Bo 5782

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New Moon dilemmas[1]

החדש הזה לכם ראש חדשים ראשון הוא לכם לחדשי השנה
This month shall be for you the beginning of the months. It is the first for you for the months of the year[2]

Our Sages learn from this verse the mitzvah of Sanctifying the New Moon[3]. Unlike our current calendar, which is fixed, the Jewish months originally weren’t set in stone. For the new month to begin, two witnesses had to declare in a Jewish Court that they had seen the Moon after the New Moon occurred. Three judges would interrogate the witnesses, and after confirming that they weren’t mistaken, the judges would declare the month sanctified, and the new month would begin.

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Shemos 5782

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Impoverishment and blemishes[1]

ויאמר יקוק אל-משה במדין שב מצרים כי-מתו כל-האנשים המבקשים את-נפשך
Hashem said to Moshe in Midian: “Return to Egypt, for those who seek[2] your life have perished”[3]

Moshe spent half[4] of his life in Midian as a fugitive. He killed an Egyptian to save the life of a fellow Jew. He took refuge in Midian and raised a family. To his surprise, Hashem tasked him with the mission to release the Jewish people from slavery. As a form of reassurance[5], Hashem told him that those who sought his life have perished. Our Sages teach us[6] that this can’t be understood literally, as we know that those who reported Moshe to the authorities were Dasan and Aviram. They were among those who were part of Korach’s rebellion in the wilderness. What does it mean that they died? Our Sages tell us that they became impoverished[7]. As such, since they lost their prestige and influence, Moshe no longer needed to feel threatened by them[8].

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Vayeilech 5782

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Resurrection of the dead and knowledge of the future[1]

ויאמר יקוק אל-משה הנך שכב עם-אבתיך וקם העם הזה וזנה אחרי אלהי נכר-הארץ וגו’‏
Hashem said to Moshe: “Behold, you will lie with your ancestors, and this nation will get up and sway after the gods of the inhabitants of the land…”[2]

A non-Jewish matron[3] once asked Rabbi Yehoshua ben Chananya a theological question[4]. Two basic tenets of the Jewish faith are that Hashem knows the future, and that in the final redemption there will be a resurrection of the dead. This matron asked for a source to these two beliefs. He responded from a verse in this week’s parsha. Hashem told Moshe הנך שכב עם אבותיך, you will lie with your ancestors. Moshe was told he was about to perish. Then it says וקם העם הזה וזנה אחרי אלהי נכר הארץ, the nation will get up and serve idols. Rabbi Yehoshua said to read the verse as if וקם, “will get up”, as if it was referring to Moshe[5]. Meaning, Moshe will die, but then he will get up. We see the dead will be resurrected. Furthermore, the verse says that the nation will serve idols, which they did. This shows Hashem knows the future.

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Nitzavim 5781

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Angels and repentance[1]

כי המצוה הזאת אשר אנכי מצוך היום לא-נפלאת הוא ממך ולא רחקה הוא
For this mitzvah that I command you is not beyond you, nor is it far from you[2]

The subject of this verse is a matter of dispute. Rashi says[3] that it’s referring to the Torah, its fulfillment and study. Ramban however says[4] it’s referring to something very apropos to the time period we are in. It’s referring to the mitzvah of teshuva, repentance[5]. There’s an interesting Midrash about this verse[6]. It says that “this mitzvah” is not removed from us, but it is removed from the Angels. At first glance[7], this would sound more like Rashi’s interpretation. The Torah was given to humans and not the Angels, so it is in a sense “removed from them”[8]. Is there any way to understand this Midrash according to the Ramban, that “this mitzvah” is referring to teshuva?

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Shoftim 5781

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Matters of doubt[1]

על-פי התורה אשר יורוך ועל-המשפט אשר-יאמרו לך תעשה לא תסור מן-הדבר אשר-יגידו לך ימין ושמאל
You shall do according to the Torah that they rule for you, and the judgement that they tell you. Do not turn left or right from the matter that they tell you[2]

The Rambam, also known as Maimonidies, learns from this verse[3] the obligation to listen to the Rabbis. It comes out then that every Rabbinic mitzvah, obligation, or prohibition, are all included in the commanded not to turn from the matter that they tell you. That should make them all obligatory on a Biblical level in some way. To this asks[4] the Ramban, also known as Nachmanidies, how could it be then that we have a rule in a Biblical matter of doubt that one must be stringent, but in a Rabbinic matter of doubt one may be lenient? If every Rabbinic matter is really Biblical, how could there be this distinction?

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Va’eschanan 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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