Shemos 5780

[Print]

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?

Continue reading “Shemos 5780”

Pekudei 5779

[Print]

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].

Continue reading “Pekudei 5779”

Vayakhel / Shekalim 5779

[Print]

Universal labor[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 וגו’‏
Moshe congregated the assembly of Israel and said to them: “These are the matters to which Hashem commanded, to perform them: Six days your work shall be done, and the seventh day shall be Holy, a shabbos of rest…[2]

This week’s parsha begins with a strange combination of verses. First, we are told that what follows are the commands which Hashem expects us to perform. Then, we are warned against performing work on shabbos. This is telling us not to do something. This anomaly forces us to read the verses in their proper context. This parsha details the vessels and materials that went into the creation of the Mishkan. What this verse is referring to is that the Jews were adjured to construct the Mishkan and all that went into it. However, the verse is followed by another command: to observe shabbos properly by refraining from work. We learn from here that the very constructive activities that go into the creation of the Mishkan are the forms of creative labor which are forbidden on shabbos[3].

This understanding by our Sages goes further than expected. Not only are the acts of construction for the Mishkan forbidden on shabbos, they are the sole criteria for defining what the Torah means by “work”. That is, anything that wasn’t involved in the creation of the Mishkan, is permissible on shabbos. Furthermore, acts similar to those involved in the Mishkan, if they are lacking the essential characteristics of that particular form of labor, are permitted on a Torah level (although usually forbidden Rabbinically). For example: digging a hole in the ground for agricultural purposes is forbidden, as that is what they did for the Mishkan. However, digging a hole to retrieve and use the dirt, is permissible (again, on a Torah level). This begs the question: if the purpose of shabbos was to give us a day of rest, why did Hashem make the forbidden labors dependent on what was necessary for the Mishkan, regardless of their necessary level of exertion? Why is it so dependent that the same act, with the slightest of changes, can change from absolutely forbidden to completely permissible?

It is revealed in many sources, some of them exegetical[4], some of them more esoteric[5] and Kabbalistic[6], that the Mishkan wasn’t just a portable Temple structure for the Jews’ travels in the wilderness. It was a microcosm of the universe, and of all the sub-universes within, both the spiritual and the physical. Its physical structure was aligned with all the aspects of the spiritual and physical universe. Not only that, but Betzalel, the chief architect of the Mishkan, used the very acts that went into the creation of the universe to create the Mishkan[7].

What’s the essence of the day of rest known as shabbos? It’s testimony that there’s a Creator in this world[8]. The Torah tells us[9] that He created the universe in six days and rested on the seventh. This “rest” meant cessation from creative activities. By following suit throughout or lives, by working throughout the week, being involved in creative tasks, and resting on the seventh day, we are mimicking our Creator. By doing so we are demonstrating our belief that Hashem created the universe.

If so, Hashem wants us to rest from the very creative activities that He used to create the universe. Only then will there be proper testimony through observing shabbos. However, how could we ever know which creative acts were used to create and form the universe? We learn it from the Mishkan. It’s form and structure are a microcosm of the universe, and it was constructed the same way as the universe. By studying and observing the creative labor that went into the Mishkan, we can deduce how to properly observe shabbos. Doing so will testify to all that there is a Creator, who rested on the seventh day.

Good Shabbos

[1] Based on Be’er Yosef to Exodus 35:1-2

[2] Exodus loc. cit.

[3] Mechilta ad. loc. See Ramban and Malbim ad. loc.

[4] Shemos Rabbah 33:4; Midrash Tanchuma Pekudei § 2. See also Megillah 10b

[5] Nefesh HaChaim 1:4

[6] Rabbeinu Bachaye to Exodus 25:9; Shnei Luchos HaBris Torah Shebiksav Terumah, Vayakhel and Pekudei

[7] Berachos 55a

[8] Mechilta to Exodus 20:14

[9] Genesis Chapter 1

Ki Sisa 5779

[Print]

Order of greatness[1]

וידבר יקוק אל-משה לאמר: ראה קראתי בשם בצלאל בן-אורי בן-חור למטה יהודה: ואמלא אתו רוח אלקים בחכמה ובתבונה ובדעת ובכל-מלאכה: ואתה דבר אל-בני ישראל לאמר אך את-שבתתי תשמרו כי אות הוא ביני וביניכם לדרתיכם לדעת כי אני יקוק מקדשכם
Hashem said to Moshe, saying: “See that I have called to prominence Betzalel, the son of Uri, the son of Chur, from the tribe of Yehudah. I will fill him with a spirit of G-d, with wisdom, understanding, knowledge, and every workmanship [ability]…And you shall speak to the Children of Israel, saying: ‘However, guard my Shabbos, since it is a sign between Me and You, for your generations, to know that I am G-d, who sanctifies you’”[2]

This week’s parsha contrasts the construction of the Mishkan with the observance of Shabbos. The Mishkan was an incredibly complicated structure, with intricate details to its vessels and overall set-up. Hashem chose Betzalel to be the master architect behind the project. In order for him to be fit for the job, it wasn’t enough that he be the most talented and qualified individual. He had to receive Divine assistance. The Torah tells us that he received an extra level of wisdom, understanding, and knowledge.

Continue reading “Ki Sisa 5779”

Tetzaveh 5779

[Print]

The unnecessary lights[1]

ואתה תצוה את-בני ישראל ויקחו אליך שמן זית זך כתית למאור להעלות נר תמיד: באהל מעוד מחוץ לפרכת וגו’ חקת עולם לדרתם מאת בני ישראל
You shall command the Children of Israel, that they should take to you highly purified, crushed oil for illumination, to ignite a constant flame. [It will be] in the Tent of Meeting, outside the Paroches curtain…an everlasting decree for their generations, from the Children of Israel[2]

The parsha begins with the mitzvah of lighting the Menorah in the Temple. This command seems highly out of place. It would have belonged nicely after the Mishkan was erected in its place, and not to be sandwiched between the parsha of the Temple vessels and the parsha of the Kohanic garments. Why was it placed here? As well, there’s a different parsha later[3] in the Torah dedicated to the mitzvah of lighting the Menorah. These verses in our parsha would have belonged better there. Finally, the end of the verse appears unnecessary. It could have simply ended by saying that the Menorah is an everlasting decree for their generations. What do the words, “from the Children of Israel”, add to our understanding?

Continue reading “Tetzaveh 5779”

Mishpatim 5779

[Print]

Inconclusive consent[1]

ואל-אצילי בני ישראל לא שלח ידו ויחזו את-האלקים ויאכלו וישתו
[Hashem] didn’t send His hand against the dignitaries of the Children of Israel, [although] they had seen G-d and ate and drank[2]

After detailing various monetary and ritual laws, the Torah returns to the story of the Divine Revelation at Sinai. As the Jews were receiving the Torah, the dignitaries of the Jewish People feasted; they ate and drank. While this normally could have been justified, they were in front of the Divine Presence. The environment commanded a very high level of awe and respect. A public feast wasn’t appropriate at that moment, and the Torah rebukes them for it. These dignitaries could have been wiped out at that moment, but Hashem had compassion and spared them, so as to not ruin the celebratory event of the giving of the Torah[3]. Instead, the dignitaries were later punished with death when they complained unjustifiably[4]. What’s hard to understand is that these dignitaries weren’t average people. They were very pious and learned. Shouldn’t they have had the proper sensitivity for the occasion? How could they shamelessly feast in front of Hashem’s presence?

Continue reading “Mishpatim 5779”

Yisro 5779

[Print]

Yisro’s grand realization[1]

וישמע יתרו כהן מדין חתן משה את כל אשר עשה אלקים למשה ולישראל עמו כי הוציא יקוק את ישראל ממצרים
Yisro, the priest of Midian, the father in-law of Moshe, heard all that G-d did for Moshe and for His nation of Yisroel, since Hashem took Yisroel out of Egypt[2]

As the Jews traveled towards Mount Sinai for the giving of the Torah[3], Moshe’s father in-law Yisro made a grand appearance. The Torah tells us that he heard what had happened to the Jews, and decided to join them and convert to their religion. The verse doesn’t specify what Yisro heard which inspired him to convert, but the Midrash elaborates[4]. One opinion says that Yisro heard about the splitting of the sea. In fact, the entire world heard about this amazing miracle. According to this opinion, only Yisro took the miracle as a call to action to join the Jewish people. Another opinion says that Yisro heard about the war with Amalek. Right after the Exodus, the Jews were ambushed by this nation which represents pure evil. It was this war that inspired Yisro to convert to the Jewish religion[5].

Continue reading “Yisro 5779”

Bo 5779

[Print]

The conditional promise[1]

דבר נא באזני העם וישאלו וגו’ כלי כסף וכלי זהב
Please tell the people to borrow…silver and gold vessels [2]

Just before the Exodus was about to take place, Hashem made an unusual request of Moshe. He told him to please ask the Jewish people to borrow valuables from their Egyptian neighbors. The usage of the word “please” indicated to Chazal that there was some special purpose to this request. They explain[3] that Hashem was concerned (so to speak), that that righteous one, meaning Avraham, will have complaints against Him. Hashem gave[4] Avraham a prophecy that his children will be strangers in a strange land. They will be oppressed and enslaved. However, the consolation is they will leave Egypt supremely wealthy.
Continue reading “Bo 5779”

Va’eira 5779

[Print]

The vicious cycle of anger[1]

ויט אהרן את-ידו על מימי מצרים ותעל הצפרדע ותכס את-ארץ מצרים
Aharon held out his arm over the water of Egypt, and the frog came up and covered the land of Egypt[2]

The second of the ten plagues was the plague of frogs. The frogs were everywhere. They were in the Egyptians’ households, including their kitchens and bedrooms[3]. Miraculously, they even entered the Egyptians; bodies and croaked in their digestive tracks[4]. The verse that introduces the plague has a grammatical oddity. It says that the frog came up and covered the land of Egypt. Why is this word in the singular? The simple explanation[5] is that sometimes things that are great in number are described in the singular. This is because when they are on-mass, they appear to be one giant force to be reckoned with. This is what happened in Egypt.

Continue reading “Va’eira 5779”

Shemos 5779

[Print]

Decreeing their future salvation[1]

ויקם מלך חדש על-מצרים אשר לא-ידע את-יוסף
A new King arose over Egypt that did not know Yosef[2]

As we begin the book of Exodus, the Torah describes how a new Pharaoh became the ruler over Egypt, after Yosef and his brothers had died. The Torah says that this Pharaoh didn’t know of Yosef. Some say[3] what this really means is he annulled the decrees of Yosef. What does this refer to? Yosef, while he was viceroy in Egypt, decreed that all the Egyptians had to become circumcised[4]. This was their prerequisite to get food to eat during the ravaging famine. Yosef’s intention was that he that knew his family would be exiled to Egypt, and he didn’t want his circumcised brethren to feel alienated. With this decree, everyone would be the same. After Yosef died, Pharaoh annulled this decree[5]. While this may be an interesting historical fact, why is it placed in the middle of the story which describes the beginning of the Egyptian slavery?

Continue reading “Shemos 5779”