklenburg writes that an arur can apply to something abstract while a kelalah can only apply to something which physically exists. Based on this, Rabbi Mecklenburg explains G-d’s promise to Abraham in which He says (Genesis 12:3), “Whoever curses (kelelah) you, I will curse (arur)”. G-d promises to protect Abraham so much so that whoever curses Abraham with a more specific curse — a kelalah — will receive in return an all-encompassing curse (arur) from Above.

There are two more words found in the Bible to mean curse: kavah and allah. How do these words differ from the other words that mean “curse”?

Malbim explains that kavah refers to a general curse in which one declares a certain individual and everything pertaining to him “cursed”. Furthermore, Malbim explains that kavah denotes a curse uttered in public in which the name of the cursed is stated explicitly (e.g. see Num. 1:17), while an arur does not have such connotations. On the other hand, arur refers to the practical ramifications of a curse manifested in a specific element of one’s victim (for example, his body or his property). It is related to the Hebrew word mearah which means “decrease” (see Deut. 28:20) and refers to a reduction in the net yield of, for example, his property as a result of a curse.

Regarding the curse-word allah, Radak explains that an allah is specifically a type of curse in which one expressly invokes G-d to carry out the misfortune. Rabbi Mecklenburg disagrees with this assessment and instead explains that an allah is a curse with conditions. Meaning, if one imposes a curse with certain stipulations (e.g., “Whoever does such-and-such should be cursed”), that curse is called an allah.




Ki Savo: Looking With Your Heart ~ Yehoshua Steinberg

Looking With One’s Heart

The final verse in this week’s parsha states: Deut. 29:8 – Keep therefore the words of this covenant, and do them, that you may תשכילו in all that you do.

At first blush, תשכילו should mean gaining wisdom (השכל), as the word is rendered by the Targum in other places (e.g. Gen. 48:14, Jer. 3:6, 9:23). Indeed, Targum Yerushalmi does translate it here with a similar term, understanding (התבוננות).

But from its first appearance in Genesis (3:6), we find the verb השכל rendered as אסתכלא, a term generally used (from Mishnaic times on, e.g. Eiruvin 4:2, regerring to looking through a telescope) interchangeably with לראות, to see/look.

On the other hand, הסתכלות is not synonymous with ראייה, simple looking, since אסתכלא is often found as the Targum of learning, delving (e.g. Deut. 32:7, 29; Is. 41:20, 44:8). And such is its Aramaic meaning in the Book of Daniel (7:8).

This all seems to point to a meaning related to looking deeply, intense observation, similar to the word בינה, related to the word בין (“between”), that is: “reading between the lines”[1]. Thus, the Zohar () 2:116b-117a) uses the expression “the mind’s eye” in conjunction with התבוננות (from בינה) when discussing beholding Heavenly beings such as angels (see also “Daf al Hadaf” [Menachos 43b], who explains on this basis other usages of הסתכל difficult to reconcile with simple viewing).

Thus, the Targumic renderings of להשכיל as gaining wisdom and הסתכלות would collectively point to understanding and knowledge. A third term used in the Targum “צלח” (generally meaning “success”) could fit as well, since a wise and understanding person is certainly more likely to “succeed” than a fool or ignoramous[2]. This is indeed Onkelus’ rendering of our verse (Deut. 29:8), and many other places (e.g. Josh. 1:7, Is. 52:3)[3].

Among the occurences of ‘שכל’ rendered as wisdom by Onkelus is Jacob’s blessing of Joseph’s sons: Gen. 48:14 – And Israel stretched out his right hand, and laid it upon Ephraim’s head, who was the younger, and his left hand upon Manasseh’s head, שִׂכֵּל his hands; for Manasseh was the firstborn. While Rashi and most other commentators follow Onkelus’ translation, Abravanel likens

שִׂכֵּל to סכל, suggesting a connection to סַכֵּל in II Sam. 15:31, usually translated as “to thwart,” and to הִסְכַּלְתָּ in Gen. 31:28, interpreted as “acting foolishly” by the commentators there!

Is Abravanel then suggesting that Jacob was acting foolishly by crossing his hands over to bless Ephraim? The Sages say that he did so by Divine inspiration[4]! Likewise, the term סַכֵּל (thwarting) in Samuel is rendered by the Targum as ruining… was then Jacob intending to ruin something? Again, his actions were directed from On High, intended for the betterment of the Israelite People.

This last point may however be the key to understanding Abravanel’s intention, because ironically there a common attribute to a wise man and a fool. A fool is in the habit of ruining plans, both his own and other people’s, most often out of thoughtlessness and disregard for consequences.

But thwarting plans may be a necessity at times for wise people as well. In fact, one of the hallmarks of wisdom is the recognition that the status quo is not etched in stone, that improvement is always possible. And just like home improvement, the process may include some inconvenience, and some dismantling of old structures in preparation for the future upgrade.

With this in mind, let’s look at Laban’s entire rebuke of Jacob in context:

Gen. 31-27-28 – Why did you flee away secretly, and steal away from me; and did not tell me, that I might have sent you away with mirth, and with songs, with tambourine, and with harp? And why did you not let me kiss my sons and my daughters? Now you have done הִסְכַּלְתָּ in so doing.

Laban is clearly claiming that he had planned a lavish “going away party” for Jacob’s entire clan, but in fleeing, Jacob ruined all the plans[5]!

The Midrash[6] records a seemingly subtle dispute between R’ Yuda and R’ Nehemia regarding the aformentioned verse in Gen. 48:

His left hand upon Manasseh’s head, שִׂכֵּל his hands – R’ Yuda says this means נישכלו faltered[7] when attempting to bless Manasseh. R’ Nehemia says his hands “gained wisdom” and blessed Ephraim instead.

R’ Yuda appears to parallel Abravanel’s commentary, namely that שִׂכֵּל  means thwarting and ruining, but instead of comparing שִׂכֵּל  to סַכֶּל (thwarting), he compares it to [8]שכול (faltering, losing). R’ Nehemia’s is identical with Onkelus’, who who interpreted שִׂכֵּל  as an expression of wisdom.

However, the Pesikta[9] quotes R’ Nehemia’s opinion somewhat differently:

His hands were השכילו to the Holy Spirit.

The Zera Ephraim commentary explain השכילו to mean כיוון, they were directed in a different bearing. But how is השכילו connected to diection? For this we turn to the Book of Joshua. After Moses’ death, Hashem told Joshua to always study the Torah and obey its commands, and specified a reward for such observance:

Johua 1:8 – This Book of the Torah shall not depart from your mouth… to do according to all that is written on it; for then you shall make your way prosperous, and then you shall תַּשְׂכִּיל.

For the word תַּשְׂכִּיל in this case, the Targum offers a unique translation: תַּכְשָׁט. What does תַּכְשָׁט mean, and how is it related to תַּשְׂכִּיל? The root כשט in Aramaic is equivalent to the root קשט in Hebrew[10], the latter appearing twice in Scripture (Ps. 60:6, Prov. 22:1), both times meaning “truth.”

However, Chazal used the word as a synonym for shooting an arrow [11]! The connection appears to be that just as “truth” and “straightness” are virtual synonyms, so too must an arrow be pointed straight the target to succeed (the metaphors match as well: “straightshooter”; “straight as an arrow”).

Indeed we find קושט (shooting), יריה (also shooting) and מכוון (properly directed) used interchangeably in the Midrashim[12]. In summary, all of a משכיל’s actions are purposeful and are directed and straight to the target. We pray to Hashem for the merit of seeing, observing deeply and gaining wisdom and inspiration in His House on Mount Moriah, speedily in our times!

 [1] [ובעל ספר אפיקי ים פירש את המלה מלשון ‘בֵּין’]: אפיקי ים שבת קד. (ר’ יצחק אייזיק חבר, בעל הפתחי שערים) – ובינה הוא… להבין דבר מתוך דבר ולחלק החכמה לפרטים, ולכן נקראת בינה מל’ בין, הבניים (ש”א יז:ד). [ונראה שתכונה זו שייכת גם לבנין, היינו בנין סברא איתנה. הרי סברא אמיתית בנויה על היכולת “לקרוא בין השורות” – להבין דבר מתוך דבר, והיא בין השאלות ששואלים לע”ל (שבת לא.). כך במישור הגשמי, כל חוזקו של בנין תלוי על שילוב של טיט וטיח בין הלבנים].

[2]  [ומעין נימוקו של מצ”צ בספר משלי]: משלי א:יב – מַשְׂכִּיל צַדִּיק לְבֵית רָשָׁע; מצ”צ – משכיל – ענין הצלחה, כי המצליח במעשיו נראה להבריות שעושה בהשכל.

[3]  [דוגמאות נוספות לתרגום זה: ש”א יח:ה, יד; ירמיה י:א, כ:יא, כג:ה].

[4]  [ראה במדבר רבה יד:ה].

[5]  [כ”ז כמובן רק טענתו של לבן, אבל יעקב בוודאי עשה בחכמה, כפי שהשיב מיד: כִּי יָרֵאתִי… פֶּן תִּגְזֹל אֶת בְּנוֹתֶיךָ מֵעִמִּי (בר’ לא:לא). ולכן יש שפירשו (ראה למשל מגיד תהלות [ר”י ממליץ, פ’ ויצא])אף את הביטוי הייחודי “הִסְכַּלְתָּ עֲשׂוֹ” מענין שכל, ומשמים הוציא את הניב הזה שיש לפרשו לכמה פנים. ואולי עפ”ז יש להבין למה רש”י לא פירש את המלה “הִסְכַּלְתָּ” בשום מקום, וגם התרגומים רק העתיקו את המלה מעברית ולא תרגמו, בניגוד לת”י בנביא שרגיל לתרגם שרש ‘סכל’ כלשון טפשות (ראה ש”א יג:יג, כו:כא, יר’ ד:כב, ה:כא, כי היא מלה רבת-משמעויות)].

[6]  [בראשית רבה (אלבק) כי”ו צז:יג-יד].

[7]  מהרז”ו  (לפס”ר פיסקא ג) – א”ר שכל – לשון מְשַׁכֵּלָה וַעֲקָרָה (שמ’ כג:כו), כדֹב שַׁכּוּל (הושע יג:ח). מנחת יצחק (למ”ר הנ”ל – ת”ד) – נישתכלו ידיו – נראה לפרש שר’ יהודה קורא שכל בשי”ן ימנית, והיינו נשמטו ידיו של יעקב מליתן בכורה למנשה, שסירבו לנוח על ראש מנשה. ור’ נחמיה מפרש ניתחכמו, וכמו שמתורגם באונקלוס: אחכמינון לידוהי.

[8]  [בחילוף אותיות זסשר”ץ. וכן יש להעיר על קירבת שרש ‘כשל’ וכן ‘כסל’ בחילוף מיקום אותיות].

[9]  [פס”ר פיסקא ג’, והשוה במדבר רבה יד:ה].

[10]  [רמב”ן בר’ מא:מז, וי’ כג:כח. ובענין הקשר בין במשמעויות השונות, ע’ רשר”ה תה’ ס:ו, מלבי”ם משלי כב:א].

[11]  [ראה במדבר רבה יב:ג].

[12]  [פס”ר מא:ו, תנחומא וירא מה].