Devarim / Tisha B’av 5779

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Horrific consequences of sin[1]

…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[2]

Parshas Devarim always falls out the shabbos before Tisha B’Av[3], the day commemorating the destruction of both the First and Second Temples[4]. 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[5] that people will eat the flesh of their daughters and sons.

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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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Shelach 5779

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The paths of two greats[1]

אלה שמות האנשים אשר-שלח משה לתור את-הארץ ויקרא משה להושע בן-נון יהושע
These are the names of the men who were sent by Moshe to scout out the land. Moshe called Hoshea the son of Nun: Yehoshua[2]

When the Jews had almost arrived at the land of Israel, they had the idea to send spies to scout out the land[3]. They wanted to know not only about the landscape, but about the inhabitants[4]. Were they a conquerable force, or not? Twelve men, one for each tribe, were selected for the task. One of them was Moshe’s faithful student[5], Yehoshua. He was originally called Hoshea, but Moshe, as a form of prayer, added the letter yud to his name, making it Yehoshua. Moshe was concerned that the spies had evil intentions, and would falsely give a negative report. He therefore added a letter from G-d’s name to Yehoshua’s, pleading that Hashem should save Yehoshua from the council of the spies[6].

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Beha’alosecha 5779

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The three pillars of a positive character[1]

דבר אל-אהרן ואמרת אליו בהעלותך את-הנרת אל-מול פני המנורה יאירו שבעת הנרות: ויעש כן אהרן אל מול פני המנורה העלה נרתיה כאשר צוה יקוק את-משה
Speak to Aharon and say to him: When you ignite the lights, let them illuminate towards the center of the Menorah[2]. Aharon did so; he ignited its lights towards the center of the Menorah, as Hashem commanded Moshe[3]

This week’s parsha begins by discussing the Menorah, including its make and how it was lit[4]. The Torah uses an unusual way to describe the lighting of the Menorah wicks: בהעלותך. Literally, with your raising up the lights. There are many things learned from this, but one of them is the fact that Aharon was instructed to construct a three-step block of stone in front of the Menorah[5]. Meaning, the verse is telling Aharon and his descendants to “go up” to light the Menorah, using these steps. The next verse teaches us that Aharon properly constructed these steps. We could say that this was a practical necessity, in order to reach the top of the Menorah[6]. Why though were there specifically three steps[7]? Also, was there any more significance to this steppingstone?

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Nasso 5779

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A most difficult match[1]

אין מזווגין לו לאדם אשה אלא לפי מעשיו וכו’ וקשין לזווגן כקריעת ים סוף וכו’ והא וכו’ ארבעים יום קודם ליצירת הוולד בת קול יוצאת ואומרת בת פלוני לפלוני וכו’ לא קשיא, הא בזיווג ראשון והא בזיווג שני
A man’s wife is determined based on his actions…and it’s as hard (for Hashem, so to speak[2]) as the splitting of the Reed Sea…But is that so? At the moment of conception[3] a Heavenly voice calls out “The daughter of so-and-so is to marry so-and-so” …This isn’t a contradiction. [It’s preannounced] with a person’s first match, and [it’s difficult] when it’s their second match[4]

This week’s parsha discusses the Sotah, a suspected adulteress, and the way in which she can clear her name to her husband. Since such topics are not the most positive[5], Reish Lakish would begin his class on the topic by relating a nicer discussion of how a couple meets in the first place[6]. He says that a person’s second match is as hard for Hashem to make as it was to split the Reed Sea. Why is this so? Is it really so difficult[7]? To compare it to one of the greatest miracles in our history[8]? Something so intense that it caused the entire world to tremble[9]? What’s the comparison[10]? Also, why does a person’s first match need some sort of Heavenly announcement, and so early? Why couldn’t it have been when they were born, instead of when they were conceived? How does this announcement work, such that without it, the match is difficult to make? Finally, why is a match compared to the splitting of the sea, something representing separation and distance. A more appropriate comparison would have been the miracle of the Arnon valleys, where Hashem caused two mountains to come together to squish the Jews’ enemies[11].

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Bamidbar 5779

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The minuscule tribe[1]

כל-פקודי הלוים אשר פקד משה ואהרן על-פי יקוק למשפחתם כל-זכר מבן-חדש ומעלה שנים ועשרים אלף
The entire count of the Leviim, which Moshe and Aharon counted through the command of Hashem, according to their families, all the males from one month of age and above was 22,000[2]

When the national census of the males was conducted, most of the twelve tribes were counted from the age of twenty. However, the Levite tribe was counted from the age of one month. Nevertheless, their total was less than any other tribe, not even reaching half of the smallest tribe. Why was this so[3]? One suggestion is because they were the only tribe in Egypt that wasn’t enslaved[4]. The Egyptians embittered the Jews’ lives, and the more they tortured them, the more Hashem had them multiply[5]. Jews were miraculously having as many as six babies at once[6]. Since the Leviim weren’t enslaved or tortured, they didn’t receive this miracle growth to their population[7].

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