Shavuos 5779 2

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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.

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Kedoshim 5779

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Sibling love, disgrace, and quarrels[1]

ואיש אשר-יקח את-אחתו בת-אביו או בת-אמו וראה את-ערותה והיא תראה את ערותו חסד הוא ונכרתו לעיני בני עמם ערות אחתו גלה עונו ישא
A man who will take his sister, the daughter of his father or the daughter of his mother, and will see her nakedness, and she will see his nakedness, it is chesed, and they will be cut off from before the eyes of the nation. For he has uncovered his sister’s nakedness, and he shall carry his sin[2]

The Torah, in its list of the forbidden relationships, gives the incestuous relationship with one’s sister a special descriptor. The union is referred to as chesed. Normally, this word refers to loving kindness. It seems highly out of place in this context[3]. Rashi therefore says[4] that in this context it’s the Aramaic word for disgrace. Such a union is a disgrace to both parties. However, why did the Torah use this unusual word, instead of the normal Hebrew word for disgrace? Rashi therefore brings the homiletic interpretation[5], that this verse is alluding to the answer to an age-old question.

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Pekudei 5779

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The foreshadowed clock[1]

כי ענן על-המשכן יומם ואש תהיה לילה בו לעיני כל-בית-ישראל בכל-מסעיהם
A cloud [will be] upon the Miskan by day, and a [pillar of][2] fire will be on it by night, for the eyes of all the houses of Israel, for all of their journeys[3]

The last verse of the book of Exodus concludes all the hard work that went into the Mishkan. The purpose of such a structure was to have G-d’s Presence on Earth. It was to be a place where Hashem was palpable, as much as could be possible in this physical world. A representation of Hashem appeared upon the Mishkan in the form of a cloud. It appeared after the erection of the Mishkan, to show the Jewish people that their construction efforts had paid off. The verse also describes that at night the cloud was replaced by a pillar of fire. However, the verse describes it in the future tense: a pillar of fire will be on it by night. Why isn’t it written in the present tense, as that was the reality for the Jews at that time? Further, why does the verse say that this fire was for the Jews’ journeys? It should have said: “for all their encampments”[4].

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Ki Sisa 5779

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Order of greatness[1]

וידבר יקוק אל-משה לאמר: ראה קראתי בשם בצלאל בן-אורי בן-חור למטה יהודה: ואמלא אתו רוח אלקים בחכמה ובתבונה ובדעת ובכל-מלאכה: ואתה דבר אל-בני ישראל לאמר אך את-שבתתי תשמרו כי אות הוא ביני וביניכם לדרתיכם לדעת כי אני יקוק מקדשכם
Hashem said to Moshe, saying: “See that I have called to prominence Betzalel, the son of Uri, the son of Chur, from the tribe of Yehudah. I will fill him with a spirit of G-d, with wisdom, understanding, knowledge, and every workmanship [ability]…And you shall speak to the Children of Israel, saying: ‘However, guard my Shabbos, since it is a sign between Me and You, for your generations, to know that I am G-d, who sanctifies you’”[2]

This week’s parsha contrasts the construction of the Mishkan with the observance of Shabbos. The Mishkan was an incredibly complicated structure, with intricate details to its vessels and overall set-up. Hashem chose Betzalel to be the master architect behind the project. In order for him to be fit for the job, it wasn’t enough that he be the most talented and qualified individual. He had to receive Divine assistance. The Torah tells us that he received an extra level of wisdom, understanding, and knowledge.

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Mishpatim 5779

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Inconclusive consent[1]

ואל-אצילי בני ישראל לא שלח ידו ויחזו את-האלקים ויאכלו וישתו
[Hashem] didn’t send His hand against the dignitaries of the Children of Israel, [although] they had seen G-d and ate and drank[2]

After detailing various monetary and ritual laws, the Torah returns to the story of the Divine Revelation at Sinai. As the Jews were receiving the Torah, the dignitaries of the Jewish People feasted; they ate and drank. While this normally could have been justified, they were in front of the Divine Presence. The environment commanded a very high level of awe and respect. A public feast wasn’t appropriate at that moment, and the Torah rebukes them for it. These dignitaries could have been wiped out at that moment, but Hashem had compassion and spared them, so as to not ruin the celebratory event of the giving of the Torah[3]. Instead, the dignitaries were later punished with death when they complained unjustifiably[4]. What’s hard to understand is that these dignitaries weren’t average people. They were very pious and learned. Shouldn’t they have had the proper sensitivity for the occasion? How could they shamelessly feast in front of Hashem’s presence?

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Shemos 5779

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Decreeing their future salvation[1]

ויקם מלך חדש על-מצרים אשר לא-ידע את-יוסף
A new King arose over Egypt that did not know Yosef[2]

As we begin the book of Exodus, the Torah describes how a new Pharaoh became the ruler over Egypt, after Yosef and his brothers had died. The Torah says that this Pharaoh didn’t know of Yosef. Some say[3] what this really means is he annulled the decrees of Yosef. What does this refer to? Yosef, while he was viceroy in Egypt, decreed that all the Egyptians had to become circumcised[4]. This was their prerequisite to get food to eat during the ravaging famine. Yosef’s intention was that he that knew his family would be exiled to Egypt, and he didn’t want his circumcised brethren to feel alienated. With this decree, everyone would be the same. After Yosef died, Pharaoh annulled this decree[5]. While this may be an interesting historical fact, why is it placed in the middle of the story which describes the beginning of the Egyptian slavery?

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Shemini Atzeres / Simchas Torah 5779

What are we celebrating?[1]

שבעת ימים תחג…והיית אך שמח
You shall celebrate for seven days…and you shall be only joyful[2]

The holiday of Shemini Atzeres is one of those interesting festivals with no associated paraphernalia[3]. Rosh Hashanah has the Shofar, Sukkos has the Sukkah, Pesach has Matzah. The celebration of each festival seems to be accompanied with some sort of item or activity to add a focus to the festivities. They are usually associated with some event, which is the cause of the celebration. What are we celebrating on the holiday of Shemini Atzeres? In fact, the Torah, with regards to Sukkos, tells us to be “only” joyful. The gemarra expounds[4] the extraneous word “only”[5] to be teaching us that Shemini Atzeres is also a time of joy. What are we joyful about on Shemini Atzeres?

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Sukkos 2 5779

The fruit that dwells on its tree from year to year[1]

כתפוח בעצי היער כן דודי בין הבנים וגו’‏
Like a tapuach in the trees of the forest, so too is my beloved amongst the children…[2]

The gemarra asks[3]: why does the verse liken the Jewish people to a tapuach tree? The answer is, to teach us that just like a tapuach tree has its fruit grow before its leaves, so too the Jewish people gave precedence to “we will do” over “we will listen”[4]. While this is a nice, short, lesson, at first glance there are a couple of issues[5]. First, the word tapuach usually refers to an apple. An apple tree does not have its fruit grow before its leaves. Like most fruit trees, the leaves come first. Consequently, some explain that the tapuach here is referring to an esrog. We see this from the verse וריח אפך כתפוחים, the scent of your breath is like tapuchim[6]. The Aramaic translation[7] tells us that its referring to an esrog. We see from here then that a tapuach can also refer to an esrog. This works well because the esrog tree in fact retains its fruit from year to year. When last year’s leaves fall off, new ones take their place. Thus, arriving after the fruit. However, the second question is harder to resolve. This verse, which Chazal say likens the Jewish people to an esrog, is really referring to Hashem[8]! Why do they say it is referring to the Jewish people?

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Sukkos 5779

The collective sukkah[1]

בסוכות תשבו שבעת ימים כל-האזרח בישראל ישבו בסכת
You shall dwell in sukkos for seven days; every citizen in Israel will dwell in sukkos[2]

Chazal learn[3] from this verse that, hypothetically speaking, the entire Jewish people can fulfill the mitzvah of dwelling in a sukkah using one sukkah for everybody[4]. Each person would use it, one after the other. However, how can this be? There is an obligation to turn one’s sukkah into their permanent dwelling[5]. We are supposed to spend day and night there. This isn’t possible to accomplish if everyone had to share one sukkah[6]! Another question: why does the verse start in second person, תשבו, and end in third person, ישבו? It starts with you shall dwell, and ends they will dwell.

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Ki Savo 5778

Lively motivations[1]

לא-אכלתי באני ממנו ולא-בערתי ממנו בטמא ולא-נתתי ממנו למת וגו’‏
I did not eat of it during my intense mourning period, and I did not consume it in impurity, nor did I give of it to the deceased…[2]

The Torah obligates the separation and distribution of various types of tithes. Fruits and vegetables grown in the land of Israel are forbidden to be eaten until their various tithes are separated[3]. Some tithes are given to the Kohanim for consumption[4], some to the Leviim[5], and some to the poor[6]. One type of tithe is known as ma’aser sheni, the second tithe. It is for personal consumption, but only in Jerusalem[7]. Instead of transporting the heavy fruits to Jerusalem, a person can transfer the tithe status onto coins[8]. These coins are brought instead to Jerusalem, and used to purchase food and drink. These purchases are then consumed in Jerusalem. After[9] the third year of the seven-year agricultural cycle, everyone must remove all their remaining tithes which they have failed to donate or consume. There is subsequently a mitzvah to come to the Temple and perform vidui, confession[10]. The person proclaims that they have followed all the laws pertaining to tithes. They declare that they didn’t eat it at forbidden times. They state that neither they nor the food was impure when it was consumed. Finally, they say that they did not give of it to the deceased. What does this last confession mean?

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