Bereishis 5780

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The eclipsed relationship[1]

ויאמר אלקים יהי מארת ברקיע השמים להבדיל בין היום ובין הלילה והיו לאתת ולמועדים ולימים ושנים
G-d said: “Let there be luminaries in the sky to separate between day and night, and they will be for signs, set times, days and years”[2]

On the fourth day of Hashem’s Six Days of Creation, we are taught that Hashem created what we know today as the Sun and the Moon. These celestial bodies, besides their other purposes, serve as practical time indicators. They’re used to distinguish between day and night, and to tell how far along it is during the day and night. As well, the Jewish Calendar is set up to rely on the lunar cycle, and the stage the Moon is in indicates how far along it is in the month. Many festivals occur during the full Moon, and the New Moon indicates the start of a new month. The Torah says that the luminaries are also for “signs”. What signs is the Torah referring to?

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Shemini 5779

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Misapplied desires[1]

ותצא אש מלפני יקוק ותאכל אותם וימתו לפני יקוק
A fire went forth from before Hashem, and consumed [Nadav and Avihu], and they died before Hashem[2]

At the conclusion of the Mishkan’s inauguration, the people were beset with tragedy. Nadav and Avihu, two of Aharon’s children, who were leaders of the Jewish people, died. They had volunteered an unrequested fire offering to Hashem, and perished instantly. The consequences of their actions seem too severe for their “crime”. Indeed, what they did seems meritorious. They were displaying their devotion to Hashem, and their joy at the opportunity to express it. As a result, many explanations[3] are given for what their real crime was.

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Pesach 5778

The Four Children[1]

1) והיה כי-תבואו אל-הארץ וגו’ ושמרתם את העבודה-הזאת, והיה כי-יאמרו אליכם בניכם מה העבודה הזאת לכם 2) והגדת לבנך ביום ההוא לאמר בעבור זה עשה יקוק לי בצאתי ממצרים 3) והיה כי-ישאלך בנך מחר לאמר מה-זאת וגו’ 4) כי ישאלך בנך וגו’ מה העדות והחוקים וגו’‏
1) When you will come to the land…you shall observe this [Passover] service, and your sons will say to you: “What is this service to you?” 2) You shall tell your son on that day saying: “Hashem acted for me when I left Egypt because of this” 3) It shall be when your son will ask you tomorrow saying: “What’s this?” … 4) When your son will ask you… “What are the testimonies and statutes” …[2]

כנגד ארבעה בנים דברה תורה: אחד חכם, ואחד רשע, ואחד תם, ואחד שאינו יודע לשאול…רשע מה הוא אומר? מה העבודה הזאת לכם. לכם ולא לו. ולפי שהוציא את עצמו מן הכלל כפר בעיקר, ואף אתה הקהה את שניו ואמור לו, בעבור זה עשה יקוק לי בצאתי ממצרים. לי ולא לו. אלו היה שם לא היה נגאל

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Tetzaveh / Zachor 5778

Misplaced humility[1]

ויהי דבר-יקוק אל-שמואל לאמר: נחמתי כי-המלכתי את-שאול למלך כי-שב מאחרי ואת-דברי לא הקים וגו’ ויאמר שמואל הלוא אם-קטן אתה בעיניך ראש שבטי ישראל אתה וימשחך יקוק למלך על-ישראל וגו’‏
And it was that the word of Hashem came to Shmuel, saying: “I have regretted coronating Shaul to be King, as he has turned away from Me and has not fulfilled My words.”…Shmuel [later said to Shaul]: “Is it not true that you view yourself as insignificant? You are the head of the tribes of Israel! Hashem has anointed you to be King over Israel…”[2]

This week is the week before Purim. As such, for maftir we read parshas Zachor[3], which enumerates the mitzvos involved in remembering what the nation of Amalek did to us when we left Egypt. As well, we read a special haftarah[4], recounting the sin of King Shaul. He was commanded by the prophet Shmuel to put an end to the evils of the nation of Amalek, and he failed to do so. The gemarra makes an interesting observation[5]: King Shaul transgressed one mitzvah[6] and had to suffer the consequences. He was punished with an early death, and the kingship was taken away from his descendants and given over to David. This is unlike King David, who transgressed two mitzvos[7] and kept the kingship. Why was this so?

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Mishpatim / Shekalim 5778

Seeking refuge[1]

ואשר לא צדה והאלקים אנה לידו ושמתי לך מקום אשר ינוס שמה
If he didn’t plan to kill [his victim], but G-d caused it to happen, then I will provide for you a place for [the killer] to find refuge[2]

There is a law in the Torah[3] that someone who unintentionally kills another Jew, must be exiled to one of the six cities of refuge in the land of Israel. This serves two purposes: to protect the killer from the vengeance of the deceased’s family[4], who will find it difficult to not take the law into their own hands, and to provide a spiritual atonement for this accidental sin[5]. However, this exile isn’t necessarily forever. It’s until the death of the Kohen Gadol. Once he dies, the inadvertent killer goes free[6]. These cities of refuge only protect the killer when all six cities are established[7]. Moshe, towards the end of his life, established the three cities on the other side of the Jordan River[8]. He knew he wouldn’t merit to enter the land of Israel proper to finish the job; nevertheless, he didn’t refrain from starting the mitzvah[9]. Yehoshua, his successor, after fourteen years of conquest and dividing the land of Israel, established the final three[10]. It comes out from this that for those fourteen years, someone who accidentally killed another, had no safe haven. They were vulnerable that whole time. Why didn’t the Torah provide them refuge as well[11]?

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Vayechi 5778

Correcting a blemish[1]

ויקרא יעקב אל-בניו ויאמר האספו ואגידה לכם את אשר-יקרא אתכם באחרית הימים
Yaakov called out to his sons: “Gather together and I will tell you what will happen to you in the end of days”[2]

When Yaakov fell ill, he knew his end was near. He decided that as this might be his final opportunity, he would reveal to his children their ultimate fate[3]. As they gathered to hear his words, his power of prophecy suddenly left him[4]. Yaakov was disturbed how this could happen. He felt it must be because of one of his children. Just like Avraham had two sons, Yitzchak and Yishmael, one good and one bad, and Yitzchak had two sons, Yaakov and Eisav, one good and one bad, Yaakov worried maybe one of his children had turned rotten[5]. He asked if any of them had any complaints against Hashem[6]. Perhaps their faith wasn’t as strong as he thought. His children responded in unison: “Hear O Israel[7]! Hashem is our G-d, Hashem is One”[8]. “Just like in your heart there is only One, so too in our hearts there is only One”. “Just like you have nothing in your heart against Hashem, neither do we”. Yaakov, delighted at this response, called out “Blessed is the name of His Glorious Kingdom forever!”. When Yaakov suspected his children of wrongdoing, why did he specifically suspect them of having a faith problem? Maybe it was something else?

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Vayeishev 5778

It wasn’t a coincidence[1]

…הכר-נא הכתונת בנך הוא אם-לא: …הכר-נא למי החתמת והפתילים והמטה האלה
Yehudah[2]: “…Please identify if this coat belongs to [Yosef] or not”.
Tamar: “… Please identify who owns this seal, cloak and staff”[3]

After Yaakov’s sons decided to sell their brother Yosef into slavery, they had to create a coverup story to tell their father[4]. They decided to take Yosef’s coat, dip it in goat’s blood, and show it to their father. He would hopefully intuit Yosef was dead. Yehudah asked his father if he recognized the coat, and Yaakov assumed a wild animal had eaten Yosef. He was devastated by this news, and refused to accept any comfort from his family. Twelve years later[5] a seemingly unconnected story occurs with Yehudah[6].

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Ki Savo 5777

Taking the first step[1]

דרשו יקוק בהמצאו קראהו בהיותו קרוב: יעזב רשע דרכו ואיש און מחשבתיו וישב אל-יקוק וירחמהו ואל-אלקינו כי-ירבה לסלוח
Seek out Hashem where he is found, call out to Him when He is close. The wicked one will abandon his ways, the sinful man his thoughts; he will return to Hashem, who will have mercy on him, and to Our G-d, since He is wont to forgive[2]

The Midrash says[3] that once the Jews started to approach the land of Israel, Moshe pleaded with Hashem that he be allowed to join them. He had recently been barred from entering the land[4]. He asked: “Please can I see it”[5]. Hashem responded by asking how could He annul His decree against Moshe and yet maintain Moshe’s earlier decree? When the Jews sinned during the episode of the spies, Hashem was going to annihilate the nation. Moshe said: “Please forgive them”[6]. Hashem fulfilled his decree. By asking to enter the land, Hashem informed Moshe that it was like he wanted to hold on to a rope from both ends. If Hashem’s decree is nullified, Moshe’s decree can’t stand. Once Moshe heard this, he desisted from his prayers. This Midrash on the surface is astounding. How come one decree is dependent on the other? Why does letting Moshe into the land remove their earlier forgiveness?

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Shoftim 5777

The seeds of potential[1]

כפר לעמך ישראל אשר-פדית יקוק ואל-תתן דם נקי בקרב עמך ישראל ונכפר להם הדם
Hashem, grant atonement for your nation Israel which you have redeemed, and don’t let guilt for innocent blood remain among your nation, Israel; and they shall be absolved of punishment[2]

The beginning of parshas Vayeira involves the story of three Angels who came to visit Avraham. Acting as a generous host, Avraham is described as serving their every need. The verses testify[3] that he offered them water, he prepared dishes of cream and milk in addition to a small calf, and he waited on them hand and foot. The gemarra teaches us[4] that for these three acts of chesed, his descendants merited to three acts of chesed from Hashem. While the Jews wandered in the wilderness for forty years, they were given munn, the manna that fell from heaven, the Clouds of Glory which guided the way and protected them from the elements, and the travelling well of water. However, this teaching doesn’t appear to be consistent with another teaching in the gemarra[5], that the Jews received these three gifts due to the merits of Moshe, Aharon, and Miriam[6]. How can these two teachings be reconciled?

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Re’eh 5777

Helping the poor[1]

כי יהיה בך אביון מאחד אחיך…לא תאמץ את-לבבך ולא תקפץ את-ידך מאחיך האביון: כי פתוח תפתח את ידך לו…השמר לך פן-יהיה דבר עם-לבבך בליעל…‏
When there will be amongst you someone destitute from one of your brethren…don’t harden your heart, and don’t clench your hand from your destitute brother. Rather you must open your hand to him…Guard yourself lest there will be a rebellious matter in your hearts…[2]

This week’s parsha introduces a multitude of mitzvos, the third most[3] of any parsha. Many of them are between man and his Creator, and many of them are been man and his fellow. One of the crucial interpersonal mitzvos in this parsha is the mitzvah of tzedakah. It is given more attention than others, with the Torah having devoted to it five verses. This is opposed to the usual one or two for a specific mitzvah. This seems to connote its importance. This isn’t surprising considering how many mitzvos there are related to providing for the poor[4]. Hashem wants us to make sure that no one is lacking what they need.

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