Vayikra 5783


Honey and leaven; the golden rule[1]

כל-המנחה אשר תקריבו ליקוק לא תעשה חמץ כי כל-שאר וכל-דבש לא-תקטירו ממנו אשה ליקוק: קרבן ראשית תקריבו אתם ליקוק וגו’‏
All flour offerings that you bring to Hashem should not become leaven. For all leavening and honey shall not be burned on the altar as a fire for Hashem. [However], you shall bring [from] them [for] first offerings[2]

The Rambam teaches us[3] what’s become known as his golden rule. Extremes are never good. A person should always act in a balanced way, neither leaning to one extreme or the other. Arrogance is abhorrent, but a lack of self-worth can lead to depression. Someone who gives things away uncontrollably is unstable, yet someone stingy is looked down upon. A healthy balance is key. The Rambam suggests that if someone is leaning to one extreme, they should act in the other extreme, in order to end up somewhere in the middle.

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Vayakhel/Pekudei 5783


Kindling traits of passion[1]

לא-תבערו אש בכל משבתיכם ביום השבת
Do not kindle a flame on the Sabbath day in any of your dwelling places[2]

Of all of the 39 forbidden categories of creative activities which are forbidden on Shabbos, the Torah finds the need to specify one of them. It says that it is forbidden to kindle a flame. Why was this activity singled out? Rashi brings[3] that it’s a dispute amongst our sages[4]. One opinion is that it’s to teach us that kindling a fire is for whatever reason considered a lower-level prohibition in comparison to the other forbidden creative activities. It gets downgraded to a regular transgression. The other opinion says it’s to teach us that even someone who performed one creative labor has desecrated Shabbos, as opposed to thinking it takes performing all of them to be guilty. This latter opinion still requires analysis. If this is the intent of the Torah, why was specifically the activity of kindling a flame chosen to teach this lesson? Seemingly the Torah could have chosen any other of the 38 forbidden activities.

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Purim 5783


Wrongful Rabbinic reservations[1]

ויוצא משה את-העם לקראת האלקים מן-המחנה ויתיצבו בתחתית ההר
Moshe took the people out from the camp to greet Hashem, and they stood at the foot of the mountain[2]

Before the great revelation of the Divine at Mount Sinai, when the Jews were given the Ten Commandments, the Torah says that the Jews stood בתחתית ההר, “at the foot” of the mountain. However, literally read, the verse says that they stood “under” the mountain. Chazal learn from here[3] that this teaches us that Hashem picked up the mountain and held it over their heads. He said to them: “If you accept the Torah, good. But if not, then this[4] will be your burial place”. Thankfully, the Jews accepted the Torah. In fact, they later accepted it anew in the days of Achashverosh, out of love. However, this shows us that initially it was only through coercion. This seems to contradict a different verse[5], where the Jews proudly announced that they will do whatever Hashem commands them. This sounds like they were initially happy to accept the Torah. If so, why then did Hashem force them to accept it? How do we resolve this contradiction?

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Tetzaveh / Zachor 5783


Regretful royal recalcitration[1]

נחמתי כי-המלכתי את-שאול למלך כי-שב מאחרי ואת-דברי לא הקים וגו’ ויבא שמואל אל שאול ויאמר לו שאול ברוך אתה ליקוק הקמותי את דבר יקוק: ויאמר שמואל ומה קול הצאן הזה באזני וגו’‏
“I have regretted coronating Shaul to be King, for he has turned away from Me and he did not uphold My words”…Shmuel came to Shaul, and Shaul said to him: “Blessed are you to Hashem! I have upheld the word of Hashem.” Shmuel said: “Then what is this sound of sheep I hear in my ears?”[2]

King Shaul was tasked with the command to eradicate the memory of the wicked nation of Amalek. The entire nation, as well as their animals, were to be destroyed. Shaul was mostly successful, except that he left the King Agag alive, as well as the Amalekite sheep. When the prophet Shmuel came to rebuke Shaul for his failure, Shaul said: “I have upheld the word of Hashem!” This is astounding, for he surely must have realized that he didn’t. He didn’t follow the command as he was told. What was he thinking? Also, he uses an unusual expression. Shouldn’t he have said “I have fulfilled the word of Hashem”? Shmuel responded that he heard the sound of sheep. Why did he choose to rebuke Shaul this way?

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Mishpatim / Shekalim 5783


Unreceived benefits[1]

ואל-משה אמר עלה אל-יקוק אתה ואהרן נדב ואביהוא ושבעים מזקני ישראל והשתחויתם מרחק
[Hashem] said to Moshe: “Go up to Hashem, you, Aharon, Nadav, Avihu, and the seventy elders of Israel. And they shall prostrate from afar”[2]

The Torah describes the giving of the Torah in a striking fashion. Moshe is told to go up to Mount Sinai, and he is to be followed by the generation’s leaders and elders. Aharon is told to follow, and Aharon’s sons Nadav and Avihu soon after[3]. The seventy elders come next. They each had their boundary of how far up the mountain they could go. However, something glaring is missing in the verse. Or rather, some people are missing. As is known, Aharon had two other sons: Elazar and Itamar. Why are they seemingly excluded[4]? Why didn’t they get the honor to go up Mount Sinai? This is a problem which bothered many commentators, as these other two sons were definitely prominent in the nation[5].

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Yisro 5783


The unknown kindnesses[1]

ויאמר יתרו ברוך יקוק אשר הציל אתכם מיד מצרים ומיד פרעה אשר הציל את-העם מתחת יד-מצרים: עתה ידעתי כי-גדול יקוק מכל-האלקים כי בדבר אשר זדו עליהם

Yisro said: “Blessed is G-d! [The one] Who saved you all from the hands of Egypt and from the hands of Pharaoh. [The one] Who saved the nation from under the grasp of Egypt. Now I know that Hashem is greater than all the gods, from to the matter that they “zadu” upon the Jews”[2]

One of the first people to declare Baruch Hashem, Blessed is G-d, was Yisro, Moshe’s father-in-law[3]. Yisro ends his exclamation of praise by explaining what prompted this outburst[4]. He uses an unusual word and says it is because of the matter that they “zadu” upon the Jews. Rashi says it’s a word which means “evil”. Meaning, Baruch Hashem because of the evil that the Egyptians committed against the Jews. This is hard to understand. Onkelos takes a seemingly different approach, and says the word means “thought”. Meaning, Baruch Hashem because of what the Egyptians thought to do to the Jews. Can we make sense of this?

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Beshalach 5783

[Print] 5783 14 Beshalach

Songs of praise, songs of death[1]

ויבא בין מחנה מצרים ובין מחנה ישראל וגו’ ולא-קרב זה אל-זה כל-הלילה
[The Angel] went between the Egyptian camp and the Israelite camp…and they didn’t get close to each other the entire night[2]

As the Jews were journeying towards the Reed Sea, the Egyptians were following closely in pursuit. Hashem prevented the Egyptians from reaching the Jews by sending an Angel to act as a sort of interposition between the two camps. The Torah testifies that the two camps didn’t get close to each other the entire night. What’s interesting to note is the expression זה אל זה, to each other, appears only twice in all of Tanach. One instance is here, in reference to the fact that the two camps did not get close to each other (לא קרב זה אל זה) the whole night. The other instance appears in the Kedusha prayers, and is a quotation from Isaiah’s description of the Angels. The verse says that the Angels call to each other (וקרא זה אל זה) and sing praises of G-d[3]. Is there any connection between these two instances?

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Bo 5783


Problematic pascal prohibitions[1]

בבית אחד יאכל לא-תוציא מן-הבית מן-הבשר חוצה ועצם לא תשברו-בו
It shall be eaten in one house. Don’t take from the meat from the house to outside. And don’t break a bone from it[2]

This week’s parsha introduces the mitzvah of the korbon Pesach, the Passover offering. It was to be prepared and consumed in a very specific way. There are thus many mitzvos associated with the korbon Pesach. One of them is the meat from the offering had to be consumed in one house, and it was prohibited to even take it outside. Another mitzvah is that one wasn’t allowed to break the bones of the Pesach offering, for example to get to the marrow inside. These two mitzvos are written in the same verse, but for some reason there’s an inconsistency. The prohibition to not take the meat outside is written in the singular (תוציא); one shouldn’t do it. However, the prohibition to not break the bones is written in in the plural, speaking to many people (תשברו). Why are they written differently?

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Va’eira 5783


To be as great as Moshe[1]

הוא אהרן ומשה אשר אמר יקוק להם הוציאו את-בני ישראל מארץ מצרים על-צבאתם
This is Aharon and Moshe, who Hashem told to take the Jewish people out from the land of Egypt, by their legions[2]

Our Sages note[3] that sometimes Moshe’s name appears before Aharon’s, and sometimes, like in this week’s parsha, Aharon’s name comes before Moshe’s. Why is this? To teach us that the two of them are equal in stature. Now, at first glance, this is astounding. We all know that Moshe was the master of prophets, and the teacher of the entire nation. Through Moshe, we received the Torah. Although Aharon was a mighty giant in his own right, how could we say that he was equal to Moshe?

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Shemos 5783


Sagely exegesis, suffering, and salty meat[1]

ויעבדו מצרים את-בני ישראל בפרך: וימררו את-חייהם בעבדה קשה בחמר ובלבנים ובכל-עבדה בשדה וגו’‏
The Egyptians worked the Jewish people with backbreaking labor. They embittered their lives with difficult labor, with bricks and mortar, and all the work of the field…[2]

Our Sages have a disagreement[3] about the significance of the Torah’s usage of the word בפרך, usually translated as backbreaking labor. One opinion says it’s a contraction of two words: בפה רך, a soft voice. Meaning, initially the Egyptians were very gentle in their subjugation of the Jews. They spoke softly with them, and even offered to pay them for their services. Once the Jews got used to manual labor, the Egyptians enslaved them. The other opinion reads the word literally, that they enslaved the Jews brutally and destroyed their bodies with backbreaking labor.

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