Vayelech - Seeing Through the Illusion

I will surely hide My face in that day for all the evil which they shall have wrought
הַסְתֵּר אַסְתִּיר פָּנַי בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא, עַל כָּל-הָרָעָה, אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה

Devarim 31:18
What does the verse mean "I will surely hide My face"? Doesn't that undermine the sense of connection and relationship we hold with Hashem? There is no worse punishment that a Jew can face than not feel the closeness of Hashem.

Dwells In Our Impurity
The Slonimer Rebbe explains that this is not a dire warning, but more of a test, that a Jew must believe that EVEN a wall of iron does not stand between us and our father in heaven, for HaKadosh Baruch Hu evens dwells in our impurity.

A Jew is elevating and there is no power that can disconnect us from our father in heaven, as long as we don't want to disconnect. Rather all these mentions of 'hiding' they are only metaphorical, like the father that sometimes distances himself from his son, but never abandons him even for a moment, and constantly watches over him.

This is only to test his son, that without thinking, his son may believe that his father has abandoned him. Rather the smart son knows that there's no way that his father would abandon him, and truly knows that his father will always watch over him.

This is the essence of the idea that a Jew who has even committing the most dire prohibition, should he not be able to open his heart and pour out his thoughts and prayers to Hashem? A Jew must always believe that HaKadosh Baruch Hu always is accepting of us.

The Slonimer Rebbe brings an allegory from the Baal Shem Tov to help explain this concept.

The King's Illusion Walls
"A king, by magic, surrounded his palace with many walls. Then he hid himself within the palace. The formidable walls were arranged in concentric circles, one inside the other, and they grew increasingly larger-- higher and thicker-- as one approached the center. They had fortified battlements and were manned by fierce soldiers who guarded from above; wild animals-- lions and bears-- ran loose below. All this was so that people would have proper awe and fear of the king and not all who desired to approach would be allowed to do as they pleased.

"The king then had proclamations sent throughout the kingdom saying that whoever came to see him in his palace would be richly rewarded and given a rank second to none in the king's service. Who would not desire this? But when many came and saw the outer wall's awesome size and the terrifying soldiers and animals, most were afraid and turned back. There were some, however, who succeeded in scaling that wall and fighting past the soldiers and animals, but then the second wall loomed before their eyes, even more imposing than the first, and its guards even more terrible. Seeing that, many others turned back.

"Moreover, the king had appointed servants to stand behind the walls to give money and precious stones to whoever got beyond each wall. Those who had crossed one or a few walls soon found themselves very rich and satisfied with what they had gained from their efforts; so they too turned back. For one reason or another, either from fear at the increasing obstacles or satisfaction with the accumulated rewards, none reached the king ...

"Except for the king's son. He had only one desire: to see the face of his beloved father. When he came and saw the walls, soldiers, and wild animals, he was astonished. He could not understand how his dear father could hide himself behind all these terrifying barriers and obstacles. 'How can I ever reach him?' he thought. Then he began to weep and cried out, 'Father, Father, have compassion on me; don't keep me away from you!' His longing was so intense that he had no interest in any rewards. Indeed, he was willing to risk his life to attain his goal. By the courage of his broken heart, which burned to see his father, he ran forward with reckless abandon and self-sacrifice. He scaled one wall and then another, fought past soldiers and wild animals. After crossing the walls, he was offered money and jewels, but he threw them down in disgust. His only desire was to see his father. Again and again he called out to him.

"His father the king, hearing his son's pathetic cries and seeing his total self-sacrifice, suddenly, instantaneously, removed the walls and other obstacles. In a moment they vanished as if they had never existed. Then his son saw that there were no walls, soldiers, or animals. His father the king was right before him, sitting on his majestic throne, while multitudes of servants stood near to serve him and heavenly choirs sang his praises. Gardens and orchards surrounded the palace on all sides. And the whole earth shone from the king's glory. Everything was tranquil, and there was nothing bad or terrible at all. Then the son realized that the walls and obstacles were a magical illusion and that his father the king had never really been hidden or concealed, but was with him all the time. It was all just a test to see who truly loved the king.

Walls of This World
This allegory comes to describe the world we live in, that everything we encounter is like a wall - all the distractions of this world standing between a Jew and Hashem. Yet none of these walls are as strong as the wall that is formed in the heart of Jew that feels far from Hashem. 

When the Yetzer Hara acts to seduce a Jew, the Yetzer Hara is not interested in the Jew committing the specific indiscretion, but rather bringing the Jew to a state of feeling hopeless. This is worse than the sin itself, for there is a way to recover from the action, but the state of hopeless leaves one disconnected from Hashem, without a feeling that there is a way back.

Day of Judgement
This is the main preparation for Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. For not only does a Jew need to recognize his sins, and how large they are, but also to truly believe that even an iron wall can not stand between him and Hashem. For a Jew is never lost, for we are Hashem's children.

Ki Teitzei - Keeping Quiet

And you shall keep a stake in addition to your weapons; and it shall be, when you sit down outside [to relieve yourself], you shall dig with it, and you shall return and cover your excrement.
וְיָתֵ֛ד תִּֽהְיֶ֥ה לְךָ֖ עַל־אֲזֵנֶ֑ךָ וְהָיָה֙ בְּשִׁבְתְּךָ֣ ח֔וּץ וְחָֽפַרְתָּ֣ה בָ֔הּ וְשַׁבְתָּ֖ וְכִסִּ֥יתָ אֶת־צֵֽאָתֶֽךָ
Devarim 23:14
The Gemarah in Ketubot explains this verse.

Talmudic Source for The Rabbi and the 29 Witches

All who are stoned are [afterwards] hanged: this is r. Eliezer's view, the sages say: only the blasphemer and the idolater are hanged. A man is hanged with his face towards the spectators, but a woman with her face towards the gallows: this is the view of R. Eliezer. But the sages say: a man is hanged, but not a woman. Whereupon R. Eliezer said to them: but did not Simeon b. Shetah hang women at Ashkelon?  They retorted: [on that occasion] he hanged eighty women, notwithstanding that two [malefactors] must not be tried on the same day
Sanhedrin 45A

This week in daf yomi the story of Rabbi Shimon Ben Shetach appeared and his encounter with the 80 witches of Ashkelon.

Shoftim - Preparing for the New Year

When you go out to war against your enemies, and you see horse and chariot, a people more numerous than you, you shall not be afraid of them, for HaShem, your G-d is with you Who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.
כִּי תֵצֵא לַמִּלְחָמָה עַל אֹיְבֶיךָ וְרָאִיתָ סוּס וָרֶכֶב עַם רַב מִמְּךָ לֹא תִירָא מֵהֶם כִּי ה קלקיך  עִמָּךְ הַמַּעַלְךָ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם
Devarim 20:1
The Slonimer Rebbe raises two questions on this verse: 
  • Why does it say 'תצא' (go out) when talking about war, shouldn't it say 'תלחם' (go to fight)?
  • Why does it say 'תצא' (go out) in the singular, shouldn't it say 'תצאו' (go out) in the plural?

Re'eh - Midot

Keep and listen to all these words that I command you, that it may benefit you and your children after you, forever, when you do what is good and proper in the eyes of the L-rd, your G-d
שְׁמֹ֣ר וְשָֽׁמַעְתָּ֗ אֵ֚ת כָּל־הַדְּבָרִ֣ים הָאֵ֔לֶּה אֲשֶׁ֥ר אָֽנֹכִ֖י מְצַוֶּ֑ךָּ לְמַ֩עַן֩ יִיטַ֨ב לְךָ֜ וּלְבָנֶ֤יךָ אַֽחֲרֶ֨יךָ֙ עַד־עוֹלָ֔ם כִּ֤י תַֽעֲשֶׂה֙ הַטּ֣וֹב וְהַיָּשָׁ֔ר בְּעֵינֵ֖י ה' קלקיך
Devarim 12:28
The Slonimer brings a question by the Or HaChaim Hakadosh, asking why does 'keep' (שמר) precede 'listen' (שמעת). Shouldn't one have to listen first in order to know what they need to keep?

Eikev - Following

And it will be, because you will heed these ordinances and keep them and perform, that the L-rd your G-d, will keep for you the covenant and the kindness that He swore to your forefathers.
וְהָיָ֣ה | עֵ֣קֶב תִּשְׁמְע֗וּן אֵ֤ת הַמִּשְׁפָּטִים֙ הָאֵ֔לֶּה וּשְׁמַרְתֶּ֥ם וַֽעֲשִׂיתֶ֖ם אֹתָ֑ם וְשָׁמַר֩ ה' קלקיך לְךָ֗ אֶת־הַבְּרִית֙ וְאֶת־הַחֶ֔סֶד אֲשֶׁ֥ר נִשְׁבַּ֖ע לַֽאֲבֹתֶֽיךָ
Devarim 7:12
What is the meaning of the word Eikev (עקב)?

Rabbeinu Bechayei writes that the parshah starts of with the word 'Eikev' as a warning: to those that step on mitzvot with their 'heel'  (עקב) and treat them lightly.  That is, there are some that disregard certain mitzvot, considering them insignificant in their eyes, and in a figurative sense, step on them with their heel.

Chukat - Our Own Powers

Moses and Aaron assembled the congregation in front of the rock, and he said to them, "Now listen, you rebels, can we draw water for you from this rock?" Moses raised his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice, when an abundance of water gushed forth, and the congregation and their livestock drank.
וַיַּקְהִלוּ משֶׁה וְאַהֲרֹן אֶת הַקָּהָל אֶל פְּנֵי הַסָּלַע וַיֹּאמֶר לָהֶם שִׁמְעוּ נָא הַמֹּרִים הֲמִן הַסֶּלַע הַזֶּה נוֹצִיא לָכֶם מָיִם. וַיָּרֶם משֶׁה אֶת יָדוֹ וַיַּךְ אֶת הַסֶּלַע בְּמַטֵּהוּ פַּעֲמָיִם וַיֵּצְאוּ מַיִם רַבִּים וַתֵּשְׁתְּ הָעֵדָה וּבְעִירָם
Bamidbar 20:10-11
Untitled Document
Hashem spoke to  Moshe, saying:
"Take the staff and assemble the congregation, you and your brother  Aharon, and speak to the rock in their presence so that it will give forth its water. You shall bring forth water for them from the rock and give the congregation and their livestock to drink."

Moshe took the staff from before the Lord as He had commanded him.
Moshe and  Aharon assembled the congregation in front of the rock, and he said to them, "Now listen, you rebels, can we draw water for you from this rock?"
Moshe raised his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice, when an abundance of water gushed forth, and the congregation and their livestock drank.
Hashem  said to Moses and  Aharon, "Since you did not have faith in Me to sanctify Me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly to the Land which I have given them.
 וַיְדַבֵּר ה אֶל מֹשֶׁה לֵּאמֹר
קַח אֶת הַמַּטֶּה וְהַקְהֵל אֶת הָעֵדָה אַתָּה וְאַהֲרֹן אָחִיךָ וְדִבַּרְתֶּם אֶל הַסֶּלַע לְעֵינֵיהֶם וְנָתַן מֵימָיו וְהוֹצֵאתָ לָהֶם מַיִם מִן הַסֶּלַע וְהִשְׁקִיתָ אֶת הָעֵדָה וְאֶת בְּעִירָם
וַיִּקַּח מֹשֶׁה אֶת הַמַּטֶּה מִלִּפְנֵי ה' כַּאֲשֶׁר צִוָּהוּ
וַיַּקְהִלוּ מֹשֶׁה וְאַהֲרֹן אֶת הַקָּהָל אֶל פְּנֵי הַסָּלַע וַיֹּאמֶר לָהֶם שִׁמְעוּ נָא הַמֹּרִים הֲמִן הַסֶּלַע הַזֶּה נוֹצִיא לָכֶם מָיִם
וַיָּרֶם מֹשֶׁה אֶת יָדוֹ וַיַּךְ אֶת הַסֶּלַע בְּמַטֵּהוּ פַּעֲמָיִם וַיֵּצְאוּ מַיִם רַבִּים וַתֵּשְׁתְּ הָעֵדָה וּבְעִירָם
וַיֹּאמֶר ה' אֶל מֹשֶׁה וְאֶל אַהֲרֹן יַעַן לֹא הֶאֱמַנְתֶּם בִּי לְהַקְדִּישֵׁנִי לְעֵינֵי בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל לָכֵן לֹא תָבִיאוּ אֶת הַקָּהָל הַזֶּה אֶל הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר נָתַתִּי לָהֶם:
Bamidbar 20:7-12
Moshe and Aharon receive the ultimate punishment - to not complete the mission they started with the exodus from Egypt, to not lead the people of Israel into the land of Israel. The commentators take many different positions as to what action brought about this consequence.

Rabeinu Bechayei explores this issue through the perspectives of several different commentators. looking at what is the essence of the sin of Moshe.

Rashi: Lost Opportunity
Rashi holds that Moshe's sin comes from the word "וַיַּךְ" - "and hit".

Moshe Rabeinu was not commanded to hit the rock, just talk to the rock and that would bring forth water in the name of Hakadosh Barch Hu, as it says "and speak to the rock" (וְדִבַּרְתֶּם אֶל הַסֶּלַע).

The fact that he was instructed to "take the staff" (קַח אֶת הַמַּטֶּה) wasn't to be used for hitting. We've seen that all of the wonders that Moshe did, he had the staff in his hand, as it says 
And you shall take this staff in your hand, with which you shall perform the signs.
וְאֶת הַמַּטֶּה הַזֶּה תִּקַּח בְּיָדֶךָ אֲשֶׁר תַּעֲשֶׂה בּוֹ אֶת הָאֹתֹת
Shmot 4:17
But the sin was in the word "וַיַּךְ" - "and hit", that he hit the rock and didn't speak to the rock like he was commanded "speak to the rock" (וְדִבַּרְתֶּם אֶל הַסֶּלַע), so both Moshe and Aharon were liable for punishment, since both agreed to hit the rock and not speak as commanded. 

For essentially they weakened the power of the miracle. The rock was capable of giving forth water simply by following the command of Hakadosh Baruch Hu to speak to the rock. If they had followed this command, then the name of Hashem would have been sanctified. 

They would have said "What about this rock? It can't think or hear, nevertheless it fulfills the words of Hashem, so all the more so ourselves."

But when a hit brings forth the water, this leaves an opening for the doubters and those weak in belief to say that the water came out through clever ways or deceit and not from a simple miracle. 

Because of this Hashem said to Moshe and Aharon "Since you did not have faith in Me to sanctify Me in the eyes of the children of Israel" (יַעַן לֹא הֶאֱמַנְתֶּם בִּי לְהַקְדִּישֵׁנִי לְעֵינֵי בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל), since by speaking alone that would be a Kiddush Hashem.

Rambam: Losing Your Cool
The Rambam focuses on the word "הַמֹּרִים" - rebels - from the phrase "שִׁמְעוּ נָא הַמֹּרִים" - "Now listen, you rebels", showing how Moshe let out his anger. From here, we see that anger falls into the category of being a sin. HaKadosh Baruch Hu was particular specifically with Moshe, as a great man, for showing anger in front Klal Yisrael, especially on an occasion when anger was not called for (since the Jewish people's call for water was not out rebelliousness part simply from thirst.) 

Likewise to when we vent anger at times when its not called for, and (H"VS) be committing a Chilul Hashem. Really all Moshe's actions should have been reflecting a drive for success both in this world towards a yearning for the world to come. And how does anger come out on Moshe?  

This is one of the evil actions that brings evil into the soul, as Hashem said to Moshe and Aharon, 
You defied My word at the waters of dispute [Mei Merivah]
מְרִיתֶם אֶת פִּי לְמֵי מְרִיבָה
Bamidbar 20:24
The Jewish people were very wise, where even the simplest woman was on the level of the prophet Yehezkel Ben Buzi. So when they saw that Moshe himself got angry, no one saw it as a defect.

Finally we can say that Moshe's essential sin was displaying anger, for had Hashem got angry at Am Yisrael for demanding water, the instigating event, and then Moshe wouldn't have got angry. Yet, we don't find this to be the case that Hashem got angry on account of demanding water.

Rabeinu Chananel: Lack of Faith
Rabeinu Chananel emphasizes another aspect, concentrating on the word "נוֹצִיא " - "we draw".

This was the way they talked to people, rather than saying "יוציא", they took responsibility on themselves. Even though a minority of Am Yisrael held the belief that since Hashem revealed himself at the rock of Chorev (Har Sinai) while not here, therefore it was Moshe and Aharon, through their cleverness, that were able to bring forth water from the rock and not through Hashem.

We see this in the verse "Since you did not have faith in Me (לֹא הֶאֱמַנְתֶּם בִּי לְהַקְדִּישֵׁנִי)" [Bamidbar 20:12] to sanctify Me in their eyes. It was as if you, Moshe and Aharon, lacked faith in Me. This is a language of taking out, about not taking the opportunity to strengthen the faith in their hearts.   

Taking Another Look at the Commentators
An understanding of this event in the parshah does not rest upon any one of these commentaries alone.

From Rashi, we see their sin in the action of hitting the rock.
For if speaking had been the only miracle   while hitting had not produced water, then hitting would have been clearly for nothing. Yet we saw that hitting the rock did bring forth water, making it every bit as much a miracle as speaking. We even saw how Hashem, himself, told Moshe from the outset, "Take the staff." This couldn't have been said for nothing. The instruction for the staff must have been intended to be used to hit the rock.

From the Rambam we learned the aspect of the sin as anger.
For we could have learned the verse "Now listen you rebels" (שִׁמְעוּ נָא הַמֹּרִים) as being a reproach, rather than anger, as we know that Aharon never got angry in his life, his essence was peace as the "Rodef Shalom."

For Rabeinu Chananel, we learn about strengthening faith
For we could have looked at the verse "can we draw water for you from this rock?" (מִן הַסֶּלַע הַזֶּה נוֹצִיא לָכֶם מָיִם) differently. We could have taken the simply meaning to be that Moshe and Aharon were taking the bulk of responsibility upon themselves, and saying to  Klal Yisrael "Out of this stone, who would think that we ourselves could have the ability to draw forth water?" Rather it is from Hakadosh Baruch Hu who will amaze you with a miracle!