Shelach 5782

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The benefits of a righteous wife[1]

ועבדי כלב עקב היתה רוח אחרת עמו וימלא אחרי והביאתיו אל-הארץ אשר-בא שמה וזרעו יורשנה
My servant Kalev, since he had a different spirit with him, and he was completely after Me, I will bring him to the land to which he is coming, and his offspring will inherit it[2]

Parshas Shelach tells of the tragic failure of the ten spies, and the people’s acceptance of their slanderous report. They were sent to scout out the land of Israel, and their assessment was that it was not conquerable, nor worthwhile. Yehoshua and Kalev were the only spies to defend the land, and insisted on following Hashem’s command to conquer it. Hashem responded by punishing the ten spies, and rewarding Yehoshua and Kalev. Hashem stresses that Kalev “had a different spirit with him”. What is this referring to? Furthermore, how was it that Yehoshua and Kalev maintained their faith? How did they not succumb to peer pressure? The spies had a point; the enemy occupying the land of Israel was fierce and mighty. Why wasn’t this a concern for Yehoshua and Kalev? True, we are told that Moshe prayed that Yehoshua not be influenced by the spies[3]. However, Kalev got no such prayer. What made Kalev special, such that he didn’t need a prayer and was nevertheless successful?

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Beha’alosecha 5782

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The proper attitude towards mitzvos[1]

ויסעו מהר יקוק וגו’ זכרנו את-הדגה אשר-נאכל במצרים חנם וגו’ וישמע משה את-העם בכה למשפחתיו וגו’ ויאמר משה אל-יקוק למה הרעת לעבדך וגו’ האנכי הריתי את כל-העם הזה אם-אנכי ילדתיהו וגו’‏
[The people] journeyed from the Mountain of Hashem… “We remember the fish which we ate in Egypt for free”… Moshe heard the nation crying amongst their families…Moshe said to Hashem: “Why have You done evil to Your servant? … Did I bear this nation? Did I give birth to it?!”[2]

Parshas Beha’alosecha is a depressing section of the Torah. It begins a series of sins that the Jews committed while they were in the desert. After the Torah describes three episodes of sins[3], Moshe abruptly starts complaining to Hashem. It appears like he was throwing in the towel, expressing his inability to deal with the people. This is quite surprising, for we know that when the Jews sinned with the Golden Calf, Moshe gave it his all to defend them[4]. What’s different about these sins which were too much for Moshe to handle?

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Nasso 5782

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The proper understanding of marriage[1]

והשקה את-האשה את-מי המרים המאררים וגו’‏
You shall have the woman drink the cursed, bitter waters[2]

The Torah describes what’s known as the Sotah ritual. If a married woman, due to her immoral behavior, becomes a presumed adulteress[3], she and her husband cannot live together until the matter is confirmed. If she indeed committed adultery, they have to divorce. If she is in fact innocent, they can resume married life as normal. How can they clear up this scandal? The Torah provides a unique avenue for her to prove her innocence. The woman, now known as a Sotah, is taken to the Temple. Various rituals are performed, and offerings brought. This includes writing down on a piece of parchment a set of curses which are to befall her if she is guilty. This parchment contains instances of the name of Hashem. It is then placed in a cup of bitter water, the writing dissolves, and she is to drink it. Miraculously, after the ceremony, it became clear to everyone if she was innocent or not.

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Shavuos 5782

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The wedding canopy of Mount Sinai[1]

…ברוך אתה יקוק מקדש עמו ישראל על ידי חופה וקידושין
…Blessed are You, Hashem, Who sanctifies His nation of Israel, through Chuppah and Kiddushin[2]

The blessing recited at every Jewish wedding, known as birkas erusin, ends with the idea that Hashem sanctifies His nation, through “Chuppah”, the wedding canopy, and “Kiddushin”, betrothal. How did Hashem sanctify us with Chuppah and Kiddushin? We could simply say that He sanctified us with the mitzvah of marriage through the process of Kiddushin, which is unique to Jews. However, some say[3] that this is a reference to Mattan Torah, the National Revelation at Sinai, where we received the Torah. The verse says that תורה צוה לנו משה מורשה קהילת יעקב, Moshe commanded us the Torah, an inheritance of the congregation of Yaakov[4]. Our Sages read[5] the word מורשה, inheritance, homiletically to be מאורסה, betrothed. Meaning, the Sinaitic experience was one of a marriage between the Jewish people and Hashem.

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Bamidbar 5782

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Fire, water, desert[1]

וידבר יקוק אל-משה במדבר סיני באהל מועד וגו’‏
Hashem spoke to Moshe in the Wilderness of Sinai, in the Tent of Meeting…[2]

The Jewish people, ever since our inception at the Exodus from Egypt and the National Revelation at Mount Sinai, have been pursued[3] by the enemies of Torah. Throughout the generations there were always new means created to try to extinguish the flame of our tradition. Our national memory recalls that these efforts have grown stronger and mightier, seemingly beyond the boundaries of nature[4]. We all know it was not one Jew who gave up their life to preserve the Torah, but myriads. And yet, our enemies’ efforts to slaughter us have proven futile, as the Torah is just as present as ever.

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Bechukosai 5782

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From curses to blessings[1]

אם-בחקתי תלכו וגו’ ואולך אתכם קוממיות: ואם-לא תשמעו לי וגו’ אלה החקים והמשפטים אשר נתן יקוק בינו ובין בני ישראל בהר סיני ביד-משה

If you walk in my statutes…I will lead you upright. And if you don’t listen to me…[such and such will happen]…These are the statutes and laws that Hashem gave between Himself and the Jewish people, on Mount Sinai, through Moshe[2]

Parshas Bechukosai is also known as the Tochacha, the Rebuke. A large portion of the parsha describes all the curses that will, G-d forbid, befall the Jewish people if they don’t remain faithful in their observance of the Torah. However, it begins describing all the wonderful blessings that we should receive if we are in fact properly following Hashem’s laws.

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Lag BaOmer 5782

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Accumulation, not Regression[1]

היום שלשה ושלושים יום, שהם ארבעה שבועות, וחמשה ימים לעומר
Today is thirty-three days, which are four weeks and five days of the Omer[2]

Lag BaOmer is the culmination of a mourning period that takes place during Sefiras HaOmer. Why have we been mourning? Our Sages tell us[3] that in the days between Pesach and Shavuos, 24,000 of Rabbi Akiva’s students died. What was the reason? We are told that they didn’t treat each other with כבוד, often translated as respect or honor. How could this be? Furthermore, another version of the story says that עיניהם צרות בתורתם, they were selfish with their Torah[4]. A third version says they didn’t fill the land of Israel with their Torah[5]. How can we make sense of this?

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Emor 5782

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Admitting the ability to deny[1]

וכי תזבחו זבח-תודה ליקוק לרצנכם תזבחו
When you bring a thanksgiving offering, you shall offer it willingly[2]

When the Torah instructs us regarding bringing a thanksgiving offering, it tells us to offer it willingly. This is quite surprising, as shouldn’t this be true regarding all offerings? In fact, the Torah tells us[3] in general to bring offerings willingly. Why then does the Torah specify this requirement with thanksgiving offerings?

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Sefiras HaOmer 5782

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Looking beyond the surface: slow growth to actualize potential[1]

וספרתם לכם ממחרת השבת מיום הביאכם את-עמר התנופה שבע שבתות תמימת תהיינה
You shall count for yourselves, from the day after the Festival[2], from the day you bring the waved Omer offering, they shall be seven complete weeks[3]

We find ourselves in the period of the year known as Sefiras HaOmer, literally the Counting of the Omer. From the second day of Pesach, we have a mitzvah to count up every day, leading to the Festival of Shavuos. Coming off the heels of Pesach, you would think this is a joyous time of year. Indeed, the Ramban likens[4] this period to Chol HaMoed, the intermediate Festival days. However, this time period is also known as a time of mourning, as we commemorate the time in which Rabbi Akiva’s 24,000 students died. Why did they die? Our Sages say[5] it was because they didn’t treat each other with כבוד, usually translated as honor. How could they not honor each other?

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Machar Chodesh 5782

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The Royal roast and family feasts[1]

ויהי ממחרת החדש השני ויפקד מקום דוד ויאמר שאול אל-יהונתן בנו מדוע לא-בא בן-ישי גם-תמול גם-היום אל-הלחם: ויען יהונתן את-שאול נשאל נשאל דוד מעמדי עד-בית לחם: ויאמר שלחני נא כי זבח משפחה לנו בעיר והוא צוה-לי אחי ועתה אם-מצאתי חן בעיניך אמלטה נא ואראה את-אחי על-כן לא-בא אל-שלחן המלך: ויחר-אף שאול ביהונתן ויאמר לו בן-נעות המרדות הלוא ידעתי כי-בחר אתה לבן-ישי לבשתך ולבשת ערות אמך: כי כל-הימים אשר בן-ישי חי על-האדמה לא תכון אתה ומלכותך ועתה שלח וקח אתו אלי כי בן-מות הוא
It was the day after the New Moon, the second day [of Rosh Chodesh], and David’s seat was vacant. Shaul said to his son Yonasan: “Why didn’t the son of Yishai come, neither yesterday nor today to the meal?” Yonasan answered Shaul: “David exceedingly implored me for permission[2] to go to Bethlehem. He said please let me go, as my family’s feast is in the city, and my brother commanded me to be there. Now, if I’ve found favor in your eyes, I’ll slip away and see my family. Therefore, he didn’t come to the King’s banquet”. Shaul became enraged at Yonasan and said to him: “[You are] the son of a rebellious and immoral[3] woman! Behold, I know you have sided with the son of Yishai, to your shame and the shame of your mother’s nakedness[4]! For all of the days that the son of Yishai is on this Earth, your kingdom will never be established. Now, go and send for him to be brought to me, as he is a dead man”[5]

As Shabbos this week coincides with Erev Rosh Chodesh, there is a special Haftarah that is read[6]. It describes the story of David before he became the sole King of Israel, and King Shaul’s growing distrust of him. After Shaul made several attempts to end David’s life[7], David ran away and went into hiding. He met up with Shaul’s son Yonasan, his most trusted friend. Yonasan couldn’t believe his father would try to do such a thing, and they came up with a plan to confirm Shaul’s intentions. The following two days would be Rosh Chodesh, and as usual the King would have a banquet. As one of the King’s attendants, David was expected to attend. Yonasan was to tell the King that David had to be at his family’s feast. If the King was understanding, then would be proof that he didn’t seek David’s life. If he became infuriated, it would show that David must remain in hiding[8]. The latter is what happened, and David had to remain on the run. This is the simple understanding of the verses, but that didn’t stop the Chasam Sofer from providing an alternate, derush and halachically-oriented reading of the verses.

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