By Rabbi Avraham
Fischer. A publication of the Orthodox Union in cooperation with the Seymour
J. Abrams Orthodox Union Jerusalem World Center
August 9, 2003
In Moshe’s second lecture, which takes up the majority of the
Book of Devarim (4:1-26:15), the great teacher of Israel instructs his people
about the importance of observing the Mitzvot. In this context, he anticipates
a dialogue between his listeners and the next generation:
When your son will ask you tomorrow (MACHAR), saying: “What are the
testimonies and the statutes and the laws that Hashem, our G-d, has commanded
you?” Then you shall say to your son: “Slaves were we to Pharaoh in Egypt, and
Hashem brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand. And Hashem gave signs and
wonders, great and painful, against Egypt, against Pharaoh, and against all
his household before our eyes. But He brought us out from there, so that He
might bring us, to give us the land that He had sworn to our forefathers. And
Hashem commanded us to perform all these statutes, to fear Hashem, our G-d,
for our good, all the days, to keep us alive as this day. And righteousness (U’TZEDAKAH)
shall it be for us, if we are careful to perform this entire commandment
before Hashem, our G-d, as He has commanded us” (6:20-25).
The careful reader will notice that this passage appears – or, rather, is
excerpted – in the Passover Haggadah. The question posed here by the “son”
characterizes him, according to the Mechilta (Bo, Ch. 18), as the wise son,
apparently because he speaks of the commandments in detail:
…the testimonies and the statutes and the laws.
The required response to the son –
“Slaves were we to Pharoah in Egypt, and Hashem brought us out of Egypt with a
- is the first of two ways that the Haggadah instructs us to teach about the
Exodus, thereby fulfilling the Sages guideline that we “begin with shameful
[details] and conclude with praiseworthy [ones]” (see Pesachim 116a).
However, when we read our passage in its entirety and in the context of
Moshe’s discourse, we realize that it is not necessarily meant for the
Passover Seder. Whenever our children ask such a question, whether at the
Seder or otherwise, we are taught by Moshe to respond this way.
What prompts these questions? How will the account of the Exodus satisfy the
younger generation’s curiosity and challenge? And, what is the meaning of
TZEDAKAH (which we have translated as “righteousness)? It seems to refer to a
consequence beyond merely answering the child’s question, but what is it?
Rashi’s only comment on this passage –
“There is a ‘tomorrow’ (MACHAR) that is after a time”
- means that these questions can come years, or generations hence. Presumably,
anything can precipitate them: changed circumstance, altered perspectives, or
simply the passage of time.
Ibn Ezra says that the youth wonders why Hashem singled us out from all the
nations by giving us these laws. Why would it not have been sufficient, adds
Sforno, to observe the seven Noahide commands? The answer, according to Ibn
Ezra and Sforno is that we are grateful to Hashem for saving us from the
Egyptian oppression. We know from our own historical experience that Hashem is
concerned for our benefit, so we are obligated to obey Him, for our own good.
The key is to make the younger generation feel that it is part of the same
eternal people that was redeemed by Hashem from Egypt. Thus, the answer
includes them repeatedly:
Slaves were we…Hashem brought us… before our eyes. But He brought us out…
bring us, to give us the land that He had sworn to our forefathers…
Since the nation of Israel was established by Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov,
and since Hashem swore to them to give us the Land, all the Jewish People
throughout time are equal participants in the Exodus and its consequences.
Malbim explains that the Exodus demonstrates the fundamental tenets of the
Hashem exists and is One.
Hashem is in control of the forces of nature.
The people of Israel are under Hashem’s direct providence.
Hashem punishes the guilty and saves the innocent.
Thus, the answer to the son begins with the Exodus, and the
commandments called eidote, testimonies attest to it. Since the son also asked
about the chukim, statutes, the prescribed answer proceeds to say that Hashem
commanded us to perform all these statutes, to fear Hashem, our G-d.
The statutes are those laws whose reasons are not known to us, so we comply
out of pure reverence and obedience, which follow from our recognition of the
lessons of history.
When the son asked about mishpatim, the laws, says Malbim, he was referring to
those commandments whose reasons are self-evident. The son did not ask,
however, whether to observe the laws of an ordered society (such as property
rights and responsibility for damages). His question, rather, is how do such
laws contribute to our spiritual improvement? Why should these commandments be
included in a religion?
The answer, says Malbim, is that TZEDAKAH, “righteousness,” results from
obeying those commandments between man and Hashem. The highest fulfillment of
Torah values, therefore, is to comply, even with the commandments that are
“reasonable,” not because they are reasonable, but because Hashem commanded
In our answer to the younger generation, we build from shared history to faith
and from faith to trust in Hashem. The answer embraces him, and he knows that
he is an equal member of the eternal people of Israel.
Torah K'Torat Eretz Yisrael!"- Torah from Aloh Na'aleh*
The Parshah begins with Moshe Rabbeinu's prayer that he be permitted "to
cross over and see the good land on the other side of the Jordan River,
the good hill country and the Levanon (4:25)."
The Or HaChayim (R. Chayim Ibn Atar) raises two questions concerning this
pasuk. First, why did Moshe use the expression "na"? Rashi states that na
denotes "a request." The Siftei Chachamim comments, however, that na
usually means "now." Why, asks the Or HaChayim, does Moshe request that he
go to Eretz Yisrael "now"? And second, why "cross over and see"? Is it not
obvious that when Moshe would enter Eretz Yisrael, he would see it?
To answer these questions, the Or HaChayim quotes Chazal that Moshe was
barred from entering Eretz Yisrael for two reasons. First, the time had
come for Yehoshua to assume leadership, and it is well known that the rule
of two leaders cannot overlap for even a second. And second, Bnei Yisrael
were destined to sin and turn away from HaShem, and He would have to
punish them for their transgressions. It would be preferable that HaShem
destroy the Beit HaMikdash, and not B'nei Yisrael. But, as Chazal say, had
Moshe led Bnei Yisrael into Eretz Yisrael and built the Beit HaMikdash, it
could never have been destroyed by any nation or people (see Or HaChayim
on Devarim 1:37).
We can now understand the use of the terms "na" and "see." Moshe says to
Hashem, "Ebrah na ve'er'eh" - let me enter Eretz Yisrael, now, when I
won't be the leader of B'nei Yisrael, but an ordinary person. I wish only
to see the land, not to build anything in it.
Moshe's love for Eretz Yisrael was so great that he was prepared to forego
his position of leadership and forfeit the privilege of building the Beit
HaMikdash just for the opportunity of being in Eretz Yisrael.
Certainly the consideration that Jews in the Diaspara give to the
difficulties of Aliyah and the sacrifices that must be made for its sake -
in many cases exaggerated or perhaps even imagined - pale in comparison
with the sacrifice that Moshe Rabbeinu was prepared to make for the
privilege of entering Eretz Yisrael.
Rabbi Binyamin Walfish
*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