Sukkos / Koheles 5781

[Print]

Declined desires[1]

בקש קהלת למצא דברי-חפץ וכתוב ישר דברי אמת

Koheles sought to find desired sayings, and genuine recorded words of truth[2]

The custom on Sukkos is to read from the book of Koheles, otherwise known as Ecclesiastes[3]. Various reasons are provided for this. One is that the festival of Sukkos is one of joy, and Ecclesiastes cautions us about the dangers of unbridled joy[4]. The work is attributed to King Shlomo[5]. Indeed, the classical understanding is the protagonist Koheles is none other than King Shlomo himself[6]. Regarding one verse, Chazal share[7] a cryptic interpretation. Koheles, namely King Shlomo, desired to be like Moshe[8]. However, a Heavenly voice proclaimed “וכתוב ישר דברי אמת”, literally: it is written straight, words of truth[9]. What does this teaching mean?

Continue reading “Sukkos / Koheles 5781”

HaAzinu 5781

[Print]

The required rebuke[1]

שובה ישראל עד יקוק אלקיך כי כשלת בעונך
Return, Israel, to Hashem your G-d! For you have stumbled in your sins[2]

The first Midrash in parshas HaAzinu[3] seems to have a completely irrelevant halachic query. What’s the law if someone has some sort of ear ailment on Shabbos? Is it permissible for them to seek medical help? The Midrash answers that our Sages taught us[4] that preservation of life overrides Shabbos[5]. This back and forth sounds like some sort of cryptic riddle. What’s it alluding to? Is there some relevance to the time period that we find ourselves in?

Continue reading “HaAzinu 5781”

Mattos 5780

[Print]

Clean from suspicion[1]

ונכבשה הארץ לפני יקוק ואחר תשבו והייתם נקיים מיקוק ומישראל והיתה הארץ הזאת לכם לאחזה לפני יקוק
Once the land is conquered before Hashem, then you can return. You shall [then] be deemed innocent [in the eyes] of Hashem and the Jewish People. This land shall [then] be yours for an inheritance, before Hashem[2]

After the Jews conquered the land on the east side of the Jordan River, it became considered part of the land of Israel. The land of Israel proper, on the west side of the Jordan River, still had to be conquered. Two and a half tribes, that of Reuven, Gad, and half of Menashe, requested for the opportunity to have their portion be solely in the land on the east side of the Jordan River. Moshe took this to mean that they weren’t interested in helping their brethren conquer the rest of the land of Israel. This could lead to distrust, quarrels, and maybe even civil war. Moshe reasoned with them that they’ll be allowed to be the sole inheritors of this part of the land if they help with the war effort on the west side of the Jordan. Upon victory, they’ll be welcome to return to their families on the east side of the Jordan River, and begin to settle it.

Continue reading “Mattos 5780”

Terumah 5780

[Print]

Confusing orders[1]

וזאת התרומה אשר תקחו מאתם זהב וכסף ונחשת: ועשו לי מקדש ושכנתי בתוכם: ועשו ארון עצי שטים וגו’‏
This is the contribution that you shall take from them: gold, silver, and copper. Make for Me a sanctuary, such that I will dwell amongst them. Make an Ark of acacia wood…[2]

After reading the Torah’s delineation of all the various parts of the portable Temple known as the Mishkan, we notice something strange. The Torah first lists all the vessels that are part of the Mishkan, detailing all of their dimensions and materials. Then, the Torah describes how to construct the Mishkan itself, with all its hooks and the tapestries that are used as partitions. Why did the Torah list them this way? Describing the structure of the Mishkan, and only then the vessels, would seem to be more logical. Usually one builds a house before you figure out the furniture.

Continue reading “Terumah 5780”

Vayishlach 5780

[Print]

Commemorating a tragic childbirth[1]

ויהי בצאת נפשה כי מתה ותקרא שמו בן-אוני ואביו קרא-לו בנימין
As [Rochel’s] life departed (since she was dying), she called [her son’s] name Ben-Oni, [whereas] his father called him Binyamin[2]

The death of Rochel during childbirth was tragic enough on its own. However, it was further marred by what seems to be an awkward case of spousal disagreement. Rochel decides to name her second child the name Ben-Oni, which literally translated seems to mean “the son of my mourning[3]”. Her intent would appear to be to call to mind the fact that this boy was the cause of her death, which caused others to mourn for her. Yaakov had a different name which he intended to call their son, Binyamin, which literally means “the son of [my] right hand[4]”. Yaakov appears to want his son’s name to have a more positive connotation. What exactly was their disagreement? What were they both thinking?

Continue reading “Vayishlach 5780”

Toldos 5780

[Print]

Concern for a mishap[1]

אולי ימשני אבי והייתי בעיניו במתעתע והבאתי עלי קללה ולא ברכה: ותאמר לו אמו עלי קללתך בני שמע בקלי ולך קח-לי
Maybe my father will feel me and I will seem like a deceiver in his eyes, and he will bring upon me a curse and not a blessing. His mother said to him: “Your curse [will be] upon me my son. Listen to my voice, go and take [what I told you to][2]

The climax of this week’s parsha contains Rivka’s dramatic plot to secure blessings for her son Yaakov, preventing her other son Eisav from receiving them. The blind Yitzchak decided Eisav was more worthy of his final blessings, and requested his talented son go and hunt him some game. While Eisav was away, Yaakov was to enter Yitzchak’s tent, pretend to be Eisav, and receive the blessings himself. Yaakov was reluctant at first, explaining to his mother that the plan was dangerous. Eisav was a very hairy man, and Yaakov was smooth-skinned. What if Yitzchak would feel Yaakov’s arms and realize that he’s not really Eisav? Yitzchak would label Yaakov a deceiver. He would receive his father’s curses, not blessings! His mother reassured him, that no curse would befall him.

Continue reading “Toldos 5780”

Bris Milah

[Print]

Appointing a mohel and humility[1]

זאת בריתי אשר תשמרו ביני וביניכם ובין זרעך אחריך המול לכם כל-זכר
This is my covenant that you are to observe between Me and you and your offspring that follow you: circumcise all boys[2]

The Torah places a mitzvah on the father to give his son a bris milah[3]. However, very often is the case that the father doesn’t know how, and he appoints a mohel to do the mitzvah for him. Seemingly, the mohel is acting as the father’s shliach, his agent. Some even explicitly appoint the mohel as their shliach[4]. However, this isn’t so simple. Some are of the opinion[5] that a person who can perform milah themself isn’t allowed to appoint another to do it for them. Seemingly, they hold that shlichus, agency, doesn’t work for the mitzvah of milah[6]. Where do they know this from?

Continue reading “Bris Milah”

Sukkos 5780

[Print]

Two types of sukkos[1]

למען ידעו דרתיכם כי בסֻכות הושבתי את-בני ישראל בהוציאי אותם מארץ מצרים אני יקוק אלקיכם
In order that your generations shall know that I placed the Jewish people in sukkos, when I took them out of the land of Egypt; I am Hashem your G-d[2]

The verse explaining the purpose of dwelling in sukkos has an anomaly. The word סֻכות is written in full, instead of more the concise סֻכֹת, as it’s spelled when the Torah actually commands us to dwell in them[3]. Why is this so[4]? This is to hint to the two opinions[5] as to which kind of sukkos we are meant to recall when we dwell in our personal sukkos. One opinion focuses on the fact that the Jews were surrounded by Hashem’s Clouds of Glory during their travels in the wilderness. We are to recall this (temporary) Divine shelter by dwelling in our temporary sukkos. The other opinion is that the Jews themselves dwelled in temporary huts called sukkos, during their battles in the land of Sichon and Og[6] [7]. If the word סכת was written concisely, it would look like it’s referring to one sukkah. Written out in full refers to multiple sukkos, and thus alludes to these two opinions.

Continue reading “Sukkos 5780”

Ki Seitzei 5779

Returning what was lost[1]

לא-תראה את-שור אחיך או את-שיו נדחים והתעלמת מהם השב תשיבם לאחיך
Do not see your brother’s ox or his sheep straying and hide yourself from them; [rather] you shall surely return them to your brother[2]

This week’s parsha contains more mitzvos than any other. One of them is a classic case where the Torah’s concern for interpersonal relationships is demonstrated. We are commanded to return lost objects to our friend. If we see that their possession was dropped, we have to make our best efforts to get it back into their hand. There are those that suggest that if we are commanded to be concerned for another’s monetary objects, all the more so we should be concerned for their souls[3]. However, as with everything in Torah, there are many layers of meaning[4]. Some want to suggest[5] that the verse itself is referring to a concern for another’s spiritual welfare.

Continue reading “Ki Seitzei 5779”

Shavuos 5779 2

[Print]

The escape clause[1]

ויוצא משה את-העם לקראת האלקים מן-המחנה ויתיצבו בתחתית ההר

Moshe took the people out from the camp to greet Hashem, and they stood at the foot of the mountain[2]

The holiday of Shavuos celebrates the giving of the Torah to the Jewish people[3]. It’s when the Ten Commandments were stated. Before the great revelation of the Divine, the Torah says that the Jews stood בתחתית ההר, “at the foot” of the mountain. However, literally read, the verse says that they stood “under” the mountain. Chazal learn from here[4] that this teaches us that Hashem picked up the mountain, and held it over their heads. He said to them: “If you accept the Torah, good. But if not, then this[5] will be your burial place”. Thankfully, the Jews accepted the Torah. In fact, they later accepted it anew in the days of Achashverosh, out of love. However, this shows us that initially it was only through coercion. The gemarra concludes that this created a מודעא רבה לאורייתא, meaning they had an escape clause. If they ever failed to keep the Torah, they could always claim that they never accepted it willingly. They were never really obligated to keep it, since their acceptance was under duress. Only once they accepted it anew did they lose this claim.

Continue reading “Shavuos 5779 2”