Shemini Atzeres / Simchas Torah 5781

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The prerequisite of unity[1]

בני, בבקשה מכם עכבו עמי עוד יום אחד. קשה עלי פרדתכם
My children, I implore of you to stay with Me one more day. It is difficult for me preidaschem[2]

Shemini Atzeres is an interesting festival. It follows the climax of the Days of Awe and Sukkos. Rosh Hashana we prayed and blew the shofar. Yom Kippur we fasted. Sukkos we lived in the sukkah and shook our four species. What’s the point of this final holiday? It doesn’t have any paraphernalia. It doesn’t seem to commemorate anything. What message we to take with us from this festival?

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Hoshana Rabbah 5781

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Love independent of deed[1]

ביום שביעי שהוא הושענא רבה נוהגים להרבות במזמורים כמו ביום טוב וכו’ ונוטלים ערבה ביום זה מלבד ערבה שבלולב
On the seventh day [of Sukkos], which is called Hoshana Rabbah, the custom is to increase in Psalms, like we do on a Yom Tov…and we take a willow branch on this day, besides the willow found in the four species[2]

The last day of Sukkos is one of the strangest days of prayer on the calendar. It is known as Hoshana Rabbah. On the one hand, it’s still Sukkos, so we shake the four species. Like the other days of Chol HaMoed, it’s like a weekday in that some creative work is permitted[3], and some even wear tefillin. However, it’s not like the other “weekdays” of Sukkos. We add extra prayers, those that are usually only said on Shabbos and Yom Tov. Tunes from the High Holidays are used. A lot of literature has been written on Hoshana Rabbah, likening it to Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.

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Sukkos #2 5781

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The fallen booth[1]

הרחמן הוא יקים לנו את סוכת דוד הנופלת[2]

May the Merciful One raise up for us the fallen[3] sukkah of King David[4]

Sukkos is a time for rejoicing. It’s one of the happiest festivals of the year. We cite Hallel. We encircle the bima with our Lulav and Esrog. We recite extra prayers. One such extra prayer is found at the end of Birkas HaMazon. In the prayer, we ask Hashem to restore the fallen sukkah of King David. This prayer is based off of a verse in Amos[5], which says that on that day, presumably when the Moshiach shall appear, Hashem will raise up the fallen sukkah of King David. I understand we mention this prayer this time of year because it says the word sukkah, but what is it referring to? What sukkah of King David was there, and how did it fall? What does it mean that we ask Hashem to raise it up again?

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Nasso 5780

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The value of shalom[1]

וכתב את-האלת האלה הכהן בספר ומחה אל-מי המרים
The Kohen shall write these curses on parchment, and blot it out in the bitter waters[2]

The Torah describes what’s known as the Sotah ritual. If a married woman, due to her immoral behavior, becomes a presumed adulteress[3], her and her husband cannot live together until the matter is confirmed. If she indeed committed adultery, they have to divorce. If she is in fact innocent, they can resume married life as normal. How can they clear up this scandal? The Torah provides a unique avenue for her to prove her innocence. The woman, now known as a Sotah, is taken to the Temple. Various rituals are performed, and offerings brought. This includes writing down on a piece of parchment a set of curses which are to fall on her if she is guilty. This parchment contains instances of the name of Hashem. It is then placed in a cup of bitter water, the writing dissolves, and she is to drink it. Miraculously, after the ceremony, it became clear to everyone if she is innocent or not.

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Tazria / Metzora 5780

5780 28 Tazria Metzora

The proper precedence[1]

…אשה כי תזריע וילדה זכר וטמאה שבעת ימים וגו’‏
…when a woman gives birth to a boy, she shall be spiritually impure for seven days…[2]

At the end of the previous parsha[3], there were many details related to the spiritual impurity imparted by animals. This week’s parsha begins a long series of laws related to the spiritual purity and impurity of humans. Seemingly, the order is backwards. Since mankind is the principle player in the Torah, shouldn’t their laws come first? That which is primary takes precedence over what is secondary. Why then are the laws of animals taught first? Rashi addresses this[4], by reminding us that in the Torah’s description of creation, first the animals were created[5], and only then mankind[6]. Just like the animals preceded Man during creation, their laws of impurity are taught first.

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Sheva Berachos #7 – Adam

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The Week of Sheva Berachos, Day #7 – Adam[1]

א”ר אלעזר כל אדם שאין לו אשה אינו אדם שנאמר זכר ונקבה בראם ויקרא את שמם אדם
Rabbi Elazar said: Any man who doesn’t have a wife isn’t a complete man, as it is written[2]: “Man and Woman he created them, and he called their name Adam”[3]

As part of the Jewish wedding ceremony[4], seven blessings known as sheva berachos are recited under the chuppah. As well, our Sages tell us[5] that once a couple gets married, they are to spend the first week of their marriage rejoicing. During these seven days, the sheva berachos are again recited, at the end of a festive meal. Some say[6] that these seven blessings correlate to the seven things[7] that a man acquires[8] when he gets married. Our Sages inform us[9] that until a man gets married, he doesn’t have joy, blessing, goodness, Torah, fortification, peace, nor is he a complete Man[10]. As such, it would be appropriate during this week to elaborate on each of these seven qualities, and how they relate to marriage.

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Sheva Berachos #6 – Shalom

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The Week of Sheva Berachos, Day #6 – Shalom[1]

רבא בר עולא אמר בלא שלום דכתיב וידעת כי שלום אהלך וגו’‏
Rava the son of Ulah said: “[Any man who doesn’t have a wife lives] without peace, as it is written[2]: “And you shall know that your tent will be one of peace…”[3]

As part of the Jewish wedding ceremony[4], seven blessings known as sheva berachos are recited under the chuppah. As well, our Sages tell us[5] that once a couple gets married, they are to spend the first week of their marriage rejoicing. During these seven days, the sheva berachos are again recited, at the end of a festive meal. Some say[6] that these seven blessings correlate to the seven things[7] that a man acquires[8] when he gets married. Our Sages inform us[9] that until a man gets married, he doesn’t have joy, blessing, goodness, Torah, fortification, peace, nor is he a complete Man[10]. As such, it would be appropriate during this week to elaborate on each of these seven qualities, and how they relate to marriage.

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Sheva Berachos #2 – Beracha

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The Week of Sheva Berachos, Day #2 – Beracha[1]

אמר רבי תנחום א”ר חנילאי כל אדם שאין לו אשה שרוי…בלא ברכה…דכתיב להניח ברכה אל ביתך
Rabbi Tanchum said in the name of Rabbi Chanilai: Any man who doesn’t have a wife lives…without beracha…as it is written[2]: “To leave beracha towards your house”[3]

As part of the Jewish wedding ceremony[4], seven blessings known as sheva berachos are recited under the chuppah. As well, our Sages tell us[5] that once a couple gets married, they are to spend the first week of their marriage rejoicing. During these seven days, the sheva berachos are again recited, at the end of a festive meal. Some say[6] that these seven blessings correlate to the seven things[7] that a man acquires[8] when he gets married. Our Sages inform us[9] that until a man gets married, he doesn’t have joy, blessing, goodness, Torah, fortification, peace, nor is he a complete Man[10]. As such, it would be appropriate during this week to elaborate on each of these seven qualities, and how they relate to marriage.

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The Three Weeks 5778

The King’s chain[1]

ושב יקוק אלקיך את-שבותך ורחמך ושב וקבצך מכל-העמים אשר הפיצך יקוק אלקיך שמה
Hashem will return with your captives and will have mercy on you. He will return and gather you in from all the nations from which Hashem your G-d scattered you to[2]

The Rabbis teach us[3] that Hashem attached His name to our nation’s name of Yisroel[4]. The last two letters of ישראל are “El”, which means G-d. What was the purpose of this? It’s similar to a King, who has a key to a small palace[5]. The King realized that if the key remained as it was, it would surely become lost. He therefore attached a chain to it, such that if it got lost, it would easily be recovered[6]. So too Hashem, who said that if He left the Jews as they were, they would surely become lost among the nations. He therefore attached His name to theirs. This teaches that this world is really the palace of the King[7], and the Jews are the key to that palace. If there were no Jews, it would be as if the palace was sealed off[8]. If the palace was closed, it would no longer serve any purpose. It couldn’t even be referred to as a house, as it would have no entrance. So too if there were no Jews, the world would serve no purpose.

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Korach 5778

Faulty logic and string theory[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. He had two-hundred and fifty of his men wear[5] a similar garment in front of Moshe[6]. Since a tallis with tzitzis requires some of its strings to be dyed techeiles[7], Korach asked Moshe: “This tallis, whose material is entirely colored techeiles, do some of its strings need to be dyed techeiles as well”? Moshe responded: “They do”. Korach rejected this ruling, and argued that if just some strings of techeiles fulfill the requirement, having the entire garment be techeiles should be more than sufficient[8]. How did Korach think Moshe would respond? If Korach felt that the tallis was exempt from techeiles strings, maybe Moshe would agree, and there would be no conflict. And if despite the argument to exempt, Korach had some counterargument, maybe Moshe would provide the same one[9]. As well, why did Korach specifically pick this topic to start his rebellion?

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