Vayishlach 5782

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Tests of one’s nerves[1]

על-כן לא-יאכלו בני-ישראל את-גיד הנשה אשר על-כף הירך עד היום הזה כי נגע בכף-ירך יעקב בגיד הנשה
Therefore, the Children of Israel do not eat the sciatic nerve, which is on the hip of the thigh, until this very day. This is because Yaakov was injured on his hip, in his sciatic nerve[2]

One of the most mysterious encounters in the Chumash is Yaakov’s wrestling match with an unknown man. Their fight lasted the entire night. Our Sages tell us[3] that it was an Angel. Not just any Angel, but the guardian angel of Yaakov’s brother Eisav. Although Yaakov emerged victorious from the struggle, he didn’t escape unscathed. The Angel managed to injure Yaakov’s hip socket. The Torah concludes this episode with the words: “This is why the Jews to this day do not eat the sciatic nerve”. Indeed, this is one of the 613 mitzvos[4], not to eat the sciatic nerve of a kosher animal. What’s the reasoning behind this mitzvah? What are we to learn from it?

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Nasso 5781

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The three who became impure[1]

צו את-בני ישראל וישלחו מן-המחנה כל-צרוע וכל-זב וכל טמא לנפש
Command the Jewish people to send out of the camp anyone with tzara’as, anyone who had an unusual emission, and anyone who is spiritually impure due to contact with the deceased[2]

After the Torah describes the three different camps, the camp of the Shechinah, the Divine Presence, the camp of the Leviim, and the camp of the rest of the Jews, it immediately relates the inherent holiness present in these camps. These camps are concentric circles, with the camp of the Divine Presence containing the highest level of sanctity, and the camp of the Jews having the lowest level. Someone with tza’ras, a leprous-like spiritual malady with physical symptoms, would be sent out of all three camps. Someone known as a zav, who suffered an unusual emission from their body, would be sent out of the inner two camps. Someone who is tamei mes, spiritually impure due to contact with the deceased, is only sent out of the innermost camp.

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Eikev 5780

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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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Devarim 5780

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A defense mechanism[1]

ואת-העם צו לאמר אתם עברים בגבול אחיכם בני-עשו הישבים בשעיר וייראו מכם ונשמרתם מאד

Command the people, saying: “You are passing through the territory of your brother, the children of Eisav, who dwell in [the land of] Seir. They fear you tremendously, and you shall be very cautious”[2]

The book of Deuteronomy begins with Moshe recounting to the Jews their forty-year journey throughout the wilderness. They were about to enter the land of Israel, and Moshe was about to pass on from this Earth. Moshe wanted them to glean lessons from their failures and experiences throughout their travels, so that they’ll be better equipped for what’s to come. Towards the end of their journey, they began approaching the land of Seir, where Eisav dwelled. Moshe informed the Jewish people that the nation of Eisav feared the Jews tremendously. They should be very cautious as they pass through their land. In the end they weren’t able to pass through, so they had to circle around their borders. What lesson is Moshe giving the people by recounting to them this episode?

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Vayeitzei 5779

A fortunate chain of events[1]

וירדף אחריו דרך שבעת ימים וגו’ וישג לבן את-יעקב וגו’‏
[Lavan] chased after [Yaakov] a seven-day journey…and Lavan caught up to Yaakov…[2]

After Yaakov was scammed and abused by his uncle Lavan for over twenty years, he decided to flee with his family back to his homeland. Instead of informing his uncle of their departure, he decided to leave without notice. He was a six-day distance from Lavan before the latter realized what had happened[3]. Lavan chased after Yaakov on the seventh day, and on that very day managed to catch up with him. This is seemingly miraculous. How did Lavan travel so far in one day, something which took Yaakov much longer? This tells us that a miracle happened, and the Earth contracted[4] so that Lavan would catch up to Yaakov[5]. Why didn’t this same miracle happen for Yaakov, so that he would arrive home before Lavan could catch up[6]? Also, why would such a miracle be performed for Lavan, who’s intention was to kill Yaakov[7]?

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Devarim 5778

The necessity of unity[1]

לא תוסיפו הביא מנחת-שוא קטרת תועבה היא לי וגו’‏
sDo not continue to bring worthless Mincha offerings; incense offerings are abominable to me…[2]

Parshas Devarim always occurs on Shabbos Chazon, the shabbos before Tisha B’Av[3]. This shabbos got its title from the first word of its haftarah: the chazon, or vision, of Yeshayahu (Isaiah). The theme of this time of year is reflecting on the twice destroyed Temple and its subsequent exiles, as well as their underlying causes. Yeshayahu prophesied during the period leading up to the first exile. His mission was to try to inspire the people to change their ways. But alas, the people didn’t listen. They went about their daily routine, while committing heinous crimes on the side. Chazal say[4] that the first exile was due to idol worship, murder, and illicit relations. Despite these horrific sins, the Jews continued to bring Temple offerings. While they were in fact fulfilling a mitzvah by bringing them, the Temple service is meant to bring the people close to Hashem. By committing these horrible crimes, considered the worst possible[5], they in fact distanced themselves from their Creator. As such, this week’s haftarah describes Yeshayahu’s rebuke of the people. Their G-d was no longer interested in their offerings. Their hypocrisy had made their offerings despised. But why did Yeshayahu specifically single out the Mincha and incense offerings, as opposed to any other part of the Temple service?

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Sukkos 5778

Finding joy in exile[1]

בסוכות תשבו שבעת ימים כל-האזרח בישראל ישבו בסוכות: למען ידעו דורותיכם כי בסוכות הושבתי את- בני ישראל בהוצאתי אותם מארץ מצרים וגו’
You shall dwell in sukkos for seven days; every citizen in Israel shall dwell in sukkos. [This is] in order for your generations to know that I placed the Children of Israel in sukkos when I took them out of the land of Egypt…[2]

During the festival of Sukkos, Jews are obligated to leave their permanent dwelling place and to live for seven days in sukkos[3]. The Torah tells us[4] that this is so we will remember that Hashem placed our ancestors in sukkos when He took us out of Egypt. There’s a tannaic dispute[5] as to the meaning behind the word sukkos in this verse. In general, the word sukkos refers to a temporary booth, usually made of wood[6], with a roof made from the waste from the harvest[7]. Rabbi Akiva holds that Hashem placed the Jews in literal booths when he took them out of Egypt[8]. However, Rabbi Eliezer holds that the verse refers to the Clouds of Glory which Hashem provided them in the wilderness, as a sort of protection from the elements. We are then commanded to make literal sukkos to represent the metaphorical sukkos of the past. The halacha, Jewish law, follows Rabbi Eliezer[9].

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