Shevii shel Pesach 5782

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Repentance from idol worship[1]

הים ראה וינס הירדן יסב לאחור
The [Reed] Sea[2] saw and ran away, the Jordan River turned backwards[3]

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[4] after this miracle[5]. 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[6]. Others says that it was the coffin[7] of Yosef[8]. A very strange opinion[9] is that the sea “saw” the teaching[10] of the Academy of Rabbi Yishmael. What does this mean?

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Pesach 5782

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Different forms of wealth[1]

אילו הרג את בכוריהם ולא נתן לנו את ממונם, דיינו
If Hashem had only killed their firstborns, and not given us their riches, it would have been enough[2]

One of the classic Pesach songs that is enjoyed by all at the Sefer is “Dayeinu”. It proceeds to walk through the entire Exodus story, culminating in us receiving the Torah and entering the Land of Israel. One of the stanzas has the line: “If Hashem had only killed their firstborns, and not given us their riches, it would have been enough”. Upon observation, this seems to be a problematic statement. Hashem explicitly promised Avraham that his descendants would escape slavery in a land not their own with great riches[3]. How could we then entertain the possibility that Hashem wouldn’t have given us the Egyptian’s riches[4]?

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Metzora 5782

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Correctional bird manipulation[1]

וצוה הכהן ולקח למטהר שתי-צפרים חיות טהרות וגו’‏

The Kohen shall instruct, and two pure, live birds shall be taken for the one seeking purification…[2]

A large segment of the parsha deals with the spiritual contamination of one who spoke wrongly about his fellow, known as a Metzora, and his process of purification. One of the requirements the Torah prescribes is to take two birds, one to be slaughtered, and one to be released into the wild. Why does he need to bring birds? Rashi explains[3] because birds are known to “tweet” all day long, which symbolizes this guy’s constant “tweeting” gossip about his fellow. According to this reasoning then, why is there a need for two birds? Seemingly one should be sufficient. Furthermore, now that there are two birds that are required, why is one slaughtered, and one sent away? Finally, there’s a law that this bird must be sent out specifically in an open field[4]. Why is that?

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Tazria / HaChodesh 5782

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The mixed blessing of familiarization[1]

ובבא עם-הארץ לפני יקוק במועדים הבא דרך-שער צפון להשתחות יצא דרך-שער נגב והבא דרך-שער נגב יצא דרך-שער צפונה לא ישוב דרך השער אשר-בא בו כי נכחו יצא
When the people would come before Hashem for the Festivals, one who came through the North Gate to prostate should exit through the South Gate, and one who came through the South Gate should exit through the North gate. A person shouldn’t return through the gate that they had come through, but should exit through the opposite one[2]

Similar to last week, parshas Parah, where we read a special Torah reading and haftarah, the same is true for this week, known as parshas HaChodesh. On it we recite verses connected to the Passover offering, in anticipation for the upcoming Festival of Pesach. The special haftarah follows a similar theme, and addresses various laws and customs associated with the Temple. One of the practices described is that visitors to the Temple were instructed to enter through one gate, and to leave through a different one. They were not to leave through the same gate they had entered from. Why should this be? What can we learn from this practice?

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Shemini / Parah 5782

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The puzzling paradox of the crimson cow[1]

זאת חקת התורה אשר-צוה יקוק לאמר דבר אל-בני ישראל ויקחו אליך פרה אדמה תמימה אשר אין-בה מום אשר לא-עלה עליה על
This is the decree of the Torah, which Hashem commanded, saying: “Speak to the Children of Israel, and take for yourselves a completely red heifer, that has no blemish, one which has not had a yoke placed on it”[2]

The shabbos after Purim[3] is called parshas Parah, the parsha of the cow. It receives this title because on it we read about the parah adumah, the red heifer[4]. Before the holiday of Pesach, the Jewish people would need to become spiritually pure. Sometimes it would be necessary to use the ashes of a completely red heifer. The sprinkling of these ashes onto the impure person would enable them to bring their Pesach offering. We read this parsha to remind the Jewish people to become pure before the Festival[5].

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Tzav 5782

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Thoughts of denial[1]

…זאת תורה העלה…
…This is the law of the Olah offering…[2]

Of the many offerings that can be brought in the Temple, the one that is entirely consumed in flames is known as the Olah offering. While some offerings are brought voluntarily, and some to atone for immoral actions, our Sages teach us[3] that an Olah offering is brought to atone for improper thoughts. What’s the source for this idea? They tell us that it’s an explicit verse, which says: והעלה על-רוחכם היו לא תהיה, אשר אתם אומרים נהיה כגוים, That which goes up in your mind shall never come to pass, that you say that you’ll be like all the nations[4]. Now, the word for “that which goes up” is the same word as an Olah offering, which entirely “goes up” to Hashem. As such, we see the Olah offering associated with thoughts, and in the context of the verse, bad ones. Now, it’s hard to call this an explicit verse for this idea. It’s more of an allusion than anything else[5].

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Purim 5782 #2

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The morning light[1]

למנצח על אילת השחר מזמור לדוד
For the conductor, regarding a morning doe, a song of David[2]

Our Sages understood[3] the twenty second chapter of Psalms to have been composed by Queen Esther. It starts off describing a אילת השחר, literally translated as a morning doe[4]. What is this referring to? We are taught[5] that just like the morning is the end of the night, so too the story of Esther and Purim is the end of all miracles[6]. This comparison seems counterintuitive. Miracles convey a revelation to the Divine. Presumably, this would be allegorized as light. Yet, we are comparing the end of miracles with the beginning of the daytime, which is obviously associated with an increase in light, not a decrease. How are to make sense of this comparison?

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Purim 5782

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The timeless Torah[1]

ותקרא אסתר להתך מסריסי המלך אשר העמיד לפניה ותצוהו על-מרדכי לדעת מה-זה ועל-מה-זה
Esther called to Hasach, one of the king’s attendants who was assigned to assist her, and commanded him regarding Mordechai, to know what this was, and what this was about[2]

After Haman and Achashverosh’s harsh decree to exterminate the Jews was made known, Mordechai tore his clothes in mourning[3]. He wore sackcloth and ash. His relative Esther, who was now the Queen of Persia, heard what Mordechai was doing. This distressed her very much. She sent an attendant to inquire Mordechai about what he was doing, for she was unaware of the recent decree. The Megillah uses an interesting expression to describe her inquiry. מה זה ועל מה זה. She asked what this was and what this was about.

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Vayikra / Zachor 5782

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King Shaul’s error[1]

ויבא שמואל אל-שאול ויאמר לו שאול ברוך אתה ליקוק הקימתי את-דבר יקוק: ויאמר שמואל ומה קול-הצאן הזה באזני וקול הבקר אשר אנכי שמע וגו’ הלוא אם-קטן אתה בעיניך ראש שבטי ישראל אתה וגו’‏
Shmuel came to Shaul, and Shaul said to him: “You are blessed to Hashem! I have fulfilled the word of Hashem”. Shmuel said: “Then what is this sound of the sheep that is in my ears? And the sound of the cattle which I hear? … You may be small in your eyes, but you are the head of the tribes of Israel!…[2]

The haftarah for parshas Zachor details the failure of King Shaul to eradicate the wicked nation of Amalek. Shmuel the prophet ordered Shaul to leave no person or animal alive, as Hashem told Moshe[3] that we are to blot out the memory of Amalek. Shaul however left alive the king of Amalek known as Agag, the ancestor to Haman[4]. He also left alive their sheep and cows, intending to bring them as offerings for Hashem. Shmuel harshly reprimanded Shaul for his failure, and Shaul lost the kingship as a result of his sin.

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Pekudei 5782

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Guilty conscience[1]

ויביאו את-המשכן אל-משה וגו’ הוקם המשכן: ויקם משה את-המשכן וגו’‏
[The people] brought the Mishkan to Moshe…and the Mishkan was erected. Moshe erected the Mishkan[2]

After all of the materials were collected, tapestries woven, and implements constructed, the Mishkan, the portable Temple, was ready to be assembled. We are told that the people brought the Mishkan to Moshe. What is this referring to? All of the vessels? All of the tapestries? Why did they bring it to him? Shouldn’t they have brought everything to the craftsmen behind the Mishkan? Wasn’t it their job to finish the construction? To address all of these questions, Rashi brings[3] an interesting idea from our Sages. It’s based on a verse which appears later, that the Mishkan “was erected”, which sounds passive. Immediately following this verse, we are informed that Moshe erected the Mishkan all by himself. Which one was it?

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