Parshat Devarim

A singular nation or a nation like all nations?

The story of how the People of Israel came to settle in the Land of Israel, as related in this week’s parsha, is part of a much greater story that involves movements of nations, the rise and fall of empires, and the disappearance of primal tribes from the stage of history. Esav’s descendants destroyed the Horites when they conquered Mount Seir. (2, 3; 2, 12)...Read more...

Parshat Matot

The  Religious Experience

With the statement that one who makes a vow “shall not break his word” the Torah elevates one person’s individual attempt to determine a personal norm to the level of a Divine commandment. With this a vow is transformed from a personal commitment to one more mitzvah the individual must perform. The content is unimportant; from the moment it is put into the framework of a vow one...Read more...

Parshat Pinchas

Reliving the moment

Before Moshe ascended Mount Sinai the Torah relates, “He sent the young men of the Children of Israel, and they offered burnt-offerings and sacrificed peace-offerings of oxen to God.” (Shmot 24, 8) In this week’s parsha the commandment to sacrifice the korban tamid, daily burnt-offering, mentions those sacrifices, “It is a continual burnt-offering, that was done on Mount Sinai, a...Read more...

Parshat Balak

“Ayin tova”- A good eye

This parsha is not very flattering to Bilam. He is portrayed as a fraud who claims to possess abilities he does not have in pursuit of fame and fortune. Such a character mostly evokes pity. And yet Chazal collected different aspects of his personality and set him up as the symbolic antithesis of Avraham:

Whoever possesses the following three...Read more...

Parshat Chukat

Public Policy

Moshe sends messengers to the King of Edom with a simple request- to allow the People of Israel passage through his land. When Moshe sends the messengers he instructs them to preface their request with a historical explanation stating the right of the People of Israel to return to their land and a description of the denial of human rights they experienced at the hands of the Egyptians, which led to...Read more...

Parshat Korach

What did he see in this nonsense?

The midrash tells us: “Korach was smart. What did he see with this nonsense?” The midrash assumes that Korach was smart. But how does the midrash know this? After all, the Torah dedicates little space to his story.

Still, a close look at Korach’s claims reveals they contain a kernel of truth. Korach rails against the contradiction between the unique status...Read more...

Parshat Shelach

Identity and Intention

Our parsha differentiates between someone who purposely transgresses and commits a sin and someone who does so accidentally or unknowingly. At the same time the Torah deviates from its customary language, relating to someone who sins intentionally in an unusually harsh manner:

 “The soul that does so with a raised hand, [whether he is]...Read more...

Parshat Beha'Alotecha

Transience

This parsha contains detailed camping and traveling instructions for the desert. God commands the People of Israel to follow the cloud, when the cloud rested atop the Mishkan (Tabernacle) it was a sign that they should set up camp and when the cloud rose it was a signal to pack up camp and continue their journey. (The following verses can be read as a command or in the past tense. Here they are...Read more...

Parshat Nasso

Spiritual insight and sensitivity

Our parsha describes the division of labor between the different sects of Levites, the sons of Gershon, Kehat, and Merari. This division is not arbitrary, the task assigned to each family reflects the level of their connection to spirituality. In his book The Kuzari Rabbi Yehudah HaLevi draws an analogy between the vessels of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) and the different parts of the...Read more...

Parshat Bamidbar

Fom Heaven

A lottery was used to facilitate the exchange of the firstborn sons with the Levites. Since there were more firstborn than there were Levites some of the firstborn had to redeem themselves with money instead. While the vast majority of the firstborn, 22,000 of them, were redeemed for free through an exchange with a Levite, the remaining 273 had to pay five shekel out of pocket for their redemption. 

Other more...Read more...

Parshat Berchukotai

The good, the bad, and the holy

If a person designates an animal and sanctifies it, the Torah tells us that it may not be exchanged for a different animal. “It should not be exchanged, not good for bad or bad for good. And if one exchanges an animal for an animal, then it and the one it is exchanged for will be holy.” (23, 10; and a similar instruction in verses 32-33) This commandment does not merely preclude exchanging a good...Read more...

Parshat Emor

The Blasphemer- The chronicles of a halacha

“And the son of an Israelite woman blasphemed the name and cursed, and they brought him to Moshe… and they left him in custody, so that it would be declared to them by the word of God.” 

The story of the blasphemer is a fascinating chapter in the history of halachic development. Ostensibly, the event occurred before there was an explicit prohibition against “blessing”...Read more...

Parshat Kedoshim

The connection between loving the ger and weights and measures 

Parshat Kedoshim is full of curious juxtapositions. The commandment to love the ger (stranger, foreigner, or convert) ends with the explanation, “for you were geirim (strangers) in the land of Egypt, I am the Lord your God.” (19, 34) The following commandment deals with weights and measures and the obligation to be honest and diligent in business. The explanation...Read more...

Parshat Tazria-Metzora

Three camps

The division between the three camps in the desert- the Camp of the Shechina (Divine Presence), the Camp of the Levites, and the Camp of the Israelites- is not merely a practical and territorial division. The division reflects a hierarchal relationship between the camps based on their proximity to the center, the innermost section. The farther one gets from the center the “fainter” the sanctity grows until one is...Read more...

Parshat Shemini

Mixed feelings

After the death of his two sons Aharon and his remaining sons, the Cohanim, are instructed not to engage in any outward displays of mourning: “Do not let your [hair on your] heads go loose, and do not rend your clothes.” The binding traditions for mourners to tear their clothes and refrain from cutting their hair are learned from this verse. This source also makes it clear that these traditions...Read more...

Shir HaShirim

Your scented oils have a good fragrance

Shir Hashirim launches an assault on our senses. The megillah is filled with descriptions of sounds, colors, tastes, and smells. At times it can be overwhelming. Sometimes it’s worthwhile to break down the layers, choose one sense to follow from beginning to end, in order to better understand just one aspect of this multi-sensory experience. This time I have chosen the...Read more...

Special Haggadah Edition

The Drasha of Ben Zoma: A halachic and conceptual revolution

We are told by Rabbi Elazar ben Azarya in the hagaddah: ‘I am like a seventy year old man and, yet I did not merit that the Exodus from Egypt must be mentioned at night until Ben Zoma explained (darsha) the verse.’

Like most sections of the hagaddah the origin of this story is Tannaitic. The source of the drasha (exposition) is a mishnah in Massechet...Read more...

Parshat Tzav Shabbat Hagadol

Korban Shlamim (Peace Offering

The name of the korban olah (burnt offering) hints at one of its most defining characteristics; it is completely burnt on the altar. The korban todah (thanksgiving offering) indicates that it is brought to recognize the gratitude one owes God for every blessing that is bestowed. Similarly the chatat and asham (the sin and guilt offerings) are named after the reason they are brought- to atone for one’s...Read more...

Parshat Vayikra

The obligation to know

Except for a small sector of jurists and legal scholars most people do not know most of  the laws of the country they live in. Most of the time they get by with a basic understanding of the law, and then from time to time, in certain notable situations, they seek the services of an attorney to put their affairs in order in accordance with those norms and laws that are beyond them. There...Read more...

Parshat Vayakhel

The individual within the community

Within the 39 malachos of Shabbat there are a series of prohibited actions that revolve around the steps it takes to make bread. The prohibition of lash, kneading or making a mixture, differentiates between two types of mixtures: a mixture whose primary component is bar gibul, easily mixed, and a mixture whose primary component is lav bar gibul, not easily mixed. Things like flour are bar gibul,...Read more...

Parshat Ki Tisa

Ultimatum

In the wake of the Sin of the Golden Calf, Moshe fiercely negotiates with God on behalf of the People of Israel. At first God tells Moshe of his plan to give up on the People of Israel and start afresh with Moshe’s progeny: “I will make you into a great nation.” The debate continues:

Moshe returned to God and said, “Please, this People sinned a great sin and made...Read more...

Parshat Tetzveh

 

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 goes out so that he will not die.”...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 door or to the doorpost, and his master will...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 be stoned or shot through, whether beast or...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...Read more...

Parshat Bo

Vaya’asu- Obedience and Innovation

Between the plague of darkness and the plague of the firstborn there is a section that deals with a completely different topic: the laws of the upcoming Pesach and the Pesach festivals that will follow in years to come. At this point the Children of Israel are commanded to take a lamb into their home so it may be sacrificed at the appropriate time. The Torah tells us that the Children of Israel do...Read more...

Parshat Vaera

A miracle within a miracle

The plague of hail is described in our parsha as fire within ice; in the words of Chazal it is “a miracle within a miracle.” The idea of “a miracle within a miracle” is also found in connection with other events throughout history. Intuitively the reader understands that such a description is an attempt to enhance our amazement over God’s clear, direct, and overt intervention in this world. Yet a...Read more...

Parshat Shemot

Pharaoh’s Decree 

The Torah tells us that the reason the Egyptians instigated the plan to enslave the People of Israel was because they feared that the people they ruled would rise up against them. “And it will happen when war is declared that they will join along with our enemies and fight us and go up from the land.” They wanted to allay their fears through constant enslavement which they believed would...Read more...

Parshat Vayachi

​Exile and Growth
 

As a fitting start for a parsha that centers around Yaakov’s departure from this world, this week’s parsha begins with a summary of Yaakov’s life:

“Yaakov lived in the land of Egypt for seventeen years; and the days of Yaakov, the years of his life were seven years and forty and one hundred years.” (Bereishit 47, 28)

Behind these seemingly technical, dry...Read more...

Sun, July 23 2017 29 Tammuz 5777