Terumah 5784


Colorful creature characteristics[1]

וזאת התרומה אשר תקחו מאתם…וערת תחשים
And this is the donation that you shall take from them…the skins of the tachash[2]

One of the fundamental parts of the Mishkan, the portable Temple that accompanied the Jews in the wilderness, was tachash skins. Rashi tells us[3] that they were beautifully composed of many colors. What animal was the tachash? It’s hard to know[4]. Our Sages tell us that it was a creature that only existed at that specific time, never to exist again[5].

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Yisro 5784


Respect, honour, and small steps[1]

ולא-תעלה במעלת על-מזבחי אשר לא-תגלה ערותך עליו
Don’t make steps on My altar, such that you don’t reveal your nakedness upon it[2]

The Torah prohibits us from building steps for the Temple altar. The reason for this[3] is so that the Kohanim would not be forced to take large steps during their ascent. Large steps over its stones is, in a way, considered improper, almost profane. Our Sages draw[4] a logical deduction from this. If the Torah was particular about the disgrace of these stones, which don’t have intelligence to notice, your friend, who was created in the image of G-d, all the more so you should be careful not to disgrace them.

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Beshalach 5784


Realistic roundabout reclining[1]

ויהי בשלח פרעה את-העם ולא-נחם אלקים דרך פלשתים כי קרוב הוא וגו’ ויסב אלקים את-העם דרך המדבר ים-סוף וגו’‏
And it was that Pharaoh sent the [Jewish] nation. Hashem didn’t let them travel through the land of the Philistines, for it was [too] close…Hashem circumvented the people to go through the way of the wilderness to the Sea of Reeds…[2]

Our Sages connect[3] the verse in this week’s parsha, which says Hashem circumvented [ויסב] the people, with a well-known practice during Seder night: “From this verse our Sages said that even a poor person in the Jewish people shouldn’t eat unless they recline [שיסב][4], for this is what Hashem did for them.” However, it’s hard to understand how the mitzvah of haseibah, reclining while eating matzah and drinking the four cups on Seder Night is connected in any way to the circumventing described in this verse. The latter is merely referring to traveling in a long, out of the way fashion. Some suggest that the verse is merely an allusion to the idea later created by the Sages, but perhaps there’s more going on here.

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Bo 5784


Sabbatical locust respite[1]

ויעל הארבה על כל-ארץ מצרים וינח בכל גבול מצרים כבד מאד לפניו לא-היה כן ארבה כמהו ואחריו לא יהיה-כן
The plague of locusts came up upon all of the land of Egypt. They rested in all of the region of Egypt. It was very dense. Never before was there such a number of locusts and there never will be like it[2]

The Torah, when describing the plague of locusts, uses an interesting verb. It says וינח, they rested. In fact, this verb appears one other time in Tanach[3]. When else? In the context of Shabbos. The Torah says[4] Hashem rested (וינח) on the seventh day of creation, and therefore commanded the weekly mitzvah of Shabbos. What’s the significance of this shared word usage? This teaches us that the locusts rested on Shabbos[5]. The plague of locusts was that they consumed all of the crops of the entirety of Egypt. It would seem that they refrained from doing so on Shabbos.

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Va’eira 5784


The loyal spokesman[1]

וידבר משה לפני יקוק לאמר הן בני-ישראל לא-שמעו אלי ואיך ישמעני פרעה ואני ערל שפתים: וידבר יקוק אל-משה ואל-אהרן ויצום אל-בני ישראל ואל-פרעה מלך מצרים להוציא את-בני-ישראל מארץ מצרים
Moshe said before Hashem, saying: “Behold! The Jewish people won’t listen to me; how will Pharaoh listen to me? [For] I have blocked lips.” Hashem said to Moshe and to Aharon, and commanded them regarding the Jewish people and to Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, to take out the Jewish people from the land of Egypt[2]

Moshe famously had a speech impediment. He told Hashem that he would have no chance of convincing the Jews of their upcoming freedom, nor Pharaoh that he should let the Jews free. He was of blocked lips. The problem is, Moshe already made this argument in last week’s parsha[3]. When Hashem told Moshe to lead the Jews out of Egypt, he told Hashem that he was heavy of speech. He was unfit for the job. Hashem responded that his brother Aharon would be his spokesman. Moshe would tell Aharon the messages delivered to him from Hashem, and Aharon would tell the people or Pharaoh what was said. Why then is Moshe repeating this argument[4]?

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Shemos 5784


Everlasting faith[1]

ויאמר יקוק אל-משה הנה אנכי בא אליך בעב הענן בעבור ישמע העם בדברי עמך וגם-בך יאמינו לעולם וגו’‏
Hashem said to Moshe: “Behold, I come to you in the thickness of the cloud, in order for the people to hear My speaking to You. And they’ll also believe in you forever…[2]

Sefer Shemos, the book of Exodus, introduces us to Moshe, our Teacher, the one who gave us the Torah. It behooves us to understand the uniqueness of Moshe, in relation to other prophets throughout our history.

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Vayechi 5784


Donations, lifespans, and mummies[1]

ויצו יוסף את-עבדיו את-הרפאים לחנט את-אביו ויחנטו הראפים את-ישראל
Yosef commanded his servants, the doctors, to mummify his father. The doctors mummified Israel[2]

The Torah tells us something, which to our 21st century eyes is quite surprising. Yosef commanded the Egyptians[3] to mummify his father, Yaakov. We view mummification as an ancient tribal ritual of the Egyptians; not something that Judaism usually promotes. In fact, our Sages[4] say that Yosef was punished for mummifying his father. Even though he was one of the youngest in his family[5], he died before all of them. This seems like a rather harsh punishment. Why was this considered to be such a terrible crime, worthy of premature death[6]?

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Vayigash 5784


Parental priority punishment[1]

וישלח את-אחיו וילכו ויאמר אלהם אל-תרגזו בדרך
[Yosef] sent off his brothers and they went. He said to them: “Don’t quarrel on the road”[2]

After finally revealing himself to his brothers, the long-thought dead or enslaved Yosef had reunited with his family. Yosef told them to return to Canaan to bring their father to Egypt, where there was salvation from the global famine. Before they left, Yosef cautioned them not to quarrel on the road. The simple explanation is[3] that he was telling them not to argue about whose fault it was that Yosef was sold as a slave in the first place, as Hashem had engineered everything to bring Yosef to political power.

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Mikeitz 5784


Clever collateral incarceration[1]

‏…ויקח מאתם את-שמעון ויאסר אתו לעיניהם
…[Yosef] took Shimon from them and imprisoned him in front of their eyes[2]

Yosef, disguised as the viceroy of Egypt, demanded from his brothers that they bring their remaining brother Binyamin to Egypt. Yosef wanted to see if they would abandon Binyamin just as they abandoned him[3]. The brothers, knowing their father Yaakov would never let Binyamin out of his sight, pleaded with the viceroy to spare their brother. As collateral to ensure their compliance, Yosef imprisoned Shimon, and set the others free to fetch Binyamin.

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Vayeishev 5784


The wealth of a good name[1]

‏…ויבא הביתה לעשות מלאכתו ואין איש מאנשי הבית שם בבית
[Yosef] went to the house to “do his work”, and there was no one else in the house[2]

While Yosef was a slave in Egypt, his master Potiphar’s wife was relentless. She wouldn’t give up on trying to seduce the attractive teenager. Day in and day out she would try different tactics to gain his attention. Yosef wouldn’t budge, as he knew that adultery was a terrible crime. One day, the Torah says that Yosef went to his house to “do his work”. Some say[3] that this is literal, and he was going to work on some bookkeeping for his master. Others say[4] that this is a euphemism for him finally caving into Potiphar’s wife’s seduction. However, even according to that opinion, Yosef took hold of himself and abstained.

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