Vaeschanan 5781

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The testimony of Shabbos[1]

Remember the Shabbos day, to sanctify it[2] זכור את-יום השבת לקדשו Safeguard the Shabbos day, to sanctify it…[3] שמור את-יום השבת לקדשו וגו’
Do not testify falsely regarding your fellow[4] לא תענה ברעך עד שקר Do not testify in vain regarding your fellow[5] ולא-תענה ברעך עד שוא

 

In the Shabbos morning prayers, we declare: ושני לוחות אבנים הוריד בידו, Moshe brought down from Mount Sinai two stone tables in his hand, וכתוב בהם שמירת שבת, and they are engraved with the obligation to observe Shabbos, וכן כתוב בתורתך ושמרו בני ישראל את השבת, and similarly it is written in Hashem’s Torah[6] that, “the Jewish people shall observe Shabbos”. We can ask a few questions on this declaration. First of all, why do we need to support the observance of Shabbos by bringing a verse? If the stone tablets, which were written by G-d Himself[7], command resting on Shabbos, what does a verse in the Torah add? Another question is with regards to the phrasing of the declaration. We say that they, the two stone tablets, are engraved with the obligation to observe Shabbos. At first glance this seems false. Only the first of the two tablets mentions Shabbos. How can we resolve these difficulties?

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Tisha B’Av 5781

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Devarim 5781

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Having the proper perspective[1]

יקוק אלקינו דבר אלינו בחרב לאמר רב-לכם שבת בהר הזה: פנו וסעו לכם ובאו הר האמרי וגו’‏
Hashem, our God, spoke to us on Chorev (Mount Sinai) saying: “Rav lachem dwelling on this mountain. Turn and travel and come to the Ammorite mountain…”[2]

Moshe, as part of his goodbye speech to the people, described the various events which got them to where they were now holding. Most of this speech was intended to act as a rebuke towards the people for their shortcomings throughout their journeys. One episode he described was that after spending over a year at Mount Sinai learning Torah, Hashem told them rav lachem. Literally He said, it is too much for you to dwell further on this mountain. It sounds like they wanted to stay longer, but Hashem told them it was time to move on. However, this seems to contradict a teaching of our Sages[3] that the Jews ran away from Mount Sinai like schoolchildren who run away from their classes. It sounds like they didn’t need much pressure from Hashem to leave. Which was it?

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Pinchas 5781

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Just reward[1]

פינחס בן-אלעזר בן-אהרן הכהן השיב את-חמתי מעל בני-ישראל בקנאו את-קנאתי בתוכם ולא-כליתי את-בני-ישראל בקנאתי
Pinchas, the son of Elazar, the son of Aharon the Kohen, turned back My wrath from upon the Jewish people, by acting out his zealotry amongst you. [As a result] I did not wipe out the Jewish people with my zealotry[2]

Parshas Pinchas begins where the previous parsha ended. Zimri ben Salu, a prince of the tribe of Shimon, committed a leud act with a Midianite woman in front of the entire congregation. Moshe was at a loss what to do[3]. Pinchas, a grandson of Aharon HaKohen, recalled that in such a situation a zealot may take the law into their own hands[4]. He punished Zimri, and Pinchas was rewarded kindly by Hashem. The Sages in the Midrash make an unusual comment about the results of Pinchas’ actions. They say[5] that “it makes sense that Pinchas was rewarded”. What do they mean by this teaching, and what are they stressing?

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Bamidbar 5781

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Seeing (or is it counting?) double[1]

שאו את-ראש כל-עדת בני-ישראל למשפחתם לבית אבתם במספר שמות כל-זכר לגלגלתם: פקד את-בני לוי לבית אבתם למפחתם כל-זכר מבן-חדש ומעלה תפקדם
Count the heads of the entire assembly of the Children of Israel, by their families and their father’s houses, by the number of the names[2], all the males, by their heads. Count the Levites according to their father’s houses and by their families. Count all the males from one month of age[3]

Sefer Bamidbar’s English name of Numbers is aptly put[4], as there are many censuses that are described throughout the book. This parsha alone contains two censuses, one of the Jewish people at large (excluding the tribe of Levi), and one exclusively of the tribe of Levi. The two censuses have some differences. One of them is the main census of the people was of all the males above the age of twenty. This is not like the census of the tribe of Levi, which counted all males from the age of one month and up. Another difference is regarding the general census of the people, the Torah stresses that they be counted by their heads. This requirement is strangely absent from the census of the Levites. Regarding this latter difference, why did the Torah leave out the requirement of counting by their heads?

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Acharei Mos / Kedoshim 5781

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True holiness[1]

דבר אל-כל-עדת בני-ישראל ואמרת אלהם קדשים תהיו כי קדוש אני יקוק אלקיכם: איש אמו ואביו תיראו ואת-שבתתי תשמרו אני יקוק אלקיכם: אל-תפנו אל-האלילם וגו’ וכי תזבחו זבח שלמים ליקוק וגו’‏
Speak to the entire congregation of the Children of Israel and say to them: “You shall be Holy, for I am Holy; I am Hashem your G-d. You shall revere your mother and father, and you shall observe My Shabbos; I am Hashem your G-d. Do not turn towards the false gods…When you offer a peace offering to Hashem…[2]

Parshas Kedoshim is chockfull of mitzvos, both interpersonal and between man and G-d. Sometimes it is hard to discern why the mitzvos are presented they way they are, but if one were to investigate thoroughly, sometimes their labor will be fruitful. One such example is at the very beginning of the parsha. We are told to be Holy, for Hashem is Holy. Then we are told to revere our parents, and observe Shabbos. Then we are warned against idolatry, which is followed by the concept of bringing a voluntary peace offering to Hashem. What can we glean from the juxtaposition of these mitzvos?

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Tazria / Metzora 5781

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The difference between a Metzora and a Kohen[1]

אדם וגו’ והיה בעור-בשרו לנגע צרעת והובא אל-אהרן הכהן או אל-אחד מבניו הכהנים: ויצא הכהן אל-מחוץ למחנה וראה הכהן והנה נרפא נגע-הצרעת מן-הצרוע
When a person…develops a tzara’as affliction on their skin, he shall be brought to Aharon the Kohen, or to one of his sons, the Kohanim… The Kohen shall go outside the camp and he shall see, and behold! The afflicted person’s tzara’as affliction has healed![2]

This week’s double parsha mostly deals 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.

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Shevii shel Pesach 5781

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The free choice to split[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[5]. 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? One explanation[6] is from a Midrash, which says is it saw the Jews fighting whether they should jump into the sea or not[7]. Some felt it would be a sanctification of Hashem’s name, and they had faith He would perform a miracle. Others felt it wasn’t a good idea. This is very hard to understand. Why would this be a reason for the sea to split? If anything, the fact that the Jews disagreed whether to sanctify Hashem’s name should be a reason not to split. What’s the intent of this Midrash?

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Vayakhel/Pekudei 5781

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One mitzvah, or many?[1]

ויקהל משה את-כל-עדת בני ישראל ויאמר אלהם אלה הדברים אשר-צוה יקוק לעשת אתם: ששת ימים תעשה מלאכה וביום השביעי יהיה לכם קדש שבת וגו’ ויאמר משה אל-כל-עדת בני-ישראל לאמר זה הדבר אשר-צוה יקוק לאמר: קחו מאתכם תרומה ליקוק כל נדיב לבו יביאה את תרומת יקוק וגו’‏
Moshe gathered the entire assembly of the Children of Israel. He said to them: “These are the matters which Hashem commanded to do: Six days you shall work, and on the seventh day it shall be for you a Holy Shabbos”…Moshe said to the entire assembly of the Children of Israel, saying: “This is the matter that Hashem commanded, saying: Take for yourselves a donation for Hashem. All those with a generous heart will bring their portion for Hashem”[2]

This week’s parsha begins by speaking about the mitzvah of Shabbos. It then continues with a detailed description of the construction and materials of the Mishkan, the portable Temple the Jews built in the wilderness. There’s a discrepancy with how these two mitzvos are introduced. The mitzvah of Shabbos is described as, “these are the matters which Hashem commanded”, and the mitzvah of constructing the Mishkan is described as, “this is the matter”. Besides the inconsistency, these descriptions are also counterintuitive. One would think that Shabbos is only one prohibition, to refrain from creative labor. This is unlike the construction of the Mishkan, which involves many parts, such as the Ark, the Altar, the Menorah. Why then is Shabbos described in the plural, and the Mishkan in the singular?

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Ki Sisa 5781

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Charity assurances[1]

העשיר לא-ירבה והדל לא ימעיט ממחצית השקל לתת את-תרומת יקוק לכפר על-נפשתיכם
The wealthy shall not increase, nor shall the poor decrease, from the half-shekel donation. To give the donation of Hashem [is] to atone for their souls[2]

This week’s parsha begins with the mitzvah to give the half-shekel donation to the Temple, known as the machatzis hashekel. This donation was to help fund the offerings throughout the year. In this instance, it was also to help fund the construction of the Mishkan, the portable Temple while the Jews were in the wilderness. There’s an interesting message embedded into the mitzvah. The same amount is donated by every Jew. It doesn’t matter what the person’s standing is. If they’re exceedingly wealthy, or terribly poor, every Jew is to donate the same amount. The wealthy shouldn’t give more, and the poor shouldn’t give less[3]. It shows that in many ways, we’re all equal. We’re all children of Hashem.

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