Shemos 5784

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Everlasting faith[1]

ויאמר יקוק אל-משה הנה אנכי בא אליך בעב הענן בעבור ישמע העם בדברי עמך וגם-בך יאמינו לעולם וגו’‏
Hashem said to Moshe: “Behold, I come to you in the thickness of the cloud, in order for the people to hear My speaking to You. And they’ll also believe in you forever…[2]

Sefer Shemos, the book of Exodus, introduces us to Moshe, our Teacher, the one who gave us the Torah. It behooves us to understand the uniqueness of Moshe, in relation to other prophets throughout our history.

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Terumah 5782

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Permanent poles and constant candles[1]

בטבעת הארן יהיו הבדים לא יסרו ממנו
The poles shall remain in the rings of the Aron; they shall not be removed from it[2]

The Mishkan, also known as the Tabernacle, was the Jews’ portable Temple in the wilderness. When they encamped, they would construct it according to the Divine architecture given over by Moshe. When they would travel, they would pack everything up. Many of the vessels in this portable Temple had poles to allow easy transportation. Designated families of the Leviim would be tasked with carrying these vessels on their shoulders via these poles.

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Chukas 5781

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Subtle differences[1]

וירם משה את-ידו ויך את-הסלע במטהו פעמים ויצאו מים רבים ותשת העדה ובעירם
Moshe raised his hand and struck the rock twice with his staff. A lot of water came out and quenched the thirst of the congregation and their animals[2]

The episode of Mei Merivah is one of the more famous episodes in the Torah, and one of the most difficult to understand. The whole story is only a few verses long, and describes the Jews’ thirst for water, Hashem commanding Moshe to speak to a rock, and Moshe’s sin of instead hitting this rock. The commentators struggle[3] to understand what exactly he did wrong. Despite Moshe’s sin, the people got the water they requested. Hashem miraculously brought forth water from a rock, just because Moshe hit it. The verse says that a lot of water came out. This extra benefit would seem to be something positive, but perhaps there’s more to this miracle than meets the eye.

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Eikev 5780

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Who does good and causes others to do good[1]

ואכלת ושבעת וברכת את-יקוק אלקיך על-הארץ הטבה אשר נתן-לך
You shall eat and be satiated, and [then] bless Hashem, your G-d, for the good land which He has given you[2]

The often-occurring mitzvah of Birkas HaMazon, known colloquially as bentsching, finds its source in the above verse. We are taught[3] that the first three blessings of the four-part bentsching are of biblical origin: to thank Hashem for the nourishment, to thank Hashem for the land, and to thank Hashem for Jerusalem. This is opposed to the final blessing, known as HaTov VeHaMeitiv, literally “the Good and Who causes others to do good”, which is Rabbinic. Why did the Sages enact this extra blessing? They teach us[4] that the reason is in commemoration of the destruction of the city of Beitar.

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Chukas / Balak 5780

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Just passing through[1]

נעברה-נא בארצך לא נעבר בשדה ובכרם ולא נשתה מי באר דרך המלך נלך לא נטה ימין ושמאול עד אשר-נעבר גבולך: ויאמר אליו אדום לא תעבר בי פן-בחרב אצא לקראתך
Please[2], let us pass through your land. We will not pass through field or vineyard. We will not drink the water from [our] well. [Rather], we shall walk through the path of the king[3]. We will not veer right or left until we’ve passed through your border. Edom said to him: “You shall not pass through my land, lest I encounter you with the sword”[4]

After almost forty years of traveling through the wilderness, the Jewish people finally received permission to enter the land of Israel. As they approached its borders, they encountered the land of Edom, their cousins and enemies. Edom, the nation of Yaakov’s brother Eisav, bore the same jealousy and hatred[5] towards the Jews that their ancestor had towards his brother. The Jews requested permission to pass through the land. They promised not to tread through Edom’s fields and vineyards, and to purchase food and drink from the populace[6]. Their request for permission was denied. Seemingly, the Jews were promising that their passing through the land would not only not be damaging, but even profitable. As well, the nation of Edom seemingly denied entry as they predicted their emotions would lead to fighting and bloodshed. However, is there another way to understand this exchange?

In Jewish law, land can be acquired in three ways: with money, a sale deed, or what is known as chazakah[7]. The first two are clear, but what is chazakah? Essentially, it’s an act by the purchaser which expresses ownership. For example, building a fence around a field[8]. Only the owner would do that. If this act of chazakah was done with the owner’s permission, with the intent to transfer ownership, the land now belongs to the person who performed the chazakah. There are other methods of chazakah, and some of them are subject to a dispute.

What if the purchaser simply walked across the length and width of the land? Perhaps the purchaser is showing ownership over the area that they traversed. This method of chazakah is a matter of dispute[9]. Rabbi Eliezer says that it works, and the Sages disagree. What is the reasoning of Rabbi Eliezer? The gemarra says that he learned it from Avraham. Hashem told Avraham that he would acquire the land of Israel, and that he should walk across its length and width[10]. You see then that this is a method of acquisition.

The Sages reject this source, as that command wasn’t about acquisition. Rather, they say it showed how dear Avraham was to Hashem, as this traversing of the land would make it easier for his descendants to conquer it. How was this so? By traversing the land, it would make his future descendants look like they were inheriting it from him, rather than appearing like they were stealing from the inhabitants. If the latter were the case, there would have been room for heavenly forces to influence their defeat[11]. However, the gemarra clarifies that the Sages agree to Rabbi Eliezer in the case of a path that goes through a vineyard. Since that path is exclusively made for traversing, by doing so it effects ownership[12].

With those laws in mind, subtext in the exchange between the Jewish people and the nation of Edom becomes more apparent. Geographically, the land of Edom is part of the lands of the ten nations which were promised to Avraham’s descendants[13]. As such, Edom was concerned that the Jews’ intent in passing through the land was in order to effect an acquisition of it. To alleviate this concern, the Jews said they wouldn’t pass through any field or vineyard. This was to include even the paths of the vineyards, which do in fact effect ownership. They would only walk through the regular paths that the king would allow[14], which according to the Sages wouldn’t be a valid chazakah[15].

How did the nation of Edom respond? They said they will not grant passage, lest they encounter the Jews with the sword. At first glance, this seems like an admission that as the Jews pass through, the Edomites will inevitably wage war, causing bloodshed. However, according to this gemarra about Avraham, there could be a different intent. Perhaps Edom was saying that in the future, not now, they might need or want to wage war against the Jews. However, if Edom allowed the Jews to pass through their land, this would be to their disadvantage. Just like Avraham traversed the land of Israel, making it easier for his children to conquer the land, so too the descendants of this generation. If the Jews passed through the land of Edom, it would enable their own descendants’ victory in future battles against Edom. This is why Edom refused any passage whatsoever, forcing the Jews to take another course.

Good Shabbos

[1] Based on Meshech Chochmah to Numbers 20:17,18

[2] Cf. Targum Onkelos ad. loc., who as usual translates נא as כאן, now

[3] Contrary to the implication of the popular Yaakov Shwekey song, the simple reading of the verse tells us that the path of the king refers to the king of Edom, not to Hashem. However, there are some chassidishe sources which also read the verse to be referring to the path of Hashem, such as Likkutei Moharan 20:10, Sefas Emes to Numbers 20:14 from the year 5639, Agra DeKala ad. loc., Be’er Mayim Chaim to Genesis 3:24

[4] Numbers 20:17,18

[5] See Sifrei Bamidbar § 69, brought by Rashi to Genesis 33:4: הלכה היא בידוע שעשו שונא ליעקב. It’s probably more accurately הלא בידוע, as demonstrated by Yalkut Shimoni Beha’alosecha § 722. Although, one could argue that that aphorism is specifically referring to Eisav and Yaakov, and not their descendants

[6] Rashi to v. 17

[7] Kiddushin 1:5

[8] Bava Basra 3:3

[9] Ibid 100a

[10] Genesis 13:17

[11] Rashbam ad. loc. See Pesach Einayim ad. loc.

[12] See Rashbam and Ramban ad. loc.

[13] Genesis 15:18-21 with Rashi and Bava Basra 56a with Rashbam s.v. כל שהראהו

[14] Lekach Tov to Numbers 20:17

[15] See Tosafos to Bava Basra loc. cit.

Ki Sisa 5780

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Invader assurances[1]

שלש פעמים בשנה יראה כל-זכורך את-פני האדן יקוק וגו’ ולא-יחמד איש את-ארצך בעלתך לראות וגו’‏
Three times a year, all of your men shall be seen by the countenance of the L-rd, Hashem…no man will covet your land when you go up to be seen[2]

One of the mitzvos of the Torah is known as aliya leregel[3]. Three times a year, there’s a mitzvah for all men to make a pilgrimage to the Temple. These three times occur on Passover, Shavuos, and Sukkos. By appearing in the Temple, the Jewish men are so-to-speak being “seen” by G-d. One could be nervous keeping such a mitzvah. If all the men converge towards Jerusalem, who will guard the borders? Who will protect their homes from invasion? To curb these concerns, the Torah promises us that at the times of the pilgrimage, no one will covet our land. There will be no need to fear foreign invasions.

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Yisro 5780

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The Fourteen Commandments[1]

לא-יהיה לך אלהים אחרים על פני: לא-תעשה לך פסל וכל-תמונה אשר בשמים ממעל ואשר בארץ מתחת ואשר במים מתחת לארץ: לא-תשתחוה להם ולא תעבדם כי אנכי יקוק אלקיך קל קנא פקד עון אבת על-בנים על-שלשים ועל-רבעים לשנאי: ועשה חסד לאלפים לאהבי ולשמרי מצותי
You shall not have other gods before Me. Do not make for yourselves any image that is in the sky from above, that is on the earth from below, and that is in the water below the earth. Don’t prostate before them nor serve them, for I am Hashem your G-d, a zealous G-d, who holds for My enemies the iniquity of the fathers on the children, for three and four generations. And who performs loving-kindness for a thousand [generations] for those who love Me and fulfill My commandments[2]

This week’s parsha contains the epic revelation at Mount Sinai. Millions of Jews gathered to meet the G-d who took them out of Egypt in order to make them His nation. As part of this grand revelation, Hashem taught the Jews what is today known as the Ten Commandments. These commandments are essentially ten umbrella mitzvos in which you can categorize all the 613 mitzvos[3]. Classically, in Rabbinical literature they’re referred to as the Ten Statements, or Ten Utterances. Each statement is its own idea, and the statements are separated in a sefer Torah by a noticeable space.

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VeZos HaBeracha 5780

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The rejected gift[1]

ויאמר יקוק מסיני בא וזרח משעיר למו הופיע מהר פארן וגו’‏
He said: “Hashem came from Sinai, shined forth from [Mount] Seir; He appeared from Mount Paran…”[2]

In the last parsha in the Torah, Moshe gave each of the tribes a final blessing. Before these blessings, he describes the Torah itself and how the Jews accepted it. It says that Hashem “came” from Mount Sinai, having “shined forth” from Mount Seir and “appearing” from Mount Paran. We’ve all heard of Mount Sinai. That is where the Torah was given to the Jews, who gladly accepted it. What is Mount Seir and Mount Paran referring to? Mount Seir is usually associated with the descendants of Eisav[3], and Mount Paran is usually associated with the descendants Yishmael[4]. Picking up on this, the Midrash explains[5] the verse to be describing a historical backdrop to the accepting of the Torah.

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Vayechi 5779

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The weapon of prayer[1]

ואני נתתי לך שכם אחד על-אחיך אשר לקחתי מיד האמרי בחרבי ובקשתי

I have given you one portion[2] over your brothers, which I took from the Amorites[3] with my sword and my bow[4]

As Yaakov realized his time on this Earth was almost at an end, he had some final messages to share with his son Yosef. He was rewarding him with an extra portion in the land of Israel over his eleven brothers. Yaakov described his conquering this land using his sword and his bow. However, Targum Onkelos translates[5] the words “sword” and “bow” as בצלותי ובבעותי, my prayer and my supplication. What is the difference between prayer and supplication, and how are they implied by the words “sword” and “bow”?

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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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