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Working Towards Socio-Economic Harmony - Parashat Behar - Bechukosai 5778 - May 11, 2018

The first of this week’s double parasha is Parashat BeHar which introduces the institution of shemita – the seventh year of a seven year cycle. The laws of shemita touch two areas of life: karka (agriculture) and kesafim (money).   From an agricultural perspective, shemita demands that we allow our land to remain fallow. Planting, commercial harvesting and tilling the soil are all prohibited. People are permitted to harvest from other’s fields for personal use. These laws apply only to the land of Israel and are in force even today. From a monetary perspective, shemita demands that we cancel loans. These laws apply today even outside of the land of Israel.
What messages should one take away from experiencing a shemita? What enduring understandings does the Torah teach through the laws of shemita?
The most obvious understanding that shemita conveys derives from its comparison to Shabbat. The Torah calls shemita a Shabbat for the land. Shabbat occurs every seventh day – shemita occurs ever…
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Monetary Compensation for an Eye - Parashat Emor 5778 - May 5, 2018

This week’s parasha, Emor, presents the well-known and oft-quoted dictum, ayin tachat ayin, an eye in place of an eye. Taken in isolation, the literal meaning of this phrase is clear – the punishment for poking out another’s eye is the loss of the perpetrator’s eye. We all know, however, that our mesorah teaches that the punishment for poking out another’s eye is monetary payment for the loss. The Rambam writes that in the history of the Jewish People there has never been an authorized Jewish court that has poked out a perpetrator’s eye for damaging another’s eye.

While this interpretation of ayin tachat ayin is uniformly accepted, our chachamim struggle with the question of why the Torah writes “an eye in place of an eye”, if, in fact, the Torah intends monetary payment. One suggestion offered in the gemara in Masechet Bava Kamma is that, when interpreted literally, an “eye for an eye” would lead to inequity in punishments – perpetrators with two healthy eyes will lose an eye but bli…

On Sha'atnez - Parashat Acharei Mot - Keoshim 5578, April 27, 2018

The second of this week’s double Torah portion is Parashat Kedoshim – a parasha full of mitzvot. The Torah writes, “You will observe My laws; you will not mate your animal into another species, you will not plant your field with mixed seed; and a garment that is a mixture of combined fibers will not be upon you.” In this verse, the Torah records the prohibition of wearing sha’atnez – a mixture of wool and linen combined within one garment.
Rabbenu Chizkiyahu ben Manoach, in his commentary Chizkuni, presents two messages that can be derived from the mitzvah of sha’atnez. In his first explanation, Chizkuni suggests that sha’atnez is one of a category of commandments – including not interbreeding animals or certain plant species – and is connected to the mitzvah that immediately precedes it – to love one’s fellow.
Chizkuni writes, Immediately after the Torah commands us to be holy and to not do violence to our fellow, it commands us, similarly, to not do violence to animals or other things i…

The Severity of Gossip - Parshat Tazria - Metzora 5778 - April 20, 2018

This week’s parashiyot, Tazria and Metzora, deal with tzara’at. Tzara’at is a disease that afflicts the skin, clothing or home of those who commit certain types of sins – most commonly the sin of lashon hara – gossip.  Although the disease of tzara’at resembles leprosy, it was a physical disease caused by a spiritual sickness – an external consequence of an internal corruption.

In fact, the word metzora, the name given to one who is smitten with tzara’at, is an allusion to the sin that causes it. Metzora is a contraction of the phrase motzi shem ra – bringing about a bad name for another through spreading gossip about him or spreading falsehood.

Our rabbis repeatedly teach about the severity of the sin of motzi shem ra. Midrash Rabba (VaYikra 16:6) teaches that Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi says that the word “Torah” is used five times in connection with the word “Metzora” to teach us that anyone who spreads gossip about another is transgressing all five books of the Torah. 

Commenting on …

Small Acts of Holiness - Parasht Shemini 5778 - April 13, 2018

Yom HaShoah, Yom HaZikaron, Yom HaAtzmaut – the annual commemoration of the establishment of The State of Israel, and the constant sacrifice made to maintain its security, out of the darkness and ashes of the Holocaust.  
Within one week we are overwhelmed by the sadness over the loss of those millions who perished at the hand of the Nazis, yemach shemam vezichronam, awed by the heroism of the soldiers of the Israel Defense Force and emboldened by the celebration of the existence of the State. Last evening, we, as a community, memorialized the victims and vociferously declared, in word and in deed, that we are survivors. This coming week, we will recognize the dedication and sacrifice of our Israeli soldiers through education and a tzedakah campaign. Twenty-four hours later, we will celebrate Israel with a march at 2:30 pm from MHA, up White Station Road, down Laurie Lane, down Yates and into Baron Hirsch Congregation. 
These days of remembrance and celebration are fraught with emotio…

Shabbat HaGadol - Parashat Tzav 5778, March 23, 2018

This Shabbat, the Shabbat immediately preceding Pesach, is customarily given a special name, “Shabbat HaGadol” – the Great Shabbat. Indeed, on this Shabbat HaGadol, we read a special Haftarah ending with the verse, “Behold! I send you Eliyahu HaNavi, before the great (gadol) and awesome day of Hashem.”

The Midrash offers another rationale which may explain this unique appellation given to this Shabbat before Pesach. A great miracle, explains the Midrash, occurred on that Shabbat before Pesach. It was the “Shabbat of a Great Miracle.” Like our Pesach, the exodus from Egypt occurred on the 15th of Nissan. The exodus occurred on a Thursday. Thus, the Shabbat prior to the exodus from Egypt occurred on the 10th of Nissan. The Jewish People had a unique obligation on that 10th of Nissan – the year of the exodus. Each family was commanded to take the lamb that they would be slaughtering for the korban pesach and to tie it to their bedpost in anticipation of that upcoming momentous night. Begi…

Righteous Righteousness - Parashat Vayakhel-Pekude 5778, March 16, 2018

This week’s double parasha, Vayakhel-Pekude, presents the building of the mishkan – the portable Tabernacle.

Through their donations, the Jewish People provided the material and labor needed for the construction of the mishkan. Indeed, the people’s generosity led Moshe to end the call for donations.

The Torah writes:

All the wise people came – those completing all the sacred work, each of them from his work that they were doing – and they said to Moshe, saying, ‘The people are bringing more than enough for the labor of the work that Hashem has commanded to perform.’ Moshe commanded that they proclaim throughout the camp, saying, ‘Man and woman shall not do more work toward the gift for the Sanctuary!’ And the people were restrained from giving.

On the surface, this final verse is difficult to understand – why were the people restrained from giving to this holy cause of building the mishkan? Even if enough supplies had been given, certainly there existed a need for operational funding! Why…