Vayakhel/Pekudei 5781

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One mitzvah, or many?[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 וגו’ ויאמר משה אל-כל-עדת בני-ישראל לאמר זה הדבר אשר-צוה יקוק לאמר: קחו מאתכם תרומה ליקוק כל נדיב לבו יביאה את תרומת יקוק וגו’‏
Moshe gathered the entire assembly of the Children of Israel. He said to them: “These are the matters which Hashem commanded to do: Six days you shall work, and on the seventh day it shall be for you a Holy Shabbos”…Moshe said to the entire assembly of the Children of Israel, saying: “This is the matter that Hashem commanded, saying: Take for yourselves a donation for Hashem. All those with a generous heart will bring their portion for Hashem”[2]

This week’s parsha begins by speaking about the mitzvah of Shabbos. It then continues with a detailed description of the construction and materials of the Mishkan, the portable Temple the Jews built in the wilderness. There’s a discrepancy with how these two mitzvos are introduced. The mitzvah of Shabbos is described as, “these are the matters which Hashem commanded”, and the mitzvah of constructing the Mishkan is described as, “this is the matter”. Besides the inconsistency, these descriptions are also counterintuitive. One would think that Shabbos is only one prohibition, to refrain from creative labor. This is unlike the construction of the Mishkan, which involves many parts, such as the Ark, the Altar, the Menorah. Why then is Shabbos described in the plural, and the Mishkan in the singular?

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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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Terumah / Zachor 5781

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Amazing abode allusions[1]

דבר אל בני-ישראל ויקחו-לי תרומה מאת כל-איש אשר ידבנו לבו תקחו את-תרומתי: וזאת התרומה אשר תקחו מאתם זהב וכסף ונחשת
Speak to the Children of Israel: “Take for Me a portion from each person. [From] those whose heart feels generous, take My portion. This is the portion that you should take from them: gold, silver, and copper”[2]

This week’s parsha introduces us to the Mishkan, or Tabernacle, the portable Temple that the Jews constructed and used in the wilderness. It was literally a place for Hashem’s presence in this world. His presence was palpable, and allowed the Jews a chance to connect with Hashem in a way we can only imagine. The Torah tells us that the Jews were asked to take part in its construction. Each person would donate the materials needed for the Mishkan, donating what they saw fit. Besides gold, silver, and copper, many other materials are listed. However, if we focus on these three materials, we’ll find an amazing allusion hidden in their letters[3].

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Mishpatim / Shekalim 5781

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Joyous acceptance[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 perhaps wasn’t appropriate at that moment, and the Torah seems to rebuke them for it. The Torah implies that the dignitaries could have been wiped out at that moment, but Hashem had compassion and spared them. One explanation is that this was 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].

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Yisro 5781

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True humility[1]

וירד יקוק על-הר סיני וגו’‏
And Hashem descended on Mount Sinai…[2]

This week’s parsha contains the dramatic, historic event of the revelation at Mount Sinai. 600,000 men over the age of twenty[3], as well as women and children, had an encounter with the Divine. Hashem lowered His presence, so-to-speak, on Mount Sinai, and uttered the Ten Commandments. Our Sages are bothered[4]: Why Mount Sinai was given the privilege of hosting this event? There are hundreds of thousands of mountains in the world. The Torah could have been given on Mount Everest. Or on Mount Kilimanjaro. Why was Mount Sinai singled out? They tell us that Hashem specifically chose Mount Sinai because it is the lowest of the mountains. Any lower and it wouldn’t even be called a mountain. This was to teach the Jewish people that Torah can only be acquired if someone is humble and of meek spirit[5].

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Beshalach 5781

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An embittered situation[1]

ויבאו מרתה ולא יכלו לשתת מים ממרה כי מרים הם על-כן קרא-שמה מרה: ויצעק אל-יקוק ויורהו יקוק עץ וישלח אל-המים וימתקו המים שם שם לו חק ומשפט ושם נסהו
[The Jews] arrived at Marah, and they weren’t able to drink the water at Marah, as it was bitter. Therefore, the place was called Marah. [Moshe] cried out to Hashem, and Hashem showed him a piece of wood. [Moshe] threw the wood into the water, and the water became sweet. There [Hashem] placed for them a decree and an ordinance, and there He tested them[2]

The episode of Marah is short and sweet[3]. The Jews, after traveling for three days, had run out of water. They were hoping to drink from the water sources that they found at Marah. The problem was the water there was too bitter to drink. Moshe threw a piece of wood into the water, and it miraculously became sweet. Right afterwards is a vague verse. The Torah says that Hashem gave the Jews חק ומשפט, a decree and an ordinance. Our Sages teach us[4] this means that at that time they were introduced to a few mitzvos to be involved with: Shabbos, Parah Aduma (the laws of the Red Heifer used for ritual purity), and monetary laws[5] [6]. They would receive the rest of the Torah when they arrived at Mount Sinai.

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Bo 5781

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Why did the Jews bake matzah when they left Egypt?[1]

ותחזק מצרים על-העם למהר לשלחם מן-הארץ כי אמרו כלנו מתים: וישא העם את-בצקו טרם יחמץ משארתם צררת בשמלתם על-שכמם: ויאפו את-הבצק אשר הוציאו ממצרים עגת מצות כי לא חמץ כי גרשו ממצרים ולא יכלו להתמהמה וגם צדה לא עשו להם
The Egyptians were very forceful in sending out [the Jewish people] from the land, as they said: “We’re all going to die!” The nation took their dough before it became leaven; their kneading bowls were wrapped in their clothing, resting on their shoulders. And they baked the dough that they had taken out of Egypt into matzah, as it had not risen. This was because they were expelled from Egypt and didn’t have time to wait. They also didn’t bring any other provisions[2]

The Torah tells us that the Jews were rushed out of Egypt. Their salvation came in a blink of an eye. Many of them were planning on baking food for their expected Exodus from Egypt. What seems to have been unexpected is just how willing and forceful the Egyptians would be. The verse tells us that when the Jews had to leave, their dough had not yet had time to rise. Indeed, Rashi explains[3] that the Egyptians didn’t give the Jews a chance to let their dough rise. This would imply that if the Egyptians had been more patient, the Jews would have let their dough rise to be baked into bread. The problem with this implication is that it was the first day of Pesach! Bread is not only forbidden for consumption, but we are even forbidden from owning leavened dough on Pesach. How then could the Jews have intended to let their dough rise?

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Va’eira 5781

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The brighter side of things[1]

וידבר משה כן אל בני ישראל ולא שמעו אל משה מקוצר רוח ומעבודה קשה
And Moshe told the Jewish people so, but they didn’t listen to him due to a lack of spirit and the difficult labor[2]

Moshe saw some major setbacks at the beginning of his mission to redeem the Jewish people. First, his first encounter with Pharaoh, demanding the immediate release of the Jews, backfired. Rather than complying, Pharaoh magnified the suffering of the Jews by intensifying his immoral demands. They were expected to produce the same number of bricks as before, but this time being required to gather their own materials. This was the exact opposite of redemption. Subsequently, Hashem reassured Moshe that the Jews will indeed be redeemed. There will be a miraculous salvation, and the Egyptians will be punished appropriately for their heinous crimes. When Moshe told this great news to the people, they unfortunately didn’t. They were too overwhelmed from their labor, and had essentially given up hope of redemption.

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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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