Vayakhel/Pekudei 5780

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Filling a need or needing to fill[1]

והנשיאם הביאו את אבני השהם ואת אבני המלאים לאפוד ולחשן
The princes brought the shosham stones and the filling stones for the Eiphod and the Choshen[2]

This week’s parsha describes the construction of the Mishkan. It starts with a detailed listing of the donation of the materials towards building it. The entire Jewish people jumped at the opportunity to donate towards the Mishkan. There came a point when donations had to be turned down, as all of the necessary materials had already been collected[3]. The princes, the leaders of each tribe, are described as bringing precious stones for the garments of the Kohen Gadol.

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Ki Sisa 5780

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Invader assurances[1]

שלש פעמים בשנה יראה כל-זכורך את-פני האדן יקוק וגו’ ולא-יחמד איש את-ארצך בעלתך לראות וגו’‏
Three times a year, all of your men shall be seen by the countenance of the L-rd, Hashem…no man will covet your land when you go up to be seen[2]

One of the mitzvos of the Torah is known as aliya leregel[3]. Three times a year, there’s a mitzvah for all men to make a pilgrimage to the Temple. These three times occur on Passover, Shavuos, and Sukkos. By appearing in the Temple, the Jewish men are so-to-speak being “seen” by G-d. One could be nervous keeping such a mitzvah. If all the men converge towards Jerusalem, who will guard the borders? Who will protect their homes from invasion? To curb these concerns, the Torah promises us that at the times of the pilgrimage, no one will covet our land. There will be no need to fear foreign invasions.

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Tetzaveh / Zachor 5780

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Meaningful clothing[1]

ואלה הבגדים אשר יעשו חשן ואפוד ומעיל וגו’ ועשית את-מעיל האפוד כליל תכלת: והיה פי-ראשו בתוכו שפה יהיה לפיו סביב מעשה ארג כפי תחרא יהיה-לו לא יקרע: פעמן זהב ורמון פעמן זהב ורמון על-שולי המעיל סביב: וגו’ ונשמע קולו בבאו אל-הקדש
These are the garments that you shall make: The Choshen, the Eiphod, the Me’il…You shall make the Me’il of the Eiphod completely [dyed] techeiles. Its head-opening will be within it. It shall have a lip sewed around it’s opening. It shall have like the opening of scale armor, [so that] it will not tear. [It should have] alternating golden bells and pomegranates on the bottom, going around…its sound will be heard as he enters the Holy[2]

This week’s parsha describes the manufacturing of the various garments that the Kohanim were to wear during the Temple Service. The gemarra explains[3] that each of these garments had some significant purpose, besides serving as a standard uniform for them to wear. Each garment atoned for a particular sin. We are taught that the Me’il, a techeiles-dyed tunic, atoned for the sin of improper speech. Can we find any allusion to this connection between these two seemingly unrelated things?

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Terumah 5780

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Confusing orders[1]

וזאת התרומה אשר תקחו מאתם זהב וכסף ונחשת: ועשו לי מקדש ושכנתי בתוכם: ועשו ארון עצי שטים וגו’‏
This is the contribution that you shall take from them: gold, silver, and copper. Make for Me a sanctuary, such that I will dwell amongst them. Make an Ark of acacia wood…[2]

After reading the Torah’s delineation of all the various parts of the portable Temple known as the Mishkan, we notice something strange. The Torah first lists all the vessels that are part of the Mishkan, detailing all of their dimensions and materials. Then, the Torah describes how to construct the Mishkan itself, with all its hooks and the tapestries that are used as partitions. Why did the Torah list them this way? Describing the structure of the Mishkan, and only then the vessels, would seem to be more logical. Usually one builds a house before you figure out the furniture.

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Mishpatim / Shekalim 5780

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The merciful Judge[1]

ואלה המשפטים אשר תשים לפניהם
These are the laws that you shall place before them[2]

This week’s parsha contains many different types of laws, ranging from monetary to ritual. The monetary laws are primarily directed towards the Jewish judges, known as dayanim. These dayanim are to follow the Torah’s rules and considerations in order to rule properly. Chazal teach us[3] that any dayan that judges a case properly and rules correctly becomes a partner in creation. What exactly is this referring to? How it is possible to be a partner with Hashem, so-to-speak?

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Yisro 5780

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The Fourteen Commandments[1]

לא-יהיה לך אלהים אחרים על פני: לא-תעשה לך פסל וכל-תמונה אשר בשמים ממעל ואשר בארץ מתחת ואשר במים מתחת לארץ: לא-תשתחוה להם ולא תעבדם כי אנכי יקוק אלקיך קל קנא פקד עון אבת על-בנים על-שלשים ועל-רבעים לשנאי: ועשה חסד לאלפים לאהבי ולשמרי מצותי
You shall not have other gods before Me. Do not make for yourselves any image that is in the sky from above, that is on the earth from below, and that is in the water below the earth. Don’t prostate before them nor serve them, for I am Hashem your G-d, a zealous G-d, who holds for My enemies the iniquity of the fathers on the children, for three and four generations. And who performs loving-kindness for a thousand [generations] for those who love Me and fulfill My commandments[2]

This week’s parsha contains the epic revelation at Mount Sinai. Millions of Jews gathered to meet the G-d who took them out of Egypt in order to make them His nation. As part of this grand revelation, Hashem taught the Jews what is today known as the Ten Commandments. These commandments are essentially ten umbrella mitzvos in which you can categorize all the 613 mitzvos[3]. Classically, in Rabbinical literature they’re referred to as the Ten Statements, or Ten Utterances. Each statement is its own idea, and the statements are separated in a sefer Torah by a noticeable space.

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Beshalach 5780

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A false united front[1]

ופרעה הקריב וישאו בני-ישראל את-עיניהם והנה מצרים נסע אחריהם וייראו מאד וצעקו בני-ישראל אל-יקוק
Pharaoh brought [himself][2] close. The Jews raised their eyes and behold! The Egyptians are traveling after them! They were very afraid, and the Jewish people cried out to Hashem[3]

The climax of the Exodus was about to begin. The Jews hit a dead end in their escape from Egypt, at the shores of the Reed Sea. They turned around and saw that their dreaded enemy the Egyptians were fast approaching. The Torah describes the Egyptians’ travels in the singular, using the word נוסע instead of the plural נוסעים. Rashi explains[4] that they were בלב אחד כאיש אחד, with one heart, like one person. This shows their complete unity in their plot to annihilate the Jews.

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Bo 5780

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Separation by lamb blood[1]

החדש הזה לכם ראש חדשים ראשון הוא לכם לחדשי השנה: דברו וגו’ ויקחו להם איש שה לבית-אבת שה לבית: ואם-ימעט הבית מהית משה ולקח הוא ושכנו הקרב אל-ביתו וגו’ ולקחו מן-הדם ונתנו על-שתי המזוזת ועל-המשקוף על הבתים אשר-יאכלו אתו בהם: והיה הדם לכם לאת על הבתים אשר אתם שם וגו’ ואתם לא תצאו איש מפתח-ביתו עד-בקר: ועבר יקוק לנגף את-מצרים וראה את-הדם על-המשקוף וגו’ ולא יתן המשחית לבא אל-בתיכם לנגף
This month will be for you the beginning of the months; for you it is the first for the months of the year. Tell [the Jewish people that]…they will take for them, each man, a lamb for the fathers’ homes, a lamb for each household. If the lamb will not suffice for the household, they and the neighbor close to their house will take…Take from the blood and place it on the two doorposts, and the lintel of the house that you will eat [the offering] in. The blood will be for you a sign on your houses that you will be in…and you shall not leave, each person, from the door of their house, until morning. Hashem will pass by to afflict the Egyptians, and will see the blood on the lintel…and He will not let the Destroyer come to your houses to afflict[2]

Before the plague of the death of the firstborn, Moshe instructed the Jews with several mitzvos. He started by informing them about the Jewish calendar, in which Nissan is the first of the months. This included details of the mitzvah to sanctify the New Moon, establishing the months accordingly. Subsequently, he informed them of the mitzvah of the Pesach offering. This included instructions on selecting a lamb for each household, taking its blood and putting it on the doorposts, and staying indoors until morning. How are we to understand the juxtaposition of these two mitzvos? As well, upon careful examination, we’ll observe that the first mitzvah given to the Jewish people as a whole is the mitzvah to sanctify the New Moon. Why was this mitzvah held in such high esteem that it merited to get the position as the first mitzvah? Finally, with regards to the Pesach offering, why is there so much emphasis on the house? It’s repeated and stressed multiple times. What could be the reason?

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Shemos 5780

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Translation issues[1]

ויצו פרעה לכל-עמו לאמר כל-הבן הילוד היארה תשליכהו וכל-הבת תחיון
Pharaoh commanded his entire people, saying: “All male babies that are born shall be thrown into the river, and let all female babies live”[2]

When the Egyptian exile seemed like it couldn’t get any worse, Pharaoh seemed to develop a genocidal bend. First, he ordered the Jewish midwives to kill all male babies that are born. When that plan failed, he commanded his entire people to throw all male babies that are born into the river. Chazal pick up[3] on the fact that Pharaoh’s decree said to kill all male babies. Pharaoh was told by his astrologers that the savior of the Jewish people had been born, but they weren’t sure if he was Egyptian or Jewish. To avoid such a leader emerging, Pharaoh ordered to have all male babies killed. Moshe, who had just been born, managed to avoid the decree. The rest is history. However, the Aramaic translations of the Torah, known as the Targum, seem to say something else[4]. They interpret the verse to be saying that Pharaoh decreed against all Jewish male babies. This seems to exclude any decree against the Egyptians themselves. Can these two sources be reconciled?

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Pekudei 5779

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The foreshadowed clock[1]

כי ענן על-המשכן יומם ואש תהיה לילה בו לעיני כל-בית-ישראל בכל-מסעיהם
A cloud [will be] upon the Miskan by day, and a [pillar of][2] fire will be on it by night, for the eyes of all the houses of Israel, for all of their journeys[3]

The last verse of the book of Exodus concludes all the hard work that went into the Mishkan. The purpose of such a structure was to have G-d’s Presence on Earth. It was to be a place where Hashem was palpable, as much as could be possible in this physical world. A representation of Hashem appeared upon the Mishkan in the form of a cloud. It appeared after the erection of the Mishkan, to show the Jewish people that their construction efforts had paid off. The verse also describes that at night the cloud was replaced by a pillar of fire. However, the verse describes it in the future tense: a pillar of fire will be on it by night. Why isn’t it written in the present tense, as that was the reality for the Jews at that time? Further, why does the verse say that this fire was for the Jews’ journeys? It should have said: “for all their encampments”[4].

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