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ויבכו בני ישראל את משה... שלשים יום ויתמו ימי בכי אבל משה. ויהושע בן נון מלא רוח חכמה כי סמך משה את ידו עליו

Bnei Yisrael bewailed Moshe… for thirty days; then the tearful mourning for Moshe ended. Yehoshua ben Nun was filled with the spirit of wisdom, because Moshe laid his hands on him. (34:8,9)

Moshe Rabbeinu had no equal. Thus, he left behind no one that had achieved his level of prophecy. Never would there be another Rabbeinu such as Moshe. The grief over his passing was palpable due to the irreparable loss. Even grief over Moshe, however, must come to an end. Yehoshua, Moshe’s able and devoted talmid, disciple, became his successor as the nation’s Rebbe and leader. The Torah was passed to him, as he carried on Moshe’s legacy. Moshe laid his hands on him, giving him semicha, ordaining him to take over. With the laying of hands, a portion of Moshe’s…

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יחי ראובן ואל ימת... וזאת ליהודה ויאמר

May Reuven live and not die… and this to Yehudah, and he said. (33:67)

Yehudah’s blessing is juxtaposed upon Reuven, because they had in common their individual confession of guilt to a corrupt act for which they were jointly responsible. Reuven was chastised by his father, Yaakov Avinu, for his impetuosity in moving Yaakov’s bed from Bilhah’s tent. (After Rachel Imeinu, who was Yaakov’s primary wife, died, Yaakov moved his bed into the tent of the concubine, Bilhah. Reuven felt this was an affront to the honor of his mother, Leah Imeinu). Yehudah’s role concerning his inappropriate relationship with Tamar, which almost led to her execution, was the reason for his confession of guilt….

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וזאת הברכה אשר ברך משה... את בני ישראל לפני מותו

And this is the blessing that Moshe… bestowed upon Bnei Yisrael before his death. (33:1)

The Midrash Tanchuma (Va’eschanan 6) teaches: “Moshe Rabbeinu was (Heavenly) informed, ‘The time for you to leave this world has arrived.’ He said to them, ‘Wait for me until I bless Yisrael. For they have not found contentment from me all my days, because of the rebukes and warnings with which I rebuked them.’” Moshe then proceeded to bless the nation. Chazal are teaching us that Moshe feared that the people would not correctly perceive his admonishments, and, rather than acknowledge his boundless love for them, they would think that he harbored anger and discontent concerning their behavior, and, by…

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אם שנותי ברק חרבי ותאחז במשפט ידי

That I shall sharpen the shine of My sword and My hand shall grasp judgment. (32:41)

“My hand shall grasp judgment.” Chazal (quoted by Rashi) derive from the language of this pasuk (concerning the concept of “grasping” judgment), “Not like the attributes of flesh and blood (mortals) is the attribute of Hashem. Once a human being shoots an arrow, once he releases the bow, he is unable to take it back. Hashem, however, shoots His arrows and has the power to retrieve them (before they hit their intended target). It is as if He holds them in His hand (ochazon b’yado).” Rashi is teaching us is that no restrictions limit Hashem’s power. He is not restricted…

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שאל אביך ויגדך זקניך ויאמרו לך

Ask your father and he will relate it to you, and your elders and they will tell you. (32:7)

Issues arise; questions abound; to whom do we turn for sage advice, intelligent counsel? The Torah enjoins us to turn to “your father,” whom Rashi interprets as the Navi, prophet, Torah leader of the generation, and “your elders,” who are the chachamim, Torah scholars. After a lifetime of Torah study and devotion, these Torah scholars have honed their minds through the daas, wisdom, of the Torah which they have cultivated. Horav Avraham Yaakov Teitelbaum, zl, quotes a novel homiletic exposition of this pasuk rendered by his Rebbe, the venerable Horav Meir Arik, zl, which is practical and timeless in its…

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עם נבל ולא חכם

O’ base and unwise people. (32:6)

The Torah is criticizing Klal Yisrael for being an am naval, base people, and v’lo chacham, unwise. Ramban quotes Rashi who comments that they forgot the good that Hashem had done for them. They were unwise in realizing the good and bad, the consequences of their ingratitude. He then quotes Targum Onkeles who renders the phrase (critique) in a manner which begs elucidation. Naval – ama d’kablu Oraisa, “A nation that received the Torah.” Ramban explains that Onkeles translates naval as being related to navol tibul, “You will surely become weary” (Shemos 18:18). Thus, the Torah is intimating that Klal…

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קל אמונה ואין עול

G-d of faith without iniquity. (32:4)

Rashi explains that Hashem’s judgment is exact and fair. Everyone receives his due reward – the righteous might wait a bit, but it will arrive in due time; the wicked who have acted meritoriously will also be rewarded in kind. Life is a harmonious whole, which we, as mere mortals with limited perception, are unable to perceive. Nonetheless, we believe that it all comes together: good fortune with failure; joy in contrast to sadness, celebrating milestones, both joyous and tragic. A human being cannot fathom how the pieces of the human puzzle of life fit together, but they do. Shortly…

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ויאמר ד' אל משה הנך שכב עם אבתיך יקם העם הזה וזנה אחרי אלהי נכר הארץ ... ועזבנו והפר את בריתי אשר כרתי אתו ... ואנכי הסתר אסתיר פני ביום ההוא ... ועתה כתבו לכם את השירה הזאת ולמדה את בני ישראל

Hashem said to Moshe, “Behold, you will lie with your forefathers, but this people will arise and stay after the gods of the nations of the land… and they will forsake Me and annul the covenant that I formed with them… I will distance them and make Myself oblivious to them. So now, write this song for yourselves and teach it to Bnei Yisrael. (31:16,18)

The above pasukim paint a stark picture of the spiritual deterioration that will occur in the period following Moshe Rabbeinu’s petirah, passing. While it did not happen immediately, the dynamics that led to the nation’s freefall from their igra ramah, spiritually-elevated perch, to a bira amikta, nadir of depravity, were apparent. During certain moments in history – even in the last two hundred years, leading up to the present – we have observed an acute distancing from positive spiritual activity. For many, assimilation has almost been a way of life. Within the observant camp, a spiritual tug of war has…

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ואנכי הסתר אסתיר פני ביום ההוא

But I will surely have concealed My face on that day. (31:18)

Hashem will conceal His Presence from us. Indeed, many times Jews feel that Hashem has “disappeared” from their lives. They should know that the Almighty is always present. At times, however, He conceals Himself, making it that much more difficult for us to perceive Him. This only means that we must look harder. Why does the Torah repeat itself – hasteir astir, double concealment? Concealment, by its very definition, is absolute. Something is either hidden, or it is not. If one can easily locate it, it is not really concealed. Horav Reuven Karlinstein, zl, explains that this concealment is unique…

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החיים והמות נתתי לפניך הברכה והקללה ובחרת בחיים

I have placed life and death before you, blessing and curse; and you shall choose life. (30:19)

One would think that choosing life is a decision that requires little to no mental effort. Why would the Torah exhort us to choose life? This question has inspired much commentary. Obviously, the meaning of “life” in Torah-speak is different than the mundane, physical existence to which many have become accustomed. Furthermore, as Horav Moshe Feinstein, zl, observes, the Torah implores us to choose life, so that our children will live. The message is clear: the decision we make for ourselves affects our families. What our children will be in twenty years, their demeanor – moral, ethical and spiritual –…

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