The Rambam, in his philosophical work the Moreh Nevuchim, (3:43) offers a reason for the Mitzvah of Sefirat Haomer, noting that Matan Torah was the goal of Yetzi’at Mitzrayim. The Rambam explains that we anxiously await our commemoration of Matan Torah (Shavuot) after we have commemorated Yetzi’at Mitzrayim on Pesach. Just as one who anticipates meeting a loved one counts the weeks and days until he sees him or her, so too we anxiously count the days and weeks until we will reenact Matan Torah on Shavuot.
The Sefer HaChinuch (Mitzvah 306), though, poses a question on the Rambam’s explanation. He points out that someone anticipating meeting a loved one will count down the days until the appointed time. He will count five days until the meeting and then four days until the meeting, etc. We, however, do not count forty days until Shavuot, thirty- nine days until Shavuot, etc.; instead, we count upwards. According to the Rambam’s approach, we should have been counting down the time until Shavuot. The Chinuch answers that since the road to Shavuot is long, it would discourage us if we began counting forty-nine days until Shavuot. It is more palatable to commence the countdown by focusing on what we have “accomplished”, one day has passed, two days have passed, etc. Even when we get closer to Shavuot we continue to “count up” because we do not change counting style in the middle of the Sefira.
The Rav notes that the approach of the Chinuch is reminiscent of a parable presented by the famed Dubner Maggid in another context. The Dubner Maggid was asked why in the past few centuries there have been Gedolim who have publicized their calculations when the Mashiach will arrive, if the Gemara (Sanhedrin 97b) specifically condemns those who make such calculations. The Dubner Maggid responded with a parable about a father and son who were taking a trip from Vilna to Warsaw. A few minutes after leaving Vilna the boy asked when should we get to Vilna. The father responded that the question was inappropriate. A few minutes later, the child again asked “are we there yet?”. The father again told him that it is inappropriate to pose this question and he asked the son to refrain from asking this question further.
Hours later, the father asked the wagon driver how far they were from Vilna and the wagon driver responded. The son upon hearing his father’s question was puzzled. The son asked his father why when he asked the question how far they were from their destination he was rebuffed and yet the father posed the same question to the wagon driver. The father responded that when one is so far from his destination, it is not appropriate to inquire how far we are from the end of the trip. However, when one is drawing close to the end of the travel, then it is a relevant question to know when we expect to reach the destination. Similarly, said the Dubner Maggid, at the time of the Gemara it was inappropriate to speculate about the time of the arrival of the Mashiach because there was a long road ahead. In later generations, though, we are close to the arrival of the Mashiach and thus it is appropriate to investigate when we should expect the Mashiach to arrive.
Rav Soloveitchik, though, presents another explanation for why we count the Omer upwards and not downwards. He cites the Ran (at the conclusion of his commentary to Masechet Pesachim) who states that in the absence of the Beit Hamikdash and the Korban Omer we count the Omer today to reenact the counting of days after we left Mitzra’im until we received the Torah. Rav Soloveitchik suggests that Hashem did not tell the Jews when they left Mitzra’im the precise date when they will receive the Torah. The basis for this suggestion is that we find that Hashem did not tell Avraham his destination when He commanded him to move to Israel and later to bind Yitzchak “at one of the mountains that I will show you.” Similarly, Hashem does not reveal the place where the Beit Hamikdash will be built in Sefer Devarim. Rather, the Torah refers repeatedly to Jerusalem as the place that Hashem will choose. We, in turn, do not know the time when Hashem will send the Mashiach, but we wait patiently with great faith for his arrival. According to the Rav’s suggestion, the Jews had to count upwards to Matan Torah because they did not know exactly when they would receive the Torah. Today that we reenact our ancestors countdown to Matan Torah, we also count upwards as our forefathers did after they left Mitzrayim. Thereby we experience an element of uncertainty, which is an integral component of religious experience.
Prepared by Devorah Abenhaim
The High Priests were given the mitzvah of “T’rumas Hadeshen” — lifting the ashes of the daily Consumed Offerings – Olot. They were also told to keep the fire on the altar burning continuously. Aaron, the Kohein Godol – High Priest – was instructed to bring to bring a meal-offering each morning and evening. Additional laws were given specifying the Priest’s duties and the portions of the offerings they were to receive as their due. They could eat of the meal, sin, and trespass offerings only if they were ceremonially clean, and only with a Court of the Sanctuary. In an impressive ceremony conducted in the Court of the Sanctuary, Aaron and his sons were installed in their offices by Moshe, with the assembly watching. After the Priests had bathed, Moshe dressed Aaron in his distinctive garments, and anointed the Tabernacle and its contents (the Ark, Table of Showbread, Candelabra, and Altar of Incense), as well as the Altar of Burnt Offering, and the laver and its base (all of which stood in the Court of the Sanctuary). He then poured the anointing oil upon Aaron’s head, thus sanctifying him. Finally, the regular Priests were invested with their garments. A sin-offering and burnt-offering were then brought by Moshe. These rites were repeated for seven days, during which Aaron and the sons remained within the Court.
The word “Tzav,” which begins this Parsha, means “Command”. It is deliberately expressed in a form that can refer to both the past and the future. In other words, Hashem’s commandments are as applicable today as they were when first promulgated. The rules governing man’s behavior and man’s devotion to G-d are timeless. Consequently, our observance of the Torah should not be marked by tired, listless efforts. When we pray, we should not mumble through the prayers out of habit. Rather, we should remember whom we are addressing, and say each word carefully. The same applies to observance of Shabbat, our Torah learning and other mitzvot. They should not be routine, but rather should be moments of inspiration. We must view the Torah and our prayers as instructions from God on how to act practically. If we do not realize this, and do not actually practice what we say and learn, our words and learning have no meaning or purpose.
There was no particular place specifically designated for bringing the sacrifice of the “Korbon Chatos” (the sin offering), in the Miskhan. This is significant. The Korbon Chatos was offered by one who had sinned and now wished to repent. If there was a specified location for these sacrifices, the sinners’ identity would become readily known, and this might in itself discourage repentance. Because the Korbon Chatos was offered in the same place as the Korbon Olah, no one could be certain if the bearer of the Korbon had actually sinned. In this way, the matter would remain a private one between man and G-d, and the sinner would be spared public embarrassment. Rabbi Mordechai Katz explains that if Hashem’s Torah laws deliberately avoid the shaming of others, then we should certainly be careful not to embarrass our fellow man. Chazal say that whoever insults his fellow man in public forfeits his place in the world to come. (Baba Metziah 59a). The reason is a simple one. One can kill a man only once with a knife, but he can slay him many times over with a shameful word. Rabbi Akiva Eiger once invited a poor man to his home on Friday night. At the meal, a beautiful white tablecloth covered the Shabbos table. When the poor man lifted his glass of wine, it slipped out of his hand, and the red liquid spilled over the pure white cloth, leaving an ugly blotch. Seeing the poor man squirm in embarrassment, Rabbi Eiger immediately lifted his own glass of wine, and also “accidentally” spilled it over the tablecloth. As the poor man looked on in great relief, Rabbi Eiger remarked, “it seems as if the table or the floor is shaking, doesn’t it?” He had been willing to make himself look careless (and to soil a nice tablecloth) just to spare the shame of another.
Prepared by Devorah Abenhaim
In this week’s parashah, we begin the third Book of the Torah. This parashah deals with many issues regarding the categories, and the rules surrounding sacrifices. There is much debate as to why the Israelites were instructed to offer sacrifices. For example, Maimonides and Nachmanides differ as to how they perceive the meaning and purpose of the sacrifices. Maimonides recognizes the fact that idolatry was prevalent among the nations prior to, and for a long time before the Israelites received the Torah. It was, therefore, a practice that the Israelites were familiar with, and which they took part in – since there was no prohibition. Maimonides explains that God allowed these rituals to continue, but ‘altered’ what their meaning. God transferred to His service that which had formerly served as a worship of created beings, and of things imaginary and unreal, and commanded us to serve Him in the same manner. By this Divine plan, the traces of idolatry were blotted out, and the truly great principle of our faith, the Existence and Unity of God, was firmly established. This aim was achieved without deterring or confusing the minds of the people by the abolition of the service to which they were accustomed and which alone was familiar to them. Nachmanides, on the other hand propounds an alternative explanation, as cited by Nechama Leibowitz,: He feels that a more acceptable rationale is that a person who has committed a transgression and offers a sacrifice , shall place his hands on it – symbolizing the deed, make a confession – as a reminder of the misused power of speech, and burn with fire the bowels and kidneys – which are the organs of thought and lust, whereas the legs symbolize instruments which serve man in all of his activities (like the hands). This is logical seeing that human conduct is expressed in thought, speech, and action.
A puzzling aspect of the Book of Leviticus is the manner in which it begins. In his essay entitled ‘A Portable Sinai’, Everett Fox, director of Judaic Studies at Clark University in Massachusetts, discusses this anomaly. He states that of all the books of the Torah, Leviticus has the bumpiest beginning. Instead of an exalted opening, such as we have in Genesis’ “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” our book begins “Now He called to Moses, and the Lord spoke to him…” If one reads the standard translation, such as in the King James Version which reads, “And the Lord called unto Moses, and spoke unto him…”, one would not suspect that there is anything unusual about the text. In the Hebrew though, the problem does not go away. It is odd that Leviticus, a book obsessed with order and hierarchy, begin with such a sloppy sentence. The rabbis of the Talmudic era sensed the difficulty with this verse, since they held that the Torah speaks in human language, and that this is awkward human language indeed. The rabbi’s interpretations fall along the line that God wanted to teach that Moses was above all other Israelites and deserved to be directly called by God. Or due to Moses’ faithful execution of God’s word in every detail of building the tabernacle, he merited being called into the newly completed Tabernacle to speak with God. Fox says that these interpretations tell us a great deal about the rabbi’s veneration of Moses, but do not solve the problem of the text. One possibility proposed by biblical scholars is that the book was once the direct continuation of Exodus, with no break. In that reading, our verse more or less directly follows a passage telling us that “the Presence of the Lord filled the tabernacle” (Exodus 40:35); that God’s aura came to dwell in the sanctuary the people had built. Leviticus 1:1 would then simply spell out the next communication to Moses from the Divine Presence – the obvious subject of the sentence. Hence the unspecified “He” or “It” with which the book begins. But the fact remains that Leviticus is a separate book. The only other biblical passage that reads “He called to Moses” comes in Exodus 24:16. We have just had several chapters of major laws and a ceremony on Mt. Sinai reaffirming the covenant. Moses is then called to receive further instruction, which proves to be the architectural details of the tabernacle. Since Leviticus 1:1 begins right after the Tabernacle’s completion in Exodus 40, one could argue that in terms of literary architecture, our opening is a bracket – the second of two – setting off an important section of the Torah. As Leviticus now stands, we might be justified in seeing its first passage as an evocative allusion to the parallel passage in Exodus. The Sinai covenant ended there with Moses being “called” to commune further with God; and here, too, we are undoubtedly meant to understand the regulations of Leviticus as stemming from God’s “calling,” and so part and parcel of the Sinai experience. The allusion in effect turns the tabernacle into a portable Sinai of human manufacture. The Israelites can rest assured that even now, after the revelation on the mountain is past, Moses will still have the Divine word to provide them with instruction and guidance. “Now He called to Moses: The Lord spoke to him…” It is, in fact, a fitting beginning for a book that ends, “These are the commandments that the Lord commanded Moses for the children of Israel at Mount Sinai” (Leviticus 27:34).
Prepared by Devorah Abenhaim
Parashat Vayakhel is one of the few instances in which the Torah reveals its attitude toward art and artistry, when it lists the abundant talents of Bezalel, the Tabernacle’s master craftsman. In Exodus 35:30, Moses speaks to the children of Israel and declares: ‘Behold, G-d has called by name, Bezalel the son of Uri, the son of Hur of the tribe of Judah.’ Bezalel is not simply appointed by Moses; he is called by G-d by name to supervise the construction of His Tabernacle. This “calling” indicates clearly that Bezalel is no ordinary artisan. Rabbi Ephraim Buchwald explains: ‘According to the rabbis in Tractate Sanhedrin 60b, Bezalel was only 13 years old when he was chosen to supervise the tabernacle’s construction. His tender age underscores the fact that his talents were not natural, but rather the result of a Divine gift. The Be’er Mayim Chaim maintains that the verse, “Lah’daht la’asot et kol me’leh’chet avodat ha’kodesh” (Exodus 31:1), which states that Bezalel was endowed with the talents that were necessary for all the “holy works,” implies that Bezalel’s talents were only valid during the time that he worked on the sacred “holy works”– the Tabernacle furnishings. In fact, according to the Gaon of Rogatchov (Rabbi Yoseif Rosen, 1858-1936) in his work Tsofnat Pa’aneach, as soon as the Tabernacle was completed, Bezalel’s talents vanished. Bezalel’s assistant, Oholiyav, however, whose talents were natural, did not lose his skills, and was able to pass them on to succeeding generations… In light of Judaism’s historic ambivalence towards art, the admiration in which Bezalel was held is particularly unique. In the Middle Ages, when art was dominated by the Christian church and almost all of art was of a religious nature and included many icons, any Jewish passions for artistry were surely diminished. Except for very personal art, almost all forms of art fell out of favor. Since the enlightenment and the emancipation, however, art has started again to play a more dominant role in Jewish life…Bezalel was not only unique because of his multiple talents and varied skills. In Exodus 35:34, after the Torah lists his many skills, it also says of Bezalel “Ooh’le’ho’rot nah’tan be’lee’bo,” that G-d gave Bezalel the ability to teach, to pass on his skills to others, to other artisans in his generation. Indeed, when we behold the beautiful contemporary artwork that emanates from Israel and from Jewish artisans in other locations, we feel moved to say “thank you” to Bezalel for transmitting that art form to others and keeping it alive.’
In Parashat Pekudei, when the Torah describes the construction of the Tabernacle, a specific phrase appears over and over – ‘as God commanded Moses’. Finally there is a total summary of the building (Exodus 39:33) “as God commanded Moses,” and Moses saw everything they had made (Exodus 39:43) and it was all “as God commanded Moses.” Why is this obvious fact stressed over and over? What is its significance? Rabbi Avi Geller explains that the Golden Calf was caused by the people’s inability to subdue their genuine understanding (of the need of a tangible reminder of God: the Golden Calf) to the revealed desire of the Creator (no graven images). Now that they repented for the sin of the Golden Calf, the artisans of the Tabernacle set aside their creative instincts, and followed the rules exactly “as God commanded Moses!”
Prepared by Devorah Abenhaim
The Torah portion Ki Tisa deals with, among other things, the episode of the Golden Calf. In this episode, various contradictory viewpoints are expressed regarding what are appropriate characteristics of a leader, and also regarding the thorny question of the connection between a leader and the masses.
We already know from the beginning of the book of Exodus that Moses was not a man of words but rather heavy of mouth and tongue and had clumsy lips , while about Aaron it is said there that he says what there is to say . Because of this, G-d instituted Moses as the leader and Aaron as his spokesperson. This almost begs the question: Why this complicated solution? After all, it would have been much simpler to make Aaron himself the leader, especially since he was the firstborn and Moses the younger brother.
Many answers have been given to this question. One of the most to-the-point answers is that G-d wished to prevent the possibility that the masses of Israel would view Moses as a god. Therefore G-d purposely chose a leader for whom an imperfection would be obvious at first glance, and about whom it would thus be clear that he could not possibly be a god. Pharaoh was considered by the Egyptians to be a god, and Moses was going to overpower Pharaoh. What could be more natural than the conclusion that someone who is victor over a person who is considered to be a god, possessor of a boundless empire, is himself a god? Because of this problem, it was appropriate to have an imperfect leader, in order to demonstrate to the Israelites that it was not Moses who was victor over Pharaoh, but rather G-d. Moses himself is only flesh and blood, and, despite all his admirable qualities, only human, and even has a physical imperfection.
However, there is more to Moses being chosen as the leader over Aaron. The deep difference between the two of them is pointedly demonstrated in the episode of the Golden Calf. Here, it is made clear that Aaron, who fulfilled his role as long as he followed Moses’ orders, failed miserably when Moses was absent. The commentators who explain as follows are definitely correct: Aaron had no intention whatsoever toward worship of another god, rather, he wished to make a sort of seat for the true G-d. Further, Aaron did not rush to do even this. To the contrary, he first tried to buy time, hoping that the demanding masses would calm down. He suggested: Remove your wives’, sons’ and daughters’ gold earrings, and bring them to me in the hope that the people would not want to do this, or that it would take a long time and in the meantime Moses would return. But these things did not occur, and Aaron found himself swept along the tide of the events and the people’s demands. Even then he still attempted to find a compromise between the enthusiasm of the masses and what was appropriate. Thus, even after he made the Golden Calf and built an altar before it, he announced: Tomorrow is a holiday dedicated to G-d. He instituted a holiday from his own initiative; however, he thought that by doing so he could direct the people to the proper path. In order to remove all doubt from the masses, he announced that the holiday was for G-d. However, the people acted as they wished. But even when Aaron saw the immoral consequences of his efforts, he was not inspired to stand in the breach and rebuke the people. Perhaps in the depths of his heart he wanted to, but feared the masses, or perhaps he lost his head completely.
Professor Moshe David Her of Hebrew University explains: Moses is the exact opposite of Aaron. He recovers amazingly quickly from his astonishment at the report G-d gives him of the terrible news about the making of the Golden Calf. All of his hard work with the nation had just collapsed and crumbled in one moment, yet he reacts to G-d’s message, begging G-d to retract this intention. Indeed, his prayers are answered. Upon descending from the mountain, Moses made a decision on his own, without even asking G-d’s permission, and broke the Tablets of the Law, which were of G-d’s making and written by G-d. Similarly, Moses performs his other actions of his own volition (burning and grinding the Calf; punishing the Israelites). Yet at the same time he informs G-d that if G-d does not forgive the sin of the Israelites, Erase me from the Book which You have written. At no point in the episode did Aaron attempt to suggest that he himself would pay most of the price for what occurred. On the contrary, we have seen that he tried with his mumbled excuses to place the blame on the nation. This is a model of a weak leader, who went along with the people from the start, and who was not willing to take responsibility upon himself after the fact. Indeed, Moses is his complete opposite. He is capable of making decisions that are difficult, bold, painful and unpopular not only with the people but perhaps even with G-d. By the same token, he is always willing to take complete responsibility upon himself, not only for what he did, but even for something he did not to and which took place in his absence and without even his knowledge; he is willing to at any time to sacrifice his own life for the people.
Prepared by Devorah Abenhaim
When the Torah gives instructions about the building of the Mishkan, it usually uses words like “VeAsu,” “VeAsita” and “Taaseh,” which are fairly indirect commands all meaning “and make.” However, in our Parashah, different wording is used. For example, the Pesukim of “VeAtah Tetzaveh Et B’nai Yisrael VeYikchu Eilecha Shemen Zayit Zach,” “And you shall command B’nai Yisrael, and they shall take for you pure olive oil (Shemot 27:20), “VeAtah Hakrev Eilecha Et Aharon Achicha,” “And you, bring near to yourself Aharon your brother” (28:1), and “VeAtah TiDaber El Kol Chachmei Lev…VeAsu Et Bigdei Aharon,” “And you shall speak to all the wise hearted people…and they shall make the clothing of Aharon” (28:3) all use the more direct language of “VeAtah…,” “and you…”. Why does Hashem directly command Moshe regarding gathering oil for the Menorah, appointing the Kohen Gadol, and preparing the Bigdei Kehunah? What makes these tasks so important that Moshe is specified as the only one capable of performing them?
Rav Elchanan Sorotzkin says that since these three objects represent essential parts of Judaism, therefore Moshe, the leader of the Jewish people, needs to do them. The oil represents the light of Torah which is constantly bathing the world with its pure light. Just as the oil of the Menorah has to be sealed by the Kohen Gadol, a spiritual leader, to attest to its purity, so too the Torah has to be completely free of outside influences which might interfere with its purity. The Torah here is telling us that Torah learning should always be done under the supervision of a Torah leader of B’nai Yisrael.
The next commandment to personally appoint the Kohen Gadol is symbolic of the appointment of Torah leaders from generation to generation within B’nai Yisrael. Since the Torah must remain unadulterated, its leaders must remain pure as well. This is evidenced by the Kohanim Gedolim who purchased their position during the late period of the second Beit HaMikdash, causing tremendous spiritual damage. These Kohanim were not appointed by people like Moshe, but by corrupt leaders who were not dedicated to Torah values. Here the Torah is highlighting the terrible outcomes that will occur if B’nai Yisrael’s Torah leaders do not remain committed to Hashem. Therefore, Hashem by asking Moshe, His most loyal servant, to appoint the Kohen Gadol, the precedent was set of keeping the leadership pure.
The last job assigned to Moshe is the preparation of the Kohen’s clothing. Just as Korbanot atone for our sins, the clothing of a Kohen atones for us as well. If a Kohen lacks the proper clothing, he is disqualified from performing the service in the Mishkan. This emphasis on the clothing teaches us the importance of wearing the proper clothing in our lives. We have to wear the clothes that identify us as Jewish: Kippah, Tzitzit, and Tefillin. If we don’t wear these, we disqualify ourselves from being able to properly learn Torah.
This parshah also includes the commandment of remembering Amalek – the nation that needlessly attacked B’nai Yisrael in the desert. Because of the attack, Hashem commanded us to eradicate the nation of Amalek both physically and mentally. The Torah conveys that Hashem will also eliminate the memory of Amalek from the world in the Pasuk, “VaYomer Hashem El Moshe Ketov Zot Zikaron BaSeifer VeSim BeOznei Yehoshua Ki Macho Emcheh Et Zecher Amalek MiTachat HaShamayim” “Hashem said to Moshe, ‘write this in the book and relay it to Yehoshua because I will erase the memory of Amalek from under the heavens” (Shemot 17:14).
Rav Nachum Mordechai Friedman asks that if God joins us in this endeavor to forget Amalek, why has it become so difficult to defeat Amalek and other nations similar to it? He explains that it is a two-sided agreement between God and us. Hashem will erase the memory of Amalek by physically destroying the nation and other similar nations only if we, the Jewish people, destroy the internal “Amalek,” our evil inclinations and Yeitzer HaRah. Once we destroy our internal bad, God can destroy our external and physical enemies.
Prepared by Devorah Abenhaim