By Rabbi Avraham
Fischer. A publication of the Orthodox Union in cooperation with the Seymour
J. Abrams Orthodox Union Jerusalem World Center
August 22, 2003
Among the challenges to authentic Torah faith is the false
prophet, a person who performs miracles, yet speaks in the name of idols:
If there will arise in your midst a prophet, or a dreamer of dreams, and he
gives you a sign or a wonder. And then the sign or the wonder of which he
spoke to you comes to pass, saying, “Let us go after other gods that you have
not known, and let us serve them.” Do not listen to the words of that prophet,
or to that dreamer of dreams, because Hashem, your G-d, is testing you, to
know whether you love Hashem, your G-d, with all your heart and with all your
soul. After (ACHAREI) Hashem, your G-d, shall you go, and Him shall you fear;
His commandments shall you observe and to His Voice shall you listen, and to
Him shall you cleave. But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put
to death, because he has spoken falsehood against Hashem, your G-d, who
brought you out from the land of Egypt and redeemed you from the house of
slavery, to make you stray from the path that Hashem, your G-d, commanded you
to go; and you shall destroy the evil from your midst (Devarim 13:2-6).
Verse 5 (underlined text) returns us to one of the central themes of the Book
of Devarim: One’s devotion to Hashem must be complete and uncompromising. Even
when this “prophet or dreamer” performs a wonder, he is not to be followed if
he preaches for idol-worship. Rather,
After (ACHAREI) Hashem, your G-d, shall you go…
And after no one else. This is the basic reading of Saadiah Gaon.
Ohr HaChaim is puzzled by the insertion of this verse in the discussion about
the false prophet. He, therefore, explains that each element of the verse
enlightens us regarding the false prophet’s attempts:
After (ACHAREI) Hashem, your G-d, shall you go – and not after
idols. Do not accept upon yourself to follow other gods, but rather commit
yourself wholeheartedly to obey only Hashem. “Going” refers to decision.
And Him shall you fear – and not idols. Do not worry that
these other gods will harm you. “Fear”, and reverence of Hashem must be
And His commandments shall you observe – and not the dictates
of the other religions, even if they fall short of actual idol-worship.
“Observing” refers to paying homage to the customs associated with idolatry.
And to His Voice shall you listen – and not to the teachings
of idolatry. “Listening” is learning, and there is no greater learning than
And Him shall you serve – No “service,” no worship, is due any
but Hashem. One must not even accede to the prophet’s recommendation to appear
to worship idols. In this connection, Ohr HaChaim cites the story (Gitten 57b)
of Chanah and her seven sons. The king suggested that the youngest son give
the appearance of bowing before the idol while actually bending to pick up a
ring that the king dropped, but the lad refused.
And to Him shall you cleave “Cleaving” to Hashem (see
Ketubot 111b) means attaching oneself to those who learn Torah, not to those
who serve idols.
The Torah follows this with the punishment of the false
prophet. This, says Ohr HaChaim is to indicate that if the prophet “speaks”
any of the “falsehoods” implied here – whether he speaks of deciding to follow
idols, or of fearing them, or of practicing their customs, or of learning
about them, or of worshipping them, or of studying with their devotees – he is
deserving of death. But the initial suggestion, considering idols as an
alternative truth, is the root of all this evil.
Other commentaries focus on the positive teachings of the verse regarding
commitment to Hashem. “Following” Hashem, says Ramban, is seeking to learn His
Will through His prophets, while “fearing” Him means knowing that He alone
possesses the power over life and death, reward and punishment, and
forgiveness. “His commandments” means the Torah of Moshe. “His Voice” is heard
through the dictates of His true prophets, while “serving” Hashem is the
worship in the Sanctuary (Rashi and Ramban, based on Sifri 85). Finally, says
Rashi (based on Sotah 14a), one “cleaves” to Hashem by emulating His acts of
kindness, such as burying the dead and visiting the sick.
The Chafetz Chaim (Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan) raises a question regarding the
first word in our verse, ACHAREI. In his commentary to Bereishit 15:1, Rashi
adopts a principle from Midrash Bereishit Rabbah 44:5 to distinguish between
the two Hebrew words for “after”:
“Whenever it says ACHAR it means ‘immediately after,’ while ACHAREI means
Based on this, our verse becomes difficult. Should we not be enjoined to
follow Hashem closely, to try to be as intimate in our knowledge and devotion
to Him as we can? If so, the verse should have said
“ACHAR – after – Hashem, your G-d, shall you go…”
Why does it use the word, ACHAREI connoting distance?
The answer of the Chafetz Chaim shows deep insight into the human condition.
There are many times that a person senses a detachment from Hashem, that he is
Acharei, very far from His Presence. Anything can bring this on: sin,
laziness, or personal tragedy. It is at these times, when one is ACHAREI – at
a great distance from Hashem – that one may despair of ever regaining a sense
of His closeness again.
But, despair is not the solution. When one is ACHAREI, then he must continue
to pursue Hashem, to revere Him from the position of beholding the “mysterium
tremendun” and to obey His commands. Then he will be uplifted to the point of
feeling he is a servant of Hashem, cleaving once again to Him.
The false prophet, especially one who purports to speak in Hashem’s Name, may
pose one of the most profound challenges to our individual and national
connection to Hashem. However, if we seek Him, from whatever abyss of gloom we
may find ourselves, we can return in triumph to Hashem’s loving embrace.
Torah K'Torat Eretz Yisrael!"- Torah from Aloh Na'aleh*
An observant Jew living in the Diaspora once told me that he did not
purchase Israeli produce because it would be too great a burden upon his
family to set aside terumot and ma'asrot, which are discussed in this
week's parshah. I was quite surprised. In truth, however, this statement
echoes the words of Rabbeinu Chayim, as they appear in our edition of
Tosafot to Ketubot 110b (s.v. Hu omer l'alot). He claims, according to
this version, that "today" we are under no obligation to live in Eretz
Yisrael, because there are a number of mitzvot hateluyot ba'Aretz (mitzvot
dependent upon Eretz Yisrael) that are difficult to observe in a
Rabbeinu Chayim is also difficult to understand. Many mitzvot are
difficult to observe, and yet the Torah does not exempt us from our
obligation to fulfill them. Troubled by this problem, the Maharit (Rabbeinu
Yosef Mitrani - b. 5328  - in his Responsa, Yoreh Deah, no. 28)
concludes that the statement attributed to Rabbeinu Chayim was made in his
name by an unreliable student.
In fact, Rabbi Simlai in Sotah 14a says quite the opposite: "Why did Moshe
Rabbeinu yearn to enter Eretz Yisrael? Did he want to eat of its fruits or
satisfy himself from its bounty?! Rather, this is what Moshe Rabbeinu
said: 'Israel has been commanded to observe many mitzvot that can be
fulfilled only in Eretz Yisrael. I wish to enter the land so that I will
be able to fulfill all of them!'"
Today we are able to fulfill Moshe Rabbeinu's dream. We have many
opportunities to observe these commandments wherever we live by purchasing
Israeli produce. Much halachic literature is available today to help us
fulfill these obligations properly. But better yet, today we have the
opportunity to live in Eretz Yisrael and to observe mitzvot hateluyot
ba'aretz on a daily basis, connecting ourselves thereby with spiritual
bonds to the Land.
*D’var Torah from Aloh Na'aleh:
an initiative of former North American Rabbis and laymen who successfully
made Aliyah, aimed at highlighting the centrality of Israel and promoting
Aliyah. They send emissaries – Rabbis, academicians, and others – on
speaking-tours throughout the U.S. and Canada.
Tel: 972-2-566-1181 ext. 320