Balak 5779

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The repulsive idol and the lack of boundaries[1]

ויחל העם לזנות אל בנות מואב וגו’ וצמד ישראל לבעל פעור וגו’‏
The [Jewish] nation began[2] to commit lewd acts with the women of Moav…and the Jews clung to [the idol] Ba’al Peor[3]

At the end of this week’s parsha, the Jewish people hit a new low. They began to have illicit sexual relationships with women from the foreign nation of Moav, and they committed severe acts of idol worship. The Torah uses an unusual expression to describe their attitude towards the idol known as Ba’al Peor. It says וצמד, which is the verb form of the word which describes a tightly bound cover on a vessel[4]. This means that the Jews became tightly bound, or clung, to the idol Ba’al Peor. With some historical context, this is very hard to understand. The form of worship of this idol was one of the most repulsive things imaginable. The way to serve this idol was to eat and drink things which would cause diarrhea[5], and then to defecate on it[6]. How could the Jews be not only interested, but totally attached to such an idol?

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Vayeishev and Chanukah 5779

A kiss from above[1]

והנה אורחת ישמעאלים באה מגלעד וגמליהם נושאים נכאת וצרי ולט הולכים להוריד מצרימה
…behold an Arab[2] caravan was coming from Gilad, and their camels were carrying spices, balm, and lotus; they were taking them to Egypt[3]

The gemarra asks[4] the innocent question: What was the miracle which prompted the establishment of the holiday of Chanukah? It answers that the Greeks, after they conquered the land of Israel, entered the Holy Temple and defiled all the oil that was to be found. When the Jews defeated them, they searched all around for sanctified oil to be used for the Menorah. All they could find was a single vessel that was still sealed. However, there was only enough oil in the vessel to last for one day. They used it anyways, and a miracle happened where the oil lasted for eight days. The following year they established that time of year as a season of rejoicing, with songs of praise and thanks.

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Noach 5779

Creating love towards another[1]

ואתה קח לך מכל מאכל אשר יאכל ואספת אליך והיה לך ולהם לאכלה
You shall take for yourself from all the food that will be eaten, and gather it to you, and it will be for you and for them for consumption[2]

As part of Noach’s preparations for the impending flood, Hashem commanded him to gather all the necessary provisions for his family’s yearlong[3] stay in the ark. They would not only themselves need to eat, there was also a need for food for all the animals that were with them in the ark. Some suggest[4] that the seemingly extraneous word לך, “for yourself”, is really meant to be understood as “from yourself”. That is, all the food gathered must be Noach’s own expense[5]. All the food had to be his. This command was so Noach wouldn’t think that he could take food away from other people. He may have thought it was permissible, as they were anyways going to die in the flood. It had to be specifically his own. However, there are many problems with this interpretation.

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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?

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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?

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