Derech Tzofeh (“The Path of the Scout”) offers commentaries on Judaism from all diverse Jewish Scouting sources to incorporate the values inspired by the Torah, Talmud and Mishnah and relate them to the Scouting program.
We encourage publishing commentaries on this site, from respected rabbinical authorities to individual Jewish Scouts. The National Jewish Committee on Scouting recognizes all branches of Judaism – Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist – and considers each of equal importance and worthy of inclusion.
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October 4, 2019 – Parsha Vayelech
Shanah Tovah – Happy New Year!
This week’s parasha is Vayelech, in which we learn about some of the things that happen on the last day of Moses’ life. On that day, Moses installs Joshua as his successor. Because Yom Kippur is next Tuesday night and Wednesday, instead of studying Vayelech, we prepare for Yom Kippur with one of my favorite divrei Torah, by Eagle Scout Jordan Block, rabbinical student at Yeshiva Ohr Somayach, Jerusalem.
Yom Kippur is coming. We’re currently in the special time between Rosh Hashonah and Yom Kippur called the Ten Days of “Repentance” – this is an approximation of the Hebrew word t’shuvah. These days are designated to get forgiveness from other people and to forgive them as part of the process of getting forgiveness from God. Someone once asked me a fascinating question: “What responsibility do I have to forgive someone who asks for forgiveness? What if their request isn’t satisfying or if my forgiveness isn’t genuine?”
Maimonides says that if one person wrongs another, the wrongdoer has to compensate and appease the wronged person. If the wronged person refuses to be appeased and doesn’t forgive, the wrongdoer has to come back and ask again with friends of the wronged person, even a second and third time. If the wronged person refuses to be appeased entirely and will not forgive, she becomes the sinner, and the wrongdoer has no more sin. Maimonides goes on to say it is forbidden to be obdurate (hardhearted) and not allow yourself to be appeased. You should forgive sincerely and willingly even if you were greatly troubled and hurt.
You should expect a sincere apology. Forgiveness is difficult in many situations and sometimes even impossible. However, it is greatly to your benefit and to his benefit to forgive someone. Therefore, it makes sense to do whatever you can to forgive someone. When she asks insincerely, you might say, “I want to forgive you, but it’s hard because …” and hopefully you can help her understand how you feel. That way, she can sympathize or empathize and come to ask sincerely.
It’s very important to forgive sincerely, because if one doesn’t it leaves a tear in the fabric of reality called an averah. Basically, a piece of the world was destroyed, and the two parties have a chance to repair it together. If they don’t, God will want an answer as to why they didn’t repair the world. If the wrongdoer didn’t ask sincerely, it’s her responsibility, and if the wronged didn’t forgive, it’s her responsibility. Furthermore, it seems bigger for the wronged person. If she forgives, she can fix something she didn’t even break and get credit for that, but if she doesn’t forgive, she not only misses that opportunity, but she breaks something else, and she’ll have to answer for both of those.
Finally, what can such a person do on Yom Kippur? God treats us with midah k’neged midah, measure for measure. If the wronged person who has not forgiven later asks God for forgiveness, why should she deserve it? God may say, “Forgiveness? What does forgiveness have to do with you? You don’t forgive. I should forgive you?”
So, too, with someone who forgives even without a good reason, God can forgive with no good reason. In fact, God taught us a formula to ask for Divine forgiveness, with the beautiful prayer we chant when we take out the Torah on the Festivals, called the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy: “Hashem, Hashem, El Rachum V’chanun … ” – “Hashem, Hashem, God, Compassionate and Gracious, Slow to anger, and Abundant in Kindness and Truth, Preserver of kindness for thousands of generations. Forgiver of iniquity, willful sin, and error, and Who cleanses.” (Exodus 24:6-7). God taught Moses this prayer after the Children of Israel worshipped the Golden Calf, only six weeks after God gave the Ten Commandments.
Even if it’s hard, you should try to do as God does for humankind, and forgive.
September 24, 2019 – Parsha Nitzavim
This week’s parasha, Nitzavim, Moses gathers the people together. It’s the day before he dies.
He says “You are standing today, all of you, before the Lord, your God.” He goes on to describe everyone who is gathered there – the heads of tribes, elders, officers, men, children, women, those who have converted and the people who draw water and chop wood. With everyone together, he has the people reaffirm their covenant with God – that the Jews will be God’s people, and will be rewarded with a good life in Israel. If they go astray and begin to believe that the good things they enjoy are due to their own work, and not God, and wander to idol worship, they will be cursed by being removed from the Land.
Having brought together all the Children of Israel, from the most distinguished to the most humble, Moses then joins together those in front of him with those to come until the end of time: “Not with you alone do I seal this covenant and this curse, but with whomever is here, standing with us today before the Lord, our God, and with whomever is not here with us today.”
Moses ends by explaining that the Torah’s commandments are not far away: “It is not in heaven … Nor is it across the sea. … Rather the matter is very near to you – in your mouth and your heart – to perform it.”
I love the equality and inclusiveness of Moses’ teaching in this parasha. The lesson I get is that the Torah is for everyone, and it can be performed by everyone.
Next week is Rosh Hashonah, and the new year is a good time to try new things. If you are not sure what mitzvot and lessons from the Torah you should try, begin with a list you know. Take one of the points of the Scout Law and ask your rabbi or teacher how you can use Judaism to improve your skill in that area.
Want to be more Helpful? Do some additional jobs at home, and you will honor your parents, as instructed by the Fifth Commandment.
Interested in being more Friendly? In Pirke Avot (Sayings of the Fathers) 1:15, the Talmudic Sage Shammai teaches us “Receive every person with a pleasant expression,” so smile and say “hi”.
Looking for another way to be Kind? Invite the new student in school to come on your next campout or hike, and welcome strangers as our Patriarch Abraham did.
Remember, “the matter is very near to you – in your mouth and your heart – to perform it.”
Shabbat shalom, and Shanah Tovah – Happy New Year.
September 19, 2019 – Parsha Ki Tavo
The opening portions of this week’s parasha, Ki Tavo, describe the offering of the Bikurim, when farmers offered the harvest’s first fruits at the Temple, to thank God for providing them food. The person bringing the Bikurim made a confession, to recall how his ancestors were enslaved in Egypt and were redeemed by God, brought to the Land of Israel, “flowing with milk and honey.” Then, when the offering was finished, the Torah tells us “You shall be glad with all the goodness that the Lord, your God, has given you and your household – you and the Levite and the proselyte in your midst.” (Deuteronomy 26:11)
This is a very simple message, one we should keep in mind as we approach the High Holy Days in the next couple of weeks. God wants us to be happy. The way to do this is to observe the mitzvot. What are some of the mitzvot you have learned and how can you observe them? Here are some ideas – I have described a mitzvah and then an example of what you could do to fulfill it. (Challenge – Can you figure out which points of the Scout Law are also fulfilled when do each mitzvah?)
Show kindness to those who need help – Give some of your allowance or earnings to charity.
Care for the environment – Recycle.
Treat people respectfully – Be kind to everyone.
Honor your parents – Do what they ask you happily.
Do not bear a grudge – Make up when you argue with a friend.
Respect those who teach Torah – Listen carefully to your teachers.
Return lost objects – If you find something at school, give it to the teacher or the office so the owner can find it.
Derech Tzofeh, the Path of the Scout, is brought to you by the National Jewish Committee on Scouting. ©2017 Nelson R. Block. Prior Derech Tzofeh are available at the J-Scouts message repository on Yahoo! Groups.