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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Behar 5779

The Mountain and the rested Land[1]

וידבר יקוק אל-משה בהר סיני לאמר: דבר אל-בני ישראל ואמרת אליהם כי תבואו אל הארץ אשר אני נותן לכם ושבתה הארץ שבת ליקוק
Hashem spoke to Moshe on Mount Sinai, saying: Speak to the Children of Israel, and say to them: When you arrive at the land which I give to you, the land shall rest, a Sabbath for Hashem[2]

This week’s parsha begins by introducing the mitzvah of shemittah, the Sabbatical year. Once every seven years the land of Israel is to lie fallow, and the fruits become ownerless. What’s unusual with this mitzvah is it’s introduced by specifying that Hashem spoke to Moshe on Mount Sinai. This specification isn’t done with any other mitzvah. What does shemittah have to do with Mount Sinai? Rashi says[3] to teach us that just like the general principles as well as the details of the mitzvah of shemittah were taught at Mount Sinai, the same is true for all mitzvos. However, this is only the opinion of Rabbi Akiva. Rabbi Yishmael holds that all other mitzvos had their general principles taught at Mount Sinai, and their details were taught at the Tent of Meeting[4] [5]. What then does he learn from the specification of Mount Sinai with the mitzvah of shemittah? As well, even according to Rabbi Akiva, why was shemittah chosen to specifically teach us this idea?

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Emor / Sefiras HaOmer 5779

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Receiving the munn and offering the Omer[1]

דבר אל-בני ישראל ואמרת אלהם כי-תבאו אל-הארץ אשר אני נתן לכם וקצרתם את-קצירה והבאתם את-עמר ראשית קצירכם אל הכהן: והניף את-העמר לפני יקוק לרצנכם ממחרת השבת יניפנו הכהן
Speak to the Children of Israel and say to them: When you come to the land that I give to you, and you harvest its produce, you shall bring the Omer, the first of your harvest, to the Kohen. He shall wave the Omer before Hashem, to make you desirable[2]; the day after Pesach[2] the Kohen shall wave it.

וספרתם לכם ממחרת השבת מיום הביאכם את-עמר התנופה שבע שבתות תמימת תהיינה: עד ממחרת השבת השביעת תספרו חמשים יום והקרבתם מנחה חדשה ליקוק
You shall count for yourselves, from the day after Pesach, from the day you brought the waved Omer, seven weeks, which shall be perfect. Until after the seventh week, count fifty days, and then offer a new flour offering to Hashem[3]

The Omer flour offering which was brought the day after Pesach is highly unusual. An omer is literally a volume of flour, also known as a tenth of an eiphah[4]. All other flour offerings don’t use the word omer to describe their quantity, and indeed simply say a tenth of an eiphah[5]. Why then does this offering use the term Omer? More than that, this offering is known by name by its volume of flour. Why is it called the Omer offering? Further, there’s a mitzvah to count every day up to fifty days after Pesach. This mitzvah is called Sefiras HaOmer, literally the counting of the Omer. The whole point of the mitzvah is the anticipation of the festival of Shavuos[6], which culminates the fifty-day count. Why then is the mitzvah to specifically count “from the Omer”?

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Kedoshim 5779

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Sibling love, disgrace, and quarrels[1]

ואיש אשר-יקח את-אחתו בת-אביו או בת-אמו וראה את-ערותה והיא תראה את ערותו חסד הוא ונכרתו לעיני בני עמם ערות אחתו גלה עונו ישא
A man who will take his sister, the daughter of his father or the daughter of his mother, and will see her nakedness, and she will see his nakedness, it is chesed, and they will be cut off from before the eyes of the nation. For he has uncovered his sister’s nakedness, and he shall carry his sin[2]

The Torah, in its list of the forbidden relationships, gives the incestuous relationship with one’s sister a special descriptor. The union is referred to as chesed. Normally, this word refers to loving kindness. It seems highly out of place in this context[3]. Rashi therefore says[4] that in this context it’s the Aramaic word for disgrace. Such a union is a disgrace to both parties. However, why did the Torah use this unusual word, instead of the normal Hebrew word for disgrace? Rashi therefore brings the homiletic interpretation[5], that this verse is alluding to the answer to an age-old question.

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Acharei Mos 5779

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The constant struggle[1]

ואל אשה בנדת טומאתה לא תקרב וגו’‏
Do not approach a woman in her impure state of niddah[2]

The gemarra relates[3] a conversation between a Sadducee[4], someone who rejected Rabbinic Judaism, and the Sages of his time. He asked Rav Kahana, how could a man and woman be trusted to be alone together when the wife is a niddah[5]? Once she has her period, she and her husband are forbidden to each other until she immerses in a mikveh at the right time. He asked is it possible for a fire to kindle and not burn?

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Metzora 5779

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The proper mode of conduct[1]

וצוה הכהן ולקח למטהר שתי-צפרים חיות טהורות ועץ ארז ושני תולעת ואזב
The Kohen shall command [as follows]: he should take for the one seeking purification two live, kosher birds, a rod[2] from a cedar tree, a thread of crimson wool, and hyssop[3]

This week’s parsha, much like last week’s, deals mostly with the laws of tzara’as, most commonly translated as leprosy. While it may be a whitish skin condition, in reality it’s a totally unrelated spiritual malady[4] with physical symptoms. Chazal tell us[5] that someone who contracts tzara’as, known as a Metzora[6], usually committed a certain sin[7]. One example is that of haughtiness. 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 impure, then he is. The opposite is also true.

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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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Vayikra / Zachor 5779

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Developing love for Hashem[1]

דבר אל-בני ישראל ואמרת אלהם אדם כי-יקריב מכם קרבן ליקוק וגו’‏
Speak to the Children of Israel and say to them: “A person, when they [want to] bring an offering to Hashem…”[2]

We find many mitzvos that aren’t outright obligations. Instead, the Torah left it up to the volunteering of the individual. For example, with the donations to the Mishkan, the Torah specified[3] for each person to give as much as they wanted. We also see this by voluntary offerings, such as with the Olah (elevation), Shelamim (peace), or Menachos (flour) offerings. There’s no absolute obligation to bring these offerings, but they’re available for those who want to take advantage. How much terumah a person wants to give to the Kohen is essentially their choice. These types of mitzvos require clarification. If they are part of our Divine service, why weren’t their performance made obligatory, and their quality and quantity well-defined? If they are not part of our Divine service, why are they even taught in the Torah?

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Emor 5778

Receiving life for giving life[1]

ובקצרכם את-קציר ארצכם לא-תכלה פאת שדך בקצרך ולקט קצירך לא תלקט לעני ולגר תעזב אתם אני יקוק אלקיכם: דבר אל-בני ישראל לאמר בחדש השביעי באחד לחדש יהיה לכם שבתון זכרון תרועה מקרא-קדש
When you reap the harvest of your land, don’t finish off the corners of your fields as you reap, and don’t collect the gleanings of your harvest; leave them for the poor and the convert, I am Hashem your G-d. Speak to the Children of Israel, saying: “In the seventh month, in the first of the month, it will be for you a day of rest, of remembrance, of shofar-blasts, [and] a holy convocation[2]

The end of this week’s parsha describes the various Jewish holidays. In between the holidays of Shavuos and Rosh Hashanah, the Torah mentions[3] the mitzvos of peah (lit: corner) and leket (gleanings). When a Jewish farmer is harvesting his crop, there are special mitzvos of tzedakah that he must fulfill. He must leave a corner of his field unharvested, allowing the poor to take as they need. Likewise, when harvesting crops, sometimes some of the produce falls to the ground, known as gleanings. The farmer is commanded to leave those on the ground for the poor to collect. In addition to commanding the farmer not to harvest peah and leket, the Torah adds the injunction to specifically leave them for the poor and the convert. Why are these mitzvos placed here? It seems to serve as some sort of an introduction to the holiday that follows it, Rosh Hashanah[4]. What is this teaching us?

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Acharei Mos-Kedoshim 5778

Blessings from the Almighty[1]

ובשנה הרביעת יהיה כל-פריו קודש הלולים ליקוק
In the fourth year, all of its fruit will be holy; a praise[2] to Hashem[3]

A Rabbinic enactment which is very comprehensive is that of berachos, or blessings[4]. We are required to make a beracha before and after we eat[5]. There are berachos before performing a mitzvah[6]. There are berachos of praise upon experiencing certain events[7], or witnessing certain sights[8]. There are berachos that are part of the daily prayers[9]. Chazal, when they created this enactment, had a basis for their invention. The gemarra asks[10] what that basis was, and one answer given is a verse in this week’s parsha. The Torah, when describing the mitzvah of orlah, the fruit of a new tree, says that the fruit is off-limits for the first three years of its growth. In the fourth year, the fruit becomes sanctified, and is to be eaten exclusively in Jerusalem[11]. The Torah describes the celebration of eating this fruit as a “praise to Hashem”. Chazal saw in this the concept that before one eats, they should make a beracha, which is a form of praise to Hashem[12]. One can ask, why of all places is this where the Torah hints to the concept of berachos? Why not anywhere else? There are other instances where the Torah describes eating food[13]

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