Vaeschanan 5782

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Superficial reward[1]

ומשלם לשנאיו אל-פניו להאבידו וגו’‏
He repays His enemies to their face, to destroy them…[2]

The Torah makes a vague statement regarding Hashem and His enemies. This is seemingly referring to wicked individuals who brazenly commit crimes and atrocities against Hashem and His Torah. The Torah says that Hashem repays them to their face, to destroy them. What is this referring to? We are taught[3] that it means that Hashem repays the wicked for their mitzvos in this world, so that they don’t receive any reward in the next world. Consequently, when they die, they’ll be destroyed, as they won’t have access to the World to Come.

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Beha’alosecha 5782

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The proper attitude towards mitzvos[1]

ויסעו מהר יקוק וגו’ זכרנו את-הדגה אשר-נאכל במצרים חנם וגו’ וישמע משה את-העם בכה למשפחתיו וגו’ ויאמר משה אל-יקוק למה הרעת לעבדך וגו’ האנכי הריתי את כל-העם הזה אם-אנכי ילדתיהו וגו’‏
[The people] journeyed from the Mountain of Hashem… “We remember the fish which we ate in Egypt for free”… Moshe heard the nation crying amongst their families…Moshe said to Hashem: “Why have You done evil to Your servant? … Did I bear this nation? Did I give birth to it?!”[2]

Parshas Beha’alosecha is a depressing section of the Torah. It begins a series of sins that the Jews committed while they were in the desert. After the Torah describes three episodes of sins[3], Moshe abruptly starts complaining to Hashem. It appears like he was throwing in the towel, expressing his inability to deal with the people. This is quite surprising, for we know that when the Jews sinned with the Golden Calf, Moshe gave it his all to defend them[4]. What’s different about these sins which were too much for Moshe to handle?

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Machar Chodesh 5782

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The Royal roast and family feasts[1]

ויהי ממחרת החדש השני ויפקד מקום דוד ויאמר שאול אל-יהונתן בנו מדוע לא-בא בן-ישי גם-תמול גם-היום אל-הלחם: ויען יהונתן את-שאול נשאל נשאל דוד מעמדי עד-בית לחם: ויאמר שלחני נא כי זבח משפחה לנו בעיר והוא צוה-לי אחי ועתה אם-מצאתי חן בעיניך אמלטה נא ואראה את-אחי על-כן לא-בא אל-שלחן המלך: ויחר-אף שאול ביהונתן ויאמר לו בן-נעות המרדות הלוא ידעתי כי-בחר אתה לבן-ישי לבשתך ולבשת ערות אמך: כי כל-הימים אשר בן-ישי חי על-האדמה לא תכון אתה ומלכותך ועתה שלח וקח אתו אלי כי בן-מות הוא
It was the day after the New Moon, the second day [of Rosh Chodesh], and David’s seat was vacant. Shaul said to his son Yonasan: “Why didn’t the son of Yishai come, neither yesterday nor today to the meal?” Yonasan answered Shaul: “David exceedingly implored me for permission[2] to go to Bethlehem. He said please let me go, as my family’s feast is in the city, and my brother commanded me to be there. Now, if I’ve found favor in your eyes, I’ll slip away and see my family. Therefore, he didn’t come to the King’s banquet”. Shaul became enraged at Yonasan and said to him: “[You are] the son of a rebellious and immoral[3] woman! Behold, I know you have sided with the son of Yishai, to your shame and the shame of your mother’s nakedness[4]! For all of the days that the son of Yishai is on this Earth, your kingdom will never be established. Now, go and send for him to be brought to me, as he is a dead man”[5]

As Shabbos this week coincides with Erev Rosh Chodesh, there is a special Haftarah that is read[6]. It describes the story of David before he became the sole King of Israel, and King Shaul’s growing distrust of him. After Shaul made several attempts to end David’s life[7], David ran away and went into hiding. He met up with Shaul’s son Yonasan, his most trusted friend. Yonasan couldn’t believe his father would try to do such a thing, and they came up with a plan to confirm Shaul’s intentions. The following two days would be Rosh Chodesh, and as usual the King would have a banquet. As one of the King’s attendants, David was expected to attend. Yonasan was to tell the King that David had to be at his family’s feast. If the King was understanding, then would be proof that he didn’t seek David’s life. If he became infuriated, it would show that David must remain in hiding[8]. The latter is what happened, and David had to remain on the run. This is the simple understanding of the verses, but that didn’t stop the Chasam Sofer from providing an alternate, derush and halachically-oriented reading of the verses.

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Sukkos 5782

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Building a sukkah[1]

ולקחתם לכם ביום הראשון פרי עץ הדר כפת תמרים וענף עץ-עבת וערבי-נחל ושמחתם לפני יקוק אלקיכם שבעת ימים: בסכת תשבו שבעת ימים כל-האזרח בישראל ישבו בסכת
You shall take on the first day an esrog fruit[2], palm fronds (a lulav[3]), myrtle branches[4], and willow branches, and you shall rejoice before Hashem your G-d for seven days. You shall dwell in sukkos for seven days. Every citizen of Israel shall dwell in sukkos[5]

Sukkos is known as Zman Simchaseinu, the time of our rejoicing. The days are accentuated with their unique mitzvos, that of taking the four species and dwelling in the sukkah. The Torah introduces these mitzvos in this precise order, first the four species, then dwelling in the sukkah. While the reason for this requires its own study[6], what’s fascinating is the Sages, when they chose the structure of their teachings on the festival, chose to first discuss the laws of the sukkah, and only then the laws of the four species. Why did the Sages switch the order from that in the Torah[7]?

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Nitzavim 5781

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Angels and repentance[1]

כי המצוה הזאת אשר אנכי מצוך היום לא-נפלאת הוא ממך ולא רחקה הוא
For this mitzvah that I command you is not beyond you, nor is it far from you[2]

The subject of this verse is a matter of dispute. Rashi says[3] that it’s referring to the Torah, its fulfillment and study. Ramban however says[4] it’s referring to something very apropos to the time period we are in. It’s referring to the mitzvah of teshuva, repentance[5]. There’s an interesting Midrash about this verse[6]. It says that “this mitzvah” is not removed from us, but it is removed from the Angels. At first glance[7], this would sound more like Rashi’s interpretation. The Torah was given to humans and not the Angels, so it is in a sense “removed from them”[8]. Is there any way to understand this Midrash according to the Ramban, that “this mitzvah” is referring to teshuva?

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Ki Seitzei 5781

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Honoring parents, chasing birds, and long life[1]

שלח תשלח את-האם ואת-הבנים תקח-לך למען ייטב לך והארכת ימים
You shall surely send away the mother bird, and [then you can] take the chicks, in order that it will be good for you, and you will have long life[2]

כבד את-אביך ואת-אמך כאשר צוך יקוק אלקיך למען יארכן ימיך ולמען ייטב לך על האדמה אשר-יקוק אלקיך נתן לך
Honor your father and your mother, as Hashem commanded you, in order that you have long life and in order that it be good for you[3] on the land which Hashem your G-d gives you[4]

There are two mitzvos in the Torah which are often compared. The mitzvah to honor one’s parents, commanded in the Ten Commandments, and the mitzvah of sending away the mother bird, which appears in this week’s parsha. What they share in common[5] is the promise of a long life for those who observe them. Our Sages teach us[6] that we should not be misled into thinking these mitzvos promise us long life in this world. The proper interpretation is that their fulfillment promises long life in the World to Come. What’s so special about these two mitzvos that they share this quality?

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Shelach 5781

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The reminder of tzitzis[1]

ויהיו בני-ישראל במדבר וימצאו איש מקשש עצים ביום השבת: דבר אל-בני ישראל ואמרת אלהם ועשו להם ציצת על-כנפי בגדיהם לדרתם וגו’‏
While the Jews were in the wilderness, they found a man gathering wood on Shabbos…Speak to the Children of Israel and say to them: “In all generations, make tzitzis on the corners of your garments…”[2]

The Torah juxtaposes two seemingly unrelated and disconnected points. The first is an episode where a man was caught brazenly violating Shabbos. Immediately after this story is told, the mitzvah of tzitzis is described. Why are these two things put next to each other? One explanation is[3] that Moshe had a claim against Hashem[4]. The Jews are commanded to wear tefillin on their heads and arms six days a week. The mitzvah of tefillin reminds them to keep and observe the Torah properly. The one day that the Jews don’t wear tefillin is on Shabbos[5]. As such, this man was susceptible to forgetting the mitzvos. How could it not be expected for someone to desecrate Shabbos? Hashem responded with the mitzvah of tzitzis, which apply all seven days of the week. Tzitzis are also a sign that Jew wears to remind them of all the mitzvos. This way, there’s no need to worry about someone forgetting the laws of Shabbos, or any other mitzvah. The problem with this explanation is we are taught[6] that the person who desecrated Shabbos knew full well what they were doing. They didn’t forget anything. How then can we understand this approach[7]?

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Behar / Bechukosai 5781

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Revering Shabbos[1]

את-שבתתי תשמרו ומקדשי תיראו אני יקוק
You shall safeguard my Sabbaths and revere my Sanctuary; I am Hashem[2]

The gemarra derives[3] a law from the juxtaposition of the mitzvah to safeguard Shabbos[4] and the mitzvah to revere the Holy Temple[5]. They teach that just like the safeguarding of Shabbos, it’s not that you’re to revere Shabbos itself, but rather the One who commanded it, so too with revering the Temple, it’s not the Temple that you are to revere, but rather the One who commanded it. We see it’s a given that there’s no idea to revere Shabbos, and the innovation is that the same holds true for the Temple itself. How do we know that there’s no idea to revere Shabbos? Rashi tells us[6] because we don’t find it written anywhere that we are to revere it. Sounds simple.

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Acharei Mos / Kedoshim 5781

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True holiness[1]

דבר אל-כל-עדת בני-ישראל ואמרת אלהם קדשים תהיו כי קדוש אני יקוק אלקיכם: איש אמו ואביו תיראו ואת-שבתתי תשמרו אני יקוק אלקיכם: אל-תפנו אל-האלילם וגו’ וכי תזבחו זבח שלמים ליקוק וגו’‏
Speak to the entire congregation of the Children of Israel and say to them: “You shall be Holy, for I am Holy; I am Hashem your G-d. You shall revere your mother and father, and you shall observe My Shabbos; I am Hashem your G-d. Do not turn towards the false gods…When you offer a peace offering to Hashem…[2]

Parshas Kedoshim is chockfull of mitzvos, both interpersonal and between man and G-d. Sometimes it is hard to discern why the mitzvos are presented they way they are, but if one were to investigate thoroughly, sometimes their labor will be fruitful. One such example is at the very beginning of the parsha. We are told to be Holy, for Hashem is Holy. Then we are told to revere our parents, and observe Shabbos. Then we are warned against idolatry, which is followed by the concept of bringing a voluntary peace offering to Hashem. What can we glean from the juxtaposition of these mitzvos?

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Vayakhel/Pekudei 5781

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One mitzvah, or many?[1]

ויקהל משה את-כל-עדת בני ישראל ויאמר אלהם אלה הדברים אשר-צוה יקוק לעשת אתם: ששת ימים תעשה מלאכה וביום השביעי יהיה לכם קדש שבת וגו’ ויאמר משה אל-כל-עדת בני-ישראל לאמר זה הדבר אשר-צוה יקוק לאמר: קחו מאתכם תרומה ליקוק כל נדיב לבו יביאה את תרומת יקוק וגו’‏
Moshe gathered the entire assembly of the Children of Israel. He said to them: “These are the matters which Hashem commanded to do: Six days you shall work, and on the seventh day it shall be for you a Holy Shabbos”…Moshe said to the entire assembly of the Children of Israel, saying: “This is the matter that Hashem commanded, saying: Take for yourselves a donation for Hashem. All those with a generous heart will bring their portion for Hashem”[2]

This week’s parsha begins by speaking about the mitzvah of Shabbos. It then continues with a detailed description of the construction and materials of the Mishkan, the portable Temple the Jews built in the wilderness. There’s a discrepancy with how these two mitzvos are introduced. The mitzvah of Shabbos is described as, “these are the matters which Hashem commanded”, and the mitzvah of constructing the Mishkan is described as, “this is the matter”. Besides the inconsistency, these descriptions are also counterintuitive. One would think that Shabbos is only one prohibition, to refrain from creative labor. This is unlike the construction of the Mishkan, which involves many parts, such as the Ark, the Altar, the Menorah. Why then is Shabbos described in the plural, and the Mishkan in the singular?

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