Vayeira 5782

Saturday, October 23, 2021

Shortly after the parsha begins, Hashem decides to tell Avraham about His plan to destroy the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Avraham then prays to Hashem to spare them. But why does Hashem tell Avraham in the first place, almost to get some sort of feedback from Him? Rabbi Ben Keil, from the Young Israel of Pelham Parkway, explains that Hashem was teaching Avraham a very important lesson about prayer. Every day we pray for things in hopes that we receive what we ask for. However, the answer isn't always "yes". Though Avraham had prayed to spare the cities, Hashem's answer in this case was "no". This is why the Torah records Hashem's commentary about how Avraham will follow in His ways and lead his descendants in the path of Torah. This was a golden opportunity to teach a foundation of prayer and its mechanics.

Lech Lecha 5782

Saturday, October 16, 2021

The Gemara in Nedarim (32a) explains that Avraham was punished when he asked for reassurance from Hashem when he was promised the land of Israel. Avraham asks, "how will I know that I will inherit it?" (15:8). Hashem answers with "You will surely know..." (15:13) and proceeds to tell him the 400 years of slavery the Jews will endure due to him supposedly expressing doubt in this promise. The Kli Yakar finds this very difficult to understand, that such a question by Avraham would cause his descendants to suffer. He proceeds to explain that the question bothering the Gemara is as follows: regardless of what the reason for 400 years of slavery was, why did Hashem tell Avraham such negative details about his descendants to distress him freely? Avraham was asking something which wasn't necessary to know; he should not have asked for a sign from Hashem. This ends up being a middah kineged middah in Hashem responding as if saying, "Do you really want to know? Fine, I will share the unpleasant parts of the covenant." Hashem was as if hoping to spare Avraham from such things.

The Kli Yakar himself believes that the slavery in Egypt was for different reasons (he points to the Abarbanel for a list of them). He continues on to ask why Avraham did not ask for such confirmation when he was promised descendants. Plus, why doesn't he ask about the land when it is first mentioned along with the promise of descendants?

When Hashem mentions giving the land to Avraham, He says it will be given as an "inheritance" (15:7). When Hashem mentions giving Avraham descendants, He merely says "I will give you children," the implication being freely. When Avraham heard the word "inheritance" he wanted confirmation that he would be the sole owner of the land of Israel without any claims from his cousins. Noach gave the Middle East and parts of Asia to Shem after the flood, who had five sons (10:22). Avraham came from the family of Arpachshad, but he was worried that descendants from the other four siblings would claim rights to Israel. Hashem then makes a covenant with him just as He does so with Aharon to disclaim any of Korach's challenges to the priesthood. 

Noach 5782

Saturday, October 9, 2021

The Midrash Rabbah (B"R 23:7) discusses the root "hey-chet-lamed" as it appears in various places throughout the first two parshios. R' Simmon explains that the root's implication is to rebel in the following three places: 1)"az huchal likro b'shem Hashem"; 2)"ki heicheil ha'adam"; 3)"hu heicheil lihiyot gibor". The Eitz Yosef explains each of the three verses. Verse 1) refers to when Mankind began serving idols and straying from Hashem. Verse 2) introduces the story of the Bnei Elohim, which many commentators describe as a time when sexual immorality was rampant [see Bereishit 5782 for more]. Verse 3) is the Torah's description of Nimrod, the fierce hunter (10:8); he began to convince everyone to rebel against Hashem and promoted murder with his strength. Each of these are considered rebellions against Hashem and represent the three cardinal sins in Judaism. 

Bereishit 5782

Saturday, October 2, 2021

After Noach is born towards the end of the Parsha, the Torah speaks about the Bnei Elohim who act in a way that causes Hashem to change the way He interacts with Mankind. The Midrash in Bereishis Rabbah attempts to explain the story, and the gist of their interpretations makes note that these supposed leaders of the generation were acting in a corrupt way that included illicit relationships. Because of this, Hashem decides to take a step back (6:3). The Or HaChaim explains that up until this point Hashem was directly talking to people, such as Adam and Cain, and that everyone was on the level of prophets. Once the people began to act immorally, He determines that Mankind is no longer fit to be at such a spiritual level to merit such direct dialogue. The Or HaChaim continues onward explaining how the righteous brought back His Presence with time until the Temple was destroyed, as well with Divine Inspiration when the Jews were exiled.

This is one idea behind the ending of Eichah when we ask Hashem to renew our days like old, "k'kedem" (5:21). Kedem refers to Gan Eden, the ultimate paradise. We hope that one day we can reach the level of prophets once again and have a closer connection to Hashem, where we can have a "face to face" with Him.

Mishpatim 5781

Monday, February 8, 2021

 Parshas Mishpatim mainly deals with the bulk of laws found in Tractates Baba Kama and Baba Metzia, which focus on damages (both material and physical) and liabilities. The Gemara in Baba Kama (30a) notes that if one wants to be pious he should learn the laws of damages; others include Pirkei Avos as well as the laws of blessings. The Maharsha in his Chiddushei Aggados explains that a pious person looks to do good with all his actions. These are split into three categories: acts towards others, acts towards oneself, and acts towards G-d. Each of the topics listed address one of these categories. The laws of damages teaches one to care for others' property; Pirkei Avos helps one refine his character; learning the laws of blessings helps one appreciate G-d's kindness in this world. While some commentaries note that mastering one of these qualifies one to be a pious person, one should strive to improve himself in every part of his life. Only then will he be able to bestow goodness in its totality. 

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.
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