Parshat Devarim 5776

Each summer around the middle of August the Earth passes through the trail of the Comet Swift-Tuttle.

This is what is called the Perseid meteor shower. In a regular year there will be about 100 meteors per hour.

Perseid meteor shower and Rashi

Space watchers are predicting significantly more meteors this year. Why? Because the Earth will be passing through comet trails from several past years.

Comet Swift-Tuttle has an orbit around the sun which takes 133 years.

This year, the Earth will be passing through comet trails that are left from the orbits of the years 1862, 1479, and 1079.

Think about that for a minute. If you happen to see a meteor this Thursday night, it could be a piece that broke off of the comet nearly 1000 years ago.

Rashi was born in 1040, so he would have been 39 years old in 1079.

Sort of makes me wonder if he saw Comet Swift-Tuttle as it passed near the Earth during his life.

Join the Thinking Torah weekly newsletter. Click here for details.

Parshat Devarim – Deuteronomy

I’ve been struck by a couple of verses as I read through Deuteronomy.

Fro example, we read:

Deuteronomy 1:27

You slandered in your tents and said, “Because God hates us He took us out of Egypt to give us to the Amorites to destroy us.

Then a few verses later we read:

Deuteronomy 1:42

God said to me (Moses), “Say to them ‘Don’t go up and don’t fight’ because I am not among you, so you will not be struck before your enemies.”


In verse 27 Moses is reminding the people how they reacted to the report of the spies. This was the night of the 9th of Av.

Then the people heard the decree that they would not come into Israel and would stay in the wilderness for 40 years.

They woke up the next morning eager to go to war and fight for Eretz Yisrael.

That’s when God warned them in verse 42 not to attempt to conquer the land at that time.

Some Thoughts

Let me share a few thoughts with you.

1. It’s amazing how fragile we can be. The same people who only 2 years earlier had been brought out of Egypt are now accusing God of hating them. Why? Merely because they didn’t like what the spies said about the land of Israel.

It’s not even like they had been struck by some pestilence or famine. Nope. It was just a report they didn’t like. Only one possible reason – must be that God hates me!

2. When you blame God for your problems, you won’t be open to other messages. God plainly told them their belated attempt to conquer the land would not succeed. Did they listen?

3. Teshuva / Repentance is hard. The people thought they had repented for the sin of not believing the spies. See Numbers 14:40. But they were wrong.

4. These verses answer the objection some people raise, “I would believe in God if only I would see direct evidence. If only God would speak to me.”

The same Jewish people who came out of Egypt and stood at Mount Sinai to receive the Torah are the ones who rebelled in the wilderness.

Seeing miracles and hearing God speak may deliver a spiritual high, but it’s clear the effects wear off over time. In fact, they seem to wear off rather quickly.

What about us? Is there any hope for us? Yes, of course.

It’s our job to learn Torah, apply it to our lives, and strive to reach our potential as Jews and as human beings.

There’s no reason why we can’t be successful in doing that. Even in 2016 / 5776.

Israeli wins medal. Yawn.

Olympic Rings
I knew I would eventually write something about the Olympic games in Rio. Though I have lots of problems with the Olympics, I’ll only share a couple of them with you today.

I recall my chevruta in yeshiva telling me a story 10 or 12 years ago.

That winter, during Chanukah, Greek and Israeli basketball teams played a game in Tel Aviv. The Israeli team won.

The next morning my chevruta mentioned the game to his rabbi and said to him, “You see, the Jews beat the Greeks again.”

His rabbi replied, “The fact there was a basketball game means the Greeks won.”

I think the rabbi’s point was the Jewish people are not meant to be distinguished as great athletes. We should leave that to the rest of the world.

As a Jew, an American, and an Israeli, I do not get a warm, fuzzy feeling when a Jew, an American, or an Israeli gets a medal.

In today’s news it’s reported that Israeli Yarden Gerbi won a bronze medal.

She said, “When I win it’s like everybody won. I really am proud to represent Israel.”

No, please, everyone did not win. I did not win. My next door neighbor did not win.

You won. You worked hard at what you chose to do. Enjoy it, but please leave me out of it.

What I Do Applaud

Now that I got that out of my system, there are two things she said that she got right.

She said, “We are a special people, one that supports and appreciates, because that’s just the way we are.”

Yes. Absolutely. She’s sensing an aspect of the oneness of the Jewish people.

She also said, “Once I know I did my part, that’s all that matters. I don’t waste my time worrying about what the officials do.”

That’s right. We all need to focus on those things that are under our control. Sometimes you get a bad call from the official (or your boss). If you can appeal the decision, appeal it. If you can’t, move on and continue to do your best.

Spiritual Growth During the 9 Days

you will not go astray
I’ve always thought of the Three Weeks, the Nine Days, and Tisha B’Av as a dark and dismal time of year.

I’ve considered my task during this period as nothing more than to try to get through these weeks and try to feel the loss of the temple.

For some reason, I never thought of this as a time to focus on spiritual growth.

I know many people focus on lashon hara and try to improve in that area of their lives.

My attitude shifted because of an email I received the other day.

The email was from an organization based in Baltimore called Guard Your Eyes (GYE). Their subtitle is “Maintaining Moral Purity in Today’s World.”

The organization aims to help men (and women) who struggle with having appropriate relationships. (I don’t want to be too explicit!)

Twice a day we say in the Shema:

Numbers 15:39

And it shall be for you for tzitzit and you will see it and you will remember all of God’s commandments and you will do them, and you will not go astray after your heart and after your eyes after which you go astray.

We live in a visual world. There’s lots of good things to see. There are also things which can lead a person astray.

The verse hints that we will be looking at something. It’s up to us to guard our eyes from the not good and direct them toward those objects which can elevate us.

Anyway, I think Guard Your Eyes can help many people with a delicate situation.

Here’s the link to their website:

GYE has a lot of good information even for men and women who may not be struggling with exactly their main issue.

Torah Tip

Here’s a resource I learned about from GYE.

Do you watch videos on You Tube? Are you sometimes bothered by the “related videos” that they show (which aren’t so related)?

Are you bothered by ads showing images you’d rather not see.

Try using

This gives you access to You Tube videos without ads, without related videos, and safe search turned on automatically.

A Note on the Translations
The translation of Bible verses is based on the Judaica Press Tanach.
The translation of Gemara is based on the Soncino Talmud.
Click here to grab your copy of my free ebook How to Learn Chumash with Rashi.