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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Tazria / Metzora 5781

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The difference between a Metzora and a Kohen[1]

אדם וגו’ והיה בעור-בשרו לנגע צרעת והובא אל-אהרן הכהן או אל-אחד מבניו הכהנים: ויצא הכהן אל-מחוץ למחנה וראה הכהן והנה נרפא נגע-הצרעת מן-הצרוע
When a person…develops a tzara’as affliction on their skin, he shall be brought to Aharon the Kohen, or to one of his sons, the Kohanim… The Kohen shall go outside the camp and he shall see, and behold! The afflicted person’s tzara’as affliction has healed![2]

This week’s double parsha mostly deals with the laws of tzara’as, most commonly translated as leprosy. While being a whitish skin condition, in reality it’s a totally unrelated spiritual malady[3] with physical symptoms. Chazal tell us[4] that someone who contracts tzara’as, known as a Metzora[5], usually committed a certain sin[6]. One example is that of loshon hara, evil speech. As a result of his sin, he is infected with a disturbing skin condition, and has to have his status established by a Kohen. If the Kohen determines he is spiritually pure, then he is. The opposite is also true.

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Pesach 5781

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Fast of the firstborn[1]

הבכורות מתענין בערב פסח בין בכור מאב בין בכור מאם ויש מי שאומר שאפילו נקבה בכורה מתענה: (ואין המנהג כן)
The firstborns fast on the day before Pesach, whether they are the firstborn of their father or firstborn of their mother. Some say even firstborn women fast (Gloss: but this isn’t the custom)[2]

There’s an ancient custom[3] for the firstborn to fast on Erev Pesach, the day before Pesach. The common explanation[4] for this fast day is that it’s in commemoration of The Plague of the First Born. The last of the Ten Plagues, all the firstborn Egyptians died at midnight. All the firstborn of the Jews were miraculously saved, so every year right before Pesach the firstborn fast. This sounds like it’s due to the gratitude of the firstborns that they fast.

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Tetzaveh / Zachor 5780

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Meaningful clothing[1]

ואלה הבגדים אשר יעשו חשן ואפוד ומעיל וגו’ ועשית את-מעיל האפוד כליל תכלת: והיה פי-ראשו בתוכו שפה יהיה לפיו סביב מעשה ארג כפי תחרא יהיה-לו לא יקרע: פעמן זהב ורמון פעמן זהב ורמון על-שולי המעיל סביב: וגו’ ונשמע קולו בבאו אל-הקדש
These are the garments that you shall make: The Choshen, the Eiphod, the Me’il…You shall make the Me’il of the Eiphod completely [dyed] techeiles. Its head-opening will be within it. It shall have a lip sewed around it’s opening. It shall have like the opening of scale armor, [so that] it will not tear. [It should have] alternating golden bells and pomegranates on the bottom, going around…its sound will be heard as he enters the Holy[2]

This week’s parsha describes the manufacturing of the various garments that the Kohanim were to wear during the Temple Service. The gemarra explains[3] that each of these garments had some significant purpose, besides serving as a standard uniform for them to wear. Each garment atoned for a particular sin. We are taught that the Me’il, a techeiles-dyed tunic, atoned for the sin of improper speech. Can we find any allusion to this connection between these two seemingly unrelated things?

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Shoftim 5779

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Gifts of appreciation[1]

וזה יהיה משפט הכהנים מאת העם מאת זבחי הזבח אם-שור אם-שה ונתן לכהן הזרע והלחיים והקבה
This will be the law for the Kohanim: Those from the nation who slaughter a cow or a sheep will give to the Kohen the [animal’s] shoulder, cheeks, and stomach[2]

Hashem’s chosen family for the Temple service is the Kohanim, the descendants of Aharon. What comes with this responsibility is certain gifts. The rest of the nation are commanded to give some of the produce to Kohanim, as well as the choicest parts of their animals. The gemarra asks[3] a simple question: If a Kohen grabs away the gifts owed to them from the original owner, is that showing that they cherish the mitzvah? Or is that disrespectful to the mitzvah. The gemarra answers that the Torah says for the non-Kohen to give the animal parts to the Kohen, not that the Kohen should take it.

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Tzav 5778

The undisturbed student[1]

צו את-אהרן ואת-בניו לאמר זאת תורת העלה היא העלה על מוקדה על-המזבח כל-הלילה עד-הבקר ואש המזבח תוקד בו: ולבש הכהן מדו בד ומכנסי-בד ילבש על-בשרו והרים את-הדשן אשר תאכל האש את-העלה על-המזבח ושמו אצל המזבח
Command Aharon and his children, saying: “This is the law of the elevation offering. It is the elevation offering that remains[2] on the altar pyre[3] the entire night, until morning. The fire of the inner altar should be ignited from the outer one[4]. The Kohen will don his linen tunic and linen pants against his body. He will then raise up the ashes from the fire that consumed the elevation offering on the altar and place them next to the altar”[5]

This week’s parsha begins with a command to Aharon and his sons, the Kohanim. It is interesting to note that in the entire previous parsha, Aharon isn’t mentioned once[6]. Every command so far regarding the Temple offerings mentions only Aharon’s sons. For example, with regards to the elevation offering (which is the subject of our verse), the previous parsha said: “…the sons of Aharon, the Kohanim, will offer…”[7]. It later says: “The sons of Aharon will place a fire on the altar”[8]. Or with the flour offering, it says: “He will bring it to the sons of Aharon, the Kohanim…”[9]. Why is here where Aharon is specifically mentioned and not earlier?

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