Shavuos 5782

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The wedding canopy of Mount Sinai[1]

…ברוך אתה יקוק מקדש עמו ישראל על ידי חופה וקידושין
…Blessed are You, Hashem, Who sanctifies His nation of Israel, through Chuppah and Kiddushin[2]

The blessing recited at every Jewish wedding, known as birkas erusin, ends with the idea that Hashem sanctifies His nation, through “Chuppah”, the wedding canopy, and “Kiddushin”, betrothal. How did Hashem sanctify us with Chuppah and Kiddushin? We could simply say that He sanctified us with the mitzvah of marriage through the process of Kiddushin, which is unique to Jews. However, some say[3] that this is a reference to Mattan Torah, the National Revelation at Sinai, where we received the Torah. The verse says that תורה צוה לנו משה מורשה קהילת יעקב, Moshe commanded us the Torah, an inheritance of the congregation of Yaakov[4]. Our Sages read[5] the word מורשה, inheritance, homiletically to be מאורסה, betrothed. Meaning, the Sinaitic experience was one of a marriage between the Jewish people and Hashem.

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Lag BaOmer 5782

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Accumulation, not Regression[1]

היום שלשה ושלושים יום, שהם ארבעה שבועות, וחמשה ימים לעומר
Today is thirty-three days, which are four weeks and five days of the Omer[2]

Lag BaOmer is the culmination of a mourning period that takes place during Sefiras HaOmer. Why have we been mourning? Our Sages tell us[3] that in the days between Pesach and Shavuos, 24,000 of Rabbi Akiva’s students died. What was the reason? We are told that they didn’t treat each other with כבוד, often translated as respect or honor. How could this be? Furthermore, another version of the story says that עיניהם צרות בתורתם, they were selfish with their Torah[4]. A third version says they didn’t fill the land of Israel with their Torah[5]. How can we make sense of this?

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Sefiras HaOmer 5782

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Looking beyond the surface: slow growth to actualize potential[1]

וספרתם לכם ממחרת השבת מיום הביאכם את-עמר התנופה שבע שבתות תמימת תהיינה
You shall count for yourselves, from the day after the Festival[2], from the day you bring the waved Omer offering, they shall be seven complete weeks[3]

We find ourselves in the period of the year known as Sefiras HaOmer, literally the Counting of the Omer. From the second day of Pesach, we have a mitzvah to count up every day, leading to the Festival of Shavuos. Coming off the heels of Pesach, you would think this is a joyous time of year. Indeed, the Ramban likens[4] this period to Chol HaMoed, the intermediate Festival days. However, this time period is also known as a time of mourning, as we commemorate the time in which Rabbi Akiva’s 24,000 students died. Why did they die? Our Sages say[5] it was because they didn’t treat each other with כבוד, usually translated as honor. How could they not honor each other?

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Shevii shel Pesach 5782

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Repentance from idol worship[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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Purim 5782 #2

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The morning light[1]

למנצח על אילת השחר מזמור לדוד
For the conductor, regarding a morning doe, a song of David[2]

Our Sages understood[3] the twenty second chapter of Psalms to have been composed by Queen Esther. It starts off describing a אילת השחר, literally translated as a morning doe[4]. What is this referring to? We are taught[5] that just like the morning is the end of the night, so too the story of Esther and Purim is the end of all miracles[6]. This comparison seems counterintuitive. Miracles convey a revelation to the Divine. Presumably, this would be allegorized as light. Yet, we are comparing the end of miracles with the beginning of the daytime, which is obviously associated with an increase in light, not a decrease. How are to make sense of this comparison?

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Purim 5782

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The timeless Torah[1]

ותקרא אסתר להתך מסריסי המלך אשר העמיד לפניה ותצוהו על-מרדכי לדעת מה-זה ועל-מה-זה
Esther called to Hasach, one of the king’s attendants who was assigned to assist her, and commanded him regarding Mordechai, to know what this was, and what this was about[2]

After Haman and Achashverosh’s harsh decree to exterminate the Jews was made known, Mordechai tore his clothes in mourning[3]. He wore sackcloth and ash. His relative Esther, who was now the Queen of Persia, heard what Mordechai was doing. This distressed her very much. She sent an attendant to inquire Mordechai about what he was doing, for she was unaware of the recent decree. The Megillah uses an interesting expression to describe her inquiry. מה זה ועל מה זה. She asked what this was and what this was about.

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Vayikra / Zachor 5782

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King Shaul’s error[1]

ויבא שמואל אל-שאול ויאמר לו שאול ברוך אתה ליקוק הקימתי את-דבר יקוק: ויאמר שמואל ומה קול-הצאן הזה באזני וקול הבקר אשר אנכי שמע וגו’ הלוא אם-קטן אתה בעיניך ראש שבטי ישראל אתה וגו’‏
Shmuel came to Shaul, and Shaul said to him: “You are blessed to Hashem! I have fulfilled the word of Hashem”. Shmuel said: “Then what is this sound of the sheep that is in my ears? And the sound of the cattle which I hear? … You may be small in your eyes, but you are the head of the tribes of Israel!…[2]

The haftarah for parshas Zachor details the failure of King Shaul to eradicate the wicked nation of Amalek. Shmuel the prophet ordered Shaul to leave no person or animal alive, as Hashem told Moshe[3] that we are to blot out the memory of Amalek. Shaul however left alive the king of Amalek known as Agag, the ancestor to Haman[4]. He also left alive their sheep and cows, intending to bring them as offerings for Hashem. Shmuel harshly reprimanded Shaul for his failure, and Shaul lost the kingship as a result of his sin.

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Chanukah 5782

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Igniting the flames of the past[1]

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[2]

The Sefas Emes makes an interesting observation[3] 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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Vayeishev / Chanukah 5782

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Snakes, Scorpions, and Chanukah Celebrations[1]

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[2]

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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Shemini Atzeres 5782

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Tefillas Geshem – The merit of Moshe’s sin[1]

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[2]

Starting from Shemini Atzeres, we begin praising Hashem for rain during our daily prayers[3]. 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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