Eikev 5781

Pearls of gratitude[1]

ובאהרן התאנף יקוק מאד להשמידו ואתפלל גם-בעד אהרן בעת ההוא
Hashem became incredibly enraged towards Aharon, in order to destroy him. I prayed on Aharon’s behalf that that time[2]

Our Sages relate[3] a very unusual interaction between Moshe and Aharon. When Aharon was inaugurated as the Kohen Gadol, he was anointed with special sanctified oil. After doing so, Moshe and Aharon noticed that two pearls of oil remained on Aharon’s beard[4]. Upon realizing this, Moshe was very concerned he had committed מעילה, misappropriated sanctified property[5]. Immediately, a heavenly voice declared that there was nothing to be concerned over. Aharon then started worrying that perhaps he himself had committed מעילה, by getting inappropriate pleasure from the remaining oil on his beard, desecrating its sanctity. Immediately, a heavenly voice declared that there was nothing to be concerned over. That’s the entirety of the story. There are many questions here. First and foremost, what’s the significance over these two pearls of oil? Why is this story worth relating?

Our Sages tell us[6] that there was no one who saw as much joy as Elisheva[7], the wife of Aharon HaKohen. She had five sources of joy: 1) Her brother-in-law Moshe was the leader of the Jews, a type of king 2) Her husband was the Kohen Gadol 3) Her son Elazar was the assistant Kohen Gadol 4) Her grandson Pinchas was the Kohen anointed for war[8] 5) Her brother Nachshon was the prince of the tribe of Yehuda[9]. Unfortunately, her joy was marred by the death of her two sons, Nadav and Avihu. On the day that the Mishkan was inaugurated[10], they acted inappropriately, and their souls were taken by Hashem. As such, our Sages say that it was as if Elisheva saw no joy. Meaning, her joy was overshadowed by tragedy. One could easily ask[11] on this Midrash why it specified Elisheva. Why didn’t it include her husband Aharon? He, just as much as his wife, had five reasons to be happy, and he lost his two sons.

We could suggest[12] that Aharon didn’t experience any joy at all. Elisheva was accorded all this honor, and in contrast to the joy she felt she was bereaved of her two sons. Both were true, just the pain she felt overshadowed her joy. Aharon, once his two sons died, started to be very concerned. He knew that Nadav and Avihu died because they got too close to Hashem. They entered the Holy of Holies[13]. However, they had not yet been forbidden from entering. Why then were they killed? Aharon was scared that they were really killed because of his own failings. As it says in this week’s parsha, Hashem became very angry with Aharon for creating the Golden Calf, which was worshipped by the Jews.

The verse says[14] that Hashem wanted to destroy Aharon, which our Sages interpret[15] to mean he would lose his four children. Moshe prayed that Aharon be spared, and only two of Aharon’s sons died. Nevertheless, when they died while performing the Temple Service, Aharon was concerned that he and his children were forever disqualified from being Kohanim. Hashem wasn’t interested in their service. This fear made all the honors he and his family had been accorded insignificant. The Midrash therefore only mentioned Elisheva’s joy, and not Aharon’s.

To assuage Aharon’s concerns, Hashem performed a miracle. After Moshe anointed his brother with the anointing oil, they both discovered that two pearls of oil remained on Aharon’s beard. These pearls miraculously stayed there, regardless of his movements. They were to symbolize two types of anointed Kohanim: the assistant Kohen Gadol, and the Kohen designated to lead during war. After Aharon’s sons Nadav and Avihu died, their positions were filled with Aharon’s son Elazar, who became the assistant Kohen Gadol, and his grandson Pinchas, who led during war. The everlasting nature of these pearls of oil in Aharon’s beard were to symbolize that the Kehuna would never be removed from his offspring.

This interpretation gives a whole new read to the gemarra. When Moshe saw the pearls of oil, he became concerned. Not that he had misappropriated the oil. He saw their miraculous nature, and understood their true intent. He was concerned that he hadn’t received a similar promise from Hashem. He had no assurance that his offspring would remain the leaders of the Jewish people. He was concerned that he had acted unjustly[16] towards Hashem! A heavenly voice declared that Moshe had nothing to worry about. He hadn’t committed any error. Although his descendants won’t remain leaders, Moshe was assured that he had properly taught the people the Torah, and successfully trained his student Yehoshua to take over[17].

As has been already emphasized, Aharon was very concerned. He saw his two sons die while performing the Temple service, and was worried that his offspring had become disqualified from the Kehuna. He thought he had committed an affront to Hashem with his sin with the Golden Calf[18]. To this came another heavenly voice to declare that he had nothing to worry about. The miraculous pearls of oil were to testify that his offspring shall forever remain Kohanim. Aharon’s sons, in fact, did not die because they were disqualified from the Temple service. Rather, they died because of their lofty level[19]. They had attained perfection in their closeness with Hashem, and their souls left them[20].


The above and what follows is what I said at the kiddush in honor of the birth of our daughter.

We are hosting this kiddush in honor of the birth of our daughter, as a form of hakaras hatov to Hashem for bringing her into our life. After some deliberating, we decided to name her Elisheva Liba. Liba is after my wife’s great-grandmother. Elisheva, on a simple level, is because we really liked the name. Also, we know that Aharon’s wife Elisheva was a very righteous woman. However, in retrospect, perhaps Elisheva was a very fitting name for our daughter. As we mentioned, Aharon’s wife Elisheva saw more joy than any other. Alas, that joy was turned bitter when her two sons died. The pain overshadowed any joy that she could have felt.

The birth of a child can be an exhilarating experience. A new life on its own is a major source of joy. However, we as a family had many other reasons to be joyful. After months of waiting to get to the land of Israel, we finally were granted entry shortly after Sukkos of last year. We came knowing my wife was expecting, and that we would G-d willing have a child here. This is where we wanted to be. As well, not something insignificant, is all the paperwork for Bituach Leumi was resolved just in time for the birth, covering the hospital stay. We had every reason to be happy.

At the same time, and I’m speaking for myself at the moment, the circumstances of the birth of our daughter were one of the most stressful times in my life. Sparing the details, there were complications with the birth, and because of COVID-19 there were hospital regulations barring our one-and-a-half-year-old son from entering to see his mother. We were all alone here without any family to help watch him. It was very difficult to see and help my wife and new baby while coordinating what to do with our son. He desperately missed his mother who had a hard time leaving her recovery bed to see him. Once my wife and new baby were finally released, our daughter got a virus. My wife had to spend the weekend with her alone in the hospital, holding her the entire time.

And yet, we saw tremendous siyata dishmaya, Divine assistance. There were so many people who offered help. The staff at the hospital took great care of my wife and baby. There was a social worker there who got us the help we needed when we needed it. People in the community offered to watch our son, and make us meals. The joy of having a new child could have been marred by all the stress and anxiety, like what happened with Aharon’s wife Elisheva. However, with our Elisheva, Hashem was openly taking care of us by sending us the help we needed, when we needed it. It was a difficult situation, but definitely not one which overshadowed the joy we felt at having a new child. It is for this we are truly grateful, and thought it was appropriate to host this kiddush as a small token of expression of thanks.                                                         Mazel tov and Good Shabbos

[1] Based on Maharsha to Horayos 12a s.v. כמין ב’

[2] Deuteronomy 9:20

[3] Horayos loc. cit.; Kerisos 5b

[4] This is based off of Psalms 133:2: כשמן הטוב היורד על הראש יורד על הזקן זקן-אהרן וגו’. Chazal infer it was two pearls of oil from the repetition of the word זקן in the verse (Maharsha loc. cit.)

[5] See Rashi ad. loc.

[6] Midrash Tanchuma Shemini § 2; Tanchuma Yashan Shemini § 3

[7] Tzror HaMor to Leviticus 10:2 clarifies that it was specifically on the day the Mishkan was inaugurated that she saw so much joy

[8] According to the opinion in Zevachim 101b that Pinchas was always a Kohen

[9] Midrash Tanchuma and Tanchuma Yashan loc. cit.; Midrash Tanchuma Acharei Mos § 1; Zevachim 102a; Vayikra Rabbah 20:2; Koheles Rabbah 2:2; Shir HaShirim Rabbah 3:6; Seder Olam Chapter 7 (although I saw it cited sometimes as Chapter 4). Midrash Tanchuma Acharei Mos (and not Shemini), Koheles Rabbah, and Seder Olam list four sources of joy by leaving out (3) and (4) and saying instead that her two sons were assistants to the Kohen Gadol. This refers to Nadav and Avihu before they died. The other Midrashim are focusing on honors accorded her after their death. Torah Temimah to Ecclesiastes 2:2 § 17 suggests the Midrashim that list four joys hold that Pinchas only became a Kohen after he killed Zimri (Zevachim 101b)

[10] See note 7

[11] Maharsha loc. cit.; Iyun Ya’akov to Zevachim loc. cit.; Biur Ha’amarim to Midrash Tanchuma Shemini § 2; Torah Temimah loc. cit.

[12] Maharsha. His initial suggestion is that there’s no concept of mourning for a Kohen Gadol (Leviticus 10:6). Since the Midrash wanted to contrast the joy with the mourning, it chose Elisheva instead of Aharon. Iyun Ya’akov suggests that it specified Elisheva, because it is in the merit of the righteous women that their relatives become Kohanim Gedolim (Yoma 47a). Biur Ha’amarim suggests that Aharon was too distraught over the pearls of oil in his beard to pay any attention to these five honors. Torah Temimah sees it as a rebuke of Elisheva, that her joy was marred since she took credit for the joy she was experiencing. Aharon knew that these honors were a complete chessed from Hashem, so he wasn’t overcome with joy in them like Elisheva was

[13] Toras Kohanim to Leviticus 10:5; Vayikra Rabbah 20:8; Midrash Tanchuma Acharei Mos § 6

[14] Deuteronomy loc. cit.

[15] Vayikra Rabbah 7:1, brought by Rashi ad. loc.

[16] חס ושלום מעלתי בשמן המשחה. The Maharsha reads מעלתי to mean that he had committed some sort of crime or injustice towards Hashem, and this was evident based on his lack of having the שמן המשחה on his beard

[17] See Maharsha for how he reads this into the wording of the gemarra

[18] שמא משה לא מעל אבל אני מעלתי. There’s no mention of the anointing oil, so the Maharsha is able to read his explanation into the wording of the gemarra. Based on this, it’s not impossible to suggest that the Biur Ha’amarim in note 12 intended the explanation of the Maharsha

[19] בקרובי אקדש (Leviticus 10:3)

[20] See Aruch LaNer to Kerisos loc. cit. for another satisfying explanation of this Aggadata

Vaeschanan 5781

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The testimony of Shabbos[1]

Remember the Shabbos day, to sanctify it[2] זכור את-יום השבת לקדשו Safeguard the Shabbos day, to sanctify it…[3] שמור את-יום השבת לקדשו וגו’
Do not testify falsely regarding your fellow[4] לא תענה ברעך עד שקר Do not testify in vain regarding your fellow[5] ולא-תענה ברעך עד שוא

 

In the Shabbos morning prayers, we declare: ושני לוחות אבנים הוריד בידו, Moshe brought down from Mount Sinai two stone tables in his hand, וכתוב בהם שמירת שבת, and they are engraved with the obligation to observe Shabbos, וכן כתוב בתורתך ושמרו בני ישראל את השבת, and similarly it is written in Hashem’s Torah[6] that, “the Jewish people shall observe Shabbos”. We can ask a few questions on this declaration. First of all, why do we need to support the observance of Shabbos by bringing a verse? If the stone tablets, which were written by G-d Himself[7], command resting on Shabbos, what does a verse in the Torah add? Another question is with regards to the phrasing of the declaration. We say that they, the two stone tablets, are engraved with the obligation to observe Shabbos. At first glance this seems false. Only the first of the two tablets mentions Shabbos. How can we resolve these difficulties?

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Tisha B’Av 5781

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Devarim 5781

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Having the proper perspective[1]

יקוק אלקינו דבר אלינו בחרב לאמר רב-לכם שבת בהר הזה: פנו וסעו לכם ובאו הר האמרי וגו’‏
Hashem, our God, spoke to us on Chorev (Mount Sinai) saying: “Rav lachem dwelling on this mountain. Turn and travel and come to the Ammorite mountain…”[2]

Moshe, as part of his goodbye speech to the people, described the various events which got them to where they were now holding. Most of this speech was intended to act as a rebuke towards the people for their shortcomings throughout their journeys. One episode he described was that after spending over a year at Mount Sinai learning Torah, Hashem told them rav lachem. Literally He said, it is too much for you to dwell further on this mountain. It sounds like they wanted to stay longer, but Hashem told them it was time to move on. However, this seems to contradict a teaching of our Sages[3] that the Jews ran away from Mount Sinai like schoolchildren who run away from their classes. It sounds like they didn’t need much pressure from Hashem to leave. Which was it?

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Mattos / Masei 5781

The responsibility of the Kohen Gadol[1]

‏…והשיבו אתו העדה אל-עיר מקלטו אשר-נס שמה וישב בה עד-מות הכהן הגדל וגו’‏
…The congregation shall return [the accidental killer] to his city of refuge (where he initially fled to), and he shall dwell there until the death of the Kohen Gadol…[2]

The Torah mandates that someone who, G-d forbid, accidentally kills another, be sentenced to exile. They have to leave their family and friends and dwell in one of the cities of refuge that the Torah delineates. It serves both as protection from the deceased’s relatives (who may want to take revenge)[3], and as a form of atonement[4]. The Torah does give a time limit to this exile. Although, it’s seemingly incongruous to the crime committed. The accidental killer must stay in their city of refuge until the death of the Kohen Gadol. Only then can they return to their home. Why did the Torah make his freedom dependent on the Kohen Gadol’s death?

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Pinchas 5781

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Just reward[1]

פינחס בן-אלעזר בן-אהרן הכהן השיב את-חמתי מעל בני-ישראל בקנאו את-קנאתי בתוכם ולא-כליתי את-בני-ישראל בקנאתי
Pinchas, the son of Elazar, the son of Aharon the Kohen, turned back My wrath from upon the Jewish people, by acting out his zealotry amongst you. [As a result] I did not wipe out the Jewish people with my zealotry[2]

Parshas Pinchas begins where the previous parsha ended. Zimri ben Salu, a prince of the tribe of Shimon, committed a leud act with a Midianite woman in front of the entire congregation. Moshe was at a loss what to do[3]. Pinchas, a grandson of Aharon HaKohen, recalled that in such a situation a zealot may take the law into their own hands[4]. He punished Zimri, and Pinchas was rewarded kindly by Hashem. The Sages in the Midrash make an unusual comment about the results of Pinchas’ actions. They say[5] that “it makes sense that Pinchas was rewarded”. What do they mean by this teaching, and what are they stressing?

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Balak 5781

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Bilaam’s interaction with Hashem[1]

ויבא אלקים אל-בלעם ויאמר מי האנשים האלה עמך: ויאמר בלעם אל-האלקים בלק בן-צפר מלך מואב שלח אלי
G-d came to Bilaam and said to him: “Who are these men who are with you?[2]” Bilaam said to G-d: “Balak, the son of Tzippor, the King of Moav, sent [them] to me”[3]

ויאמר אלקים אל-בלעם לא תלך עמהם לא תאר את-העם כי ברוך הוא: ויקם בלעם בבקר ויאמר אל-שרי בלק לכו אל-ארצכם כי מאן יקוק לתתי להלך עמכם
G-d said to Bilam: “Do not go with them. Do not curse the nation, as they are blessed”. Bilaam got up in the morning and told the ministers of Balak: “Go back to your land, as Hashem has withheld permission for me to go with you[4]

ויבא אלקים אל-בלעם לילה ויאמר לו אם-לקרא לך באו האנשים קום לך אתם ואך את-הדבר אשר-אדבר אליך אתו תעשה
G-d came to Bilaam in the night, and said to him: “If these men came to invite you, then get up and go with them. However, relate [only] that which I will tell you. That is what you shall do”[5]

The King Balak, whom this parsha is named after, hired the sorcerer Bilaam to curse the Jewish people. The verses show that he was a non-Jewish prophet, and communicated with G-d. It’s interesting to see and analyze their interactions. Rav Rutterman, the founder and Rosh Yeshiva of Ner Yisroel, related that we can glean two fascinating insights into the human psyche from these interactions.

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Chukas 5781

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Subtle differences[1]

וירם משה את-ידו ויך את-הסלע במטהו פעמים ויצאו מים רבים ותשת העדה ובעירם
Moshe raised his hand and struck the rock twice with his staff. A lot of water came out and quenched the thirst of the congregation and their animals[2]

The episode of Mei Merivah is one of the more famous episodes in the Torah, and one of the most difficult to understand. The whole story is only a few verses long, and describes the Jews’ thirst for water, Hashem commanding Moshe to speak to a rock, and Moshe’s sin of instead hitting this rock. The commentators struggle[3] to understand what exactly he did wrong. Despite Moshe’s sin, the people got the water they requested. Hashem miraculously brought forth water from a rock, just because Moshe hit it. The verse says that a lot of water came out. This extra benefit would seem to be something positive, but perhaps there’s more to this miracle than meets the eye.

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Korach 5781

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Eyes to see[1]

ויקח קרח וגו’ ודתן ואבירם וגו’ ואון וגו’ ויקמו לפני משה ואנשים מבני-ישראל חמשים ומאתים וגו’‏
Korach took [his tallis][2] …and Dasan and Aviram…and Ohn…they and two-hundred and fifty men from the Jewish people confronted Moshe…[3]

This week’s parsha details the rebellion of Korach. He challenged the leadership of Moshe and Aharon, convincing a group of the greatest sages of Israel to join his cause. Rashi asks[4], how could Korach ever conceive that his rebellion would be successful? Moshe clearly was a miracle performer. He produced the Ten Plagues, and split the sea. He obviously had a relationship with Hashem. Rashi says[5] that Korach’s eye misled him. He saw a prophecy that his future descendant would be the prophet Shmuel, who Chazal say was of equal prominence to Moshe and Aharon[6]. Korach figured there is no way he would merit this great descendant unless he took action[7]. He would have to usurp Moshe and Aharon and become the leader. In the end his rebellion proved unsuccessful, removing all doubt to Moshe’s authority. The commentaries[8] are bothered with Rashi’s[9] phraseology. Why did Rashi say that Korach’s eye misled him, instead of a more normal expression Korach’s eyes misled him?

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Shelach 5781

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The reminder of tzitzis[1]

ויהיו בני-ישראל במדבר וימצאו איש מקשש עצים ביום השבת: דבר אל-בני ישראל ואמרת אלהם ועשו להם ציצת על-כנפי בגדיהם לדרתם וגו’‏
While the Jews were in the wilderness, they found a man gathering wood on Shabbos…Speak to the Children of Israel and say to them: “In all generations, make tzitzis on the corners of your garments…”[2]

The Torah juxtaposes two seemingly unrelated and disconnected points. The first is an episode where a man was caught brazenly violating Shabbos. Immediately after this story is told, the mitzvah of tzitzis is described. Why are these two things put next to each other? One explanation is[3] that Moshe had a claim against Hashem[4]. The Jews are commanded to wear tefillin on their heads and arms six days a week. The mitzvah of tefillin reminds them to keep and observe the Torah properly. The one day that the Jews don’t wear tefillin is on Shabbos[5]. As such, this man was susceptible to forgetting the mitzvos. How could it not be expected for someone to desecrate Shabbos? Hashem responded with the mitzvah of tzitzis, which apply all seven days of the week. Tzitzis are also a sign that Jew wears to remind them of all the mitzvos. This way, there’s no need to worry about someone forgetting the laws of Shabbos, or any other mitzvah. The problem with this explanation is we are taught[6] that the person who desecrated Shabbos knew full well what they were doing. They didn’t forget anything. How then can we understand this approach[7]?

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