Shavuot 5780

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

It is ironic that during this Shavuos we will not be able to gather together to learn Torah, daven, and enjoy the chag. The Gemara in Pesachim (68b) calls Shavuos by the name "Atzeres", which can be translated as an assembly. The Seforno on Vayikra 23:36 says that this name is chosen because Bnei Yisroel had gathered together to accept the Torah at Mt. Sinai (Matan Torah). The Even Ezra there also brings an opinion down that the word signifies a communal gathering. Though we continue to be separate from one another, we hope that we once again gather together in the shul in the service of Hashem to celebrate as well as with Moshiach in Yerushalayim bimheirah biyomeinu.
At the very end of the Seforno's comment, he notes that the Torah never actually calls the Shavuos by the name "Atzeres." In fact, the text in the Torah never mentions that Shavuos commemorates the giving of the Torah nor does it list a date for its celebration. How could such important details be omitted from the text?
The Kli Yakar on 23:16 discusses the Torah's description of bringing a "new" sacrifice on Shavuos. He explains that Torah should be seen as something new and fresh in the eyes of a person as if he/she accepted it from Mt. Sinai on that very day. If one does so, then *every single day* is considered the day of Matan Torah and hence no need to set aside a specific day to commemorate this event. The emphasis here is the daily renewal and rededication of one's efforts to Torah study. The Kli Yakar adds the Sifri's statement that words of Torah should always be new to a person and not like something that makes one sick. There is always something new to learn in Torah.
This idea of renewal is emphasized in the laws of the reading the Shema. The Shulchan Aruch in Orach Chaim 61:2 says that when one reads "these things which I have commanded you today" one should see the Mitzvos as newly given and not as if one has heard them previously and therefore no longer dear to him/her. Rashi on that verse adds that one should read the Shema as if it is a new royal proclamation which everyone is excited to read.
The Gemara in Nedarim (81a) notes that the first Beis Hamikdash was destroyed because the people did not say Birchos Hatorah before learning each day. The Ran there explains that the people were definitely involved with Torah constantly at the time, but that Torah became unimportant to them. It was no longer worthy in their eyes on which to make a blessing before learning. Their efforts were for the wrong reasons and their service became almost like a daily chore.
Doing Mitzvos such as davening and learning are to be embedded into our daily routine but in a way that resonates with us. We are to involve ourselves in Mitzvos with the right mindset and not by rote. We are to see them as if we are partaking in them for the very first time with each given opportunity.
During this period of social distancing, our days have melted into one another and have disrupted our sense of routine. Alternatively, we find ourselves lacking a sense of freshness to our days, turning us into mindless zombies as we drag our feet around our houses looking to occupy ourselves.
Our lesson here addresses these two issues. By establishing a routine of Torah learning and always looking upon Torah with fresh eyes every morning, we can stay strong during this tough time and look forward to each day with the same enthusiasm and drive as we had since the beginning.

Emor 5780

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

The parsha starts off with the laws of a Kohen becoming impure for certain deceased relatives. The Kohanim were always in a state of purity as they carried out the services in the Temple. However, the exception to the rule  The Gemara in Moed Katan (20b) explains that for whomever they become impure, they also must mourn for them. The list given is discussed in the Gemara in Yevamos and applies to all Jews and not just the Kohanim.
The Rambam lists this as a Mitzvah in Sefer Hamitzvos (Aseh #37) that the Kohanim are obligated to become impure for their family members. He explains that because they were already prohibited from becoming impure via deceased individuals, they would understand the Torah here as giving them the option to do so for family. Therefore, the Torah *obligates* them to do so, even if by force. Additionally, the Kohanim are singled out to further strengthen the idea of mourning. By singling out the Kohen, who is cautious of impurity, to become impure and mourn, the Torah sends the message to the rest of the nation to not be weary with the laws of mourning.

Ki Tisa 5778

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

After the sin of the golden calf, G-d tells them of numerous commandments including the holidays. The list mentioned here puts Pesach over Shabbos, followed by Shavuos and Succos. In other lists of the holidays, such as in Parshas Emor, Shabbos precedes all the holidays. Why was the order switched here?
The Netziv in his commentary "Ha'amek Davar" explains that this list isn't to teach Bnei Yisroel about the holidays since they were already told of them before the sin of the golden calf (in Mishpatim). Here, this list is to repair a sense of faith that was damaged within them. After such a sin, Hashem saw it fit to reestablish and strengthen the building blocks of their faith by starting with the primary example of faith: Yetzias Mitzrayim and Pesach. By starting with Pesach and the springtime, He was looking to "plant" a sense of Avodas Hashem within them that would stretch across the year and its holidays.

Vayeitzei 5779

The Malbim notes the differences between the prophecy that Yaakov received at the beginning of the parsha to that of Moshe's. He uses the Rambam's analysis from Moreh Nevuchim to point out four distinct differences:
1) All prophecies are transmitted via dream. Only when the prophet is sleeping will he/she see a vision. Moshe, on the other hand, received prophecy while awake. As seen here in the parsha, Yaakov dreams of the vision.
2) All prophecies are given as parables or riddles. It is up to the prophet to discern and interpret what the meaning of the prophecy means. However, Moshe didn't need to do so; Hashem spoke to him directly without any explanation needed. Here, the parable of a ladder with angels is given.
3) All prophecies come via an angel; they are seen as the "middleman" between Hashem and the prophet. In Bamidbar 12:8, Hashem describes how He speaks to Moshe as two people speak to one another. In Yaakov's prophecy, angels are the main players.

Shemot 5779

As Moshe is on his way back to Egypt to speak with Pharaoh, his life is unexpectedly threatened. As he stays at an inn, Hashem looks to kill him. Tziporah acts fast by finding a sharp rock and performing a circumcision on their son Gershom. Some commentaries on this story note that Moshe had not been diligent with performing a circumcision on his son at the proper time. He had decided to focus on his lodging before performing the mitzvah; his priorities weren't in order.
Despite these explanations, it is still difficult to understand what happened here. How could Hashem look to wipe out Moshe after a week of speaking with him about saving the Jewish people from Egypt? Secondly, why such a harsh potential punishment? Circumcision is crucial to Judaism, but at the risk of ending Moshe's life and possibly delaying the redemption?
I would like to suggest an explanation based on the Rambam in his introduction to his commentary on the Mishnah. At the very beginning, the Rambam talks about four kinds of prophets; two who speak in the name of idolatry while two speak in the name of Hashem. However, out of those four types only one kind is believed and accepted as a true prophet. The first two say that either a star or that Hashem Himself came and said to worship a certain object or luminary. Even if they perform miracles, they are put to death for being false prophets of Hashem. The second two speak in the name of Hashem. However, one says that Hashem had decided to add or remove a commandment from the Torah; this also includes altering an interpretation of a verse based on drasha. This prophet is also to be put to death. Only a prophet who speaks in the name of Hashem and tells the masses to continue keeping the Torah and to do teshuvah

Noach 5779

Friday, October 12, 2018

There is a misconception regarding Noach's curse to his grandson, Canaan. After Noach awakes from his drunken state, he realizes what Ham did to him; he decides to curse Ham's son, Canaan. He is to be a slave to his brothers, Cush, Mitzrayim and Put. However, states the Ibn Ezra, many people claim that this explains why African nations, originally from Cush, became slaves. He points out that the very first king after the flood was Nimrod, Cush's son. If there really was a curse on them, how could they become leaders of their land? Therefore there is no justification for the formation of slavery during colonial times. The curse was for Canaan, not Cush's.

Bereishit 5776

Friday, October 5, 2018

The story of "Bnei elohim" is perplexing to say the least. The Orach Chaim (6:3) does note that Midrashim attempt to interpret this story, but the literal context is still unclear. However, it seems that as a result of whatever occurred Hashem decided to alter the way He interacted with Mankind. At first, Hashem would interact directly with Adam and Eve, as well as their children and the snake. Once human beings began to really degrade themselves with sin, He stopped speaking with them directly.
Originally, everyone was at a level of prophecy. This allowed them the privilege of speaking with Hashem just as Moshe did. But once they began to be "chal" (6:1), they lost that level of holiness. The only exceptions then were Tzaddikim, righteous individuals. When the Temple was destroyed, there was no more prophecy; only Divine inspiration remained. Sadly, we as a nation can't even reach that level of Divine inspiration anymore due to our sins.
This punishment of our declining connection with Hashem stems from the generation of the flood. They began committing adultery, which is what the verse refers to with "flesh" (6:3). This might be why the verse specifies the actions of the rulers as well. This sin was rampant even among the esteemed leaders at the time.
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