Honey and leaven; the golden rule
כל-המנחה אשר תקריבו ליקוק לא תעשה חמץ כי כל-שאר וכל-דבש לא-תקטירו ממנו אשה ליקוק: קרבן ראשית תקריבו אתם ליקוק וגו’
All flour offerings that you bring to Hashem should not become leaven. For all leavening and honey shall not be burned on the altar as a fire for Hashem. [However], you shall bring [from] them [for] first offerings
The Rambam teaches us what’s become known as his golden rule. Extremes are never good. A person should always act in a balanced way, neither leaning to one extreme or the other. Arrogance is abhorrent, but a lack of self-worth can lead to depression. Someone who gives things away uncontrollably is unstable, yet someone stingy is looked down upon. A healthy balance is key. The Rambam suggests that if someone is leaning to one extreme, they should act in the other extreme, in order to end up somewhere in the middle.
Continue reading “Vayikra 5783”
Kindling traits of passion
לא-תבערו אש בכל משבתיכם ביום השבת
Do not kindle a flame on the Sabbath day in any of your dwelling places
Of all of the 39 forbidden categories of creative activities which are forbidden on Shabbos, the Torah finds the need to specify one of them. It says that it is forbidden to kindle a flame. Why was this activity singled out? Rashi brings that it’s a dispute amongst our sages. One opinion is that it’s to teach us that kindling a fire is for whatever reason considered a lower-level prohibition in comparison to the other forbidden creative activities. It gets downgraded to a regular transgression. The other opinion says it’s to teach us that even someone who performed one creative labor has desecrated Shabbos, as opposed to thinking it takes performing all of them to be guilty. This latter opinion still requires analysis. If this is the intent of the Torah, why was specifically the activity of kindling a flame chosen to teach this lesson? Seemingly the Torah could have chosen any other of the 38 forbidden activities.
Continue reading “Vayakhel/Pekudei 5783”
To be satisfied with one’s lot
כל מפרסת פרסה ושסעת שסע פרסת מעלת גרה בבהמה אתה תאכלו
All domesticated animals which have completely split hooves, and that chew their cud, those you shall eat
The Torah gives us two signs for domesticated animals to determine their kosher status. Only if they have מפרסת פרסה ושסעת שסע פרסות, completely split hooves, and are מעלה גרה, that they chew their cud. The Torah lists four animals that have one of these two signs, but not both. The גמל, the camel, the שפן, the hyrax, and the ארנבת, the hare, are all מעלה גרה, but don’t have completely split hooves. In contrast, the חזיר, the pig, has split hooves (just like a cow). However, it does not chew its cud. This is for domesticated animals.
Continue reading “Shemini 5781”
Respect for the past, acclimating to the future
דברו אל-בני ישראל לאמר זאת החיה אשר תאכלו מכל-הבהמה אשר על-הארץ: כל מפרסת פרסת ושסעת שסע פרסת מעלת גרה בבהמה אתה תאכלו: אך את-זה לא תאכלו ממעלי הגרה וממפריסי הפרסה את-הגמל כי-מעלה גרה הוא ופרסה איננו מפריס וגו’ ואת-החזיר כי-מפריס פרסה הוא ושסע שסע פרסה והוא גרה לא-יגר טמא הוא לכם
Speak to the Children of Israel, saying: “These are the animals that you shall eat, from all the animals on the Earth: Any animal with completely split hooves, which chews its cud, you shall eat. However, these you shall not eat from those that chew their cud and have split hooves: The camel, although it chews its cud, its hooves aren’t [completely] split…And the pig, although its hooves are completely split, it doesn’t chew its cud. It is impure to you”
The basic laws of kosher animals are introduced in this parsha. The rules are simple: animals with the Torah’s two kosher signs are permissible to eat. They need to have their hooves be completely split and chew their cud. If the animal has only one of these signs, like a camel or a pig, and for sure if it has neither of these signs, like a horse or a lion, then it is not kosher. However, sheep, lambs, cows, and deer, have both signs. These are permissible animals to eat.
Continue reading “Shemini 5780”
Rebuking the impetuous
ראובן בכורי אתה כחי וראשית אוני יתר שאת ויתר עז: פחז כמים אל-תותר כי עלית משכבי אביך אז חללת יצועי עלה
Reuven, you are my firstborn, my strength, the first of my vigor. [Potentially] exceeding in position and exceeding in might. Hasty as water, you will not exceed, since you went up on your father’s bed. Then you profaned that which went upon my couch
As Yaakov’s life was ending, he took the opportunity to give his children their final blessings. While accenting their unique traits, he also informed them of their shortcomings. He started with his firstborn Reuven by rebuking him for an incident that had happened decades earlier. When Yaakov’s wife Rochel died, he moved his bed into Rochel’s maidservant Bilhah’s tent. Reuven felt this was an affront to his mother Leah, who should have become Yaakov’s primary wife. Reuven audaciously moved his father’s bed out of Bilhah’s tent and put it into Leah’s. At the time, Yaakov said nothing. Now that Yaakov’s life was ending, it was now or never to rebuke Reuven.
Continue reading “Vayechi 5780”
Returning what was lost
לא-תראה את-שור אחיך או את-שיו נדחים והתעלמת מהם השב תשיבם לאחיך
Do not see your brother’s ox or his sheep straying and hide yourself from them; [rather] you shall surely return them to your brother
This week’s parsha contains more mitzvos than any other. One of them is a classic case where the Torah’s concern for interpersonal relationships is demonstrated. We are commanded to return lost objects to our friend. If we see that their possession was dropped, we have to make our best efforts to get it back into their hand. There are those that suggest that if we are commanded to be concerned for another’s monetary objects, all the more so we should be concerned for their souls. However, as with everything in Torah, there are many layers of meaning. Some want to suggest that the verse itself is referring to a concern for another’s spiritual welfare.
Continue reading “Ki Seitzei 5779”
Two forms of scholarship
ובני קרח לא מתו
The sons of Korach didn’t die
This week’s parsha contains yet another census. The Torah lists all the different families by tribe, and states their total numbers. While detailing the families in the tribe of Levi, the family of Korach, who started a failed rebellion against Moshe, is mentioned. The Torah wanted to emphasize that although Korach’s children were part of his rebellion, they did not perish like their father did. Rather, they repented at the last moment, saving their lives. The gemarra relates that when their lives were spared, the children of Korach sang a song of praise to Hashem. What song did they choose to sing?
Continue reading “Pinchas 5779”
The paths of two greats
אלה שמות האנשים אשר-שלח משה לתור את-הארץ ויקרא משה להושע בן-נון יהושע
These are the names of the men who were sent by Moshe to scout out the land. Moshe called Hoshea the son of Nun: Yehoshua
When the Jews had almost arrived at the land of Israel, they had the idea to send spies to scout out the land. They wanted to know not only about the landscape, but about the inhabitants. Were they a conquerable force, or not? Twelve men, one for each tribe, were selected for the task. One of them was Moshe’s faithful student, Yehoshua. He was originally called Hoshea, but Moshe, as a form of prayer, added the letter yud to his name, making it Yehoshua. Moshe was concerned that the spies had evil intentions, and would falsely give a negative report. He therefore added a letter from G-d’s name to Yehoshua’s, pleading that Hashem should save Yehoshua from the council of the spies.
Continue reading “Shelach 5779”
The three pillars of a positive character
דבר אל-אהרן ואמרת אליו בהעלותך את-הנרת אל-מול פני המנורה יאירו שבעת הנרות: ויעש כן אהרן אל מול פני המנורה העלה נרתיה כאשר צוה יקוק את-משה
Speak to Aharon and say to him: When you ignite the lights, let them illuminate towards the center of the Menorah. Aharon did so; he ignited its lights towards the center of the Menorah, as Hashem commanded Moshe
This week’s parsha begins by discussing the Menorah, including its make and how it was lit. The Torah uses an unusual way to describe the lighting of the Menorah wicks: בהעלותך. Literally, with your raising up the lights. There are many things learned from this, but one of them is the fact that Aharon was instructed to construct a three-step block of stone in front of the Menorah. Meaning, the verse is telling Aharon and his descendants to “go up” to light the Menorah, using these steps. The next verse teaches us that Aharon properly constructed these steps. We could say that this was a practical necessity, in order to reach the top of the Menorah. Why though were there specifically three steps? Also, was there any more significance to this steppingstone?
Continue reading “Beha’alosecha 5779”
The proper mode of conduct
וצוה הכהן ולקח למטהר שתי-צפרים חיות טהורות ועץ ארז ושני תולעת ואזב
The Kohen shall command [as follows]: he should take for the one seeking purification two live, kosher birds, a rod from a cedar tree, a thread of crimson wool, and hyssop
This week’s parsha, much like last week’s, deals mostly with the laws of tzara’as, most commonly translated as leprosy. While it may be a whitish skin condition, in reality it’s a totally unrelated spiritual malady with physical symptoms. Chazal tell us that someone who contracts tzara’as, known as a Metzora, usually committed a certain sin. One example is that of haughtiness. 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 impure, then he is. The opposite is also true.
Continue reading “Metzora 5779”