אמרי-נא אחתי את למען ייטב-לי בעבורך וחיתה נפשי בגללך
Please say that you are my sister, so that it will be good for me for your sake, and my life will be spared because of you
Due to a severe famine in the land of Canaan, Avraham and Sarah journeyed to the land of Egypt. Knowing full well the morality of such a place, Avraham was very concerned. His wife was tremendously beautiful, and if the Egyptians knew they were a married couple, they would have no problem killing Avraham and taking Sarah for themselves. However, if the couple represented themselves as siblings, they would be safe. The Egyptians would assume Avraham, as Sarah’s “brother,” was her protector, and could be persuaded to give her away in marriage.
Continue reading “Lech Lecha 5784”
Smashing the evil inclination
ולכל היד החזקה ולכל המורא הגדול אשר עשה משה לעיני כל-ישראל: בראשית ברא אלקים את השמים ואת הארץ
And for all the mighty hand and all the great wonders that Moshe did before the eyes of Israel. In the beginning of G-d’s creating Heaven and Earth
Our Sages tell us that the final verse of the Torah is an allusion to Moshe breaking the tablets. When he came down from Mount Sinai with the two stone tablets, those that were literally engraved by G-d Himself with the Ten Commandments, he saw the Jews worshipping a Golden Calf. In a rage, he broke the tablets by smashing them to the ground. Our Sages tell us further that Hashem was pleased with this reaction, and told him “Yesher Koach!”
Continue reading “VeZos HaBeracha 5784”
The elevation retention celebration
בסכת תשבו שבעת ימים וגו’ למען ידעו דרתיכם כי בסכות הושבתי את-בני-ישראל בהוציאי אותם מארץ מצרים וגו’
You shall dwell in Sukkos for seven days…In order for your generations to know that I placed the Children of Israel in Sukkos when I took them out of Egypt…
During the weeklong Festival of Sukkos, we leave our permanent homes and enter temporary huts. The Torah says the reason for this is so that we shall know that Hashem placed us in Sukkos when He took us out of Egypt. One opinion is that this refers to the Ananei HaKavod, the Clouds of Glory, that Hashem surrounded us with. They were like a protective forcefield, keeping us safe from the elements. It was climate controlled, and even cleaned the garments of the Jewish people. It would seem then that the holiday of Sukkos is to commemorate this miraculous environment that Hashem placed us in. However, one could ask why this miracle in particular merited its own weeklong holiday. As well, the famous question is if this is the purpose of Sukkos, why do we celebrate it in Tishrei, when the Jews left Egypt in Nissan?
Continue reading “Sukkos/Shemini Atzeres/Simchas Torah 5784”
אלה הדברים אשר דבר משה אל-כל-ישראל בעבר הירדן בערבה מול סוף בין-פארן ובין-תפל ולבן וחצרת ודי זהב
These are the words that Moshe told all of Israel, across the Jordan River, in Aravah, across from the Reed Sea, between Paran and Tofel, and Lavan, and Chatzeiros, and Di Zahav
In the beginning of Sefer Devarim we are told that Moshe spoke to the entire Jewish people. The Torah is extremely precise with the location of this speech. Rashi explains that in fact, the Torah is not telling us geographical information. Really, Moshe was rebuking the people. The places that the Torah is telling us are allusions to prior sins that the Jews committed. Focusing on the last one, Di Zahav, we are told that it is a reference to the sin of the Golden Calf. The hint is that the Jews had so much gold from the Egyptians, that they yelled out “Dai”, meaning “Enough!”. They didn’t know what to do with it, so they ended up making a Golden Calf as an idol.
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Maintaining the relationship
אם בחקתי תלכו ואת-מצותי תשמרו ועשיתם אתם
If you will walk in My decrees, and safeguard My commandments, and perform them
Would it be strange to say that Hashem has ta’avos, often translated as desires or lusts? One would be right to think so. However, we find statements from our Sages that indeed, Hashem has ta’avos. Our Sages ask why the foremothers were all barren. The reason was so that they would pray for children, for Hashem desires the prayers of the righteous.
Continue reading “Behar/Bechukosai 5783”
Why did Yaakov go to sleep?
ויצא יעקב מבאר שבע וילך חרנה: ויפגע במקום וילן שם כי-בא השמש וגו’ וישכב במקום ההוא: וייקץ יעקב משנתו ויאמר אכן יש יקוק במקום הזה ואנכי לא ידעתי
Yaakov left from Be’er Sheva and journeyed to Charan. He encountered The Place, and he lodged there, for the sun had set…and he slept in that place. [Then] Yaakov awoke from his sleep, and said: “Behold, there Hashem in this place, and I didn’t realize”
Yaakov’s journey to his uncle Lavan to seek a wife wasn’t a simple one. It actually involved a fourteen-year detour in the academy of Shem and Ever. After that, we are told that he encountered The Place. Unbeknownst to him, this was the site of the future Temple in Jerusalem. The Torah then tells us that since the sun set, he slept in that place. Why does the Torah stress in that place? This teaches us that for the fourteen years that he was studying in the academy, he didn’t sleep, as he learned day and night. This was the first time he had slept in all these years. While this sounds like a supernatural feat, let’s take it at face value. If this is what the Torah is teaching us, why indeed did Yaakov choose to sleep that night? What was different about that night than all the nights prior? Why didn’t he learn Torah?
Continue reading “Vayeitzei 5783”
Correctional bird manipulation
וצוה הכהן ולקח למטהר שתי-צפרים חיות טהרות וגו’
The Kohen shall instruct, and two pure, live birds shall be taken for the one seeking purification…
A large segment of the parsha deals with the spiritual contamination of one who spoke wrongly about his fellow, known as a Metzora, and his process of purification. One of the requirements the Torah prescribes is to take two birds, one to be slaughtered, and one to be released into the wild. Why does he need to bring birds? Rashi explains because birds are known to “tweet” all day long, which symbolizes this guy’s constant “tweeting” gossip about his fellow. According to this reasoning then, why is there a need for two birds? Seemingly one should be sufficient. Furthermore, now that there are two birds that are required, why is one slaughtered, and one sent away? Finally, there’s a law that this bird must be sent out specifically in an open field. Why is that?
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The timeless Torah
ותקרא אסתר להתך מסריסי המלך אשר העמיד לפניה ותצוהו על-מרדכי לדעת מה-זה ועל-מה-זה
Esther called to Hasach, one of the king’s attendants who was assigned to assist her, and commanded him regarding Mordechai, to know what this was, and what this was about
After Haman and Achashverosh’s harsh decree to exterminate the Jews was made known, Mordechai tore his clothes in mourning. He wore sackcloth and ash. His relative Esther, who was now the Queen of Persia, heard what Mordechai was doing. This distressed her very much. She sent an attendant to inquire Mordechai about what he was doing, for she was unaware of the recent decree. The Megillah uses an interesting expression to describe her inquiry. מה זה ועל מה זה. She asked what this was and what this was about.
Continue reading “Purim 5782”
ויצא יעקב מבאר שבע וילך חרנה
Yaakov left Be’er Sheva and went to Charan
After successfully preventing Eisav from receiving Yitzchak’s blessings, Yaakov had to flee for his life. His parents instructed him to go to his relatives in Charan, where he’ll find refuge, and perhaps even a wife. The thing is, our Sages inform us that he took a not so slight detour. He spent fourteen years in the yeshiva of Shem and Eiver before finally journeying to Charan. How did they know this?
Continue reading “Vayeitzei 5782”
Having the proper perspective
יקוק אלקינו דבר אלינו בחרב לאמר רב-לכם שבת בהר הזה: פנו וסעו לכם ובאו הר האמרי וגו’
Hashem, our God, spoke to us on Chorev (Mount Sinai) saying: “Rav lachem dwelling on this mountain. Turn and travel and come to the Ammorite mountain…”
Moshe, as part of his goodbye speech to the people, described the various events which got them to where they were now holding. Most of this speech was intended to act as a rebuke towards the people for their shortcomings throughout their journeys. One episode he described was that after spending over a year at Mount Sinai learning Torah, Hashem told them rav lachem. Literally He said, it is too much for you to dwell further on this mountain. It sounds like they wanted to stay longer, but Hashem told them it was time to move on. However, this seems to contradict a teaching of our Sages that the Jews ran away from Mount Sinai like schoolchildren who run away from their classes. It sounds like they didn’t need much pressure from Hashem to leave. Which was it?
Continue reading “Devarim 5781”