Shevii shel Pesach 5781


The free choice to split[1]

הים ראה וינס הירדן יסב לאחור
The [Reed] Sea[2] saw and ran away, the Jordan River turned backwards[3]

During the holiday of Pesach (as well as every other holiday), we recite Hallel during the morning prayers. It consists of chapters 113 to 118 from Psalms. Chapter 114 describes how when the Jews left Egypt, nature was entirely subservient to them. Nothing stood in their way. Most pronounced was the miracle of the splitting of the sea. On the seventh day of Pesach, we commemorate this event with the Torah Reading being the Song at Sea that the Jews recited[4] after this miracle[5]. In Psalms the sea is described as “running away” from the Jews, meaning that it split in two, after seeing something. What did it see that made it split? One explanation[6] is from a Midrash, which says is it saw the Jews fighting whether they should jump into the sea or not[7]. Some felt it would be a sanctification of Hashem’s name, and they had faith He would perform a miracle. Others felt it wasn’t a good idea. This is very hard to understand. Why would this be a reason for the sea to split? If anything, the fact that the Jews disagreed whether to sanctify Hashem’s name should be a reason not to split. What’s the intent of this Midrash?

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Vayikra 5781


A desire to give[1]

ואם-תקריב מנחת בכורים ליקוק וגו’‏
If you bring your first fruit offering to Hashem…[2]

There are three mitzvos in the Torah that start with the word אם, usually translated as “if”. ואם-מזבח אבנים תעשה-לי, the mitzvah to build an altar[3]. אם כסף תלוה, the mitzvah to lend money, and more generally the mitzvah of tzedakah[4]. Finally, a verse in this week’s parsha, אם תקריב מנחת בכורים, the mitzvah to bring bikkurim, one’s first fruits as an offering in the Temple[5]. If אם is translated as “if”, these verses are saying: “if you build an altar”, “if you give tzedakah”, “if you bring the offering”. Rashi assures us[6] that these are not voluntary mitzvos, but rather bona fide commands. Why then are they expressed in an optional way?

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Balak 5777

The path a person desires to take[1]

ויאמר אלקים אל-בלעם לא תלך עמהם, לא תאר את-העם כי ברוך הוא:…קום לך אתם…
Hashem said to Bilaam: “Don’t go with them, don’t curse the people, for they are blessed.” “Get up and go with them.”[2]

This week’s parsha deals primarily with the plot of Bilaam, the non-Jewish prophet, to curse the Jewish people. He is hired by Balak, the King of Moav, and is more than happy to oblige. However, Hashem informs Bilaam that his objective will not end successfully, as the Jewish people are already blessed. Following repeated failures to curse the people, he gives up trying to carry out this ploy, and ends up employing a different tactic. After a careful inspection of the story of Bilaam, his every action seems to contradict common sense. Knowing what kind of a person he was, he did things that on the surface seem ridiculous. What is it that we know about Bilaam?

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