VeZos HaBeracha 5780

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The rejected gift[1]

ויאמר יקוק מסיני בא וזרח משעיר למו הופיע מהר פארן וגו’‏
He said: “Hashem came from Sinai, shined forth from [Mount] Seir; He appeared from Mount Paran…”[2]

In the last parsha in the Torah, Moshe gave each of the tribes a final blessing. Before these blessings, he describes the Torah itself and how the Jews accepted it. It says that Hashem “came” from Mount Sinai, having “shined forth” from Mount Seir and “appearing” from Mount Paran. We’ve all heard of Mount Sinai. That is where the Torah was given to the Jews, who gladly accepted it. What is Mount Seir and Mount Paran referring to? Mount Seir is usually associated with the descendants of Eisav[3], and Mount Paran is usually associated with the descendants Yishmael[4]. Picking up on this, the Midrash explains[5] the verse to be describing a historical backdrop to the accepting of the Torah.

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Beha’alosecha 5779

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The three pillars of a positive character[1]

דבר אל-אהרן ואמרת אליו בהעלותך את-הנרת אל-מול פני המנורה יאירו שבעת הנרות: ויעש כן אהרן אל מול פני המנורה העלה נרתיה כאשר צוה יקוק את-משה
Speak to Aharon and say to him: When you ignite the lights, let them illuminate towards the center of the Menorah[2]. Aharon did so; he ignited its lights towards the center of the Menorah, as Hashem commanded Moshe[3]

This week’s parsha begins by discussing the Menorah, including its make and how it was lit[4]. The Torah uses an unusual way to describe the lighting of the Menorah wicks: בהעלותך. Literally, with your raising up the lights. There are many things learned from this, but one of them is the fact that Aharon was instructed to construct a three-step block of stone in front of the Menorah[5]. Meaning, the verse is telling Aharon and his descendants to “go up” to light the Menorah, using these steps. The next verse teaches us that Aharon properly constructed these steps. We could say that this was a practical necessity, in order to reach the top of the Menorah[6]. Why though were there specifically three steps[7]? Also, was there any more significance to this steppingstone?

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Bechukosai Shavuos 5779

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The toil of Torah[1]

אם-בחקותי תלכו ואת מצותי תשמרו ועשיתם אותם
If you walk in my decrees, and you guard my mitzvos, and perform them….[2]

The parsha begins by spelling out all the good that will happen to us if we follow Hashem’s Will, and everything else that will happen if we don’t. The Torah begins this stipulation with a vague requirement to walk in Hashem’s decrees. What does this mean? It can’t mean that we should observe Hashem’s commandments, as that’s what the rest of the verse expresses. We are taught[3] that it means that we are expected to toil in Torah. Not just learn it, but be fully engaged in the learning experience. This is in addition to our mitzvah observance. We are also taught that Hashem so-to-speak yearns for our toil in Torah[4]. Why is this so, and why is this the introductory requirement in order to receive Hashem’s blessings?
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Sheva Berachos #4 – Torah

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The Week of Sheva Berachos, Day #4 – Torah[1]

במערבא אמרי בלא תורה…דכתיב האם אין עזרתי בי ותושיה נדחה ממני
In the West they say: [Any man who doesn’t have a wife lives] without Torah…as it is written[2]: “Is it that I have no help in me, and that sound wisdom is driven from me?”[3]

As part of the Jewish wedding ceremony[4], seven blessings known as sheva berachos are recited under the chuppah. As well, our Sages tell us[5] that once a couple gets married, they are to spend the first week of their marriage rejoicing. During these seven days, the sheva berachos are again recited, at the end of a festive meal. Some say[6] that these seven blessings correlate to the seven things[7] that a man acquires[8] when he gets married. Our Sages inform us[9] that until a man gets married, he doesn’t have joy, blessing, goodness, Torah, fortification, peace, nor is he a complete Man[10]. As such, it would be appropriate during this week to elaborate on each of these seven qualities, and how they relate to marriage.

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Shavuos 5778 part one

Coerced acceptance, part one[1]

ויוצא משה את-העם לקראת האלקים מן-המחנה ויתיצבו בתחתית ההר: ויקח ספר הברית ויקרא באזני העם ויאמרו כל אשר-דבר יקוק נעשה ונשמע
Moshe took the people out from the camp to greet Hashem, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. [Moshe] took the book of the Covenant and called out to the ears of the people. They all said: “All that Hashem says, we will fulfill and we will listen!”[2]

The holiday of Shavuos celebrates the giving of the Torah to the Jewish people[3]. It’s when the Ten Commandments were stated. Before the great revelation of the Divine, the Torah says that the Jews stood “at the foot” of the mountain. However, literally read, the verse says that they stood “under” the mountain. Chazal expound[4] that this teaches us that Hashem picked up the mountain, and held it over their heads. He said to them: “if you accept the Torah, good. But if not, then this[5] will be your burial place”. Thankfully, the Jews accepted the Torah. In fact, they later accepted it anew in the days of Achashverosh, out of love. However, this shows us that initially it was only through coercion. This seems to contradict a different verse, where the Jews proudly announced that they will do whatever Hashem commands them. This sounds like they were initially happy to accept the Torah. If so, why then did Hashem force them to accept it? How do we resolve this contradiction[6]?

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Tzav 5778

The undisturbed student[1]

צו את-אהרן ואת-בניו לאמר זאת תורת העלה היא העלה על מוקדה על-המזבח כל-הלילה עד-הבקר ואש המזבח תוקד בו: ולבש הכהן מדו בד ומכנסי-בד ילבש על-בשרו והרים את-הדשן אשר תאכל האש את-העלה על-המזבח ושמו אצל המזבח
Command Aharon and his children, saying: “This is the law of the elevation offering. It is the elevation offering that remains[2] on the altar pyre[3] the entire night, until morning. The fire of the inner altar should be ignited from the outer one[4]. The Kohen will don his linen tunic and linen pants against his body. He will then raise up the ashes from the fire that consumed the elevation offering on the altar and place them next to the altar”[5]

This week’s parsha begins with a command to Aharon and his sons, the Kohanim. It is interesting to note that in the entire previous parsha, Aharon isn’t mentioned once[6]. Every command so far regarding the Temple offerings mentions only Aharon’s sons. For example, with regards to the elevation offering (which is the subject of our verse), the previous parsha said: “…the sons of Aharon, the Kohanim, will offer…”[7]. It later says: “The sons of Aharon will place a fire on the altar”[8]. Or with the flour offering, it says: “He will bring it to the sons of Aharon, the Kohanim…”[9]. Why is here where Aharon is specifically mentioned and not earlier?

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Ki Sisa 5778

The foremost spice[1]

ואתה קח-לך בשמים ראש מר-דרור וגו’‏
You should take for yourself prominent spices: mor-dror[2]

There were many ingredients used in the making of the anointing oil and the incense offering, both used in the Temple. One of the spices is known as מר-דרור, mor-dror. What is this spice? The Rambam[3], among others[4], say it is “musk”, the congealed blood found in the throat of a well-known animal in India. It’s similar to a deer, one of its characteristics being that it’s free-roaming[5]. However, the Raavad argues and says[6] that it is “myrrh”, a type of gum resin produced by trees and shrubs[7]. He says that it is unreasonable to suggest that the blood of any animal, let alone of a non-kosher species, would be used in the Temple. How would the Rambam respond to such a claim?

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Purim 5778

Undeserved merit[1]

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”[2]

The mitzvah to get drunk on Purim is quite surprising. It is well-known that getting drunk can easily lead to inappropriate behavior. Why was this instituted on Purim? As well, what relevance is the idea of “Cursed is Haman” and “Blessed is Mordechai”? Why is our getting drunk dependent on it? To begin to answer these questions, another halacha needs to be examined. There is an obligation on Purim to say the words “ארור המן ברוך מרדכי”, “Cursed is Haman; Blessed is Mordechai”[3]. Why is this formulation unique to Purim? There are other festivals where we were saved by our leaders from our enemies. Why don’t we say on Pesach: “Cursed is Pharaoh; Blessed is Moshe”? Or on Chanukah: “Cursed are the invaders; Blessed are the Hasmoneans”?

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Terumah 5778

The Holy Ark and the Torah[1]

ועשו ארון עצי שטים אמתים וחצי ארכו ואמה וחצי רחבו ואמה וחצי קמתו
You shall make an Aron out of acacia wood: an amah and a half its width, an amah and a half its length, and an amah and a half its height[2]

In the wilderness, the Jews were commanded to construct the Aron Kodesh, the Holy Ark, for the Mishkan, the Tabernacle. It was a golden box, with two angels carved out of its lid. Inside the Aron Kodesh was the Torah[3]. Today, we no longer have the original Aron Kodesh[4]. However, as a remembrance for the original, every shul contains its own Aron Kodesh. While there are differences between the two structures, they serve the same purpose: a designated place to store the Torah. Chazal instruct us[5] regarding the tremendous kedusha, the holiness, contained within the Aron Kodesh. Where did this kedusha come from? The Aron Kodesh of today may be a pretty structure, but at first glance it’s simply a box.

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Yisro 5778

The qualities needed to receive the Torah[1]

…באו מדבר סיני: ויסעו מרפידים ויבאו מדבר סיני ויחנו במדבר ויחן-שם ישראל נגד ההר
…[The Jews] arrived in the wilderness of Sinai. They traveled from Refidim, and they came to the wilderness of Sinai and camped in the wilderness. Israel encamped[2] there opposite the mountain[3]

Just before the receiving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, and the revelation of the Ten Commandments, the Torah describes the Jews’ journeys through the wilderness. The Torah describes it in an unusual fashion, first stating that they arrived in the wilderness of Sinai, and then saying that they left Refidim to arrive in the wilderness of Sinai. Usually when describing a journey, a person would state where they left from first, and only then mention the destination. Why did the Torah make this switch?

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