Igniting the flames of the past
ברוך אתה יקוק אלקינו מלך העולם אשר קדשנו במצותיו וציונו להדליק נר (של) חנוכה…שעשה ניסים לאבותינו בימים ההם בזמן הזה
Blessed are you Hashem, our G-d, King of the Universe, who sanctified us with His commandments, and commanded us to ignite the light of Chanukah…Who performed miracles for our ancestors in those days, at this time
The Sefas Emes makes an interesting observation regarding the blessing we say when we light the Chanukah candles. We say אשר קדשנו במצותיו וציונו להדליק נר (של) חנוכה, Who sanctified us with His commandments, and commanded us to ignite the light of Chanukah. If we were composing the text of the blessing, what would it say? Probably something more like וציונו להדליק נרות בחנוכה, that He commanded us to light candles on Chanukah. What does it mean to ignite the light of Chanukah? It sounds like there’s some pre-existing light of the festival of Chanukah, and we’re somehow tapping into it…Another question we can ask is on the second blessing, which says that Hashem performed miracles for our ancestors in those days, at this time. Why do we end with the phrase “at this time”? What does that add to the blessing?
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Snakes, Scorpions, and Chanukah Celebrations
ויאמר אלהם ראובן אל-תשפכו-דם השליכו אתו אל-הבור וגו’ למען הציל אתו מידם וגו’ ויקחהו וישלכו אתו הברה והבור רק אין בו מים
Reuven said to [his brothers]: Don’t spill blood. [Instead,] throw him into the pit…[this was] in order to save [Yosef] from their hands…They took him and threw him into the pit. The pit was empty; it didn’t have water
After sensing their brother Yosef as a threat to their family’s wellbeing and Divine mission, the sons of Yaakov sentenced him to death. They intended to kill him and hide his death from their father. Reuven, the firstborn, knew this was the wrong move. Instead, he insisted that they throw Yosef in a pit. The Torah testifies that Reuven’s intent was to save Yosef. He seemingly wanted to stall for time, with the hope that the brothers would calm down and not act rashly. Unfortunately, while he was momentarily away from his brothers, they sold Yosef as a slave to Egypt, and the rest is history.
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Tefillas Geshem – The merit of Moshe’s sin
זכר משוי בתבת גמא מן המים, נמו דלה דלה והשקה צאן מים, סגוליך עת צמאו למים, על הסלע הך ויצאו מים
Recall the one (Moshe) who was in a wicker basket, drawn from the water; who drew forth and gave the flock water, Your treasured nation who thirsted for water; who hit the rock and came out water
Starting from Shemini Atzeres, we begin praising Hashem for rain during our daily prayers. This coincides with the beginning of the rainy season in the land of Israel. To cap off these praises, we recite a communal prayer for rain. In this prayer, we mention various Torah references to water. These are meant to awaken Divine mercy and justify our requests for rain. Quite surprisingly, one of these references are to Moshe hitting the rock.
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Building a sukkah
ולקחתם לכם ביום הראשון פרי עץ הדר כפת תמרים וענף עץ-עבת וערבי-נחל ושמחתם לפני יקוק אלקיכם שבעת ימים: בסכת תשבו שבעת ימים כל-האזרח בישראל ישבו בסכת
You shall take on the first day an esrog fruit, palm fronds (a lulav), myrtle branches, and willow branches, and you shall rejoice before Hashem your G-d for seven days. You shall dwell in sukkos for seven days. Every citizen of Israel shall dwell in sukkos
Sukkos is known as Zman Simchaseinu, the time of our rejoicing. The days are accentuated with their unique mitzvos, that of taking the four species and dwelling in the sukkah. The Torah introduces these mitzvos in this precise order, first the four species, then dwelling in the sukkah. While the reason for this requires its own study, what’s fascinating is the Sages, when they chose the structure of their teachings on the festival, chose to first discuss the laws of the sukkah, and only then the laws of the four species. Why did the Sages switch the order from that in the Torah?
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Two seemingly indistinguishable goats
ומאת עדת בני ישראל יקח שני-שעירי עזים לחטאת וגו’ ונתן אהרן על-שני השעירם גורלות גורל אחד ליקוק וגורל אחד לעזאזל: והקריב אהרן את-השעיר אשר עלה עליו הגורל ליקוק ועשהו חטאת
From the congregation of the Children of Israel, he shall take two goats for a sin offering…Aharon shall place on the two goats lots: one lot [to designate the goat] for Hashem, and one lot [to send it to] Azazel. Aharon will then offer the goat whose lot designated it to Hashem, and he shall make it a sin offering
A major part of the Yom Kippur service in the Temple involved two identical goats. They had to look the exact same, be the same size, and be sold for the same price. One of them was to be brought as an offering to Hashem, and the other was to be sent off a cliff. What was unique about these goats is the fate of each one was determined by a lottery. A box would contain two pieces of paper, one saying, “for Hashem”, and one saying, “for Azazel”. The paper saying “for Hashem” would determine which one would be brought as an offering, and the paper saying “for Azazel” which one for the cliff. The Kohen would stick his hands in the box and each one would grab a paper. The fate of the goat to his right would be determined by the paper in his right hand. The same for his left. What can we learn from this unique and unusual procedure?
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The difference between trust in Hashem and complacency
אם תקטלני – לך אייחל, ואם תבקש לעווני – אברח ממך אליך
If you kill me, to you I will commence. If you seek out my sin, I will run away from you, to you
Our Sages tell us the difference between the judgment of Rosh Hashanah and that of a secular court. People who have a court appearance for a capital crime will wear dark clothing, look disheveled, and fear for their life. They will be utterly stressed beyond belief. Rosh Hashanah, the day that Hashem judges the whole world, is different. Jews dress in fine, white clothing, and are cleanly groomed. What’s the reason for this? We are confident that Hashem will perform a miracle and give us a positive judgement.
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The beginning or the end
טוב אחרית דבר מראשיתו וגו’
The end of something is better than/from its beginning…
The period of time leading towards Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur can be looked at in different ways. In one aspect, it’s the end of the year. It’s also the preparation period for the Days of Awe. Finally, it’s the beginning of the year. There’s a verse which can be read to say that the end of something is better than its beginning. Simply put, we could say that the month of Elul is so special because it is the end of the year. Everything is defined by how it ends.
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Torah is a gift, not a burden
ותתן לנו יקוק אלקנו באהבה מועדים לשמחה חגים וזמנים לששון, את יום חג השבעות הזה זמן מתן תורתנו
Hashem our G-d, with love give us festivals of happiness, holidays and times of joy, this holiday of Shavuos, the time of the giving of our Torah
In our calendar, Shavuos always falls out on the sixth day of Sivan. Something not mentioned explicitly in the Torah is the event that Shavuos commemorates. As noted in our prayers, Shavuos commemorates the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. This is why we read the Ten Commandments on Shavuos morning. There’s actually a disagreement in the gemarra what day the Torah was given. The Rabbis say that the Torah was given on the sixth of Sivan, whereas Rabbi Yossi says that it was given on the seventh of Sivan. Due to the underlying basis of their disagreement, we actually rule like Rabbi Yossi. If so, how can we say that the Torah was given on the sixth, when we rule it was given on the seventh?
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The free choice to split
הים ראה וינס הירדן יסב לאחור
The [Reed] Sea saw and ran away, the Jordan River turned backwards
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 after this miracle. 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? One explanation is from a Midrash, which says is it saw the Jews fighting whether they should jump into the sea or not. Some felt it would be a sanctification of Hashem’s name, and they had faith He would perform a miracle. Others felt it wasn’t a good idea. This is very hard to understand. Why would this be a reason for the sea to split? If anything, the fact that the Jews disagreed whether to sanctify Hashem’s name should be a reason not to split. What’s the intent of this Midrash?
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