Rosh Hashanah 5783

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Creating disputes[1]

זה היום תחלת מעשיך זכרון ליום ראשון
Today is the beginning of Your creation, a commemoration of the first day[2]

There’s a well-known dispute between our Sages regarding when the world was created. Rabbi Eliezer says that the world was created in the month of Tishrei, whereas Rabbi Yehoshua says that the world was created in Nissan[3]. Tosafos are bothered[4] that we rule like Rabbi Yehoshua[5], and yet on Rosh Hashanah, the first of Tishrei, we say the phrase, “Today is the beginning of Your creation”[6]. According to Rabbi Yehoshua, Tishrei wasn’t the beginning of Hashem’s creation. Nissan was. How can this be reconciled?

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Ki Seitzei 5782

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The famous Taz and the bread of Ammon and Moav[1]

לא-יבא עמוני ומואבי בקהל יקוק גם דור עשירי לא-יבא להם בקהל יקוק עד-עולם: על-דבר אשר לא-קדמו אתכם בלחם ובמים בדרך בצאתכם ממצרים וגו’‏
An Ammonite or a Moabite may not marry into the congregation of Hashem. Even the tenth generation shall not marry into congregation of Hashem, forever. [This is] for the matter in which they didn’t greet you with bread and water as you departed from Egypt…[2]

Although marriage with a non-Jew is forbidden, obviously if someone converted to Judaism they can marry into the fold. However, some nations have restrictions on who or when they can marry. For example, an Egyptian or an Edomite may only marry into the congregation after three generations of being Jewish. In contrast, the Torah forever forbids the nations of Ammon and Moav from marrying into the Jewish people, even if they converted sincerely. Even their descendants are restricted. Why is this? The Torah says it’s because they didn’t greet us with bread and water. The implication is that had they given it to us, we would have been permitted to eat it[3].

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Shoftim 5782

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Refuge from death[1]

ואם-ירחיב יקוק אלקיך את-גבלך כאשר נשבע לאבתיך ונתן לך את-כל-הארץ אשר דבר לתת לאבתיך: …ויספת לך עוד שלש ערים על השלש האלה
If Hashem will expand your borders, as He swore to your forefathers, He will give to you the land that he spoke to give to your forefathers…and He will increase for you three more cities, in addition to these three[2]

The Torah has an interesting concept known as the Arei Milkat, the Cities of Refuge. If someone were to accidentally murder another, the Torah commands this person be exiled to the Arei Miklat. They serve simultaneously as an atonement for the person’s lack of precaution[3], and as a safe refuge from any relatives that may want to avenge their deceased[4]. The Torah mandates three cities on the east side of the Jordan River, and three on the west. However, a verse in our parsha speaks of the future, the Messianic days[5]. In those days, the land of Israel will expand in size. The Torah tells us that with this added territory will come three new cities of refuge. A question that many ask on this is that in the future, no nation shall lift up sword against nation[6]. In fact, death will be abolished[7]. If so, what is the need for three new cities of refuge? The original ones will prove obsolete, as there won’t be any more accidental murders, so why add more?

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Re’eh 5782

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A bloody habit[1]

רק חזק לבלתי אכל הדם כי הדם הוא הנפש ולא-תאכל הנפש עם-הבשר
Be very strong not to eat blood, for blood is the life-source. Don’t eat the life-source with the flesh[2]

The Torah is very redundant when precluding the consumption of blood. It cautions several times against eating it. Our Sages provide different reasons for each of these instances. One interesting occurrence is when the Torah says רק חזק, be very careful and steadfast against its consumption. Rashi brings[3] a dispute what this is teaching us. One opinion says that the Jews were steeped in blood, so the Torah has to be extra stern in its prohibition. It would seem then that the Jews at the time of the giving of the Torah were accustomed to excessive consumption of blood. This isn’t the case anymore[4]. It would seem the Torah was successful at ridding us of a hazardous lifestyle.

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Eikev 5782

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Truthful exaggerations[1]

שמע ישראל אתה עבר היום את-הירדן לבא לרשת גוים גדלים ועצמים ממך ערים גדלת ובצרת בשמים
Hear, O Israel, that you are passing over the Jordan River today[2]. [You are] coming to inherit greater and mightier nations than yourselves, and walled cities that reach[3] the Heavens[4]

Moshe’s goodbye speech includes a call to action to conquer the land of Israel. In this speech, his words aren’t exactly encouraging. He wants them to be fully aware of the threats that they face, and that Hashem is on their side. As part of his description of the foreign nations that they can plan to conquer, he says that they have fortified cities that reach the Heavens. This sounds quite astonishing, and is even hard to swallow. Indeed, our Sages say[5] that this is an example of the Torah exaggerating. Another example is, “the earth shattered from the noise of their commotion”[6]. The Torah does this sometimes, so we shouldn’t be surprised.

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Vaeschanan 5782

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Superficial reward[1]

ומשלם לשנאיו אל-פניו להאבידו וגו’‏
He repays His enemies to their face, to destroy them…[2]

The Torah makes a vague statement regarding Hashem and His enemies. This is seemingly referring to wicked individuals who brazenly commit crimes and atrocities against Hashem and His Torah. The Torah says that Hashem repays them to their face, to destroy them. What is this referring to? We are taught[3] that it means that Hashem repays the wicked for their mitzvos in this world, so that they don’t receive any reward in the next world. Consequently, when they die, they’ll be destroyed, as they won’t have access to the World to Come.

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Tisha B’Av 5782

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The redemptive undertones of Megillas Eichah[1]

איכה ישבה בדד העיר רבתי עם היתה כאלמנה רבתי בגוים שרתי במדינות היתה למס
Alas! [Jerusalem] sits alone. The city [that once] was filled with many, has become a widow. The greatest amongst the nations, an officer amongst the countries, has reverted for plunder[2]

Megillas Eichah, the book of Lamentations, contains within it a description of the horrible tragedies that befell the Jewish people during the destruction of the First Temple. Who wrote it? Our tradition has it that it was written by the prophet Yirmiyahu, Jeremiah[3]. In fact, he prophetically[4] wrote it before the gruesome disaster even occurred[5]. He knew that the destruction was imminent and tried his best to get his generation to improve their ways. Unfortunately, they did not take kindly to his rebuke, and ultimately, he witnessed the very prophecy he had foretold come to fruition. We recite Megillas Eichah every year on Tisha B’Av, as the most fitting way to recall the destruction, which took place on that very day.

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Devarim 5782

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A thousand times over[1]

יקוק אלקי אבותכם יסף עליכם ככם אלף פעמים ויברך אתכם כאשר דבר לכם
Hashem, the G-d of your forefathers, should increase you a thousand times over, and He should bless you as He said He would[2]

Moshe, as part of his goodbye speech to the people, blessed them that they should increase a thousand times over. Then, he said that Hashem should bless them as He already said He would. Why did Moshe finish his personal blessing by referring to Hashem’s blessing? Rashi explains[3] that the Jewish people, upon hearing Moshe’s blessing of the thousandfold increase, began to protest. “Moshe our teacher! How can you limit your blessing to just a thousand! Hashem’s blessing knows no limits, and He already promised us that we will be so numerous that we’ll impossible to count[4]!” Moshe’s response was that this blessing was from himself, but for sure Hashem’s blessing is still in effect. However, this doesn’t really answer the question. If the thousandfold increase was Moshe’s personal blessing, why indeed did he limit it to a thousand?

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Mattos/Masei 5782

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The torn garments; the torn tribe[1]

ויתן להם משה לבני-גד ולבני ראובן ולחצי שבט מנשה בן-יוסף את-ממלכת סיחן מלך האמרי ואת-ממלכת עוג מלך הבשן וגו’‏
Moshe gave to the tribe of Gad, the tribe of Reuven, and half of the tribe of Menashe, the son of Yosef, the kingdom of Sichon, the king of the Emorites, and the kingdom of Og, king of the Bashan…[2]

The Torah describes an interesting interaction between the tribes of Reuven and Gad[3]. They had abundant flock, and noticed that the recently conquered land on the East side of the Jordan river was suitable for flock. They requested to Moshe that they stay on that side of the river, and not join their brothers into the Land of Israel proper, on the west side of the Jordan. After a whole back and forth, Moshe eventually agreed to their request. Seemingly out of nowhere, Moshe also decided to allocate some of this land for half of the tribe of Menashe. They seemingly didn’t request this, so why did Moshe do this[4]? Also, why only half the tribe, and not the whole tribe?

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Pinchas 5782

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Beyond our assumptions[1]

אלה בני בנימין למשפחותם ופקודיהם חמשה וארבעים אלף ושש מאות: אלה בני דן למשפחותם וגו’ ארבעה וששים אלף וארבע מאות
These are the children of Binyomin according to their families: their count came to 45,600. These are the children of Dan according to their families…64,400[2]

Parshas Pinchas contains yet another census. No wonder this is called the book of Numbers[3]. If we analyze the counts of the individual tribes, we’ll notice some interesting patterns and observations. Something noteworthy is the adjacent counts of the tribes of Binyomin and Dan. The total number for the tribe of Binyomin was forty-five thousand, whereas the total number for the tribe of Dan was sixty-four thousand. Why is this significant?

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