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parshat shavua shiurim



parshat shavua divrei torah and parsha summaries from Rabbi David Sedley. Updated several times a week.



Updated: 2016-04-03T01:00:48.751+03:00

 



Parshat Devrarim

2008-08-03T05:35:09.061+03:00

Here is the summary of this week's parsha - Devarim.

You can also find a d'var Torah by me here: http://rabbisedley.com/?q=sed/devarim

and a translation of a section of Tosefet Bracha on the parsha here: http://rabbisedley.com/tos/devarim

Have a great week.

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Summary of Devarim

The book of Devarim (Deuteronomy) contains Moshe's final words to the nation before they enter into the Land of Israel. Most of the book contains a review of the laws that they had already received from G-d until this point. Moshe begins by summarising their sojourns in the desert. He hints to the sins that the Jews had committed throughout their journey, by listing the place names where those sins occurred.

Moshe retells how he was unable to provide for the nation alone, and G-d commanded that he appoint leaders over the people, to provide judgement and leadership on a local level. He reminds the people of the sin of the spies, how they listened to the evil report that the spies brought back when they scouted out the Land of Israel and they refused to trust G-d and enter into it. Only Yehoshua bin Nun and Calev ben Yephuneh remained from that generation to enter into the land, because they remained firm in their faith.

The Israelites had wandered through the desert for another 38 years. Finally they journeyed towards the land of Se'ir, but the children of Esav refused to let them pass through their country. G-d also commanded that the Israelites not wage war on the Moavites, and they had to journey around their country also.

As the Jews approached the Land of Israel, Sichon and Og led out armies to battle against them. With the help of G-d the Israelites defeated them and conquered their lands. The tribes of Reuven and Gad asked to remain on the East side of the Jordan river and claim their inheritance there, where they saw there was good pasture land because they had large flocks and herds of animals. Moshe gave them this land on the condition that they enter with the other tribes into Israel and help them conquer the land before returning home to their families and their inheritance.



Chukat Summary

2008-06-28T22:57:09.293+03:00

For a d'var Torah on the parsha written by me click on the link.For a translation of a section of Tosefet Beracha (by the author of the Torah Temima) click this link.Summary of Parshat ChukatG-d commands the Children of Israel about the laws of the Red Heifer. It must be completely red without any blemish, and never have been placed in a yoke. It shall be slaughtered outside of the sanctuary, and some of its blood sprinkled in the direction of the Sanctuary. It shall then be entirely burnt, and cedar wood, hyssop and crimson thread thrown into the fire. The Kohen who performs this ceremony becomes tamei (ritually impure). The ashes should be gathered and placed outside the camp for safekeeping. The person who gathers the ashes also becomes tamei. Anyone who comes into contact with a corpse becomes Tamei, and must purify themselves by being sprinkled with water containing the ashes of the Red Heifer on the third and seventh day of the purification process. The person who sprinkles the ashes becomes tamei. Anyone who enters the Temple without undergoing this purification process will receive karet (be spiritually cut off). If there is a dead body in a room, any person or thing that is in that room, or enters into it becomes tamei, and requires purification with the ashes of the Red Heifer.In the fortieth year in the desert, in the first month, the Children of Israel arrived at Kadesh in the Wilderness of Zin. Miriam dies and is buried there. There is no water for the people to drink, and they gather against Moshe and Aharon, complaining that they are about to perish. G-d instructs Moshe to take his staff and speak to the rock in the presence of the entire congregation. Moshe and Aharon gather the congregation, but instead of speaking to the rock, Moshe hits it twice. Water comes gushing out, but G-d punishes Moshe and Aharon for disobeying Him. Because they didn't sanctify G-d in the eyes of the nation, they will not be able to bring the Jews into the Land of Israel.Moshe sends emissaries to the king of Edom asking permission to pass through their land. The king of Edom refuses and threatens war against the Jews.The Jews arrive at Mount Hor. G-d instructs Moshe to lead Aharon and Elazar his son up the mountain. Moshe dresses Elazar in Aharon's priestly robes, and Aharon dies there. The entire nation mourns Aharon's death for 30 days. The Canaanite king of Arad wages war against Israel and takes a captive. Israel vows that if G-d will help them to defeat the Canaanites they will consecrate all the spoils of victory to G-d. G-d hears the prayer of the people, and delivers the Canaanites into their hands.The people journey on, and once again complain that they have no substantial food or water. G-d sends serpents to attack the people. and a large multitude die. The people come to Moshe, admit their sin and ask Moshe to pray for them. G-d instructs Moshe to make a serpent and place it on a pole. Anyone who is bitten should look at the serpent and they will live. Moshe makes the serpent (Nachash) out of copper (Nechoshet).The Torah lists the journeys of the Children of Israel.After passing through valley of the river of Arnon the Children of Israel sing a song of thanksgiving to G-d for the miracles which he performed to them there. (The Torah doesn't explain the miracles, but we have a tradition that He miraculously killed the Emorites who were waiting there in ambush for the Jews.)The Jews ask permission to pass through the land of Sichon, king of the Emorites. He refuses and wages war on them. They defeat Sichon and take possession of his land. Israel settles in the land of the Emorites and Moshe sends spies to Yazer. They conquer its suburbs, and drive away the Emorites remaining there. They then turn toward Bashan. Og, the king, comes out to fight them and he and his people are totally destroyed. The Children of Israel take possession of his land. They then journey and encamp on the plains of Moav on the bank of the Jordan opposite Jericho.This blog is from Parshat Shavua. You can also find more[...]



Parshat Korach

2008-06-21T22:43:18.895+03:00

Korach's main complaint against Moshe was that there should not be a single leader for the nation, "For all the congregation are holy." (Bamidbar 16; 3). He was against what he saw as a dictatorial theocracy, and instead claimed to be advocating equality for all. This, however, was only a pretext for his true motivation, which was to become the new leader of the nation. This is why he accepted Moshe's challenge that he and all those who joined his rebellion should bring an incense offering, and let G-d choose who the leader should be. Despite his claims of equality, Korach personified the famous line from ‘Animal Farm’ that "all animals are equal, but some are more equal than others".Not only Korach, but all those who followed him also openly espoused equality, but in reality were aiming for personal political power. This is why the Mishna (Ethics of the Fathers 5; 17) states: "What is an example of an argument that is not for the sake of heaven? The argument of Korach and his congregation." Were his followers supporting Korach, the Mishna should have said the argument of Korach and Moshe. We see from here that there was more fighting between Korach and his followers than between them and Moshe, and this is because they each wanted to be in charge.Maor VaShemesh explains the Talmud (Nedarim 39b) based on this idea. "When Korach confronted Moshe, the sun and the moon went before G-d and said, 'Master of the Universe, if you do justice for the son of Amram (Moshe) we will continue to shine. But if not we will cease to shine'". Maor VaShemesh asks why the sun and moon were particularly involved in this argument? He bases his answer on the Talmud (Chullin 60b) which relates that originally G-d created the sun and the moon both the same size, as the verse states "G-d made the two great luminaries" (Bereishis 1; 16). However the moon complained to G-d that two kings cannot both rule equally. Therefore G-d told the moon to make itself smaller, as the verse continues, "the big light and the small light". We see from here that G-d agreed fundamentally with the moon's claim that there can only be one ruler. Therefore, when Korach tried to claim that everyone was equal, and there was no need for a single ruler, both the sun and moon objected.The Torah contains a story which deals with the inherent risks of having two equal leaders. Cain and Abel were originally the only two sons of Adam and Eve. The Torah states: "And Cain said to Abel his brother" (ibid. 4; 8). The Midrash (Bereishis Rabba 22; 7) explains that Cain's pretext for killing Abel was making a pact with him. Cain was to take the entire earth as his inheritance, and Abel was to have all the chattel. Cain would claim that the ground on which Abel was standing belonged to him, and Abel claimed that Cain's clothes belonged to him. Abel told Cain to remove his clothes, and Cain told Abel to fly in the air. Eventually Cain resolved the argument by killing his brother.Korach hadn't learnt the lesson that it is not possible for two leaders to divide their kingdom. He continued to uphold the argument of Cain that everyone should have equal rights to govern. Therefore Moshe's challenge to Korach was the same as that of Cain and Abel. Just as they brought offerings to G-d, so too Moshe told Korach and his congregation to each bring an offering, and in that manner let G-d decide who should be the rightful leader. Moshe's prayer was "Do not turn to their gift offering", which is clearly a reminder of the earlier verse "G-d turned to Abel and his offering, but to Cain and to his offering He did not turn".Rav Yonasan Eibeschitz in his book Tiferes Yonasan takes this idea to the point where he writes that Korach's soul was actually a reincarnation of the soul of Cain, and Moshe was a reincarnation of Abel. At this point in history the record is set straight, that ultimately righteousness, and serving G-d with a pure heart and good intentions, will triumph over might and egotistical power lust.This blog is from Parshat Shavua. Y[...]



Korach summary

2008-06-21T22:40:36.163+03:00

Korach assembles Datan, Aviram and On, along with 250 other men from the tribe of Reuven, and leads a rebellion against Moshe's leadership of the nation (in fact, On did not fight against Moshe, but withdrew from the fight after discussion with his wife). He claims that everyone heard G-d at Mount Sinai, and therefore everyone is equally able to lead the Israelites. Moshe, in consulatation with G-d, tells the rebels to make incense pans and to prepare incense on them, to see who's offering G-d chooses to accept. He privately summons Korach and tries to dissuade him from leading this revolt. He also summons Datan and Aviram, but they refuse to come to speak to him. G-d tells Moshe to separate the people from the tents of Korach, Datan and Aviram. G-d makes the earth open its mouth and swallow Korach, Datan and Aviram, all their families, and all that belonged to them. A flame descends from heaven and consumes the 250 men who were offering the incense.

G-d commands Moshe to tell Elazar (Aaron's son) to gather up the fire-pans. They are hammered out and made into a covering for the altar. This acts as a reminder to everyone else that only Aharon and his descendants the Cohanim may offer incense before G-d.

The entire assembly of Israel gathers the next day and complains that Moshe and Aharon are killing off the nation. Immediately a plague begins killing the people. Moshe tells Aharon to intercede by offering incense, and thus appease G-d's anger. Aharon stands between the living and the dead, offers the incense and stops the plague.

G-d then instructs Moshe to bring a new proof of Aharon's greatness. Each tribe should bring a staff inscribed with the name of the leader of that tribe. The staff of Levi should have Aharon's name on it. All the staffs are placed in the Mishkan overnight. In the morning when Moshe enters, Aharon's staff has blossomed and brought forth buds, ripening into almonds. Moshe brings out the staffs, and each leader takes his staff. The staff of Aharon was kept as a safekeeping and a reminder to prevent any future claims against Aharon.

G-d reiterates the duties of the Cohanim. They shall perform all of the sacrifices in the Temple. Any non-Kohen who performs these tasks shall die at the hands of heaven. G-d awards a portion from every sacrifice to the Cohanim. They shall also receive a tithe of the first fruits and crops. Every firstborn animal shall be given to the Cohanim. Part of it is offered on the altar and the rest of the meat belongs to the Kohen. The Cohanim will not receive a share in the Land of Israel because G-d alone is their portion.

The Levi'im receive a tithe of ten percent from all produce in return for the service that they perform in the Temple. From this tithe the Levi'im must take ten percent and give that to the Cohanim.



Tosefet Bracha Shelach Lecha

2008-06-14T22:09:31.473+03:00

l'ilui nishmat R' Avraham ben Yona Ya'akov"Send for yourself men” (13; 2)Rashi points out the reason that the story of the spies follows immediately after the story of Miriam (at the end of Beha'alotecha), since they both speak about lashon hara.It is not clear to me why Rashi has to point this out. There are many sections of the Torah that we never ask about the reason for their juxtaposition, so why does Rashi need to say anything here?Perhaps we can say that this juxtaposition requires particular explanation, based on the Talmud in Shabbat (116a) that it is not correct to put two bad topics next to each other. Here we have the tragedy of the spies immediately after the tragedy of Miriam, and this requires explanation. Therefore Rashi explains that they both deal with the same topic of lashon hara."Moshe called Hoshea bin Nun - Yehoshua” (13; 16)We must point out that every time in the Torah and Nach that the word 'ben' appears it has three dots (segol) under the 'bet'. However, every time it says Yehoshua's name there is only one dot (chirik) so that it is read as 'bin'. This is strange. There must be some special reason for this unusual vocalisation.There is only one other time that the word 'bin' is used, and that is in Mishlei (30; 1) “These are the words of Agur, son of (bin) Yakeh...” when the 'bet' also has a chirik. [There is also another time in Parshat Ki Tetzei, Devarim 15; 2, but there it doesn't mean 'son', so perhaps that is why the author doesn't mention it.] The Sages have discussed this in the midrash, and explained it aggadically (metaphorically) in Shemot Rabba Parshat Va'era section 6. However the explanation there has no relevance to the verse here. The Sages appear to say nothing at all about our case. Nor have any of the commentaries discussed it, and this is extremely strange.Perhaps we can explain based on the Talmud (Sanhedrin 107a) and midrashim that say that the 'yud' that was taken from Sarai (after he name was changed to Sarah) complained about being removed from the Torah. It was only consoled when Moshe took it and added it to Hoshea's name to make Yehoshua (by adding a 'yud'). In this way the 'yud' that was removed from Sarai was replaced into the Torah.This Talmud still leaves a difficulty, because even though Moshe found the 'yud' to add to Hoshea's name, where did he find the vowel to go under it? The 'yud' from Sarai had no vowel under it, whereas the 'yud' of Yehoshua has a 'sheva', which is two dots. We know that the number of dots in the Torah is precise and exact, so how could Moshe add two dots to the 'yud'? Therefore he had to remove the two dots from the 'bet' of 'ben' and replaced the 'segol' with a 'chirik'. This left two dots extra which were used for the 'yud'.Even though this explanation is subtle and unusual, nevertheless, because of the uniqueness of the vocalisation of this word you should accept it.[This doesn't explain why he was called Hoshea 'bin' Nun before Moshe added the 'yud' (verse 8) – perhaps the 'segol' was already removed in advance of the name change?]"Moshe called Hoshea bin Nun - Yehoshua” (13; 16)Rashi explains here, based on the midrash, that Moshe's intention in changing his name was to add a 'yud' to the 'heh' so that it would spell G-d's name, and as if to say 'G-d should save you from the advice of the spies' (because Moshe saw in a vision that it was posssible that the spies would sin, and he prayed that it shouldn't happen). We have to explain why Moshe prayed for Yehoshua more than for all the other spies, that he should be saved from speaking lashon hara and saying bad things about the land of Israel.Perhaps we can explain based on the Midrash Rabba in parshat Vayeshev (end of section 86) regarding the nature of people. 'Throw a stick to the ground and it will return to where it came from'. This is an analogy to people who inherit their behaviour patterns from their parents. Like we find in the Midrash Rabba, Parshat Miket[...]



Shelach summary

2008-06-14T22:03:39.934+03:00

G-d gives Moshe permission to send spies to scout the land of Canaan. Moshe sends the twelve most distinguished men, one from each tribe. One of the spies is Hoshea bin Nun, whom Moshe renames Yehoshua. The spy from the tribe of Yehuda is Calev. The spies are instructed to investigate the land, and bring back a report of the strength of its inhabitants and its fertility. When the spies return, ten of them report that the Jews will not be able to conquer the land because its inhabitants are too strong for them. Despite Calev's protestations that they should obey G-d's command to enter the land, national hysteria ensues.

The Children of Israel weep throughout the entire night, they question why G-d brought them out of Egypt, and contemplate returning to captivity there. The nation is about to stone Moshe and Aharon, along with Yehoshua and Calev, when G-d's presence appears in the Ohel Mo'ed. G-d tells Moshe that He wants to destroy the entire nation, and begin anew with Moshe's descendants. Moshe pleads on behalf of the Children of Israel, and G-d agrees to forgive the nation. However, all of the generation who left Egypt will not enter the Land of Israel. Only after they have died will G-d bring their children into Israel. Meanwhile they must spend forty years wandering in the desert. The ten spies who came back with the bad report perish immediately in a plague.

When Moshe tells this decree to the nation they begin to mourn again. They rise early the next morning and attempt to enter the Land of Israel by force, in defiance of G-d's decree, but are severely defeated by the Amalekites and the Canaanites.
G-d instructs Moshe about the libations that must accompany the animal sacrifices. He also instructs the Jews to set aside Challa, a portion from every dough to be given to the Cohanim. G-d instructs the nation about sacrifices they must bring if the entire nation unintentionally worships idols, or if an individual unintentionally commits idolatry. Someone who purposely worships idols will receive the punishment of karet (spiritual excision).

The Jews find a man gathering wood, defiantly breaking Shabbat. They bring him to Moshe, who asks G-d what his punishment should be. G-d explains that he must be put to death by stoning, which the Children of Israel then do.
G-d instructs Moshe to tell the nation to make tzitzit (tassels) on the four corners of all garments. One of the strings should be dyed with techeilet (blue dye derived from a variety of sea snail). The tzitzit will be an eternal reminder of all the commandments.



Parshat Nasso

2008-05-31T22:21:55.046+03:00

Take a census of the sons of Gershon, as well, ..." (verse 22). Many commentators have asked about the seeming redundancy of the words "as well". Rav Moshe Feinstein explains that family of Gershon were charged with carrying the curtains and covers of the Mishkan, the external protective items. This is in contrast to their younger brothers, the family of Kehat, who were responsible for the actual utensils of the Mishkan. The Torah adds in the words "as well" to teach us that though their tasks are different from each other, and one seems more prestigious, both families and their respective functions are equally important.The portion ends with the sacrifices of the twelve princes in the dedication service for the Mishkan. The Torah, which is normally so concise with words, repeats the details of the sacrifices for each tribe, though they are identical. Rabbeinu Bachaya (7; 84) explains that though each offering appears to us to be the same as the others, each of the leaders had totally different intentions in their gift. For example Yehuda, who was the tribe of kings, brought a silver plate, which symbolises the entire world over which Kings David and Solomon would rule. The tribe of Yissachar brought an identical plate, but to symbolise Torah, which was their domain, and which is likened to bread (Proverbs 9; 5). Zevulun, a tribe known for their seafaring trade, brought an identical plate to show their sphere of influence. And similarly for all the other tribes. We see from here that though each tribe had different abilities and skills, and though they were given individual tasks within the nation, they all brought the same sacrifice because they are all equally important.One other main section of this portion is the laws of a Nazir. A person may decide, for various reasons, to take on a higher level of holiness in their lives. In order to do this the Torah forbids a Nazir from drinking wine, cutting his or her hair, and coming into contact with a corpse. The spiritual elevation of becoming a Nazir is incompatible with these activities. However, at the end of the duration of Nazirut (usually thirty days), the Nazir must bring a sin offering to the Temple. On the one hand, the Midrash Bamidbar Rabba 10; 28) says: "Since this person forbids himself from drinking wine and causes anguish to himself in order to keep away from sin [it is as if] G-d says, 'He is considered before me as a Cohen Gadol'". Contrasting this the Talmud (Nedarim 10a) says: "This person has only forbidden himself from wine [etc.] and is called a sinner (because he must bring a sin offering at the end of his time as a Nazir)". Though the Nazir strives for holiness, and in one aspect reaches the level of the high priest, because one's own personal task, which was to partake of the good things that G-d has put in the world, has not been fulfilled, that person is considered a sinner.Following the laws of the Nazir, G-d commands Moshe to instruct the Cohanim with the text of the Priestly Blessing (verses 22-27). The Cohanim are to act as the conduits for G-d's blessing, both in the Temple and in the Synagogue. The ending of the blessings is 'Shalom', 'Peace', as the Sifra says, without peace any other blessings are worthless. The blessings are in the singular, showing that the path to peace is for each individual to play their role in the nation, and in so doing to bring out their own personal strengths. The ideal is not for everybody to be identical, but for everyone to fulfil their own unique potential within the nation.The prerequisite for a person to be able to fulfil their role as part of the Jewish people is to recognise their importance as an individual. Without self-esteem a person will lack the strength and ability to play their part. This is the literal meaning of the name of the Parsha, Naso. In context it means to take a census, but it can also be translated as "elevate the head". Thr[...]



Nasso summary

2008-05-31T22:12:52.197+03:00

Moshe is instructed to take a tally of all the family of Gershon (one of the families of Levites) between the ages of 30 and 50, who are able to work in the Mishkan. Their task in the desert is to carry all of the tapestries and hangings that cover and surround the Mishkan. The males between 30 and 50 of the family of Merari (another Levitical family) are to be counted. Their task in the desert is to carry all of the beams and pillars, along with the pegs and bases with which they fit together.
G-d instructs Moshe to send anyone who is impure out of the inner camp of the Mishkan. The Torah then lists the procedure for the Asham (guilt sacrifice) which is brought for a false oath about a deposit left for safekeeping.

The Torah lists the laws of the Sotah (suspected adulteress). She and her husband who accuses her must come to the Temple bringing a sacrifice. She is to drink specially prepared water. If she has committed adultery she will die within the year, but if she is innocent she will be rewarded by becoming pregnant within the year.

The laws of the Nazir are listed. When a man or woman chooses to become a Nazir they are prohibited to drink any grape products, cut their hair, or to come into contact with the dead. This is for the duration of their Nazirut (usually 30 days). Upon completion of their Nazirut they must shave off all their hair, and offer it on the altar along with a sacrifice.

G-d told Moshe to speak to Aaron and instruct him how to give the Priestly blessing. The Cohanim shall be a conduit through which G-d's blessings will rest upon the people.

When the Mishkan was erected the Princes of each tribe brought sacrifices, one each day for the first twelve days. They also donated the silver and gold containers in which they brought their flour and oil offerings.

From this point onwards, G-d would communicate with Moshe from between the two cherubs on the cover of the Ark of the Covenant.



Bamidbar summary

2008-05-31T22:11:51.372+03:00

The book of Bamidbar opens with a census of all the males over twenty, the age when they are able to serve in the army. The total, excluding the tribe of Levi who were not counted, was 603,550. The Levi'im are placed in charge of carrying the Mishkan (Tabernacle) and all of its fittings throughout the journeys in the desert. G-d designates each tribe's place surrounding the Mishkan in which they will remain during their time in the desert. Yehuda, Yissachar and Zevulun shall be to the East; Reuven, Shimon and Gad are placed in the south; Ephraim, Menashe and Binyamin to the West; and Dan, Asher and Naftali in the North.
The Torah lists Aaron's genealogy. The Levi'im are instructed to safeguard the Mishkan, and to serve the Cohanim. The tribe of Levi is given the honour of looking after the Mishkan in lieu of the firstborn who were originally intended for the position. The Levi'im are subdivided into three family groupings and a census of their numbers taken, from the age of one month upward. Their total number is 22,000. The tally of firstborn males is 22,273. The firstborn are exchanged for Levi'im, and the remaining 273 firstborn have to redeem themselves for five shekels each. This money is given to the Cohanim.
Special instructions and precautions are given to the family of Kehat who are the ones who have to carry the vessels of the Mishkan. First the Cohanim must enter the Mishkan and cover all of the furnishings with special covers; only when they have completed this may the Kahatites come to carry them. Because they are in contact with the most holy parts of the Mishkan, they are most at risk of being killed if they don't perform their task properly.



Behar Summary

2008-05-10T21:25:03.758+03:00

G-d instructs Moshe about the Shemita (Sabbatical year) for the land. For six years we may work the land, but in the seventh we must leave it to lie fallow. Anything that grows during this year may be eaten by anyone who wants it, or is left to the animals. We must also count a cycle of seven Sabbatical years and on the 50th year proclaim a Yovel (Jubilee year). This is also a year of rest for the fields and is a time when all slaves must be set free and all land returned to its original ancestral owners. The selling price of any land must reflect the fact that it will return to the original owners in the Jubilee year. G-d promises that in the sixth year the land will provide enough crops to last for Shemita and in the 48th year, also for the Yovel that follows. No land may be sold in perpetuity.

If a person becomes impoverished and is forced to sell their hereditary land, they or their relatives should redeem it as soon as they are able. The redemption price shall be calculated based on the sale price and the remaining years until the Yovel. Houses in walled cities may only be redeemed up until one year after they have been sold. If they are not redeemed by that time they shall become the permanent property of the purchaser. Houses in Levitical cities may always be redeemed, and if they are not redeemed they revert back to the Levites in the Jubilee year.

We are commanded to help our brethren who become impoverished with interest free loans. If a Jew becomes so impoverished that he is forced to sell himself as a slave, his master must not work him unnecessarily hard. The master must also provide food and accommodation for the slave's wife and children, and must set him free in the Jubilee year. Non-Jewish slaves however become hereditary property and should not be set free.

If a Jew is sold to a non-Jew as a slave he must be redeemed as soon as possible. We are obligated in all of these laws because G-d brought us out of bondage from the land of Egypt. We are commanded not to build idols or altars to false gods.



Parshat Behar

2008-05-10T21:27:47.075+03:00

Behar

This week’s Torah reading contains the commandment of Sh’mita, allowing the land to lie fallow in the seventh year. The Midrash (Yalkut Tehillim 103) says about this mitzvah, “Bless the L-rd, you angels of His, you mighty ones who perform His bidding, hearkening to the voice of His word” (Tehillim 103; 20). Rav Yitzchak Nafcha says that this refers to those who observe the Sh’mita laws. The normal course of the world is for a person to perform a mitzvah for a day, or a week, or even a month; is it possible to keep something for a whole year? Yet these farmers watch their fields become destroyed, and their vineyards ruined, and they remain silent.

A person can refrain from something for a single day, with extra strength of character they can continue for a week or a month, but to remain observant of this law of Sh’mitafor an entire year, slowly watching years of hard work falling into ruin and seeing other people come in and treat the field as ownerless, is almost beyond the capability of a normal person. All of a person’s resolve and determination to observe this law is worn down day by day. Therefore the Midrash refers to such people as “angels, the mighty ones”.

The Talmud (Shabbat 88a) learns out from the same verse in Tehillim the greatness of the Jewish nation as they received the Torah. “At the moment that the Jews said ‘We will do’ before ‘We will understand’ a voice came out of heaven saying ‘Who revealed to My children this secret that the angels use, as the verse says, “… You mighty ones who perform His bidding, hearkening to the voice of His word”. First they obey, and then they understand. This ability to accept G-d’s will unquestioningly, and only afterwards to attempt to understand it, is the secret of the Jews’ strength as a nation. It is the phrase that they used at Mount Sinai, the phrase that the angels use, and it is also the only way that the nation can observe the commandment of Sh’mita. The people don’t ask how they will be able to eat in the seventh year; they first observe the commandment, and then have faith and trust that G-d will provide for them.

We see that this commandment is almost beyond human capability to perform, being in the realm of the angelic. However, in the second of today’s readings the Torah describes a severe punishment for not keeping the mitzvah of Sh’mita. “Then the land will be appeased for its Sh’mitot during all the years of its desolation, while you are the land of your enemies. Then the land will rest, and it will appease for all its Sh’mitot” (Leviticus XXVI; 34). The Talmud derives from here that exile results from Israel’s failure to observe Sh’mita. Because of the seventy Sh’mitot that they had violated prior to and during the First Temple period, the Babylonian exile lasted for seventy years, during which time the land made up for the rest of which it had been deprived.

This shows the tremendous spiritual level of which the Jewish nation is capable of achieving. G-d demands that we achieve the status of angels, otherwise we are severely punished with exile and suffering. Being a nation like all other nations is not an option for the Jews; there is no middle ground. Either we reach almost inhuman spiritual heights, and receive the blessings detailed in Bechokosai, or we fail and incur the punishments and curses listed there.



Parshat Acharei Mos 2

2008-04-13T07:25:59.994+03:00

There is a movie called “Sliding Doors” which shows how differently things could have turned out if the doors on a tube in London had closed a few seconds later. The movie simultaneously shows what the woman’s life could have been like had she arrived home a few minutes earlier, and what happened when she arrived on time. We find a similar concept in the beginning of the Torah reading, which details the order of service in the Temple on Yom Kippur. Two identical goats are taken; they must be the same age, the same size, the same colour, and have the same value. Yet we are given a glimpse of the two totally different outcomes that can happen. One of the goats is offered as a sacrifice on the altar, and is the only sacrifice to have its blood brought into the holy area of the Heichal, the other goat is sent out into the desert, and is pushed off a cliff, being smashed to pieces before it reaches the bottom. The imagery and contrast is striking.

Similarly, two seemingly identical people can end up with such totally different fates, based on which decisions they make in life. Not only two people, but as in “Sliding Doors”, a single person can have two radically different options in life. Sometimes a single decision can change a person’s life from one extreme to the other. This is the message for all those who were in the Temple courtyard on Yom Kippur to witness the service. They could see the importance of repentance, because the stakes were so high; on the one hand entering into the holiest place and a relationship with G-d, and on the other being cast out of the Temple into a barren desert to die.

Yet the way in which this decision is made by the Kohen Gadol seems as random as in the movie, when everything hinges on when the doors on the tube close. The Kohen Gadol reaches into a box with two lots in it, and snatches out two pieces of wood, one saying “To G-d”, the other “To Azazel”. How are we to exercise our free choice, if the decision between eternal life and death hinge on the luck of the draw?

Had the Kohen Gadolbeen the one to decide which of the goats was for G-d, and which for Azazel, we would never have seen that both of these goats had the potential to become holy or the opposite. We would have said that it had already been predetermined that the one on the right would be sacrificed on the altar. However, now that the decision is made through the casting of lots, it appears to us as though G-d has made the decision. Each of the goats had the same abilities and potential. Since animals do not have free choice, they are unable to choose for themselves what their outcome will be. Because G-d chooses through the lottery, He gives us the analogy that we must exercise our free choice to maximise our potential. By seeing what happens to the two goats, we see that there are extreme consequences for our actions.



Parshat Acharei Mos

2008-04-13T07:24:43.076+03:00

There is an inherent contradiction in the way that G-d relates to the world. We describe Him in the “Thirteen attributes” and elsewhere as a G-d of mercy and forgiveness. After the sin of the Golden Calf G-d explained to Moshe the concept and process of repentance and revoking any harsh decree. Yet at the same time we state that G-d is just and truthful, punishing the wicked and rewarding the righteous. Surely these two attributes are in conflict - if G-d is prepared to forgive and overlook punishment, how is that meting out justice or being fair. On the other hand, if G-d were not merciful, the world would stand no chance of survival. From the very creation of mankind we have gone against the Divine will and only survived instant death because of His forgiveness and acceptance of repentance.Atonement and forgiveness are central to this week’s Torah reading, dealing primarily with the laws and service of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Miraculously, through confessing our sins and by slaughtering some sacrifices, we are given a blank slate to begin again. Whatever happened to Divine justice - does each sin not need to be punished before atonement can be given?The answer is that from our perspective, bound by the constraints of time, we cannot conceive of justice which is also forgiveness. G-d, however, is beyond any temporal constraints and perceives all of history as one instant. By introducing the dimension of time we can reconcile the apparent contradiction. Something which appears wrong in the present, can actually turn out to be the catalyst or preparation for the future. If a person resolves to repent and channel their energies back to serving G-d, then all those late nights spent watching television could turn out to be a preparation for all the late nights spent performing Mitzvoth. The mental arithmetic involved in keeping track of the football scores may be the same skills needed to fully grasp a page of Torah. Conversely, instead of punishing a sin severely at the moment it took place, that same justice can be meted out a little at a time, through several minor hardships in order to give that person another chance to make amends. This is also shown in Judaism’s focus on process, the journey through time, rather than on results, which are momentary. The Omer, the days between Pesach and Shavuot are counted not as an end in and of themselves but showing us the importance of the process of spiritual growth. Each day only has meaning in relation to the days that came before it and those that follow.All of this is encapsulated in a single word in this week’s Torah reading. The Kohen Gadol (High Priest) casts lots over two identical goats. One is offered as a sacrifice to G-d, its blood sprinkled opposite the Holy of Holies, while the other symbolically bears all of the sins of the Jewish nation and is lead out into the desert where it is sent over the edge of a cliff and dies. The Torah states “Aaron shall press both his hands on the live goat’s head, and he shall confess on it all the Israelite's sins, rebellious acts and inadvertent misdeeds. When he has thus placed them on the goat’s head he shall send it to the desert with an Ish Iti.” (Vayikra 16; 20-21). Ish Iti is translated (based on Rashi’s commentary) as “a specially prepared man”, but means literally “a man of the moment”. The sending of the goat comes to remind us of the concept of forgiveness and the importance of time. It is taken away by a man who is related in the text to a single moment in time. If we were to look only at the moment, we would have no possibility of repentance or pleading for repentance. We would be as the goat, thrown of the cliff to certain death. Only because of the future are w[...]



Acharei Mos Summary

2008-04-13T06:01:11.630+03:00

After the death of Aharon's two sons, Nadav and Avihu, G-d commands Moshe about the Yom Kippur service that Aharon will have to perform. He shall take one bull as an atonement offering for himself, his wife and all the Cohanim. The Cohen Gadol (High Priest) shall cast lots over two identical goats, one of which is offered as an atonement for the entire Jewish nation, the other symbolically bearing all the sins of the nation is sent into the desert to die by falling over the edge of a cliff. The Cohen Gadol shall enter the Holy of Holies and offer incense there. After slaughtering the bull and the goat, he shall sprinkle their bloods opposite the outer curtain of the Holy of Holies. He shall also place some of the blood on the incense altar. All of these things are performed once a year, on the tenth of Tishrei.
G-d commands the Jews not to sacrifice any animals outside of the Temple or Tabernacle. They are forbidden from sacrificing to any idols or occult spiritual powers.

G-d commands the Jews not to eat the blood from an animal. Additionally, when anyone slaughters any wild animal or bird they must spill some of the blood on the ground and cover it with earth. We may not eat any animal which dies of natural causes. Furthermore, if someone does eat from it, they become ritually impure (a law which only has significance in Temple times).

The Torah lists twenty incestuous or otherwise forbidden sexual relationships and instructs us to remain holy, and not defile ourselves with any of them. Furthermore, the land of Israel itself will not tolerate any of these perversions, and will vomit out any nation which engages in them.



Parshat Metzorah

2008-04-13T05:58:15.088+03:00

In a case of Tzora’at of a house, the owner of the house must come to the Kohen and say “It appears to me as if there is something like a plague in the house” (Vayikra 14; 35). Rashi explains that he must not state definitively that it is Tzora’at even if he is learned and can recognise the discoloration for what it is, because that is the perogative of the Kohen. Furthermore, the Torah tells the Kohen to instruct the owner of the house to empty it of all its contents before he enters to look at the discoloration. This is so that if the discoloration is Tzora’at the contents of the house will not become Tamei. This clearly indicates that the declaration of the Kohen actually renders the house Tamei, and makes the discoloration into Tzora’at. He is not simply diagnosing, but actually creating Tzora’at. To further highlight the Kohen’s role in defining Tzora’at, the Mishna (Negaim chap. 3, mishna 2) states that there are certain people who the Kohen should refuse to see if they have a discoloration on their skin which they think may be Tzora’at. For example, the Kohenmust not inspect a bride or groom before their wedding, but wait until after the first week of marriage in order that they should not have to spend the first week of their married life dwelling apart. In other words, despite all outward appearances to the contrary, a person does not become a Metzora until the Kohen has verbally declared him to be one.Why should G-d choose to create a Tumah (impurity) that is contingent upon another person’s declaration? Does this not make a mockery of the whole thing? Will a Metzora not always seek a “second opinion”? Following on from last week’s d'var Torah, we can explain the reason for the disease being dependent upon the words of the Kohen. We said (based upon the Talmud and other sources) that the main cause of Tzora’at is not physical, but rather as a result of a person speaking lashon hara (slander) about others. Tzora’at is a physical symptom of a spiritual disorder. Therefore it is appropriate that part of the disease should be dependent on the words of another.Lashon Hara is usually not spoken maliciously, but rather because people simply do not pay attention to what the are saying. They don't realise the damage they can cause, and if they are rebuked by others their response is often “It is only words”, or in the words of the children’s rhyme “Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me”. This is a fallacy - words and names can do tremendous damage to others. Only when a possible Metzorah is dependent upon the words that the Kohen says does he or she realise the true importance of what they say, and how far reaching and damaging their speech can be. A person can lose his or her house, or be sent into isolation outside the city limits based on a few simple words. This alone should give them pause for thought, and cause them to think carefully before they speak.The Talmud (Arachin 16b) states :Rabbi Yochanan said in the name of Rabbi Yose ben Zimra, what is the meaning of the verse “What can He give you, and what can He add to you, O deceitful tongue?” (Tehillim 120; 2). G-d said to the tongue “All the limbs are upright, and you are lying horizontally. All the limbs are external, and you are internal, and not only that, but I have surrounded you with two walls, one of bone (teeth) and one of flesh (lips)”. What can He give you and what can He add to you, O deceitful tongue?.Despite the fact that it is caged in, many people are still unable to control their tongue. To make matters worse, most of the time we gain no benefit from the lashon hara which we speak, and yet we p[...]



Metzorah summary

2008-04-06T18:43:58.558+03:00

Metzora is a continuation of the previous portion, Tazriah. It begins with the purification process for a Metzora (one who is afflicted with tzora'as). Once the discoloration has healed from his or her skin, the Metzora undergoes a ritual purification which involves bringing a sacrifice and immersing in a Mikva. After seven days he or she may finally return to his house. The Torah also makes provisions for one who cannot afford the full sacrifice, and prescribes a smaller offering for them to bring.#
The Torah describes a form of tzora'at which is a discoloration on the walls of a house. Such a house must be quarantined. If after seven days the discoloration has spread, then the affected stones must be removed. If the mark returns, the house must be demolished. During this whole process the house is tamei (ritually impure), and anyone entering into it also becomes tamei.
The Torah describes a type of male genital discharge called Zav. This renders him, or anything that he sits or lies on, tamei. Any person or utensil that he touches also becomes tamei. Once the discharge has ceased, he must count seven clean days. On the eighth day he immerses in a Mikva to purify himself, and brings a purification sacrifice.

When a man has a seminal discharge, or a woman discharges semen after intercourse, he or she becomes tamei. They must immerse in a Mikva and become tahor (ritually pure) after nightfall.

When a woman menstruates she becomes tamei, and also renders anything which she sits or lies on tamei. She must wait seven days, immerse herself in a Mikva, thus becoming tahor at nightfall. If a man has intercourse with her before she has become tahor, he also becomes tamei and makes anything he sits or lies on tamei.

If a woman has a discharge when it is not time for her menstrual period, she must count seven clean days without any discharge before she can become tahor. During this time she also renders anything which she sits or lies on tamei. On the eighth day she must immerse in a Mikva to become pure, and then brings a sacrifice.



Parshat Tazria 1

2008-03-31T05:34:37.194+03:00

Click on the link for a fantastic dvar Torah that I translated from Pri Tzadik TazriaHere is a dvar Torah I wrote a few years ago (and in that year Tazria fell out after Pesach)Last week's Torah reading ended with the laws of ritual purity and impurity caused by animals. This week continues with the laws about human purity and impurity. The Midrash notes that the order is the same as that of creation, where humans came after other life already existed:"You [G-d] have created me after and before, and have laid Your hand upon me." (Tehillim 139; 4). Reish Lakish said, "After" refers to the last day of creation, "Before" refers to the first day. [where the verse hints to the human soul with the words], "The spirit of the L-rd hovered over the face of the water". If a person merits they say to them, 'You were created before everything else in existence', but if not they say to them, 'A mosquito was created before you'. Rabbi Simlai said, 'Just as humans were created after animals and birds, so too the laws [of purity] of people follow those of animals and birds'.Reish Lakish's cryptic statement can be understood by recognising that a person is made up of two opposites, a spiritual soul and a physical body. These two are in constant conflict, each pursuing its own desires. The soul yearns for the spiritual delights of drawing close to G-d through performing mitzvot and studying Torah. The body wants physical pleasures, chasing after money, food and physical comforts. In certain areas of our lives the soul has control, in others the body. The point of intersection between the two is where we have free choice to follow either path.Reish Lakish explains that though the physical body was not created until the end of the sixth day of creation, the soul was present from the first. Therefore if a person follows their spiritual urges seeking to draw closer to G-d, they are defined by their soul and to them it may be said, 'You were created before anything else...'. However, if a person's decisions are made by the body and its physical desires, the soul is less discernible, and therefore they are reminded that their body was created after even the insects.The higher the spiritual potential of something, the greater is the risk of spiritual impurity. Minerals have no soul, and therefore do not impart impurity. The vegetable kingdom has a lowly form of soul, which allows growth and movement. Animals have a higher soul, which permits thought and instinct. Humans have the highest level of soul, which is described in Jewish literature as the level of speech.The source of impurity is the body, which leads the soul away from G-d. A newborn baby is full of potential, but this is only realised over time as it is governed less by bodily urges and needs. Therefore birth, which is the completion of the physical body imparts impurity.It is appropriate that we read this portion so soon after Pesach, the time of the birth of the nation. Similarly the counting of the Omer, of which we are in the midst, ties in with the concept of 'Before' and 'After'. The Jews in Egypt had reached the lowest level of spiritual impurity, to the point that had they remained there even a moment longer they would have lost their spirituality completely, and thus been unable to leave. Yet after counting seven weeks they had reached the level of spiritual perfection where they could experience the revelation of G-d at Mount Sinai. In a sense this self-perfection is the inverse of G-d's creation. G-d first created the soul, and then placed it within the body which draws it away from its true purpose. The Israelite nation elevated their physical [...]



Parshat Tazria 2

2008-03-31T05:28:42.886+03:00

The main topic of this week’s Torah reading is tzara’at, which is often mistranslated as leprosy. The belief that leprosy is a biblical Divine punishment has become so widespread that I was once speaking to a group of nurses, and was asked if Judaism allows treatment of lepers, or if we must leave it as a sign of G-d’s will. A careful reading of the text clearly shows that the plague of tzara’athas no connection with leprosy. Firstly, though the Torah does mention a case of a person who is completely covered from head to toe with tzara’at (who is actually considered tahor - ritually pure), the more common case of tzara’at is limited to a small patch of skin or hair. Furthermore, after describing tzara’at which may afflict a person, the Torah goes on to describe tzara’at of clothing, and tzara’at which affects buildings. No one has yet diagnosed a case of leprosy of a house. Finally the Torah explicitly gives permission, and in fact mandates going to a doctor and searching for a cure for an illness, in the cases of tzara’at mentioned in the Torah portion, the afflicted person must go to a Kohen for diagnoses and for treatment.The only common feature of leprosy and tzara’at is that the Torah commands one who is afflicted with tzara’at to be exiled alone outside the town in which he or she lives. This is similar to the quarantine of lepers which existed in earlier times, and even today in some parts of the world. But the reason for the isolation in the case of tzara’at is not because of fear of the disease spreading.As the physical world reflects the spiritual world. Tzara’at is a physical expression of a spiritual malady. This is the reason that the healing process must be through a Kohen not a doctor, and why it involves immersing in a Mikva and bringing a sacrifice.The disease of tzara’at is not contagious, but the sin which causes it is. The main cause of tzara’at is speaking lashon hara about another person. Lashon Harais often translated as slander. In fact it is the sin of embarrassing someone else by publicising certain information about them that they would not wish for others to know, even if that information is 100% true. This is one of the most serious crimes mentioned in the Torah, comparable to the crime of murder or idol worship. It destroys society and can cause untold suffering and loss, both financial and in terms of status.Someone who has caused this much damage to society must be made to realise the consequences of his or her actions. In biblical times a person was given gradual warnings, signs giving them a chance to improve their behaviour. First their house was afflicted with leprosy. If this did not motivate them to change their ways their clothing was affected. If they still were unable to learn their lesson they themselves contracted tzara’at. The Torah commands that someone who has this tzara’at must dwell alone outside the camp. This is a punishment which is appropriate to the crime. This person had caused a breakdown in society, therefore they were temporarily removed from society and forced to dwell alone. They were given a week to think about their actions and to repent, and if that failed they were given a second week, until they repented from their lifestyle of lashon hara.Why do we no longer have this disease nowadays? Surely we are no better than the Jews of former times who were punished with tzara’at? The answer is that if only one or two people are speaking lashon hara, they can be effectively punished, and given a chance to think about the damage they have caused. When the whole of Western so[...]



Tazria Summary

2008-03-30T01:48:37.676+03:00

After discussing the laws of tumah (ritual impurity) regarding animals, the Torah now discusses tumah concerning humans. It starts with the laws of a woman who has given birth, and moves on to the laws of leprosy.

A person who has a mark which is suspected of having tzora'at (often mistranslated as leprosy) is brought before a Cohen (priest). He determines whether it is tzora'at and declares it tamei (impure). The different possibilities of tumah and tahara (ritual purity) are explained. Various laws are given for tzora’at of an infection or a burn. Other types of tzora’at are listed, for instance bald patches on the head or beard, white patches on the body. Someone afflicted with tzora’at must leave their home and dwell outside the camp or city until the tzora’at goes.

A garment on which appears a red or green mark is also suspected of tzora’at and must be brought before the Cohen. The procedure for determining the garment’s status is explained.



Shmini Summary

2008-03-22T20:45:04.592+02:00

This portion begins on the eighth day of preparing the Tabernacle. Aharon offers a Chatat (sin offering) and an Olah (burnt offering) and the Israelites offer a Chatat, an Olah and a Shelamim (peace offering). These are prepared by Aharon, together with a Mincha (grain offering), after which he blesses the people. Moshe and Aharon go into the Communion Tent and come out and again bless the people.

The Children of Israel are then shown G-d's glory. Fire descends from heaven and consumes all of the sacrifices on the altar. Aharon's sons, Nadav and Avihu, bring an unauthorised sacrifice, and a fire descends from G-d and kills them. Aaron and his sons, Elazar and Ithamar, are instructed not to mourn because they are Cohanim (Priests). Instead, the whole congregation mourns for Aharon's sons. The Cohanim are instructed never to enter the Ohel Moed (Tent of Meeting) intoxicated. Then they complete the inauguration service.

The portion continues with the kashrut (dietary) laws. Only animals that have split hooves and chew their cud may be eaten. Four animals are listed that only have one of these signs, the camel, the hyrax, the hare and the pig. Of the creatures that live in water, only those with fins and scales may be eaten. Birds that may not be eaten are listed; all other fowl may be eaten. Flying insects that walk on four legs may not be eaten, unless they have knees which extend above their feet that are used for hopping. Certain types of locust which fall into this category are listed.

Contact with the carcass of a non-Kosher animal renders a person tamei (ritually impure). Carrying the carcass also renders one's clothing tamei. There are eight small creeping animals (sheratzim) which make anyone who comes into contact with their carcasses tamei. The Torah gives some of the laws of tumah for utensils and foods which come into contact with a tamei object. Contact with the carcass of a kosher animal makes a person tamei. Eating from its carcass or carrying it also contaminates one's clothing. Any creature which crawls close to the ground, whether on its belly, four legs or many legs, may not be eaten.



Parshas Shmini

2008-03-22T20:47:15.866+02:00

The opening events in the portion take place on the eighth and final day of the setting up of the Mishkan (Tabernacle), hence the name of the portion, Shemini (Eighth). The Mishkan resembled a giant tent, comprised of many parts that were fitted together, and it was designed to be assembled and taken apart for each of the journeys through the desert. As part of the inauguration process, Moshe was instructed by G-d to set up the Mishkan each morning for seven days, and dismantle it again each evening. The eighth and final day, when the Mishkan was finally erected and not dismantled, is the eighth day of our portion.Elsewhere in the Torah however, the date given for the inaugural day of the Mishkan is the first of Nissan. The Midrash states that the first of Nissan of that year was ‘crowned’ with ten ‘firsts’. Why is this day of ‘firsts’ described to us now as the eighth day rather than the first day? And why did G-d require Moshe to spend the seven preceding days assembling and dismantling the Mishkan? Surely setting it up once should have been sufficient.In fact, Rabbeinu Bachaya points out that the number eight was a dominant theme in the Mishkan and its utensils. The High Priest wore eight garments when performing the services, there were eight spices in the anointing oil and incense, and there were a total of eight carrying poles (two each in the Aron, the golden altar, the table and the earthen altar). The minimum age for an animal that could be sacrificed was eight days, and the Levites had eight different musical instruments to accompany the sacrifices. What does the number eight represent? In the song that we sing at the conclusion of the Pesach Seder we state that eight are the days before the Brit (circumcision). This means that the deeper meaning of eight is contained within the concept of circumcision.The commandment of circumcision was given by G-d to Avraham at the time that his name was changed from Avram (Genesis 17). The change of name signified that only now had he reached his full spiritual potential. It was also at this time that G-d told Avraham that he would have a son, Yitzchak, who would continue in his traditions of monotheism. Thus with the act of circumcision Avraham became spiritually complete. Before Avraham was circumcised he was unable to stand in the presence of G-d (Rashi ibid. 17; 3).There is a blessing which women recite every morning, which men are unable to say. They thank G-d “She’Asani Kirtzono” who has created me according to His will. Men are formed spiritually imperfect, and only through circumcision do they conform to the Divine will.The number seven always represents the natural, physical world. There were seven days of creation, and seven days in a week. There are seven colours in the spectrum, and seven notes in an octave. Seven symbolises the totality of the physical. There are also seven continents and seven heavens. Eight is the number of spiritual perfection. It denotes mastery not only over the physical realms, but also over the spiritual domain.It is now clear why G-d commanded Moshe to set up the Mishkan for seven days, and only consecrate it on the eighth day. This was to show the world that its function was to complete the universe spiritually, and perfect the material world.This blog is from Parshat Shavua. You can also find more divrei Torah and archives on my website: rabbisedley.com.[...]



Parshas Tzav 2

2008-03-22T19:35:57.691+02:00

The second verse of our Torah portion states: “Command Aharon and his sons … It is the elevation offering that stays on the flame, on the altar....” In the Torah scroll the Hebrew word for flame, Mokda is written with a small letter mem in the beginning. Why is this letter smaller than the others? The first task of the day in the Temple was to remove a shovelful of ashes from the altar and place them at the side of the ramp at the base of the altar (verse 3). Miraculously these ashes would be absorbed into the ground. This was not in order to keep the altar clean, or to prevent a build up of ashes, because the next verse states a separate command to remove the excess ashes outside the confines of the Temple, and to place them in an ash heap there. What purpose is served in symbolically removing the ashes each morning, and why was it necessary for a daily miracle to absorb them into the ground? Furthermore, why is Aharon mentioned at the beginning of this portion (“Speak to Aharon and his sons...”)? Surely such a menial task as cleaning out the altar from its ashes would be better given to a younger Cohen, and should not be the domain of the High Priest.One of the main Yeshivot in pre-war Europe was in Kelm. It was famed not only for the level of scholarship and Torah study, but also for its character training, and emphasis on mussar. Rav Eliyahu Dessler, founder of Gateshead Yeshiva, studied there as a young boy. He writes that in the Yeshiva, menial tasks such as cleaning the floor or cleaning and lighting the lamps were never entrusted to servants; they were considered privileges, to be apportioned amongst the better students according to merit. Rabbi Dessler related that when he first came to Kelm he was considered too young to be given the much coveted task of sweeping the Yeshiva floor. His task was to go once a week to the post office to buy postage stamps for the whole Yeshiva. This philosophy that the menial tasks should be given to the betterstudents derives from our portion, that Aharon should be the one to clean out the burnt ashes from the altar.Traditionally the world is composed of four elements, water, wind, fire and earth. The Vilna Gaon (Even Shleima 1;1) explains that these four also represent the four main character defects in a person. Water represents physical desires, wind is speech, fire is anger and pride, and earth is laziness. Just as fire always strives upwards, so too pride will cause a person to continually strive to elevate themselves, until they finally topple over. Fire also consumes every flammable thing in its path. Similarly a conceited person will tread on anyone beneath them in order to climb higher on the ladder. However, the gains made in such a fashion are illusory. The Talmud (Eruvin 13b) states, “Anyone who chases after greatness, greatness flees from him.”Unfortunately, the greater a person is, the greater the temptation to become proud, and conceited. With the other three defects, a person can improve themselves by striving for perfection. However with pride, this is the cause of the sin, not the solution. Therefore a person in an important position needs to take drastic measures to prevent themselves falling into the trap of pride. The Talmud (Sanhedrin 7b) relates that when Rav would se a crowd escorting him to the court where he judged, he would recite the following verse to himself “Though his excellency shall mount up to the heavens, and his head reach the clouds, yet he shall perish for ever l[...]



Parshas Tzav

2008-03-22T19:35:22.946+02:00

Though they both speak about korbanot, sacrifices, there is a sharp distinction between last week’s Torah reading, Vayikra, and this week’s Tzav. Rashi explains that the word Vayikra is a term of endearment, as evidenced by the fact that the angels use it when they begin their praises of G-d, as it says “Vayikra Ze El Ze”, “They called one to another” (Yishayah 6: 3. We also recite the phrase daily in the Kedushaprayer, imitating the angels’ praise of G-d). On the other hand, “Tzav” means “command”, and carries with it connotations of inducing and encouraging someone to perform an action that they are not keen to do.The portion of Vayikra contains instructions to the Jewish people as to how to bring the sacrifices. The Hebrew word “Korban” is closely related to the word “Kiruv”, “closeness”. This is because the purpose of any sacrifice is to draw close to G-d. The two main types of sacrifice are those which are brought to attain atonement for an inadvertent sin, and a voluntary offering thanking and recognising the good that G-d has performed for us. Both of these bring us closer to G-d. Atonement breaks down the barriers of sin with which we have surrounded ourselves, strengthening our relationship with our Creator. Voluntary offerings are our way of showing our total dependence upon G-d, and that He is the source of all our success and prosperity. Rav Dessler explains that the way to foster love towards someone is to give to them. The classic proof of this is our children. When they are born they are total takers, incapable of returning even a smile by way of thanks. But this enables the parents to give totally to their children, and thus foster a close bond of love. Stories of children separated from their parents show that the relationship is weakened if the parents have not had the opportunity to give and to look after their children. Similarly, G-d in His mercy commanded us to bring sacrifices to Him. Though by definition He lacks nothing, through the sacrifices He gave us an opportunity to ‘give’ to Him as a means of fostering love and closeness.Therefore G-d calls to Moshe, and instructs him to tell the people about sacrifices using a term of endearment. The concept and purpose of sacrifices can only be achieved through a desire to draw close and express affection.The portion of Tzav however contains primarily instructions for the Cohanim as to how they should perform the sacrifices. They do not gain personally from offering the sacrifices. In fact they lose their own identity. The Talmud explains that Cohanim perform a dual function, they are emissaries of G-d when they bless the people, and they are messengers of the people when they offer the sacrifices. They are merely performing actions on behalf of others, but do not benefit personally from the sacrifices which they offer.Therefore G-d instructs Moshe to “command” them about the sacrifices. Rashi adds, “Rabbi Shimon says, the Torah especially needs words of encouragement where there is a monetary loss involved”. At first glance this seems backwards; the Cohanim are not losing out financially by offering the sacrifices. It would have seemed more appropriate to place this command at the beginning of Vayikra before commanding the people to spend their money buying animals for sacrifices. But having looked deeper, we can see that any amount of money is worth paying in order to bring a sacrifice. Who can put a price on drawing[...]



Tzav Summary

2008-03-15T21:21:50.677+02:00

G-d instructs the Cohanim (priests), through Moshe, the laws concerning the sacrifices. They are commanded to remove the ashes each morning from those sacrifices that were left burning over night. They are also instructed to ensure that a fire is continually burning on the altar. They are told how to offer the flour offerings that are brought by the nation. They are also told what sacrifice a Cohen is to bring on the day he is appointed as Priest. That same flour offering is brought daily by the High Priest.

Explicit instructions are given for the procedures for sacrificing the sin offerings (Chataot), the guilt offerings (Ashamim) and the peace offerings (Shelamim)
The people of Israel are commanded not to eat the cheilev (certain pieces of fat) or blood from any animal. The Torah commands that certain pieces of the meat from the Shelamim are given to the Cohanim to eat.

The portion ends with the anointing of Aaron and his sons as Cohanim. Moshe acts as High Priest during their initiation ceremony. He must dress the Cohanim, anoint them, and offer sacrifices on their behalf. The Cohanim are instructed to stay in the Ohel Moed (Communion Tent) for seven days to complete their inauguration.



Parshas Vayikra 2

2008-03-12T07:33:00.068+02:00

This week we begin a new book of the Chumash, Vayikra. The book is predominantly about the sacrificial rites of the Temple and Tabernacle so the English name seems more appropriate than the Hebrew. Leviticus indicates that the book deals with the work of the Levites (priests). How is the Hebrew name of Vayikra apt for this section?The book begins, “He called (Vayikra) to Moshe, and G-d spoke to him from the tent of meeting, saying...”. Rashi’s opening comment on this portion is: Each time G-d spoke to Moshe, told him something, or commanded him, He first called to him. This is a word denoting love and closeness, as we find with the ministering angels, “They call one to another...” (Yishaya 6; 3). However, when G-d speaks to non-Jewish prophets He appears to them ‘incidentally’, as the Torah states, “The L-rd happened (Vayikar) upon Bilam”.Since G-d called first to Moshe before every prophecy, why did Rashi not make this comment until now? And what difference does it make if G-d calls first before speaking to a prophet, or just appears to them? We would have expected the message of the prophecy to be important, but not necessarily whether G-d first gives the prophet a warning or not. Ohr Gedaliyahu (Vayikra) explains that when G-d called to Moshe it was as if He was saying ‘Prepare yourself to come near to Me’. This is what Rashi means by calling Vayikra a term of closeness, that it gave Moshe an opportunity to prepare himself and draw near to G-d. The Midrash (Rabba, Devarim Ki Tavo 7-9) finds a hint to this from the way G-d gave the Torah to Moshe. The verse states “G-d called to Moshe to the top of the mountain - and Moshe elevated himself” (Exodus 19; 20). In a similar vein, when a man comes up to read from the Torah, he must first be ‘called up’.We see therefore that through calling G-d gives a person an opportunity to prepare themselves to come close to G-d. In this way the Torah that they will receive will not be merely tangential to them, but they will be able to absorb it, to make it part of themselves. This is the opposite of what happened with Bilam. G-d came to him ‘incidentally’, without calling to him first. Though Bilam received a message through prophecy, we see that this fact had no effect on Bilam’s personal conduct. He still remained greedy, cunning, and steadfast in his hatred of the Jews.The main topic of Vayikra is sacrifices. The Hebrew word for sacrifice is Korban, which comes from the root Karov, meaning closeness. Though the whole concept of sacrifices, and the mechanism through which it works seems very strange and foreign to us now, we can accept the principle that bringing an animal to the Temple is a symbol of giving something to G-d. Particularly nowadays, that prayer has replaced sacrifices, we understand that this gives us a chance to give of ourselves to G-d, and through this draw close to Him.We believe that G-d lacks nothing, and since He created us we would not have expected that there is anything that we could possibly give to him. However, Rabbi Dessler (Michtav Me’Eliyahu - Kuntrus HaChessed) writes that the only way to truly come to love someone is through giving to them (which is perhaps the opposite of the way we normally view things). If we were not given any opportunity to give to G-d we would also not be able to come to love Him. Therefore in His kindness He commanded us to bring certain sacrific[...]