שביבי אש
לסדר זאת ברכה

וַיֹּאמַר יְהוָה מִסִּינַי בָּא וְזָרַח מִשֵּׂעִיר לָמוֹהוֹפִיעַ מֵהַר פָּארָן וְאָתָה מֵרִבְבֹת קֹדֶשׁ מִימִינוֹ אשדת לָמוֹ

The Lord came from Sinai, and rose up from Seir to them; he shone forth from Mount Paran, and he came with holy tens of thousands; from his right hand went a fiery law for them. (Deuteronomy 32:2)

The Sifri comments on this verse that before the Omnipresent One revealed Himself to give the Torah to Israel, He first revealed Himself to all the nations. The descendants of Esau asked G-d, "What is written in it?" G-d answered, "Thou shalt not kill." They responded, "Our ancestor was a killer to the core of his being." G-d then went to the descendants of Amon and Moab. They asked Him, "What is written in it?" G-d answered, "Thou shalt not commit adultery." They responded, "Our ancestor was an adulterer to his core." G-d then went to the descendants of Ishmael to offer them the Torah. They asked Him, "What is written in it?" G-d answered, "Thou shalt not steal." They responded, "Our ancestor was a thief to the core of his being."

The Sifri is amazing because these three prohibitions were among the Seven Noahide Laws, which all the nations had long since been commanded to observe. How is it that G-d would have mentioned these commandments to them? And what did they accomplish by refusing to accept the Torah, which they had been obligated to observe since Creation?

And it appears to our master to say that the Torah that G-d gave us was permeated with kindness and truth, her laws are righteous altogether, and her ways are the ways of pleasantness and peace, so that the Torah does not impose a harsh law on these three destructive crimes: stealing, adultery, and murder that annihilate peace and destroy the land. Instead, the Torah treats them with mercy and great compassion, because one who steals from his neighbor and is found with the stolen object obtains forgiveness for his sin by making a two-fold restitution to his neighbor. And although the murderer and the adulterer are liable to the death penalty, they can only be executed on the testimony of at least two witnesses who must be subjected to searching examination by the court. Nor can capital punishment be administered unless the offenders were properly warned before they perpetrated the offense. And their case must be judged in a court of twenty-three judges. So difficult was it to impose capital punishment that R. Akiva and R. Tarfon said that if they had been judges when courts were imposing capital punishment, no one would ever have been executed.

Now righteous and enlightened laws such as these are appropriate only for a wise and understanding people whose wisdom shines forth from them who are abundantly endowed with wisdom, talent and lofty characteristics. However, a contemptible and degenerate people, like the nations of ancient times, who were all murderers and adulterers, robbers and plunderers, would have, under such liberal laws, lived in chaos not order, because they would not have feared the sword of the law. And so the land would have been filled with violence, theft, and adultery. In truth, under the Noahide Laws, the death penalty could be imposed by one judge on the testimony of one witness and without warning, and violation of any commandment was a capital offense, because only by prosecuting the people ferociously could they be restrained.

The leaders and ministers of all the nations through whom G-d wanted to give His Torah, therefore, would not accept it, because, even though the Torah encompassed the Seven Noahide Laws that they had already received, under the rules of justice of the Torah, anyone violating those laws would not be swiftly punished. How then could they continue to lead their peoples whose offenses weighed so heavily upon them? And this is what the leaders of each nation answered: "their ancestor was a murder to the core of his being," or "they are thoroughly immoral," or "they are thieves." For the people are very wild; they are violent and deceitful, and how could we lead them with laws as upright and enlightened as these?

שְׂמַח זְבוּלֻן בְּצֵאתֶךָ וְיִשָּׂשכָר בְּאֹהָלֶיךָ עַמִּים הַר יִקְרָאוּ שָׁם יִזְבְּחוּ זִבְחֵי צֶדֶק כִּי שֶׁפַע יַמִּים יִינָקוּ וּשְׂפֻנֵי טְמוּנֵי חוֹל

Rejoice, Zebulun, in your going out; and, Issachar, in your tents. They shall call the people to the mountain; there they shall offer sacrifices of righteousness; for they shall suck of the abundance of the seas, and of treasures hidden in the sand. (Deuteronomy 33: 18 - 19)

Our master explained that Zebulun and Issachar entered into a covenant under which Zebulun would dwell on the sea-coast to conduct international trade and commerce while Issachar, supported by Zebulun, would dwell in his tents and would study Torah day and night. And although all the tribes of the Almighty would indeed draw out their souls to the hungry and would perform charity and kindness when they would go up to appear before the Eternal where they would bring sacrifices, tithes, and heave-offerings with which to nourish the souls of the priests and the poor and to provide for them from their own bounty, the nation did so only when all of Israel gathered together in the sight of all. It was not such public gifts that the tribe of Zebulun gave, for they gave from their own food to the poor and supported the poor from their own table even when they were at home and their generosity could not be publicly noted. The Eternal, therefore, did not withhold that which is good from its rightful owners and gave Zebulun a reward commensurate with their generosity. So if they lent a hand to the needy in secret and did not withhold a covert gift from the impoverished, then the Eternal also rewarded them from secret storehouses - the abundance of the seas (shepha yamim) - which were overlooked in his rich territory and were hidden from view and could not be taken without Zebulun's permission. As the Sages said in the Talmud (Megilah 6a):

Zevulun said before the Holy One Blessed Be He: "Who will inform me about and pay compensation for the hilazon and the hidden treasures of the sand in my territory?" He replied: "Whoever takes from you without payment will not prosper in his business."

That is why Zebulun did not have to stand guard over his property. And this is the meaning of the verse: "Rejoice, Zebulun, in your going out." Zebulun was able to travel far away in his trading ships, in happiness and good cheer, without fearing that strangers would seize what belonged to him. And if so, it was as if all his property were hidden, because he held the hand and provided for the welfare of Issachar in the privacy of his tents, which is the meaning of "Issachar in your tents" (וְיִשָּׂשכָר בְּאֹהָלֶיךָ). The subsequent verse "They shall call peoples unto the mountain" (עַמִּים הַר יִקְרָאוּ) refers, as Rashi explains, to the tribes of Israel who will go up to the holy mountain in Jerusalem where they will offer "sacrifices of righteousness" (זִבְחֵי צֶדֶק) and will give gifts to the poor. However, the passage "for they shall suck the abundance of the seas" refers, as Rashi explains, to Zebulun and Issachar, for these two came under the moral obligation of a covenant whereby Zebulun provided for the needs of Issachar and Issachar taught Zebulun Torah and skills. Therefore, both these two "suck from the abundance of the seas and the hidden treasures of the sand."

שְׂמַח זְבוּלֻן בְּצֵאתֶךָ וְיִשָּׂשכָר בְּאֹהָלֶיךָ

Rejoice, Zebulun, in your going out; and, Issachar, in your tents. (Deuteronomy 33: 18)

Our master explained this verse according to the words of Qohelet (Ecclesiastes 11:9): "Rejoice, O young man, in your youth; and let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth; walk in the ways of your heart, and in the sight of your eyes. But know that for all these things G-d will bring you into judgment." For in a time of joy and happiness, one should always keep in mind that the time will surely come when G-d will bring him to judgment for what he has done. And in this way, one will withhold himself from transgressing even at a time of celebration and revelry. This is similar to what the Sages say in the Talmud: "One should always incite his good inclination against his evil inclination. But if he does not overcome his evil inclination, let him remind himself of the day of his death and thereby be delivered from trouble without transgressing."

However, the sages who study the Torah do not do battle against the evil inclination in this way, but rather, by increasing their dedication to the study of the Torah of the Eternal. This is how they smite the evil inclination down to the earth. As the Sages say, if the disgusting one meets you, lead him to the house of study. Thus, the Torah protects scholars and saves them from transgression even if they do not recall the day of death.

Our master explained in this way the Scripture (Ecclesiastes 7:12): "For the protection of wisdom is like the protection of money; and the advantage of knowledge is that wisdom preserves the life of him who has it." This means that with money a man can perfect his soul for the sake of the Eternal by doing kindness and charity. But the advantage of knowledge is that at the time when his mortal enemy, the evil inclination, threatens to overwhelm him, he will be able to defeat the evil inclination by studying the Torah. The evil inclination will then melt as does wax before a fire, without any recollection of the bitter day of death. Thus the meaning of the verse "rejoice, Zebulun, in your going out" is that in a time of happiness and rejoicing he must recall the day of his departure from the world in order to avoid transgression. But Issachar, the model of a Torah scholar, will subdue his evil inclination in his tent, the tent of study, without having to recall the bitter day.

וְלֹא קָם נָבִיא עוֹד בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל כְּמֹשֶׁה אֲשֶׁר יְדָעוֹ יְהוָה פָּנִים אֶל פָּנִים

And there has not arisen since in Israel a prophet like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face. (Deuteronomy 34:10)

Rashi comments: This means that he was familiar with Him and used to speak with Him at any time he desired.

See the Ramban who asks that if this is so, the Scripture should have said, "who knew (יָדַע) the Lord face to face" instead of "whom the Lord knew (יְדָעוֹ) face to face." He therefore interpreted the verse to mean that Moses knew the Eternal by name.

But to our master the words of Rashi seem correct according to the opinion of the Ran who stated that the greatness of the Moses and his exalted prophecy was not the achievement of his own efforts, for it is not within the capacity of a human being fashioned from physical material to elevate his own soul so high and to raise himself to such a level to see the shining vision. Rather it was the Eternal from on high who shed upon him a great spirit of prophecy and shined upon him a light, because it was necessary for the prophet through whom the Torah would be given to the people of Israel to be very great, only just short of an angel. That is why the Scripture says "And there has not arisen a prophet since in Israel like Moses," for as long as the world exists no other person will ever reach so high a level.

According to this, the Scripture properly says "whom the Lord knew face to face," because Moses's knowledge of the Eternal was not the result of his own effort and preparation, but was entirely the gift of the Eternal. It was the Eternal who enabled Moses to know Him, which is the meaning of "יְדָעוֹ". This is why there has not arisen since a prophet like Moses.

Additional דברי תורה assembled by David Glasner