Eikev 5781

Pearls of gratitude[1]

ובאהרן התאנף יקוק מאד להשמידו ואתפלל גם-בעד אהרן בעת ההוא
Hashem became incredibly enraged towards Aharon, in order to destroy him. I prayed on Aharon’s behalf that that time[2]

Our Sages relate[3] a very unusual interaction between Moshe and Aharon. When Aharon was inaugurated as the Kohen Gadol, he was anointed with special sanctified oil. After doing so, Moshe and Aharon noticed that two pearls of oil remained on Aharon’s beard[4]. Upon realizing this, Moshe was very concerned he had committed מעילה, misappropriated sanctified property[5]. Immediately, a heavenly voice declared that there was nothing to be concerned over. Aharon then started worrying that perhaps he himself had committed מעילה, by getting inappropriate pleasure from the remaining oil on his beard, desecrating its sanctity. Immediately, a heavenly voice declared that there was nothing to be concerned over. That’s the entirety of the story. There are many questions here. First and foremost, what’s the significance over these two pearls of oil? Why is this story worth relating?

Our Sages tell us[6] that there was no one who saw as much joy as Elisheva[7], the wife of Aharon HaKohen. She had five sources of joy: 1) Her brother-in-law Moshe was the leader of the Jews, a type of king 2) Her husband was the Kohen Gadol 3) Her son Elazar was the assistant Kohen Gadol 4) Her grandson Pinchas was the Kohen anointed for war[8] 5) Her brother Nachshon was the prince of the tribe of Yehuda[9]. Unfortunately, her joy was marred by the death of her two sons, Nadav and Avihu. On the day that the Mishkan was inaugurated[10], they acted inappropriately, and their souls were taken by Hashem. As such, our Sages say that it was as if Elisheva saw no joy. Meaning, her joy was overshadowed by tragedy. One could easily ask[11] on this Midrash why it specified Elisheva. Why didn’t it include her husband Aharon? He, just as much as his wife, had five reasons to be happy, and he lost his two sons.

We could suggest[12] that Aharon didn’t experience any joy at all. Elisheva was accorded all this honor, and in contrast to the joy she felt she was bereaved of her two sons. Both were true, just the pain she felt overshadowed her joy. Aharon, once his two sons died, started to be very concerned. He knew that Nadav and Avihu died because they got too close to Hashem. They entered the Holy of Holies[13]. However, they had not yet been forbidden from entering. Why then were they killed? Aharon was scared that they were really killed because of his own failings. As it says in this week’s parsha, Hashem became very angry with Aharon for creating the Golden Calf, which was worshipped by the Jews.

The verse says[14] that Hashem wanted to destroy Aharon, which our Sages interpret[15] to mean he would lose his four children. Moshe prayed that Aharon be spared, and only two of Aharon’s sons died. Nevertheless, when they died while performing the Temple Service, Aharon was concerned that he and his children were forever disqualified from being Kohanim. Hashem wasn’t interested in their service. This fear made all the honors he and his family had been accorded insignificant. The Midrash therefore only mentioned Elisheva’s joy, and not Aharon’s.

To assuage Aharon’s concerns, Hashem performed a miracle. After Moshe anointed his brother with the anointing oil, they both discovered that two pearls of oil remained on Aharon’s beard. These pearls miraculously stayed there, regardless of his movements. They were to symbolize two types of anointed Kohanim: the assistant Kohen Gadol, and the Kohen designated to lead during war. After Aharon’s sons Nadav and Avihu died, their positions were filled with Aharon’s son Elazar, who became the assistant Kohen Gadol, and his grandson Pinchas, who led during war. The everlasting nature of these pearls of oil in Aharon’s beard were to symbolize that the Kehuna would never be removed from his offspring.

This interpretation gives a whole new read to the gemarra. When Moshe saw the pearls of oil, he became concerned. Not that he had misappropriated the oil. He saw their miraculous nature, and understood their true intent. He was concerned that he hadn’t received a similar promise from Hashem. He had no assurance that his offspring would remain the leaders of the Jewish people. He was concerned that he had acted unjustly[16] towards Hashem! A heavenly voice declared that Moshe had nothing to worry about. He hadn’t committed any error. Although his descendants won’t remain leaders, Moshe was assured that he had properly taught the people the Torah, and successfully trained his student Yehoshua to take over[17].

As has been already emphasized, Aharon was very concerned. He saw his two sons die while performing the Temple service, and was worried that his offspring had become disqualified from the Kehuna. He thought he had committed an affront to Hashem with his sin with the Golden Calf[18]. To this came another heavenly voice to declare that he had nothing to worry about. The miraculous pearls of oil were to testify that his offspring shall forever remain Kohanim. Aharon’s sons, in fact, did not die because they were disqualified from the Temple service. Rather, they died because of their lofty level[19]. They had attained perfection in their closeness with Hashem, and their souls left them[20].

The above and what follows is what I said at the kiddush in honor of the birth of our daughter.

We are hosting this kiddush in honor of the birth of our daughter, as a form of hakaras hatov to Hashem for bringing her into our life. After some deliberating, we decided to name her Elisheva Liba. Liba is after my wife’s great-grandmother. Elisheva, on a simple level, is because we really liked the name. Also, we know that Aharon’s wife Elisheva was a very righteous woman. However, in retrospect, perhaps Elisheva was a very fitting name for our daughter. As we mentioned, Aharon’s wife Elisheva saw more joy than any other. Alas, that joy was turned bitter when her two sons died. The pain overshadowed any joy that she could have felt.

The birth of a child can be an exhilarating experience. A new life on its own is a major source of joy. However, we as a family had many other reasons to be joyful. After months of waiting to get to the land of Israel, we finally were granted entry shortly after Sukkos of last year. We came knowing my wife was expecting, and that we would G-d willing have a child here. This is where we wanted to be. As well, not something insignificant, is all the paperwork for Bituach Leumi was resolved just in time for the birth, covering the hospital stay. We had every reason to be happy.

At the same time, and I’m speaking for myself at the moment, the circumstances of the birth of our daughter were one of the most stressful times in my life. Sparing the details, there were complications with the birth, and because of COVID-19 there were hospital regulations barring our one-and-a-half-year-old son from entering to see his mother. We were all alone here without any family to help watch him. It was very difficult to see and help my wife and new baby while coordinating what to do with our son. He desperately missed his mother who had a hard time leaving her recovery bed to see him. Once my wife and new baby were finally released, our daughter got a virus. My wife had to spend the weekend with her alone in the hospital, holding her the entire time.

And yet, we saw tremendous siyata dishmaya, Divine assistance. There were so many people who offered help. The staff at the hospital took great care of my wife and baby. There was a social worker there who got us the help we needed when we needed it. People in the community offered to watch our son, and make us meals. The joy of having a new child could have been marred by all the stress and anxiety, like what happened with Aharon’s wife Elisheva. However, with our Elisheva, Hashem was openly taking care of us by sending us the help we needed, when we needed it. It was a difficult situation, but definitely not one which overshadowed the joy we felt at having a new child. It is for this we are truly grateful, and thought it was appropriate to host this kiddush as a small token of expression of thanks.                                                         Mazel tov and Good Shabbos

[1] Based on Maharsha to Horayos 12a s.v. כמין ב’

[2] Deuteronomy 9:20

[3] Horayos loc. cit.; Kerisos 5b

[4] This is based off of Psalms 133:2: כשמן הטוב היורד על הראש יורד על הזקן זקן-אהרן וגו’. Chazal infer it was two pearls of oil from the repetition of the word זקן in the verse (Maharsha loc. cit.)

[5] See Rashi ad. loc.

[6] Midrash Tanchuma Shemini § 2; Tanchuma Yashan Shemini § 3

[7] Tzror HaMor to Leviticus 10:2 clarifies that it was specifically on the day the Mishkan was inaugurated that she saw so much joy

[8] According to the opinion in Zevachim 101b that Pinchas was always a Kohen

[9] Midrash Tanchuma and Tanchuma Yashan loc. cit.; Midrash Tanchuma Acharei Mos § 1; Zevachim 102a; Vayikra Rabbah 20:2; Koheles Rabbah 2:2; Shir HaShirim Rabbah 3:6; Seder Olam Chapter 7 (although I saw it cited sometimes as Chapter 4). Midrash Tanchuma Acharei Mos (and not Shemini), Koheles Rabbah, and Seder Olam list four sources of joy by leaving out (3) and (4) and saying instead that her two sons were assistants to the Kohen Gadol. This refers to Nadav and Avihu before they died. The other Midrashim are focusing on honors accorded her after their death. Torah Temimah to Ecclesiastes 2:2 § 17 suggests the Midrashim that list four joys hold that Pinchas only became a Kohen after he killed Zimri (Zevachim 101b)

[10] See note 7

[11] Maharsha loc. cit.; Iyun Ya’akov to Zevachim loc. cit.; Biur Ha’amarim to Midrash Tanchuma Shemini § 2; Torah Temimah loc. cit.

[12] Maharsha. His initial suggestion is that there’s no concept of mourning for a Kohen Gadol (Leviticus 10:6). Since the Midrash wanted to contrast the joy with the mourning, it chose Elisheva instead of Aharon. Iyun Ya’akov suggests that it specified Elisheva, because it is in the merit of the righteous women that their relatives become Kohanim Gedolim (Yoma 47a). Biur Ha’amarim suggests that Aharon was too distraught over the pearls of oil in his beard to pay any attention to these five honors. Torah Temimah sees it as a rebuke of Elisheva, that her joy was marred since she took credit for the joy she was experiencing. Aharon knew that these honors were a complete chessed from Hashem, so he wasn’t overcome with joy in them like Elisheva was

[13] Toras Kohanim to Leviticus 10:5; Vayikra Rabbah 20:8; Midrash Tanchuma Acharei Mos § 6

[14] Deuteronomy loc. cit.

[15] Vayikra Rabbah 7:1, brought by Rashi ad. loc.

[16] חס ושלום מעלתי בשמן המשחה. The Maharsha reads מעלתי to mean that he had committed some sort of crime or injustice towards Hashem, and this was evident based on his lack of having the שמן המשחה on his beard

[17] See Maharsha for how he reads this into the wording of the gemarra

[18] שמא משה לא מעל אבל אני מעלתי. There’s no mention of the anointing oil, so the Maharsha is able to read his explanation into the wording of the gemarra. Based on this, it’s not impossible to suggest that the Biur Ha’amarim in note 12 intended the explanation of the Maharsha

[19] בקרובי אקדש (Leviticus 10:3)

[20] See Aruch LaNer to Kerisos loc. cit. for another satisfying explanation of this Aggadata

Devarim 5781


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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VeZos HaBeracha 5781


Conflicting acts of kindness[1]

וקבר אתו בגי בארץ מואב בית פעור ולא-ידע איש את-קברתו עד היום הזה
[Hashem][2] buried [Moshe] in the valley of the land of Moav, Beis-Peor. No man knows his place of burial until this day[3]

The Torah ends with the death of Moshe. Chazal note[4] that the Torah starts and begins with Hashem’s chessed, acts of loving kindness. After Moshe dies, Hashem Himself buries him. At the beginning of the Torah, we are taught that Hashem adorned Eve as a bride for Adam[5] [6] [7]. With this insight, we can glean a new understanding of a vague verse in Ecclesiastes, read during this time of year: טוב אחרית דבר מראשיתו, better is the final word than its beginning[8]. What is this teaching us?

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Nitzavim-Vayeilech 5780


How easy is teshuva?[1]

כי המצוה הזאת אשר אנכי מצוך היום לא-נפלאת הוא ממך ולא רחקה הוא וגו’ כי-קרוב אליך הדבר מאד בפיך ובלבבך לעשתו
This mitzvah which I command you today is not beyond you, nor is it far away…Rather the matter is close to you in your mouth and in your heart to perform[2]

Which mitzvah is our verse telling us is close to our mouth and close to our heart to perform? The Ramban explains[3] that it is referring to what was mentioned a few verses[4] earlier. ושבת עד-יקוק אלקיך, you shall[5] return to Hashem, your G-d. The Torah is telling us that the mitzvah of teshuva, sincere repentance for our sins, is very easy. It’s close to our mouths and to our hearts. Meaning, there are four requirements for complete teshuva: cessation of the sin, committing never to do it again, regretting the sin, and vidui, confessing one’s sin[6]. The Torah is alluding to two of these requirements[7]. Teshuva is close to our mouths, to perform vidui, and our hearts, to accept in our hearts never to do this sin again. Why is the Torah alluding to only these two, and not the other two?

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Ki Savo 5780


The odd ones out[1]

אלה יעמדו לברך את-העם על-הר גרזים בעברכם את-הירדן שמעון ולוי ויהודה ויששכר ויוסף ובנימן: ואלה יעמדו על-הקללה בהר עיבל ראובן גד ואשר וזבלן דן ונפתלי
These shall stand on Mount Gerizim to bless the people, as you pass over the Jordan River: Shimon, Levi, Yehudah, Yissachar, Yosef, and Binyamin. And these shall stand on Mount Eival for the curse: Reuven, Gad, Asher, Zevulun, Dan, and Naftali[2]

One of the commandments[3] the Jewish people were instructed to fulfill as they entered the land of Israel is known as the Blessings and the Curses. The twelve tribes were to divide in two; half would pronounce blessings to the people for those that keep the Torah, and half would pronounce curses for those that didn’t. The Torah tells us who is to stand where: Shimon, Levi, Yehudah, Yissachar, Yosef, and Binyamin are to stand on Mount Gerizim and pronounce the blessings. If we look closely, we’ll see that they’re all children of Rochel and Leah, Yaakov’s primary wives. Those to stand on Mount Eival and pronounce the curses were Reuven, Gad, Asher, Zevulun, Dan, and Naftali. The four children of Bilhah and Zilpah, Yaakov’s other two wives, are in this list. However, Reuven and Zevulun are the children of Leah. Why are they singled out from their brothers on Mount Gereizim, and told to stand on Mount Eival?

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Ki Seitzei 5780


The price of ingratitude[1]

לא-יבא עמוני ומואבי בקהל יקוק גם דור עשירי לא-יבא להם בקהל יקוק עד-עולם: על-דבר אשר לא-קדמו אתכם בלחם ובמים בדרך בצאתכם ממצרים ואשר שכר עליך את-בלעם וגו’ לקללך
An Ammonite and a Moavite shall not marry into the congregation of Hashem. Even the tenth generation shall not marry into the congregation of Hashem, for all time. Due to the matter that they didn’t present you with bread or water when you were traveling from Egypt, and for having hired Bilaam…to curse you[2]

The Torah informs us that a convert from the nation of Ammon or Moav cannot marry into the Jewish people. The reason is twofold: they didn’t present us with bread or water when we were traveling from Egypt, and because they[3] hired the non-Jewish prophet Bilaam to curse the Jews[4]. If we were to pick the worse of the two crimes, seemingly the second one is more severe. If Bilaam had successfully cursed the Jews, there would be no remnant left[5]. His goal, as well as those who hired him, was to obliterate the Jewish people from the face of the Earth. Shouldn’t that be enough of a reason not to intermarry with them? Why then does the Torah also need to mention the reason that they didn’t offer us bread and water? That was simply a lack of showing honor and respect, or at the very least of generosity. It’s surely not as severe as wanting to annihilate them. Further, why is the sin of not giving bread and water listed first, implying it’s worse than the second one?

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Shoftim 5780


False prophets[1]

אשר ידבר הנביא בשם יקוק ולא-יהיה הדבר ולא יבוא הוא הדבר אשר לא-דברו יקוק בזדון דברו הנביא לא תגור ממנו
That which a “prophet” says in the name of Hashem, which doesn’t come true or does not occur, that is something that Hashem did not speak; this “prophet” spoke with iniquity, do not fear him[2]

The Torah tells us that there will come a day when charlatan prophets will come and try to speak in the name of G-d. They will present miracles and wonders and predict the future. It is a capital crime to be a false prophet, and we are not to be swayed by their tricks. How can we tell if they are a charlatan, or the real deal? The Torah gives us the litmus test: if they predict something will occur, and it doesn’t, then we’ll know for sure that they are a false prophet.

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Re’eh 5780


Life worth living[1]

בנים אתם ליקוק אלקיכם לא תתגודדו ולא-תשימו קרחה בין עיניכם למת
You are children to Hashem, your G-d; don’t maim yourself, nor remove hairs on your head[2] for the deceased[3]

Parshas Re’eh contains many mitzvos. A couple that are unique are the prohibitions of לא תתגודדו and לא תשימו קרחה. The Torah precedes these mitzvos by telling us that we are children of Hashem. He doesn’t want us deforming our bodies in grief. Many people had the practice, and some even today, to injure themselves or pull out their hair, as a display of grief at the loss of a relative. Hashem doesn’t want that of His children. We are commanded not to maim ourselves, and not to remove hairs for the deceased.

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Eikev 5780


Who does good and causes others to do good[1]

ואכלת ושבעת וברכת את-יקוק אלקיך על-הארץ הטבה אשר נתן-לך
You shall eat and be satiated, and [then] bless Hashem, your G-d, for the good land which He has given you[2]

The often-occurring mitzvah of Birkas HaMazon, known colloquially as bentsching, finds its source in the above verse. We are taught[3] that the first three blessings of the four-part bentsching are of biblical origin: to thank Hashem for the nourishment, to thank Hashem for the land, and to thank Hashem for Jerusalem. This is opposed to the final blessing, known as HaTov VeHaMeitiv, literally “the Good and Who causes others to do good”, which is Rabbinic. Why did the Sages enact this extra blessing? They teach us[4] that the reason is in commemoration of the destruction of the city of Beitar.

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Vaeschanan 5780


Shabbos: which kind of rejuvenation?[1]

שמור את-יום השבת לקדשו כאשר צוך יקוק אלקיך: וזכרת כי-עבד היית בארץ מצרים וגו’‏
Safeguard the Shabbos day, to sanctify it, as Hashem your G-d commanded you…[So] you shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt…[2]

The Ten Commandments make two appearances in the Torah. The first is parshas Yisro[3], when the Torah relates how the Jews heard Hashem speak at Mount Sinai. The second is this week’s parsha, where Moshe recounts that monumental event. A careful examination of the two listings will yield some slight but significant differences. Some of the most pronounced is with regards to the mitzvah of Shabbos. There are different themes and details that are chosen in the second instance, which don’t appear in the first. We are adjured to safeguard the Shabbos, instead of simply remembering it[4]. There’s also a focus on the fact that we were slaves in Egypt. What is the Torah highlighting with this connection to the Exodus?

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