Gleanings from the parsha
ובקצרכם את-קציר ארצכם לא-תכלה פאת שדך בקצרך ולקט קצירך לא תלקט לעני ולגר תעזב אתם אני יקוק אלקיכם
When you reap the harvest of your land, don’t finish off the corners of your fields as you reap, and don’t collect the gleanings of your harvest; leave them for the poor and the convert, I am Hashem your G-d
The end of this week’s parsha describes the various Jewish holidays. In between the holidays of Shavuos and Rosh Hashanah, the Torah mentions the mitzvos of peah (lit: corner) and leket (gleanings). When a Jewish farmer is harvesting his crop, there are special mitzvos of tzedakah that he must fulfill. He must leave a corner of his field unharvested, allowing the poor to take as they need. Likewise, when harvesting crops, sometimes some of the produce falls to the ground, known as gleanings. The farmer is commanded to leave those on the ground for the poor to collect. In addition to commanding the farmer not to harvest peah and leket, the Torah adds the injunction to specifically leave them for the poor and the convert. What is this adding? If the farmer isn’t harvesting them, he is inherently leaving them for others. Why is there this redundancy?
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The forbidden fruit
וכי-תבאו אל-הארץ ונטעתם כל-עץ מאכל וערלתם ערלתו את-פריו שלש שנים יהיה לכם ערלים לא יאכל; ובשנה הרעיעת יהיה כל-פריו קדש הלולים ליקוק
When you come to the land and plant any fruit-bearing tree, you’ll consider its fruit orlah, it will be orlah for three years and not be eaten. And in the fourth year all of its fruit will be holy, a praise to Hashem
This week’s parsha introduces a unique prohibition to fruit trees. The fruit they bear cannot be eaten by Jews for the first three years after it is planted. This prohibition is known as orlah, related to the Hebrew word for blockage, meaning the fruit is blocked from consumption. During the entire fourth year of the tree all of its fruit is considered holy, and must be brought to Jerusalem for consumption. Afterwards, the fruit may be eaten and treated normally. What are the reasons for this mitzvah? What is its purpose, and what is it trying to teach us?
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Double walled protection
זאת תהיה תורת המצורע ביום טהרתו והובא אל הכהן: ויצא הכהן אל מחוץ למחנה וראה והנה נרפא נגע הצערת מן הצרוע
This shall be the law of the Metzora on the day of his purification: He shall be brought to the Kohen. The Kohen will go out of the camp and see and behold the tzara’as affliction has been healed from the Metzora
This week’s double parsha deals mostly with the laws of tzara’as, most commonly translated as leprosy. While being a whitish skin condition, in reality it’s a totally unrelated spiritual malady with physical symptoms. Chazal tell us that someone who contracts tzara’as, known as a Metzora, usually committed a certain sin. One example is that of loshon hara, evil speech. As a result of his sin, he is infected with a disturbing skin condition, and has to have his status established by a Kohen. If the Kohen determines he is spiritually pure, then he is. The opposite is also true. Once declared impure, there are a series of laws he must follow while in that state. An example is that he has to leave the city he is in and dwell by himself. There are also a different set of laws on how to purify himself. Part of the purification process involves the Metzora going to the Kohen and having him determine if the malady has diminished sufficiently. The problem is the very next verse describes the Kohen being the one leaving the city to go to the Metzora. Who is going to whom?
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ויקחו בני-אהרן נדב ואביהוא איש מחתתו ויתנו בהן אש וישימו עליה קטרת ויקרבו לפני יקוק אש זרה אשר לא צוה אתם: ותצא אש מלפני יקוק ותאכל אותם וימתו לפני יקוק
The sons of Aharon, Nadav and Avihu, each took their fire pan, put fire in it, placed on it incense, and offered before Hashem an alien fire that they were not commanded [to bring]. A fire then went forth from before Hashem and consumed them and they died before Hashem
Right after the inauguration of the Mishkan, the Tabernacle, tragedy strikes. The entire Jewish people are overjoyed that their hard work has paid off. They’ve finally built the Mishkan, and Hashem has shown that His Divine Presence is with them. Two of the sons of Aharon, wanting to express their gratitude, offered a voluntary incense offering. Their plan backfires and a fire comes forth and kills them. The verses seem to indicate that their sin was bringing an unwanted offering. However, Chazal indicate that there were other sins which caused their deaths.
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To change one’s nature
הים ראה וינס הירדן יסב לאחור
The Reed Sea saw and ran away, the Jordan River turned backwards
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 after this miracle. 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? Chazal teach us that it was the coffin of Yosef. When Yosef was dying, he commanded his brothers and their descendants to ensure when the Jews are redeemed from Egypt that his remains be taken to the land of Israel to be buried there. The Torah describes that it was Moshe who brought the coffin of Yosef with him to the sea.
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The message of the four cups on Passover
מה נשתנה הלילה הזה מכל הלילות
Why is this night different than every other night?
In the four questions we list four differences that are prominent on the night of the Seder as opposed to other nights: eating only matzah and no leavened bread, eating marror (bitter herbs), dipping two times, and eating and drinking while reclining. A difference that’s neglected is the obligation to drink four cups of wine, which doesn’t exist on other nights. Why is this difference not mentioned in the Haggadah?
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What’s in a name, anyways?
ויקרא אל-משה וידבר יקוק אליו מאהל מועד לאמר
[Hashem] called out to Moshe; Hashem spoke to him from the tent of meeting saying
Chazal inform us in the Midrash that Moshe had not only one, but ten names. Some examples are: Tuviah, from the word טוב, because when he was born it says ותרא אתו כי טוב הוא, they saw that he was good. Yered, meaning he brought down, because he brought down the Torah from the Heavens. Chever, meaning to join together, because he connected the Jews to their Father in heaven. The Midrash ends by declaring that Hashem only wants to call him Moshe, the name that the daughter of Pharaoh gave him, as demonstrated by the first verse of this week’s parsha.
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It’s the effort that counts
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
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 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. 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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The argument of coercion
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”
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. 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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The Spice of Purim
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”
Chazal inform us 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 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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