Stationary teachers, elevated students
ויאמר אדנ”י אם-נא מצאתי חן בעיניך אל-נא תעבר מעל עבדך
[Avraham] said: “My Lord, if I have found grace in your eyes, please do not pass from upon Your servant”
Avraham was amid a prophetic vision of Hashem, when he noticed three potential guests in the distance. Having a burning desire to host them for a meal, he asked a favor of Hashem. He respectfully asked Hashem to wait for him to return after hosting these guests. While this was definitely the proper mode of conduct, from Avraham’s request of “please do not pass from upon Your servant”, it sounds like he was concerned. He was worried Hashem wouldn’t wait for him. What was the concern? Hashem was the one who initiated this prophetic vision. In fact, Hashem knew that Avraham was simply fulfilling the idiom that “greater is greeting guests than greeting the Divine Presence” . Why then did Avraham think Hashem wouldn’t continue the prophetic vision upon his return?
Continue reading “Vayeira 5780”
Gifts of persuasion
אמרי נא אחותי את למען ייטב לי בעבורך וחיתה נפשי בגללך
Please say that you are my sister, so that it will be good for me for your sake, and my life will be spared because of you
Due to a severe famine in the land of Canaan, Avraham and Sarah journeyed to the land of Egypt. Knowing full-well the morality of such a place, Avraham was very concerned. His wife was tremendously beautiful, and if the Egyptians knew they were a married couple, they would have no problem killing Avraham and taking Sarah as their wife. However, if they represented themselves as siblings, they would be safe. They would assume Avraham, as Sarah’s “brother”, was her protector, and could be persuaded to give her away in marriage.
Continue reading “Lech Lecha 5780”
Children of good deeds
אלה תולדות נח נח איש צדיק תמים היה בדרתיו את-האלקים התהלך-נח
These are the offspring of Noach – Noach was perfectly righteous in his generation; Noach walked with Hashem 
This week’s parsha begins by introducing Noach and his family. However, when the Torah starts to list Noach’s offspring, it immediately changes topic and sings his praises. The Torah tells us that Noach was perfectly righteous, and walked with G-d. Only afterwards are his children’s names mentioned. Why did the Torah introduce these praises by saying “These are the offspring of Noach”? Rashi explains that “the main offspring of the righteous are their good deeds”. Rashi didn’t fully explain himself. Why indeed are good deeds called “offspring”?
Continue reading “Noach 5780”
The eclipsed relationship
ויאמר אלקים יהי מארת ברקיע השמים להבדיל בין היום ובין הלילה והיו לאתת ולמועדים ולימים ושנים
G-d said: “Let there be luminaries in the sky to separate between day and night, and they will be for signs, set times, days and years”
On the fourth day of Hashem’s Six Days of Creation, we are taught that Hashem created what we know today as the Sun and the Moon. These celestial bodies, besides their other purposes, serve as practical time indicators. They’re used to distinguish between day and night, and to tell how far along it is during the day and night. As well, the Jewish Calendar is set up to rely on the lunar cycle, and the stage the Moon is in indicates how far along it is in the month. Many festivals occur during the full Moon, and the New Moon indicates the start of a new month. The Torah says that the luminaries are also for “signs”. What signs is the Torah referring to?
Continue reading “Bereishis 5780”
The rejected gift
ויאמר יקוק מסיני בא וזרח משעיר למו הופיע מהר פארן וגו’
He said: “Hashem came from Sinai, shined forth from [Mount] Seir; He appeared from Mount Paran…”
In the last parsha in the Torah, Moshe gave each of the tribes a final blessing. Before these blessings, he describes the Torah itself and how the Jews accepted it. It says that Hashem “came” from Mount Sinai, having “shined forth” from Mount Seir and “appearing” from Mount Paran. We’ve all heard of Mount Sinai. That is where the Torah was given to the Jews, who gladly accepted it. What is Mount Seir and Mount Paran referring to? Mount Seir is usually associated with the descendants of Eisav, and Mount Paran is usually associated with the descendants Yishmael. Picking up on this, the Midrash explains the verse to be describing a historical backdrop to the accepting of the Torah.
Continue reading “VeZos HaBeracha 5780”
The gift of forgetting
צור ילדך תשי ותשכח קל מחללך
You forgot the Rock that formed you; you forgot the G-d that brought you forth
This week’s parsha contains Moshe’s prophetic goodbye song to the Jewish people. It describes scenes from their past, as well as hints to their future. In a poetic sense, each verse is very terse, and contains many layers of depth and meaning. The commentaries offer many different approaches to each word and phrase. One verse focuses on the fact that the Jewish people forget their G-d. This isn’t just a fact, explaining how the Jewish people could have ever sinned. It’s in fact a very deep rebuke, which can be brought out very eloquently in a parable.
Continue reading “HaAzinu 5780”
הקהל את-העם ואנשים והנשים והטף וגרך אשר בשעריך למען ישמעו ולמען ילמדו ויראו את-יקוק אלקיכם ושמרו את-כל-דברי הורה הזאת: ובניהם אשר לא-ידעו ישמעו ולמדו ליראה את-יקוק אלקיכם כל-הימים אשר אתה חיים על-האדמה וגו’
Gather the nation, the men, the women, the taf, and the stranger in your gates. [This is] in order that you listen and in order that you learn and fear Hashem your G-d, and that you observe all the words of this Torah. And your children that don’t understand, they will hear and learn to fear Hashem your G-d, all the days that you are alive on the earth…
One of the last mitzvos described in the Torah is the mitzvah known as Hakhel. On the Sukkos following the Shemittah year, all Jews are commanded to come to the Temple and hear the King read from the book of Deuteronomy. The Torah says that this is so the people will learn to fear Hashem, and follow His commandments. The Torah stresses that all Jews are meant to be there, men, women, and children. The second verse clearly mentions children, and says they’re of an age where they don’t understand. The first verse, after mentioning men and women, says the “taf” are also meant to come. Who is this referring to?
Continue reading “Vayeilech 5780”
הנסתרת ליקוק אלקינו והנגלות ל̇נ̇ו̇ ו̇ל̇ב̇נ̇י̇נ̇ו̇ ע̇ד-עולם לעשות את-כל-דברי התורה הזאת
The hidden [deeds] are for Hashem our G-d, and the revealed [deeds] are for us, our children, forever, to fulfill all the words of this Torah
This week’s parsha contains one of Moshe’s last major speeches to the Jewish people. He starts by pointing out that the entire people were present during this speech. The leaders, the commoners, the women, the children, the converts. No one was missing. Moshe was bringing everyone into a covenant with G-d, for all generations. Part of this covenant involved a shared responsibility for one another. If some people sin, all could be punished. We should all ensure that our fellow is on their best behavior, and not turn a blind eye.
Continue reading “Nitzavim 5779”
The unique G-d; the unique nation
את-יקוק האמרת היום להיות לך לאלקים וגו’ ויקוק האמירך היום להיות לו לעם סגלה וגו’
Today you have he’emarta Hashem to be for you a G-d…Today Hashem he’emircha you to be for Him a cherished nation
This week’s parsha uses two unusual words to describe the relationship between Hashem and His nation, the Jewish people. These words seemingly don’t occur anywhere else in scripture. Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah expounded these words as follows: Hashem said to the Jewish people: “You have made me one חטיבה in this world, as the verse says: ‘שמע ישראל יקוק אלקינו יקוק אחד, Hear O Israel, Hashem is our G-d, Hashem is One’. [Therefore], I will make for you one חטיבה in this world, as the verse says: ‘ומי כעמך ישראל גוי אחד בארץ, Who is like Your nation, O Israel, one nation in the land’”. Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah seemingly didn’t help us identify the meaning of he’emarta and he’emircha in this week’s parsha. He used the similarly uncommon word chativa to define them. What does this word mean?
Continue reading “Ki Savo 5779”
Returning what was lost
לא-תראה את-שור אחיך או את-שיו נדחים והתעלמת מהם השב תשיבם לאחיך
Do not see your brother’s ox or his sheep straying and hide yourself from them; [rather] you shall surely return them to your brother
This week’s parsha contains more mitzvos than any other. One of them is a classic case where the Torah’s concern for interpersonal relationships is demonstrated. We are commanded to return lost objects to our friend. If we see that their possession was dropped, we have to make our best efforts to get it back into their hand. There are those that suggest that if we are commanded to be concerned for another’s monetary objects, all the more so we should be concerned for their souls. However, as with everything in Torah, there are many layers of meaning. Some want to suggest that the verse itself is referring to a concern for another’s spiritual welfare.
Continue reading “Ki Seitzei 5779”