לא-אכלתי באני ממנו ולא-בערתי ממנו בטמא ולא-נתתי ממנו למת וגו’
I did not eat of it during my intense mourning period, and I did not consume it in impurity, nor did I give of it to the deceased…
The Torah obligates the separation and distribution of various types of tithes. Fruits and vegetables grown in the land of Israel are forbidden to be eaten until their various tithes are separated. Some tithes are given to the Kohanim for consumption, some to the Leviim, and some to the poor. One type of tithe is known as ma’aser sheni, the second tithe. It is for personal consumption, but only in Jerusalem. Instead of transporting the heavy fruits to Jerusalem, a person can transfer the tithe status onto coins. These coins are brought instead to Jerusalem, and used to purchase food and drink. These purchases are then consumed in Jerusalem. After the third year of the seven-year agricultural cycle, everyone must remove all their remaining tithes which they have failed to donate or consume. There is subsequently a mitzvah to come to the Temple and perform vidui, confession. The person proclaims that they have followed all the laws pertaining to tithes. They declare that they didn’t eat it at forbidden times. They state that neither they nor the food was impure when it was consumed. Finally, they say that they did not give of it to the deceased. What does this last confession mean?
Continue reading “Ki Savo 5778”
A mitzvah drags another mitzvah with it
כי יקרא קן-צפור וגו’ והאם רבצת על-האפרחים או על-הביצים לא-תקח האם על-בנים: שלח תשלח את-האם ואת-הבנים תקח-לך למען ייטב לך והארכת ימים: כי תבנה בית חדש ועשית מעקה לגגך ולא-תשים דמים בביתך כי-יפל הנפל ממנו: לא-תזרע כרמך כלאים וגו’ לא-תחרש בשור-ובחמר יחדו: לא תלבש שעטנז צמר ופשתים יחדו
When you chance upon a bird’s nest…and the mother bird is crouched on the chicks or on the eggs, don’t take the mother bird [with]2 the children. [Rather], send away the mother bird, and take the children for yourself. This is so it will be good for you and it will lengthen your days. When you build a new house, make a fence for your roof. Don’t place blood in your house, since a person will fall from [the roof without one]. Don’t sow your vineyard with mixed crops…don’t plow [your field] with an ox and donkey together. Don’t wear sha’atnez, [which is] wool and linen together
This week’s parsha contains within it more mitzvos than any other, totaling seventy-three. Sometimes it’s easy to understand why the Torah grouped certain mitzvos together, and other times not as much. There are a series of mitzvos that describe forbidden mixtures in this week’s parsha, and they are understandably grouped together. There is a prohibition on sowing mixed crops together in the same vineyard. There is a prohibition against doing field work with two different animals together. There is a prohibition for our garments to be made of a mixture of wool and linen. However, the mitzvos that precede these mixture-mitzvos seemingly have no connection to what follows them. First, the Torah describes how to interact with a mother bird and her children. If the passerby wants the chicks, they have to first send away the mother bird. Subsequently, the Torah commands building a fence on our roof when we get a new house. This will prevent any mishaps from occurring. Afterwards is the above-mentioned mixture-mitzvos. What can we learn from this confusing juxtaposition?
Continue reading “Ki Seitzei 5778”
Rabbi Reznick requested that I remove all divrei Torah that I wrote up from him. He didn’t want them in a public forum. If you would like to see a copy from this week’s parsha, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The fence for wealth
עשר תעשר את כל-תבואת זרעך היוצא השדה שנה שנה
You shall surely tithe your produce, that which comes from the field every year
Pirkei Avos is a collection of ethical statements and guidelines by our Sages. One of them is by Rabbi Akiva, who teaches how a person can safeguard the Torah, their wealth, their asceticism, and their wisdom. He says our tradition is “a fence”, i.e. the way to protect, the Torah. Giving tithes is a fence for one’s wealth. Making vows is a fence for one’s asceticism. The fence for wisdom is silence. How is giving tithes a way to protect one’s wealth? Rashi explains because of a verse in this week’s parsha. The Torah commands: עשר תעשר, you shall surely give tithes. Since the Hebrew word for tithe and the word for wealth are spelled the same, the way to read the verse homiletically is עשר בשביל שתתעשר, give tithes in order that you become rich. Hashem promises us that if we are generous with our tzedakah, we will see our wealth increase. However, this verse doesn’t seem relevant to Rabbi Akiva’s lesson. His entire teaching is how a person can protect their attributes. Yet, this verse teaches how a person can increase their wealth. Why didn’t Rashi instead pick a verse which teaches how a person can avoid losing their wealth?
Continue reading “Re’eh 5778”
Hashem’s exacting judgement
ובאהרן התאנף יקוק מאד להשמידו ואתפלל גם בעד אהרן בעת ההיא
Hashem became very angry with Aharon, to the point of almost destroying him; I even prayed for Aharon at that time
While Moshe was recounting to the people the sin of the Golden Calf, he mentioned his brother Aharon’s complicity in the sin. When Moshe was late returning from Mount Sinai, the people thought he had died. They demanded Aharon make them a deity to worship. Aharon complied, and the Golden Calf was created. In this week’s parsha, we learn that Moshe sensed that Hashem was going to “destroy” Aharon. Rashi explains this means that his children would die. Moshe prayed that Hashem have mercy, despite Aharon’s sins. Hashem complied, allowing two out of four of Aharon’s sons to survive. Only his sons Nadav and Avihu perished, during the inauguration of the Mishkan. However, this explanation is inconsistent with a different one Rashi provides. The Torah describes how a vision of Hashem appeared before the dignitaries of the Jews. This included Aharon’s sons. The verse says that they acted without the proper respect; their sin was so great that they should have died instantly. However, Hashem didn’t feel the time was appropriate, and waited until the inauguration of the Mishkan. If so, they died by their own sin; it wasn’t because of their father’s sin with the Golden Calf. How can these two statements be reconciled?
Continue reading “Eikev 5778”