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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Bo 5782

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New Moon dilemmas[1]

החדש הזה לכם ראש חדשים ראשון הוא לכם לחדשי השנה
This month shall be for you the beginning of the months. It is the first for you for the months of the year[2]

Our Sages learn from this verse the mitzvah of Sanctifying the New Moon[3]. Unlike our current calendar, which is fixed, the Jewish months originally weren’t set in stone. For the new month to begin, two witnesses had to declare in a Jewish Court that they had seen the Moon after the New Moon occurred. Three judges would interrogate the witnesses, and after confirming that they weren’t mistaken, the judges would declare the month sanctified, and the new month would begin.

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Nitzavim 5781

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Angels and repentance[1]

כי המצוה הזאת אשר אנכי מצוך היום לא-נפלאת הוא ממך ולא רחקה הוא
For this mitzvah that I command you is not beyond you, nor is it far from you[2]

The subject of this verse is a matter of dispute. Rashi says[3] that it’s referring to the Torah, its fulfillment and study. Ramban however says[4] it’s referring to something very apropos to the time period we are in. It’s referring to the mitzvah of teshuva, repentance[5]. There’s an interesting Midrash about this verse[6]. It says that “this mitzvah” is not removed from us, but it is removed from the Angels. At first glance[7], this would sound more like Rashi’s interpretation. The Torah was given to humans and not the Angels, so it is in a sense “removed from them”[8]. Is there any way to understand this Midrash according to the Ramban, that “this mitzvah” is referring to teshuva?

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Vayeitzei 5781

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Productive sleep[1]

ויפגע במקום וילן שם וגו’ ויחלם והנה סלם מצב ארצה וראשו מגיע השמימה והנה מלאכי אלקים עלים וירדים בו: וייקץ יעקב משנתו וגו’‏‏
[Yaakov] arrived at that place and slept there…He dreamt and behold! A ladder stood in the ground whose top reached the Heavens, and behold Angels of G-d were going up and down on it…Then Yaakov woke from his sleep…[2]

On Yaakov’s journey towards his uncle Lavan, as a safe haven from the wicked Eisav, he took a stop at Mount Moriah. There, he napped, and dreamed the famous prophetic dream about Angels going up and down a ladder. The Torah tells us that he woke up from his sleep, and he continued on his journey. Our Sages however[3] read the verse homiletically. Instead of reading the word as משנתו, from his sleep, we can read it as ממשנתו, from his learning. Meaning, Yaakov woke up from his learning. Besides being a cute play on words, what does this even mean? What are we to learn from this alternate reading of the verse[4]?

Our Sages exhort us[5] that all of our actions should be for the sake of Heaven. What this means[6] is that when a person goes about their day-to-day activities, eating, drinking, conducting business, and even sleeping, it should all be for one purpose: to give us the strength and ability to serve Hashem and learn His Torah. If someone does this, even while they are doing seemingly mundane tasks, they are fulfilling countless mitzvos. Someone who is sleeping isn’t always regarded as ignoring their studies. On the contrary, if their intent is to allow them to study further, the sleeping is regarded as actually learning!

This was Yaakov’s intent with his break on his journey. He had been learning Torah the entire way[7], and took a break to get some rest. His intent was to build his strength so he could continue learning and reach his destination. He had no interest in the personal pleasure that sleep provides. Since he slept for the sake of Heaven, he merited to his prophetic dream. The verse then isn’t merely telling us that Yaakov woke up from his sleep. That would imply it was the regular sleep of most people, for their own personal pleasure. Rather, it was sleep for the sake of learning and connecting to Hashem. Something all of us can strive for as well[8].

Good Shabbos

[1] Based on Kesav Sofer to Genesis 28:16

[2] Genesis 28:11,12,16

[3] Bereishis Rabbah 69:7, brought in Yalkut Shimoni Vayeitzei § 120

[4] Besides the Kesav Sofer’s interpretation, which follows, other suggestions include the Ba’al HaTurim to v. 16, who says that Yaakov would learn Torah in his dreams, Mattanas Kehunah ad. loc., who says that Yaakov’s prophetic dream counted as learning, and Radal ad. loc., who says it means that Yaakov fell asleep in the middle of learning. Meaning, he didn’t go to bed; he learned as long as he could until sleep overtook him. Torah Sheleimah ad. loc. § 117 also cites Sefer Chassidim HeChadash § 15, 285, which says that the Avos were beloved by Hashem because they never stopped for one moment from contemplating Torah day and night, and he cites this Midrash

[5] Avos 2:12

[6] Rambam’s Shemonah Perakim Chapter 5

[7] V. 18 says that Yaakov poured oil on the altar he had constructed. Where did he get this oil? Chazal tell us that Eliphaz, Eisav’s son, stole everything from Yaakov after he left his home (Rashi to ibid 29:11, quoting Bereishis Rabbasi p. 117. See also Sefer HaYashar Toldos § 10)! All Yaakov had was his walking staff. Paneach Raza to ibid 28:18 suggests that the staff was hollow, and Yaakov kept oil inside. He stored it so he could use it for fuel to learn Torah by light in the nighttime

[8] The Kesav Sofer uses this to explain the surprising gemarra Chullin 91b. There, it says that the Angels went up the ladder and saw Yaakov’s face embedded in Hashem’s Throne of Glory. They were very impressed. When they went back down the ladder, they saw Yaakov and wanted to attack him, but Hashem prevented them from doing so. Why would they want to attack him? They saw Yaakov sleeping; the same Yaakov that they saw on the Throne of Glory. They were shocked someone so holy would be wasting time sleeping (Cf. Torah Sheleimah ad. loc. § 76). Angels can’t read a person’s thoughts (Jeremiah 11:20, 17:10; Cf. Tosafos to Shabbos 12b s.v. שאין. However, see Maskil LeDovid to Genesis 18:2 s.v. וירא, cited by Gilyon HaShas ad. loc.). They didn’t realize his intentions were for the sake of Heaven. Hashem, who knew Yaakov’s true intent, protected him from the Angels wrath

Bamidbar / Shavuos 5780

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Revealing the facets of the King[1]

איש על-דגלו באתת לבית אבתם יחנו בני ישראל מנגד סביב לאהל-מועד יחנו
The Children of Israel shall encamp, each person according to his flag, with signs according to their father’s house. They shall encamp opposite and surrounding the Tent of Meeting[2]

A significant amount of this week’s parsha describes the encampment of the Jewish people in the wilderness. In the center was the Mishkan, surrounded by the camp of the Leviim. Surrounding them were the rest of the nation, divided by their tribes. Each tribe had a specific cardinal location, with respect to the center point of the Mishkan. Each tribe is also described as having their own flag. These flags served as unique markers to distinguish each tribe from the other. They had different colors and patterns than each other[3]. However, Chazal teach us[4] that there was a greater significance to these flags than the Torah describes.

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