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Parshat Tetzaveh

For whom the bell tolls

On the bottom hem of the High Priest’s robe there were bells and pomegranates that would make noise as he walked:

“A golden bell and pomegranate, a golden bell and pomegranate on the bottom hem of the robe all around. And Aharon shall wear it when he serves and its sound will be heard (vayishama kolo) when he comes to the sanctuary before God and when he...Read more...

Parshat Terumah

“There is no poverty in a place of wealth.”

Our parsha provides us with extensive and detailed descriptions of the structure of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) and its vessels. The general impression is that the Mishkan was full of pomp and circumstance. It was all great spaces and expensive materials, everything needed to be precisely constructed and aesthetically pleasing. No expense is spared and there is no sense that “the Torah is...Read more...

Parshat Mishpatim

The symbolism of the pierced ear

According to Torah law if a Hebrew slave asks to stay remain to serve his master after the term of his enslavement has ended the master is commanded to pierce his ear, and he remains a slave forever.

If the servant will say: I love my master and my wife and my son, I will not go free. Then his master will bring him to the judge and bring him to the...Read more...

Parshat Yitro

The prohibitions surrounding Mount Sinai

In anticipation of the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai the people are commanded to keep their distance from the mountain:

Set bounds to the people around it, saying ‘Guard yourselves from going up on the mountain and touching its edge, for all who touch the mountain will surely be put to death. No hand will touch him, but he will surely...Read more...

Parshat Beshalach

Trailblazers

The People of Israel are trapped between the sea on one side and the advancing Egyptians on the other. They cry out in desperation. (14, 9-12) Moshe is commanded to raise his staff and stretch his hand over the waters to part the sea. The people enter the sea.

Simple enough, or so it seems. Yet the sages explain that the actual entry into the sea was more complicated. The Torah tells us that...Read more...

Parshat Bo

The rules of the game

Moshe and Pharaoh's exchanges show a major failure to communicate, mostly due to Pharaoh's inability to understand what was wanted from him.

 

Moshe and Aharon begin their visits to Pharaoh with a show of signs and wonders; they turned a staff into a crocodile before Pharaoh's eyes. (7, 10) In the face of this wonder Pharaoh introduces his own sorcerers, who are able to do the same with...Read more...

Parshat Vaera

Pharaoh and Diogenes’ barrel

Our parsha gives us a glimpse at the "new" Pharaoh's monarchy, which is corrupt and utterly removed from the needs of his people. While this is especially clear from his lack of interest in the suffering his own people experience as a result of the plagues, it is also apparent in his treatment of the foreign people he rules over. This enslaved people have...Read more...

Parshat Shemot

Both Pharaoh's initial decree of servitude and the following decree to kill the male children were not independent decisions, the decisions were made with the help and counsel of Pharaoh's advisors. Pharaoh speaks in plural, "Let us deal smartly..." and the description of the slavery is also in the plural, "And they placed upon them..." clearly indicating that he did not act alone. (Shmot 1, 9-11) Indeed, Chazal inform us that Pharaoh had...Read more...

Parshat Vayechi

"Dan will judge his people"

 

The principle blessing Dan receives from Yaakov is: "Dan will judge his people like one of the tribes of Israel." Like all the blessings the brothers received, this blessing and its continuation need clarification.

 

Rashi, Radak, and Rabbeinu Bechaye, among others, explain that Yaakov's blessing is a prophecy concerning Shimshon the judge (shofet).

Read more...

Parshat Vayigash

Yosef's Deal

 

Yosef's actions during his tenure as Egypt's Minister of the Treasury are not based on humanitarian values, nor is he an impartial arbiter. Yosef gives the Egyptian people food in exchange for all their possessions; he provides them with life in exchange for their economic freedom. At the end of the process the people of Egypt are left with nothing; they are completely dependent on the decisions of the...Read more...

Parshat Miketz

Swallowed

Pharaoh's dreams revolve around fat, healthy sheaves or cows being swallowed by thin, unhealthy sheaves or cows. Yosef explains that the swallowing means that, "All the plenty will be forgotten in the land, and the famine will consume the land." (41, 20) This makes it seem like the key to unlocking the meaning of the dream is the act of one set of sheaves swallowing the other. While our imaginations can allow for cows...Read more...

Parshat Vayeshev

Yosef's wanderings

The description of Yosef's journey to meet his brothers is exhaustive in its detail; yet for all its verbosity the text seems to conceal as much is it reveals:

"He (Yaakov) said to him (Yosef), 'Go and see the welfare of your brothers and the welfare of the flock and bring word back to me; And he sent him from the valley of Chevron and he came to Shechem. And a man found him and behold he was wandering in...Read more...

Parshat Vayishlach

"An Israelite, even though they have sinned..."

The various midrashim that speak about our forefather Yaakov paint a picture of an exceptional man. One of these midrashim describe what Yaakov was doing the night before his highly anticipated meeting with Esav. The midrash explains that Yaakov was walking alone in the middle of the night because he was searching for small jugs (pachim ktanim).

Yaakov was left alone- Rabbi...Read more...

Parshat Vayetzei

Kefitzat Ha'Aretz- The earth jumped

 

Our Rabbis taught [in a beraita]: The earth jumped (kaftza ha'aretz) for three people- Eliezer Avraham's servant, Yaakov our forefather, and Avishai ben (son of) Tzeruya.

Avishai ben Tzeruya as we said, Eliezer Avraham's servant, as is written, 'And I came to the well today,' to teach you that he set out on the same...Read more...

Parshat Toldot

Shared Fates

"These are the generations of Yitzchak son of Avraham, Avraham begot Yitzchak." (25, 19)

This dual description that begins Parshat Toldot is curious, and attracted the attention of commentators throughout the ages, each attempting to explain the why this obvious statement is inverted and repeated. If Yitzchak is the son of Avraham then Avraham is his father. This superfluous description is even more noticeable...Read more...

Parshat Chayei Sara

Emotional Intelligence

In the early 80's the neuropsychologist Antonio Damasio came across a unique patient he referred to as "Elliot." Elliot was an ordinary person who owned a thriving business, until he underwent brain surgery to remove a tumor in his right frontal lobe. After the surgery he recovered most of his physical and mental capacities, with one curious exception: he was completely unable to make decisions. He was paralyzed...Read more...

Parshat Vayera

Sarah and Avimelech

When Avimelech returned Sarah to Avraham he bequethed him with more than cattle and servants, he also gave him the right to dwell in his land as a citizen. (Bereishit 20, 4) Afterward we are told that he addressed Sarah:

 "Behold I have given your brother a thousand pieces of silver; behold it/he is for you a covering of the eyes to all that are with you, and to all you are righted (v'nochachat)." This...Read more...

Parshat Lech Lecha

Humiliation

 “Noach awoke from his wine, and he knew what his young son had done to him. And he said, ‘Cursed is C’naan, he will be the slave of slaves to his brothers.’” (Bereishit 9, 24-25)

 

Noach did not leave the ark and live happily ever after, instead he faced a number of challenges. Noach’s drunkenness is an expression and reflection of these difficulties, as the Zohar...Read more...

Parshat Noach

Humiliation

 “Noach awoke from his wine, and he knew what his young son had done to him. And he said, ‘Cursed is C’naan, he will be the slave of slaves to his brothers.’” (Bereishit 9, 24-25)

 

Noach did not leave the ark and live happily ever after, instead he faced a number of challenges. Noach’s drunkenness is an expression and reflection of these difficulties, as the Zohar...Read more...

Bereishit

Creation and life

Many before have pointed out the duality of the description of the creation, the double narrative in Chapter 1 and Chapter 2 of Bereishit. Many before have tried to reconcile the differences between them or explain the contradictions. (For example Rav Soloveitchik, Lonely Man of Faith.) We too will look at one of the differences between the two that cause people studying these chapters to realize that the two do not...Read more...

Sukkot 5776

Sukkot: Permanence and Transience

At times the laws of the Festival of Sukkot appear contradictory. On the one hand the sukkah is meant to be a temporary dwelling. As the laws of sukkah dictate, a sukkah may not be too tall and the roof may not be fully protective- the wood or branches used to cover the sukkah can't be one whole board and may not be too close together. And because the sukkah is not meant to be a permanent dwelling...Read more...

Yom Kippur

Chatati, Aviti, Pashati- I have sinned, I have transgressed, I have done wrong

The epicenter of Yom Kippur is the vidui, confession. The source for this vidui can be found in the Torah, in the service of the High Priest on Yom Kippur. Several times the Torah commands the High Priest to confess the transgressions of the People of Israel along with his own sins and those of his family. (Vayikra, 16)

The wording of the vidui prayer, “chatati, aviti, pashati,” "I have sinned, I have transgressed, I have done wrong," is borrowed from the language of the verses that describe the High Priest's obligation to confess: "And he will confess all the transgressions (avonot) of the Children of Israel and all their wrongdoings (pisheihem), for all their sins (chataotam)."  (Vakikra 15, 21) The confession of the High Priest is a general confession. There is no attempt at a detailed list of every sin that each individual of Israel committed, impossible though it may be, nor is there an attempt to specify his own transgressions or those of his family. The main goal of this vidui is placation and kapara- atonement. Indeed this is the main goal of the entirety of his service on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Read more...

Shabbat Shuvah

Contract Law and the Mitzvah of Teshuvah

The following story may be familiar to many lawyers. While it uses language and ideas more familiar to the realm of law, from our point of view this is a classic Chassidish story that was translated into modern language. The following is a true story.

 

Stewart Macaulay, an expert in civil law, was about to marry the daughter of a businessman, an industrialist. His future...Read more...

Parshat Nitzavim

Mikvah Yisrael Hashem

According to Rambam the mitzvah of teshuva (repentance, lit. return) is a process multi-step process. It has a beginning and an end. A person removes themselves from the sin, they stop sinning, make a decision that they will not sin again, and regret the sins they have performed in the past. At the end of the process they confess their sins. (Rambam Hilchot Teshuva 2, 2)

Yet...Read more...

Parshat Ki Tavo

Look from Your holy dwelling- from the heavens?

At the end of the viduy ma'asrot (the confession recited when tithes are brought) the individual turns to God and makes a request:

"Hashkifa mi'maon kodshecha min hashamayim, u'barech et amcha et Yisrael."

"Look from Your holy dwelling, from the heavens, and bless Your people, Israel."

Taken at face value this verse indicates that God dwells in the heavens ("the...Read more...

Parshat Shoftim

Eidim Zomemim

 

The Torah teaches us what happens in a case when two witnesses testify against someone and say that he sinned, and afterward two other witnesses come and say their claim is utterly unfounded since they original witnesses were in another place at the time they claim to have seen the transgression.

 

"They say to them: how is it you testify for you were with us on that day in...Read more...

Parshat Re'eh

                                                                                           

Parshat Re’Eh

Ir Nidachat: A City...Read more...

Parshat Vaetchanan

The Sin of Compartmentalization

The Torah prohibits the making of any sort of graven images or forms: “For you did not see any image on the day God spoke to you at Chorev in the midst of fire.” Ostensibly, this commandment negates any sort of attempt to assign corporeality to God; in doing so it lists a number of images and symbols that are not to be used: “the form of a male or female,” “the form of any...Read more...

Fri, August 18 2017 26 Av 5777