Vayakhel – Pekudei 5777

It’s the effort that counts[1]

ויקם משה את-המשכן ויתן את-אדניו וישם את-קרשיו ויתן את-בריחיו ויקם את-עמודיו
Moshe erected the Mishkan; he placed the sockets and inserted the beams, placed the bars and erected its posts[2]

This week’s parsha includes an accounting of the materials of the Mishkan, the Tabernacle, the manufacturing of the clothing of the Kohanim, and finally the construction of the Mishkan itself. The verse describes how Moshe erected the Mishkan, placing the kerashim, the beams, into their sockets. The Midrash[3] describes the prelude to this: how everyone came to Moshe and said to him that they couldn’t construct the Mishkan; it was too heavy. The beams were massive, and weighed a ton, especially since they were plated in solid gold[4]. Moshe responded by asking them what they expected him to do about that. Moshe was an elderly man in his eighties; they couldn’t reasonably demand that he do it for them. Hashem told Moshe to make an attempt to erect it. Even though his own efforts would have been meaningless, Hashem would do the rest. He made the attempt and was able to erect the beams.

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Ki Sisa 5777

The argument of coercion[1]

וישב משה אל-יקוק ויאמר אנא חטא העם הזה חטאה גדולה ויעשו להם אלהי זהב: ועתה אם-תשא חטאתם ואם-אין מחני נא מספרך אשר כתבת
Moshe returned to Hashem and said, “Please, this nation has transgressed a very great sin and has made for themselves a golden idol. Now, if you will carry their sin…and if not erase me please from the book that You have written”[2]

A mere forty days after a national revelation of G-d and hearing the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai, presuming that their leader Moshe had died, the Jews decided to create an idol for themselves in the form of a golden calf[3]. This is considered one of the greatest betrayals that the Jews committed towards their G-d. After taking them out of Egypt and freeing them from slavery, which had happened only a few months earlier, they sought to commit idol worship. Moshe returned from the mountain to find them worshipping this calf, and knew he had a tough job ahead of him: convincing Hashem why the Jews didn’t deserve to be destroyed for their sin.

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Purim 5777

The Spice of Purim[1]

מיחייב איניש לבסומי בפוריא עד דלא ידע בין ארור המן לברוך מרדכי
A person is obligated on Purim to get inebriated to the point where they don’t know the difference between “Cursed Haman” and “Blessed Mordechai”[2]

Chazal inform us[3] that משנכנס אדר מרבים בשמחה, when Adar arrives, we increase in joy. For sure on Purim itself we should be joyous, as it’s referred to[4] as a day of משתה ושמחה, partying and joy. One could wonder, how exactly are we supposed to increase in joy? Are we supposed to put a big smile on our faces? Seemingly, it can’t simply be an external joy. It must be something felt internally. How can a person reach a state of true joy during Adar and Purim?

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Terumah 5777

Four Golden Children[1]

ועשית שנים כרבים זהב מקשה תעשה אתם משני קצות הכפרת
You shall make two golden Cherubs; you shall make them beaten out [of a solid piece of gold] from the two sides of the ark lid[2]

The Ark of the Covenant is a well-known part of the Mishkan, the Tabernacle. It contained the tablets from the Ten Commandments[3], and represents the Torah as a whole. It signified the bond between the Jewish people and Hashem, forged by the acceptance of the Torah. On top of the lid of the ark stood two golden angels, known as Keruvim, or Cherubs. There is a lot written on the significance of these Keruvim, what their purpose was and what they represented. The Torah says explicitly[4] that Hashem’s voice to Moshe emanated from the point between the two Keruvim. They were tremendously important to the prophecy which Moshe transmitted to the Jewish people.

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Mishpatim / Shekalim 5777

Fiery coins[1]

זה יתנו כל-העבר על-הפקדים מחצית השקל בשקל הקדש עשרים גרה השקל מחצית השקל תרומה לשם
This they shall give, all who pass over the counting, the half shekel coin of the holy shekel, 20 gerah to a shekel, the half shekel as a donation to Hashem[2]

This week, besides being parshas Mishpatim, is also parshas Shekalim. It’s the first of what’s known as the “daled parshiyos”, four parshas that lead up to Purim and Pesach. Instead of reading the usual maftir for Mishpatim, we read a passage from parshas Ki Sisa[3]. It describes the mitzvah of machatzis hashekel, the half-coin donation. Every year, a half-shekel coin was collected from all the Jewish people in order to provide funds for the Temple. In addition to being a form of tzedakah, the Torah says that it provides atonement for the people’s souls[4].

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Yisro 5777

The princess and the peasant[1]

לא תחמד אשת רעך ועבדו ואמתו ושורו וחמרו וכל אשר לרעך
Don’t covet the wife of your friend, his servant, his maidservant, his ox, his donkey, or anything that belongs to your friend[2]

Many people have found the final of the Ten Commandments very hard to comprehend. People naturally have desires for things they see that attract them. If someone sees their friend in possession of a nice object, how could Hashem forbid them from wanting it[3]? This is something that happens automatically, how can anyone be expected to avoid these desires?

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Beshalach 5777

How to deal with troublemakers[1]

ואמר פרעה לבני ישראל נבכים הם בארץ סגר עליהם המדבר
And Pharaoh said[2] of the Jews, “they are lost in the land, the wilderness has closed in on them”[3]

Hashem had just granted the Jews their freedom and they had begun their exodus from Egypt. Word got back to Pharaoh that the Jews took a detour, and he thought this was to his advantage. He then described that they appear to be lost. The problem is the verse says that ואמר פרעה לבני ישראל, Pharaoh spoke to the Jewish people. Who was there to speak to? All the Jews had left! This is why Rashi[4] explains that the prefix ל in Hebrew, while usually meaning “to”, can sometimes mean “about”. The verse is then telling us that he spoke about the Jewish people, not to them. Targum “Yonasan”[5], however, takes the verse literally and says that it means “to”. Who was he speaking to? He understands that Pharaoh spoke to Dasan and Aviram, who remained in Egypt.

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Bo 5777

The miracle of nature[1]

והיה לך לאות על-ידך ולזכרון בין עיניך למען תהיה תורת יקוק בפיך כי ביד חזקה הוצאך יקוק ממצרים
And [tefillin] will be for you a sign on your arm and a remembrance between your eyes, in order that the Torah of Hashem be in your mouth, because with a mighty hand Hashem took you out of Egypt[2]

There are many mitzvos, commandments, that are associated with yetzias mitzrayim, the Exodus from Egypt. Tefillin, both on the arm and on the head, contain four sections from the Torah, written on parchment. Two of them are sections from the end of this week’s parsha[3], which not only describe the mitzvah of tefillin but various other commandments. Both parshiyos also mention the fact that Hashem took us out of Egypt. Other examples of mitzvos associated with the Exodus include Shabbos[4], Sukkos[5], tzitzis[6], mezuzah[7], the obligation to remember twice daily the Exodus[8], and of course the holiday of Pesach and all that it entails[9]. Why are there so many mitzvos connected with leaving Egypt? While the Exodus is a central part of Jewish history (it’s where the Jews emerged as a nation and was the precursor to entering the Land of Israel), what does it have to do with us today?

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Va’eira 5777

Sticks and Stones (and Snakes)[1]

כי ידבר אלכם פרעה לאמר תנו לכם מופת ואמרת אל-אהרן קח את-מטך והלשך לפני-פרעה יהי לתנין
When Pharaoh speaks to you saying, “Present for yourselves a wonder”, say to Aharon, “Take your staff and throw it before Pharaoh, and it will become a snake”[2]

After a failed attempt to get Pharaoh to release the Jews from slavery, Hashem commands Moshe to impress Pharaoh with a miracle: Hashem will turn a staff into a snake. This perhaps would inspire him to change his mind and let the Jews go. However, the plan doesn’t seem to go as expected. The story continues[3]: ויקרא גם-פרעה לחכמים למכשפים ויעשו גם-הם חרטמי מצרים בלהטיהם כן, Pharaoh also called to his wise men, the sorcerers, and they did the same [as Aharon]. The necromancers of Egypt did it as well with their incantations. Apparently, this wasn’t such a unique ability; these experts in the occult were also able to make their staffs into snakes.
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Shemos 5777

A Selective Memory[1]

ויקם מלך חדש על-מצרים אשר לא-ידע את-יוסף
A new King arose over Egypt that did not know Yosef[2]

In only a few short generations after Yaakov and his children had descended to Egypt, their descendants are in the millions[3]. We are told that after Yaakov’s twelve sons had all died, a new Pharaoh was appointed. He was not aware of all the good that Yosef did for the Egyptians. As a result, he had no problems taking advantage of this golden opportunity. There is an entire foreign nation within Egypt’s borders, available for the taking. Why not force them to work without pay? Pharaoh thought, they’ve been living here all this time for free, without justification; they owe it to us[4].
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