Korach 5777

A self-fulfilling prophecy[1]

ויקח קרח בן יצהר בן קהת בן לוי ודתן ואבירם וגו’‏
Korach the son of Yitzhar the son of Kehas the son of Levi took (something), and Dasan and Aviram, etc.[2]

This week’s parsha details the rebellion of Korach. He challenged the leadership of Moshe and Aharon, convincing a group of the greatest sages of Israel to join his cause. Moshe challenged this band of rebels to a test to determine who was the true prophet of Hashem. The result was that the sages who joined Korach died in a fire, while Korach and his entire family were swallowed up alive into the earth, to live there until the end of days. The parsha starts with the awkward phrase ויקח קרח, Korach took. The verse doesn’t specify what exactly it was though that he took. There are various explanations among the commentators[3]. Reish Lakish in the gemarra says[4] that it means that לקח מקח רע לעצמו, he acquired a bad purchase for himself[5].

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Tazria-Metzora 5777

Double walled protection[1]

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[2]

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[3] with physical symptoms. Chazal tell us[4] that someone who contracts tzara’as, known as a Metzora[5], usually committed a certain sin[6]. 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[7]. 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[8] 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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Pesach 5777

To change one’s nature[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.  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[5] of Yosef[6]. 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[7]. The Torah describes that it was Moshe who brought the coffin of Yosef with him to the sea[8].

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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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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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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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Vayeishev 5777

Avoiding Hatred[1]

ויהי יוסף יפה-תאר ויפה מראה
And Yosef was beautiful in form and appearance[2]

Yosef had just been sold by his brothers into slavery. He became the servant of Potiphar in Egypt, and ended up becoming promoted to overseeing Potiphar’s entire household. The Torah then describes Yosef’s appearance. Rashi[3] explains this bizarre juxtaposition by quoting the Midrash[4] as follows: Once Yosef saw that he was in a position of power, he began to eat and drink and “curl his hair”. Hashem responded by accusing Yosef of forgetting the fact that his father is in mourning (since he thought that Yosef was dead). Yosef should dare act so haughty? As a punishment Hashem sent Potiphar’s wife to try to seduce him, which the very next verse describes. There’s a lot going on here that needs explanation. What’s this idea of curling his hair? Was he trying to doll himself up? Who was he trying to impress? How could Yosef forget his father[5]?

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Vayeitzei 5777

Tzaddik VeRah Lo, Rasha VeTov Lo – The righteous suffer and the wicked prosper[1]

ויצא יעקב מבאר שבע וילך חרנה
Yaakov left Be’er Sheva and went to Charan[2]

This week’s parsha begins Yaakov’s journey to find a wife. He had just found out his brother was planning to kill him, so he took the opportunity to find refuge with his uncle Lavan. Rashi[3] is bothered that the Torah already described at the end of last week’s parsha[4] (only five verses earlier) that Yaakov went to Padan Aram, which is located in Charan. Why is the Torah repeating itself, telling us again at the beginning of the parsha that Yaakov went to Charan? He answers the reason is because the Torah interrupted the narrative of Yaakov’s flight to describe Eisav marrying the daughter of Yishmael[5]. Now that the Torah is resuming Yaakov’s journey, the story is started anew.

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