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Showing posts from January, 2019

And He Rested - Parashat Yisro 5779 - January 25, 2019

This week’s parasha, Yitro, describes Hashem’s revelation at har sinai through the aseret hadibrot – the Ten Commandments.

The fourth of the commandments is  zachor et yom haShabbat lekadesho – remember the day of Shabbat to sanctify it. In this commandment, the Torah identifies the reason of Shabbat as being a reminder of chiddush olam – G-d’s creation of the world ex nihilo - out of nothingness.

Our Shabbat tefilot frequently mention this aspect of Shabbat – zecher lema’ase beresheit– a reminder of creation.

How does Shabbat commemorate creation?

The answer appears to be obvious. Shabbat is a reminder of G-d’s creation of the world from nothingness because G-d created the world for six days and rested on the seventh day. That seventh day is Shabbat. The Torah declares Hashem’s actions on the seventh day – vayanach – and He rested. Malbim suggests that vayanach has a different connotation than another word that the Torah commonly uses to describe Hashem resting – vayishbot. According…

On Building Community - Parashat Beshalach 5779, January 18, 2019

This week’s parasha, Beshalach, presents the conclusion of the Jewish people’s miraculous exodus from Egypt with their crossing the dry sea bed of the Red Sea and the destruction of Paroh and his army. The Torah records the Jewish people’s reaction to the splitting of the Red Sea – they feared G-d and they believed in G-d and in Moshe His servant.

The Torah continues with the passage of az yashir, “Then Moshe and b’nei yisrael sung this song to Hashem and they said the following …”, and the presentation of shirat hayam – the song of the sea – a song of praise of G-d describing His saving the Jewish people from Egypt.

The shirat hayam is tightly written verse. The language is dense and subtle. The meter is consistent. It is a beautiful piece of poetry.

Our chachamim debate a very curious issue regarding the shira. How exactly was it recited? The Gemara and the Mekhilta record four different opinions answering this very question.

The first opinion holds that for each verse of the shira,…

The Jewish People's First Commandments - Parashat Bo 5779, January 11, 2019

This week’s parasha, Parashat Bo presents the first mitzvot given to b’nei yisrael, as a nation. To this point in our history, individuals had been given individual mitzvot. Adam was given the mitzvah of peru u’rvu, to be fruitful and multiply. Avraham was given the mitzvah of brit milah, circumcision. Ya’akov was given the mitzvah of gid hanasheh, to not eat the thigh sinew.
In Chapter 12 of this week’s parasha, Hashem commands Moshe and Aharon to speak to the children of Israel and command them regarding rosh chodesh – the Jewish calendar – and korban pesach – the Pesach sacrifice. According to Maimonides’ count, there are thirteen specific commandments related to the Pesach sacrifice, including, to slaughter the sacrifice properly, to eat the sacrifice, to eat the sacrifice only roasted, not to leave leftovers of the sacrifice and nine other related commandments.

The mitzvot in this perek were the first

Primitive Prayer - Parashat Va'eira 5779, January 4, 2019

In the beginning of this week’s parasha, Parashat Va’Era, Hashem shares with Moshe Rabbenu that He has heard the groan of b’nei yisrael as a consequence of their slavery and that Hashem remembered His covenant. B’nei yisrael’s response to the slavery is also recorded in another place in the Torah – in Sefer Devarim. In the description of the mitzvat bikkurim – the commandment of the first fruits – the Torah describes the commandment for a farmer to bring his first fruits to Yerushalayim. In presenting the fruits to the kohen, the farmer recites a confession – a viduy. As part of this confession, the farmer briefly recounts the experience of the children of Israel in Egypt. The farmer begins, “An Aramean tried to destroy my forefather. He descended to Egypt and sojourned there, few in number, and there he became a nation – great, strong and numerous. The Egyptians mistreated us and afflicted us and placed hard work on us.”
In the next passage, the farmer describes the reaction of b’nei…

All Mitzvot Have This in Common - Parashat Vayigash 5779, December 14, 2018

Which mitzvah is greater – Talmud Torah (learning and teaching Torah) or kibbud av v’em (honoring one’s parents)?

Our chachamim answer that Talmud Torah is greater and there is an indication of this idea in this week’s parasha. 
Paroh and Yaakov Avinu discuss Yaakov’s age. Yaakov tells Paroh that he is 130 years old. In reading through the Torah, the math doesn’t seem correct. We know (through some calculations involving Yishmael) that Yaakov was 63 when he received his father Yitzchak’s blessing. The Torah tells us that once Yaakov arrived to Lavan’s house, it was 14 years until Yosef was born. That would make Yaakov 77. Yosef was 30 when he stood before Paroh – at that time Yaakov would be 107. Subsequently, there were seven plentiful years and two years of scarcity. Yaakov would be 116. But Yaakov told Paroh that he was 130 years old! What happened to the missing 14 years?

Our chachamim teach us that between leaving his father’s house and arriving to Lavan, Yaakov spent 14 years stu…