Terumah / Zachor 5781

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Amazing abode allusions[1]

דבר אל בני-ישראל ויקחו-לי תרומה מאת כל-איש אשר ידבנו לבו תקחו את-תרומתי: וזאת התרומה אשר תקחו מאתם זהב וכסף ונחשת
Speak to the Children of Israel: “Take for Me a portion from each person. [From] those whose heart feels generous, take My portion. This is the portion that you should take from them: gold, silver, and copper”[2]

This week’s parsha introduces us to the Mishkan, or Tabernacle, the portable Temple that the Jews constructed and used in the wilderness. It was literally a place for Hashem’s presence in this world. His presence was palpable, and allowed the Jews a chance to connect with Hashem in a way we can only imagine. The Torah tells us that the Jews were asked to take part in its construction. Each person would donate the materials needed for the Mishkan, donating what they saw fit. Besides gold, silver, and copper, many other materials are listed. However, if we focus on these three materials, we’ll find an amazing allusion hidden in their letters[3].

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Mishpatim / Shekalim 5781

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Joyous acceptance[1]

ואל-אצילי בני ישראל לא שלח ידו ויחזו את-האלקים ויאכלו וישתו
[Hashem] didn’t send His hand against the dignitaries of the Children of Israel, [although] they had seen G-d and ate and drank[2]

After detailing various monetary and ritual laws, the Torah returns to the story of the Divine Revelation at Sinai. As the Jews were receiving the Torah, the dignitaries of the Jewish People feasted; they ate and drank. While this normally could have been justified, they were in front of the Divine Presence. The environment commanded a very high level of awe and respect. A public feast perhaps wasn’t appropriate at that moment, and the Torah seems to rebuke them for it. The Torah implies that the dignitaries could have been wiped out at that moment, but Hashem had compassion and spared them. One explanation is that this was to not ruin the celebratory event of the giving of the Torah[3]. Instead, the dignitaries were later punished with death when they complained unjustifiably[4].

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Yisro 5781

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True humility[1]

וירד יקוק על-הר סיני וגו’‏
And Hashem descended on Mount Sinai…[2]

This week’s parsha contains the dramatic, historic event of the revelation at Mount Sinai. 600,000 men over the age of twenty[3], as well as women and children, had an encounter with the Divine. Hashem lowered His presence, so-to-speak, on Mount Sinai, and uttered the Ten Commandments. Our Sages are bothered[4]: Why Mount Sinai was given the privilege of hosting this event? There are hundreds of thousands of mountains in the world. The Torah could have been given on Mount Everest. Or on Mount Kilimanjaro. Why was Mount Sinai singled out? They tell us that Hashem specifically chose Mount Sinai because it is the lowest of the mountains. Any lower and it wouldn’t even be called a mountain. This was to teach the Jewish people that Torah can only be acquired if someone is humble and of meek spirit[5].

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Beshalach 5781

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An embittered situation[1]

ויבאו מרתה ולא יכלו לשתת מים ממרה כי מרים הם על-כן קרא-שמה מרה: ויצעק אל-יקוק ויורהו יקוק עץ וישלח אל-המים וימתקו המים שם שם לו חק ומשפט ושם נסהו
[The Jews] arrived at Marah, and they weren’t able to drink the water at Marah, as it was bitter. Therefore, the place was called Marah. [Moshe] cried out to Hashem, and Hashem showed him a piece of wood. [Moshe] threw the wood into the water, and the water became sweet. There [Hashem] placed for them a decree and an ordinance, and there He tested them[2]

The episode of Marah is short and sweet[3]. The Jews, after traveling for three days, had run out of water. They were hoping to drink from the water sources that they found at Marah. The problem was the water there was too bitter to drink. Moshe threw a piece of wood into the water, and it miraculously became sweet. Right afterwards is a vague verse. The Torah says that Hashem gave the Jews חק ומשפט, a decree and an ordinance. Our Sages teach us[4] this means that at that time they were introduced to a few mitzvos to be involved with: Shabbos, Parah Aduma (the laws of the Red Heifer used for ritual purity), and monetary laws[5] [6]. They would receive the rest of the Torah when they arrived at Mount Sinai.

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Bo 5781

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Why did the Jews bake matzah when they left Egypt?[1]

ותחזק מצרים על-העם למהר לשלחם מן-הארץ כי אמרו כלנו מתים: וישא העם את-בצקו טרם יחמץ משארתם צררת בשמלתם על-שכמם: ויאפו את-הבצק אשר הוציאו ממצרים עגת מצות כי לא חמץ כי גרשו ממצרים ולא יכלו להתמהמה וגם צדה לא עשו להם
The Egyptians were very forceful in sending out [the Jewish people] from the land, as they said: “We’re all going to die!” The nation took their dough before it became leaven; their kneading bowls were wrapped in their clothing, resting on their shoulders. And they baked the dough that they had taken out of Egypt into matzah, as it had not risen. This was because they were expelled from Egypt and didn’t have time to wait. They also didn’t bring any other provisions[2]

The Torah tells us that the Jews were rushed out of Egypt. Their salvation came in a blink of an eye. Many of them were planning on baking food for their expected Exodus from Egypt. What seems to have been unexpected is just how willing and forceful the Egyptians would be. The verse tells us that when the Jews had to leave, their dough had not yet had time to rise. Indeed, Rashi explains[3] that the Egyptians didn’t give the Jews a chance to let their dough rise. This would imply that if the Egyptians had been more patient, the Jews would have let their dough rise to be baked into bread. The problem with this implication is that it was the first day of Pesach! Bread is not only forbidden for consumption, but we are even forbidden from owning leavened dough on Pesach. How then could the Jews have intended to let their dough rise?

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Va’eira 5781

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The brighter side of things[1]

וידבר משה כן אל בני ישראל ולא שמעו אל משה מקוצר רוח ומעבודה קשה
And Moshe told the Jewish people so, but they didn’t listen to him due to a lack of spirit and the difficult labor[2]

Moshe saw some major setbacks at the beginning of his mission to redeem the Jewish people. First, his first encounter with Pharaoh, demanding the immediate release of the Jews, backfired. Rather than complying, Pharaoh magnified the suffering of the Jews by intensifying his immoral demands. They were expected to produce the same number of bricks as before, but this time being required to gather their own materials. This was the exact opposite of redemption. Subsequently, Hashem reassured Moshe that the Jews will indeed be redeemed. There will be a miraculous salvation, and the Egyptians will be punished appropriately for their heinous crimes. When Moshe told this great news to the people, they unfortunately didn’t. They were too overwhelmed from their labor, and had essentially given up hope of redemption.

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Shemos 5781

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What it takes to be a leader[1]

ויאמר אנכי אלקי אביך אלקי אברהם אלקי יצחק ואלקי יעקב ויסתר משה פניו כי ירא מהביט אל-האלקים
[Hashem] said: “I am the G-d of your forefathers, the G-d of Avraham, the G-d of Yitzchak, and the G-d of Yaakov.” Moshe then hid his face, as he feared to stare at the Divine[2]

ויען משה ויאמר והן לא יאמינו-לי ולא ישמעו בקלי כי יאמרו לא-נראה אליך יקוק: והיה אם-לא יאמינו לך ולא ישמעו לקל האת הראשון והאמינו לקל האת האחרון: והיה אם-לא יאמינו גם לשני האתות האלה ולא ישמעו לקלך ולקחת ממימי היאר ושפכת היבשה והיו המים אשר תקח מן-היאר והיו לדם ביבשת
Moshe answered and said: “But they won’t believe me! They won’t listen to me and they’ll say that Hashem didn’t appear to you”…“If it will be[3] that they don’t believe in you and don’t believe the first sign, they will believe the second sign. And if it will be that they don’t believe these two signs, and won’t listen to you, take from the water of the Nile and pour it on the ground. It will be that the water that you took from the Nile will turn to blood on the dry land[4]

Hashem’s first dialogue at the burning bush with Moshe is very interesting. Moshe didn’t realize that this conversation would pave the way for him becoming the leader and savior of the Jewish people. There’s a lot of back and forth, as Moshe was initially not willing to take the position. He had all sorts of excuses. We can learn a lot from this episode, but the following is just a couple of lessons that we can glean. The first lesson comes from Moshe’s initial demeanor during this discussion, and the second comes from Hashem’s response to Moshe’s concern that the Jews won’t believe him.

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Vayechi 5781

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A recipe to avoid decline[1]

ויברכם ביום ההוא לאמור בך יברך ישראל לאמר ישמך אלקים כאפרים וכמנשה וגו’‏
[Yaakov] blessed them on that day saying: “In you[2] the Jewish people will bless, to say that Hashem should make you like Efraim and Menashe”…[3]

Towards the end of Yaakov’s life, he blessed his children with various prophetic pronouncements. Before blessing his twelve children, he gave Yosef’s two sons their own special blessings. He informed them that the Jewish people will bless their own children to be like Efraim and Menashe. Indeed, the standard practice in a Jewish home is that Friday night the parents bless their sons to be like Efraim and Menashe[4]. What’s the intent behind blessing our kids that they should be like Efraim and Menashe? What aspect did they have that we hope our children will share?

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Asarah BaTeves 5781

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When Asarah BaTeves falls on Shabbos[1]

בן-אדם כתב-לך את-שם היום את-עצם היום הזה סמך מלך-בבל אל-ירושלם בעצם היום הזה
Son of Man, write for yourself the name of today. On this very day, the King of Babylonia began his siege on Jerusalem, on this very day[2]

Of the four minor fasts in commemoration of the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, the tenth of Teves is unique. This fast, which is in commemoration of the beginning of the siege on Jerusalem[3], is the only fast in our present calendar that can fall on a Friday[4]. It creates an unusual situation where we go into Shabbos having not eaten the entire day prior. Usually, a person shouldn’t go into Shabbos hungry[5]. This day is the exception. While this in fact happens this year, 5781, it’s also a very infrequent occurrence. Although it will happen again in two years, it’s been 20 years since it last happened. Something else that’s unique about the fast known as Asarah BaTeves is that in our present calendar, it cannot fall on Shabbos. The other fast days can. However, since it is forbidden to fast on Shabbos (besides Yom Kippur), they get pushed off until Sunday[6]. This situation doesn’t occur for Asarah BaTeves, as it cannot fall on Shabbos anyways.

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Mikeitz 5781

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An argument for innocence[1]

הן כסף אשר מצאנו בפי אמתחתינו השיבנו אליך מארץ כנען ואיך נגנב מבית אדניך כסף או זהב: ויחפש בגדול החל ובקטן כלה וימצא הגביע באמתחת בנימן
Is it not true that we found [your] money in our bags, and we returned it to you from the land of Canaan?! How then could we steal from your master’s home silver or gold?! He began to search [them], starting with the oldest and finishing with the youngest. They found the goblet in the bag of Binyamin[2]

As Yaakov’s sons returned home after successfully retrieving their brother Shimon from captivity, Yosef the viceroy’s men caught up with them. They accused Yaakov’s sons of stealing their master’s special goblet. The brothers were bewildered. They had traveled all the way from Canaan to Egypt, and returned Yosef’s money which had mistakenly been placed in their bags. How preposterous would it be then for them to go ahead and steal a goblet from his palace? Unconvinced by this argument, the viceroy’s men began their search. They started with the oldest brother, and finished with the youngest. Upon opening Binyamin’s bag, they found the goblet. The brothers mourned their providence, and figured they must have been framed. They returned to Yosef’s palace, ready to face the consequences.

There are those[3] that understand that when the Torah says that the viceroy’s men began their search with the oldest of the brothers, its not referring to Reuven, the firstborn[4]. Rather, it’s referring to Shimon, Yaakov’s second son. Where did they get that from[5]? Another question: Rashi[6] felt the need to inform us that the argument of the brothers, that if they returned Yosef’s money why would they steal from him, is one of the ten kal vachomers in the Torah[7]. This is known in logic as an a fortiori argument, where if something less obvious is true, for sure something more obvious is true. It’s surprising that they traveled so far to return the money, so then it’s obvious they wouldn’t steal from Yosef. Why does Rashi feel that we need to know it’s one of the ten? Further, why are there only ten? Surely there are more[8]?

If we analyze carefully the brothers’ kal vachomer, we’ll see that there’s a flaw in it. The brothers were claiming that they traveled all the way from Canaan to return the money that was mistakenly given to them. Is that true? We know it’s true for nine of the brothers. However, Shimon was in jail until recently. He didn’t participate in returning the money. As well, Binyamin didn’t join them the first time they came to Egypt. He had no responsibility to return the money that they had mistakenly brought back with them[9]. What was their argument then?

If we analyze the other kal vachomers in the list that Rashi brings, we’ll notice that they also have a flaw[10]. One of them was stated by Moshe to Hashem[11]. Hashem told Moshe to speak to Pharaoh, and demand he release the Jews. Moshe responded that he is not a qualified spokesperson for the Jewish people. The Jewish people themselves won’t even listen to him, surely Pharaoh won’t listen to him. The problem with this argument is the verse says[12] that the people didn’t listen to him because they were exhausted from their labor. This didn’t apply to Pharaoh. We see then that his argument didn’t start[13].

However, there is an instance where each of these kal vachomers are valid. With regards to Moshe’s argument to Hashem, he mentioned the Jewish people didn’t listen to him. This statement included even the tribe of Levi, who as the Priestly class, weren’t enslaved in Egypt[14]. We see that even they didn’t listen to Moshe, even though they weren’t exhausted from labor. It was this tribe that Moshe had in mind when he said that the Jewish people didn’t listen to him. All the more so Pharaoh wouldn’t listen to him.

The same is true with the argument of the sons of Yaakov. They said that they had traveled all the way from Canaan to return the money that wasn’t theirs. It’s true, this argument didn’t apply to Shimon and Binyamin, as they weren’t involved in the first trip home from Egypt, when the mistake occurred. However, it did apply to the other nine brothers. They were saying that if these brothers went to so much effort to return what was not theirs, all the more so would they not steal something from the palace. Rashi is bothered that these two arguments have some sort of flaw. He wants us to realize that this isn’t so difficult, as there are ten instances of kal vachomers in the Torah that have a flaw. He is stressing that despite this flaw, there is indeed some resolution to the argument.

Perhaps the unique explanation that the viceroy’s men started their search with the oldest, meaning Shimon, and ended with the youngest, meaning Binyamin, was motivated by this issue. These two brothers were the only ones who didn’t have an argument for innocence. They weren’t involved in the mistake with the money, and had no proof that they weren’t guilty. As such, the verse is really telling us that the viceroy’s men only searched these two brothers. The older one, Shimon, and the younger one Binyamin. The others weren’t searched, as they had a kal vachomer proving their innocence[15].

Good Shabbos

[1] Based on Maharil Diskin to Genesis 44:12 s.v. בתרגום and Sichos Kodesh 5736 parshas Mikeitz § 30-34 (p. 331-333), by the Lubavitcher Rebbe zt”l, summarized into Hebrew from Yiddish in Biurei HaChumash to v. 8

[2] Genesis 44:8,12

[3] The Maharil Diskin says this explanation is from רבותינו ז”ל, which sounds like he’s referring to Chazal. The Brisker Rav in Chiddushei Maran HaGriz Soloveitchik Torah § 38 says it’s a Midrash, brings the words of the Maharil Diskin, and then concludes that we don’t know where this Midrash is. Da’as Mikra to v. 12 fn. 2 says this idea is from the Beis HaLevi to v. 5, but I couldn’t find where he mentions it. Further, The Brisker Rav, a grandson of the Beis HaLevi, surely would have mentioned that his grandfather discusses it. In Chiddushei Maran HaGrach Kanievsky parshas Mikeitz § 5, it is brought that Rav Chaim Kanievsky shlita was asked where this Midrash is, and he responded איני זוכר

[4] Cf. Targum “Yonasan” to v. 12 who explicitly writes that they started with Reuven. The Maharil Diskin suggests it was to reject this alternate explanation

[5] Maharil Diskin

[6] Rashi to v. 8

[7] Bereishis Rabbah 92:7

[8] Sichos Kodesh

[9] Sichos Kodesh only mentions Binyamin, but Maharil Diskin mentions them both. As will be evident, each one mentioned what they needed in order to answer their question

[10] Sichos Kodesh. See there where the Rebbe explains the flaw for two more in the list

[11] Exodus 6:12

[12] V. 9

[13] Sichos Kodesh points out that Rashi only cites the ten kal vachomers in these two instances. He explains this is because Rashi is bothered by these two more than the other instances, as the flaw is so apparent. Rashi therefore says don’t be bothered, because if you look in the list, you’ll see they all have a flaw. At the same time, despite their flaws, these two have some instance in which they’re logically sound, as will be explained

[14] Rashi to Exodus 5:4, quoting Shemos Rabbah 5:16

[15] Maharil Diskin. Da’as Mikrah loc. cit. also says the Beis HaLevi explains it this way (but as mentioned in note 3, I couldn’t find it. Perhaps the editor was thinking of the Maharil Diskin, brought by the Beis HaLevi’s grandson, the Brisker Rav)