Ve’Eschanan 5777


In Parshas Ve’Eschanan (Devarim 4:23-26), Moshe Rabbeinu prepares Klal Yisrael for entering Eretz Yisrael. First, he instructs them that, upon settling in Eretz Yisrael, they should ensure that they do not forget their covenant with Hashem and worship avoda zara. In the very next Pasuk, he states that this is because Hashem is a “Consuming Fire and Vengeful God.” The following two Pesukim describe scenarios where, after a few generations living in Eretz Yisrael, they might eventually turn to idolatry and anger Hashem.
It seems, however, that Pasuk 24 is out of place in this context. After Pasuk 23, which is Moshe’s warning regarding the covenant, it would have seemed proper to skip to Pasuk 25, which describes the sequence of when and how that would unfold. Concurrently, one could think that Pasuk 24, describing Hashem as a “Vengeful God.” should immediately precede Pasuk 26, which discusses how Hashem would then take retribution on the Jewish people.
In short, why does Moshe state Hashem’s characteristics as “Fire” and “Vengeful” right after mentioning Klal Yisrael forgetting the covenant, but before detailing how and when they would forget it and how they would subsequently be punished?
Perhaps we can answer with the following approach. Until this point, there have been numerous references in the Torah about fire, in contexts which are positive and constructive. For example, earlier in this Perek, Moshe describes how Ma’amad Har Sinai, one of Klal Yisrael’s greatest moments, was replete with fire. Earlier, he recalls how Har SInai was “burning with fire until the ‘heart of the heavens’“ (Devarim 4:11). In Pasuk 15, Moshe mentions Kabbolas HaTorah at “Chorev, amidst fire.” The essence of Kabbolas HaTorah, which is the pinnacle of spirituality, had to have been given involving the element of fire. Although fire is not solid matter, it exists in a very real, tangible form, which can be said of Ruchniyus as well. (Chazal in many places detail the correlation between spirituality and tangible occurrences; however, that is not our focus at the moment.)
Furthermore, in Pasuk 20, Moshe describes how Hashem took the Jewish people out of Mitzrayim, referred to as a “Kur HaBarzel,” which Rashi describes as a tool used to purify gold (heated by fire). Through bondage in Mitzrayim, eluded to as fiery heat, Klal Yisrael was actually purified.
We see from these references to fire that it appears to be exclusively a constructive tool for creating and reinforcing Ruchniyus.
This could be why in Pasuk 24, immediately after the first mention of Klal Yisrael going astray, Moshe interjects and says that Hashem is a “Consuming Fire” in the context of vengeance and retribution. Moshe is emphasizing, upon the first mention of sinning, that just as Hashem created fire as a constructive entity, so, too, fire can be equally destructive towards iniquity. Just as physical fire can be a positive tool when contained and handled properly, it can be a powerful force of destruction when mishandled. So even before expounding on how the Jews may come to sin, Moshe stresses that Hashem’s approach to sin on any level is to destroy and consume, just as fire does in a negative setting.
Based on this, it makes sense that Moshe “interrupts” the sequence of the Pesukim and hastily tells of Hashem’s middah of fiery retribution before detailing the process leading up to sin. One should not think that Hashem is only like a fire in the context of Matan Torah and purification; He is equally so in His approach to sinners. This is a warning to anyone who would even consider doing aveiros, mistakenly thinking that Hashem’s approach to sin is not as significant as it is in constructive settings. With that in mind, Moshe can then continue describing how Klal Yisrael may come to a predicament of sinning.
From the above we see a well-known concept which is commonly found throughout Chazal: that the same middos that are capable of being used for mitzvos can just as easily be used for the negative, and vice versa.
This concept is crucial to a person’s taking control of all of his middos, even those which seem negative, and channeling them for personal growth.
This lesson is especially applicable during Shabbos Nachamu. We know from various sources, such as in the tefilla of “Nachem” on Tisha B’Av, that the first and second Batei Mikdash were destroyed by fire, and conversely, the third Beis HaMikdash will be built specifically with fire. Our negative actions brought about the fire of destruction. Yet as explained above, fire, and similarly one’s middos, can be used for both building and destroying. If we indeed channel our actions properly, we will merit the building of the third Beis HaMikdash.


(continued from last week)
Harav Shmuel Auerbach related the following incident. Rav Yisroel Salanter posed a difficult question regarding the requirement to check food for insects. Why is it necessary to check? Even if it happens that there are bugs present, since the person is unaware of the bugs being present it would be a case of Misasek, one is unaware of the true facts and therefore thinks his action is permitted.
(Although when one eats non-kosher as a Misasek, he is liable due to his benefitting from the food, we would not apply this rule when eating Tolaim, bugs, due to the disgusting nature of insects.)
R’ Yisroel sent this query to Rav Akiva Eiger and did not receive a reply. Some years later he met the son, Rav Shlomo Eiger, and inquired as to why his father had not answered. Rav Shlomo replied that his father had indeed written a Teshuva, but he was hesitant to send it. The current Rav of the city was Rav Hirsch Salanter, a tremendous Gaon, and perhaps it wasn’t respectful to send an answer to a resident of his city.
The Teshuva that Rav Akiva Eiger had penned was his Chiddush that although Misasek is excluded from a Korban Chatas, it is still regarded as if one is committing an Aveira B’shogeg, he was unaware of the proper Halacha. He writes that his good friend, the Chavas Daas, disagreed. The Mogen Avrohom paskens that even if one is unaware that he has Chometz in his house on Pesach, it is an Aveira B’shogeg. Chavas Daas did not understand why this is so; since he is unaware of the Chometz, it is Misasek, and there is no transgression whatsoever. Rav Akiva Eiger, however, maintains that there is a Biblical transgression even when one is unaware of the situation.
Although the issue of checking for insects is not directly addressed in this Teshuva, it is clear that in Rav Eiger’s opinion, if one did eat any insects in a manner of Misasek, there is still a Biblical transgression, and therefore an obligation to check before eating.
Even if one accepts the premise of the Chavas Daas that a Misasek is exempt of any transgression, the poskim stress that it still would not absolve us of the requirement to check for insects. Misasek occurs when one has no reason to suspect that something wrong is taking place. Therefore, due to the lack of intent, it is considered as if the action is taking place on its own. When, however, one is aware of the possibility of a transgression taking place, even though there is no intent or benefit from the resulting transgression, he is not a Misasek and is therefore liable.
This definition of Misasek clarifies the reason for the requirement to check for insects. As long as there is the possibility of insects being present (within the realm of Halachic probability), if one would eat without checking, it is as if there is intent to eat whatever is there, including the bugs.
Question #3 (from last week): Reuvain’s family went blueberry picking. They washed and ate some, and then saw that the berries were infested. Do they require Kapparah?
Following the above discussion, this situation can be classified as a true Misasek. They followed the proper procedure of checking; it turns out that in reality the berries were infested. When they ate them, they thought they were performing a permitted act. However, since it is a Misasek, the Kapparah requirement would depend on the previous disagreement. In Rav Akiva Eiger’s opinion, there was a Biblical transgression and Kapparah would be necessary. According to the Chavas Daas, there was no transgression, seemingly absolving them of Kapparah.
Rav Moshe Shternbuch raises a different issue. Even if there is there is no transgression due to Misasek, spiritual damage is still taking place. True, one had a Halachic basis for eating the food, but if in reality something prohibited was consumed, this “stuffs up the heart,” and Teshuva would be required. When, however, one relied on a reliable Hechsher and it turned out to be non-kosher, that is considered accidental and would not require Teshuva. (Teshuvos V’hanhagos 4,190)
If we take these issues seriously and try our best, Hakadosh Baruch Hu will protect us from all such transgressions, even accidently.
When dealing with such issues, consult your Rav for guidance.