Re’eh 5778

RABBI SHLOMO NUSSBAUM

ראה אנכי נותן לפניכם היום ברכה וקללה (דברים יא:כו)

See, I present before you today a blessing and a curse (Devarim 11:26)

Much has been said about each word in the first Pasuk of Parshas Re’eh. Specifically, the first word, “ראה”, has been the subject of many pages of commentary. In the Torah, wherein every letter is measured, why indeed couldn’t this word have been skipped? The Pasuk would have been fine stating, “I have placed before you today the Blessings and…”. Why do we need to “see” that? Word number 5, “היום”, also appears to be superfluous. Of course it was that day. What is that supposed to teach us? Lastly, why does the Torah switch from singular form in the word “ראה” to plural in”לפניכם”, “before you”?
The Kedushas Levi explains the use of the word “היום”, based on Rashi earlier, in last week’s Parsha, Parshas Eikev. There, the Torah promises reward for those that heed the Mitzvos “that I am commanding you today.” Rashi explains, “They should (always) be new in your eyes as if you first heard them today.” Here, too, the same interpretation applies in Parshas Re’eh. Every day, says the Kedushas Levi, Hashem renews our intellectual “sight” to have the ability to master the day’s choices anew.
This Pshat, though powerful, does not follow the simple translation of the Pasuk in which “ראה” is imperative. The Kedushas Levi is using this word in his Drush as a sort of assurance by the Torah that we will merit to perceive and choose properly.
With this explanation of the word “היום”, namely that the Torah is referring to all days in the future and referencing that they should be as clear as the day mentioned, there may be a new understanding of what the Torah wants us to ”see”. The Torah here is discussing how choices are constantly presented to us and how we must choose righteously, according to the Torah’s direction. We know that Hashem sends us down here to triumph over the many challenges he sends our way. These challenges come veiled in many different settings and situations. The actors and scenery keep on changing. Most of these choices will not be set in black and white, between doing Chesed or being mean. A more probable scenario would be, should I learn five more minutes now or do I need the sleep for my functionality tomorrow? Or perhaps, should I give this particular cause a hundred dollars, or do I need it for my family? The first thing one must do is take a step back and take a good look through all of the exterior factors that obscure his vision. Remember, this is a choice between good and bad, nothing more and nothing less. Proper vision to see the situation for what it is, is the Torah’s mandate in our Pasuk.
This exercise is what the Torah is referring to. ראה! See today clearly that choices are always between Life and Chas V’shalom the opposite and continue to see life’s decisions as such, however they may present themselves. This dictum is stated in singular form, for although the Torah was placed before all of us “לפניכם”, together, in the moment of Bechira this perspective and consequently the proper choice is solely done within each individual.
It has been recounted that after the Petirah of the Brisker Rav, Rav Yitzchok Zev Soloveichik, a Rav was eulogizing him, trying to encapsulate his greatness. He quoted a Midrash that says that a person must always visualize that a pit is open in the ground, reaching Gehinnom, between him and whatever option lies before him that would cause him to sin. “To us,” concluded the Rav, “this is a Midrash. To the Brisker Rav… it was a hole in his floor!”


RABBI REUVEN GERSON

During the month of Elul, the Minhag is to blow the Shofar every day. The source of this Minhag is found in the Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer (Chap. 46). “On Rosh Chodesh Elul, Hashem told Moshe to go up Mount Sinai, and at that time the Shofar should be sounded in the camp. This proclaimed that Moshe was ascending the mountain, and also acted as a warning to the people that they should not fail again. With this sounding of the Shofar, Dovid Hamelech writes (Tehillim 47:6), ‘Hashem ascended.’ To commemorate this event the sages mandated the blowing of the Shofar on Rosh Chodesh Elul.”
The Tur (Orach Chaim 581) writes that the entire month is included in this Minhag.
The Rokeach holds that the Minhag is to blow the Shofar until Yom Kippur, in commemoration of the third set of forty days that Moshe spent on Har Sinai receiving the second Luchos.
The Radal (Pdr”e ibid.) explains our Minhag to stop before Rosh Hashana, as the break will confound the Satan. This is only relevant to Rosh Hashana and not Yom Kippur.
This Shofar blast, according to the above Midrash, signals Hashem’s return to Har Sinai. Bnei Yisrael had repented fully for the sin of the golden calf and were again ready to receive the Torah. Today the Shofar proclaims that Bnei Yisrael should do Teshuva in anticipation of Rosh Hashana, the Day of Judgment. Even thought the message is different, the Minhag is the same.
The Tevuos Shor writes (Chap. 28, 37) that whenever the language “Tiknu,” “they mandated” is used, it refers to a Minhag from the sages of the Talmud. If so, why isn’t there a special Bracha for this Minhag?
The source of this issue is a Gemara (Sukkah 44a) which says that the Minhag of Aravah on Sukkos does not warrant a Bracha. Rashi explains that since it is only a Minhag, it cannot be described by the words of the Bracha אשר קדשנו במצותיו, as it is not a Mitzvah. Rashi adds that these Minhagim are also not included in the Mitzvah of לא תסור, Mitzvos D’Rabbanan.
Why are Minhagim, however, different from other Mitzvos that the Rabbanan required us to perform? This is especially difficult according to the Rambam, who includes Minhagim in the Mitzvah of לא תסור.
In חדושי מרן רי”ז הלוי, the Brisker Rov deduces from the words of Tosafos that Minhagim that are not a מעשה חשוב, an important action, do not get a Bracha. If the Minhag, for example reading Hallel, has a different source requiring a Bracha, such as the Bracha on learning Torah which could be applied to Hallel, then a Bracha is said on the Minhag. A Minhag in its own right does not warrant a Bracha, as it is not intrinsically an important action like a Mitzvah D’Rabbanan.
In the case of Shofar, however, this will not provide an answer, as there is a Mitzvah in the Torah to hear a Shofar on Rosh Hashana. Therefore, the action of hearing a Shofar is connected to a Bracha. Perhaps this Minhag is similar to the Halacha that a Bracha is not said over an action that is not the גמר מצוה, the completion of the Mitzvah. Here the action of blowing the Shofar is to alert the nation to do Teshuva; it is not just the hearing that is the Mitzvah, but even more so the results. On Rosh Hashana there is a Mitzvah to hear the sound of the Shofar; even if one does not follow though with the many reasons given for the Mitzvah, he has fulfilled his obligation. A Minhag does not have that attribute of being a מעשה חשוב so that one is doing aמעשה that requires a Bracha with the simple deed itself.
Another approach to this question is based on a responsa (Siman 35) regarding the reading of Shir Hashirim and Koheles, wherein the Rema writes that only a Minhag that was universally accepted is included in the Minhagim upon which a Bracha Is recited. Since only the Rema mentions the Minhag of blowing the Shofar in Elul, as a Minhag of the Ashkenazim, and the Beis Yosef does not mention it, it was obviously never a universal Minhag.
The Minhag continues for all of Elul except the day before Rosh Hashana. This is to demonstrate that there are two different soundings of the Shofar, that of the Minhag and that of the Torah. According to the above discussion, this is not only a difference in their source, but also in their very nature. Interestingly, the Vilna Gaon explains, the interruption is intended to prevent us from hearing a Shofar blast for thirty consecutive days. In thirty days it would be considered a habit and would not effect its desired result.