Nasso 5784

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Nazirite novelties[1]

וזאת תורת הנזיר ביום מלאת ימי נזרו יביא אתו אל-פתח אהל מועד
This is the law of the Nazir on the day that he completes his Nazirite vow. He shall bring him to the entrance of the Tent of Meeting[2]

A Nazir is someone who takes a vow to refrain from consuming grape products, coming in contact with the dead, and from cutting their hair. Upon completion of their vow, which can be for as short or as long as they want, they bring offerings to the Temple and resume a normal life. The Torah describes the Nazir as יביא אותו, “he will bring him” to the Temple. Who is bringing whom? Rashi tells us[3] that in fact, the Nazir is to bring himself. This is one of the three times in the Torah that אותו is interpreted to mean oneself[4]. If that’s the intent, why did the Torah write it this way[5]? Why not just write that the Nazir will go to the Temple?

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Bamidbar/Shavuos 5784

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Hashem’s students; Hashem’s children[1]

אלה תולדות אהרן ומשה ביום דבר יקוק את משה בהר סיני
These are the offspring of Aharon and Moshe on the day that Hashem spoke to Moshe on Mount Sinai[2]

Rashi notes[3] that our verse purports to introduce the offspring of Aharon and Moshe, but only mentions the offspring of Aharon. We learn from here that since Moshe taught Aharon’s children Torah, they are considered by the Torah to be his children as well. Anyone who teaches another Torah, it’s as if they birthed them. Now, the verse ends by mentioning the day that Hashem spoke to Moshe on Mount Sinai. If we connect this idea to the end of the verse, then it means they became considered like Moshe’s children on the day that Hashem first spoke to Moshe on Mount Sinai.

However, this requires investigation. We don’t have any indication that on the day that Hashem started speaking to Moshe, he had already taught Aharon’s children. Why then would they be considered his children, already on that day? Even if we suppose he did teach them, the verse is stressing the reason they were considered his children was because it was the day that Hashem started speaking to Moshe. It doesn’t mention because he started teaching them that day.

Our Sages teach us[4] that the prophet Shmuel was quite an intelligent child. Already at the age of two[5], he ruled on a matter of Jewish law. His teacher Eli, the Kohen Gadol, was present at the time. This was considered a violation of the principle of not ruling in front of one’s teacher. However, Tosafos ask[6] that this was the day that he first came to Eli. He hadn’t yet learned from him. Why then was this considered ruling in front of one’s teacher?

Tosafos answer that nevertheless, Eli was the greatest scholar of the generation, and Shmuel came before him to learn. Some understand[7] this to be really two answers. It’s enough for Eli to be the greatest of the generation for this principle to apply, despite not having yet learned from him. Or, since Shmuel came before Eli to learn from him, he was already considered his teacher. This is despite not yet having learned anything from him.

Now we can understand the children of Aharon. The day that Moshe went to Mount Sinai to accept the Torah, the children of Aharon were already designated to receive it directly from Moshe. Therefore, from that day on they were considered his students, and thus his children.

Before the Torah was given, the Jews famously declared, “We will do and we will listen”[8]. Since they preceded doing to listening, showing their unconditional devotion to Hashem, our Sages say[9] that they were called the firstborn children of Hashem[10]. According to the above principle, it sounds like the reason they were considered Hashem’s children was because Hashem had taught them Torah. But this was before they were taught the Torah! Based on what we already said, there’s no contradiction. Since they came before Hashem to receive the Torah, they were already considered His students, and thus His children[11].

Now, Rashi comments[12] that they were called Hashem’s firstborn because it was known before Him that they would eventually say, “We will do and we will listen”. Rashi was bothered that the verse which calls the Jews Hashem’s firstborn was said while the Jews were still slaves in Egypt. Whereas, they said, “We will do and we will listen” at Mount Sinai. To this, Rashi explains that it was known before Hashem that they would say this, even before the Exodus. As already explained, when a student comes before the teacher, they are already considered their child. Since Hashem knew they would stand before Him at Mount Sinai, even in Egypt they were considered His students, and thus His children.

We can say further that the whole purpose of the Exodus from Egypt was so the Jews could serve Hashem on Mount Sinai[13]. It comes out then that the Exodus was on the condition to accept the Torah. This is similar to what Tosafos wrote, that once a person goes to learn Torah, they are already considered a student. So too, the Jews were called Hashem’s children immediately when they left Egypt[14].

Good Shabbos and Chag Sameach

[1] Based on MiShulchan Rav Eliyahu Baruch to Numbers 3:1

[2] Numbers loc. cit.

[3] Ad. loc.

[4] Berachos 31b

[5] Maharsha ad. loc.; Moshav Zekeinim to Genesis 38:7. Note that the Chasam Sofer’s Toras Moshe parshas Nitzavim Drush L’Chaf Zayin Elul 5597 s.v. ויגמל quotes the Maharsha as saying he was seven years old. This is seemingly a typo. The correct quotation is in Derashos Chasam Sofer II p. 369 col. 1. In Derashos Chasam Sofer Hashalem ad. loc. note 1 they write that the derasha in Toras Moshe was clearly written by a student, based on an oral tradition

[6] Berachos loc. cit.

[7] Terumas HaDeshen 1:138, cited by Gilyon HaShas ad. loc. Tosafos Rabbeinu Peretz ad. loc. also implies its two answers. This is not like the Maharik § 169, who understands both reasons together are necessary

[8] Exodus 24:7

[9] Shabbos 89b

[10] Exodus 4:22

[11] See Sha’arei Teshuva 2:10

[12] Shabbos loc. cit.

[13] Exodus 3:12

[14] Although, Hashem called them His firstborn even before Moshe went to Egypt to free them

Emor 5784

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Priestly Parentage Problems and Prohibitions[1]

יאמר יקוק אל-משה אמר אל-הכהנים בני אהרן ואמרת אלהם לנפש לא-יטמא בעמיו: כי אם-לשארו הקרב אליו לאמו ולאביו ולבנו ולבתו ולאחיו: ולאחתו וגו’‏
Hashem said to Moshe: “Tell the Kohanim, the children of Aharon, and say to them: [The Kohen] shouldn’t contaminate himself by coming in contact with the dead in his nation. Except for his wife who is close to him, his mother, his father, his son, his daughter, and his brother. His sister…”[2]

It’s well known that a Kohen cannot enter a cemetery, or fully attend a funeral. An exception is made for close relatives. What’s interesting is when the Torah lists the exceptions, it lists the Kohen’s mother first, and then his father. Usually, the Torah lists males before females. Why was the order switched in this case? Some suggest[3] a historical answer. While, thankfully, it’s not the case these days, but women used to have a much shorter life expectancy than men. Women would often die in childbirth, and they often had other health problems[4]. As such, a Kohen’s mother was more likely to die than his father. Therefore, the Torah lists her exception first, and only then the father’s.

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Acharei Mos 5784

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The prohibition of a woman’s sister[1]

ואשה אל-אחתה לא תקח לצרר לגלות ערותה עליה בחייה
A woman, do not take her sister in marriage, to cause quarrelling, to reveal her nakedness upon her in her lifetime[2]

At the end of the parsha, we are taught a series of forbidden relationships, one of which is the prohibition of marrying one’s wife’s sister. However, the verse is expressed in a strange way. It says, “a woman, do not take her sister in marriage”. Now, the prohibition isn’t to marry any woman who is a sister. Only one’s wife’s sister. Why doesn’t it say don’t marry your wife’s sister? Or your sister-in-law?

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Shevii shel Pesach 5784

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Songs of praise, or storytelling?[1]

אפילו כולנו חכמים כולנו נבונים כולנו זקנים כולם יודעים את התורה, מצוה עלינו לספר ביציאת מצרים
Even if we are all Sages, all of us are people of understanding, all of us are elders, all of us know the Torah, it’s a mitzvah for us to recount the story of the Exodus from Egypt[2]

On Seder night, we are commanded to recount the Pesach story to our children. This is seemingly different than the regular daily mitzvah to recall the Exodus from Egypt. Perhaps we can suggest two reasons for the once-a-year mitzvah of recounting the story: (1) It’s purely expressing and acknowledging to our children all of the miracles that Hashem performed for us. This approach fits simply with the verse: “When your child will ask you on that day….you shall recount to him”.[3] It sounds like the mitzvah is simply a response to the child’s curiosity. (2) It’s a form of song and praise to Hashem, not simply a retelling of the story[4].

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Pesach 5784

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The bittersweet herb[1]

מרור זה שאנו אוכלים על שום מה? על שום שמררו המצרים את חיי אבותינו במצרים
This marror that we eat, it represents what? It represents the fact that the Egyptians embittered the lives of our forefathers in Egypt[2]

The Pesach Seder is a confusing night. There are these contradictory themes of freedom and slavery.  It’s a bit astounding that at the time that we’re demonstrating our freedom by eating matzah, reclining, and drinking the four cups, we’re also required to eat marror, the bitter herbs representing our enslavement. The reason for this, however, is that through this we can engrain in our hearts that even that which seems bad in our eyes, in truth, has good in it. All of Hashem’s attributes are merciful, and everything He does is good[3].

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Shemini 5784

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Nullification priorities[1]

אל-תשקצו את-נפשתיכם בכל-השרץ השרץ ולא תטמאו בהם ונטמתם בם
Do not abominate your souls with all sorts of the creepy crawlies, and do not contaminate with them, nor become contaminated in them[2]

Our Sages teach us[3] that if we contaminate ourselves with forbidden foods [בהם], our end is to be contaminated in them [בם]. This seems a little redundant. As well, what’s the significance of the pronoun change from בהם to בם‏‎[4]?

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Tzav 5784

Purim 5784

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The constant prayer[1]

ומרדכי יצא מלפני המלך בלבוש מלכות תכלת וחור ועטרת זהב גדולה ותכריך בוץ ואגרמן והעיר שושן צהלה ושמחה
Mordechai went out from before the king adorned in royal clothing of techeiles and white[2], a large gold crown, and a linen cloak with purple wool[3], and the city of Shushan was jubilant and rejoiceful[4]

שושנת יעקב צהלה ושמחה בראותם יחד תכלת מרדכי
The rose of Yaakov was jubilant and rejoiceful when they all saw together the techeiles of Mordechai[5]

When Mordechai heard about the terrible decree against the Jews, his first reaction was to tear his clothing. He wore sackcloth and ashes, left the king’s gate, and prayed[6]. He screamed and yelled for salvation from Hashem. Now, what would have been the reaction of the average person? Let’s say someone had a sister who was married to the king, a king who had just issued a terrible decree. One’s first reaction normally would have been to immediately request one’s sister to intercede to annul the decree.

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Vayakhel 5784

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Whose handiwork is it[1]

ויקהל משה את-כל-עדת בני ישראל ויאמר אלהם אלה הדברים אשר-צוה יקוק לעשת אתם: ששת ימים תֵּעָשֶׂה מלאכה וביום השביעי יהיה לכם קדש שבת שבתון ליקוק וגו’

Moshe gathered the entire assembly of the Jewish people and said to them: “These are the matters that Hashem commanded to do. Six days work shall be done, and on the seventh day it will be for you a holy sabbatical Shabbos for Hashem”[2]

Our Sages note[3] an interesting juxtaposition between the commandments regarding Shabbos and the building of the Mishkan. It is understood that the Torah is telling us not to build the Mishkan on Shabbos. This is the basis for the prohibited creative labor on Shabbos, namely any activity involved in the creation of the Mishkan is forbidden to perform on Shabbos.

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