The odd ones out
אלה יעמדו לברך את-העם על-הר גרזים בעברכם את-הירדן שמעון ולוי ויהודה ויששכר ויוסף ובנימן: ואלה יעמדו על-הקללה בהר עיבל ראובן גד ואשר וזבלן דן ונפתלי
These shall stand on Mount Gerizim to bless the people, as you pass over the Jordan River: Shimon, Levi, Yehudah, Yissachar, Yosef, and Binyamin. And these shall stand on Mount Eival for the curse: Reuven, Gad, Asher, Zevulun, Dan, and Naftali
One of the commandments the Jewish people were instructed to fulfill as they entered the land of Israel is known as the Blessings and the Curses. The twelve tribes were to divide in two; half would pronounce blessings to the people for those that keep the Torah, and half would pronounce curses for those that didn’t. The Torah tells us who is to stand where: Shimon, Levi, Yehudah, Yissachar, Yosef, and Binyamin are to stand on Mount Gerizim and pronounce the blessings. If we look closely, we’ll see that they’re all children of Rochel and Leah, Yaakov’s primary wives. Those to stand on Mount Eival and pronounce the curses were Reuven, Gad, Asher, Zevulun, Dan, and Naftali. The four children of Bilhah and Zilpah, Yaakov’s other two wives, are in this list. However, Reuven and Zevulun are the children of Leah. Why are they singled out from their brothers on Mount Gereizim, and told to stand on Mount Eival?
Continue reading “Ki Savo 5780”
The price of ingratitude
לא-יבא עמוני ומואבי בקהל יקוק גם דור עשירי לא-יבא להם בקהל יקוק עד-עולם: על-דבר אשר לא-קדמו אתכם בלחם ובמים בדרך בצאתכם ממצרים ואשר שכר עליך את-בלעם וגו’ לקללך
An Ammonite and a Moavite shall not marry into the congregation of Hashem. Even the tenth generation shall not marry into the congregation of Hashem, for all time. Due to the matter that they didn’t present you with bread or water when you were traveling from Egypt, and for having hired Bilaam…to curse you
The Torah informs us that a convert from the nation of Ammon or Moav cannot marry into the Jewish people. The reason is twofold: they didn’t present us with bread or water when we were traveling from Egypt, and because they hired the non-Jewish prophet Bilaam to curse the Jews. If we were to pick the worse of the two crimes, seemingly the second one is more severe. If Bilaam had successfully cursed the Jews, there would be no remnant left. His goal, as well as those who hired him, was to obliterate the Jewish people from the face of the Earth. Shouldn’t that be enough of a reason not to intermarry with them? Why then does the Torah also need to mention the reason that they didn’t offer us bread and water? That was simply a lack of showing honor and respect, or at the very least of generosity. It’s surely not as severe as wanting to annihilate them. Further, why is the sin of not giving bread and water listed first, implying it’s worse than the second one?
Continue reading “Ki Seitzei 5780”
אשר ידבר הנביא בשם יקוק ולא-יהיה הדבר ולא יבוא הוא הדבר אשר לא-דברו יקוק בזדון דברו הנביא לא תגור ממנו
That which a “prophet” says in the name of Hashem, which doesn’t come true or does not occur, that is something that Hashem did not speak; this “prophet” spoke with iniquity, do not fear him
The Torah tells us that there will come a day when charlatan prophets will come and try to speak in the name of G-d. They will present miracles and wonders and predict the future. It is a capital crime to be a false prophet, and we are not to be swayed by their tricks. How can we tell if they are a charlatan, or the real deal? The Torah gives us the litmus test: if they predict something will occur, and it doesn’t, then we’ll know for sure that they are a false prophet.
Continue reading “Shoftim 5780”
Life worth living
בנים אתם ליקוק אלקיכם לא תתגודדו ולא-תשימו קרחה בין עיניכם למת
You are children to Hashem, your G-d; don’t maim yourself, nor remove hairs on your head for the deceased
Parshas Re’eh contains many mitzvos. A couple that are unique are the prohibitions of לא תתגודדו and לא תשימו קרחה. The Torah precedes these mitzvos by telling us that we are children of Hashem. He doesn’t want us deforming our bodies in grief. Many people had the practice, and some even today, to injure themselves or pull out their hair, as a display of grief at the loss of a relative. Hashem doesn’t want that of His children. We are commanded not to maim ourselves, and not to remove hairs for the deceased.
Continue reading “Re’eh 5780”
Who does good and causes others to do good
ואכלת ושבעת וברכת את-יקוק אלקיך על-הארץ הטבה אשר נתן-לך
You shall eat and be satiated, and [then] bless Hashem, your G-d, for the good land which He has given you
The often-occurring mitzvah of Birkas HaMazon, known colloquially as bentsching, finds its source in the above verse. We are taught that the first three blessings of the four-part bentsching are of biblical origin: to thank Hashem for the nourishment, to thank Hashem for the land, and to thank Hashem for Jerusalem. This is opposed to the final blessing, known as HaTov VeHaMeitiv, literally “the Good and Who causes others to do good”, which is Rabbinic. Why did the Sages enact this extra blessing? They teach us that the reason is in commemoration of the destruction of the city of Beitar.
Continue reading “Eikev 5780”
Shabbos: which kind of rejuvenation?
שמור את-יום השבת לקדשו כאשר צוך יקוק אלקיך: וזכרת כי-עבד היית בארץ מצרים וגו’
Safeguard the Shabbos day, to sanctify it, as Hashem your G-d commanded you…[So] you shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt…
The Ten Commandments make two appearances in the Torah. The first is parshas Yisro, when the Torah relates how the Jews heard Hashem speak at Mount Sinai. The second is this week’s parsha, where Moshe recounts that monumental event. A careful examination of the two listings will yield some slight but significant differences. Some of the most pronounced is with regards to the mitzvah of Shabbos. There are different themes and details that are chosen in the second instance, which don’t appear in the first. We are adjured to safeguard the Shabbos, instead of simply remembering it. There’s also a focus on the fact that we were slaves in Egypt. What is the Torah highlighting with this connection to the Exodus?
Continue reading “Vaeschanan 5780”
A defense mechanism
ואת-העם צו לאמר אתם עברים בגבול אחיכם בני-עשו הישבים בשעיר וייראו מכם ונשמרתם מאד
Command the people, saying: “You are passing through the territory of your brother, the children of Eisav, who dwell in [the land of] Seir. They fear you tremendously, and you shall be very cautious”
The book of Deuteronomy begins with Moshe recounting to the Jews their forty-year journey throughout the wilderness. They were about to enter the land of Israel, and Moshe was about to pass on from this Earth. Moshe wanted them to glean lessons from their failures and experiences throughout their travels, so that they’ll be better equipped for what’s to come. Towards the end of their journey, they began approaching the land of Seir, where Eisav dwelled. Moshe informed the Jewish people that the nation of Eisav feared the Jews tremendously. They should be very cautious as they pass through their land. In the end they weren’t able to pass through, so they had to circle around their borders. What lesson is Moshe giving the people by recounting to them this episode?
Continue reading “Devarim 5780”
Growth through adversity
ויכתב משה את-מוצאיהם למסעיהם על-פי יקוק ואלה מסעיהם למוצאיהם
Moshe wrote the experiences of their journeys that were directed by Hashem. These are the journeys of their experiences
This week’s parsha starts off with a glaring inconsistency. The Torah proceeds to describe the forty-two journeys the Jews made from their Exodus from Egypt to their final encampment before entering the land of Israel. To introduce this list, the Torah says that Moshe wrote the experiences of their journeys. It immediately follows by saying that this is the list of the journeys of their experiences. The first time it mentions their experiences first, yet the second time it mentions their journeys first. Why is there this apparent inconsistency?
Continue reading “Masei 5780”
Clean from suspicion
ונכבשה הארץ לפני יקוק ואחר תשבו והייתם נקיים מיקוק ומישראל והיתה הארץ הזאת לכם לאחזה לפני יקוק
Once the land is conquered before Hashem, then you can return. You shall [then] be deemed innocent [in the eyes] of Hashem and the Jewish People. This land shall [then] be yours for an inheritance, before Hashem
After the Jews conquered the land on the east side of the Jordan River, it became considered part of the land of Israel. The land of Israel proper, on the west side of the Jordan River, still had to be conquered. Two and a half tribes, that of Reuven, Gad, and half of Menashe, requested for the opportunity to have their portion be solely in the land on the east side of the Jordan River. Moshe took this to mean that they weren’t interested in helping their brethren conquer the rest of the land of Israel. This could lead to distrust, quarrels, and maybe even civil war. Moshe reasoned with them that they’ll be allowed to be the sole inheritors of this part of the land if they help with the war effort on the west side of the Jordan. Upon victory, they’ll be welcome to return to their families on the east side of the Jordan River, and begin to settle it.
Continue reading “Mattos 5780”
The just reward
פינחס בן-אלעזר בן-אהרן הכהן השיב את-חמתי מעל בני-ישראל בקנאו את-קנאתי בתוכם וגו’ לכן אמר הנני נתן לו את-בריתי שלום
Pinchas the son of Elazar, the son of Aharon the Kohen, removed My wrath from upon the Jewish people, as he avenged My vengeance amongst them…Therefore, it shall be said that I hereby give him My covenant of Peace
This week’s parsha starts by concluding the episode of the previous parsha. There were many Jews who were involved in lewd behavior with foreign women and idol worship. This had the danger of causing the entire Jewish people to be wiped out in a plague. The grandson of Aharon, Pinchas, volunteered to take action. Although he wasn’t required, he punished the main instigator of the debacle. He stood up, when no one else did. His bold deed gave everyone time to pause, and the sinning stopped. The Jewish people were safe again. Hashem, in this week’s parsha, confirmed that Pinchas behaved properly by taking the law into his own hands. He announced that Pinchas would be rewarded. Chazal make a point of stressing that Pinchas deserved to be rewarded. Why did they feel the need to point this out? The verse seemingly does a fine job of saying that he deserved to be rewarded.
Continue reading “Pinchas 5780”