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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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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Shemini 5778

The illegitimate Royal candidate[1]

ויהי ממחרת החדש השני ויפקד מקום דוד, ויאמר שאול אל-יהונתן בנו מדוע לא-בא בן-ישי גם-תמול גם-היום אל-הלחם: ויען יהונתן את-שאול נשאל נשאל דוד מעמדי עד-בית לחם: ויאמר שלחני נא כי זבח משפחה לנו בעיר והוא צוה-לי אחי ועתה אם-מצאתי חן בעיניך אמלטה נא ואראה את-אחי על-כן לא-בא אל-שלחן המלך: ויחר-אף שאול ביהונתן ויאמר לו בן-נעות המרדות הלוא ידעתי כי-בחר אתה לבן-ישי לבשתך ולבשת ערות אמך: כי כל-הימים אשר בן-ישי חי על-האדמה לא תכון אתה ומלכותך ועתה שלח וקח אתו אלי כי בן-מות הוא
It was the day after the New Moon, the second day [of Rosh Chodesh], and David’s seat was vacant. Shaul said to his son Yonasan: “Why didn’t the son of Yishai come, neither yesterday nor today to the meal?” Yonasan answered Shaul: “David exceedingly implored me for permission[2] to go to Bethlehem. He said please let me go, as my family’s feast is in the city, and my brother commanded me to be there. Now, if I’ve found favor in your eyes, I’ll slip away and see my family. Therefore, he didn’t come to the King’s banquet”. Shaul became enraged at Yonasan and said to him: “[You are] the son of a rebellious and immoral[3] woman! Behold, I know you have sided with the son of Yishai, to your shame and the shame of your mother’s nakedness[4]! For all of the days that the son of Yishai is on this Earth, your kingdom will never be established. Now, go and send for him to be brought to me, as he is a dead man”[5]

As Shabbos this week coincides with Erev Rosh Chodesh, there is a special Haftarah that is read[6]. It describes the story of David before he became the sole King of Israel, and King Shaul’s growing distrust of him. After Shaul made several attempts to end David’s life[7], David ran away and went into hiding. He met up with Shaul’s son Yonasan, his most trusted friend. Yonasan couldn’t believe his father would try to do such a thing, and they came up with a plan to confirm Shaul’s intentions. The following two days would be Rosh Chodesh, and as usual the King would have a banquet. As one of the King’s attendants, David was expected to attend. Yonasan was to tell the King that David had to be at his family’s feast. If the King was understanding, then would be proof that he didn’t seek David’s life. If he became infuriated, it would show that David must remain in hiding[8]. What is the significance of this test? Why did David choose this method to determine the King’s intentions? Why would this elicit a furious response from King Shaul?

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