Rabbi Finkelstein


FIRST ALIYAH- Moshe notifies the people of Israel that they will be receiving a series of blessings and curses to be recited at the mountains of Gerizim and Eval outside of Shechem, modern Nablus. What characterizes these blessings and curses is the element of responsibility each Jew has in ensuring the continuity of the Jewish people through the observance of the commandments. The Kli Yakar mentions that Moshe addresses the people in the singular, and then switches to the plural, to indicate that each person should assess how his or her actions can either save or condemn an entire people. No person is an island isolated from others. :The Seforno indicates that when it comes to the responsibility that each Jew bears for the other, that there is no middle ground or compromise. The weight of the community rests on the shoulders of each individual.

The Torah then reiterates the need to eradicate idolatry on entry into the land of Israel, and the admonition not to erase the name of G-d. From here, we derive the law of Genizah, the respectful method of burial of holy objects and books. The commonly used  word, Sheimos, or Shemot, in relation to this disposal, is connected to the names of G-d that cannot be erased.

SECOND ALIYAH-Moshe emphasizes the importance of bringing sacrifices in the proper locale, namely the Mishkan, and the Temple in later years as opposed to arbitrary locations. At the same time, Moshe reminds the people of the necessity to abide by the laws of kosher slaughtering according to what G-d has commanded. The Rabbis in the Talmud Chullin indicate that these statements regarding this area of Jewish law are indicative of laws Moshe received at Mount Sinai which were given orally. The oral tradition is an imperative in Jewish belief.

The Torah also allows for the personal consumption of meat outside of the sanctuary. It is called the food of lust, as it is not a requirement, but reflective of the individual’s desire to luxuriate in eating meat.

THIRD ALIYAH- This Aliyah engages in a discussion of various situations involving those who desire to subvert Judaism, and who try to convince the people to abandon their belief in G-d. The intentions of these forces, be they individuals, false prophets, or in the extreme, an entire community to pursue a life of idolatry are to be met by harsh recriminations and utter destruction. The Ramban comments in reference to the false prophet, that there are indeed individuals who possess the power of prophecy, capably predicting what might be. However, their unusual power does not allow them to discard or disregard important Jewish principles, such as the belief in G-d. Hashem has given these people such power in order to test the people of Israel as to whether they hold steadfast to their faith or not.

Although the case of the ‘rebellious city’ has never materialized, we are taught that the actions of this community have to be examined thoroughly through a procedure involving seven basic questions investigating prima facie evidence, followed by a protocol to determine circumstantial indicators. These procedures become part and parcel of Jewish law in capital cases.

FOURTH ALIYAH- We are reminded we are children of G-d, regardless of our behaviour according to one Talmudic opinion. Therefore, we should refrain from unnecessary dissension or Machloket. Though Jewish law and practice recognizes and encourages the observance of community standards as set by the Ashkenazi and Sephardi communities for example, it does not countenance machloket internally. In specific terms, a dissenting minority in a Bet Din case, cannot choose to ignore the majority viewpoint, but must adhere to the decision made by that court as representative of the whole.

We are reminded as children of G-d to refrain from eating non-kosher food with the Torah listing that which may or may not be consumed in the areas of meat, poultry and fish.

FIFTH ALIYAH- This Aliyah begins with a discussion of the bringing of the Second Tithing to Jerusalem to be consumed or to be redeemed for money to be spent in that city. In a six year cycle, the maaser rishon, the First Tithing is given every year to the Levite, the maaser sheni, the Second Tithing is brought in years two, four and five, and the maaser ani, the tithing for the poor is given in the third and sixth year.  The seventh year is the Sabbatical year, or shemitta., when the land of Israel lies fallow.

SIXTH ALIYAH- The Torah describes the issue of the cancellation of debts at the end of the seventh year, the shemittah year, prompting the Talmud to discuss the reality of would be lenders who were hesitant to lend out money prior to this period of time, lest their loan be nullified. Hillel institutes the Prozbul, a procedure to protect the loans through the oversight of the Bet Din, allowing for people to be able to lend, and obviously for people to borrow. It is important to point out that Hillel does not undo the law of ‘shmittat cesafim’ ‘the cancellation of debts’ but narrowly defines it to restrict it to lenders qua borrowers with no intervention by the court.

We also read about the laws of tzedakah, or charity, which obviously benefit the recipient, but also enhance the donor. The Talmud in Tractate Shabbat speaks of the cycle of poverty that pervades generations referring to the statement in this Aliyah that poverty will never be completely eradicated.

SEVENTH ALIYAH-This Aliyah briefly reviews the laws and practices connected to the Three Holidays of Pilgrimage, Pesach, Shavuot, Succot, and the need to preserve the mood of happiness that should pervade our celebrations. The Seforno adds that in planning for these celebrations, one should not overspend if one cannot afford it.