Terumah 5780

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Confusing orders[1]

וזאת התרומה אשר תקחו מאתם זהב וכסף ונחשת: ועשו לי מקדש ושכנתי בתוכם: ועשו ארון עצי שטים וגו’‏
This is the contribution that you shall take from them: gold, silver, and copper. Make for Me a sanctuary, such that I will dwell amongst them. Make an Ark of acacia wood…[2]

After reading the Torah’s delineation of all the various parts of the portable Temple known as the Mishkan, we notice something strange. The Torah first lists all the vessels that are part of the Mishkan, detailing all of their dimensions and materials. Then, the Torah describes how to construct the Mishkan itself, with all its hooks and the tapestries that are used as partitions. Why did the Torah list them this way? Describing the structure of the Mishkan, and only then the vessels, would seem to be more logical. Usually one builds a house before you figure out the furniture.

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Mishpatim / Shekalim 5780

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The merciful Judge[1]

ואלה המשפטים אשר תשים לפניהם
These are the laws that you shall place before them[2]

This week’s parsha contains many different types of laws, ranging from monetary to ritual. The monetary laws are primarily directed towards the Jewish judges, known as dayanim. These dayanim are to follow the Torah’s rules and considerations in order to rule properly. Chazal teach us[3] that any dayan that judges a case properly and rules correctly becomes a partner in creation. What exactly is this referring to? How it is possible to be a partner with Hashem, so-to-speak?

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Yisro 5780

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The Fourteen Commandments[1]

לא-יהיה לך אלהים אחרים על פני: לא-תעשה לך פסל וכל-תמונה אשר בשמים ממעל ואשר בארץ מתחת ואשר במים מתחת לארץ: לא-תשתחוה להם ולא תעבדם כי אנכי יקוק אלקיך קל קנא פקד עון אבת על-בנים על-שלשים ועל-רבעים לשנאי: ועשה חסד לאלפים לאהבי ולשמרי מצותי
You shall not have other gods before Me. Do not make for yourselves any image that is in the sky from above, that is on the earth from below, and that is in the water below the earth. Don’t prostate before them nor serve them, for I am Hashem your G-d, a zealous G-d, who holds for My enemies the iniquity of the fathers on the children, for three and four generations. And who performs loving-kindness for a thousand [generations] for those who love Me and fulfill My commandments[2]

This week’s parsha contains the epic revelation at Mount Sinai. Millions of Jews gathered to meet the G-d who took them out of Egypt in order to make them His nation. As part of this grand revelation, Hashem taught the Jews what is today known as the Ten Commandments. These commandments are essentially ten umbrella mitzvos in which you can categorize all the 613 mitzvos[3]. Classically, in Rabbinical literature they’re referred to as the Ten Statements, or Ten Utterances. Each statement is its own idea, and the statements are separated in a sefer Torah by a noticeable space.

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Beshalach 5780

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A false united front[1]

ופרעה הקריב וישאו בני-ישראל את-עיניהם והנה מצרים נסע אחריהם וייראו מאד וצעקו בני-ישראל אל-יקוק
Pharaoh brought [himself][2] close. The Jews raised their eyes and behold! The Egyptians are traveling after them! They were very afraid, and the Jewish people cried out to Hashem[3]

The climax of the Exodus was about to begin. The Jews hit a dead end in their escape from Egypt, at the shores of the Reed Sea. They turned around and saw that their dreaded enemy the Egyptians were fast approaching. The Torah describes the Egyptians’ travels in the singular, using the word נוסע instead of the plural נוסעים. Rashi explains[4] that they were בלב אחד כאיש אחד, with one heart, like one person. This shows their complete unity in their plot to annihilate the Jews.

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Bo 5780

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Separation by lamb blood[1]

החדש הזה לכם ראש חדשים ראשון הוא לכם לחדשי השנה: דברו וגו’ ויקחו להם איש שה לבית-אבת שה לבית: ואם-ימעט הבית מהית משה ולקח הוא ושכנו הקרב אל-ביתו וגו’ ולקחו מן-הדם ונתנו על-שתי המזוזת ועל-המשקוף על הבתים אשר-יאכלו אתו בהם: והיה הדם לכם לאת על הבתים אשר אתם שם וגו’ ואתם לא תצאו איש מפתח-ביתו עד-בקר: ועבר יקוק לנגף את-מצרים וראה את-הדם על-המשקוף וגו’ ולא יתן המשחית לבא אל-בתיכם לנגף
This month will be for you the beginning of the months; for you it is the first for the months of the year. Tell [the Jewish people that]…they will take for them, each man, a lamb for the fathers’ homes, a lamb for each household. If the lamb will not suffice for the household, they and the neighbor close to their house will take…Take from the blood and place it on the two doorposts, and the lintel of the house that you will eat [the offering] in. The blood will be for you a sign on your houses that you will be in…and you shall not leave, each person, from the door of their house, until morning. Hashem will pass by to afflict the Egyptians, and will see the blood on the lintel…and He will not let the Destroyer come to your houses to afflict[2]

Before the plague of the death of the firstborn, Moshe instructed the Jews with several mitzvos. He started by informing them about the Jewish calendar, in which Nissan is the first of the months. This included details of the mitzvah to sanctify the New Moon, establishing the months accordingly. Subsequently, he informed them of the mitzvah of the Pesach offering. This included instructions on selecting a lamb for each household, taking its blood and putting it on the doorposts, and staying indoors until morning. How are we to understand the juxtaposition of these two mitzvos? As well, upon careful examination, we’ll observe that the first mitzvah given to the Jewish people as a whole is the mitzvah to sanctify the New Moon. Why was this mitzvah held in such high esteem that it merited to get the position as the first mitzvah? Finally, with regards to the Pesach offering, why is there so much emphasis on the house? It’s repeated and stressed multiple times. What could be the reason?

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Vaeira 5780

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Amphibian logic[1]

ושרץ היאר צפרדעים ועלו ובאו בביתך ובחדר משכבך ועל מטתך ובבית עבדיך ובעמך ובתנוריך ובמשארותיך
The frogs will swarm the river, and will go up and come into your house, and your bedroom, on your bed, and into the house of your servants, and in your ovens, and in your bread[2]

The second of the Ten Plagues was that of the swarm of frogs. More than just a noisy nuisance, they made life unbearable. They were literally everywhere, and in everything. An Egyptian couldn’t feel safe taking a bath, or going to bed, or putting on clothes, without bumping into dozens or hundreds of frogs. The Torah says that the frogs even became suicidal, jumping into the Egyptians’ ovens. Food that they were baking became contaminated by the corpses of the frogs. It’s no wonder that Pharaoh begged Moshe to stop the plague[3].

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Shemos 5780

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Translation issues[1]

ויצו פרעה לכל-עמו לאמר כל-הבן הילוד היארה תשליכהו וכל-הבת תחיון
Pharaoh commanded his entire people, saying: “All male babies that are born shall be thrown into the river, and let all female babies live”[2]

When the Egyptian exile seemed like it couldn’t get any worse, Pharaoh seemed to develop a genocidal bend. First, he ordered the Jewish midwives to kill all male babies that are born. When that plan failed, he commanded his entire people to throw all male babies that are born into the river. Chazal pick up[3] on the fact that Pharaoh’s decree said to kill all male babies. Pharaoh was told by his astrologers that the savior of the Jewish people had been born, but they weren’t sure if he was Egyptian or Jewish. To avoid such a leader emerging, Pharaoh ordered to have all male babies killed. Moshe, who had just been born, managed to avoid the decree. The rest is history. However, the Aramaic translations of the Torah, known as the Targum, seem to say something else[4]. They interpret the verse to be saying that Pharaoh decreed against all Jewish male babies. This seems to exclude any decree against the Egyptians themselves. Can these two sources be reconciled?

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Vayechi 5780

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Rebuking the impetuous[1]

ראובן בכורי אתה כחי וראשית אוני יתר שאת ויתר עז: פחז כמים אל-תותר כי עלית משכבי אביך אז חללת יצועי עלה
Reuven, you are my firstborn, my strength, the first of my vigor. [Potentially][2] exceeding in position and exceeding in might. Hasty as water, you will not exceed, since you went up on your father’s bed. Then you profaned that which went upon my couch[3]

As Yaakov’s life was ending, he took the opportunity to give his children their final blessings. While accenting their unique traits, he also informed them of their shortcomings. He started with his firstborn Reuven by rebuking him for an incident that had happened decades earlier[4]. When Yaakov’s wife Rochel died, he moved his bed into Rochel’s maidservant Bilhah’s tent. Reuven felt this was an affront to his mother Leah, who should have become Yaakov’s primary wife. Reuven audaciously moved his father’s bed out of Bilhah’s tent and put it into Leah’s[5]. At the time, Yaakov said nothing. Now that Yaakov’s life was ending, it was now or never to rebuke Reuven.

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Vayigash 5780

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Surprising growth[1]

ויאמר יוסף אל-אחיו אני יוסף העוד אבי חי ולא-יכלו אחיו לענות אתו כי נבהלו מפניו: ויאמר יוסף אל-אחיו גשו-נא אלי ויגשו ויאמר אני יוסף אחיכם אשר-מכרתם אתי מצרימה
Yosef said to his brothers: “I am Yosef; Is my father still alive?” They weren’t able to respond, as they were dumbfounded in front of him. Yosef said to his brothers, “Please come close to me”, and they came close. He said: “I am Yosef, your brother, whom you sold[2] to Egypt”[3]

After fooling his brothers into thinking he was a tyrannical Egyptian viceroy, Yosef finally revealed his identity. He had risen to power after his brothers sold him as a slave, and he was in a position to save his family from the regional famine. Upon revealing himself, the brothers were dumbfounded. They weren’t able to respond, as they were embarrassed[4]. They saw the error of their ways, and felt terrible. They started to back away[5], and Yosef tried to comfort them. He told them to come close. What words of comfort did he choose? He reminded them that they sold him as a slave. How can that be comforting? They were embarrassed enough, and now he has to remind them of their misdeed[6]?

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Mikeitz 5780

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The goblet of the wise[1]

הלוא אשר ישתה אדני בו והוא נחש ינחש בו וגו’‏
Is [this goblet] not that which my Master drinks from? He also divines with it…[2]

Yosef, as the viceroy of Egypt, had his brothers fooled. They didn’t recognize him as their brother, and he sent them home without a clue. More than that, Yosef had a plan to set up his brother Binyamin. Yosef had someone plant his precious goblet in Binyamin’s bag. As the brothers journeyed home, they were arrested for theft. What was Yosef’s purpose for this whole ruse?

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