Category Archives: Parshas Re’eh

Parshas Re’eh: Change Your DNA for Worse or for Better!

Parshas Re’eh

Change Your DNA for Worse or for Better!

“But make sure that you do not partake of the blood …. you must not partake of it, in order that it may go well with you and with your descendants to come.” (Devarim 12:23, 24) “You must surely strike down the inhabitants of that city by the sword; annihilate it and everything that is in it, and its livestock by the sword…. so that Hashem withdraws His raising fury and grant you mercy, and He will be merciful toward you.” (Devarim 13:16,18)

Rabbi Chaim Volozhin zt”l (Ruach Chaim as quoted in Artscroll Bereishis) says that our forefather Avraham developed wonderful traits as a result of passing the Ten Tests. Our forefathers bequeathed to each of us a magnificent legacy of their middos, character traits, from their spiritual DNA to ours. There have been Jews who, despite not being very religious, were willing to risk their lives to sanctify Hashem’s name. Their trait of self-sacrifice was inherited from Avraham’s willingness to allow himself to be thrown into a fiery furnace rather than renounce his faith in Hashem. Our longing to settle in, or at least visit, Eretz Yisroel came from Avraham’s willingness to leave his homeland to travel to Eretz Yisroel. We also inherited from Avraham the trait of acceptance of all that Hashem does is for the best. So too, when any tzaddik works hard and achieves character perfection, those positive characteristics are inherited by his children.

The Torah says that after ritually slaughtering an animal to eat its meat, it is forbidden to eat the blood of the animal (Devarim 12:23-25). You must not partake of it, “in order that it may go well with you and with your descendants to come, for you will be doing what is right in the sight of Hashem” (Devarim 12:25). Rav Yonason Eibschutz zt”l (quoted in Iturei Torah by Aharon Yaakov Greenberg) asks, why the Torah specifically says by this mitzvah, of not eating the blood, “in order that it should be good for your descendants”. What is the connection to your descendants when you eat the blood of an animal? Rav Yonason Eibschutz zt”l answers that blood is forbidden to eat because it dulls the heart and influences a person to cruelty. The cruelty will then be passed in the spiritual DNA from father to son. That is why the pasuk says not to eat the blood “in order that it be good for you and your descendants”. This is to protect your descendants from bad character traits which would otherwise have been passed down to them.

If an entire city served idols, the entire city was destroyed. All the inhabitants and even the animals had to be killed. The entire city and all the booty in it, was then burned. The city was never allowed to be rebuilt.

The Chofetz Chaim zt”l (Chofetz Chaim on the Torah) says that habit becomes second nature. For example, if one is in the habit of doing acts of kindness, being a kind person will become one’s second nature. The same would apply to all midos, both good and bad. That habit would become second nature. If so, then wiping out such a city presented a serious challenge to the soldiers who were following this mitzvah.  The Jewish soldiers who would be fulfilling the mitzvah of wiping out such a city would be killing many people. The act of killing would become second nature to them. The soldiers would then thirst for blood and become murderers. To counter that, Hashem promises, “He [Hashem] will be merciful toward you”. Hashem will replace the feelings of mercy that the soldiers lost while performing this mitzvah. They will then be as merciful as they had been previously.

For this reason, the Chofetz Chaim zt”l expressed his concern for the Jewish soldiers who returned home after the first World War.  He feared that they would become murderers because the sensation of murder had been implanted in their hearts from the battles that they had fought.

Rav Chaim Shmuelovitz zt”l (Sichos Mussar תשל”ג, page 141) says that when Sodom was destroyed, Lot’s daughters thought that the rest of the world had been destroyed and that they and their father were the only survivors. To populate the world, each of them had relations with their father. Each gave birth to a son. The elder daughter who initiated this behavior, named her son Moav. This genetic DNA, of immorality, was passed down to her descendants. Years later, it was the daughters of this nation, Moav, whose immorality caused the death of 24,000 Jews. Rav Chaim Shmuelovitz zt”l asks how is it that it seems from the Talmud that the daughters were praised for their actions of immorality? The Talmud (Nazir 23A) praises Lot’s elder daughter whose intentions were for a mitzvah, and for which she was rewarded. Rav Chaim Shmuelovitz zt”l answered that even though their intentions were praiseworthy and were considered a big mitzvah, an inclination towards promiscuity was established in her family. In later generations, that tendency led to and became a promiscuity of sin. The act of Lot’s daughter was not done for the sake of immorality but for the sake of Hashem. However, in later generations it blossomed into total immorality.

Parents are happy when their children are successful (Obviously, there are different perspectives for the definition of success). It is a great nachas when parents see that children are even more successful than them. No loving parent would do something to harm a child or place an impediment to his success.

That is one reason why it is so important for us to actively work on the positive development of our middos. The middos that we develop may be transferred to the spiritual DNA of our children and all our future generations.



Parshas Re’eh: How Big are Your Ears!

Parshas Re’eh

How Big are Your Ears!


“You shall open-up your hand to him…and provide whatever is lacking to him.” (Devarim 15:8)

There is a short story about a poor wagon driver who was broken-hearted after his young son had tragically died of pneumonia. Because of his extreme poverty, he had no choice but to go back to work immediately after the funeral. He was hired to drive a group of wealthy businessmen to another city. In the middle of the trip, the wagon driver started mumbling about his son. “He was such a good boy… it was only a cough….” The passengers were annoyed by the sounds of the wagon driver’s moans and groans. They shouted at him to stop bothering them. The wagon driver became silent. A few hours later, he started moaning and groaning again. As before, the passengers screamed at him to stop bothering them. This happened a few times, until they reached an inn. The passengers went inside to get something to eat and drink. The wagon driver remained outside to feed his horse. As he was feeding his horse, he repeated the story about his son’s death. The horse nodded its head from time to time. It seemed to the wagon driver that the horse was listening to him. He finally had found a sympathetic ear to listen to his sad story. (Rav Pam on Chumash by Rabbi Sholom Smith)

A number-of-years ago, a man walking the streets of New York City was stopped by a man holding a gun. At gunpoint, the stranger told the sad story of what he was going through. With great emotion, he poured-out his many problems. After an hour, he was finished speaking and put away his gun. He apologized to his victim for frightening him. He explained that he had been trying for weeks to find a sympathetic ear to listen to his problems. He was unable to find anyone, so he had to try desperate means. (Love Your Neighbor by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin, as heard from Rabbi Chayim Zaitchik)

When the Torah discusses the topics of giving tzedakah and doing chesed it says, “You shall open up your hand…and provide whatever is lacking to him.” (Devarim 15:8) The words, “to him” seem to be extra. In actuality, those words teach us the importance of dealing with every needy person as a unique individual. There is no concept of “one size fits all” when it comes to giving tzedakah or doing acts of chesed. The Ba’al Haturim, quoting the Sifri, says that if the poor man is used to eating bread, give him bread. If he is used to eating delicacies, give him delicacies. Rashi says that you should even give him a horse to ride on and a servant to run in front of him, if that is what he was used to.

Even if you are unable to give the poor man the money that he needs, you can still fulfill the mitzvah of doing chesed to him. Rav Pam zt”l says that doing an act of chesed does not necessarily require much money, time, or effort. It can be as simple a chesed as listening to someone unburden his problems. Every human being needs someone to listen to him. When you do so, that shows that you care.

A tzedakah collector once remarked that the best donation that he received each year came from a man who lived on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. After a few questions, the listener realized that the collector was speaking about the Gadol Hador, Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l. Although Rav Moshe’s donation was not a substantial one, he made the tzedakah collector feel valued. He took the tzedakah collector’s hands in his own, gave him brachos and listened to him unburden himself of his problems. The Talmud (Bava Basra 9B) says whoever consoles a poor person with words of comfort and encouragement receives eleven blessings, almost double the blessings received for giving him money.

The Chofetz Chaim zt”l  (in Chovas HaShmirah, as quoted by Rabbi Pliskin) says that we have a moral obligation to boost the spirits of someone who is dejected, by speaking with him at length. A student once saw Rabbi Yisroel Salanter zt”l standing on a street corner, talking and joking with a stranger. The student was surprised since Rabbi Salanter zt”l usually had a very serious demeaner. He questioned his rebbe’s actions. Rabbi Salanter zt”l explained that the stranger had problems that were weighing very heavily on him, and he wanted to alleviate his depression (Ohr Yisroel, as quoted by Rabbi Pliskin).

We all have challenges in life. We all need someone to listen to us, at times.

We all need a sympathetic ear to hear us as we unburden ourselves.

Even if we have no solutions to others’ problems,

simply listening to them can help make a difference in their lives.