Beha’alosecha 5779

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The three pillars of a positive character[1]

דבר אל-אהרן ואמרת אליו בהעלותך את-הנרת אל-מול פני המנורה יאירו שבעת הנרות: ויעש כן אהרן אל מול פני המנורה העלה נרתיה כאשר צוה יקוק את-משה
Speak to Aharon and say to him: When you ignite the lights, let them illuminate towards the center of the Menorah[2]. Aharon did so; he ignited its lights towards the center of the Menorah, as Hashem commanded Moshe[3]

This week’s parsha begins by discussing the Menorah, including its make and how it was lit[4]. The Torah uses an unusual way to describe the lighting of the Menorah wicks: בהעלותך. Literally, with your raising up the lights. There are many things learned from this, but one of them is the fact that Aharon was instructed to construct a three-step block of stone in front of the Menorah[5]. Meaning, the verse is telling Aharon and his descendants to “go up” to light the Menorah, using these steps. The next verse teaches us that Aharon properly constructed these steps. We could say that this was a practical necessity, in order to reach the top of the Menorah[6]. Why though were there specifically three steps[7]? Also, was there any more significance to this steppingstone?

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Nasso 5779

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A most difficult match[1]

אין מזווגין לו לאדם אשה אלא לפי מעשיו וכו’ וקשין לזווגן כקריעת ים סוף וכו’ והא וכו’ ארבעים יום קודם ליצירת הוולד בת קול יוצאת ואומרת בת פלוני לפלוני וכו’ לא קשיא, הא בזיווג ראשון והא בזיווג שני
A man’s wife is determined based on his actions…and it’s as hard (for Hashem, so to speak[2]) as the splitting of the Reed Sea…But is that so? At the moment of conception[3] a Heavenly voice calls out “The daughter of so-and-so is to marry so-and-so” …This isn’t a contradiction. [It’s preannounced] with a person’s first match, and [it’s difficult] when it’s their second match[4]

This week’s parsha discusses the Sotah, a suspected adulteress, and the way in which she can clear her name to her husband. Since such topics are not the most positive[5], Reish Lakish would begin his class on the topic by relating a nicer discussion of how a couple meets in the first place[6]. He says that a person’s second match is as hard for Hashem to make as it was to split the Reed Sea. Why is this so? Is it really so difficult[7]? To compare it to one of the greatest miracles in our history[8]? Something so intense that it caused the entire world to tremble[9]? What’s the comparison[10]? Also, why does a person’s first match need some sort of Heavenly announcement, and so early? Why couldn’t it have been when they were born, instead of when they were conceived? How does this announcement work, such that without it, the match is difficult to make? Finally, why is a match compared to the splitting of the sea, something representing separation and distance. A more appropriate comparison would have been the miracle of the Arnon valleys, where Hashem caused two mountains to come together to squish the Jews’ enemies[11].

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Bamidbar 5779

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The minuscule tribe[1]

כל-פקודי הלוים אשר פקד משה ואהרן על-פי יקוק למשפחתם כל-זכר מבן-חדש ומעלה שנים ועשרים אלף
The entire count of the Leviim, which Moshe and Aharon counted through the command of Hashem, according to their families, all the males from one month of age and above was 22,000[2]

When the national census of the males was conducted, most of the twelve tribes were counted from the age of twenty. However, the Levite tribe was counted from the age of one month. Nevertheless, their total was less than any other tribe, not even reaching half of the smallest tribe. Why was this so[3]? One suggestion is because they were the only tribe in Egypt that wasn’t enslaved[4]. The Egyptians embittered the Jews’ lives, and the more they tortured them, the more Hashem had them multiply[5]. Jews were miraculously having as many as six babies at once[6]. Since the Leviim weren’t enslaved or tortured, they didn’t receive this miracle growth to their population[7].

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Shavuos 5779 2

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The escape clause[1]

ויוצא משה את-העם לקראת האלקים מן-המחנה ויתיצבו בתחתית ההר

Moshe took the people out from the camp to greet Hashem, and they stood at the foot of the mountain[2]

The holiday of Shavuos celebrates the giving of the Torah to the Jewish people[3]. It’s when the Ten Commandments were stated. Before the great revelation of the Divine, the Torah says that the Jews stood בתחתית ההר, “at the foot” of the mountain. However, literally read, the verse says that they stood “under” the mountain. Chazal learn from here[4] that this teaches us that Hashem picked up the mountain, and held it over their heads. He said to them: “If you accept the Torah, good. But if not, then this[5] will be your burial place”. Thankfully, the Jews accepted the Torah. In fact, they later accepted it anew in the days of Achashverosh, out of love. However, this shows us that initially it was only through coercion. The gemarra concludes that this created a מודעא רבה לאורייתא, meaning they had an escape clause. If they ever failed to keep the Torah, they could always claim that they never accepted it willingly. They were never really obligated to keep it, since their acceptance was under duress. Only once they accepted it anew did they lose this claim.

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Bechukosai Shavuos 5779

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The toil of Torah[1]

אם-בחקותי תלכו ואת מצותי תשמרו ועשיתם אותם
If you walk in my decrees, and you guard my mitzvos, and perform them….[2]

The parsha begins by spelling out all the good that will happen to us if we follow Hashem’s Will, and everything else that will happen if we don’t. The Torah begins this stipulation with a vague requirement to walk in Hashem’s decrees. What does this mean? It can’t mean that we should observe Hashem’s commandments, as that’s what the rest of the verse expresses. We are taught[3] that it means that we are expected to toil in Torah. Not just learn it, but be fully engaged in the learning experience. This is in addition to our mitzvah observance. We are also taught that Hashem so-to-speak yearns for our toil in Torah[4]. Why is this so, and why is this the introductory requirement in order to receive Hashem’s blessings?
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Behar 5779

The Mountain and the rested Land[1]

וידבר יקוק אל-משה בהר סיני לאמר: דבר אל-בני ישראל ואמרת אליהם כי תבואו אל הארץ אשר אני נותן לכם ושבתה הארץ שבת ליקוק
Hashem spoke to Moshe on Mount Sinai, saying: Speak to the Children of Israel, and say to them: When you arrive at the land which I give to you, the land shall rest, a Sabbath for Hashem[2]

This week’s parsha begins by introducing the mitzvah of shemittah, the Sabbatical year. Once every seven years the land of Israel is to lie fallow, and the fruits become ownerless. What’s unusual with this mitzvah is it’s introduced by specifying that Hashem spoke to Moshe on Mount Sinai. This specification isn’t done with any other mitzvah. What does shemittah have to do with Mount Sinai? Rashi says[3] to teach us that just like the general principles as well as the details of the mitzvah of shemittah were taught at Mount Sinai, the same is true for all mitzvos. However, this is only the opinion of Rabbi Akiva. Rabbi Yishmael holds that all other mitzvos had their general principles taught at Mount Sinai, and their details were taught at the Tent of Meeting[4] [5]. What then does he learn from the specification of Mount Sinai with the mitzvah of shemittah? As well, even according to Rabbi Akiva, why was shemittah chosen to specifically teach us this idea?

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Emor / Sefiras HaOmer 5779

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Receiving the munn and offering the Omer[1]

דבר אל-בני ישראל ואמרת אלהם כי-תבאו אל-הארץ אשר אני נתן לכם וקצרתם את-קצירה והבאתם את-עמר ראשית קצירכם אל הכהן: והניף את-העמר לפני יקוק לרצנכם ממחרת השבת יניפנו הכהן
Speak to the Children of Israel and say to them: When you come to the land that I give to you, and you harvest its produce, you shall bring the Omer, the first of your harvest, to the Kohen. He shall wave the Omer before Hashem, to make you desirable[2]; the day after Pesach[2] the Kohen shall wave it.

וספרתם לכם ממחרת השבת מיום הביאכם את-עמר התנופה שבע שבתות תמימת תהיינה: עד ממחרת השבת השביעת תספרו חמשים יום והקרבתם מנחה חדשה ליקוק
You shall count for yourselves, from the day after Pesach, from the day you brought the waved Omer, seven weeks, which shall be perfect. Until after the seventh week, count fifty days, and then offer a new flour offering to Hashem[3]

The Omer flour offering which was brought the day after Pesach is highly unusual. An omer is literally a volume of flour, also known as a tenth of an eiphah[4]. All other flour offerings don’t use the word omer to describe their quantity, and indeed simply say a tenth of an eiphah[5]. Why then does this offering use the term Omer? More than that, this offering is known by name by its volume of flour. Why is it called the Omer offering? Further, there’s a mitzvah to count every day up to fifty days after Pesach. This mitzvah is called Sefiras HaOmer, literally the counting of the Omer. The whole point of the mitzvah is the anticipation of the festival of Shavuos[6], which culminates the fifty-day count. Why then is the mitzvah to specifically count “from the Omer”?

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Kedoshim 5779

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Sibling love, disgrace, and quarrels[1]

ואיש אשר-יקח את-אחתו בת-אביו או בת-אמו וראה את-ערותה והיא תראה את ערותו חסד הוא ונכרתו לעיני בני עמם ערות אחתו גלה עונו ישא
A man who will take his sister, the daughter of his father or the daughter of his mother, and will see her nakedness, and she will see his nakedness, it is chesed, and they will be cut off from before the eyes of the nation. For he has uncovered his sister’s nakedness, and he shall carry his sin[2]

The Torah, in its list of the forbidden relationships, gives the incestuous relationship with one’s sister a special descriptor. The union is referred to as chesed. Normally, this word refers to loving kindness. It seems highly out of place in this context[3]. Rashi therefore says[4] that in this context it’s the Aramaic word for disgrace. Such a union is a disgrace to both parties. However, why did the Torah use this unusual word, instead of the normal Hebrew word for disgrace? Rashi therefore brings the homiletic interpretation[5], that this verse is alluding to the answer to an age-old question.

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Acharei Mos 5779

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The constant struggle[1]

ואל אשה בנדת טומאתה לא תקרב וגו’‏
Do not approach a woman in her impure state of niddah[2]

The gemarra relates[3] a conversation between a Sadducee[4], someone who rejected Rabbinic Judaism, and the Sages of his time. He asked Rav Kahana, how could a man and woman be trusted to be alone together when the wife is a niddah[5]? Once she has her period, she and her husband are forbidden to each other until she immerses in a mikveh at the right time. He asked is it possible for a fire to kindle and not burn?

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Pesach 5779 #2

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The stubborn sea[1]

הים ראה וינס הירדן יסב לאחור
The [Reed] Sea[2] saw and ran away, the Jordan River turned backwards[3]

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[4] after this miracle[5]. 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? Some say that it was Moshe[6]. Others says that it was the coffin[7] of Yosef[8]. A very strange opinion[9] is that the sea “saw” the teaching[10] of the Academy of Rabbi Yishmael. What does this mean?

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