The festival of Chanukkos
והדליקו נרות בחצרות קדשך, וקבעו שמונת ימי חנכה אלו, להודות לשמך הגדול
They lit [the Menorah] lights in Your holy courtyards, and established these eight days of Chanukah, to give thanks to Your great name
The eight-day festival of Chanukah is commonly understood to be in commemoration of the miracle of the Menorah. The Greeks contaminated all the ritual oil which was to be used to fuel the Menorah in the Holy Temple. After their defeat, only one small jar of oil was found. It was enough to light the Menorah for one night. After lighting the Menorah, it miraculously stayed lit for eight days, enough time to finish making more oil. Thus, we celebrate eight days of Chanukah. However, what isn’t commonly known is another version of what inspired this eight-day festival.
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Celebrating our newly attained wisdom
ושמחת בחגך וגו’
You shall rejoice on your festival…
Anyone who has ever been to a Simchas Torah celebration can attest to the intense simcha, joy, that is present. Everyone’s happiness is palpable. People can dance with the Torah for hours on end (even without the aid of alcohol). Where does this simcha come from? More importantly, how can we make this simcha last even after the festival is over? Can be bring this simcha with us throughout the rest of the year?
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Two types of sukkos
למען ידעו דרתיכם כי בסֻכות הושבתי את-בני ישראל בהוציאי אותם מארץ מצרים אני יקוק אלקיכם
In order that your generations shall know that I placed the Jewish people in sukkos, when I took them out of the land of Egypt; I am Hashem your G-d
The verse explaining the purpose of dwelling in sukkos has an anomaly. The word סֻכות is written in full, instead of more the concise סֻכֹת, as it’s spelled when the Torah actually commands us to dwell in them. Why is this so? This is to hint to the two opinions as to which kind of sukkos we are meant to recall when we dwell in our personal sukkos. One opinion focuses on the fact that the Jews were surrounded by Hashem’s Clouds of Glory during their travels in the wilderness. We are to recall this (temporary) Divine shelter by dwelling in our temporary sukkos. The other opinion is that the Jews themselves dwelled in temporary huts called sukkos, during their battles in the land of Sichon and Og . If the word סכת was written concisely, it would look like it’s referring to one sukkah. Written out in full refers to multiple sukkos, and thus alludes to these two opinions.
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The most powerful day
כי-ביום הזה יכפר עליכם לטהר אתכם מכל חטאתיכם לפני יקוק תטהרו
For on this day [of Yom Kippur] it shall be atoned for you, to purify you, from all of your sins; purify yourselves before Hashem!
Yom Kippur is one of the most intense days of the year. We spend the entire day involved in prayers and supplications. We fast, and refrain from physical pleasures. We (hopefully) perform teshuvah, repentance with sincerity and a broken heart. With this, we hope to repair the damage we inflicted to our relationship with our Creator. After all of this, a person may wonder: How can I know that my repentance was accepted?
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Tipping the scales
דרשו יקוק בהמצאו קראוהו בהיותו קרוב
Seek out Hashem when He is to be found; call out to Him when He is close
Every person has a mix of merits and transgressions. We are taught that someone who has more merits than transgressions is considered a tzaddik, a righteous person. Someone who has more transgressions than merits is considered a rasha, a wicked person. Someone who is exactly 50-50 is considered a beinoni, someone in the middle. On Rosh Hashanah, everyone’s status is determined. Someone who is ruled as a tzaddik is sealed for life. Someone who is ruled as a rasha is sealed for death. Someone who is a beinoni has their judgement stalled until Yom Kippur. If they repent, then they will be sealed for life. If not, they will be sealed for death.
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Horrific consequences of sin
…אם-תאכלנה נשים פרים עללי טפחים אם-יהרג במקדש אדנ”י כהן ונביא
…Alas, women eat their own fruit, their newborn babies! Alas, Kohen and Prophet are slain in G-d’s Temple
Parshas Devarim always falls out the shabbos before Tisha B’Av, the day commemorating the destruction of both the First and Second Temples. The Prophet Yirmiyahu (Jeremiah) in Megillas Eicha (Lamentations), describes all the horrible things that happened at the time of the destruction of the First Temple. The scenes were horrific. Besides all the murders by the Babylonians, there was incredible hunger. The prophet describes how frantic mothers, desperate for food, succumbed to eating their own babies. This repulsive result of the destruction was in fact predicted by the Torah, where it says that people will eat the flesh of their daughters and sons.
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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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