Vayikra 5781


A desire to give[1]

ואם-תקריב מנחת בכורים ליקוק וגו’‏
If you bring your first fruit offering to Hashem…[2]

There are three mitzvos in the Torah that start with the word אם, usually translated as “if”. ואם-מזבח אבנים תעשה-לי, the mitzvah to build an altar[3]. אם כסף תלוה, the mitzvah to lend money, and more generally the mitzvah of tzedakah[4]. Finally, a verse in this week’s parsha, אם תקריב מנחת בכורים, the mitzvah to bring bikkurim, one’s first fruits as an offering in the Temple[5]. If אם is translated as “if”, these verses are saying: “if you build an altar”, “if you give tzedakah”, “if you bring the offering”. Rashi assures us[6] that these are not voluntary mitzvos, but rather bona fide commands. Why then are they expressed in an optional way?

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Tzav 5780


Elevation with ash removal[1]

צו את-אהרן ואת-בניו לאמר זאת תורה העלה היא העלה וגו’ ואש המזבח תוקד בו: ולבש הכהן וגו’ והרים את-הדשן וגו’ והאש על-המזבח תוקד-בו וגו’‏
Command Aharon and his sons, saying: “This is the law of the Olah offering. It is the Olah…the fire of the altar should be ignited by it. The Kohen will adorn…he will lift the ash [off the alter]…The fire on the altar shall remain burning…[2]

The Olah offering is one of the many kinds of offerings in the Temple. It’s called an Olah offering because of what makes it unique. It’s entirely consumed by the altar fire. No person is permitted to eat from its flesh. Olah means elevation, as the offering is considered to entirely elevate towards Heaven. The Torah states that it is about to detail the laws of the Olah offering, and then proceeds to discuss something else entirely. There’s a mitzvah for the Kohen to scoop up the ash from the altar once a day and place it on the side of the altar. This is known as terumas hadeshen. There’s also a mitzvah to put wood on the altar so the fire doesn’t extinguish. Instead of the Torah describing the laws of the Olah[3], it details these two mitzvos. Why then does it give this seemingly misleading introduction?

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Vayikra 5780


The delightful smell of improvement[1]

‏…עולה אשה ריח ניחוח
…an elevated fire offering, a pleasant smell[2]

As we begin the book of Leviticus, it’s worthwhile to investigate the deeper meaning behind Temple offerings. Throughout the Chumash, offerings are referred to as a ריח ניחוח, a pleasant smell[3]. These verses suggest that offerings are something positive, something to be encouraged[4]. However, we find verses in the later prophets that discourage offerings. Hashem tells the people: “For what purpose do I need your abundant offerings?”[5]. Hashem sounds like He isn’t interested in us bringing offerings. What changed[6]?

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Vayikra / Zachor 5779


Developing love for Hashem[1]

דבר אל-בני ישראל ואמרת אלהם אדם כי-יקריב מכם קרבן ליקוק וגו’‏
Speak to the Children of Israel and say to them: “A person, when they [want to] bring an offering to Hashem…”[2]

We find many mitzvos that aren’t outright obligations. Instead, the Torah left it up to the volunteering of the individual. For example, with the donations to the Mishkan, the Torah specified[3] for each person to give as much as they wanted. We also see this by voluntary offerings, such as with the Olah (elevation), Shelamim (peace), or Menachos (flour) offerings. There’s no absolute obligation to bring these offerings, but they’re available for those who want to take advantage. How much terumah a person wants to give to the Kohen is essentially their choice. These types of mitzvos require clarification. If they are part of our Divine service, why weren’t their performance made obligatory, and their quality and quantity well-defined? If they are not part of our Divine service, why are they even taught in the Torah?

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Tetzaveh 5779


The unnecessary lights[1]

ואתה תצוה את-בני ישראל ויקחו אליך שמן זית זך כתית למאור להעלות נר תמיד: באהל מעוד מחוץ לפרכת וגו’ חקת עולם לדרתם מאת בני ישראל
You shall command the Children of Israel, that they should take to you highly purified, crushed oil for illumination, to ignite a constant flame. [It will be] in the Tent of Meeting, outside the Paroches curtain…an everlasting decree for their generations, from the Children of Israel[2]

The parsha begins with the mitzvah of lighting the Menorah in the Temple. This command seems highly out of place. It would have belonged nicely after the Mishkan was erected in its place, and not to be sandwiched between the parsha of the Temple vessels and the parsha of the Kohanic garments. Why was it placed here? As well, there’s a different parsha later[3] in the Torah dedicated to the mitzvah of lighting the Menorah. These verses in our parsha would have belonged better there. Finally, the end of the verse appears unnecessary. It could have simply ended by saying that the Menorah is an everlasting decree for their generations. What do the words, “from the Children of Israel”, add to our understanding?

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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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