Bamidbar / Shavuos 5780

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Revealing the facets of the King[1]

איש על-דגלו באתת לבית אבתם יחנו בני ישראל מנגד סביב לאהל-מועד יחנו
The Children of Israel shall encamp, each person according to his flag, with signs according to their father’s house. They shall encamp opposite and surrounding the Tent of Meeting[2]

A significant amount of this week’s parsha describes the encampment of the Jewish people in the wilderness. In the center was the Mishkan, surrounded by the camp of the Leviim. Surrounding them were the rest of the nation, divided by their tribes. Each tribe had a specific cardinal location, with respect to the center point of the Mishkan. Each tribe is also described as having their own flag. These flags served as unique markers to distinguish each tribe from the other. They had different colors and patterns than each other[3]. However, Chazal teach us[4] that there was a greater significance to these flags than the Torah describes.

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Behar-Bechukosai 5780

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The septennial Shabbos[1]

דבר אל-בני ישראל ואמרת אלהם כי תבאו אל-הארץ אשר אני נתן לכם ושבתה הארץ שבת ליקוק
Speak to the people of Israel and say to them: “When you come to the land that I am giving you, the land will rest a Shabbos for Hashem”[2]

This parsha begins by introducing the mitzvah of the Shemittah year. The land of Israel is to lie fallow for an entire year, with no agricultural work done to it. The year is described as a Shabbos for Hashem. What does that mean? Rashi suggests[3] that it means לשם השם, for the sake of Hashem. Regarding the Shabbos of the seventh day of the week, we also find[4] the expression “Shabbos for Hashem”. There it clearly means for the sake of Hashem[5], so that’s what it should mean here. The Ramban[6] has a problem with this, since we know the Festivals are also for the sake of Hashem. Yet, we don’t find the phrase “Shabbos for Hashem” associated with any of them. Is there any other way to understand this phrase[7]?

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Emor 5780

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The desecration of ingratitude[1]

וכי-תזבחו זבח-תודה ליקוק לרצנכם תזבחו: ביום ההוא יאכל לא-תותירו ממנו עד-בקר אני יקוק: ושמרתם מצותי ועשיתם אותם אני יקוק: ולא תחללו את-שם קדשי ונקדשתי בתוך בני ישראל אני יקוק מקדשכם
When you offer a Todah offering for Hashem, it shall be offered in a way that is acceptable. It shall be eaten on that day; don’t leave any of it over until morning. I am Hashem. Safeguard my mitzvos, and perform them; I am Hashem. Don’t profane my Holy Name, and I shall be sanctified amongst the Children of Israel; I am Hashem, who sanctifies you.[2]

One type of offering that is brought in the Temple is known as a Todah offering. It consists of an animal that is offered, as well as many loaves of bread. All of these need to be consumed on the day that they are brought. After this offering is mentioned in the Torah, the prohibition against a chillul Hashem, profaning Hashem’s name, is commanded. What is the significance of this juxtaposition? What do these two mitzvos have to do with each other?

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Acharei Mos / Kedoshim 5780

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Ordinances and statutes[1]

את-משפטי תעשו ואת-חקתי תשמרו ללכת בהם אני יקוק אלקיכם
Perform my ordinances and safeguard my statutes, to walk in them; I am Hashem your G-d[2]

There’s a fundamental question regarding how to relate to mitzvos and personal inclinations[3]. What’s greater: a person who has a natural desire to break a prohibition, and overcomes their inclinations by listening to the Torah? Or someone who has no desire towards such prohibitions. It would seem from the words of our Sages[4] that the former is more meritorious. Someone who doesn’t desire to break the Torah isn’t as accomplished as someone who does yet overcomes their challenge. However, there are philosophers that say the opposite. They consider it lowly to desire to do evil, and meritorious to only desire to do good. However, this doesn’t have to be a dispute.

The Rambam suggests[5] that the Sages and philosophers are discussing different topics. There are two different types of mitzvos. One type is mitzvos that are highly logical[6]. Even if the Torah hadn’t commanded them, they would have been proper to follow[7]. These types of mitzvos, due to their inherent morality, would be repugnant to want to transgress. These logical prohibitions include murder, theft, overcharging, and damaging others’ property. There’s nothing lofty about wanting to kill someone, yet overcoming one’s baser desires and holding back. Of course it’s better to not want to kill. This is what the philosophers were discussing.

Our Sages on the other hand were discussing mitzvos that are not inherently logical. If the Torah hadn’t prohibited them, we wouldn’t have thought of them on our own. These are often referred to as Chukim, or decrees of Hashem. The Sages go as far as to say[8] that a person shouldn’t say “I’m disgusted by eating pig”[9], rather they should say “I desire to eat pig, but my Creator forbids it”. The same with the prohibition against wearing forbidden mixtures. There’s nothing wrong with desiring to wear them, as they’re not obviously immoral[10]. Once we know that Hashem commands against them, it’s meritorious to listen.

This division of mitzvos can be very readily gleamed from a verse in this week’s parsha. The Torah says את מפשטי תעשו, perform my Mishpatim, and חקתי תשמרו, safeguard my Chukim. Mishpatim are often translated as ordinances, and Chukim are often translated as statutes. More specifically, Mishpatim are the first category of mitzvos that we’ve discussed. They are mitzvos that are self evident why they were commanded. They are more obvious that they are moral. Chukim on the other hand are the second category of mitzvos. Their reasoning is not apparent to us, and we follow them because Hashem said so. Why does the Torah use the word תעשו, perform, when it comes to Mishpatim, and תשמרו, safeguard, with regards to Chukim?

Consider for a moment the following scenario: A merchant asks his friend to purchase for him some merchandise. If the merchant explicitly says, “Go here and buy this particular item”, and the friend complies, it’s not reasonable to attribute the purchase to the friend. He didn’t decide to purchase something; he merely followed his friend’s orders. Now, if the merchant were to instead say, “Go and buy merchandise”, then the purchase could be considered something the friend performed. It was enough of his own action to give him credit.

With this scenario in mind, we can have a fuller appreciation of the verse from our parsha. The Mishpatim, the mitzvos that are self-evident, are described as something to perform. This is because they are considered a mitzvah whose performance is attributed to us, because we would have done them anyways. As opposed to the Chukim, the non-logical mitzvos, which are described as something to safeguard. They’re performance is not attributed to us, similar to the friend performing the merchant’s command. They’re simply to be dutifully followed[11].

Good Shabbos

[1] Based on Sefer Apiryon by Rav Shlomo Gantzfried, the author of Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, to Leviticus 18:4

[2] Leviticus loc. cit.

[3] Shemoneh Perakim by the Rambam, Chapter 6

[4] As evident by Sukkah 52a, which says כל הגדול מחברו יצרו גדול ממנו, the greater a person is the greater their temptations. As well, the more temptations, the more reward for overcoming them (Avos 5:23)

[5] Loc. cit.

[6] Some call them מצוות שכליות. For a sampling of sources that address this type of mitzvah, see Aruch HaShulchan Orach Chaim 1:13 and Yoreh Deah 240:12, who addresses why Hashem commanded מצוות שכליות if they were self-understood, Dor Revii Chullin Pesicha Kolleles § 2 s.v. עוד משל אחת, who feels מצוות שכליות could sometimes even take precedence over explicit prohibitions, and Chavos Yair § 166, who says the rule that the Heavenly court doesn’t punish under the age of twenty (see https://parshaponders.com/pesach-5780/#_ftn12) only applies to מצוות שכליות, but not to prohibitions that are explicit in the Torah. As well, see the following sources which say that even non-Jews are obligated in all מצוות שכליות: Rav Nissim Gaon Introduction to Shas (printed at the beginning of Berachos), Rabbeinu Bachaye to Genesis 18:20, and the Netziv’s approbation to Ahavas Chesed, all brought by Minchas Asher Bereishis § 40. See also Makkos 9b, which shows that מצוות שכליות, even though they’re not explicit in the Torah, warrant punishment, even for non-Jews (this is also brought by the Chavos Yair)

[7] Yoma 67b

[8] Toras Kohanim to Leviticus 20:26, brought by Rashi ad. loc.

[9] Chazal as we have it say pig, but the Rambam loc. cit. quotes it as milk and meat. He must have had a different version. He also quotes it from Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel, whereas we have it quoted from Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah. Rashi loc. cit. quotes it the way we have it, although we have אי אפשי לאכול בשר חזיר and he quotes it as נפשי קצה בבשר חזיר

[10] The Rambam loc. cit. also lists forbidden relations (עריות) as an example of Chukim. What’s surprising is Yoma loc. cit., the source for the Rambam regarding מצוות שכליות, lists עריות as something self-evidently prohibited! See Rav Kapach’s commentary to the Rambam who suggests the Rambam didn’t have עריות in his version of the gemarra. The problem is I was told by my friend R’ Ari Deifik that eight manuscripts/versions of the Talmud in our possession have the word עריות, and it is quoted by many Geonim and Rishonim as is. For another approach, see the Maharsha ad. loc. Although he has a different understanding of the gemarra than the Rambam, the way the Maharsha reads it, we don’t see עריות being classified as one of the מצוות שכליות. In any event, the Rambam is simply coming from Toras Kohanim loc. cit., which as we have it lists עריות as one of the Chukim. It would seem then to be a dispute between these two sources. One possible resolution is to suggest that the עריות in either passage are referring to different types. See Moreh Nevuchim 3:49, where the Rambam finds the prohibition of a man with his daughter to be more obviously prohibited than a man with his mother-in-law. Perhaps Yoma is discussing the former, whereas Toras Kohanim is discussing the latter

[11] Sefer Apiryon points out that Yoma loc. cit. specifically uses our verse to distinguish between the two types of mitzvos. It could have used many other verses which speak of משפטים and חוקים (for example, Leviticus 19:37 and Deuteronomy 4:14). He suggests that it is because it was bothered by this distinction between תעשו with משפטים and תשמרו with חוקים that specifically our verse uses[Print]

Tazria / Metzora 5780

5780 28 Tazria Metzora

The proper precedence[1]

…אשה כי תזריע וילדה זכר וטמאה שבעת ימים וגו’‏
…when a woman gives birth to a boy, she shall be spiritually impure for seven days…[2]

At the end of the previous parsha[3], there were many details related to the spiritual impurity imparted by animals. This week’s parsha begins a long series of laws related to the spiritual purity and impurity of humans. Seemingly, the order is backwards. Since mankind is the principle player in the Torah, shouldn’t their laws come first? That which is primary takes precedence over what is secondary. Why then are the laws of animals taught first? Rashi addresses this[4], by reminding us that in the Torah’s description of creation, first the animals were created[5], and only then mankind[6]. Just like the animals preceded Man during creation, their laws of impurity are taught first.

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Shemini 5780

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Respect for the past, acclimating to the future[1]

דברו אל-בני ישראל לאמר זאת החיה אשר תאכלו מכל-הבהמה אשר על-הארץ: כל מפרסת פרסת ושסעת שסע פרסת מעלת גרה בבהמה אתה תאכלו: אך את-זה לא תאכלו ממעלי הגרה וממפריסי הפרסה את-הגמל כי-מעלה גרה הוא ופרסה איננו מפריס וגו’ ואת-החזיר כי-מפריס פרסה הוא ושסע שסע פרסה והוא גרה לא-יגר טמא הוא לכם
Speak to the Children of Israel, saying: “These are the animals that you shall eat, from all the animals on the Earth: Any animal with completely split hooves, which chews its cud, you shall eat. However, these you shall not eat from those that chew their cud and have split hooves: The camel, although it chews its cud, its hooves aren’t [completely] split…And the pig, although its hooves are completely split, it doesn’t chew its cud. It is impure to you”[2]

The basic laws of kosher animals are introduced in this parsha. The rules are simple: animals with the Torah’s two kosher signs are permissible to eat. They need to have their hooves be completely split and chew their cud. If the animal has only one of these signs, like a camel or a pig, and for sure if it has neither of these signs, like a horse or a lion, then it is not kosher. However, sheep, lambs, cows, and deer, have both signs. These are permissible animals to eat.

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Tzav 5780

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Elevation with ash removal[1]

צו את-אהרן ואת-בניו לאמר זאת תורה העלה היא העלה וגו’ ואש המזבח תוקד בו: ולבש הכהן וגו’ והרים את-הדשן וגו’ והאש על-המזבח תוקד-בו וגו’‏
Command Aharon and his sons, saying: “This is the law of the Olah offering. It is the Olah…the fire of the altar should be ignited by it. The Kohen will adorn…he will lift the ash [off the alter]…The fire on the altar shall remain burning…[2]

The Olah offering is one of the many kinds of offerings in the Temple. It’s called an Olah offering because of what makes it unique. It’s entirely consumed by the altar fire. No person is permitted to eat from its flesh. Olah means elevation, as the offering is considered to entirely elevate towards Heaven. The Torah states that it is about to detail the laws of the Olah offering, and then proceeds to discuss something else entirely. There’s a mitzvah for the Kohen to scoop up the ash from the altar once a day and place it on the side of the altar. This is known as terumas hadeshen. There’s also a mitzvah to put wood on the altar so the fire doesn’t extinguish. Instead of the Torah describing the laws of the Olah[3], it details these two mitzvos. Why then does it give this seemingly misleading introduction?

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Vayikra 5780

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The delightful smell of improvement[1]

‏…עולה אשה ריח ניחוח
…an elevated fire offering, a pleasant smell[2]

As we begin the book of Leviticus, it’s worthwhile to investigate the deeper meaning behind Temple offerings. Throughout the Chumash, offerings are referred to as a ריח ניחוח, a pleasant smell[3]. These verses suggest that offerings are something positive, something to be encouraged[4]. However, we find verses in the later prophets that discourage offerings. Hashem tells the people: “For what purpose do I need your abundant offerings?”[5]. Hashem sounds like He isn’t interested in us bringing offerings. What changed[6]?

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Vayakhel/Pekudei 5780

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Filling a need or needing to fill[1]

והנשיאם הביאו את אבני השהם ואת אבני המלאים לאפוד ולחשן
The princes brought the shosham stones and the filling stones for the Eiphod and the Choshen[2]

This week’s parsha describes the construction of the Mishkan. It starts with a detailed listing of the donation of the materials towards building it. The entire Jewish people jumped at the opportunity to donate towards the Mishkan. There came a point when donations had to be turned down, as all of the necessary materials had already been collected[3]. The princes, the leaders of each tribe, are described as bringing precious stones for the garments of the Kohen Gadol.

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Ki Sisa 5780

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Invader assurances[1]

שלש פעמים בשנה יראה כל-זכורך את-פני האדן יקוק וגו’ ולא-יחמד איש את-ארצך בעלתך לראות וגו’‏
Three times a year, all of your men shall be seen by the countenance of the L-rd, Hashem…no man will covet your land when you go up to be seen[2]

One of the mitzvos of the Torah is known as aliya leregel[3]. Three times a year, there’s a mitzvah for all men to make a pilgrimage to the Temple. These three times occur on Passover, Shavuos, and Sukkos. By appearing in the Temple, the Jewish men are so-to-speak being “seen” by G-d. One could be nervous keeping such a mitzvah. If all the men converge towards Jerusalem, who will guard the borders? Who will protect their homes from invasion? To curb these concerns, the Torah promises us that at the times of the pilgrimage, no one will covet our land. There will be no need to fear foreign invasions.

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