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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Beshalach 5781

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An embittered situation[1]

ויבאו מרתה ולא יכלו לשתת מים ממרה כי מרים הם על-כן קרא-שמה מרה: ויצעק אל-יקוק ויורהו יקוק עץ וישלח אל-המים וימתקו המים שם שם לו חק ומשפט ושם נסהו
[The Jews] arrived at Marah, and they weren’t able to drink the water at Marah, as it was bitter. Therefore, the place was called Marah. [Moshe] cried out to Hashem, and Hashem showed him a piece of wood. [Moshe] threw the wood into the water, and the water became sweet. There [Hashem] placed for them a decree and an ordinance, and there He tested them[2]

The episode of Marah is short and sweet[3]. The Jews, after traveling for three days, had run out of water. They were hoping to drink from the water sources that they found at Marah. The problem was the water there was too bitter to drink. Moshe threw a piece of wood into the water, and it miraculously became sweet. Right afterwards is a vague verse. The Torah says that Hashem gave the Jews חק ומשפט, a decree and an ordinance. Our Sages teach us[4] this means that at that time they were introduced to a few mitzvos to be involved with: Shabbos, Parah Aduma (the laws of the Red Heifer used for ritual purity), and monetary laws[5] [6]. They would receive the rest of the Torah when they arrived at Mount Sinai.

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Vayeira 5781

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Serving while sleeping[1]

ותשקין את-אביהן יין בלילה הוא ותבא הבכירה ותשכב את-אביה ולא-ידע בשכבה ובקומה
[Lot’s daughters] gave their father wine to drink that night. The elder went and slept with her father, and he did not know of her sleeping or getting up[2]

The episode with Lot, the nephew of Avraham, and his daughters is well known. They got him drunk, and conceived children from him. He was so drunk that he was totally unaware of what was happening, as it was happening. This begs the question, what is a person’s level of responsibility when they are in this state? Obviously a person is accountable for getting themselves this drunk. However, when they are completely not in control, oblivious to their surroundings and to their actions, are they responsible? If a mitzvah is accomplished in this state[3], do they get credit? If they transgress a prohibition, are they punished? These questions are equally applicable to someone who is asleep. They too are totally unaware of what is happening. What is a person’s level of responsibility when they are sleeping?

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Ki Savo 5780

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The odd ones out[1]

אלה יעמדו לברך את-העם על-הר גרזים בעברכם את-הירדן שמעון ולוי ויהודה ויששכר ויוסף ובנימן: ואלה יעמדו על-הקללה בהר עיבל ראובן גד ואשר וזבלן דן ונפתלי
These shall stand on Mount Gerizim to bless the people, as you pass over the Jordan River: Shimon, Levi, Yehudah, Yissachar, Yosef, and Binyamin. And these shall stand on Mount Eival for the curse: Reuven, Gad, Asher, Zevulun, Dan, and Naftali[2]

One of the commandments[3] the Jewish people were instructed to fulfill as they entered the land of Israel is known as the Blessings and the Curses. The twelve tribes were to divide in two; half would pronounce blessings to the people for those that keep the Torah, and half would pronounce curses for those that didn’t. The Torah tells us who is to stand where: Shimon, Levi, Yehudah, Yissachar, Yosef, and Binyamin are to stand on Mount Gerizim and pronounce the blessings. If we look closely, we’ll see that they’re all children of Rochel and Leah, Yaakov’s primary wives. Those to stand on Mount Eival and pronounce the curses were Reuven, Gad, Asher, Zevulun, Dan, and Naftali. The four children of Bilhah and Zilpah, Yaakov’s other two wives, are in this list. However, Reuven and Zevulun are the children of Leah. Why are they singled out from their brothers on Mount Gereizim, and told to stand on Mount Eival?

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