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Tazria-Metzora

Wednesday, 18th April 2018

No one needs to be convinced of the problems people cause through negative speech. We probably all remember the time we wished we hadn’t said something. Sensitivity in what we say is an important key to living a happy, effective life.

There is a famous analogy regarding the topic of speech. A man who was not particularly careful about his speech came to a Rabbi. He had decided to change, and needed advice on how to go about it. The Rabbi gave him a very peculiar answer. “Take a feather pillow into the street, and release its feathers in every direction.” The man was perplexed, but his resolve was firm to do as he was advised and change his life. After doing as he was told he returned to the Rabbi. “Now what should I do?” he asked. “Go back into the street and collect all of the feathers to the very last one,” was the astounding reply. Again the man made his way into the street and began the daunting task. At his wits end he returned to the Rabbi dejected reporting his inability to keep his last words of advice. “Remember,” said the Rabbi, “that your words are like those feathers. Once they leave your mouth they never return. Make sure the words you allow out are ones you won’t have to go chasing after!”

Shemini

Thursday, 12th April 2018

One of the unkosher birds listed in this week’s Torah portion (11:19) is the "Chasida - the stork". 
 
Rashi says that it is called Chasida from the word "Chosid - pious". Rashi explains, the reason for this is that the stork does Chessed (righteous deeds) with its friends and it shares its food source rather than hoard it for itself. 
 
When it comes to the mouse however, the Jerusalem Talmud (Bava Metzia 3:5) describes it as a “Rasha - wicked” because it not only eats the homeowner’s food it also calls its friends to eat. 
 
Why the unbalanced treatment between the two of these generous creatures? 
 
Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky answers that the Chasida’s food comes from Hefker (un-owned) property, it is not taking from anyone else. However, the mouse steals his food from people’s homes. 
 
Rabbi Kanievsky says that from here we learn an important lesson. If you do Chesed on someone else’s expense you aren’t a chossid of a man, you are a wicked mouse.
 

Pesach

Wednesday, 4th April 2018

Although Miriam sang the whole שירה - song with the women, the Torah only records that they sang one verse “שירו לה' כי גאה גאה סוס ורכבו רמה בים". Why is this פסוק - verse particularly relevant to the women that it is used as the example for the שירה they sang?

Explains Rabbi Ferber as follows, Miriam saw through רוח הקודש that the whole reason for the Exodus was in order to receive the Torah, and this made the women feel very disappointed because they have no obligation in the study of Torah. 

However, the horse and rider (סוס ורכבו) in this verse comes to teach the women a fundamental lesson. What did the horse do wrong that it deserved to drown? Surely only the rider has sinned, and the horse is just an intermediary? The answer is that if the horse wouldn’t be there, the rider would be unable to chase the Israelites. Even though it doesn’t actually sin – it aids and abets the rider to chase – and therefore joins in his punishment.

It was exactly this lesson that Miriam was trying to portray to the women. If by assisting in carrying out a sin one is ‘blamed’ and receives joint punishment, then all the more so for doing positive actions, and especially for the study of Torah will you be ‘blamed’ and receive the same reward!!! Although the women were aware that the Exodus was in order to receive the Torah they weren’t so enthusiastic about it, until Miriam came and began the song with this verse, to teach them that they too have an enormous portion in their husband and sons’ learning.

Pesach

Tuesday, 27th March 2018

Pesach (Passover) is the classic example of a festival in which we eat, drink, and live the ideas that it represents. We modify our home environment by removing all leavened products, we change our diet to eat matzah. We refrain from working, and we transform a festive meal into a high-impact, super-charged educational experience – the Pesach Seder.

Why do we go to such lengths? Wouldn’t it be easier if we just spent some time thinking about the Exodus and the lessons it teaches? The following source answers this question.

Quoting from Sefer HaChinuch, Mitzvah #16 – A person is shaped and influenced by his actions. Therefore, Pesach involves many actions to ensure that the miracles of the Exodus and its lessons are imprinted permanently into our consciousness.

It is fitting for us to do symbolic actions [e.g. eating matzah, having a Pesach Seder and telling the story of the Exodus] that remind us of the tremendous spiritual heights we reached at the Exodus. Through these actions and symbols the experience of the Exodus is imprinted permanently into our consciousness.

A person is affected and shaped by his actions [more than by his thoughts alone]. A person’s thoughts and feelings follow after his actions, either for good or for bad …

For example, if a complete degenerate … will inspire himself and exert himself to study Torah and perform mitzvos – even for the wrong reasons, such as honour and prestige – he will still begin to change in a positive direction. His self-destructive tendencies (yetzer hara – evil inclination) will be weakened since he will be influenced by his positive actions.

And on the other hand, if a completely righteous and upstanding person, who exerts himself in Torah and mitzvos, will occupy himself with negativity and impurity all day long (for example, is someone forced him to do it), at some point he will turn into a degenerate. For even the strongest person is affected by his actions …

With this principle in mind – that a person is shaped by his actions – we understand the need for the many “mitzvos and actions” regarding remembering the Exodus and its miracles, for they are a central feature of the entire Torah.

Tzav/Shabbat Hagadol

Wednesday, 21st March 2018

Why is a Korban Todah (thanks-giving offering) accompanied by 40 Challos (loaves of bread), with all required to be eaten in 1 day and night? Wouldn't one or two loaves of bread suffice for a family seuda (meal)? 

The Sforno answers, Hashem (G-d) wants us to thank him publicly, among a great multitude of people. If one would only bring a few loaves with his Korban Todah, and be able to eat it for 2 days and a night, he might invite just his immediate family to the subsequent Seudas Hodaah (thanks-giving meal). Therefore, Hashem commanded us to bring 40 challos, to be eaten for 1 day and night, so that it will force us to invite many people to the Seuda in order to finish this large amount in a short period of time. This way this Nes (miracle) will be publicised to all. 

Vayikra

Thursday, 15th March 2018

It is a relatively famous fact that Moshe’s (Moses’s) name is not mentioned in parshas Tetzaveh.

What is less well-known, is that Aharon’s (Aaron’s) name does not make it into parshas Vayikra.

Given that Vayikra is all about korbanos (offerings), and, as Kohen Gadol (the great Priest), korbanos are Aharon’s thing, it seems strange that he does not feature. Why is that?

The peirush HaRosh (6:2) cites a Midrash (Vayikra Rabbah 7:1) which answers that this was because Aharon was still ‘rejected,’ to an extent, by HaShem (G-d) due to his role in the chet ha’egel (the sin of the golden calf).

What is interesting to note here is that it is clear that the rest of the Bnei Yisrael (children of Israel) had been forgiven by now for the chet ha’egel - the completion of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) testified to this, as the Rosh himself pointed out in Pekudei (38:21). Yet Aharon, the only member of the sin of the chet ha’egel who had fully worthy intentions and the only one who did not want to make a calf in the first place, is the only one still being punished by HaShem. Why is that?

The solution here seems to be the principle laid down in several sources (see the Ramban quoted by the Kli Yakar in Vayikra 4:20 and Ibn Ezra Bereishis 32:9) that HaShem punishes tzadikim (the righteous) more harshly than He does other people. The reason for this is partly because the greater one is, the more is expected of you, and partly because HaShem wants to cleanse every trace of sin from the tzadik in this world so that his share in the Next World will be wholesome. 

Vayakheil/Pikudei

Thursday, 8th March 2018

Betzalel was the "general contractor" of the Mishkan (Tabernacle). Each time he is introduced, the Torah makes a point of tracing his lineage both to his father and his grandfather. Chur, Betzalel's grandfather, was the individual who stood up and objected vociferously to the construction of the Golden Calf. He paid for this protest with his life; Chur was killed. This was, in fact, one of the sobering factors that caused Aharon to go along with the request to make a Golden Calf.

It would seem that Chur sacrificed his life in vain. Nothing was accomplished by his death. He tried to stop the Jewish People from making the Golden Calf, but they killed him and made it anyway. By repeatedly tracing Betzalel's lineage back to Chur, the Torah is emphasizing that Chur did not die in vain.

Our Sages say that the reason why Betzalel was chosen to build the Mishkan was because he was b'tzel - kel (in the shadow of G-d). He was not chosen as a result of being the Frank Lloyd Wright of his generation. We do not have any indication that Betzalel was a great architect or artisan, one who innately possessed all the talents that his job required. What Betzalel did have was an unbelievable attachment to G-d. Such an attachment to G-d is necessary in order to create a place in this world that will be a Residence for the Divine Presence (haShra-as haShechinah).

Where did Betzalel obtain this quality of b'tzel - kel? By taking his genealogy back to Chur, the Torah emphasizes that these qualities did not come from just anywhere. They are qualities that he inherited from his grandfather. That quality that Chur exhibited -- a willingness to give his life (be moser nefesh) for G-d's Honor -- was transferred through his son Uri to his grandson Betzalel.

We always tend to consider the "bottom line": Did Chur accomplish anything or not? Did he or did he not prevent the sin? Based on this narrow evaluation, Chur was a failure. They made the Golden Calf anyway. However, that narrow view is based on our view of the world. In G-d's world, that is not the end of the story. A grandfather's dedication and sacrifice (mesiras nefesh), which during its time may have been seen as futile, may still have major impact on the potential accomplishments of future generations.

Moreover, our Sages say that the Mishkan was an atonement for the sin of the Golden Calf. This atonement was brought about through the efforts of Betzalel, who himself came from Chur. Thus, Chur was ultimately responsible for the atonement for the sin that he tried to stop. Ultimately, Chur did stop the Golden Calf -- he stopped its effect, by providing for its atonement.

The lesson of this verse is that we should not always look for instant success. We live in a society where even "FedEx Overnight Delivery" is no longer acceptable. "Fax it to me, now!"

However, that is not how G-d operates. Success is not evaluated instantaneously. Chur's accomplishment was not perceived at the time, but Chur did, in effect, provide the atonement for the sin of the Golden Calf.

Ki Sissa - Purim

Wednesday, 28th February 2018

Mordechai: Scholar, Statesman or Both?
 
By Mendy Herson - Taken from chabad.org

Purim celebrates Jewry's rescue from annihilation in 4th century BCE. Persia. Jewish history portrays Mordechai, one of Purim's main protagonists, as an extraordinary man. Scholar-par-excellence and Jewish leader, Mordechai emerged from Purim's intricate story of palace intrigue events as a political powerhouse; he had actually become viceroy to the king.

Mordechai comes across as a true 'renaissance man', respected and adored by his people. But the Talmud reveals a little-known fact: Mordechai's public acclaim wasn't exactly unanimous.

Our attention is first drawn to the Megillah's (Scroll of Esther's) conclusion: "Mordechai…was a great man among the Jews, and was loved by most of his brethren…" It sounds like some of 'his brethren' (albeit a minority) had a problem with him.

The Talmud also notes a second curiosity: Mordechai is mentioned among the Jewish leaders who returned to Israel (from Babylonia/Persia) to build the Second Jewish Commonwealth. When the book of Ezra enumerates that list of leaders, Mordechai appears as the fifth name; the Book of Nechemiah's later listing has Mordechai as number six. There seems to have been a ‘demotion’.  What was going on?

The Talmud teaches that some in the rabbinate disapproved of Mordechai's new public persona.  Mordechai was a member of the Sanhedrin - the Jewish Supreme Court of seventy-one sages. He was a man totally immersed in Torah.

Now he had become a political figure, a position which doesn't allow for the single-minded Torah-focus he'd enjoyed.

It's a fact that community involvement distracts from one's internal spiritual pursuits.

A community leader has to worry about the people's welfare, at every level. It's a burden that simply doesn't allow for total preoccupation with Torah.

So, some of Mordechai's Sanhedrin-colleagues disagreed with his 'new' lifestyle.  Although he was as observant as ever, they felt that he had sacrificed his total-immersion Torah study for the sake of political leadership. For some Torah-Jews, this was a mistake. In that sense, Mordechai took a step down in the religious world when he became a political leader.

But Mordechai, and the majority of the Sanhedrin, took a different position. Why?

The Midrash (Tanna D'bei Eliyahu Rabba ch. 11) teaches that the "It would behoove the Sanhedrin's Sages … to lift their robes … and circulate amongst the cities teaching the Jews …"

This isn't a simple statement. The Sanhedrin was a very rare group of people.  They were spiritual and intellectual giants, and they were supposed to convene on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem - a Holy place that lent the Sanhedrin special clout and spiritual strength. For example, it was only when they gathered there that the group could decide capital cases.

Yet the Midrash says that it would behoove these religious titans to leave the Temple Mount, lowering themselves as it were, in order to teach the nation.
In other words, the Sanhedrin's rabbis weren't to obsess on their own spiritual achievements. They most definitely had the obligation to study, pray and climb to greater heights; but they also had the responsibility to lead, even if that impacted their personal spiritual pursuits.

Mordechai made a choice.  He could've chosen to closet himself in a yeshiva and devote his every breath to Torah study. He undoubtedly wanted to do just that.  But Mordechai didn't think about what he wanted; he thought about what G-d wanted from him. He saw the need for a leader, and he took the lead.

This is true leadership. Genuine leaders aren’t people who yearn to ‘be in charge’, to be ‘the boss’; that smacks of megalomania.

Real leaders are people who would prefer to focus on self-mastery than on the mastery of others. They would prefer the peace of mind and privacy that a non-leadership role would afford. But they see a communal need, and feel a responsibility to step into the breach.

 

Tetzave

Thursday, 22nd February 2018

And the holy garments of Aaron shall be for his sons after him, to be anointed in them, and to be consecrated in them.  Seven days shall the son that is priest in his stead put them on ……..(29:29-30)
 
We learn out from the above that Jewish law recognizes that all religious positions, including Rabbinical appointments, are subject to be inherited by the offspring of the deceased.
 
A controversy once broke out when the Rabbi of a small town in Europe passed away. The leaders of the community wanted to appoint an outsider to take his place, while some of the Rabbi’s sons argued that they were suited for the position and deserved precedence as the “inheritors” of their deceased father. They agreed to bring the dispute to the Chofetz Chaim (Rabbi Yisroel Meir HaKohen 1838-1933) for resolution .

The Chofetz Chaim began by agreeing that Jewish law recognizes that all religious positions, including Rabbinical appointments, are subject to be inherited by the offspring of the deceased. However, the Gemora (Talmus) in Yoma (72b) distinguishes between the son of the Kohen Gadol (High Priest), who may inherit his father’s purely religious position, and the son of the Kohen Meshuach Milchama (the Kohen who leads the Jews to battle), who may not.
 
Because the latter position is uniquely intended for a man of war and is not purely a religious function, the fact that somebody was suited to the role is irrelevant to his son’s capacity to inherit and fill the role.

Similarly, it was once true that the function of the Rabbi of a community was purely religious in nature – to render legal rulings and to teach the people – and his children were legally entitled to be offered the position before other candidates were considered.

However, the Chofetz Chaim continued, this has unfortunately changed due to the assault on traditional religious standards and values. As a result, the role of the Rabbi has been transformed into that of a general leading his troops into a fierce battle, regarding which the Gemora rules that the children are not entitled to automatic precedence in inheriting and filling the position of the deceased Rabbi.

Terumah

Thursday, 15th February 2018

When one looks through the various descriptions of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) and its vessels, one word springs to mind: glamour. No expense was spared. The menorah (candelabra) was made out of one solid lump of gold, and the rest of the Mishkan used other expensive and valuable materials too. There was no skimping when it came to the Mishkan. All this glory and expense forces us to ask a vital question. As the Ramban points out, the central positive character trait is anavah (modesty/humility). Therefore, we can ask regarding the ‘fancy’ Mishkan in general and the clothes of the Kohannim (Priests) in particular - what on earth happened to anavah? Indeed, when the Torah (28:40) does describe the point of the Kohannim’s clothes, it says that they are to be ‘for honour and glory’ - is this not the antithesis of anavah? 

Let us look at the real definition of anava.

Humility does not mean hiding one’s talents and pretending that they do not exist. HaShem (G-d) does not want you to hide your talents; on the contrary, He created you with certain talents and expects you to utilise them. What anavah means is admitting that you have these talents, and using them in the right ways. 

Rabbi Twerski cites several authorities who stressed this point: 

Rabbi Eliyahu Lopian remarked “the essence of the concept of humility is not that one should be unaware of one’s capacities. On the contrary, a person should recognise his strengths. However, he should know that his skills and talents are a gift from G-D and that they are not his doing.” 

The Chazon Ish added that these talents should not make one feel superior to others; for after all, they are a gift from HaShem - and someone else could equally have achieved the same as you had HaShem given them these talents. 

Similarly, Rabbi Leib Chasman commented that “it is obvious that a humble person is not one who is unaware of his capacities and strengths. This person is a fool and not humble.” 

The idea is that true anavah is realising that your talents are from HaShem. Rav Elchonon Wasserman commented that the title ‘servant of HaShem’ attributed to Moshe Rabeinu (Moses) at the end of the Torah meant that Moshe put every talent he had into the service of HaShem. And it is no coincidence that Moshe is described in the Torah as the most humble man that ever lived (Bamidbar 12:3) - it was this trait of anavah which meant that Moshe used his talents to serve HaShem. If you deny your talents, you are assuming that these talents are yours to deny - this is not so; HaShem gave you your talents with a responsibility to put them to good use - denying them is anything but anavah.

So now we have realised that the biggest show of anavah is the using of all of one’s talents and resources to serve HaShem. This is precisely what the Mishkan was. Everyone donated the funds; no expense was spared. The women weaved certain materials and embroidery, and everyone gave of themselves and their resources to help the Mishkan effort. This was anavah in its purest form. 

This is also why the intention of the clothing of the Kohannim being ‘for honour and glory’ do not contradict anavah. For the honour and glory here are not for the Kohannim themselves, they are for HaShem’s honour and glory. These precious articles of clothing are that which enables the special serving of HaShem in the Mishkan and the sanctification of His Name; the entire thing is for His honour and glory. And if we are talking about HaShem’s honour, there can be no holding back; no skimping.

The same thing goes for a shul (Synagogue) and any other mitzvah; why not make it as nice as possible - it is the honour of HaShem that we are dealing with.

 

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