This week is a jam-packed portion. It begins with a choice: “I set before you a blessing and a curse. The blessing: if you obey the commandments of God…; the curse if you do not … and you follow other gods.”
The portion continues with rules and laws for the land of Israel primarily oriented towards staying away from idol worship and the other religions in the land. In verses 13:1-12 you will find the section that caused a missionary’s face to blanch and silenced him from continuing to proselytize a renowned rabbi.
One of the indications of the existence and necessity of the Oral Torah — an explanation and clarification (later redacted as the Talmud) of the written Torah (The Five Books of Moses) — comes from verse 12:21 “You will slaughter animals … according to the manner I (God) have prescribed.” Nowhere in the Torah are we instructed in the manner of shechita, ritual slaughter. One might conclude that there was a very sloppy editor. Or — one might conclude that there are additional teachings (the Oral Law/Talmud) clarifying and amplifying the written Word.
The source of the Chosen People concept is brought this week: “You are a nation consecrated to God your Lord. God has chosen you from all nations on the face of the earth to be His own special nation …” (Deut. 14:1-2). We are chosen for responsibility, not privilege –to act morally and to be a “light unto the nations.”
The portion then gives instructions regarding: permitted and forbidden foods, the Second Tithe, remissions of loans every 7 years, treatment of those in need (to be warm-hearted and open-handed), a Jewish bondsman, the three pilgrimage festivals (Passover, Shavuot, Sukkot).
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based on Love Your Neighbor by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
The Torah states:
“… and He will give you mercy and be merciful to you…” (Deut. 13:18).
The Talmud (Yevamos 79a) cites this verse to show that being merciful is one of the basic traits of the Jewish people. (The Almighty deals with us in the way that we deal with others. Therefore, if He is merciful with us, it is because we are merciful with others.) The essence of compassion is being able to imagine yourself in someone else’s situation. It is the resulting softness of the heart that makes one sensitive to the suffering of others — and allows one to strengthen his free-will to help others, though there might be a cost in personal welfare or comfort.
The last time Rabbi Yitzchok Elchonon Specter went to St. Petersburg for an important meeting, he was aged and weak. He had to leave his home very early in the morning to catch the only available train. There was not sufficient time to eat breakfast, so his family prepared for him a warm drink. Precisely at that moment a poor man knocked on the door. Rabbi Specter’s assistant opened the door and informed the man that the Rabbi was extremely busy and couldn’t attend to him.
The man at the door pleaded, “I am going penniless to Koeningsburg to see some doctors and I have come to ask Rabbi Specter for a letter of introduction to the rabbis of the city.”
“I’m sorry, but you’re too late,” said the assistant. “Rabbi Specter is already late for his train.”
Overhearing the conversation, Rav Yitzchok Elchonon called out, “Mercy! Mercy!” He then motioned to the man to enter his home and calmly wrote him a warm letter of introduction. Immediately after giving the letter to the poor man, Rabbi Specter rushed out of the house to catch the train, leaving his warm drink untouched.