Yisro 5784


Respect, honour, and small steps[1]

ולא-תעלה במעלת על-מזבחי אשר לא-תגלה ערותך עליו
Don’t make steps on My altar, such that you don’t reveal your nakedness upon it[2]

The Torah prohibits us from building steps for the Temple altar. The reason for this[3] is so that the Kohanim would not be forced to take large steps during their ascent. Large steps over its stones is, in a way, considered improper, almost profane. Our Sages draw[4] a logical deduction from this. If the Torah was particular about the disgrace of these stones, which don’t have intelligence to notice, your friend, who was created in the image of G-d, all the more so you should be careful not to disgrace them.

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Beshalach 5784


Realistic roundabout reclining[1]

ויהי בשלח פרעה את-העם ולא-נחם אלקים דרך פלשתים כי קרוב הוא וגו’ ויסב אלקים את-העם דרך המדבר ים-סוף וגו’‏
And it was that Pharaoh sent the [Jewish] nation. Hashem didn’t let them travel through the land of the Philistines, for it was [too] close…Hashem circumvented the people to go through the way of the wilderness to the Sea of Reeds…[2]

Our Sages connect[3] the verse in this week’s parsha, which says Hashem circumvented [ויסב] the people, with a well-known practice during Seder night: “From this verse our Sages said that even a poor person in the Jewish people shouldn’t eat unless they recline [שיסב][4], for this is what Hashem did for them.” However, it’s hard to understand how the mitzvah of haseibah, reclining while eating matzah and drinking the four cups on Seder Night is connected in any way to the circumventing described in this verse. The latter is merely referring to traveling in a long, out of the way fashion. Some suggest that the verse is merely an allusion to the idea later created by the Sages, but perhaps there’s more going on here.

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Vayishlach 5783


Two hips, two nerves, two types of mitzvos[1]

וירא כי לא יכל לו ויגע בכף ירכו ותקע כף ירך יעקב בהאבקו עמו: על כן לא יאכלו בני ישראל את גיד הנשה וגו’ כי נגע בכף ירך יעקב בגיד הנשה
[The angel] saw that he could not overcome [Yaakov], so he touched the socket of his hip, and he dislodged the socket of Yaakov’s hip in his wrestling with him. Therefore, the Jewish people do not eat the sciatic nerve…for [the Angel] touched the socket of the hip of Yaakov, in his sciatic nerve[2]

One of the more famous episodes of the Bible is the wrestling match between Yaakov and the Angel. The Torah describes him as an unknown man who attacked Yaakov unprovoked, and our Sages tell us[3] this was the guardian Angel of Eisav, Yaakov’s brother. Yaakov was able to hold his own, so the Angel decided to fight dirty and dislocate Yaakov’s hip socket. In doing so, he affected Yaakov’s sciatic nerve. The Torah then testifies that this is the reason why it is forbidden for Jews to consume the sciatic nerve.

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Purim 5782


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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Yom Kippur 5782


Two seemingly indistinguishable goats[1]

ומאת עדת בני ישראל יקח שני-שעירי עזים לחטאת וגו’ ונתן אהרן על-שני השעירם גורלות גורל אחד ליקוק וגורל אחד לעזאזל: והקריב אהרן את-השעיר אשר עלה עליו הגורל ליקוק ועשהו חטאת
From the congregation of the Children of Israel, he shall take two goats for a sin offering…Aharon shall place on the two goats lots: one lot [to designate the goat] for Hashem, and one lot [to send it to] Azazel. Aharon will then offer the goat whose lot designated it to Hashem, and he shall make it a sin offering[2]

A major part of the Yom Kippur service in the Temple involved two identical[3] goats. They had to look the exact same, be the same size, and be sold for the same price[4]. One of them was to be brought as an offering to Hashem, and the other was to be sent off a cliff[5]. What was unique about these goats is the fate of each one was determined by a lottery. A box would contain two pieces of paper, one saying, “for Hashem”, and one saying, “for Azazel”. The paper saying “for Hashem” would determine which one would be brought as an offering, and the paper saying “for Azazel” which one for the cliff. The Kohen would stick his hands in the box and each one would grab a paper. The fate of the goat to his right would be determined by the paper in his right hand. The same for his left. What can we learn from this unique and unusual procedure[6]?

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Mattos / Masei 5781

The responsibility of the Kohen Gadol[1]

‏…והשיבו אתו העדה אל-עיר מקלטו אשר-נס שמה וישב בה עד-מות הכהן הגדל וגו’‏
…The congregation shall return [the accidental killer] to his city of refuge (where he initially fled to), and he shall dwell there until the death of the Kohen Gadol…[2]

The Torah mandates that someone who, G-d forbid, accidentally kills another, be sentenced to exile. They have to leave their family and friends and dwell in one of the cities of refuge that the Torah delineates. It serves both as protection from the deceased’s relatives (who may want to take revenge)[3], and as a form of atonement[4]. The Torah does give a time limit to this exile. Although, it’s seemingly incongruous to the crime committed. The accidental killer must stay in their city of refuge until the death of the Kohen Gadol. Only then can they return to their home. Why did the Torah make his freedom dependent on the Kohen Gadol’s death?

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Pesach 5781


Fast of the firstborn[1]

הבכורות מתענין בערב פסח בין בכור מאב בין בכור מאם ויש מי שאומר שאפילו נקבה בכורה מתענה: (ואין המנהג כן)
The firstborns fast on the day before Pesach, whether they are the firstborn of their father or firstborn of their mother. Some say even firstborn women fast (Gloss: but this isn’t the custom)[2]

There’s an ancient custom[3] for the firstborn to fast on Erev Pesach, the day before Pesach. The common explanation[4] for this fast day is that it’s in commemoration of The Plague of the First Born. The last of the Ten Plagues, all the firstborn Egyptians died at midnight. All the firstborn of the Jews were miraculously saved, so every year right before Pesach the firstborn fast. This sounds like it’s due to the gratitude of the firstborns that they fast.

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Chanukah 5781


Intellectual superiority[1]

בראשית ברא אלקים את השמים ואת הארץ: והארץ היתה תהו ובהו וחשך על-פני תהום וגו’‏
In the beginning of G-d’s creating of the Heaven and the Earth. The land was unformed[2] and empty[3], and darkness on the surface of the deep…[4]

Our Sages teach us[5] that it was predetermined[6] that the Jewish people would undergo four periods of subjugation. These periods were caused by four kingdoms, all alluded to in scripture: Babylonia, Persia / Media, Greece, and Rome. The verse that describes the early process of creation says that the land was tohu (unformed), bohu (empty), and darkness on the surface of the deep. Tohu refers to Babylonia, vohu refers to Persia / Media, darkness refers to Greece, and the deep refers to Rome. Our Sages clarify that the reason that Greece is referred to as darkness because they darkened the eyes of the Jewish people with their decrees. How are the other kingdoms alluded to with these adjectives?

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Rosh Hashanah 5781


Hashem’s ways of judgement[1]

בארבעה פרקים העולם נידון וכו’ בראש השנה כל באי עולם עוברין לפניו כבני מרון שנאמר היוצר יחד לבם המבין אל כל מעשיהם
On four occasions the world is judged…on Rosh Hashanah all of the world’s inhabitants pass before Him like benei Maron, as it is written: “The One who makes together their hearts, The One who understands all of their actions”[2]

Our Sages teach us that on Rosh Hashanah every individual on Earth passes before Hashem for judgement, like benei maron. What does benei maron mean? The gemarra provides[3] three explanations: like a flock of sheep[4], like the steps of the House of Maron, or like the soldiers of King David. A flock a sheep refers to when a shepherd wants to count his sheep, he counts them one-by-one as they pass through a narrow entrance[5]. The steps of the House of Maron was a narrow path that not even two people could walk up side-by-side[6]. The soldiers of King David’s army would be counted one-by-one as they went out to wage war[7]. These three explanations seem to all be saying the same thing: Hashem judges every individual on Rosh Hashanah one after the other. What then is their dispute?

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Ki Seitzei 5780


The price of ingratitude[1]

לא-יבא עמוני ומואבי בקהל יקוק גם דור עשירי לא-יבא להם בקהל יקוק עד-עולם: על-דבר אשר לא-קדמו אתכם בלחם ובמים בדרך בצאתכם ממצרים ואשר שכר עליך את-בלעם וגו’ לקללך
An Ammonite and a Moavite shall not marry into the congregation of Hashem. Even the tenth generation shall not marry into the congregation of Hashem, for all time. Due to the matter that they didn’t present you with bread or water when you were traveling from Egypt, and for having hired Bilaam…to curse you[2]

The Torah informs us that a convert from the nation of Ammon or Moav cannot marry into the Jewish people. The reason is twofold: they didn’t present us with bread or water when we were traveling from Egypt, and because they[3] hired the non-Jewish prophet Bilaam to curse the Jews[4]. If we were to pick the worse of the two crimes, seemingly the second one is more severe. If Bilaam had successfully cursed the Jews, there would be no remnant left[5]. His goal, as well as those who hired him, was to obliterate the Jewish people from the face of the Earth. Shouldn’t that be enough of a reason not to intermarry with them? Why then does the Torah also need to mention the reason that they didn’t offer us bread and water? That was simply a lack of showing honor and respect, or at the very least of generosity. It’s surely not as severe as wanting to annihilate them. Further, why is the sin of not giving bread and water listed first, implying it’s worse than the second one?

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