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.

Succot 5779

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Along with sitting in the Succah, the four species ("arbah minim" in Hebrew) are at the forefront of mitzvos performed on the holiday of Succos. We take for ourselves a palm branch ("lulav"), three myrtle branches ("hadassim"), two willow branches ("aravos"), and a citron ("esrog"). The Sefer Hachinnuch in Mitzvah 324 says that when a person sees these species, it makes him/her happy. These species are taken during the harvest season to remind us that our happiness should be to G-d and we celebrate Him with the physical world. Additionally, each of the species represents a part of our body to remind us to follow in G-d's ways. The etrog represents our heart, where our thoughts lie; we are to serve G-d with our intellect. The lulav represents our spine; we should straighten ourselves through G-d's commandments. The hadassim represent our eyes, which shouldn't steer us away from G-d. The aravos represent our mouth, which we should curb and only use for speaking good things.

However, I always felt that there was more to the four species. They represent more than just how we should conduct ourselves before G-d. I would like to suggest that these four species are us showing G-d how much we yearn for the Final Redemption. After all, some commentators mention that the Messiah will come on Succos. On Shabbos Chol Hamoed of Succos we read about the war preceding Messiah. The Temple itself is called "King David's fallen succah" as we mention in Birkas Hamazon. Following this theme, each of the Four Species symbolizes our desire for the Final Redemption that parallel events in our past.

The lulav is called "kapos tamarim" in the Torah; it is a palm branch that yields fruit. "Tamar" in Hebrew is a date, one of the seven types of produce from the land of Israel. Tamar is also the name of Yehuda's daughter-in-law. She had two children, named Peretz and Zerach. Her descendants are listed at the end of the Book of Ruth; they include King David, and eventually Moshiach. Using our "kapos tamarim", we are hinting to G-d to bring Tamar's final descendant in Moshiach.

The hadassim share a common name with one of the Bible's famous heroines: Queen Esther. In the Book of Esther, we are introduced to her under her other name, Hadassah (Esther 2:7). Her rise to power as Queen of Persia and her courageous efforts to save the Jewish people eventually led to their return to the land of Israel as well as the building of the second Temple. Just as Hadassah/Esther sparked the end of the first exile, so too we hope our own hadassim spark the Final Redemption and end to the current exile.

During the week when we complete a meal, we say Birkas Hamazon (Grace after Meals) to thank G-d for sustaining us. But before we begin, we say a paragraph of Tehillim (Psalm 137) that is known as "Al Naharos Bavel", On the rivers of Babylon. It talks about the sorrow the Jews felt in exile and how they were treated in Babylon. Verse 2 notes that they "hung their harps on the willows". Rashi quotes word for word that it's referring to "arvei nachal", the very description the Torah gives for aravos on Succos (Vayikra 23:40). By using the aravos in our lulav bundle, we are hinting to G-d of our exile and hoping that we are redeemed one day soon.

The Midrash Rabbah in Bereishis (15:7) asks the question, from what kind of fruit did Adam and Eve eat? There are four opinions given: wheat, grapes, figs, and esrog. The esrog actually fits the description that it was a "delight to look at (Bereishis 3:6)". The Midrash floats the idea regarding the fig that Adam and Eve tried to repent by using the exact same item they sinned with. I would like to suggest that we are doing the same with esrog. We are using it to make up for Man's fall and attempting to repair our relationship with G-d; we want to go back to the way it was before Man sinned. That's exactly how it will be when Moshiach arrives. The Final Redemption will undo Adam and Eve's sin and we will be back to that same level of holiness as we were before.

These four species help us show G-d how much we yearn for the final Temple. We yearn for the days that Mishnah describes as the ultimate simcha during Sukkos. We hope to one day encircle the alter with our lulavim instead of the bimah in shul. May we be zocheh to the Geulah bimheirah biyomeinu.

Rosh Hashana 5779

Monday, September 17, 2018

Certain parshios are to fall out at certain times of the year. For example, Mikeitz is always during Shabbos Chanukah; Devarim is always the shabbos before Tisha B'Av. Parshas Nitzavim always falls out the week before Rosh Hashanah. Why is that? Is there some sort of message connecting back to the Yomim Nora'im found within this short parsha?
The Ramban (30:11) explains that there surely is a connection. From 30:11-14, the Torah talks about a mitzvah that is attainable and easy to implement. However, it isn't clear which mitzvah is being described. The Ramban explains that these four verses are working off of the previous paragraph that details the mitzvah of teshuvah (repentance). The Torah is teaching us that doing teshuvah is easy and accessible; it's not a foreign concept that no one can reach. This is surely appropriate as we enter the Yomim Nora'im and prepare ourselves with Selichos, davening, and asking for forgiveness from those we have wronged.
However, despite what the Ramban says, there are still two questions that arise. Firstly, is teshuvah really that simple? Even though it's described as a four-step process by the Rambam, each of those steps aren't the easiest things in the world. Secondly, if the message is about teshuvah, why didn't Chazal then set up the calendar for Nitzavim to fall out on Shabbos Shuvah between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur?
Rav Yosef Dov Soloveichik in "Before Hashem You Shall Be Purified" discusses how Rosh Hashanah isn't really about teshuvah. The day is about re-anointing G-d as our King and praising Him. There are even customs to not mention any kind of confession of sin, a step in the teshuvah process, from the prayers on Rosh Hashanah; for example, some leave out a few of the lines from Avinu Malkeinu because it states that "we have sinned." But, says the Rav, there is a small aspect of teshuvah within the Day of Judgment. Rosh Hashanah represents "Hirhur Teshuvah", the mere thought or consideration of repenting. We see from Chazal that even the minute thought of thinking of doing teshuvah holds water and is crucial. The Gemara in Kiddushin (49b) gives a case of when a man betroths a woman on condition that he is a tzaddik (righteous person) that the betrothal is binding even if it's known that he's a rasha (wicked person); this is because he may have had a "hirhur teshuvah" at that very moment. That split second is powerful enough to make his betrothal binding. We see from here that hirhur teshuvah does wonders despite its minuscule moment and effort.
Using the Rav's idea, I would like to suggest that the Ramban may be referring to this idea of hirhur teshuvah. Out of the whole process of Teshuvah, that first spark of consideration is quick and easy; anyone can have that thought and it can motivate a person to continue the process despite the challenging steps that follow. This may be why Nitzavim is before Rosh Hashanah and not during the Ten Days of Repentance; its message of hirhur teshuvah *only* works for Rosh Hashanah. It is a good way to kick off the Ten Days of Repentance as we move towards Yom Kippur. May we all build upon the momentum of hirhur teshuvah and complete the process not only with Yom Kippur, but through the rest of our lives.

Ki Tavo 5778

Friday, August 31, 2018

Chapter 28 contains the potential blessings and curses we would receive for either following or not following the Torah's laws respectively. The Or Hachaim (28:21 and 28:47) splits up the Tocha'cha, or "Rebuke" into different sections by what is being addressed in each. Verses 21-44 address the punishments for not keeping the negative commandments. This is because the verse opens up with potential afflictions that would cling to us. Similarly, we afflict ourselves spiritually with "ailments" that cling to our soul. Verses 47-58 address the punishments for not doing the positive commandments. The verse states that we didn't worship G-d with happiness and wholeheartedly. The punishment is measure for measure as we would be sent into exile and "worship" the tyrant who enslaves us. If we don't accept the yoke of commandments, we'll get an actual physical yoke on our necks from our enemies.
The Or Hachaim then asks the question, why did Moshe have to repeat the concept of rebuke? The Torah already did so at the end of Sefer Vayikra! He offers the suggestion that the rebuke in Bechukosai was addressing the people as a whole; all the pronouns there are in the plural tense. One would think that if a good amount of the people were keeping the Torah's commandments, G-d would overlook the minute amount of people not doing so. This is not the case. Moshe used the singular tense here to stress the idea that G-d focuses on us as individuals as well.

Tisha B'Av 5778

Saturday, July 21, 2018

The story of Rabbi Akiva and the foxes on the Temple Mount ends the tractate of Makkos and is to bring us comfort during the exile. He laughs cheerfully as he sees the foxes; if the first part of the prophecy has come true (ie. the destruction of the Temple and the barrenness of the land), then surely the second part is to come true as well.
However, we do see that the final part of the prophecy that Rabbi Akiva mentions in fact has been fulfilled. The streets of Jerusalem are indeed filled with people young and old. So why do we still mourn?
The answer is simple. We still don't have our Temple back. We can prosper in the land of Israel. We can build it up with the latest trends in technology and agriculture. We can make it the most populated area of Jews in the world. We can have one of the best armies in the world.
But we're not done yet. Not until we bring G-d's Presence back into our midsts. These are all minor steps in the right direction, but we have many more to go.
May we be zocheh to see the Final Redemption and the final Temple built, a place that will be deemed a "house of prayer for all nations".

Tetzaveh 5778

Thursday, February 22, 2018

If one looks at the order of the vessels and clothing made for the Mishkan, one would see that one final vessel was made at the very end. This was the golden altar which was used for bringing the incense ("ketores" in Hebrew). Why was it mentioned after everything else had been completed? It should have been mentioned along with the other vessels such as the menorah and table.
The Ramban explains that this was to teach Bnei Yisroel that their service was not complete yet. Right before the golden altar is mentioned, Hashem sums up the Mishkan and says it will allow Him to dwell among the nation. However, there would be an additional service to carry out: bringing the incense twice a day for His honor. As we learn later on in the Torah, the incense had the special ability to stop plagues and combat G-d's harsh judgment. The Seforno adds that the incense's job was not to bring G-d's presence into the Mishkan like the other vessels, nor was it to bring His physical expression of existence into the Mishkan as the sacrifices did. This was to show honor to Him after He accepted the sacrifices.
What we can take away from this Ramban is the idea that we are never done with our service to G-d. Once we finish one thing, we move onto the next item on our list of duties. For example, on the day of Purim itself we begin learning the laws of Pesach, which takes place a month later. We prepare for the next holiday as we wrap up another. We also see this idea when we finish a Masechta of Gemara. In the concluding prayer, we mention that we will return and re-learn what we just completed and hope that we will be able to go on and finish many others as well. We continue to grow and move upwards in our service of G-d as well as ourselves.

Shemot 5778

Friday, January 5, 2018

Antisemitism has been around for quite a long time. We can say since the days of Yaakov that such a concept has existed as Lavan tried to uproot him and his descendants. However, the first to really carry out a plan against the Jewish nation was Pharaoh. The Kli Yakar paints Pharaoh as the first nationalist who rallied up his people to take back their country. In 1:9, he says "to his nation, 'behold, the nation of Israel is numerous and stronger than us." He emphasizes "nation" and tells the Egyptians that it's impossible for two opposite nations to dwell in one place; the Jews are stronger and will outnumber them soon. His plan is to have them hurt themselves. Pharaoh knows they are strong due to their dedication to G-d's service. But if he can have them pay taxes towards Egypt's priests, that's as if the Jews were worshipping foreign deities. His plan succeeded and he was able to enslave them because of it.
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