Rabbi Finkelstein


FIRST ALIYAH- Moshe further develops in his review of the laws and the history of the people of Israel in the desert the concepts of reward and punishment for the observance or failure to observe the commandments in terms of what awaits them when they enter the land of Israel. If the people are to be faithful to G-d, observe the Mitzot, obliterate idolatry, then they will reap the benefits of living there. If not, they shall suffer from the elements, human and otherwise.

In describing the beauty of the land that awaits the people’s arrival in Israel, Moshe speaks of the seven species through which the land is praised. The rabbis of the Talmud in Berachot 41A determine from the sequence of the foods mentioned, as to which one has precedence in terms of a blessing to be recited. The rabbis also indicate that these seven species are reflective of measurements that are used to connote certain Halachic criteria to determine levels of purities and impurities, Shabbat and Yom Kippur violations.

Finally, Moshe speaks of the importance of blessing G-d at the completion of a meal, as a matter of recognition that we do not take G-d’s gifts for granted. The rabbis of the Talmud expand the definition of the requirements for blessings to be recited before and after food consumption and for other occasions and mitzvot.

SECOND ALIYAH- Continuing on the same line of discussion with the people of Israel, Moshe warns the people that their upcoming future success in the land of Israel should be recognized as G-d’s gift to them. Unfortunately, as the Or Hachaim points out, the tendency of successful people is to forget the source of their newly found wealth and forget Hashem. The Torah uses the wording: If your heart is lifted up, you shall forget Hashem. In other words, the arrogant individual does not recognize the source of his bountifulness, attributing his success to the endeavours of his own handiwork. The Or Hachaim continues to state that this state of arrogance invariably leads to other types of negative behaviour, resulting in the complete abandonment of a Jewish way of life.

THIRD ALIYAH- Moshe recounts the Golden Calf incident to the people of Israel, and speaks of his intercession with G-d not to allow the destruction of the sinful nation. The Ramban adds a new element into the interpretation of this Aliyah by mentioning that Moshe tells the people that he took a big risk in smashing the tablets as he had not consulted with G-d about that decision. What we see is that Moshe did not simply react to what he saw, but thought through his action quickly.

FOURTH ALIYAH- Moshe reminds the people that after he smashed the first tablets, G-d told him to carve out two new tablets upon which G-d would write the Ten Commandments and to place the new tablets into a makeshift ark made out of acacia wood alongside the broken pieces of the first tablets. The Ramban, quoting Rashi, states that this temporary ark was replaced later with the ark made by Bezalel as part of the Mishkan. What happened to the first ark? The Ramban states that the commandment to make this ark came only after Moshe smashed the first tablets and not before, indicating that Hashem knew Moshe would break the tablets. Furthermore, the first ark may have contained the broken pieces of the first tablets, and the primary ark of the Covenant contained the second tablets. The Ramban quotes Rabbi Yehudah, as stating that the first ark built by Moshe was brought into the battlefield generally except during the battle with the Philistines that took place during the lifetime of Samuel. That latter ark was captured by the Philistines, until forcibly returned through Divine intervention. However, the Ramban also quotes the opinion of the rabbis in opposition to Rabbi Yehudah, who said the first ark was buried, leaving only one ark, the Ark of the Covenant.

FIFTH ALIYAH- The Aliyah begins with the famous expression of what is Hashem asking of the Jewish people, namely to fear, serve, love Hashem. The rabbis of the Talmud declare that this opening statement refers to the necessity to say 100 blessings per day, as a derivative of the opening word, ‘mah’ meaning ‘what’ which can be understand as ‘meah’ or 100. In addition, the rabbis tell us that on the basis of this opening sentence, we learn that everything is in the hands of Heaven, except the fear of Heaven.

Rashi, in his commentary on Berachot 32B, writes that G-d is in control of our genetic tendencies including our physical characteristics and how much money a person will earn during the course of a lifetime. However, free will is in the domain of the individual. Free will is the foundation of reward or G-d forbid, punishment.

The Torah reminds us to treat the poor and downtrodden in society properly and to love the stranger, or convert, coming into our community. We were strangers in Egypt, and we understand the possible feelings of isolation that may await the individual entering our community.

SIXTH ALIYAH- This Aliyah recounts G-d’s supervision over the land of Israel on a constant basis, leading into the second paragraph of the Shema dealing with the rewards and punishments of this world for observance or the failure to keep the commandments of the Torah. While Rashi points to the concept of mitzvah observance outside of Israel as a preparatory step for our return to the land of Israel, the Ramban differentiates between those commandments that are land bound and those that apply whether living in the land of Israel or not.

SEVENTH ALIYAH- We  are guaranteed our hold on the land of Israel only if we are observing the laws of the Torah. No nation will be able to defeat us. The Ramban concentrates on the concept of ‘Devekut’, or attachment to G-d as mentioned in this Aliyah. This concept revolves our complete dedication to G-d in that we direct our lives around that belief including our actions, thoughts and speech.