את-הברכה אשר תשמעו אל-מצות יקוק אלקיכם אשר אנכי מצוה אתכם היום: והקללה אם-לא תשמעו אל-מצות יקוק אלקיכם וגו’
The blessings [you’ll receive] for your listening to the mitzvos of Hashem your G-d, that I command you all today. And the curses [you’ll receive] if you don’t listen to the mitzvos of Hashem your G-d
The parsha begins with instructions to the Jewish people which they are to follow upon entering the land. They are to divide onto two mountains, one called Har Gerizim and one called Har Eival, and a series of blessings and curses are to be enunciated. These blessings are to follow upon proper Torah observance, and the curses for the opposite. However, many note an inconsistency in the verses which describe this ceremony. When describing the blessings, it says they are to follow “for listening to the mitzvos”. However, when describing the curses, it says they are to follow “if you don’t listen”. The curses sound conditional, and the blessings more definite. What gives?
Continue reading “Re’eh 5783”
ויתן להם משה לבני-גד ולבני ראובן ולחצי שבט מנשה בן-יוסף את-ממלכת סיחן מלך האמרי ואת-ממלכת עוג מלך הבשן וגו’
Moshe gave to the children of Gad, the children of Reuven, and to half the tribe of Menashe the son of Yosef the kingdom of Sichon, the King of the Amorites, and the kingdom of Og, the king of Bashan…
After the defeat of Sichon and Og, the Jewish people had conquered a large amount of land to the east of the Jordan River. The tribes of Reuven and Gad requested that instead of acquiring a portion of the land of Israel proper, they wanted this conquered land to be divided amongst them. After swearing that they’d help their brethren conquer the land of Israel, Moshe agreed to their request. The Torah tells us that Moshe gave them the land, as well as some of the tribe of Menashe. Why did Moshe give part of Menashe as well, when we aren’t told that they requested this land?
Continue reading “Mattos/Masei 5783”
Recorded righteousness rewards
ויאמר אלהם ראובן אל-תשפכו-דם תשליכו אתו אל-הבור הזה אשר במדבר ויד אל-תשלחו-בו למען הציל אתו מידם להשיבו אל-אביו
Reuven said to [his brothers]: “Don’t spill blood! Cast [Yosef] into this pit that’s in the wilderness, and don’t send a hand against him”, in order to save [Yosef] from their hands, to return him to his father
An interesting Midrash is taught about Reuven, Aharon, and Boaz. Reuven unsuccessfully tried to save Yosef from the hands of his brothers by suggesting they (temporarily) throw him into a pit. The Midrash says that if Reuven had known that his actions would be recorded in the Torah, he would have carried Yosef on his shoulders home to their father. Aharon, when he heard that his younger brother Moshe was chosen by G-d to lead the Jewish people, went out to greet Moshe. Had Aharon known his actions would be recorded in the Torah, he would have greeted Moshe with tambourines and dancing. Boaz gave Rus some toasted grain to eat. Had Boaz known his actions would be recorded in the Torah, he would have given her fatted calves.
Continue reading “Vayeishev 5783”
ומשלם לשנאיו אל-פניו להאבידו וגו’
He repays His enemies to their face, to destroy them…
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 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.
Continue reading “Vaeschanan 5782”
Fiery snake bites
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…
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 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. If they’re the same thing, why is the Torah inconsistent in its terminology? If they’re not the same thing, what is Rashi saying?
Continue reading “Chukas 5782”
Honoring parents, chasing birds, and long life
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
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 on the land which Hashem your G-d gives you
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 is the promise of a long life for those who observe them. Our Sages teach us 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?
Continue reading “Ki Seitzei 5781”
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
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. Pinchas, a grandson of Aharon HaKohen, recalled that in such a situation a zealot may take the law into their own hands. 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 that “it makes sense that Pinchas was rewarded”. What do they mean by this teaching, and what are they stressing?
Continue reading “Pinchas 5781”
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
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. It shows that in many ways, we’re all equal. We’re all children of Hashem.
Continue reading “Ki Sisa 5781”
The just reward
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
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. 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, 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 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.
Continue reading “Pinchas 5780”
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…
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. Some tithes are given to the Kohanim for consumption, some to the Leviim, and some to the poor. One type of tithe is known as ma’aser sheni, the second tithe. It is for personal consumption, but only in Jerusalem. Instead of transporting the heavy fruits to Jerusalem, a person can transfer the tithe status onto coins. These coins are brought instead to Jerusalem, and used to purchase food and drink. These purchases are then consumed in Jerusalem. After 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. 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?
Continue reading “Ki Savo 5778”