Sukkos 5780

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Two types of sukkos[1]

למען ידעו דרתיכם כי בסֻכות הושבתי את-בני ישראל בהוציאי אותם מארץ מצרים אני יקוק אלקיכם
In order that your generations shall know that I placed the Jewish people in sukkos, when I took them out of the land of Egypt; I am Hashem your G-d[2]

The verse explaining the purpose of dwelling in sukkos has an anomaly. The word סֻכות is written in full, instead of more the concise סֻכֹת, as it’s spelled when the Torah actually commands us to dwell in them[3]. Why is this so[4]? This is to hint to the two opinions[5] as to which kind of sukkos we are meant to recall when we dwell in our personal sukkos. One opinion focuses on the fact that the Jews were surrounded by Hashem’s Clouds of Glory during their travels in the wilderness. We are to recall this (temporary) Divine shelter by dwelling in our temporary sukkos. The other opinion is that the Jews themselves dwelled in temporary huts called sukkos, during their battles in the land of Sichon and Og[6] [7]. If the word סכת was written concisely, it would look like it’s referring to one sukkah. Written out in full refers to multiple sukkos, and thus alludes to these two opinions.

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HaAzinu 5780

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The gift of forgetting[1]

צור ילדך תשי ותשכח קל מחללך
You forgot the Rock that formed you; you forgot the G-d that brought you forth[2]

This week’s parsha contains Moshe’s prophetic goodbye song to the Jewish people. It describes scenes from their past, as well as hints to their future. In a poetic sense, each verse is very terse, and contains many layers of depth and meaning. The commentaries offer many different approaches to each word and phrase. One verse focuses on the fact that the Jewish people forget their G-d. This isn’t just a fact, explaining how the Jewish people could have ever sinned. It’s in fact a very deep rebuke, which can be brought out very eloquently in a parable.

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Yom Kippur 5780

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The most powerful day[1]

כי-ביום הזה יכפר עליכם לטהר אתכם מכל חטאתיכם לפני יקוק תטהרו
For on this day [of Yom Kippur] it shall be atoned for you, to purify you, from all of your sins; purify yourselves before Hashem![2]

Yom Kippur is one of the most intense days of the year. We spend the entire day involved in prayers and supplications. We fast, and refrain from physical pleasures. We (hopefully) perform teshuvah, repentance with sincerity and a broken heart. With this, we hope to repair the damage we inflicted to our relationship with our Creator. After all of this, a person may wonder: How can I know that my repentance was accepted?

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Vayeilech 5780

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Childish matters[1]

הקהל את-העם ואנשים והנשים והטף וגרך אשר בשעריך למען ישמעו ולמען ילמדו ויראו את-יקוק אלקיכם ושמרו את-כל-דברי הורה הזאת: ובניהם אשר לא-ידעו ישמעו ולמדו ליראה את-יקוק אלקיכם כל-הימים אשר אתה חיים על-האדמה וגו’‏
Gather the nation, the men, the women, the taf, and the stranger in your gates. [This is] in order that you listen and in order that you learn and fear Hashem your G-d, and that you observe all the words of this Torah. And your children that don’t understand, they will hear and learn to fear Hashem your G-d, all the days that you are alive on the earth…[2]

One of the last mitzvos described in the Torah is the mitzvah known as Hakhel[3]. On the Sukkos following the Shemittah year[4], all Jews are commanded to come to the Temple[5] and hear the King read from the book of Deuteronomy[6]. The Torah says that this is so the people will learn to fear Hashem, and follow His commandments. The Torah stresses that all Jews are meant to be there, men, women, and children. The second verse clearly mentions children, and says they’re of an age where they don’t understand. The first verse, after mentioning men and women, says the “taf” are also meant to come. Who is this referring to?

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Rosh Hashanah 5780

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Tipping the scales[1]

דרשו יקוק בהמצאו קראוהו בהיותו קרוב
Seek out Hashem when He is to be found; call out to Him when He is close[2]

Every person has a mix of merits and transgressions. We are taught that someone who has more merits than transgressions is considered a tzaddik, a righteous person. Someone who has more transgressions than merits is considered a rasha, a wicked person. Someone who is exactly 50-50 is considered a beinoni, someone in the middle[3]. On Rosh Hashanah, everyone’s status is determined. Someone who is ruled as a tzaddik is sealed for life. Someone who is ruled as a rasha is sealed for death. Someone who is a beinoni has their judgement stalled until Yom Kippur. If they repent, then they will be sealed for life. If not, they will be sealed for death[4].

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Nitzavim 5779

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Shared responsibility[1]

הנסתרת ליקוק אלקינו והנגלות ל̇נ̇ו̇ ו̇ל̇ב̇נ̇י̇נ̇ו̇ ע̇ד-עולם לעשות את-כל-דברי התורה הזאת
The hidden [deeds] are for Hashem our G-d, and the revealed [deeds] are for us, our children, forever, to fulfill all the words of this Torah[2]

This week’s parsha contains one of Moshe’s last major speeches to the Jewish people. He starts by pointing out that the entire people were present during this speech[3]. The leaders, the commoners, the women, the children, the converts. No one was missing. Moshe was bringing everyone into a covenant with G-d, for all generations. Part of this covenant involved a shared responsibility for one another. If some people sin, all could be punished. We should all ensure that our fellow is on their best behavior, and not turn a blind eye.

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Ki Savo 5779

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The unique G-d; the unique nation[1]

את-יקוק האמרת היום להיות לך לאלקים וגו’ ויקוק האמירך היום להיות לו לעם סגלה וגו’‏
Today you have he’emarta Hashem to be for you a G-d…Today Hashem he’emircha you to be for Him a cherished[2] nation[3]

This week’s parsha uses two unusual words to describe the relationship between Hashem and His nation, the Jewish people. These words seemingly don’t occur anywhere else in scripture[4]. Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah expounded[5] these words as follows: Hashem said to the Jewish people: “You have made me one חטיבה in this world, as the verse says[6]: ‘שמע ישראל יקוק אלקינו יקוק אחד, Hear O Israel, Hashem is our G-d, Hashem is One’. [Therefore], I will make for you one חטיבה in this world, as the verse says[7]: ‘ומי כעמך ישראל גוי אחד בארץ, Who is like Your nation, O Israel, one nation in the land’”. Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah seemingly didn’t help us identify the meaning of he’emarta and he’emircha in this week’s parsha. He used the similarly uncommon word chativa to define them. What does this word mean?

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Ki Seitzei 5779

Returning what was lost[1]

לא-תראה את-שור אחיך או את-שיו נדחים והתעלמת מהם השב תשיבם לאחיך
Do not see your brother’s ox or his sheep straying and hide yourself from them; [rather] you shall surely return them to your brother[2]

This week’s parsha contains more mitzvos than any other. One of them is a classic case where the Torah’s concern for interpersonal relationships is demonstrated. We are commanded to return lost objects to our friend. If we see that their possession was dropped, we have to make our best efforts to get it back into their hand. There are those that suggest that if we are commanded to be concerned for another’s monetary objects, all the more so we should be concerned for their souls[3]. However, as with everything in Torah, there are many layers of meaning[4]. Some want to suggest[5] that the verse itself is referring to a concern for another’s spiritual welfare.

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Shoftim 5779

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Gifts of appreciation[1]

וזה יהיה משפט הכהנים מאת העם מאת זבחי הזבח אם-שור אם-שה ונתן לכהן הזרע והלחיים והקבה
This will be the law for the Kohanim: Those from the nation who slaughter a cow or a sheep will give to the Kohen the [animal’s] shoulder, cheeks, and stomach[2]

Hashem’s chosen family for the Temple service is the Kohanim, the descendants of Aharon. What comes with this responsibility is certain gifts. The rest of the nation are commanded to give some of the produce to Kohanim, as well as the choicest parts of their animals. The gemarra asks[3] a simple question: If a Kohen grabs away the gifts owed to them from the original owner, is that showing that they cherish the mitzvah? Or is that disrespectful to the mitzvah. The gemarra answers that the Torah says for the non-Kohen to give the animal parts to the Kohen, not that the Kohen should take it.

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Eikev 5779

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The two types of yirah[1]

ועתה ישראל מה יקוק אלקיך שואל מעמך כי אם-ליראה את-יקוק אלקיך וגו’‏
And now Israel, what does Hashem your G-d ask from you, just to fear Hashem your G-d…[2]

This weeks parsha tells us the main thing that Hashem asks from us: to be ירא him. There are various ways to translate this word, usually “fear” or “awe”. We are commanded to have fear and awe of Hashem. However, there are two types of יראה. There’s יראת העונש, fear of punishment[3], and יראת הרוממות, awe of Hashem’s loftiness[4]. The former is easy to obtain, and the latter is considered a high level in the service of Hashem[5]. We can then ask, when the Torah tell us the main thing Hashem wants from us is to fear and have awe of Him, which יראה is this referring to? Fear of punishment, or awe of Hashem’s loftiness[6]?

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