Metzora 5779

[Print]

The proper mode of conduct[1]

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[2] from a cedar tree, a thread of crimson wool, and hyssop[3]

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[4] with physical symptoms. Chazal tell us[5] that someone who contracts tzara’as, known as a Metzora[6], usually committed a certain sin[7]. 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”

Nasso 5778

It’s the thought that counts[1]

ויקריבו נשיאי ישראל ראשי בית אבתם וגו’ ויהי המקריב ביום הראשון וגו’ ביום השני הקריב וגו’
The princes of Israel, the heads of their tribes, brought offerings…The one who offered on the first day…On the second day he offered…[2]

The day that the Mishkan, the Tabernacle, was completed, was a day of great celebration[3]. The princes of Israel, one for each tribe, were tremendously inspired. They wanted to express their gratitude for Hashem resting His presence among His people. They decided to bring offerings, including animals and fancy vessels, all with an ornate presentation. Part of their motivation was to make up for the last time there were donations given towards the Mishkan[4]. Every member of the Jewish people was overjoyed for the opportunity to give of their own towards Hashem’s future resting place. The princes decided to let the people have their chance, and when the collection finished they would make up for anything that was lacking. By the time the collection finished, there was too much donated[5]. This means there was almost nothing left for the princes to donate. When the Mishkan was finally constructed, they pledged to be the first to show their thanks. They got up and brought their various offerings.

Continue reading “Nasso 5778”

Tetzaveh / Zachor 5778

Misplaced humility[1]

ויהי דבר-יקוק אל-שמואל לאמר: נחמתי כי-המלכתי את-שאול למלך כי-שב מאחרי ואת-דברי לא הקים וגו’ ויאמר שמואל הלוא אם-קטן אתה בעיניך ראש שבטי ישראל אתה וימשחך יקוק למלך על-ישראל וגו’‏
And it was that the word of Hashem came to Shmuel, saying: “I have regretted coronating Shaul to be King, as he has turned away from Me and has not fulfilled My words.”…Shmuel [later said to Shaul]: “Is it not true that you view yourself as insignificant? You are the head of the tribes of Israel! Hashem has anointed you to be King over Israel…”[2]

This week is the week before Purim. As such, for maftir we read parshas Zachor[3], which enumerates the mitzvos involved in remembering what the nation of Amalek did to us when we left Egypt. As well, we read a special haftarah[4], recounting the sin of King Shaul. He was commanded by the prophet Shmuel to put an end to the evils of the nation of Amalek, and he failed to do so. The gemarra makes an interesting observation[5]: King Shaul transgressed one mitzvah[6] and had to suffer the consequences. He was punished with an early death, and the kingship was taken away from his descendants and given over to David. This is unlike King David, who transgressed two mitzvos[7] and kept the kingship. Why was this so?

Continue reading “Tetzaveh / Zachor 5778”

Vayishlach 5778

Learning from one’s teacher[1]

ויאמר אם-יבוא עשו אל-המחנה האחת והכהו והיה המחנה הנשאר לפליטה
[Yaakov] said: “If Eisav comes to one of the camps and strikes them, the remaining camp will survive”[2]

During the sovereignty of Achav, the wicked King of Israel, the prophet Ovadiah had to protect himself and all the other prophets from his reign of terror. The verse says[3] Ovadiah took one hundred prophets and hid fifty of them in a cave. Chazal ask[4] why didn’t he put them all in the cave? Rabbi Elazar answers that Ovadiah learned this strategy from Yaakov. When Yaakov and his family were about to confront his wicked brother Eisav, he divided his camp into two. This tactic was in case of the horrible event that one of the two camps is killed, at least the other one would survive. Why did the gemarra need to say that Ovadiah learned this strategy from Yaakov? Simply say that he thought of the idea himself[5]!

Continue reading “Vayishlach 5778”

Toldos 5778

The way of tzaddikim; the way of the Torah[1]

ועתה שא-נא כליך תליך וקשתך וצא השדה וצודה לי ציד
Now, please carry your vessels, your sword[2], and your bow; go out to the field and capture me some game[3]

Once Yitzchak approached the age that his mother was when she passed, he felt it was time to settle his affairs[4]. He decided to give incredibly powerful berachos, blessings, to his favorite son Eisav. However, to get into the proper state of mind to give these blessings, Yitzchak wanted to have a meal made up of his favorite delicacies. Eisav was an expert trapper[5]. So before receiving these blessings, Yitzchak sent him on a hunting mission. He told Eisav to take his instruments with him and go. Rashi is bothered[6] that one doesn’t need to tell an expert hunter to take along his weapons, just like a plumber doesn’t need to be told to bring his wrench[7]. Therefore, he interprets[8] the command שא-נא, literally please carry, as השחזה, sharpen. Yitzchak was telling Eisav to sharpen his knives. Why? Yitzchak was worried that when Eisav did shechitah, ritual slaughter on the animals he catches, the knife might have a blemish which would go unnoticed. Slaughtering with this knife would render the food forbidden to eat[9].

Continue reading “Toldos 5778”

Nitzavim-Vayeilech 5777

The choice of a lifetime[1]

ועתה כתבו לכם את השירה הזאת ולמדה את-בני-ישראל שימה בפיהם למען תהיה-לי השירה הזאת לעד בבני ישראל
And now, write for yourselves this song; teach it to the Children of Israel; place it in their mouths. [This is] in order that this song will be testimony for Me regarding the Children of Israel[2]

Towards the end of Moshe’s life, Hashem commanded him to write down a prophetic song that he was to reveal to the Jewish people[3]. Many learn[4] from this verse that it wasn’t simply a mitzvah for Moshe for that specific time, but it was also a mitzvah for every Jew[5] to write their own sefer Torah[6]. The verse also commands that what is written should be taught to others. The gemarra learns[7] from here an additional obligation: that a teacher is obligated to teach their student until they’ve successfully learned the material. The gemarra follows this ruling with an interesting story that demonstrates how far a teacher must go to fulfill their duty.

Continue reading “Nitzavim-Vayeilech 5777”

Shoftim 5777

The seeds of potential[1]

כפר לעמך ישראל אשר-פדית יקוק ואל-תתן דם נקי בקרב עמך ישראל ונכפר להם הדם
Hashem, grant atonement for your nation Israel which you have redeemed, and don’t let guilt for innocent blood remain among your nation, Israel; and they shall be absolved of punishment[2]

The beginning of parshas Vayeira involves the story of three Angels who came to visit Avraham. Acting as a generous host, Avraham is described as serving their every need. The verses testify[3] that he offered them water, he prepared dishes of cream and milk in addition to a small calf, and he waited on them hand and foot. The gemarra teaches us[4] that for these three acts of chesed, his descendants merited to three acts of chesed from Hashem. While the Jews wandered in the wilderness for forty years, they were given munn, the manna that fell from heaven, the Clouds of Glory which guided the way and protected them from the elements, and the travelling well of water. However, this teaching doesn’t appear to be consistent with another teaching in the gemarra[5], that the Jews received these three gifts due to the merits of Moshe, Aharon, and Miriam[6]. How can these two teachings be reconciled?

Continue reading “Shoftim 5777”

Devarim 5777

Judging ourselves favorably[1]

ואלה הדברים אשר דבר משה אל-כל-ישראל בעבר הירדן במדבר בערבה מול סוף בין-פארן ובין-תפל ולבן וחצרת ודי זהב
These are the words that Moshe spoke to all of Israel, on the other side of the Jordan River, in the wilderness, in Aravah, opposite Suf, between Paran and Tofel, and Lavan and Chatzeiros and Di Zahav[2]

The book of Devarim, also known as Deuteronomy, takes place right before Moshe’s death. It’s essentially a goodbye speech to the people. He takes the opportunity to teach them new laws, as well as recount past experiences. The first verse in the book takes great pains to detail the exact geographical location of Moshe’s speech. Rashi explains[3] that some of these aren’t even real names of places, but rather subtle references to past sins of the people. Moshe was rebuking the people, hoping they would catch the hint and learn from their mistakes. The last four cities mentioned, Tofel, Lavan, Chatzeiros and Di Zahav refer to three separate incidents. Tofel and Lavan refer to the sin of the Jews complaining about the munn, the manna that they ate in the wilderness[4]. Tofel implies complaining[5], and Lavan means white, the color of the mun[6]. Chatzeiros refers to the Korach rebellion[7]. Di Zahav, which means “enough gold”, refers to the creation of the Golden Calf from the abundance of gold they had been given[8]. The obvious question on this list of sins, is why was the Golden Calf listed last[9]? It was the first to occur chronologically, and was undoubtedly one of the worst sins the Jews ever committed.

Continue reading “Devarim 5777”

Behar-Bechukosai 5777

Quality versus Quantity[1]

ונתנה הארץ פריה ואכלתם לשבע וישבתם לבטח עליה: וכי תאמרו מה-נאכל בשנה השביעת הן לא נזרע ולא נאסף את-תבואתנו: וצויתי את-ברכתי לכם בשנה הששית ועשה את-התבואה לשלש השנים
The land will give its fruit, and you will eat to satiation, and dwell securely on it. And if you’ll say: “what will we eat in the seventh year? Behold we can’t plant and gather our produce!” I will command my blessing for you in the sixth year, and the land will produce [enough] crops for three years[2]

The beginning of parshas Behar discusses the laws of Shemittah, the Sabbatical year in the land of Israel. Every seven years, the land attains a special level of kedusha, holiness, causing a whole set of laws to come into effect. Among the many laws that apply during the Shemittah year, a major one is that all agricultural work is forbidden. The land of Israel is to lie fallow. Before the industrial revolution, this mitzvah was incredibly relevant to the entire nation (while they were living in the land). Most of the people were farmers, and essentially got a year off to focus on more spiritual matters.

Continue reading “Behar-Bechukosai 5777”

Chayei Sarah 5777

The Undetected Bias[1]

 …לא-תקח אשה לבני מבנות הכנעני אשר אנכי יושב בקרבו: כי אל-ארצי ואל-מולדתי תלך ולקחת אשה לבני ליצחק: ויאמר אליו העבד אולי לא-תאבה האשה ללכת אחרי אל-הארץ הזאת…‏
“Don’t take a wife for my son from the Canaanite women amongst which I dwell. Rather you shall go to my land and my birthplace; [there] you shall take a wife for my son Yitzchak”. The servant responded to him: “Perhaps the woman will not come with me to travel to this land…”[2]

Parshas Chayei Sarah describes Avraham’s servant Eliezer’s[3] mission to find a wife for Yitzchak. Avraham was very specific with what he was looking for in a wife for his son. He was concerned with the negative influence his neighbors could have on his son. Therefore, he preferred to find someone from where he originated. After giving strict instructions to Eliezer, his servant responded with a question. Maybe the woman won’t want to return with him to this land. It was a legitimate question. However, Avraham responded that no matter what, he won’t allow his son to leave the land of Israel.

Continue reading “Chayei Sarah 5777”