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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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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Shoftim 5780

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False prophets[1]

אשר ידבר הנביא בשם יקוק ולא-יהיה הדבר ולא יבוא הוא הדבר אשר לא-דברו יקוק בזדון דברו הנביא לא תגור ממנו
That which a “prophet” says in the name of Hashem, which doesn’t come true or does not occur, that is something that Hashem did not speak; this “prophet” spoke with iniquity, do not fear him[2]

The Torah tells us that there will come a day when charlatan prophets will come and try to speak in the name of G-d. They will present miracles and wonders and predict the future. It is a capital crime to be a false prophet, and we are not to be swayed by their tricks. How can we tell if they are a charlatan, or the real deal? The Torah gives us the litmus test: if they predict something will occur, and it doesn’t, then we’ll know for sure that they are a false prophet.

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Korach 5780

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The danger of scoffing[1]

וידבר אל-קרח ואל-כל-עדתו לאמר בקר וידע יקוק את-אשר-לו וגו’ זאת עשו קחו-לכם מחתות וגו’‏
[Moshe] spoke to Korach and his assembly, saying: “Tomorrow morning it shall be known who is Hashem’s…Do this: Take for yourselves firepans”[2]

This week’s parsha details the rebellion of Korach. He challenged the leadership of Moshe and Aharon, convincing a group of the greatest sages of Israel to join his cause. Korach claimed that Moshe was making everything up[3]. He claimed that Moshe was a false prophet. Moshe challenged this band of rebels to a test to determine who was the true prophet of Hashem. The next morning, they would all take firepans and put incense on them. Through this act of Divine service, it would become clear who was Hashem’s chosen leaders. The result was that those that banded with Korach were burned to death by their firepans, whereas Moshe and Aharon emerged unscathed. This validated their rightful place as the leaders of the people, and prophets of Hashem.

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Emor 5780

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The desecration of ingratitude[1]

וכי-תזבחו זבח-תודה ליקוק לרצנכם תזבחו: ביום ההוא יאכל לא-תותירו ממנו עד-בקר אני יקוק: ושמרתם מצותי ועשיתם אותם אני יקוק: ולא תחללו את-שם קדשי ונקדשתי בתוך בני ישראל אני יקוק מקדשכם
When you offer a Todah offering for Hashem, it shall be offered in a way that is acceptable. It shall be eaten on that day; don’t leave any of it over until morning. I am Hashem. Safeguard my mitzvos, and perform them; I am Hashem. Don’t profane my Holy Name, and I shall be sanctified amongst the Children of Israel; I am Hashem, who sanctifies you.[2]

One type of offering that is brought in the Temple is known as a Todah offering. It consists of an animal that is offered, as well as many loaves of bread. All of these need to be consumed on the day that they are brought. After this offering is mentioned in the Torah, the prohibition against a chillul Hashem, profaning Hashem’s name, is commanded. What is the significance of this juxtaposition? What do these two mitzvos have to do with each other?

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Metzora 5779

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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.

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