Tisha B’Av 5782

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The redemptive undertones of Megillas Eichah[1]

איכה ישבה בדד העיר רבתי עם היתה כאלמנה רבתי בגוים שרתי במדינות היתה למס
Alas! [Jerusalem] sits alone. The city [that once] was filled with many, has become a widow. The greatest amongst the nations, an officer amongst the countries, has reverted for plunder[2]

Megillas Eichah, the book of Lamentations, contains within it a description of the horrible tragedies that befell the Jewish people during the destruction of the First Temple. Who wrote it? Our tradition has it that it was written by the prophet Yirmiyahu, Jeremiah[3]. In fact, he prophetically[4] wrote it before the gruesome disaster even occurred[5]. He knew that the destruction was imminent and tried his best to get his generation to improve their ways. Unfortunately, they did not take kindly to his rebuke, and ultimately, he witnessed the very prophecy he had foretold come to fruition. We recite Megillas Eichah every year on Tisha B’Av, as the most fitting way to recall the destruction, which took place on that very day.

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Vayakhel / Shekalim 5782

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Careful word choice[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 שבתון ליקוק וגו’ ויאמר משה אל-כל-עדת בני-ישראל לאמר זה הדבר אשר-צוה יקוק לאמר: קחו מאתכם תרומה ליקוק וגו’‏
Moshe congregated the entire assembly of the Children of Israel, and said to them: “These are the matters which Hashem commanded you, to perform them. Six days work shall be done and on the seventh day it shall be Holy, a restful Shabbos for Hashem…” Moshe said to the entire assembly of the children of Israel, saying: “This is the matter which Hashem commanded, saying: ‘Take from yourselves a donation for Hashem…’”[2]

The beginning of this week’s parsha contains many oddities and inconsistencies. First, we are told that Moshe congregated the entire Jewish people to tell them about the observance of Shabbos. Why was there a need to teach them about Shabbos? This isn’t the first time they’ve heard about it. In fact, it was already repeated in last week’s parsha! What’s being added this time around? Furthermore, why is it stressed that Moshe congregated them? We don’t find this action associated with any other mitzvah in the Torah.

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Ki Sisa 5782

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Monumental mountain manipulation[1]

למה יאמרו מצרים לאמר ברעה הוציאם להרג אתם בהרים וגו’‏
Why should Egypt say that [Hashem] brought [the Jews] out of Egypt with evil [intent], to kill them in the mountains?…[2]

The episode of the Sin of the Golden Calf is an unfortunately famous one. Forty days after a National Revelation of G-d, the Jews created and worshipped a foreign idol. Hashem told Moshe that the Jews would be annihilated as a result of their betrayal. Moshe valiantly defended them, saving them from a sure destruction. One of his defenses was a concern for what the Egyptians would say. Hashem went through all this trouble to redeem the Jewish people from slavery, and for what? To kill them in the desert? What’s interesting is the way Moshe describes what Egypt would say. He specified surprise that Hashem would kill the Jews “in the mountains”. What was he adding with this specification? Besides the question of what Moshe was adding, we could ask a more basic question. What mountains was he referring to[3]? The Jews were in the desert.

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Vayeitzei 5782

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Good intentions[1]

ויצא יעקב מבאר שבע וילך חרנה
Yaakov left Be’er Sheva and went to Charan[2]

After successfully preventing Eisav from receiving Yitzchak’s blessings, Yaakov had to flee for his life. His parents instructed him to go to his relatives in Charan, where he’ll find refuge, and perhaps even a wife. The thing is, our Sages inform us[3] that he took a not so slight detour. He spent fourteen years in the yeshiva of Shem and Eiver before finally journeying to Charan. How did they know this?

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Chayei Sarah 5782

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The Guardian Angel[1]

ויאמר אברהם אל-עבדו זקן ביתו וגו’ ואשביעך וגו’ לא-תקח אשה לבני מבנות הכנעני וגו’ ויאמר אליו העבד אולי לא-תאבה האשה ללכת אחרי וגו’ ויאמר אליו אברהם וגו’ יקוק אלקי השמים וגו’ הוא ישלח מלאכו לפניך ולקחת אשה לבני משם
Avraham said to his servant, the elder of his household…I command you through an oath…do not take a wife for my son from the Canaanite women…The servant said to him: “Perhaps the woman will not want to go with me…” Avraham said to him: “…Hashem, the G-d of Heaven…will send His Angel before you, and you shall take a wife for my son from there[2]

Avraham tasked his trusted servant Eliezer[3] to find a wife for his son Yitzchak. Avraham didn’t want Yitzchak to marry one of the local Canaanite women, so he sent Eliezer to Avraham’s homeland. Perhaps a distant relative would be better suited for his son. Eliezer was concerned his mission would prove unsuccessful, and expressed his doubts. Avraham responded that Hashem would send an Angel to help him on his mission. In the end, Eliezer successfully found a wife for Yitzchak. He met the family of Besuel and his wife, the latter being Avraham’s niece, and found that their daughter was a perfect match for Yitzchak[4]. Yet, we don’t see any mention of an Angel throughout his journey. Where was the Angel?

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Purim 5781

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Reaching the greatest heights through regretting sin[1]

חייב איניש לבסומי בפוריא עד דלא ידע בין ארור המן לברוך מרדכי
A person is obligated to get drunk on Purim to the point that they don’t know the difference between “Cursed is Haman” and “Blessed is Mordechai”[2]

Everyone is familiar with the concept of getting drunk on Purim. Our Sages even seem to say that a person is obligated to get drunk on Purim. This begs the obvious question[3]: How could our Sages obligate such a repugnant thing? Our scriptures are full of descriptions of the evils of drunkenness, and it is known to all that it causes people to stumble in their behavior. Why would the day of Purim be any different? This is a question that many struggle with. One suggestion[4] is that it’s to commemorate the fact that all the miracles of Purim occurred through the drinking of wine. Vashti was sentenced to death because Achashverosh was drunk, allowing Esther to become the queen. Haman’s downfall occurred during a wine drinking party. Nevertheless, this doesn’t seem to be a satisfactory explanation. Why should this commemoration be enough to justify something so vile?

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