The escape clause
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
The holiday of Shavuos celebrates the giving of the Torah to the Jewish people. 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 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 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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The toil of Torah
אם-בחקותי תלכו ואת מצותי תשמרו ועשיתם אותם
If you walk in my decrees, and you guard my mitzvos, and perform them….
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 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. Why is this so, and why is this the introductory requirement in order to receive Hashem’s blessings?
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Receiving the munn and offering the Omer
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; the day after Pesach 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
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. All other flour offerings don’t use the word omer to describe their quantity, and indeed simply say a tenth of an eiphah. 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, which culminates the fifty-day count. Why then is the mitzvah to specifically count “from the Omer”?
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The stubborn sea
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? Some say that it was Moshe. Others says that it was the coffin of Yosef. A very strange opinion is that the sea “saw” the teaching of the Academy of Rabbi Yishmael. What does this mean?
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The mighty hand of Hashem
מה נשתנה הלילה הזה מכל הלילות, שבכל הלילות אנו אוכלים חמץ ומצה וכו’
Why is this night different from all other nights? For on all other nights, we eat leavened and non-leavened bread etc…
עבדים היינו לפרעה במצרים ויוציאנו יקוק אלקים משם ביד חזקה ובזרוע נטויה
We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt, and Hashem, G-d, took us out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm
The Ma-Nishatana is a classic moment at everyone’s Seder. The youngest member of the house proudly gets up and asks the Four Questions. The Haggadah continues by declaring that we were slaves in Egypt to Pharaoh. This would seem to be an attempt to answer the child’s questions. However, what connection is there between the parent’s response and the child’s questions? They seem totally incongruous.
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The depth of ingratitude
…וישלח ויבא את-אהביו ואת-זרש אשתו: ויספר להם המן את-כבוד עשרו ורב בניו ואת כל-אשר גדלו המלך ואת אשר נשאו על-השרים ועבדי המלך: ויאמר המן וגו’ וכל-זה איננו שוה לי בכל-עת אשר אני ארה את-מרדכי היהודי יושב בשער המלך
…[Haman] sent for and brought his friends and his wife Zeresh. He spoke to them about all of his glory, wealth, multitude of children, the promotions that the King had given him, how he was in charge of all the ministers and slaves of the King. Haman said [to them]: “…All of this is worthless to me, so long as I see Mordechai the Jew sitting in the gate of the King”
Towards the end of the Megillah, Haman practically had a mental breakdown. His arch nemesis Mordechai was still alive, despite Haman’s desire that all the Jews be killed. Haman himself delayed Mordechai’s execution, in order to kill his entire people on the same day. It’s clear that Haman had grown impatient, waiting for the decreed day’s arrival. He complained to his family and friends that he felt like nothing in his life mattered, so long as Mordechai the Jew was alive.
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Why is Chanukah night different than every other night
נר חנוכה עדיף משום פרסומי ניסא
Lighting the menorah for Chanukah is better, for it publicizes the miracle
On Chanukah we light the menorah to commemorate the miracle of the jug of oil. The Maccabees found one uncontaminated jug of oil for the Menorah, which was only enough to last for one night. It ended up lasting for eight nights. However, on Chanukah we don’t officially discuss the miracle. On Pesach we read the Torah portions which describe the Exodus from Egypt. We have the Seder night where we discuss all the miracles occurred when Hashem took us out of Egypt. On Purim we recite the Megillah, which describes all the events which lead to the miraculous salvation of the Jews. All of these rituals are to fulfill a specific religious mandate that we are supposed to publicize the miracle. Chanukah’s version of publicizing the miracle solely involves lighting the menorah. Why don’t we have as part of the prayers any mention of the miracle? Why don’t we read the book Megillas Antiochus, which describes the Chanukah story? Sure, we do mention in the prayer Al Hanisim the Chanukah story, but there’s no mention of the miracle itself. Why is Chanukah different than the other holidays?
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A kiss from above
והנה אורחת ישמעאלים באה מגלעד וגמליהם נושאים נכאת וצרי ולט הולכים להוריד מצרימה
…behold an Arab caravan was coming from Gilad, and their camels were carrying spices, balm, and lotus; they were taking them to Egypt
The gemarra asks the innocent question: What was the miracle which prompted the establishment of the holiday of Chanukah? It answers that the Greeks, after they conquered the land of Israel, entered the Holy Temple and defiled all the oil that was to be found. When the Jews defeated them, they searched all around for sanctified oil to be used for the Menorah. All they could find was a single vessel that was still sealed. However, there was only enough oil in the vessel to last for one day. They used it anyways, and a miracle happened where the oil lasted for eight days. The following year they established that time of year as a season of rejoicing, with songs of praise and thanks.
Continue reading “Vayeishev and Chanukah 5779”
A very holy meal
אם-נא מצאתי חן בעיניך אל-נא תעבר מעל עבדך: יקח-נא מעט-מים ורחצו רגליכם והשענו תחת העץ: ואקחה פת-לחם וסעדו לבכם אחר תעברו כי-על-כן עברתם על-עבדכם וגו’
…If I have now found favor in your eyes, please don’t pass by your servant. Let there be some water taken [for you], and you’ll wash your feet, and relax under the tree. I’ll take some loaves of bread and you’ll satiate your hearts, since you have passed by me. For this is the reason you passed by your servant
A prime example of Avraham’s hospitality is found in this week’s parsha. Three Angels, disguised as Arab nomads, passed by Avraham’s tent. Despite being in recovery from his recent circumcision, Avraham insisted on taking care of their needs. He wined and dined them, going beyond the call of duty. He slaughtered three calves in order to feed each of them their own cow tongue. He had his wife bake bread special just for them. Avraham clearly didn’t realize that they were Angels. Not wanting to be rude and go against societal norms, the Angels pretended to eat, despite their lack of physical needs. Little did Avraham know that his alacritous hospitality would have a tremendous impact on the destiny of his future descendants.
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What are we celebrating?
שבעת ימים תחג…והיית אך שמח
You shall celebrate for seven days…and you shall be only joyful
The holiday of Shemini Atzeres is one of those interesting festivals with no associated paraphernalia. Rosh Hashanah has the Shofar, Sukkos has the Sukkah, Pesach has Matzah. The celebration of each festival seems to be accompanied with some sort of item or activity to add a focus to the festivities. They are usually associated with some event, which is the cause of the celebration. What are we celebrating on the holiday of Shemini Atzeres? In fact, the Torah, with regards to Sukkos, tells us to be “only” joyful. The gemarra expounds the extraneous word “only” to be teaching us that Shemini Atzeres is also a time of joy. What are we joyful about on Shemini Atzeres?
Continue reading “Shemini Atzeres / Simchas Torah 5779”