A defense mechanism
ואת-העם צו לאמר אתם עברים בגבול אחיכם בני-עשו הישבים בשעיר וייראו מכם ונשמרתם מאד
Command the people, saying: “You are passing through the territory of your brother, the children of Eisav, who dwell in [the land of] Seir. They fear you tremendously, and you shall be very cautious”
The book of Deuteronomy begins with Moshe recounting to the Jews their forty-year journey throughout the wilderness. They were about to enter the land of Israel, and Moshe was about to pass on from this Earth. Moshe wanted them to glean lessons from their failures and experiences throughout their travels, so that they’ll be better equipped for what’s to come. Towards the end of their journey, they began approaching the land of Seir, where Eisav dwelled. Moshe informed the Jewish people that the nation of Eisav feared the Jews tremendously. They should be very cautious as they pass through their land. In the end they weren’t able to pass through, so they had to circle around their borders. What lesson is Moshe giving the people by recounting to them this episode?
Continue reading “Devarim 5780”
אלה שמות האנשים אשר-שלח משה לתור את-הארץ ויקרא משה להושע בן-נון יהושע
These are the names of the men who were sent by Moshe to scout out the land. Moshe called Hoshea the son of Nun: Yehoshua
When the Jews had almost arrived at the land of Israel, they had the idea to send spies to scout out the land. They wanted to know not only about the landscape, but about the inhabitants. Were they a conquerable force, or not? Twelve men, one for each tribe, were selected for the task. One of them was Moshe’s faithful student, Yehoshua. He was originally called Hoshea, but Moshe, as a form of prayer, added the letter yud to his name, making it Yehoshua. Moshe was concerned that the spies had evil intentions, and would falsely give a negative report. He therefore added a letter from G-d’s name to Yehoshua’s, pleading that Hashem should save Yehoshua from the council of the spies. What prompted Moshe to give this name change to Yehoshua? One explanation is that Moshe saw Yehoshua’s great humility, and thus felt he needed this prayer. What does one have to do with the other?
Continue reading “Shelach 5780”
Elevation with ash removal
צו את-אהרן ואת-בניו לאמר זאת תורה העלה היא העלה וגו’ ואש המזבח תוקד בו: ולבש הכהן וגו’ והרים את-הדשן וגו’ והאש על-המזבח תוקד-בו וגו’
Command Aharon and his sons, saying: “This is the law of the Olah offering. It is the Olah…the fire of the altar should be ignited by it. The Kohen will adorn…he will lift the ash [off the alter]…The fire on the altar shall remain burning…
The Olah offering is one of the many kinds of offerings in the Temple. It’s called an Olah offering because of what makes it unique. It’s entirely consumed by the altar fire. No person is permitted to eat from its flesh. Olah means elevation, as the offering is considered to entirely elevate towards Heaven. The Torah states that it is about to detail the laws of the Olah offering, and then proceeds to discuss something else entirely. There’s a mitzvah for the Kohen to scoop up the ash from the altar once a day and place it on the side of the altar. This is known as terumas hadeshen. There’s also a mitzvah to put wood on the altar so the fire doesn’t extinguish. Instead of the Torah describing the laws of the Olah, it details these two mitzvos. Why then does it give this seemingly misleading introduction?
Continue reading “Tzav 5780”
Separation by lamb blood
החדש הזה לכם ראש חדשים ראשון הוא לכם לחדשי השנה: דברו וגו’ ויקחו להם איש שה לבית-אבת שה לבית: ואם-ימעט הבית מהית משה ולקח הוא ושכנו הקרב אל-ביתו וגו’ ולקחו מן-הדם ונתנו על-שתי המזוזת ועל-המשקוף על הבתים אשר-יאכלו אתו בהם: והיה הדם לכם לאת על הבתים אשר אתם שם וגו’ ואתם לא תצאו איש מפתח-ביתו עד-בקר: ועבר יקוק לנגף את-מצרים וראה את-הדם על-המשקוף וגו’ ולא יתן המשחית לבא אל-בתיכם לנגף
This month will be for you the beginning of the months; for you it is the first for the months of the year. Tell [the Jewish people that]…they will take for them, each man, a lamb for the fathers’ homes, a lamb for each household. If the lamb will not suffice for the household, they and the neighbor close to their house will take…Take from the blood and place it on the two doorposts, and the lintel of the house that you will eat [the offering] in. The blood will be for you a sign on your houses that you will be in…and you shall not leave, each person, from the door of their house, until morning. Hashem will pass by to afflict the Egyptians, and will see the blood on the lintel…and He will not let the Destroyer come to your houses to afflict
Before the plague of the death of the firstborn, Moshe instructed the Jews with several mitzvos. He started by informing them about the Jewish calendar, in which Nissan is the first of the months. This included details of the mitzvah to sanctify the New Moon, establishing the months accordingly. Subsequently, he informed them of the mitzvah of the Pesach offering. This included instructions on selecting a lamb for each household, taking its blood and putting it on the doorposts, and staying indoors until morning. How are we to understand the juxtaposition of these two mitzvos? As well, upon careful examination, we’ll observe that the first mitzvah given to the Jewish people as a whole is the mitzvah to sanctify the New Moon. Why was this mitzvah held in such high esteem that it merited to get the position as the first mitzvah? Finally, with regards to the Pesach offering, why is there so much emphasis on the house? It’s repeated and stressed multiple times. What could be the reason?
Continue reading “Bo 5780”
Rebuking the impetuous
ראובן בכורי אתה כחי וראשית אוני יתר שאת ויתר עז: פחז כמים אל-תותר כי עלית משכבי אביך אז חללת יצועי עלה
Reuven, you are my firstborn, my strength, the first of my vigor. [Potentially] exceeding in position and exceeding in might. Hasty as water, you will not exceed, since you went up on your father’s bed. Then you profaned that which went upon my couch
As Yaakov’s life was ending, he took the opportunity to give his children their final blessings. While accenting their unique traits, he also informed them of their shortcomings. He started with his firstborn Reuven by rebuking him for an incident that had happened decades earlier. When Yaakov’s wife Rochel died, he moved his bed into Rochel’s maidservant Bilhah’s tent. Reuven felt this was an affront to his mother Leah, who should have become Yaakov’s primary wife. Reuven audaciously moved his father’s bed out of Bilhah’s tent and put it into Leah’s. At the time, Yaakov said nothing. Now that Yaakov’s life was ending, it was now or never to rebuke Reuven.
Continue reading “Vayechi 5780”
The goblet of the wise
הלוא אשר ישתה אדני בו והוא נחש ינחש בו וגו’
Is [this goblet] not that which my Master drinks from? He also divines with it…
Yosef, as the viceroy of Egypt, had his brothers fooled. They didn’t recognize him as their brother, and he sent them home without a clue. More than that, Yosef had a plan to set up his brother Binyamin. Yosef had someone plant his precious goblet in Binyamin’s bag. As the brothers journeyed home, they were arrested for theft. What was Yosef’s purpose for this whole ruse?
Continue reading “Mikeitz 5780”
Gifts of persuasion
אמרי נא אחותי את למען ייטב לי בעבורך וחיתה נפשי בגללך
Please say that you are my sister, so that it will be good for me for your sake, and my life will be spared because of you
Due to a severe famine in the land of Canaan, Avraham and Sarah journeyed to the land of Egypt. Knowing full-well the morality of such a place, Avraham was very concerned. His wife was tremendously beautiful, and if the Egyptians knew they were a married couple, they would have no problem killing Avraham and taking Sarah as their wife. However, if they represented themselves as siblings, they would be safe. They would assume Avraham, as Sarah’s “brother”, was her protector, and could be persuaded to give her away in marriage.
Continue reading “Lech Lecha 5780”
הנסתרת ליקוק אלקינו והנגלות ל̇נ̇ו̇ ו̇ל̇ב̇נ̇י̇נ̇ו̇ ע̇ד-עולם לעשות את-כל-דברי התורה הזאת
The hidden [deeds] are for Hashem our G-d, and the revealed [deeds] are for us, our children, forever, to fulfill all the words of this Torah
This week’s parsha contains one of Moshe’s last major speeches to the Jewish people. He starts by pointing out that the entire people were present during this speech. The leaders, the commoners, the women, the children, the converts. No one was missing. Moshe was bringing everyone into a covenant with G-d, for all generations. Part of this covenant involved a shared responsibility for one another. If some people sin, all could be punished. We should all ensure that our fellow is on their best behavior, and not turn a blind eye.
Continue reading “Nitzavim 5779”
The unique G-d; the unique nation
את-יקוק האמרת היום להיות לך לאלקים וגו’ ויקוק האמירך היום להיות לו לעם סגלה וגו’
Today you have he’emarta Hashem to be for you a G-d…Today Hashem he’emircha you to be for Him a cherished nation
This week’s parsha uses two unusual words to describe the relationship between Hashem and His nation, the Jewish people. These words seemingly don’t occur anywhere else in scripture. Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah expounded these words as follows: Hashem said to the Jewish people: “You have made me one חטיבה in this world, as the verse says: ‘שמע ישראל יקוק אלקינו יקוק אחד, Hear O Israel, Hashem is our G-d, Hashem is One’. [Therefore], I will make for you one חטיבה in this world, as the verse says: ‘ומי כעמך ישראל גוי אחד בארץ, Who is like Your nation, O Israel, one nation in the land’”. Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah seemingly didn’t help us identify the meaning of he’emarta and he’emircha in this week’s parsha. He used the similarly uncommon word chativa to define them. What does this word mean?
Continue reading “Ki Savo 5779”
Horrific consequences of sin
…אם-תאכלנה נשים פרים עללי טפחים אם-יהרג במקדש אדנ”י כהן ונביא
…Alas, women eat their own fruit, their newborn babies! Alas, Kohen and Prophet are slain in G-d’s Temple
Parshas Devarim always falls out the shabbos before Tisha B’Av, the day commemorating the destruction of both the First and Second Temples. The Prophet Yirmiyahu (Jeremiah) in Megillas Eicha (Lamentations), describes all the horrible things that happened at the time of the destruction of the First Temple. The scenes were horrific. Besides all the murders by the Babylonians, there was incredible hunger. The prophet describes how frantic mothers, desperate for food, succumbed to eating their own babies. This repulsive result of the destruction was in fact predicted by the Torah, where it says that people will eat the flesh of their daughters and sons.
Continue reading “Devarim / Tisha B’av 5779”