Turning justice into mercy
זה היום תחלת מעשיך זכרון ליום ראשון. כי חק לישראל הוא משפט לאלקי יעקב
Today is the beginning of Your creation; a remembrance of the first day. For it is a decree of Israel, a judgement for the G-d of Yaakov
There are a few lines in the Rosh Hashanah prayers that are seemingly confusing. We say that today is the beginning of Your creation, and then we say it’s a commemoration of the first day. Isn’t that redundant? Furthermore, the next sentence, “For it is a decree of Israel, a judgement for the G-d of Yaakov”, is seemingly incongruous. Now, this happens to be a verse from Psalms. If we look at the previous verse, we do find some relevance to Rosh Hashanah: “Blow [תקעו] in the month of the shofar [שופר], on the covering of the day of our Festival”. How can we make sense of all of this?
Continue reading “Rosh Hashanah 5784”
Birds, chicks, and bris milah
כי יקרא קן-צפור לפניך בדרך וגו’ והאם רבצת על-האפרחים או על-הביצים לא-תקח האם על-הבנים: שלח תשלח את-האם ואת-הבנים תקח-לך למען ייטב לך והארכת ימים
When you chance upon a bird’s nest while on the way…and the mother is perched on her chicks or on her eggs, don’t take the mother upon the children. [Rather] send away the mother bird and take the children for yourself, in order to be good for you and that you’ll lengthen your days’
A popular mitzvah nowadays is the mitzvah to send away the mother bird. Perhaps because of the Torah’s promise of a long life, people yearn for an opportunity to fulfill this mitzvah. The Torah tells us not to take the chicks or eggs when the mother bird is perched upon them. Rather, send away the mother bird, and then take the children for yourself.
Continue reading “Ki Seitzei 5783”
אלה הדברים אשר דבר משה אל-כל-ישראל בעבר הירדן בערבה מול סוף בין-פארן ובין-תפל ולבן וחצרת ודי זהב
These are the words that Moshe told all of Israel, across the Jordan River, in Aravah, across from the Reed Sea, between Paran and Tofel, and Lavan, and Chatzeiros, and Di Zahav
In the beginning of Sefer Devarim we are told that Moshe spoke to the entire Jewish people. The Torah is extremely precise with the location of this speech. Rashi explains that in fact, the Torah is not telling us geographical information. Really, Moshe was rebuking the people. The places that the Torah is telling us are allusions to prior sins that the Jews committed. Focusing on the last one, Di Zahav, we are told that it is a reference to the sin of the Golden Calf. The hint is that the Jews had so much gold from the Egyptians, that they yelled out “Dai”, meaning “Enough!”. They didn’t know what to do with it, so they ended up making a Golden Calf as an idol.
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The greatness of the student. The greatness of the father
ואלה תולדת אהרן ומשה ביום דבר יקוק את-משה בהר סיני: ואלה שמות בני-אהרן וגו’
These are the offspring of Aharon and Moshe, on the day that Hashem spoke to Moshe on Mount Sinai. These are the names of the children of Aharon…
The book of Bamidbar earns its English title of “Numbers” by beginning with several numbers. Namely, it details two different censuses that were taken before the Jews departed from Mount Sinai. The Torah introduces the census of the tribe of Levi by listing for us the offspring of Moshe and Aharon. The problem is, the Torah only lists the children of Aharon. What about the children of Moshe? This anomaly prompts our Sages to tell us that we learn from here that one who teaches his friend’s children Torah is looked at as if they had birthed them. Meaning, Moshe taught Aharon’s children Torah, and they are therefore, in a sense, considered Moshe’s children.
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Quarrelsome quorum quandaries
ולא תחללו את-שם קדשי ונקדשתי בתוך בני ישראל אני יקוק מקדשכם
Do not profane My Holy Name, and I will be sanctified amongst the Children of Israel; I am Hashem Who sanctifies you
A fundamental principle in Judaism is that declarations of holiness need a quorum. In other words, kaddish, kedusha, Torah reading, the Kohanic blessings, and the like, all require ten adult male Jews be present. The idea is that when we sanctify Hashem’s name, it needs to be done in a public fashion, with a minimum of ten men. How do we know this? A rather ironic source.
Continue reading “Emor 5783”
Regretful royal recalcitration
נחמתי כי-המלכתי את-שאול למלך כי-שב מאחרי ואת-דברי לא הקים וגו’ ויבא שמואל אל שאול ויאמר לו שאול ברוך אתה ליקוק הקמותי את דבר יקוק: ויאמר שמואל ומה קול הצאן הזה באזני וגו’
“I have regretted coronating Shaul to be King, for he has turned away from Me and he did not uphold My words”…Shmuel came to Shaul, and Shaul said to him: “Blessed are you to Hashem! I have upheld the word of Hashem.” Shmuel said: “Then what is this sound of sheep I hear in my ears?”
King Shaul was tasked with the command to eradicate the memory of the wicked nation of Amalek. The entire nation, as well as their animals, were to be destroyed. Shaul was mostly successful, except that he left the King Agag alive, as well as the Amalekite sheep. When the prophet Shmuel came to rebuke Shaul for his failure, Shaul said: “I have upheld the word of Hashem!” This is astounding, for he surely must have realized that he didn’t. He didn’t follow the command as he was told. What was he thinking? Also, he uses an unusual expression. Shouldn’t he have said “I have fulfilled the word of Hashem”? Shmuel responded that he heard the sound of sheep. Why did he choose to rebuke Shaul this way?
Continue reading “Tetzaveh / Zachor 5783”
Why did Yaakov go to sleep?
ויצא יעקב מבאר שבע וילך חרנה: ויפגע במקום וילן שם כי-בא השמש וגו’ וישכב במקום ההוא: וייקץ יעקב משנתו ויאמר אכן יש יקוק במקום הזה ואנכי לא ידעתי
Yaakov left from Be’er Sheva and journeyed to Charan. He encountered The Place, and he lodged there, for the sun had set…and he slept in that place. [Then] Yaakov awoke from his sleep, and said: “Behold, there Hashem in this place, and I didn’t realize”
Yaakov’s journey to his uncle Lavan to seek a wife wasn’t a simple one. It actually involved a fourteen-year detour in the academy of Shem and Ever. After that, we are told that he encountered The Place. Unbeknownst to him, this was the site of the future Temple in Jerusalem. The Torah then tells us that since the sun set, he slept in that place. Why does the Torah stress in that place? This teaches us that for the fourteen years that he was studying in the academy, he didn’t sleep, as he learned day and night. This was the first time he had slept in all these years. While this sounds like a supernatural feat, let’s take it at face value. If this is what the Torah is teaching us, why indeed did Yaakov choose to sleep that night? What was different about that night than all the nights prior? Why didn’t he learn Torah?
Continue reading “Vayeitzei 5783”
Amazing awe allusions
ולכל היד החזקה ולכל המורא הגדול אשר עשה משה לעיני כל-ישראל
The entire strong hand, and the great awe that Moshe performed before the eyes of the entire Jewish people
Just before Moshe took on the mantle of leadership of the Jewish people, Hashem showed him the famous vision of the burning bush. The Torah describes it as an Angel appearing to him in the flame (בלבת-האש) of the bush. This was to hint to him the two forms of awe of G-d. One comes from a sense of submission, humility, and meekness. The other comes from a sense of pride at the opportunity to serve Hashem. These two ways can be compared to water and fire, respectively. Hashem appeared to Moshe in a mere bush, to allude to meekness and submission, and in a flame, to allude to pride.
Continue reading “VeZos HaBeracha 5783”
זה היום תחלת מעשיך זכרון ליום ראשון
Today is the beginning of Your creation, a commemoration of the first day
There’s a well-known dispute between our Sages regarding when the world was created. Rabbi Eliezer says that the world was created in the month of Tishrei, whereas Rabbi Yehoshua says that the world was created in Nissan. Tosafos are bothered that we rule like Rabbi Yehoshua, and yet on Rosh Hashanah, the first of Tishrei, we say the phrase, “Today is the beginning of Your creation”. According to Rabbi Yehoshua, Tishrei wasn’t the beginning of Hashem’s creation. Nissan was. How can this be reconciled?
Continue reading “Rosh Hashanah 5783”
A bloody habit
רק חזק לבלתי אכל הדם כי הדם הוא הנפש ולא-תאכל הנפש עם-הבשר
Be very strong not to eat blood, for blood is the life-source. Don’t eat the life-source with the flesh
The Torah is very redundant when precluding the consumption of blood. It cautions several times against eating it. Our Sages provide different reasons for each of these instances. One interesting occurrence is when the Torah says רק חזק, be very careful and steadfast against its consumption. Rashi brings a dispute what this is teaching us. One opinion says that the Jews were steeped in blood, so the Torah has to be extra stern in its prohibition. It would seem then that the Jews at the time of the giving of the Torah were accustomed to excessive consumption of blood. This isn’t the case anymore. It would seem the Torah was successful at ridding us of a hazardous lifestyle.
Continue reading “Re’eh 5782”