Vaeschanan 5782

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Superficial reward[1]

ומשלם לשנאיו אל-פניו להאבידו וגו’‏
He repays His enemies to their face, to destroy them…[2]

The Torah makes a vague statement regarding Hashem and His enemies. This is seemingly referring to wicked individuals who brazenly commit crimes and atrocities against Hashem and His Torah. The Torah says that Hashem repays them to their face, to destroy them. What is this referring to? We are taught[3] that it means that Hashem repays the wicked for their mitzvos in this world, so that they don’t receive any reward in the next world. Consequently, when they die, they’ll be destroyed, as they won’t have access to the World to Come.

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Chukas 5782

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Fiery snake bites[1]

וידבר העם באלקים ובמשה למה העליתנו ממצרים למות במדבר וגו’ וישלח יקוק בעם את הנחשים השרפים וינשכו את-העם וגו’ ויבא העם אל-משה ויאמרו חטאנו כי-דברנו ביקוק ובך התפלל אל-יקוק ויסר מעלינו את-הנחש ויתפלל משה בעד העם: ויאמר יקוק אל-משה עשה לך שרף ושים אתו על-נס והיה כל-הנשוך וראה אתו וחי: ויעש משה נחש נחשת וישמהו על-הנס וגו’‏
The nation spoke against G-d and Moshe: “Why did you take us out of Egypt to die in the wilderness?!”… Hashem sent against the nation the nechashim haserafim (stinging snakes), and they bit the people… The nation came to Moshe and said: “We have sinned! For we have spoken against G-d and you. Pray to G-d to remove from us the snakes”. Moshe prayed on behalf of the nation. Hashem said to Moshe: “Make for yourself a saraf (snake; lit. burning/stinging), and place it on a staff, and it will be that all who were bitten will look at it and live.” Moshe made a copper nachash (snake), and placed it on the staff…[2]

As the verses describe, the Jewish nation spoke rudely against Hashem and against His servant Moshe. The resulting punishment was Hashem unleashed against them a swarm of snakes, described in the verse as the nechashim haserafim, the stinging snakes. They bit the people, and many died. The nation repented, and Moshe prayed that the threat be removed. Hashem told Moshe to make some sort of statue of a snake, and called it a saraf. The verse then tells us that Moshe made a copper nachash, which means snake. How did Moshe know to make the statue out of copper? Rashi tells us[3] that since Hashem told Moshe to make a nachash, His intent must have been a copper one, since the Hebrew word for copper is nechoshes, etymologically related to nachash. The obvious question on this is that Hashem told Moshe to make a saraf, not a nachash[4]. If they’re the same thing, why is the Torah inconsistent in its terminology[5]? If they’re not the same thing, what is Rashi saying[6]?

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Ki Seitzei 5781

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Honoring parents, chasing birds, and long life[1]

שלח תשלח את-האם ואת-הבנים תקח-לך למען ייטב לך והארכת ימים
You shall surely send away the mother bird, and [then you can] take the chicks, in order that it will be good for you, and you will have long life[2]

כבד את-אביך ואת-אמך כאשר צוך יקוק אלקיך למען יארכן ימיך ולמען ייטב לך על האדמה אשר-יקוק אלקיך נתן לך
Honor your father and your mother, as Hashem commanded you, in order that you have long life and in order that it be good for you[3] on the land which Hashem your G-d gives you[4]

There are two mitzvos in the Torah which are often compared. The mitzvah to honor one’s parents, commanded in the Ten Commandments, and the mitzvah of sending away the mother bird, which appears in this week’s parsha. What they share in common[5] is the promise of a long life for those who observe them. Our Sages teach us[6] that we should not be misled into thinking these mitzvos promise us long life in this world. The proper interpretation is that their fulfillment promises long life in the World to Come. What’s so special about these two mitzvos that they share this quality?

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Pinchas 5781

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Just reward[1]

פינחס בן-אלעזר בן-אהרן הכהן השיב את-חמתי מעל בני-ישראל בקנאו את-קנאתי בתוכם ולא-כליתי את-בני-ישראל בקנאתי
Pinchas, the son of Elazar, the son of Aharon the Kohen, turned back My wrath from upon the Jewish people, by acting out his zealotry amongst you. [As a result] I did not wipe out the Jewish people with my zealotry[2]

Parshas Pinchas begins where the previous parsha ended. Zimri ben Salu, a prince of the tribe of Shimon, committed a leud act with a Midianite woman in front of the entire congregation. Moshe was at a loss what to do[3]. Pinchas, a grandson of Aharon HaKohen, recalled that in such a situation a zealot may take the law into their own hands[4]. He punished Zimri, and Pinchas was rewarded kindly by Hashem. The Sages in the Midrash make an unusual comment about the results of Pinchas’ actions. They say[5] that “it makes sense that Pinchas was rewarded”. What do they mean by this teaching, and what are they stressing?

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Ki Sisa 5781

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Charity assurances[1]

העשיר לא-ירבה והדל לא ימעיט ממחצית השקל לתת את-תרומת יקוק לכפר על-נפשתיכם
The wealthy shall not increase, nor shall the poor decrease, from the half-shekel donation. To give the donation of Hashem [is] to atone for their souls[2]

This week’s parsha begins with the mitzvah to give the half-shekel donation to the Temple, known as the machatzis hashekel. This donation was to help fund the offerings throughout the year. In this instance, it was also to help fund the construction of the Mishkan, the portable Temple while the Jews were in the wilderness. There’s an interesting message embedded into the mitzvah. The same amount is donated by every Jew. It doesn’t matter what the person’s standing is. If they’re exceedingly wealthy, or terribly poor, every Jew is to donate the same amount. The wealthy shouldn’t give more, and the poor shouldn’t give less[3]. It shows that in many ways, we’re all equal. We’re all children of Hashem.

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Pinchas 5780

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The just reward[1]

פינחס בן-אלעזר בן-אהרן הכהן השיב את-חמתי מעל בני-ישראל בקנאו את-קנאתי בתוכם וגו’ לכן אמר הנני נתן לו את-בריתי שלום
Pinchas the son of Elazar, the son of Aharon the Kohen, removed My wrath from upon the Jewish people, as he avenged My vengeance amongst them…Therefore, it shall be said that I hereby give him My covenant of Peace[2]

This week’s parsha starts by concluding the episode of the previous parsha. There were many Jews who were involved in lewd behavior with foreign women and idol worship[3]. This had the danger of causing the entire Jewish people to be wiped out in a plague. The grandson of Aharon, Pinchas, volunteered to take action. Although he wasn’t required[4], he punished the main instigator of the debacle. He stood up, when no one else did. His bold deed gave everyone time to pause, and the sinning stopped. The Jewish people were safe again. Hashem, in this week’s parsha, confirmed that Pinchas behaved properly by taking the law into his own hands. He announced that Pinchas would be rewarded. Chazal make a point[5] of stressing that Pinchas deserved to be rewarded. Why did they feel the need to point this out? The verse seemingly does a fine job of saying that he deserved to be rewarded.

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Ki Savo 5778

Lively motivations[1]

לא-אכלתי באני ממנו ולא-בערתי ממנו בטמא ולא-נתתי ממנו למת וגו’‏
I did not eat of it during my intense mourning period, and I did not consume it in impurity, nor did I give of it to the deceased…[2]

The Torah obligates the separation and distribution of various types of tithes. Fruits and vegetables grown in the land of Israel are forbidden to be eaten until their various tithes are separated[3]. Some tithes are given to the Kohanim for consumption[4], some to the Leviim[5], and some to the poor[6]. One type of tithe is known as ma’aser sheni, the second tithe. It is for personal consumption, but only in Jerusalem[7]. Instead of transporting the heavy fruits to Jerusalem, a person can transfer the tithe status onto coins[8]. These coins are brought instead to Jerusalem, and used to purchase food and drink. These purchases are then consumed in Jerusalem. After[9] the third year of the seven-year agricultural cycle, everyone must remove all their remaining tithes which they have failed to donate or consume. There is subsequently a mitzvah to come to the Temple and perform vidui, confession[10]. The person proclaims that they have followed all the laws pertaining to tithes. They declare that they didn’t eat it at forbidden times. They state that neither they nor the food was impure when it was consumed. Finally, they say that they did not give of it to the deceased. What does this last confession mean?

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Ki Seitzei 5778

A mitzvah drags another mitzvah with it[1]

כי יקרא קן-צפור וגו’ והאם רבצת על-האפרחים או על-הביצים לא-תקח האם על-בנים: שלח תשלח את-האם ואת-הבנים תקח-לך למען ייטב לך והארכת ימים: כי תבנה בית חדש ועשית מעקה לגגך ולא-תשים דמים בביתך כי-יפל הנפל ממנו: לא-תזרע כרמך כלאים וגו’ לא-תחרש בשור-ובחמר יחדו: לא תלבש שעטנז צמר ופשתים יחדו‏
When you chance upon a bird’s nest…and the mother bird is crouched on the chicks or on the eggs, don’t take the mother bird [with]2 the children. [Rather][2], send away the mother bird, and take the children for yourself. This is so it will be good for you and it will lengthen your days. When you build a new house, make a fence for your roof. Don’t place blood in your house, since a person will fall from [the roof without one]. Don’t sow your vineyard with mixed crops…don’t plow [your field] with an ox and donkey together. Don’t wear sha’atnez, [which is] wool and linen together[3]

This week’s parsha contains within it more mitzvos than any other, totaling seventy-three. Sometimes it’s easy to understand why the Torah grouped certain mitzvos together, and other times not as much. There are a series of mitzvos that describe forbidden mixtures in this week’s parsha, and they are understandably grouped together. There is a prohibition on sowing mixed crops together in the same vineyard. There is a prohibition against doing field work with two different animals together. There is a prohibition for our garments to be made of a mixture of wool and linen. However, the mitzvos that precede these mixture-mitzvos seemingly have no connection to what follows them. First, the Torah describes how to interact with a mother bird and her children. If the passerby wants the chicks[4], they have to first send away the mother bird. Subsequently, the Torah commands building a fence on our roof when we get a new house. This will prevent any mishaps from occurring. Afterwards is the above-mentioned mixture-mitzvos. What can we learn from this confusing juxtaposition[5]?

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Eikev 5778

Hashem’s exacting judgement[1]

ובאהרן התאנף יקוק מאד להשמידו ואתפלל גם בעד אהרן בעת ההיא
Hashem became very angry with Aharon, to the point of almost destroying him; I even prayed for Aharon at that time[2]

While Moshe was recounting to the people the sin of the Golden Calf[3], he mentioned his brother Aharon’s complicity in the sin. When Moshe was late returning from Mount Sinai, the people thought he had died. They demanded Aharon make them a deity to worship. Aharon complied, and the Golden Calf was created. In this week’s parsha, we learn that Moshe sensed that Hashem was going to “destroy” Aharon. Rashi explains[4] this means that his children would die. Moshe prayed that Hashem have mercy, despite Aharon’s sins. Hashem complied, allowing two out of four of Aharon’s sons to survive. Only his sons Nadav and Avihu perished, during the inauguration of the Mishkan. However, this explanation is inconsistent with a different one Rashi provides[5]. The Torah describes[6] how a vision of Hashem appeared before the dignitaries[7] of the Jews. This included Aharon’s sons. The verse says that they acted without the proper respect; their sin was so great that they should have died instantly. However, Hashem didn’t feel the time was appropriate, and waited until the inauguration of the Mishkan[8]. If so, they died by their own sin[9]; it wasn’t because of their father’s sin with the Golden Calf. How can these two statements be reconciled[10]?

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Vaeschanan 5778

Prevented from performing a mitzvah[1]

ואתחנן אל-יקוק בעת ההיא…ויאמר יקוק אלי רב-לך אל-תוסף דבר אלי עוד בדבר הזה
I pleaded to Hashem at that time…Hashem said to me: “There’s a lot for you. Don’t continue to speak to Me about this matter any more”[2]

Moshe, shortly before his death, explained to the people why their leader would not take them into the land of Israel. Instead, his successor Yehoshua would take charge. Moshe was punished for his prior transgression[3] with dying before ever entering the land. He couldn’t take this quietly, and repeatedly prayed to Hashem to forgive him; to allow him to at least enter the land. Finally, Hashem responded with the phrase: “רב לך! There’s a lot for you! Don’t continue praying for this, as you will not enter.” Chazal pick up[4] on this unusual expression “רב לך”, and note that Moshe used this exact same phrase to Korach and his band of rebels. He said “רב לכם בני לוי, There’s a lot for you, Levites”[5]. In addition to noting this similarity, Chazal say ברב בישר ברב בישרוהו, because Moshe said רב לכם to Korach, Hashem said to him רב לך. This sounds like some sort of punishment. Chazal say[6] similarly about Yehudah, who said: “הכר נא, Identify this” to his father Yaakov, trying to trick him into thinking his son Yosef was killed. Yehudah subsequently had his daughter-in-law say to him: “הכא נא, Identify this”. In that context, it’s clear that Yehudah committed a sin by saying this to his father[7]. However, what was Moshe’s transgression? Korach and his band were trying to usurp Moshe’s Divinely given authority. Moshe had every right to rebuke them. Why was he subsequently punished with Hashem telling him: “רב לך, you will not enter the land of Israel”[8]?

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