The minuscule tribe
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
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? One suggestion is because they were the only tribe in Egypt that wasn’t enslaved. The Egyptians embittered the Jews’ lives, and the more they tortured them, the more Hashem had them multiply. Jews were miraculously having as many as six babies at once. Since the Leviim weren’t enslaved or tortured, they didn’t receive this miracle growth to their population.
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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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The Mountain and the rested Land
וידבר יקוק אל-משה בהר סיני לאמר: דבר אל-בני ישראל ואמרת אליהם כי תבואו אל הארץ אשר אני נותן לכם ושבתה הארץ שבת ליקוק
Hashem spoke to Moshe on Mount Sinai, saying: Speak to the Children of Israel, and say to them: When you arrive at the land which I give to you, the land shall rest, a Sabbath for Hashem
This week’s parsha begins by introducing the mitzvah of shemittah, the Sabbatical year. Once every seven years the land of Israel is to lie fallow, and the fruits become ownerless. What’s unusual with this mitzvah is it’s introduced by specifying that Hashem spoke to Moshe on Mount Sinai. This specification isn’t done with any other mitzvah. What does shemittah have to do with Mount Sinai? Rashi says to teach us that just like the general principles as well as the details of the mitzvah of shemittah were taught at Mount Sinai, the same is true for all mitzvos. However, this is only the opinion of Rabbi Akiva. Rabbi Yishmael holds that all other mitzvos had their general principles taught at Mount Sinai, and their details were taught at the Tent of Meeting . What then does he learn from the specification of Mount Sinai with the mitzvah of shemittah? As well, even according to Rabbi Akiva, why was shemittah chosen to specifically teach us this idea?
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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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Sibling love, disgrace, and quarrels
ואיש אשר-יקח את-אחתו בת-אביו או בת-אמו וראה את-ערותה והיא תראה את ערותו חסד הוא ונכרתו לעיני בני עמם ערות אחתו גלה עונו ישא
A man who will take his sister, the daughter of his father or the daughter of his mother, and will see her nakedness, and she will see his nakedness, it is chesed, and they will be cut off from before the eyes of the nation. For he has uncovered his sister’s nakedness, and he shall carry his sin
The Torah, in its list of the forbidden relationships, gives the incestuous relationship with one’s sister a special descriptor. The union is referred to as chesed. Normally, this word refers to loving kindness. It seems highly out of place in this context. Rashi therefore says that in this context it’s the Aramaic word for disgrace. Such a union is a disgrace to both parties. However, why did the Torah use this unusual word, instead of the normal Hebrew word for disgrace? Rashi therefore brings the homiletic interpretation, that this verse is alluding to the answer to an age-old question.
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The constant struggle
ואל אשה בנדת טומאתה לא תקרב וגו’
Do not approach a woman in her impure state of niddah
The gemarra relates a conversation between a Sadducee, someone who rejected Rabbinic Judaism, and the Sages of his time. He asked Rav Kahana, how could a man and woman be trusted to be alone together when the wife is a niddah? Once she has her period, she and her husband are forbidden to each other until she immerses in a mikveh at the right time. He asked is it possible for a fire to kindle and not burn?
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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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The mighty hand of Hashem
מה נשתנה הלילה הזה מכל הלילות, שבכל הלילות אנו אוכלים חמץ ומצה וכו’
Why is this night different from all other nights? For on all other nights, we eat leavened and non-leavened bread etc…
עבדים היינו לפרעה במצרים ויוציאנו יקוק אלקים משם ביד חזקה ובזרוע נטויה
We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt, and Hashem, G-d, took us out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm
The Ma-Nishatana is a classic moment at everyone’s Seder. The youngest member of the house proudly gets up and asks the Four Questions. The Haggadah continues by declaring that we were slaves in Egypt to Pharaoh. This would seem to be an attempt to answer the child’s questions. However, what connection is there between the parent’s response and the child’s questions? They seem totally incongruous.
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The proper mode of conduct
וצוה הכהן ולקח למטהר שתי-צפרים חיות טהורות ועץ ארז ושני תולעת ואזב
The Kohen shall command [as follows]: he should take for the one seeking purification two live, kosher birds, a rod from a cedar tree, a thread of crimson wool, and hyssop
This week’s parsha, much like last week’s, deals mostly with the laws of tzara’as, most commonly translated as leprosy. While it may be a whitish skin condition, in reality it’s a totally unrelated spiritual malady with physical symptoms. Chazal tell us that someone who contracts tzara’as, known as a Metzora, usually committed a certain sin. One example is that of haughtiness. As a result of his sin, he is infected with a disturbing skin condition, and has to have his status established by a Kohen. If the Kohen determines he is spiritually impure, then he is. The opposite is also true.
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