Chayei Sarah 5780

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Inevitable choice[1]

ויאמר אברהם אל-עבדו זקן ביתו המשל בכל-אשר-לו וגו’‏
Avraham said to his servant, the elder of his household, the one in charge of all his belongings…[2]

A major part of this week’s parsha is Avraham sending his servant on a mission. He was to go to Avraham’s homeland to find a wife for his son Yitzchak. The Torah tells us few facts about Avraham’s servant, Eliezer[3]. He was the “elder” of Avraham’s household. He oversaw all of his belongings. He ensured everyone in Avraham’s camp had the food they needed[4]. We see his dedication to Avraham’s will from his alacrity to fulfill the mission. He didn’t take credit for anything and attributed his success in the mission to Hashem, solely in Avraham’s merit. Besides that, we don’t really know his background. How did he become the servant of Avraham?

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Noach 5780

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Children of good deeds[1]

אלה תולדות נח נח איש צדיק תמים היה בדרתיו את-האלקים התהלך-נח
These are the offspring of Noach – Noach was perfectly righteous in his generation; Noach walked with Hashem [2]

This week’s parsha begins by introducing Noach and his family. However, when the Torah starts to list Noach’s offspring, it immediately changes topic and sings his praises. The Torah tells us that Noach was perfectly righteous, and walked with G-d. Only afterwards[3] are his children’s names mentioned. Why did the Torah introduce these praises by saying “These are the offspring of Noach”? Rashi explains[4] that “the main offspring of the righteous are their good deeds”. Rashi didn’t fully explain himself. Why indeed are good deeds called “offspring”?

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Vayeilech 5780

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Childish matters[1]

הקהל את-העם ואנשים והנשים והטף וגרך אשר בשעריך למען ישמעו ולמען ילמדו ויראו את-יקוק אלקיכם ושמרו את-כל-דברי הורה הזאת: ובניהם אשר לא-ידעו ישמעו ולמדו ליראה את-יקוק אלקיכם כל-הימים אשר אתה חיים על-האדמה וגו’‏
Gather the nation, the men, the women, the taf, and the stranger in your gates. [This is] in order that you listen and in order that you learn and fear Hashem your G-d, and that you observe all the words of this Torah. And your children that don’t understand, they will hear and learn to fear Hashem your G-d, all the days that you are alive on the earth…[2]

One of the last mitzvos described in the Torah is the mitzvah known as Hakhel[3]. On the Sukkos following the Shemittah year[4], all Jews are commanded to come to the Temple[5] and hear the King read from the book of Deuteronomy[6]. The Torah says that this is so the people will learn to fear Hashem, and follow His commandments. The Torah stresses that all Jews are meant to be there, men, women, and children. The second verse clearly mentions children, and says they’re of an age where they don’t understand. The first verse, after mentioning men and women, says the “taf” are also meant to come. Who is this referring to?

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Balak 5779

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The repulsive idol and the lack of boundaries[1]

ויחל העם לזנות אל בנות מואב וגו’ וצמד ישראל לבעל פעור וגו’‏
The [Jewish] nation began[2] to commit lewd acts with the women of Moav…and the Jews clung to [the idol] Ba’al Peor[3]

At the end of this week’s parsha, the Jewish people hit a new low. They began to have illicit sexual relationships with women from the foreign nation of Moav, and they committed severe acts of idol worship. The Torah uses an unusual expression to describe their attitude towards the idol known as Ba’al Peor. It says וצמד, which is the verb form of the word which describes a tightly bound cover on a vessel[4]. This means that the Jews became tightly bound, or clung, to the idol Ba’al Peor. With some historical context, this is very hard to understand. The form of worship of this idol was one of the most repulsive things imaginable. The way to serve this idol was to eat and drink things which would cause diarrhea[5], and then to defecate on it[6]. How could the Jews be not only interested, but totally attached to such an idol?

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Behar 5779

The Mountain and the rested Land[1]

וידבר יקוק אל-משה בהר סיני לאמר: דבר אל-בני ישראל ואמרת אליהם כי תבואו אל הארץ אשר אני נותן לכם ושבתה הארץ שבת ליקוק
Hashem spoke to Moshe on Mount Sinai, saying: Speak to the Children of Israel, and say to them: When you arrive at the land which I give to you, the land shall rest, a Sabbath for Hashem[2]

This week’s parsha begins by introducing the mitzvah of shemittah, the Sabbatical year. Once every seven years the land of Israel is to lie fallow, and the fruits become ownerless. What’s unusual with this mitzvah is it’s introduced by specifying that Hashem spoke to Moshe on Mount Sinai. This specification isn’t done with any other mitzvah. What does shemittah have to do with Mount Sinai? Rashi says[3] to teach us that just like the general principles as well as the details of the mitzvah of shemittah were taught at Mount Sinai, the same is true for all mitzvos. However, this is only the opinion of Rabbi Akiva. Rabbi Yishmael holds that all other mitzvos had their general principles taught at Mount Sinai, and their details were taught at the Tent of Meeting[4] [5]. What then does he learn from the specification of Mount Sinai with the mitzvah of shemittah? As well, even according to Rabbi Akiva, why was shemittah chosen to specifically teach us this idea?

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Acharei Mos 5779

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The constant struggle[1]

ואל אשה בנדת טומאתה לא תקרב וגו’‏
Do not approach a woman in her impure state of niddah[2]

The gemarra relates[3] a conversation between a Sadducee[4], someone who rejected Rabbinic Judaism, and the Sages of his time. He asked Rav Kahana, how could a man and woman be trusted to be alone together when the wife is a niddah[5]? Once she has her period, she and her husband are forbidden to each other until she immerses in a mikveh at the right time. He asked is it possible for a fire to kindle and not burn?

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Tazria 5779

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Purifying our ways and ourselves[1]

דבר אל-בני ישראל לאמר אשה כי תזירע וילדה זכר וטמאה שבעת ימים כימי נדת דותה תטמא: וביום השמיני ימול בשר ערלתו: ושלשים יום ושלשת ימים תשב בדמי טהרה וגו’‏
Speak to the Children of Israel, saying: A woman who conceives and gives birth to a baby boy will be ritually impure for seven days; like the days of her monthly period she will be impure. On the eighth day [the baby’s] flesh shall be circumcised. For thirty-three days [the mother] shall remain in her state of purity…[2]

This week’s parsha deals with many types of ritual impurity. It begins by describing what happens when a woman gives birth to a baby boy. She becomes impure for a week, upon which she can then immerse in a mikveh, becoming pure again. Her baby has a bris milah on the eighth day. The Torah then says that for thirty-three days the woman has a presumed status of ritual purity. The Torah then proceeds to describe what happens when she gives birth to a baby girl. What’s unusual is the Torah mentions the mitzvah of bris milah here, of all places. It seemingly has no relevance to a parsha dealing with ritual purity. Why is this the place to put it? As well, why was this mitzvah sandwiched in between the verses describing the woman’s ritual purity status, interrupting the flow of the verses?

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Terumah 5779

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The most desired form of service[1]

ככל אשר אני מראה אותך את תבנית המשכן ואת תבנית כל-כליו וכן תעשו
[Construct] as I have shown you, [i.e.] the form of the Mishkan and the form of all of its vessels, and so shall you do[2]

There’s a Midrash which brings[3] an interesting dispute: which verse contains the most all-encompassing mitzvah in the Torah? Ben Zoma feels it’s the famous verse Shema Yisroel, “Hear, O Israel!”[4]. It’s a declaration of a Jews’ faith in Hashem, and their dedication to follow His mitzvos. Ben Nanas disagrees, and says that the mitzvah of loving your neighbor as yourself[5] is more inclusive. Shimon ben Pazi brings an unexpected verse to show his opinion: Prepare one lamb in the morning, and the second lamb in the afternoon[6]. This verse refers to the twice daily tamid offering in the Temple. He somehow sees this verse as being more all-encompassing than the other two. Rabbi Ploni is described as having stood on his feet, declaring that the halacha is like Shimon Ben Pazi. He proves it from a verse in this week’s parsha: [Construct] as I have shown you, [i.e.] the form of the Mishkan and the form of all of its vessels, and so shall you do[7]. This is a very perplexing Midrash, which begs to be expounded.

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Ki Savo 5778

Lively motivations[1]

לא-אכלתי באני ממנו ולא-בערתי ממנו בטמא ולא-נתתי ממנו למת וגו’‏
I did not eat of it during my intense mourning period, and I did not consume it in impurity, nor did I give of it to the deceased…[2]

The Torah obligates the separation and distribution of various types of tithes. Fruits and vegetables grown in the land of Israel are forbidden to be eaten until their various tithes are separated[3]. Some tithes are given to the Kohanim for consumption[4], some to the Leviim[5], and some to the poor[6]. One type of tithe is known as ma’aser sheni, the second tithe. It is for personal consumption, but only in Jerusalem[7]. Instead of transporting the heavy fruits to Jerusalem, a person can transfer the tithe status onto coins[8]. These coins are brought instead to Jerusalem, and used to purchase food and drink. These purchases are then consumed in Jerusalem. After[9] the third year of the seven-year agricultural cycle, everyone must remove all their remaining tithes which they have failed to donate or consume. There is subsequently a mitzvah to come to the Temple and perform vidui, confession[10]. The person proclaims that they have followed all the laws pertaining to tithes. They declare that they didn’t eat it at forbidden times. They state that neither they nor the food was impure when it was consumed. Finally, they say that they did not give of it to the deceased. What does this last confession mean?

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Ki Seitzei 5778

A mitzvah drags another mitzvah with it[1]

כי יקרא קן-צפור וגו’ והאם רבצת על-האפרחים או על-הביצים לא-תקח האם על-בנים: שלח תשלח את-האם ואת-הבנים תקח-לך למען ייטב לך והארכת ימים: כי תבנה בית חדש ועשית מעקה לגגך ולא-תשים דמים בביתך כי-יפל הנפל ממנו: לא-תזרע כרמך כלאים וגו’ לא-תחרש בשור-ובחמר יחדו: לא תלבש שעטנז צמר ופשתים יחדו‏
When you chance upon a bird’s nest…and the mother bird is crouched on the chicks or on the eggs, don’t take the mother bird [with]2 the children. [Rather][2], send away the mother bird, and take the children for yourself. This is so it will be good for you and it will lengthen your days. When you build a new house, make a fence for your roof. Don’t place blood in your house, since a person will fall from [the roof without one]. Don’t sow your vineyard with mixed crops…don’t plow [your field] with an ox and donkey together. Don’t wear sha’atnez, [which is] wool and linen together[3]

This week’s parsha contains within it more mitzvos than any other, totaling seventy-three. Sometimes it’s easy to understand why the Torah grouped certain mitzvos together, and other times not as much. There are a series of mitzvos that describe forbidden mixtures in this week’s parsha, and they are understandably grouped together. There is a prohibition on sowing mixed crops together in the same vineyard. There is a prohibition against doing field work with two different animals together. There is a prohibition for our garments to be made of a mixture of wool and linen. However, the mitzvos that precede these mixture-mitzvos seemingly have no connection to what follows them. First, the Torah describes how to interact with a mother bird and her children. If the passerby wants the chicks[4], they have to first send away the mother bird. Subsequently, the Torah commands building a fence on our roof when we get a new house. This will prevent any mishaps from occurring. Afterwards is the above-mentioned mixture-mitzvos. What can we learn from this confusing juxtaposition[5]?

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