ותרא שרה את-בן-הגר המצרית אשר-ילדה לאברהם מצחק: ותאמר לאברהם גרש האמה הזאת ואת-בנה כי לא יירש בן-האמה הזאת עם-בני יצחק
Sarah saw the son of Hagar, the Egyptian, who [she] had born to Avraham, playing. [Sarah] said to Avraham: “Expel this maidservant and her son, for the son of this maidservant shall not inherit with my son Yitzchak”
Reading a rudimentary translation of the Torah would yield quite a shocking result. Sarah sees Yishmael, the son of her maidservant Hagar and her husband Avraham, playing. Her response? Kick him out! How can Sarah be so harsh? She also says that Yishmael shall not inherit with Yitzchak. What does this have to do with his playing? This is why it’s so important to read the Torah in its original language.
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Two seemingly indistinguishable goats
ומאת עדת בני ישראל יקח שני-שעירי עזים לחטאת וגו’ ונתן אהרן על-שני השעירם גורלות גורל אחד ליקוק וגורל אחד לעזאזל: והקריב אהרן את-השעיר אשר עלה עליו הגורל ליקוק ועשהו חטאת
From the congregation of the Children of Israel, he shall take two goats for a sin offering…Aharon shall place on the two goats lots: one lot [to designate the goat] for Hashem, and one lot [to send it to] Azazel. Aharon will then offer the goat whose lot designated it to Hashem, and he shall make it a sin offering
A major part of the Yom Kippur service in the Temple involved two identical goats. They had to look the exact same, be the same size, and be sold for the same price. One of them was to be brought as an offering to Hashem, and the other was to be sent off a cliff. What was unique about these goats is the fate of each one was determined by a lottery. A box would contain two pieces of paper, one saying, “for Hashem”, and one saying, “for Azazel”. The paper saying “for Hashem” would determine which one would be brought as an offering, and the paper saying “for Azazel” which one for the cliff. The Kohen would stick his hands in the box and each one would grab a paper. The fate of the goat to his right would be determined by the paper in his right hand. The same for his left. What can we learn from this unique and unusual procedure?
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Angels and repentance
כי המצוה הזאת אשר אנכי מצוך היום לא-נפלאת הוא ממך ולא רחקה הוא
For this mitzvah that I command you is not beyond you, nor is it far from you
The subject of this verse is a matter of dispute. Rashi says that it’s referring to the Torah, its fulfillment and study. Ramban however says it’s referring to something very apropos to the time period we are in. It’s referring to the mitzvah of teshuva, repentance. There’s an interesting Midrash about this verse. It says that “this mitzvah” is not removed from us, but it is removed from the Angels. At first glance, this would sound more like Rashi’s interpretation. The Torah was given to humans and not the Angels, so it is in a sense “removed from them”. Is there any way to understand this Midrash according to the Ramban, that “this mitzvah” is referring to teshuva?
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The difference between a Metzora and a Kohen
אדם וגו’ והיה בעור-בשרו לנגע צרעת והובא אל-אהרן הכהן או אל-אחד מבניו הכהנים: ויצא הכהן אל-מחוץ למחנה וראה הכהן והנה נרפא נגע-הצרעת מן-הצרוע
When a person…develops a tzara’as affliction on their skin, he shall be brought to Aharon the Kohen, or to one of his sons, the Kohanim… The Kohen shall go outside the camp and he shall see, and behold! The afflicted person’s tzara’as affliction has healed!
This week’s double parsha mostly deals with the laws of tzara’as, most commonly translated as leprosy. While being a whitish skin condition, in reality it’s a totally unrelated spiritual malady with physical symptoms. Chazal tell us that someone who contracts tzara’as, known as a Metzora, usually committed a certain sin. One example is that of loshon hara, evil speech. As a result of his sin, he is infected with a disturbing skin condition, and has to have his status established by a Kohen. If the Kohen determines he is spiritually pure, then he is. The opposite is also true.
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Reaching the greatest heights through regretting sin
חייב איניש לבסומי בפוריא עד דלא ידע בין ארור המן לברוך מרדכי
A person is obligated to get drunk on Purim to the point that they don’t know the difference between “Cursed is Haman” and “Blessed is Mordechai”
Everyone is familiar with the concept of getting drunk on Purim. Our Sages even seem to say that a person is obligated to get drunk on Purim. This begs the obvious question: How could our Sages obligate such a repugnant thing? Our scriptures are full of descriptions of the evils of drunkenness, and it is known to all that it causes people to stumble in their behavior. Why would the day of Purim be any different? This is a question that many struggle with. One suggestion is that it’s to commemorate the fact that all the miracles of Purim occurred through the drinking of wine. Vashti was sentenced to death because Achashverosh was drunk, allowing Esther to become the queen. Haman’s downfall occurred during a wine drinking party. Nevertheless, this doesn’t seem to be a satisfactory explanation. Why should this commemoration be enough to justify something so vile?
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The foreseen repentance
והיתה-זאת לכם לחקת עולם לכפר על-בני ישראל מכל-חטאתם אחת בשנה וגו’
This shall be for you an eternal decree, to atone for the Jewish people for all of their sins, once a year…
There is a Midrash which teaches us that on Motzei Yom Kippur, when the Holiest day of the year ends, a Heavenly voice declares: “Go out and eat your bread with joy! Drink your wine with a merry heart! As G-d has already accepted your actions”. This teaches us that we should feel confident after Yom Kippur that our sincere efforts for repentance were accepted. However, the phrasing of this teaching is a little odd. If it said “G-d has accepted your actions”, that would have been fine. What does it mean that “G-d has already accepted your actions”? Seemingly, this only just happened today.
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The required rebuke
שובה ישראל עד יקוק אלקיך כי כשלת בעונך
Return, Israel, to Hashem your G-d! For you have stumbled in your sins
The first Midrash in parshas HaAzinu seems to have a completely irrelevant halachic query. What’s the law if someone has some sort of ear ailment on Shabbos? Is it permissible for them to seek medical help? The Midrash answers that our Sages taught us that preservation of life overrides Shabbos. This back and forth sounds like some sort of cryptic riddle. What’s it alluding to? Is there some relevance to the time period that we find ourselves in?
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How easy is teshuva?
כי המצוה הזאת אשר אנכי מצוך היום לא-נפלאת הוא ממך ולא רחקה הוא וגו’ כי-קרוב אליך הדבר מאד בפיך ובלבבך לעשתו
This mitzvah which I command you today is not beyond you, nor is it far away…Rather the matter is close to you in your mouth and in your heart to perform
Which mitzvah is our verse telling us is close to our mouth and close to our heart to perform? The Ramban explains that it is referring to what was mentioned a few verses earlier. ושבת עד-יקוק אלקיך, you shall return to Hashem, your G-d. The Torah is telling us that the mitzvah of teshuva, sincere repentance for our sins, is very easy. It’s close to our mouths and to our hearts. Meaning, there are four requirements for complete teshuva: cessation of the sin, committing never to do it again, regretting the sin, and vidui, confessing one’s sin. The Torah is alluding to two of these requirements. Teshuva is close to our mouths, to perform vidui, and our hearts, to accept in our hearts never to do this sin again. Why is the Torah alluding to only these two, and not the other two?
Continue reading “Nitzavim-Vayeilech 5780”