Seeing (or is it counting?) double
שאו את-ראש כל-עדת בני-ישראל למשפחתם לבית אבתם במספר שמות כל-זכר לגלגלתם: פקד את-בני לוי לבית אבתם למפחתם כל-זכר מבן-חדש ומעלה תפקדם
Count the heads of the entire assembly of the Children of Israel, by their families and their father’s houses, by the number of the names, all the males, by their heads. Count the Levites according to their father’s houses and by their families. Count all the males from one month of age
Sefer Bamidbar’s English name of Numbers is aptly put, as there are many censuses that are described throughout the book. This parsha alone contains two censuses, one of the Jewish people at large (excluding the tribe of Levi), and one exclusively of the tribe of Levi. The two censuses have some differences. One of them is the main census of the people was of all the males above the age of twenty. This is not like the census of the tribe of Levi, which counted all males from the age of one month and up. Another difference is regarding the general census of the people, the Torah stresses that they be counted by their heads. This requirement is strangely absent from the census of the Levites. Regarding this latter difference, why did the Torah leave out the requirement of counting by their heads?
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את-שבתתי תשמרו ומקדשי תיראו אני יקוק
You shall safeguard my Sabbaths and revere my Sanctuary; I am Hashem
The gemarra derives a law from the juxtaposition of the mitzvah to safeguard Shabbos and the mitzvah to revere the Holy Temple. They teach that just like the safeguarding of Shabbos, it’s not that you’re to revere Shabbos itself, but rather the One who commanded it, so too with revering the Temple, it’s not the Temple that you are to revere, but rather the One who commanded it. We see it’s a given that there’s no idea to revere Shabbos, and the innovation is that the same holds true for the Temple itself. How do we know that there’s no idea to revere Shabbos? Rashi tells us because we don’t find it written anywhere that we are to revere it. Sounds simple.
Continue reading “Behar / Bechukosai 5781”
דבר אל-בני ישראל לאמר בחדש השביעי באחד לחדש יהיה לכם שבתון זכרון תרועה מקרא-קדש: אך בעשור לחדש השביעי הזה יום הכפרים הוא מקרא-קדש יהיה לכם וגו’ דבר אל-בני ישראל לאמר בחמשה עשר יום לחדש השביעי הזה חג הסכות שבעת ימים ליקוק: אך בחמשה עשר יום לחדש השביעי וגו’ ולקחתם לכם ביום הראשון פרי עץ הדר כפת תמרים וענף עץ-עבת וערבי נחל וגו’
Tell the Children of Israel, saying: “In the seventh month, on the first of the month, it shall be for you a day of rest. A remembrance of shofar blasts, a holy convocation. However, on the tenth of this seventh month, it is Yom Kippur. It shall be for you a holy convocation…” Tell the Children of Israel, saying: “On the fifteenth of this seventh month, [it is] the festival of Sukkos, seven days for Hashem. However, on the fifteenth of the seventh month…you shall take on the first day a beautiful fruit, palm fronds, braided branches, and willows…”
If we examine the description of the holidays, we’ll notice a strange inconsistency. The month of Tishrei contains many festivals. First there’s Rosh Hashanah, then Yom Kippur, and then Sukkos. The Torah specifies that these holidays occur in the seventh month of the Jewish calendar. Rosh Hashanah is on the first, Yom Kippur is on the tenth, and Sukkos starts on the fifteenth. When the Torah refers to Yom Kippur, it specifies that it is in this seventh month. For Sukkos, it first says the same as Yom Kippur, this seventh month. The second time it refers to Sukkos, in the context of the mitzvah of the four species, it just says the seventh month. Why is there this inconsistency?
Continue reading “Emor 5781”
דבר אל-כל-עדת בני-ישראל ואמרת אלהם קדשים תהיו כי קדוש אני יקוק אלקיכם: איש אמו ואביו תיראו ואת-שבתתי תשמרו אני יקוק אלקיכם: אל-תפנו אל-האלילם וגו’ וכי תזבחו זבח שלמים ליקוק וגו’
Speak to the entire congregation of the Children of Israel and say to them: “You shall be Holy, for I am Holy; I am Hashem your G-d. You shall revere your mother and father, and you shall observe My Shabbos; I am Hashem your G-d. Do not turn towards the false gods…When you offer a peace offering to Hashem…
Parshas Kedoshim is chockfull of mitzvos, both interpersonal and between man and G-d. Sometimes it is hard to discern why the mitzvos are presented they way they are, but if one were to investigate thoroughly, sometimes their labor will be fruitful. One such example is at the very beginning of the parsha. We are told to be Holy, for Hashem is Holy. Then we are told to revere our parents, and observe Shabbos. Then we are warned against idolatry, which is followed by the concept of bringing a voluntary peace offering to Hashem. What can we glean from the juxtaposition of these mitzvos?
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The difference between a Metzora and a Kohen
אדם וגו’ והיה בעור-בשרו לנגע צרעת והובא אל-אהרן הכהן או אל-אחד מבניו הכהנים: ויצא הכהן אל-מחוץ למחנה וראה הכהן והנה נרפא נגע-הצרעת מן-הצרוע
When a person…develops a tzara’as affliction on their skin, he shall be brought to Aharon the Kohen, or to one of his sons, the Kohanim… The Kohen shall go outside the camp and he shall see, and behold! The afflicted person’s tzara’as affliction has healed!
This week’s double parsha mostly deals with the laws of tzara’as, most commonly translated as leprosy. While being a whitish skin condition, in reality it’s a totally unrelated spiritual malady with physical symptoms. Chazal tell us that someone who contracts tzara’as, known as a Metzora, usually committed a certain sin. One example is that of loshon hara, evil speech. As a result of his sin, he is infected with a disturbing skin condition, and has to have his status established by a Kohen. If the Kohen determines he is spiritually pure, then he is. The opposite is also true.
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To be satisfied with one’s lot
כל מפרסת פרסה ושסעת שסע פרסת מעלת גרה בבהמה אתה תאכלו
All domesticated animals which have completely split hooves, and that chew their cud, those you shall eat
The Torah gives us two signs for domesticated animals to determine their kosher status. Only if they have מפרסת פרסה ושסעת שסע פרסות, completely split hooves, and are מעלה גרה, that they chew their cud. The Torah lists four animals that have one of these two signs, but not both. The גמל, the camel, the שפן, the hyrax, and the ארנבת, the hare, are all מעלה גרה, but don’t have completely split hooves. In contrast, the חזיר, the pig, has split hooves (just like a cow). However, it does not chew its cud. This is for domesticated animals.
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The free choice to split
הים ראה וינס הירדן יסב לאחור
The [Reed] Sea saw and ran away, the Jordan River turned backwards
During the holiday of Pesach (as well as every other holiday), we recite Hallel during the morning prayers. It consists of chapters 113 to 118 from Psalms. Chapter 114 describes how when the Jews left Egypt, nature was entirely subservient to them. Nothing stood in their way. Most pronounced was the miracle of the splitting of the sea. On the seventh day of Pesach, we commemorate this event with the Torah Reading being the Song at Sea that the Jews recited after this miracle. In Psalms the sea is described as “running away” from the Jews, meaning that it split in two, after seeing something. What did it see that made it split? One explanation is from a Midrash, which says is it saw the Jews fighting whether they should jump into the sea or not. Some felt it would be a sanctification of Hashem’s name, and they had faith He would perform a miracle. Others felt it wasn’t a good idea. This is very hard to understand. Why would this be a reason for the sea to split? If anything, the fact that the Jews disagreed whether to sanctify Hashem’s name should be a reason not to split. What’s the intent of this Midrash?
Continue reading “Shevii shel Pesach 5781”
Who knows one?
אחד, מי יודע? אחד, אני יודע! אחד אלקינו שבשמים ובארץ
Who knows one? I know one! One is our G-d in the Heaven and the Earth
After an uplifting seder, we’re on an all-time high. We jubilantly sing about how we performed all the mitzvos of the evening. We’re all inspired to bring the Pesach offering next year in Jerusalem, and pray that the Temple be rebuilt However, one song seems to be the odd one out. A favorite of many children, אחד מי יודע, “Who knows one?”, is a classic Pesach song. However, if we think about it, what does it have to do with Pesach? It’s seemingly random things in Judaism that are associated with numbers, ranging from one to thirteen. What’s it doing at the end of the Seder?
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Four connected expressions of freedom
בין הכוסות הללו, אם רוצה לשתות, ישתה. בין שלישי לרביעי, לא ישתה
Between [the first and second, or second and third] cups, if one wants to drink, they may. Between the third and fourth cup, don’t drink [anything]
Our Sages enacted that we drink four cups of wine at the Seder, at different points of significance. One we drink for Kiddush, like any other Yom Tov. One we drink after finishing “Maggid”, the main part of the Haggadah, where we tell over the Exodus story. One we drink after saying Birkas HaMazon, the Grace after meals. The final cup we drink after finishing Hallel, Psalms of praise to Hashem for redeeming us. Our Sages specified certain rules for how to drink the cups, and in what manner. They specified an interesting rule. One is allowed to drink as much as they want between any of the first three cups. However, between the third and fourth cup, consuming any beverage is forbidden. Why would this be?
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Fast of the firstborn
הבכורות מתענין בערב פסח בין בכור מאב בין בכור מאם ויש מי שאומר שאפילו נקבה בכורה מתענה: (ואין המנהג כן)
The firstborns fast on the day before Pesach, whether they are the firstborn of their father or firstborn of their mother. Some say even firstborn women fast (Gloss: but this isn’t the custom)
There’s an ancient custom for the firstborn to fast on Erev Pesach, the day before Pesach. The common explanation for this fast day is that it’s in commemoration of The Plague of the First Born. The last of the Ten Plagues, all the firstborn Egyptians died at midnight. All the firstborn of the Jews were miraculously saved, so every year right before Pesach the firstborn fast. This sounds like it’s due to the gratitude of the firstborns that they fast.
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