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Shabbat Parashat Devarim 5777

Parashat Hashavua: Tofel

Harav Yosef Carmel

The parasha and sefer start with an introduction to Moshe’s address to Bnei Yisrael, consisting of an apparent list of places: “the other side of the Jordan, in the plain, in the desert, opposite Suf, between Paran and Tofel, and Lavan, and Chatzeirot, and Di Zahav” (Devarim 1:1). The simplest explanation is that of Rabbi Yossi ben Dormaskit, who said that these are not all names of places but are references to events that occurred (Sifrei, Devarim 1). Rabbi Yehuda (ibid.) sees these as rebuke regarding ten improper actions of Bnei Yisrael, including the matters of the spies, the Golden Calf, and the slav.

A Baraita (Avot D’Rabbi Natan 34), taking this basic approach, explains Tofel as a reference to the words of tiflut (inanity) that Bnei Yisrael employed when complaining about the manna. We humbly suggest a different explanation, with a contemporary application, for the expressions, specifically, tofel, without deciding between the opinions above.

Tofel is a major part of the name of David’s advisor, Achitofel Hagiloni. Achitofel was the father or Eliam (Shmuel II, 23:34), who in turn was the father of Bat Sheva (ibid. 11:3). Eliam is also called Amiel (Divrei Hayamim I,3:5). Both versions of the name contain the same two elements, which were made famous by David’s progenitor, Ruth, who said “Amech ami veylokayich elokai” (your nation is my nation, and your G-d is my G-d) (Ruth 1:16). Ruth joined the nation both from a spiritual perspective, by accepting the mitzvot, and from a national perspective. (See Rav Yisraeli’s beautiful presentation of the role of beit din in conversion (Chavot Binyamin 67) – to both ensure the serious acceptance of the mitzvot and to represent the nation, who must decide to accept him or her into the fold.)

Achitofel’s name strongly hints that he was a convert, as the name likely means that he is now a brother (achi), and that he left tofel (i.e., the silliness that surrounds idol worship). There is another hint from Achitofel’s death (after having betrayed David). On the one hand, Achitofel’s father’s name is never mentioned in Tanach, which makes sense for a convert, who is not halachically related to his biological father. On the other hand, after Achitofel committed suicide, he was buried in his father’s burial plot. According to the thesis that he was a convert, this makes sense, as he was not buried in a Jewish cemetery, as he had committed suicide, but with his non-Jewish father.

We now understand that tofel was seen by Chazal as those who say inane things about Hashem (Midrash Aggada, Devarim 1). This can refer to the sin of idol worship, the realm of those of pagan religions from whom converts like Achitofel came. We should make sure to treat our converts like Achi-tofel, our brothers who, baruch Hashem, abandoned tofel, as those who have passed the test of Amech ami veylokayich elokai. May we strengthen ourselves during these nine days, in our own acceptance of mitzvot and our acceptance into our midst of converts. The Torah was so keenly aware how easy it is to mistreat them.
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