Vaeschanan 5778

Prevented from performing a mitzvah[1]

ואתחנן אל-יקוק בעת ההיא…ויאמר יקוק אלי רב-לך אל-תוסף דבר אלי עוד בדבר הזה
I pleaded to Hashem at that time…Hashem said to me: “There’s a lot for you. Don’t continue to speak to Me about this matter any more”[2]

Moshe, shortly before his death, explained to the people why their leader would not take them into the land of Israel. Instead, his successor Yehoshua would take charge. Moshe was punished for his prior transgression[3] with dying before ever entering the land. He couldn’t take this quietly, and repeatedly prayed to Hashem to forgive him; to allow him to at least enter the land. Finally, Hashem responded with the phrase: “רב לך! There’s a lot for you! Don’t continue praying for this, as you will not enter.” Chazal pick up[4] on this unusual expression “רב לך”, and note that Moshe used this exact same phrase to Korach and his band of rebels. He said “רב לכם בני לוי, There’s a lot for you, Levites”[5]. In addition to noting this similarity, Chazal say ברב בישר ברב בישרוהו, because Moshe said רב לכם to Korach, Hashem said to him רב לך. This sounds like some sort of punishment. Chazal say[6] similarly about Yehudah, who said: “הכר נא, Identify this” to his father Yaakov, trying to trick him into thinking his son Yosef was killed. Yehudah subsequently had his daughter-in-law say to him: “הכא נא, Identify this”. In that context, it’s clear that Yehudah committed a sin by saying this to his father[7]. However, what was Moshe’s transgression? Korach and his band were trying to usurp Moshe’s Divinely given authority. Moshe had every right to rebuke them. Why was he subsequently punished with Hashem telling him: “רב לך, you will not enter the land of Israel”[8]?

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Devarim 5778

The necessity of unity[1]

לא תוסיפו הביא מנחת-שוא קטרת תועבה היא לי וגו’‏
sDo not continue to bring worthless Mincha offerings; incense offerings are abominable to me…[2]

Parshas Devarim always occurs on Shabbos Chazon, the shabbos before Tisha B’Av[3]. This shabbos got its title from the first word of its haftarah: the chazon, or vision, of Yeshayahu (Isaiah). The theme of this time of year is reflecting on the twice destroyed Temple and its subsequent exiles, as well as their underlying causes. Yeshayahu prophesied during the period leading up to the first exile. His mission was to try to inspire the people to change their ways. But alas, the people didn’t listen. They went about their daily routine, while committing heinous crimes on the side. Chazal say[4] that the first exile was due to idol worship, murder, and illicit relations. Despite these horrific sins, the Jews continued to bring Temple offerings. While they were in fact fulfilling a mitzvah by bringing them, the Temple service is meant to bring the people close to Hashem. By committing these horrible crimes, considered the worst possible[5], they in fact distanced themselves from their Creator. As such, this week’s haftarah describes Yeshayahu’s rebuke of the people. Their G-d was no longer interested in their offerings. Their hypocrisy had made their offerings despised. But why did Yeshayahu specifically single out the Mincha and incense offerings, as opposed to any other part of the Temple service?

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Mattos Masei 5778

Concern for the other’s honor[1]

וידבר יקוק אל-משה לאמר: נקם נקמת בני ישראל מאת המדנים וגו’ וידבר משה אל-העם לאמר וגו’ לתת נקמת-יקוק במדין
Hashem said to Moshe, saying: “Avenge the vengeance of the Children of Israel from the Midianites…” Moshe said to the people, saying: “…to give[2] the vengeance of Hashem upon Midian”[3]

Two parshiyos ago[4], the Midianites enacted a wicked plot against the Jews. In order to undermine their relationship with Hashem and their mitzvah observance, the Midianite women seduced the Jewish men to commit immoral relations. Just as the men’s urges got the better of them, the Midianite women introduced one condition: they must first perform idol worship[5]. This way they would be guilty of two cardinal sins. As a result of this successful scheme, a plague broke out amongst the Jews. By the time the mayhem ended, 24,000 people had died. This week’s parsha picks up after the conclusion of that story, with Hashem ordering Moshe to take revenge on the Midianites. Hashem specifically says to avenge the slight against the Children of Israel. However, when Moshe relayed this command to the people, he stressed that the Midianites committed a slight against Hashem. Which one was it?

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The Three Weeks 5778

The King’s chain[1]

ושב יקוק אלקיך את-שבותך ורחמך ושב וקבצך מכל-העמים אשר הפיצך יקוק אלקיך שמה
Hashem will return with your captives and will have mercy on you. He will return and gather you in from all the nations from which Hashem your G-d scattered you to[2]

The Rabbis teach us[3] that Hashem attached His name to our nation’s name of Yisroel[4]. The last two letters of ישראל are “El”, which means G-d. What was the purpose of this? It’s similar to a King, who has a key to a small palace[5]. The King realized that if the key remained as it was, it would surely become lost. He therefore attached a chain to it, such that if it got lost, it would easily be recovered[6]. So too Hashem, who said that if He left the Jews as they were, they would surely become lost among the nations. He therefore attached His name to theirs. This teaches that this world is really the palace of the King[7], and the Jews are the key to that palace. If there were no Jews, it would be as if the palace was sealed off[8]. If the palace was closed, it would no longer serve any purpose. It couldn’t even be referred to as a house, as it would have no entrance. So too if there were no Jews, the world would serve no purpose.

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Pinchas 5778

A lasting festival[1]

ביום השמיני עצרת תהיה לכם
The eighth day will be an atzeres for you[2]

The end of this week’s parsha lists[3] the offerings that are brought on the various festivals throughout the year. The holiday on the eighth day of Sukkos is called Shemini Atzeres, based on the verse describing the holiday as an “atzeres”. What does this term mean? Rashi says[4] that it means to refrain, indicating that we should refrain from creative work on this festival. The verse is teaching a positive commandment[5]. However, we see elsewhere that the word shabbason is used[6] as a positive injunction to refrain from creative activity. If so, why does the Torah change the word it normally uses, and describes this mitzvah as atzeres? Also, if atzeres merely means to refrain from creative activity, this description would also fit the first day of Sukkos, not only the last. It too prohibits these activities. We also see the last day of Pesach is called atzeres[7], but not the first. Why is this so[8]?

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