Nitzavim 5779

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Shared responsibility[1]

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[2]

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[3]. 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.

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Ki Savo 5779

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The unique G-d; the unique nation[1]

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[2] nation[3]

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[4]. Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah expounded[5] these words as follows: Hashem said to the Jewish people: “You have made me one חטיבה in this world, as the verse says[6]: ‘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[7]: ‘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?

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Ki Seitzei 5779

Returning what was lost[1]

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[2]

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[3]. However, as with everything in Torah, there are many layers of meaning[4]. Some want to suggest[5] that the verse itself is referring to a concern for another’s spiritual welfare.

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Shoftim 5779

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Gifts of appreciation[1]

וזה יהיה משפט הכהנים מאת העם מאת זבחי הזבח אם-שור אם-שה ונתן לכהן הזרע והלחיים והקבה
This will be the law for the Kohanim: Those from the nation who slaughter a cow or a sheep will give to the Kohen the [animal’s] shoulder, cheeks, and stomach[2]

Hashem’s chosen family for the Temple service is the Kohanim, the descendants of Aharon. What comes with this responsibility is certain gifts. The rest of the nation are commanded to give some of the produce to Kohanim, as well as the choicest parts of their animals. The gemarra asks[3] a simple question: If a Kohen grabs away the gifts owed to them from the original owner, is that showing that they cherish the mitzvah? Or is that disrespectful to the mitzvah. The gemarra answers that the Torah says for the non-Kohen to give the animal parts to the Kohen, not that the Kohen should take it.

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Eikev 5779

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The two types of yirah[1]

ועתה ישראל מה יקוק אלקיך שואל מעמך כי אם-ליראה את-יקוק אלקיך וגו’‏
And now Israel, what does Hashem your G-d ask from you, just to fear Hashem your G-d…[2]

This weeks parsha tells us the main thing that Hashem asks from us: to be ירא him. There are various ways to translate this word, usually “fear” or “awe”. We are commanded to have fear and awe of Hashem. However, there are two types of יראה. There’s יראת העונש, fear of punishment[3], and יראת הרוממות, awe of Hashem’s loftiness[4]. The former is easy to obtain, and the latter is considered a high level in the service of Hashem[5]. We can then ask, when the Torah tell us the main thing Hashem wants from us is to fear and have awe of Him, which יראה is this referring to? Fear of punishment, or awe of Hashem’s loftiness[6]?

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Mattos-Masei 5779

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Mistaken priorities[1]

וגשו אליו ויאמרו גדרת צאן נבנה למקננו פה וערים לטפנו וגו’ בנו-לכם ערים לטפכם וגדרת לצאנכם וגו’‏
[The tribes of Reuven and Gad] approached [Moshe] and said: “We will build shelters here for our flock and cities for our children”…[Moshe responded: “Build for yourselves cities for your children, and shelters for your flock”…[2]

After the Jews conquered the land of Sichon and Og, on the east side of the Jordan River, they were prepared to enter the Promised Land. The tribes of Reuven and Gad noticed that the area they had just conquered was excellent grazing land. Being that they had ample flock to feed, they thought it would be a good idea for their apportioned land to be given from this one, instead of the land of Israel proper. They approached Moshe and told him if they received this conquered land, they would use it to build shelters for their flock, and cities for their children.

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Pinchas 5779

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Two forms of scholarship[1]

ובני קרח לא מתו
The sons of Korach didn’t die[2]

This week’s parsha contains yet another census. The Torah lists all the different families by tribe, and states their total numbers. While detailing the families in the tribe of Levi, the family of Korach, who started a failed rebellion against Moshe[3], is mentioned. The Torah wanted to emphasize that although Korach’s children were part of his rebellion, they did not perish like their father did. Rather, they repented at the last moment, saving their lives[4]. The gemarra relates[5] that when their lives were spared, the children of Korach sang a song of praise to Hashem. What song did they choose to sing?

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Balak 5779

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The repulsive idol and the lack of boundaries[1]

ויחל העם לזנות אל בנות מואב וגו’ וצמד ישראל לבעל פעור וגו’‏
The [Jewish] nation began[2] to commit lewd acts with the women of Moav…and the Jews clung to [the idol] Ba’al Peor[3]

At the end of this week’s parsha, the Jewish people hit a new low. They began to have illicit sexual relationships with women from the foreign nation of Moav, and they committed severe acts of idol worship. The Torah uses an unusual expression to describe their attitude towards the idol known as Ba’al Peor. It says וצמד, which is the verb form of the word which describes a tightly bound cover on a vessel[4]. This means that the Jews became tightly bound, or clung, to the idol Ba’al Peor. With some historical context, this is very hard to understand. The form of worship of this idol was one of the most repulsive things imaginable. The way to serve this idol was to eat and drink things which would cause diarrhea[5], and then to defecate on it[6]. How could the Jews be not only interested, but totally attached to such an idol?

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Chukas 5779

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The dormant merit[1]

ויאמר יקוק אל-משה אל-תירא אתו כי בידך נתתי אתו ואת-כל-עמו ואת-ארצו ועשית לו כאשר עשית לסיחן מלך האמרי אשר יושב בחשבון
Hashem said to Moshe: “Do not fear [Og], as I have given him, his entire nation, and his land into your hand. You shall [be able to] do to him as you did to Sichon, the Aramean King, who dwelled[2] in Cheshbon[3]

After forty years in the wilderness[4], the Jews had begun their final journey towards the land of Israel. They entered the land of Sichon, the King of the Amorites. They successfully conquered his land, and further journeyed towards the land of the Giant Og, King of Bashan. Hashem told Moshe not to fear Og, as their victory was guaranteed. Why was Moshe afraid of Og? There was no reassurance from Hashem before they battled Sichon. It must be that Moshe wasn’t afraid of him, only Og. Rashi brings[5] an explanation from Chazal[6] that Og had actually been alive since the times of Avraham[7]. He informed Avraham that the latter’s nephew Lot had been taken captive during an intense civil war[8]. This knowledge gave Avraham the chance to rescue his nephew, which he successfully accomplished. Moshe was worried that this merit from hundreds of years earlier would grant Og victory over the Jews. Hashem comforted him and told him not to worry, as the Jews would emerge victorious.

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Korach 5779

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Keeping our loved one in mind[1]

ויקח קרח וגו’ ודתן ואבירם וגו’ ואון וגו’ ויקמו לפני משה ואנשים מבני-ישראל חמשים ומאתים וגו’‏
Korach took [his tallis][2] …and Dasan and Aviram…and Ohn…they and two-hundred and fifty men from the Jewish people confronted Moshe…[3]

This week’s parsha details the rebellion of Korach. He challenged the leadership of Moshe and Aharon, convincing a group of the greatest sages of Israel to join his cause. To kick off his rebellion, he took a tallis which was entirely dyed techeiles[4], a blueish color. Normally, only some of the tzitzis strings need to be dyed techeiles[5], but not the garment itself. He had two-hundred and fifty of his men wear[6] a similar garment in front of Moshe[7]. Korach asked Moshe: “This tallis, whose material is entirely colored techeiles, does it require tzitzis”? Moshe responded: “It does”. Korach rejected this ruling, and argued that if just some strings of techeiles exempt the garment, having the entire garment be techeiles should be more than sufficient[8]. Therefore, there was no need for tzitzis in such a garment. Why did Korach specifically pick this topic to start his rebellion? As well, Korach wasn’t an ignoramus. He was an incredibly learned individual[9]. How then could he ever think that such a tallis would be exempt from tzitzis?

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