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Showing posts from June, 2017

Seeking Opportunities to Teach - Parashat Bemidbar - May 26, 2017

This week’s parasha, Bemidbar, recalls the death of two of Aharon’s sons, Nadav and Avihu. The Torah says, “and Nadav and Avihu died before Hashem because they brought foreign fire before Hashem in the Sinai desert; and they had no children.”

The context of the incident of Nadav and Avihu is more fully treated in Sefer VaYikra. Moshe communicates Hashem’s command to Aharon and b’nei yisrael to bring ingredients for four different offerings – a chatat, an olah, a shelamim and a mincha – all for the culmination of the inauguration of the mishkan. All of the respective parties brought the proper ingredients to the mishkan in conformity with Hashem’s command. Moshe then gave Hashem’s next command of what to do with these ingredients – the result of which will be G-d’s glory appearing to the nation. Aharon and b’nei yisrael brought their respective offerings in exact conformity with Hashem’s command.

Aharon lifted his hands to the nation and blessed them and then descended from performing …

Israel is our Homeland - Parashat BeHar-Bechukotai - May 19, 2017

Parashat Bechukotai, the second parasha of this week’s double parasha, outlines the berachot and kelalot – the blessings and curses for adhering or not adhering to the mitzvot. This tochacha – rebuke – pertains to the Jewish people. When we follow the mitzvot, G-d rewards the Jewish people in order to help us serve Him better. When we do not follow the mitzvot, G-d rebukes us in the form of curses in order to teach us to improve our ways.

The Torah says, “And the produce of your threshing season will last until the grape harvest; and the produce of the grape harvest will last until the planting. And you have your fill of food. And you will dwell securely in your land.” On this last statement, “and you will dwell securely in your land”, our rabbis comment in the Midrash Sifra that this blessing applies in the Land of Israel but not in the exile.

What a perplexing statement! Our Rabbis are teaching here that the mitzvot that we perform, the closeness to G-d that we achieve through learnin…

The Power of a Blessing - Parashat Acharei Mot-Kedoshim - May 5, 2017

In the second parasha, Kedoshim, of this week’s double parasha, the Torah teaches, “When you will come to the land and plant any food tree, you will treat its fruit as forbidden; for three years they will be forbidden to you; they may not be eaten. In the fourth year, all its fruit shall be sanctified to praise Hashem.”

The final phrase of these verses, “all its fruit shall be sanctified to praise Hashem,” is understood by our Rabbis to be the source verse for the obligation to make a blessing prior to eating food – the obligation of bracha rishona. Based on this understanding, our Rabbis teach in Masechet Berachot that it is forbidden to eat food without first making the appropriate initial blessing.

This Gemara in Berachot makes a further point. The Rabbis teach, “Anyone who benefits from this world without making a blessing first is like stealing from the holy things of heaven as the verse states, ‘To G-d is the land and everything that fills it’”.

The Gemara further analyzes this t…

Kedusha and Tahara - Parashat Tazria-Metzorah - April 28, 2017

Kedusha, holiness, refers to the identity that an object has of being associated with or designated for service of Hashem. Items in the Temple, a kohen and a sefer Torah all have kedusha as each one is designated for serving G-d.

Tahara, halachic purity refers to the state of being prepared to encounter the Almighty in the Temple. Specifically, one must be in a state of tahara prior to entering the Temple. Note that the halachic state of impurity is not bad or a sin. Most people in history were regularly in a state of impurity.

The beginning of this week’s parasha deals with these two concepts – holiness and purity – as they relate to giving birth.

The Torah explains that when a woman gives birth, she is tameh halachically impure – for a period of time. The Torah explains that if she has a boy, she is tameh for seven days. On the eighth day, her son is circumcised and she continues to be tameh from that eighth day for another thirty-three days - a grand total of forty days. If she …

The Impact of the Seder - Parashat Bo - April 7, 2017

In the section from Parashat Bo that we will read on the first day of Pesach, the Torah recounts Moshe’s command to the elders of Israel regarding the night of the exodus. Moshe commands the details of the Pesach sacrifice and concludes by commanding the elders to guard this matter as a law for all generations.

Moshe continues and says, "And it will be that when you come to the land that Hashem has given to you like He spoke. And you will guard this service.

And it will be that when your children say to you, ‘What is this service of yours?’

And you will say, ‘It is a Pesach offering to Hashem that He passed over the houses of the Jewish People in Egypt when He smote Egypt and our houses he saved and the nation bowed and worshipped. And the children of Israel went and did like Hashem commanded Moshe and Aharon – thus did they do.'"

In summary, after commanding the people to offer the Passover offering, Moshe tells the people that when they enter the land of Israel, their…

The Small Aleph - Parashat VaYikra - March 31, 2017

This week, we begin reading Sefer Vayikra and its first parasha, Parashat VaYikra. The parasha discusses many of the laws of specific korbanot – sacrifices – including the olah, shlamim, chatat and others.

The parasha opens with the following verse, “And He called to Moshe and Hashem spoke to him from the tent of meeting saying …” Our mesorah – oral tradition – teaches that the word, vayikra - and He called – is to be written in the Torah scroll with a particular nuance. The last letter in that word – the letter aleph – is to be written in a significantly smaller font. Our commentators have a number of different explanations and interpretations of this requirement.

One explanation is given by the Kli Yakar, Rabbi Shlomo Ephraim Luntschitz. He explains that the letter aleph is associated with learning and education. The letter aleph is the first letter in the Hebrew alphabet – the basis of learning. The root of the word aleph is also associated in Hebrew with training and preparation. …

Moshe and Betzalel - Parashat Vayakhel-Pekude - March 24, 2017

We read a double parasha this week – Parashat Vayakhel-Pekude. Each of these parashiyot describe the building of the mishkan and the construction of the vessels that were housed and used within it.

Betzalel was charged with overseeing the construction of the mishkan and its vessels. Parashat Pekude opens with the statement, “And Betzalel the son of Uri the son of Chur of the tribe of Yehudah did everything that Hashem commanded Moshe.” Rashi explains that we would have expected the Torah to say that Betzalel did what Moshe commanded him to do. Instead, the Torah tells us that that Betzalel did everything that Hashem commanded him to do.

Based on a passage from Masechet Berachot, Rashi explains that Betzalel did things that did not make sense to Moshe, his teacher. Specifically, Moshe told Betzalel to make the vessels first and then to make the mishkan. Betzalel argued that the way of the world is to first make a house and then to place the vessels inside. Moshe was won over by Betzalel’…