The Closer We Are, the Less We Need

Hashem, your God was with you; you lacked for nothing” (Devarim 2:7)

The wise Shlomo HaMelech said, “One who desires money is never satisfied with what he has” (Koheles 5:9). So it is with all physical pursuits. They are insatiable.

Moshe is telling us that the closer we are to Hashem, the less are our wants and needs. If we are distant from Hashem, our wants and needs may be insatiable.


Just for Today

And you, who cleave to Hashem, your God, you are alive this day” (Devarim 4:4)

The Chasam Sofer says that a person’s evil instinct tells him that he can never meet all the Torah’s demands all his life. Inasmuch as that is futile, one may as well give up the battle now. Moshe tells us, “Don’t undertake an entire lifetime’s challenge. Just do it this day. Tomorrow, you can deal with tomorrow’s challenge.”

If you tell an alcoholic that he can never drink again, that is too formidable a challenge. Taking it “one day at time” is doable. A friend who was sober for forty-three years recorded every day of his sobriety. The day before he died, he entered 16,472 days in his diary.


Which Way Are You Going?

This shall be the reward because you hearken to these ordinances” (Devarim 7:12)

The Hebrew word for “because” in this verse is eikev, which also means “a footstep.” Rebbe Moshe Leib of Sasov said that a person should consider each step one takes.

Life is a mission, an assignment, which carries with it

responsibility. Each step one takes is either in the direction of ful- filling one’s assignment, hence it is a mitzvah, or in the direction of self-indulgence, hence it is a dereliction. There is no neutrality.

All one’s steps should be toward fulfilling one’s mission in life.


Weighing Loss versus Gain

You shall tithe all the produce of your fields” (Devarim 14:22)

The Hebrew text lends itself to an interpretation that if you tithe your produce, God will bless you. You will not lose by tithing. The Chafetz Chaim told of a peasant who brought his bundles of grain to the market. For each bundle he delivered to the mer- chant, the latter put a coin into a plate. By counting the coins, they would know the number of bundles he sold.

When the merchant was not looking, the peasant took a few coins from the plate. He didn’t realize that by stealing a few small coins, he was losing the much larger payment for a few bundles of grain.

Sometimes we do things for a temporary gain and do not real- ize that the loss of our act will far outweigh the temporary gain.


Don’t Let Your Desires Bribe You!

You shall not accept a bribe, for the bribe will blind the eyes of the wise “ (Devarim 16:19)

We are all judges, making many judgments every day. Every desire that one has is a bribe, affecting one’s judgment to favor the desired act.

A recovering alcoholic said, “In all my years of drinking, I never took a drink unless I decided it was the right thing to do at the time.”

Our capacity to rationalize is humongous. We are ingenious at justifying whatever it is we wish to do. The bribe of the desire renders us blind to the consequences of our act. We become the victims of our self-deception.


When in Love, Think Twice

You shall not plow with an ox and a donkey together” (Devarim 22:10)

Sefer HaChinuch explains that the two animals pull at differ- ent rates, and one or both will suffer — and that this applies to human relationships as well. Two people with conflicting personality types should not become partners in a business nor in a marriage.

A farmer who is eager to get his plowing done may overlook the fact that pairing an ox with a mule will result in harm to the animals, and the loss will ultimately be greater than the gain.

We are vulnerable to infatuation, and this may result in fail- ure to see incompatibilities.


Serve Hashem — Live with Joy

The Torah tells us that the dire consequences that will befall us will be “because you did not serve Hashem with joy” (Devarim 28:47).

If we are not feeling joy in our performance of the mitzvos, we must not be doing them right. The knowledge that we are doing what God wants us to do, thereby fulfilling the purpose of our existence, is reason for euphoria.

We can convert everything to a mitzvah. We must have energy and strength to do mitzvos, and if eating and sleeping provide us optimum health so that we can do the mitzvos, these actions, too, are accessories to mitzvos. If we dedicate our lives to the will of Hashem, we can experience joy in everything we do.


All We Have Is Today

You are standing here today, before Hashem…the covenant that Hashem seals with you today…but with whoever is here today, and with whoever is not here with us today” (Devarim 29:1–14)

The repetition of “today” is unnecessary for the context of Moshe’s message. It adds nothing to the meaning of the message. It can only be that Moshe is stressing that fulfillment of the covenant with Hashem can be only if one focuses on just today, one day at a time.

True commitment to a Torah life is a formidable challenge. It is best approached by taking it one day at a time.


No Spiritual Status Quo

Moshe said to [the nation], “I am 120 years old this day. I can no more go out and come, and Hashem has said to me, ‘You shall not cross the Jordan’” (Devarim 31:2)

All his life, Moshe aspired to spiritual growth and reached heights unachieved by any other human being. No further growth was possible, unless he could enter the Holy Land and participate in its unique mitzvos. But since this was denied him, being at a point where he could not grow any more spiritually, life became meaningless, and he willingly accepted death.

Spiritual growth is what gives meaning to life. We should never resign ourselves to a spiritual status quo. There is always more we can do.


Don’t Justify Your Actions

Moshe reprimands b’nei Yisrael as “a perverse and twisted generation” (Devarim 32:5)

Then we allow our desires to influence our thinking, we can be “perverse and twisted.” One recovering alcoholic

said, “In all my years of drinking, I never once took a drink un- less I decided that it was the proper thing to do at the time.”

Moshe said that the only way to avoid becoming victims of our distorted thinking is, “Ask your elders, and they will tell you” (Devarim 32:7). Accept guidance from wise, experienced, and competent people. Shlomo HaMelech said, “All of a person’s ways are right in his own eyes” (Mishlei 16:2). We must recog- nize our vulnerability to self-deception.

Our desires twist our thinking. Our ability to rationalize is immense. We are capable of justifying the most outlandish behavior.


Pray for Those Who Wronged You

In this parashah, Moshe gives his final blessing to b’nei Yisrael.

The Ohr HaChaim points out that Moshe had suffered for forty years from his cantankerous people. Moshe had only one wish, to be allowed into the Holy Land, but he was denied this fervent wish because of b’nei Yisrael’s sins (Devarim 4:21). One would think that before his death, he would express his anger to them.

But what happened was just the reverse. Virtually with his last breath, he blessed them wholeheartedly. Moshe did not car- ry any resentment, in spite of his terrible disappointment that his prayers were denied, and he blessed the people who were responsible for his not entering the Holy Land.

We say Moshe Rabbeinu, “Moshe is our teacher.” On the last day of his life, he taught us not to harbor resentments and to bless those who have offended us.