These are new gods, so they are okay
The False Prophet’s Miracle
Like Deer and Hinds
“If a prophet or a dreamer arises among you, and he gives you a sign or a wonder” (Devarim 13:2)
The Satmar Rebbe once said, “In the old days, if you said that a Jew did something wrong for the sake of money, it was the worst denigration of him. But nowadays, people use the need for money as a limud zechus to excuse anything. When people join the Zionists in order to get their money, the ‘shelo lishmah’ eventually becomes ‘lishmah’. They eventually fall into the trap of supporting the ideals of Zionism. That is why the Torah, when describing a false prophet, says that ‘he gives you a sign or a wonder’ (Devarim 13:2). Seemingly, it could have said simply that ‘he gives a sign or a wonder.’ But the meaning is that he will give you something that benefits you, in order to induce you to follow him and worship idols!” (Botzina Kadisha pp. 433-434)
“All that I command you, you shall make sure to do; do not add to it and do not subtract from it.” (Devarim 13:1)
The Satmar Rebbe, at his succah tish, once quoted the Zohar as saying that the Satan gave a Yom Tov to the wicked, and said that this refers to the Fifth of Iyar, their independence day. One rav who was present added, “The Ramban says that making up a new Yom Tov is Bal Tosif (adding to the Torah), so whoever says Hallel on that day transgresses Bal Tosif.” The Rebbe retorted: “If someone made an idol and bowed down to it, would it be bal tosif? (Zichronos Fun Heilign Satmarer Rebben, p. 22)
“If your brother, the son of your mother… entices you in secret saying, let us go and serve other gods, which you did not know, you or your fathers.” (Devarim 13:7)
This is the normal manner of those who entice others to worship idols: they do so secretly and deceptively, making the idol look like something else. When the Satmar Rebbe visited the Belzer Rebbe, Rabbi Yissachar Dov, in the town of Holoshitz, the Belzer Rebbe told him that in a certain Mizrachi cultural hall in Warsaw, a portrait of Herzl hung. The Mizrachists decided it was not proper for Herzl to be bareheaded, so they painted a hat on his head. The Belzer Rebbe commented, “I am afraid that the Agudah will one day put a spuddik on him.” This is symbolic of the process of denouncing Zionism while advocating it under a new name that goes on today. People say that the Zionism of Herzl and his colleagues is long gone. They are pretending that Zionism means secularism. But the philosophy that advocates a Jewish state with an army before moshiach is unfortunately alive and well today, and is confusing many religious Jews.
The verse also says, “Let us go and serve other gods, which you did not know, you or your fathers.” What is the point of stressing that these are new gods? The answer is that this is part of the enticer’s deception. He says, “These are not the gods that your fathers knew and forbade.” This is not the Zionism that the gedolim of the previous generation fought against. This is something new; this is a state. This is protecting Jewish lives. If those gedolim were here today they would agree that this is different.
The Torah continues, “From the gods of the peoples that surround you, those who are near to you or those who are far from you, from one end of the earth to the other.” This is another argument of the enticer: everyone believes in Zionism today, from one end of the earth to the other.
On all these arguments the Torah says, “Do not agree to him, do not listen to him, let your eye not pity him, and do not have mercy or cover up for him.”
“See, I place before you today a blessing and a curse. The blessing is if you listen to the commandments of Hashem your G-d, which I command you today. And the curse is if you do not listen to the commandments of Hashem your G-d, and you stray from the path which I command you today, to go after other gods that you have never known.” (Devarim 11:26-28)
The Midrash comments, “See I – see the word Anochi (“I”) with which the Ten Commandments begin.” What does this mean?
The Ohr Hachaim Hakadosh comments on the word “today”, which is repeated so many times in these verses. He explains that it refers back to the promise spoken by Moshe at the end of last week’s parsha, that “any place on which the sole of your foot will tread will be yours”. This promise occurs here for the first time in the Torah. Thus Moshe tells the Jews, “This promise I have given you just today can be a blessing or a curse. If you keep the commandments, it is a blessing, but if not, your ownership of the land will be a curse to you, for the nations’ jealousy will be aroused and they will destroy you from the land with fierce vengeance. And whatever benefit you get from it will come back to haunt you in the World to Come, as the Torah says at the end of Vaeschanan: that Hashem pays sinners up for their few good deeds in this world so that they have nothing left in the World to Come.
This means that if we keep the commandments, and conquer the land in the right circumstances – when Hashem commands us to do so, such as in the time of Moshe and Yehoshua, or in the future when moshiach comes – it will be a blessing. But if we conquer it in the wrong circumstances, it will be a terrible curse for us, and the nations’ jealousy will be aroused against us.
Now, the Gemara (Shabbos 31a) says that one of the questions a person will be asked after his life is, “Did you hope for the redemption?” Rashi comments, “To the words of the prophets.” In other words, a person will be asked whether he hoped for the redemption to come in the way it was foretold by the prophets, or perhaps he hoped for a different kind of redemption. The source for this concept – that one must believe that Hashem and no one else will bring the redemption – is from the First Commandment, “I am Hashem your G-d who took you out of the land of Egypt.” When Hashem spoke these words, He promised that just as He Himself took us out of Egypt, He Himself will take us out of exile.
The Smak also connects the question about hoping for the redemption to the first commandment. He defines the mitzvah of “Anochi” as follows: to believe that the Creator of heaven and earth is alone the ruler of the universe, and everything happens through His will, not through automatic processes such as mazalos. Hashem is the One Who brought us out of Egypt and performed all the wonders, the plagues and the splitting of the sea. No one knocks his finger unless it is ordained from Above. “The steps of a man are prepared by Hashem.” (Tehillim 37:23) And this is the meaning of Chazal’s statement (Shabbos 31a) that when a person dies and comes before the Heavenly Court, he is asked, “Did you hope for the redemption?” Where is this mitzvah written, that a person should be held responsible for it? The answer is that this is all part of the mitzvah “I am Hashem,” for just as we must believe that He took us out of Egypt, we must believe that He will bring the final redemption. If this is to be counted as one of the Ten Commandments, [it must have a practical meaning], and so it must be saying, “Just as I want you to believe in Me, that I took you out of Egypt, so I want you to believe that I am Hashem your G-d and I will eventually gather you in and save you. And so the Torah promises (Devarim 30:3), “And He will return and gather you in from all the nations.” (Sefer Mitzvos Katan, Mitzvah 1)
Accordingly, the Midrash is saying: “See the Anochi of the Ten Commandments and understand that the conquest of Eretz Yisroel can only take place when Hashem commands it and brings it about. Only then will it be a blessing for us.”
To the place which Hashem your G-d will choose to make His name rest there, there you will bring all that I command you. (12:11)
The Torah never mentions Jerusalem by name; it only refers to “the place Hashem your G-d will choose.” Rabbi Chaim ben Betzalel, brother of the Maharal, explains that this is to teach us that all places in the world are suitable for the service of Hashem, and can be called “the place Hashem will choose.” The Gemora says (Kesubos 110b) that anyone who lives outside Eretz Yisroel is as if he has no G-d. This means, writes Rabbi Chaim, only if he makes his permanent dwelling there and has no hope of returning to the Holy Land. Such a person mingles and assimilates with the gentiles, since he plans to live with them permanently. But a Jew who is constantly waiting for the redemption, whose eyes and heart are always on Eretz Yisroel, is definitely not considered like an idol worshipper. And on the contrary, he is considered as if he were standing in the midst of Eretz Yisroel. This is our intent when we face Eretz Yisroel during prayer – that it should be considered as if we were standing there. Any place where such service of Hashem takes place, no matter in what part of the world, is called “the place Hashem will choose.”
Similarly, writes Rabbi Chaim, when Chazal say (Kesubos 111a) that one buried outside Eretz Yisroel will arise at the Revival of the Dead painfully, by rolling through underground tunnels to Eretz Yisroel, they are only speaking about someone who did not love the Holy Land. But those who loved the Land during their lives and waited for the redemption, even in death do not depart from that holiness that was inscribed on the tablet of their hearts. Hashem left us as an insurance Moshe Rabbeinu, the master of prophets, who is buried outside the Land, but loved the Land very much. He Who brings up his bones will bring up as well the bones of all those who hoped to Him and waited for His redemption. (Sefer Hachaim, Section 5, Chapter 1)
If the sign or wonder comes true, promised by the prophet who said, “Let us go after other gods unknown to you and serve them,” you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer, for Hashem your G-d is testing you, to know if you love Hashem your G-d with all your heart and soul. (13:3-4)
The Sforno explains that since the prophecy was clearly false, the miracle must have been performed through the use of witchcraft or some other trick. According to this, the Torah means that “Hashem is testing you” by not preventing the false prophet from using these magical powers.
But the Ramban understands that the miracle was not the work of the prophet but of Hashem himself. In order to test the Jewish people, Hashem shows the prophet a dream foretelling a miracle, which later comes true. A similar explanation is given by the Smag in his preface to the positive commandments: “Since the prophet has no power to change the Torah based on signs and wonders, how then does he have the ability to perform a sign or wonder? The Torah says, ‘For Hashem your G-d is testing you’ – that this sign or wonder was not done with the power of the prophet’s idolatry, but the Holy One, blessed is He, makes this sign to test the Jewish people.”
The Rambam in his letter to Yemen also seems to share their opinion. He addresses the issue of the false messiah who existed at that time in Yemen, who had reportedly performed wondrous miracles and attracted to his following many people and some Torah scholars. The Rambam writes that this false messiah was probably mentally unstable, not purposely deceiving people. According to the Rambam, the miracles cannot have been intentional tricks performed by him, but direct acts of Hashem to test the people.
In Avodah Zarah 55a we find that Rava the son of Rav Yitzchak asked Rav Yehuda: “There is an idol in our town, and when the world needs rain it appears to its worshippers in a dream and commands them to slaughter a man, and then rain will come. They slaughter a man and rain comes.” Rav Yehuda replied that the Torah says in reference to the sun, moon and stars, “Hashem apportioned them to all the peoples under all the heavens” (Devarim 4:19). Rav said that the word “chalak” (apportioned) has a double meaning – it means that Hashem gives them a chance to slip, in accordance with the principle that he who tries to defile himself is given opportunity to do so.
This Gemora explains not only how the miracle happens, but why Hashem makes it: because the idolworshippers made the choice to defile themselves. The Ibn Ezra in his commentary here takes this even further: he explains that Hashem tests the Jews with this miracle “because they left the false prophet alive and did not kill him” as the Torah commands. Even without a positive effort to sin, their failure to take early action against the false prophet is enough to warrant their being punished with a difficult trial.
The Ibn Ezra is speaking about the false prophet in the time when the Jewish courts had the power to execute him. But his words apply to us even today, for we must keep as far as possible from those who induce us to change our principles of emunah, not leaving any impression that we agree with them. When we are silent in the face of their challenge, thus implying consent, and worse yet, if we give them any encouragement or help, we are increasing their power to test our emunah. Hashem then gives them the ability to perform miracles and wonders, leading even more Jews astray. (Vayoel Moshe 1:46)
* * *
Rabbi Elchanan Wasserman records the words of the Chofetz Chaim: “Many G-d-fearing Jews ask: What has Hashem done to us, to give such power to the heretics? But the answer to this question is explicit in the Torah: When a prophet arises in your midst, and he performs a miracle… So it is written openly in the Torah that it is possible for a false prophet who comes to lead us astray and promises as a sign that the sun will stand still tomorrow, that Hashem will give him the power to actually make the sun stand still. Why? For Hashem is testing you. If so, in these final years before Moshiach, regarding which it is written, “I will bring the third part in fire, and refine them like silver, and test them like gold” (Zecharya 13:9) – that there will be refinement after refinement and test after test, it is no wonder that such power is given to false prophets, for Hashem is testing us!”
The Chofetz Chaim added, “The nature of everything is to become as strong as it can possibly be just before its time comes to disappear. Thus a candle flickers brightly just before going out, and the darkest hour is just before dawn. So when the days approach when we will see the fulfillment of the verse, ‘I will cause the unclean spirit to pass from the earth’ (ibid. 13:2) the uncleanness becomes strong with its last remaining power, with such a strength never seen before. We can infer from this that the days of the redemption are soon to come.” (Omer Ani Maasai Lamelech, section 30)
See, I place before you today a blessing and a curse. The blessing is if you listen to the commandments of Hashem your G-d, which I command you today. And the curse is if you do not listen to the commandments of Hashem your G-d, and you stray from the path which I command you today, to go after other gods that you have never known.” (Devarim 11:26-28)
The Ohr Hachaim comments on the word “today”, which is repeated so many times in these verses. He explains that it refers back to the promise spoken by Moshe at the end of last week’s parsha, that “any place whereon the sole of your foot will tread will be yours”. This promise occurs here for the first time in the Torah. Thus Moshe tells the Jews, “This promise I have given you just today can be a blessing or a curse. If you keep the commandments, it is a blessing, but if not, your ownership of the land will be a curse to you, for the nations’ jealousy will be aroused and they will destroy them from the land with fierce vengeance. Furthermore, your enjoyment of the land in this world will be to your detriment in the World to Come, because G-d will being paying up your reward for the few good deeds you did do in this world, so that only punishment is left for the World to Come, as it says (Devarim 7:10), “He pays His enemies to their face, to destroy them.”
But as much as your heart desires you may slaughter and eat meat, in accordance with the blessing of Hashem your G-d, which He has given you in all your gates, the defiled and the clean together, like the gazelle and the deer. (12:15)
Rashi says that this is talking about sacrificial animals that became blemished and were redeemed with a replacement animal. The new animal is brought as a sacrifice instead, and the blemished one may be eaten as plain meat without any special restrictions. It may be eaten in any place, not just in Jerusalem; it may be eaten by a defiled person; and it may be eaten by a clean person even if the meat is defiled. The Torah compares it to the gazelle and the deer, animals from which no sacrifices are ever brought. (Devarim 14:5 lists five other kosher animals that are never used for sacrifices. But the gazelle and the deer are the two most commonly eaten.)
The Torah uses the same comparison in 12:22 when referring to plain meat that was never designated as a sacrifice, and in 15:22 when referring to a firstborn animal that became blemished and is permitted to eat as plain meat.
There is one other place in Scripture where we find the gazelle and the deer mentioned together: “I have adjured you, daughters of Jerusalem, by the gazelles or the deer of the field, not to arouse or awaken the love until it is desired” (Shir Hashirim 2:7 and 3:5). In a third place (8:4) the verse occurs again, but without the words “by the gazelles or the deer of the field.”
The Gemara (Kesubos 111a) explains that the oaths in these verses are the Three Oaths administered to Israel and the nations of the world during exile. Israel is prohibited from conquering the Holy Land and from rebelling against the nations; the nations are prohibited from afflicting Israel too much. The meaning of the “gazelles” and “deer” is that Hashem says to Israel: If you keep the oath, good; but if not, I will permit your flesh like the gazelles and the deer of the field.
It is clear from the Gemara that this punishment only applies to the Jewish people if they break their oaths, not to the nations of the world if they break theirs. This is probably derived from the fact that in only two out of the three verses, the words “by the gazelles or by the deer of the field” appear. What punishment will the nations get if they break their oath? The Midrash (Shir Hashirim Rabbah 2:7) says that Hashem will end the Jewish exile before its time. Then Hashem will come to judge the earth (Tehillim 96:13) and the gentiles will face justice for what they did.
Why is this punishment of “permitting the flesh,” which Rashi explains as “ownerless,” an appropriate one for the Jews if they violate their oaths? Usually Hashem punishes a sinner directly. In particular, regarding one who violates an oath, the Torah says, “Hashem will not exonerate one who takes His name in vain” (Shemos 20:7). Hashem punishes; He does not leave the world as if it were ownerless. And why is the punishment expressed by comparison to the gazelles and deer, of all animals? There are many other animals that are mercilessly hunted or preyed upon.
The Avnei Nezer (Yoreh Deah 454) asks two basic questions on the Three Oaths: 1) An oath only has force when the person himself swears, such as when the Jewish people swore their acceptance of the Torah (Rashi on Devarim 28:69), or at least answers amein, such as the sotah (Bamidbar 5:22) or the oaths at Mt. Gerizim and Mt. Eval (Devarim 27:26). But in this case, if Shlomo Hamelech administered the Three Oaths, he should have gathered the entire Jewish people together to accept them, but we find nothing of the sort. (See Parsha Pearls Ki Savo 5766 for other answers to this question.) 2) What could the nature of the nations’ oath be if they did not even know about it?
He answers that Hashem administered the oath to the guardian angels of each nation. Similarly, He administered the oaths of the Jewish people to their soul roots above. This fits well with the Zohar (Bereishis 242a), which says in reference to Shir Hashirim 5:8 that the words “daughters of Jerusalem” refer to the souls of the righteous. Here too, Hashem made the souls of the Jewish people swear to keep to the terms of exile. This is similar to the oath administered to the soul before it comes into the world, “Be righteous and do not be wicked” (Niddah 30b).
If every person’s soul swears to be righteous before it is born, what was the purpose of the oath the Jews took when they accepted the Torah? The answer is that an oath accepted by the soul is not legally binding. It merely means that the soul is infused with a desire to be good. But a person can ignore his soul and follow the evil inclination. The Jews had to take an oath in this world; otherwise they would not have been punished for not listening to the soul.
If an oath administered to the soul is not legally binding, asks the Avnei Nezer, how can there be a punishment for violating the terms of exile? The answer is that “I will permit your flesh as the gazelles and deer of the field” is not to be understood as a direct punishment, but as a cutting off of Hashem’s protection that comes as a result of the sin. Sometimes even when a person cannot be culpable for what he did, the sin itself distances him from Hashem. We find this in Tikunei Zohar regarding the concept that the Heavenly Court does not judge a person under twenty years of age (Shabbos 89b). Why, then, do people sometimes die under the age of twenty? Because, says the Zohar, “a wicked person’s own sins trap him” (Mishlei 5:22).
Here too, if the Jews violate the terms of exile and conquer Eretz Yisroel or fight against the nations, Hashem will ask their souls why they did it, and the souls will answer, “We tried our best to push the bodies in the right direction, but they did not listen to us.” Then He will call their bodies in for judgement, but the bodies will reply that they never took any oath; only the souls did. Each has a good excuse, but the connection between body and soul has been ruptured, Hashem’s providence and supervision is removed from the body, and the body is left as ownerless as the wild animals that have no soul. The Rambam in Moreh Nevuchim and the Chinuch in Mitzvah 169 write that Hashem’s supervision does not apply to the particulars of each animal but only to the preservation of the species. The same will be the case for a human being who distances himself from his soul.
Of all wild animals, the gazelle and the deer are singled out because they are used elsewhere as the symbols of detachment from holiness. We have seen that in three places, when the Torah wants to teach us that meat is not holy, it says “like the gazelle and the deer.” In two out of those three places, it is discussing meat that was once holy but now its holiness has been removed. Here also, the result of violating the oaths of exile is that one is cut off from his source of holiness and removed from Hashem’s supervision, may Hashem spare us.