Bereishis 5783


Man’s best friend[1]

ויאמר לו יקוק לכן כל-הרג קין שבעתים יקם וישם יקוק לקין אות לבלתי הכות-אתו כל-מצאו
Hashem said to him: “Therefore, anyone who kills Cain will be avenged sevenfold.” Hashem placed a sign for Cain, so that no one who finds him will harm him[2]

Hashem severely punished Cain for murdering his brother. In response, Cain stated that his sin was too great to bear[3] He admitted the error of his ways. In response, Hashem promised justice against anyone who harms Cain. To assuage his fears from foreign attackers, the Torah says that Hashem gave Cain a “sign”. We aren’t told what this is. One opinion of our Sages[4] is that Hashem gave Cain a dog. This seemingly was meant to bea guard dog, which would fight off any foe. The problem is, it’s hard to fit this into the verse. How could placing a sign mean a dog? It should have said that Hashem gave Cain protection, or something similar.

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Mikeitz 5782


Previous ingratitude[1]

וידבר שר המשקים את-פרעה לאמר את-חטאי אני מזכיר היום
The Minister of the Cup Bearers said to Pharaoh, saying: “I bring up my sins today”[2]

When Pharaoh had two troubling dreams, it distressed him greatly[3]. He searched all over Egypt, but no one could satisfactorily interpret the dreams. The Minister of the Cup Bearers, commonly referred to as Pharaoh’s Butler, recalled that Yosef two years earlier had interpreted the former’s dreams. Yosef told the Butler while they were both in jail that the Butler would soon be freed. Yosef requested that the Butler upon his release tell Pharaoh of his innocence. Yosef was framed and didn’t deserve to be in jail. The Butler was indeed released, and failed to give Pharaoh Yosef’s message. Pharaoh’s predicament reminded the Butler of all of this, and he was forced to tell Pharaoh of Yosef’s abilities.

The Butler began by admitting to Pharaoh that this recommendation had negative connotations for himself. It recalled the fact that he was once in jail for sinning against the king. Nevertheless, due to Pharaoh’s need for his dream to be interpreted, the Butler was willing to take the personal hit. However, if we analyze what he says, we’ll be surprised. Instead of him saying that he has to bring up his sin to Pharaoh, he says sins. This means by mentioning Yosef, he was recalling multiple sins. What else did the Butler do wrong? Our Sages say[4] he was referring to two additional[5] sins: that he forgot of Yosef’s existence, and that he failed to keep his promise to him. If so, why would the Butler feel the need to mention this to Pharaoh? What does Pharaoh care about the Butler’s wrongdoing to Yosef?

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Terumah / Zachor 5781


Amazing abode allusions[1]

דבר אל בני-ישראל ויקחו-לי תרומה מאת כל-איש אשר ידבנו לבו תקחו את-תרומתי: וזאת התרומה אשר תקחו מאתם זהב וכסף ונחשת
Speak to the Children of Israel: “Take for Me a portion from each person. [From] those whose heart feels generous, take My portion. This is the portion that you should take from them: gold, silver, and copper”[2]

This week’s parsha introduces us to the Mishkan, or Tabernacle, the portable Temple that the Jews constructed and used in the wilderness. It was literally a place for Hashem’s presence in this world. His presence was palpable, and allowed the Jews a chance to connect with Hashem in a way we can only imagine. The Torah tells us that the Jews were asked to take part in its construction. Each person would donate the materials needed for the Mishkan, donating what they saw fit. Besides gold, silver, and copper, many other materials are listed. However, if we focus on these three materials, we’ll find an amazing allusion hidden in their letters[3].

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Mishpatim / Shekalim 5781


Joyous acceptance[1]

ואל-אצילי בני ישראל לא שלח ידו ויחזו את-האלקים ויאכלו וישתו
[Hashem] didn’t send His hand against the dignitaries of the Children of Israel, [although] they had seen G-d and ate and drank[2]

After detailing various monetary and ritual laws, the Torah returns to the story of the Divine Revelation at Sinai. As the Jews were receiving the Torah, the dignitaries of the Jewish People feasted; they ate and drank. While this normally could have been justified, they were in front of the Divine Presence. The environment commanded a very high level of awe and respect. A public feast perhaps wasn’t appropriate at that moment, and the Torah seems to rebuke them for it. The Torah implies that the dignitaries could have been wiped out at that moment, but Hashem had compassion and spared them. One explanation is that this was to not ruin the celebratory event of the giving of the Torah[3]. Instead, the dignitaries were later punished with death when they complained unjustifiably[4].

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Vayeitzei 5781


Productive sleep[1]

ויפגע במקום וילן שם וגו’ ויחלם והנה סלם מצב ארצה וראשו מגיע השמימה והנה מלאכי אלקים עלים וירדים בו: וייקץ יעקב משנתו וגו’‏‏
[Yaakov] arrived at that place and slept there…He dreamt and behold! A ladder stood in the ground whose top reached the Heavens, and behold Angels of G-d were going up and down on it…Then Yaakov woke from his sleep…[2]

On Yaakov’s journey towards his uncle Lavan, as a safe haven from the wicked Eisav, he took a stop at Mount Moriah. There, he napped, and dreamed the famous prophetic dream about Angels going up and down a ladder. The Torah tells us that he woke up from his sleep, and he continued on his journey. Our Sages however[3] read the verse homiletically. Instead of reading the word as משנתו, from his sleep, we can read it as ממשנתו, from his learning. Meaning, Yaakov woke up from his learning. Besides being a cute play on words, what does this even mean? What are we to learn from this alternate reading of the verse[4]?

Our Sages exhort us[5] that all of our actions should be for the sake of Heaven. What this means[6] is that when a person goes about their day-to-day activities, eating, drinking, conducting business, and even sleeping, it should all be for one purpose: to give us the strength and ability to serve Hashem and learn His Torah. If someone does this, even while they are doing seemingly mundane tasks, they are fulfilling countless mitzvos. Someone who is sleeping isn’t always regarded as ignoring their studies. On the contrary, if their intent is to allow them to study further, the sleeping is regarded as actually learning!

This was Yaakov’s intent with his break on his journey. He had been learning Torah the entire way[7], and took a break to get some rest. His intent was to build his strength so he could continue learning and reach his destination. He had no interest in the personal pleasure that sleep provides. Since he slept for the sake of Heaven, he merited to his prophetic dream. The verse then isn’t merely telling us that Yaakov woke up from his sleep. That would imply it was the regular sleep of most people, for their own personal pleasure. Rather, it was sleep for the sake of learning and connecting to Hashem. Something all of us can strive for as well[8].

Good Shabbos

[1] Based on Kesav Sofer to Genesis 28:16

[2] Genesis 28:11,12,16

[3] Bereishis Rabbah 69:7, brought in Yalkut Shimoni Vayeitzei § 120

[4] Besides the Kesav Sofer’s interpretation, which follows, other suggestions include the Ba’al HaTurim to v. 16, who says that Yaakov would learn Torah in his dreams, Mattanas Kehunah ad. loc., who says that Yaakov’s prophetic dream counted as learning, and Radal ad. loc., who says it means that Yaakov fell asleep in the middle of learning. Meaning, he didn’t go to bed; he learned as long as he could until sleep overtook him. Torah Sheleimah ad. loc. § 117 also cites Sefer Chassidim HeChadash § 15, 285, which says that the Avos were beloved by Hashem because they never stopped for one moment from contemplating Torah day and night, and he cites this Midrash

[5] Avos 2:12

[6] Rambam’s Shemonah Perakim Chapter 5

[7] V. 18 says that Yaakov poured oil on the altar he had constructed. Where did he get this oil? Chazal tell us that Eliphaz, Eisav’s son, stole everything from Yaakov after he left his home (Rashi to ibid 29:11, quoting Bereishis Rabbasi p. 117. See also Sefer HaYashar Toldos § 10)! All Yaakov had was his walking staff. Paneach Raza to ibid 28:18 suggests that the staff was hollow, and Yaakov kept oil inside. He stored it so he could use it for fuel to learn Torah by light in the nighttime

[8] The Kesav Sofer uses this to explain the surprising gemarra Chullin 91b. There, it says that the Angels went up the ladder and saw Yaakov’s face embedded in Hashem’s Throne of Glory. They were very impressed. When they went back down the ladder, they saw Yaakov and wanted to attack him, but Hashem prevented them from doing so. Why would they want to attack him? They saw Yaakov sleeping; the same Yaakov that they saw on the Throne of Glory. They were shocked someone so holy would be wasting time sleeping (Cf. Torah Sheleimah ad. loc. § 76). Angels can’t read a person’s thoughts (Jeremiah 11:20, 17:10; Cf. Tosafos to Shabbos 12b s.v. שאין. However, see Maskil LeDovid to Genesis 18:2 s.v. וירא, cited by Gilyon HaShas ad. loc.). They didn’t realize his intentions were for the sake of Heaven. Hashem, who knew Yaakov’s true intent, protected him from the Angels wrath

Shevii shel Pesach 5780


A sense of gratitude[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? Chazal teach us that it was the coffin[6] of Yosef[7]. Why would the coffin of Yosef be the reason the sea split?

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Mishpatim / Shekalim 5780


The merciful Judge[1]

ואלה המשפטים אשר תשים לפניהם
These are the laws that you shall place before them[2]

This week’s parsha contains many different types of laws, ranging from monetary to ritual. The monetary laws are primarily directed towards the Jewish judges, known as dayanim. These dayanim are to follow the Torah’s rules and considerations in order to rule properly. Chazal teach us[3] that any dayan that judges a case properly and rules correctly becomes a partner in creation. What exactly is this referring to? How it is possible to be a partner with Hashem, so-to-speak?

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Korach 5779


Keeping our loved one in mind[1]

ויקח קרח וגו’ ודתן ואבירם וגו’ ואון וגו’ ויקמו לפני משה ואנשים מבני-ישראל חמשים ומאתים וגו’‏
Korach took [his tallis][2] …and Dasan and Aviram…and Ohn…they and two-hundred and fifty men from the Jewish people confronted Moshe…[3]

This week’s parsha details the rebellion of Korach. He challenged the leadership of Moshe and Aharon, convincing a group of the greatest sages of Israel to join his cause. To kick off his rebellion, he took a tallis which was entirely dyed techeiles[4], a blueish color. Normally, only some of the tzitzis strings need to be dyed techeiles[5], but not the garment itself. He had two-hundred and fifty of his men wear[6] a similar garment in front of Moshe[7]. Korach asked Moshe: “This tallis, whose material is entirely colored techeiles, does it require tzitzis”? Moshe responded: “It does”. Korach rejected this ruling, and argued that if just some strings of techeiles exempt the garment, having the entire garment be techeiles should be more than sufficient[8]. Therefore, there was no need for tzitzis in such a garment. Why did Korach specifically pick this topic to start his rebellion? As well, Korach wasn’t an ignoramus. He was an incredibly learned individual[9]. How then could he ever think that such a tallis would be exempt from tzitzis?

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Terumah 5779


The most desired form of service[1]

ככל אשר אני מראה אותך את תבנית המשכן ואת תבנית כל-כליו וכן תעשו
[Construct] as I have shown you, [i.e.] the form of the Mishkan and the form of all of its vessels, and so shall you do[2]

There’s a Midrash which brings[3] an interesting dispute: which verse contains the most all-encompassing mitzvah in the Torah? Ben Zoma feels it’s the famous verse Shema Yisroel, “Hear, O Israel!”[4]. It’s a declaration of a Jews’ faith in Hashem, and their dedication to follow His mitzvos. Ben Nanas disagrees, and says that the mitzvah of loving your neighbor as yourself[5] is more inclusive. Shimon ben Pazi brings an unexpected verse to show his opinion: Prepare one lamb in the morning, and the second lamb in the afternoon[6]. This verse refers to the twice daily tamid offering in the Temple. He somehow sees this verse as being more all-encompassing than the other two. Rabbi Ploni is described as having stood on his feet, declaring that the halacha is like Shimon Ben Pazi. He proves it from a verse in this week’s parsha: [Construct] as I have shown you, [i.e.] the form of the Mishkan and the form of all of its vessels, and so shall you do[7]. This is a very perplexing Midrash, which begs to be expounded.

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