Rabbi Zevi Saunders

Bringing Torah to Everyday Life


This weeks Parsha contains 74 commandments, 27 positive and 47 negative. These include the commandments not to lend with interest; sexual impropriety; the divorce process; allowing workers to eat on the job and the commandment to remember what Amalek did to us. We are also told not to reject converts from the land of Egypt even though they were horrible to us and threw our babies into the river. Our Rabbis explain that we still have to be grateful to them for their hospitality. We should all take a lesson from here to always see the good in people and situations.


Parshas Shoftim contains 41 commandments, 14 positive and 27 negative commandments. Shoftim opens up with the commandment to appoint judges in every city and establish an honest and fair court system. Other commandments include the prohibitions against idolatry and sorcery; laws governing the appointment and behavior of a king; and guidelines for the creation of “cities of refuge” for the inadvertent murderer. Also set forth are many of the rules of war: the exemption from battle for one who has just built a home, planted a vineyard, married, or is just plainly “afraid and soft-hearted”; the requirement to offer terms of peace before attacking a city; and the prohibition against wanton destruction of something of value, exemplified by the law that forbids to cut down a fruit tree when laying siege.

As we are less than 4 weeks away from Rosh Hashanah our thoughts should be turning towards repentance and improving ourselves. For more information about these concepts please view my publications on these matters under the ‘ publications’ drop down list on then home page.


This week Sedra contains many interesting things. We are told about sacrifices and that they must be offered in the temple. We are told of the laws of the 3 foot festivals, the Kosher and non kosher animals and the mitzvoh of charity.
The word ‘Vsomachta’ and you should rejoice, is mentioned 7 times in the Sedra. These are;-
1- And you should rejoice while eating your sacrifices (ch 12 v 7),
2- And you should rejoice with your family and the levies verse 12,
3- The same idea is expressed in verse 18,
4- You should take your tithes to the temple and eat and enjoy them (ch 14 v 26,
5– You should invite the poor and rejoice on the festival of Shavuot (ch 16 v11),
6- We are commanded to rejoice on the festival of Succot (v 14),
7- And finally in v 15 we are told to be utterly happy on the festival of Succot.

Why do we have so many mentions to be happy especially when it comes to eating?.

The Torah is trying to impress upon us that Hashem want us to be happy. We need to comprehensively crush the common myth that Judaism is a sad oppressive religion.
We should feel privileged to be Jewish and proud to keep the Mitzvot.
Happiness is the glue that holds all our mitzvoth together. A mitzvoh done in happiness is worth so much more than a mitzoh done with a sad long face.
We can see this very clearly in our own lives. If we ask a loved one to do something for us and they do it with a long face, we get upset that we’ve troubled them. On the other hand if they do it enthusiastically then it makes us happy too.

In the first paragraph of Mesilat Yesharim (path of the just) which is a famous Jewish book written by R Moshe Chaim Lussatto an Italian born Rabbi, he poses the following question;-
What is the task of every person in this world? In what should he occupy himself?
He answers the following- ‘To rejoice over G-d and to benefit from his closeness’.
So we can see we are meant to enjoy this world.

The Torah, whilst listing the curses that will befall the Jewish people if they slip from their duties, explains that the real reason for the curses is (ch 27 v 44)
‘Because you did not serve Hashem with HAPPINESS and A GOOD HEART’ we don’t need it spelled out any clearer than that.

Also in the Haftorah (Issiah 55 V 2) the prophet Issiah is telling the Jews
‘Listen to me, eat what is good and let your souls delight in abundance’
It is clear from here that Hashem wants us to enjoy life and rejoice in doing the Mitzvot.

This is a very important lesson as we enter the Jewish month of Ellul. We are a month away from the high holidays. It is serious time, a time for thought and reflection. So this is the time we should endeavor to add more happiness and alacrity to our Torah observance.

Parshas Ekev – Be greateful

At the beginning of this week’s Sedra we are told of the great rewards for keeping all the mitzvoth especially the minor ones that appear insignificant. It then digresses to warn against complacency.

Moshe Rabeinu then relates the story of the sin of making the ‘Egel’ golden calf.
He describes how he had to beseech Hashem not to destroy the Jewish people.
The Sedra finishes like it started with the promise of good rewards if we keep the Torah.

Why when warning against complacency does the Torah tell us of G-d’s miracles? (ch 8 v 14)
In verse 15 we are told that Hashem led us through the great and awesome desert with snakes and scorpions and no water- and yet we still survived.

It would appear from here that the worst part of sinning is being ungrateful. Hashem has performed so many miracles for us how could we even think about disobeying him. We are repaying His immense good with evil.

We should all take this message on board and try and be more grateful to Hashem for what he has done for us. We should constantly thank Him verbally for all that he has done for us.
People spend far too much time praying for more things without taking stock of what Hashem has already given us. In our day to day lives and relationships we are looking for appreciation for what we do. We feed off it. The more appreciated we feel the more likely we are to continue doing whatever it is we are doing.
The same is true for Hashem. The more we appreciate and thank Him for what He has given us, the more likely He is to give us more things in the future.

The problem is we are born with an inherent quality of ungratefulness. The Talmud (Avoda zarroh 5a) states that Adam was ungrateful when he blamed his wife for giving him to eat from the forbidden tree of knowledge.
If we all manage to work on this trait, then we will all see a change in our relationships. Whether it is with our spouses or parents or children of our friends, the more grateful and thankful we are for what people do for us, the more our relationships will improve

Parshas Voeschanan- Love Hashem

This week Sedra contains lots on interesting things. It contains;
The repetition of the 10 commandments,
The first paragraph of the Shema,
And the leining from Tisha B’Av morning.
We also make mention numerous times of the fact that Hashem loves us.
Moshe Rabbeinu also separated 3 cities on the east side of the river Jordon to be used as places of refuge for people who have murdered unintentionally.

How do we fulfil the mitzvah to love Hashem as expression in the Shema? (ch 6 vs 5)
Surely love is an emotion; we can’t force anyone to love something.
The Hebrew word for love is ‘AHAVAH’. In Hebrew all words are made up from routes of other words thus giving each word an intrinsic meaning. The route of the word AHAVA is ‘HAV’ which means ‘giving’. Therefore, the more one gives, the more love one feels towards it. A good example of this is a marriage. The more a husband and wife do for each other the more love they will feel towards each other.
The more a mother does for a child the more she will love that child. In fact we can say that about anything in life. The more effort one invests in a project the more one loves it and feels attached to it.
So in affect, when we are told to love Hashem we are really being told to work for him and keep all his commandments. The barometer of whether we love Hashem is the performance of every mitzvah. We cannot pick and choose which ones we want to keep or which ones are ‘convenient’. By keeping all the Mitzvot even when they are difficult is a sign that we are in love with Hashem.

We can develop this idea further. In the same way as when two people are in love they are prepared to overlook each other’s faults and shortcomings so is true of our relationship with Hashem. If we truly try and love him then he will overlook our mistakes and shortcomings.

I heard in a Shiur from the late R’Chaim Kauffman of Gateshead that everyone is born with a love for Hashem. That is instilled in every Jewish Heart. The problem is that the more one sins the more covered over that love becomes. So the commandment to love Hashem is telling us to remove the cover of all our sins and get back to the original love we were born with. That’s why after Yom Kippur when people are cleansed from their sins we feel closer to Hashem and have more love for Him.

Parshas Devarim – Moshe’s autobiography

In this week’s Sidra Moshe Rabbeinu starts rebuking the Jews prior to his death. As he is about to depart this world, he takes the opportunity to remind them of all the sins that were committed in the desert.
He affords great details to his account.
He tells us the size of Og’s bed! It was nine cubits long and 4 wide. We are told it was made of iron. ( ch 3 vs 11) We are informed of all the previous names of the cities the Jews conquered.
We are made aware of peoples nicknames (ch 2 vs 20)

Why do we need to know all these details? It appears if one can say so that Moshe is ‘waffling’ on a bit.

It would appear to me after learning this weeks Sidra that when it comes to thanking Hashem for miracles, one must strive to remember every single detail. This increases the praise and honour that we afford Hashem. To People like Moshe Rabbeinu to whom every moment of their lives are precious and sacred, no detail is insignificant. Every thing that is brought to their attention was done so for a reason. That’s why Moshe Rabbeinu saw fit to mention it.

Parshas Mattos Massie – Don’t get jealous

In this week’s Sedra, we learn about the laws of vows. We are also told the mitzoh of taking metal vessels purchased from non Jews and immersing them in a Mikvah (a body of rain water or the sea). The tribe of Gad, Reuven and half of the tribe of Menassheh ask Moshe for the land on the east of the river Jordan to be given to then instead of inheriting the land in Israel. Moshe initially gets annoyed at their lack of love for the land of Israel but makes a deal that if they fight with the Jews and help conquer Israel they can have the land on the east of the river Jordan.

In Parshas Massie, the Torah details all the 42 places the Jews camped while traveling through to desert. We also learn about the borders of Israel. This has significance as only within these borders to the mitzvot pertaining to the Land of Israel apply. Some examples are observing the laws of the Sabbatical and Jubilee year and taking challah. We are also told the laws about murder and manslaughter.

The Torah describes creating a “green belt” area of approximately 2000 feet radius around each of the cities. This area was used for farming that would be dedicated to the tribe of Levi and for communal use. This goes to prove that the Torah has forced us to take care of each other and the environment long before it was fashionable to do so.

If we are not careful and let our grievances build; it can eventually lead to murder. This is clear from this Parsha. In Numbers chapter 35, we learn about the laws of murder and one who murders accidentally. In verse 20 it says:
“If he pushed him out of HATRED, or hurled upon him from ambush or in EMNITY struck him…. He should be put to death.”

Later on while discussing an accidental murder, verse 22 states:
“But if with suddenness WITHOUT EMNITY or without ambush…” It is clear from the Torah the reason why someone commits murder: because he has hatred towards him.

This is a freighting thought. If we just look at those people currently in prison for murder today,
how many of them would fit our typical “murderer” perception?

There must be many who seem to be “good people” that no one would could have dreamed they would ever be capable of such a crime. They stooped so low because they allowed their little grievance to slowly turn into hatred. Once hatred and jealousy take hold, then we become slaves to that feeling and if we are not careful it can even lead to murder.

We should all learn from this about the power of hated and try and settle our disputes in a calm way. We may air our grievances respectfully before they turn into something nasty.

Parshas Balack – It’s my way or the highway

This week we read of how Balack, the king of Moav, hired Billam to curse the Jews. Billam tried to curse the Jews but Hashem put blessings into his mouth instead. Not wishing to be totally defeated, he suggested the Moabite women should entice the Jews to serve Idols. This they did and Hashem killed 24000 Jews.
Then a man called Zimri came in-front of Moshe with Cosbi a Moabite woman as if to taunt and tease Moshe as Moshe had also married a non Jewish woman. Pinchos saw his chance to be zealos in the name of Hashem and killed Zimri and the woman he had taken. He was rewarded with becoming a Cohen,Priest.

Parshas Chukas – let’s drink.

This week we read of the laws concerning the purification of ritually impure people. I understand Tumah (ritual impurity) like radiation. Radiation cannot be seen with the naked eye and cannot be felt. However, the effects can be devastating. The same is true with Tumah. It cannot be seen or felt but on a spiritual level it is attached to a person.
After the laws of the Red Hefer we read of the Jews attempt to reach Israel by crossing through the lands of Moab, Sichon and Og. Their requests were refused and the latter two entered into war with the Jews. The Jewish people defeated them and inherited their lands.
The Sedra is tempered with the passing of Ahaon the High Priest, brother of Moshe. He warranted death prior to the entry into the land of Israel on account of his siding with his brother Moshe in hitting the rock instead of speaking to it in regards to it turning into a well of water. The miracle of talking to the rock and it turning into a well would have been a far greater display of Hashems power than hitting it.

Parshas Beh’alotcha- Yum yum that that tastes good

In this week’s Sedra, We are told to light the Menorah in the temple every day.
The Jews were told to observe Passover in the desert. There were numerous people who were ‘Tammei’ ritually unclean who could not partake of the Pascal Lamb. They complained, so Hashem granted them another opportunity a month later on the 14 of Iyar. This was not a festival and ‘chometz’ could be eaten.

We are also told the trumpet call for the journeying of the Jews.
We then see this in action as the Jews moved from Mount Sinai.

The Jews complain about their lack of good food while traveling in the desert. They recall all the delicacies they ate in Egypt and long specifically for meat.
Hashem eventually gives them meat. Deliciously cooked fowl falls from heaven. However, the people that complained died immediately or a month later depending on their level of sin.

How could the Jews be so ungrateful as to complain and ask for meat? After all, they had everything they needed literally falling from heaven directly into their hands. Also, why does the Torah use the expression, “The people were LIKE complainers” (11:1). Surely, they were complainers!!


The Rabbis tell us that there are 13 expressions of prayer (Midrash Shimonei beginning of Parshat Vo’etchanan). Each expression denotes a different aspect to prayer and all of them can be used. The midrash recounts all the instances these expressions were used in the Bible. Here are there English equivalents: talking, asking, supplicating, begging, screaming, demanding, praising, pleading, arguing, persuading, reasoning, extolling, and crying.
Moshe used many of these expressions to intercede to Hashem on behalf of the Jews. After the Jews made the golden calf, Moshe reasoned with Hashem that if He destroyed the Jews, the other nations would think G-d was too weak to bring the Jews to the land of Israel as He promised.
This is what I believe the Jews were doing in this instance. They tried to reason with Hashem that if in the slavery of Egypt they had meat then how much more so in the utopia situation of the desert they should enjoy the same delicacies.
This is why the Torah uses the expression ‘like complainers’ because they were not really complaining. However, they still sinned on their exulted level because they should have been contented with their lot.
This is how we can understand all the other instances that the Jews complained. On many occasions when faced with either no water or with on rushing enemies they reasoned
‘What was the point of leaving Egypt to die in the desert, we might as well return’ This was not a statement of ungrateful people, rather a plea to get what they wanted.
The Rabbis have advised that people not attempt this method nowadays, as it is very easy to cross the line to be ungrateful and disrespectful.

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