Emor 5782

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Admitting the ability to deny[1]

וכי תזבחו זבח-תודה ליקוק לרצנכם תזבחו
When you bring a thanksgiving offering, you shall offer it willingly[2]

When the Torah instructs us regarding bringing a thanksgiving offering, it tells us to offer it willingly. This is quite surprising, as shouldn’t this be true regarding all offerings? In fact, the Torah tells us[3] in general to bring offerings willingly. Why then does the Torah specify this requirement with thanksgiving offerings?

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Metzora 5782

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Correctional bird manipulation[1]

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…[2]

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[3] 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[4]. Why is that?

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Tazria / HaChodesh 5782

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The mixed blessing of familiarization[1]

ובבא עם-הארץ לפני יקוק במועדים הבא דרך-שער צפון להשתחות יצא דרך-שער נגב והבא דרך-שער נגב יצא דרך-שער צפונה לא ישוב דרך השער אשר-בא בו כי נכחו יצא
When the people would come before Hashem for the Festivals, one who came through the North Gate to prostate should exit through the South Gate, and one who came through the South Gate should exit through the North gate. A person shouldn’t return through the gate that they had come through, but should exit through the opposite one[2]

Similar to last week, parshas Parah, where we read a special Torah reading and haftarah, the same is true for this week, known as parshas HaChodesh. On it we recite verses connected to the Passover offering, in anticipation for the upcoming Festival of Pesach. The special haftarah follows a similar theme, and addresses various laws and customs associated with the Temple. One of the practices described is that visitors to the Temple were instructed to enter through one gate, and to leave through a different one. They were not to leave through the same gate they had entered from. Why should this be? What can we learn from this practice?

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Shemini / Parah 5782

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The puzzling paradox of the crimson cow[1]

זאת חקת התורה אשר-צוה יקוק לאמר דבר אל-בני ישראל ויקחו אליך פרה אדמה תמימה אשר אין-בה מום אשר לא-עלה עליה על
This is the decree of the Torah, which Hashem commanded, saying: “Speak to the Children of Israel, and take for yourselves a completely red heifer, that has no blemish, one which has not had a yoke placed on it”[2]

The shabbos after Purim[3] is called parshas Parah, the parsha of the cow. It receives this title because on it we read about the parah adumah, the red heifer[4]. Before the holiday of Pesach, the Jewish people would need to become spiritually pure. Sometimes it would be necessary to use the ashes of a completely red heifer. The sprinkling of these ashes onto the impure person would enable them to bring their Pesach offering. We read this parsha to remind the Jewish people to become pure before the Festival[5].

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Tzav 5782

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Thoughts of denial[1]

…זאת תורה העלה…
…This is the law of the Olah offering…[2]

Of the many offerings that can be brought in the Temple, the one that is entirely consumed in flames is known as the Olah offering. While some offerings are brought voluntarily, and some to atone for immoral actions, our Sages teach us[3] that an Olah offering is brought to atone for improper thoughts. What’s the source for this idea? They tell us that it’s an explicit verse, which says: והעלה על-רוחכם היו לא תהיה, אשר אתם אומרים נהיה כגוים, That which goes up in your mind shall never come to pass, that you say that you’ll be like all the nations[4]. Now, the word for “that which goes up” is the same word as an Olah offering, which entirely “goes up” to Hashem. As such, we see the Olah offering associated with thoughts, and in the context of the verse, bad ones. Now, it’s hard to call this an explicit verse for this idea. It’s more of an allusion than anything else[5].

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Vayikra / Zachor 5782

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King Shaul’s error[1]

ויבא שמואל אל-שאול ויאמר לו שאול ברוך אתה ליקוק הקימתי את-דבר יקוק: ויאמר שמואל ומה קול-הצאן הזה באזני וקול הבקר אשר אנכי שמע וגו’ הלוא אם-קטן אתה בעיניך ראש שבטי ישראל אתה וגו’‏
Shmuel came to Shaul, and Shaul said to him: “You are blessed to Hashem! I have fulfilled the word of Hashem”. Shmuel said: “Then what is this sound of the sheep that is in my ears? And the sound of the cattle which I hear? … You may be small in your eyes, but you are the head of the tribes of Israel!…[2]

The haftarah for parshas Zachor details the failure of King Shaul to eradicate the wicked nation of Amalek. Shmuel the prophet ordered Shaul to leave no person or animal alive, as Hashem told Moshe[3] that we are to blot out the memory of Amalek. Shaul however left alive the king of Amalek known as Agag, the ancestor to Haman[4]. He also left alive their sheep and cows, intending to bring them as offerings for Hashem. Shmuel harshly reprimanded Shaul for his failure, and Shaul lost the kingship as a result of his sin.

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Emor 5781

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Future allusions[1]

דבר אל-בני ישראל לאמר בחדש השביעי באחד לחדש יהיה לכם שבתון זכרון תרועה מקרא-קדש: אך בעשור לחדש השביעי הזה יום הכפרים הוא מקרא-קדש יהיה לכם וגו’ דבר אל-בני ישראל לאמר בחמשה עשר יום לחדש השביעי הזה חג הסכות שבעת ימים ליקוק: אך בחמשה עשר יום לחדש השביעי וגו’ ולקחתם לכם ביום הראשון פרי עץ הדר כפת תמרים וענף עץ-עבת וערבי נחל וגו’‏
Tell the Children of Israel, saying: “In the seventh month, on the first of the month, it shall be for you a day of rest. A remembrance of shofar blasts, a holy convocation. However, on the tenth of this seventh month, it is Yom Kippur. It shall be for you a holy convocation…” Tell the Children of Israel, saying: “On the fifteenth of this seventh month, [it is] the festival of Sukkos, seven days for Hashem. However, on the fifteenth of the seventh month…you shall take on the first day a beautiful fruit, palm fronds, braided branches, and willows…”[2]

If we examine the description of the holidays, we’ll notice a strange inconsistency. The month of Tishrei contains many festivals. First there’s Rosh Hashanah, then Yom Kippur, and then Sukkos. The Torah specifies that these holidays occur in the seventh month of the Jewish calendar. Rosh Hashanah is on the first, Yom Kippur is on the tenth, and Sukkos starts on the fifteenth. When the Torah refers to Yom Kippur, it specifies that it is in this seventh month. For Sukkos, it first says the same as Yom Kippur, this seventh month. The second time it refers to Sukkos, in the context of the mitzvah of the four species, it just says the seventh month. Why is there this inconsistency[3]?

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Acharei Mos / Kedoshim 5781

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True holiness[1]

דבר אל-כל-עדת בני-ישראל ואמרת אלהם קדשים תהיו כי קדוש אני יקוק אלקיכם: איש אמו ואביו תיראו ואת-שבתתי תשמרו אני יקוק אלקיכם: אל-תפנו אל-האלילם וגו’ וכי תזבחו זבח שלמים ליקוק וגו’‏
Speak to the entire congregation of the Children of Israel and say to them: “You shall be Holy, for I am Holy; I am Hashem your G-d. You shall revere your mother and father, and you shall observe My Shabbos; I am Hashem your G-d. Do not turn towards the false gods…When you offer a peace offering to Hashem…[2]

Parshas Kedoshim is chockfull of mitzvos, both interpersonal and between man and G-d. Sometimes it is hard to discern why the mitzvos are presented they way they are, but if one were to investigate thoroughly, sometimes their labor will be fruitful. One such example is at the very beginning of the parsha. We are told to be Holy, for Hashem is Holy. Then we are told to revere our parents, and observe Shabbos. Then we are warned against idolatry, which is followed by the concept of bringing a voluntary peace offering to Hashem. What can we glean from the juxtaposition of these mitzvos?

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Tazria / Metzora 5781

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The difference between a Metzora and a Kohen[1]

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![2]

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[3] with physical symptoms. Chazal tell us[4] that someone who contracts tzara’as, known as a Metzora[5], usually committed a certain sin[6]. 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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Shemini 5781

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To be satisfied with one’s lot[1]

כל מפרסת פרסה ושסעת שסע פרסת מעלת גרה בבהמה אתה תאכלו
All domesticated animals which have completely split hooves, and that chew their cud, those you shall eat[2]

The Torah gives us two signs for domesticated animals to determine their kosher status. Only if they have מפרסת פרסה ושסעת שסע פרסות, completely split hooves, and are מעלה גרה, that they chew their cud. The Torah lists four animals that have one of these two signs, but not both. The גמל, the camel, the שפן, the hyrax, and the ארנבת, the hare[3], are all מעלה גרה, but don’t have completely split hooves. In contrast, the חזיר, the pig, has split hooves (just like a cow). However, it does not chew its cud. This is for domesticated animals.

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