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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