Parshat Tzav 5779

Parshat Tzav 5779

This week’s parshah primarily deals with the different categories of sacrifices, who is to offer them up, and the laws surrounding each of these sacrifices. Rabbi Gunther Plaut, in an article entitled “Steak and Sacrifices” discusses the meaning of sacrifices in ancient times and how our thought processes have evolved since then. He explains that being civilized, modern people, we are likely to shudder at the idea of slicing up animals to express our devotion to God. Of course, we see nothing wrong with a good steak for dinner, unless perhaps the cardiologist advises against it. But we leave the killing of animals to others and are not inclined to improve our children’s education or our own by visiting a slaughterhouse. Whole chapters in the Torah, however, are devoted to animal sacrifices; the portion of Tzav consists of little else. What are we to make of the instructions elaborating how the animal is to be slaughtered, who may eat of it, what disposition shall be made of the fat, and who shall keep the skin? What about the rule that the elders of the community will expiate an unwitting error made by the people through laying their hands on a bull and slaughtering it? The whole notion that the merciful Creator demands the killing of innocent creatures as a sign of human obeisance seems at first glance to be an obvious contradiction. Yet, Plaut explains, it would do well to look a little further. First, he explains, one should consider the times and circumstances to which this legislation addressed itself. The Israelites in the Promised Land were almost all farmers, and therefore had a special relationship to their animals and often would know them by name. They were not accustomed to a daily diet of meat, and in that respect were no different from the vast masses of humanity then or now. Animals were domesticated for sale or for their milk or wool they produced. They represented capital that one did not eat up lightly. Consuming meat was reserved for special occasions. Chief among these were visits to the nearest shrine, and later, to the central sanctuary in Jerusalem. These pilgrimages were acts of festive celebration, expressed as thanksgiving or expiation for sins committed, and marked major events in life. The pilgrim would take an animal along and slaughter it in the holy precincts. As an act of worship, sacrifice had two important side effects. For one, it served to lessen the guilt a farmer felt (and feels) when he killed a creature he had known from it’s birth. This guilt was attenuated when the killing was done to honor God and when the meal was shared with others. In balancing the desire to eat meat and the moral problem of killing animals, sacrificial ritual was an extension of the wider dietary laws. Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Hacohen Kook, chief rabbi of Mandatory Palestine, once wrote that all the laws of kashrut are devised to remind us constantly that we are eating the flesh of one-living creatures. For that reason, for instance, we do not consume the blood from an animal, which in biblical tradition is considered “life itself.” Another side effect of bringing the offering in a holy environment was the deep impression the ritual was sure to make. This was not just killing for the sake of pleasurable feasting; it was done for God’s sake. One came closer to God through voluntary giving of one’s possessions, through sacrificing something. (The word “sacrifice” combines the Latin facere, “to make or render,” and sacer, “holy.” It is a translation of the Hebrew korban, “bringing close” to God.) And rabbi Plaut asks the following question: And what has become of us today? We buy “it” at the butcher’s or in the store, probably already cellophane-wrapped. Small children have no real inkling of where the meat came from. Any connection to the living creature is totally absent. These animals are thought to have been “harvested” in some mysterious way, which even adults would rather not know about. In contrast, our biblical ancestors never reduced animals to the status of “things.” Yet we tend to feel smugly superior to those ancient times. We do so with little reason.”

What do released prisoners, recovering patients, seafarers and caravan travelers all have in common? These people have all been in perilous situations, their very lives endangered, and having come through safely, they are required to express their gratitude to Hashem by bringing a thanksgiving sacrifice to the Temple in Jerusalem. The procedure for the thanksgiving offering, the korban todah, is described in this week’s portion.

The Midrash provides us with a rather surprising bit of information about the thanksgiving offering. In the End of Days, when the Presence of the Creator will fill the world with holiness and people will live in eternal bliss and serenity, all sacrifices will be discontinued – except for the thanksgiving sacrifice. This immediately leads us to ask: How can this be? If, as the prophets repeatedly assure us, people will be safe and secure, protected from all physical harm and danger, from sickness and imprisonment, how will it be possible for a thanksgiving sacrifice to be brought? The conditions that necessitate such an offering will simply not exist!

Rabbi Naftali Reich explains: ‘ We are endlessly beholden to Hashem for all the good He does for us, and as a result, we should be endlessly grateful. Unfortunately, however, we live in a benighted world of illusions and delusions, and we often fail to recognize the innumerable gifts and bounty that flow to us from Hashem’s generous hand. And even when we pay lip service to it, how deeply do we actually feel it? How real is it to us? The only things we face with stark reality are life-threatening situations. In the face of danger, our affectations and pretensions quickly dissipate, and we realize how dependent we are on our Creator for our safety. As the old adage goes, “There are no atheists in a foxhole.” It is only when we are ultimately delivered from danger that we are capable of expressing genuine gratitude.

In the End of Days, however, the Presence of the Creator will illuminate the entire world and dispel all the foolish delusions which so becloud our vision and befuddle our minds. Then we will see Hashem’s hand with perfect clarity, and our acknowledgments of His guidance and benevolence will carry the ring of true conviction. At that point, we will no longer have to face life-threatening situation to inspire genuine gratitude in our hearts. We will thank Him endlessly for every minute detail of our lives and bring thanksgiving sacrifices to give expression to the transcendent feelings of gratitude that will permeate our souls…

In our own lives, we all too often take for granted all the blessings we enjoy, and we forget to express our gratitude to our Creator, the Source of all this bounty. Indeed, when we experience hardship, we are inclined to confront Hashem, saying, Oh, why do we deserve this? But when we experience good fortune, are we as inclined to thank Him? Common courtesy, of course, requires that we acknowledge Hashem’s bounty, but if we offer words of gratitude to Hashem in all situations, we will also discover a deeper dimension to our appreciation and enjoyment of the blessings of life.’

                                                                                                                                                                     Prepared by Devorah Abenhaim

 

Parshat Pekudei 5779

Parshat Pekudei 5779

This week’s parshah, which concludes the Book of Exodus, commences with the following statement: “ These are the accounts of the tabernacle, the tabernacle of Testimony, which had been rendered by Moses. The service of the Levites was under the authority of Ittamar, son of Aaron the Kohen” (Exodus 38:21). Commentators pose many questions, such as the following ones that the Alshekh, in his Torah Moshe, poses: 1) Why didn’t the Torah just say ‘which Moses rendered’, instead of saying ‘which had been rendered by Moses’? 2) Why is the word tabernacle repeated? 3) What does the service of the Levites, something that would take place in the future – have to do in the accounting for the quantity of materials used in building of the Tabernacle? 4) Why does the Torah have to repeat who Betzalel and Oholiov were? 5) Why do we need the expression for all the holy work in verse 24? Surely the words all the gold, is comprehensive enough. The Alshekh gives the following explanation: We are told in the Midrash that Moses recorded the quantities to preclude such accusations. The answer lies in the words, which had been accounted for at the command of Moses. Moses had initiated this accounting, not waiting to be asked to do so. Since all these items would be handled by the Levites in the future – to prevent anyone claiming that some material had disappeared while under the care of the Levites – the exact amounts were announced so that they could be checked in case someone would claim that an item had disappeared or been replaced with a similar item of lesser weight or value. Had the accounting not been done by a single person, Ittamar the priest, there would not even have been room to speculate that an item had disappeared. At that time two people were appointed to make a public accounting unnecessary, since two people could not be suspected of stealing from the temple treasury. It is clear from the text that there had been no suspicion against the ‘ossey hamelachah’ – those who performed the work – i.e. Betzalel and Oholiov, and that is why their names are mentioned again, since there were two of them. Moses, who had first access to all these contributions, instituted the accounting, since he was only a single individual and could have been subject to suspicion. With regard to repeating the word ‘Tabernacle’ in the opening sentence, the Alshekh explains that this may be a hint that although it would have been easy to explain away any shortfall between the weight of the finished product and the weight of the raw material contributions – this did not happen. The TOTAL weight of the Tabernacle is testimony that NOTHING was lost in the transition from raw material to finished product. Moses demonstrated this by counting and weighing prior to construction, and again at the completion of the work. What had been received i.e. asher pukad, was precisely what became subject to ‘avodat ha’leviim’ – the service that the Levites would later perform. The quantity of silver available, and the number of sockets of one talent each which were poured is a prime example that though normally there is always shrinkage when you melt down metal, in this case this did not occur. When you weighed the 100 sockets, their weight equaled the 100 talents which had been available for casting (Exodus 38:27).

 

​In Chapter 29:32, the Torah tells us: “All the work of the Tabernacle, the Tent of Meeting, was completed, and the Children of Israel had done everything that Hashem commanded Moses, so did they do.” Rabbi Chayyim Ben Attar discusses that the torah teaches that a person’s delegate is accounted as like the person who has delegated them. The Torah here credits all of the Israelites with having constructed the Holy Tabernacle although it was only Betzalel (and his helpers) who had actually performed all the work. While it is true that Betzalel had received his instructions from God and not from the Israelites, the fact that the Israelites had given their silent consent to Betzalel’s appointment meant that he acted as their delegate. It appears that the Torah is trying to teach us a general rule about how the way the Torah can be observed successfully by showing how the Israelites conferred merits one upon the other. The Torah is only capable of fulfillment by means of the entire Jewish nation. Every individual Jew is charged with the duty to perform those commandments that they are able to fulfill. This is the true meaning of Leviticus 19:18: “you shall love your fellow Jew as he is part of yourself.” Without the fellow Jew, no individual Jew would be able to function as a total Jew. Each Jew has a task to help another Jew to become a more fulfilled Jew by means of his fulfilling commandments, which the second Jew is unable to fulfill alone. As a result, the fellow Jew is not ‘acher’ – someone else, but is part of ‘kamocha’ – oneself. It is interesting to note, however, that we cannot fulfill all of the 613 commandments. The Or Hachayyim asks if we are to be at a permanent physical and spiritual disadvantage? He answers that clearly, Torah and its observance is not only a project for the individual but for the community. The Torah prove home this point by legislating laws which can be performed only by women, only be Levites, only by Priests, and in some instances, only by sinners, i.e. sinners who are anxious to rehabilitate themselves. Our verse teaches us this lesson. The reason that this was an appropriate time to teach us this lesson is that the 13 basic raw materials needed for the Tabernacle were as interdependent one upon the other as Jews are dependant upon each other in order to achieve the harmonious personality that God desires for each Jew to develop into by means of their good deeds. It makes perfect sense therefore, that the Torah considers every Jew as having contributed all 13 kinds of raw materials needed for the Tabernacle.

 

                                                                                                                                           Prepared by Devorah Abenhaim

 

Parshat Vaykhel 5779

Parshat Vaykhel 5779

In this week’s Torah portion, we are commanded again to keep the Sabbath day. The Torah states:, “Work shall be done for six days, but the seventh shall be holy to you – a Sabbath of strict rest to God.” (Exodus 35:2) The late Rabbi Joseph Salant in his work, Be’er Yoseph, finds these opening verses rather problematic. The object here is to inform us that work must not be performed on Shabbat. Why then, is it necessary to state first that work may be done for six days? Surely, it is the cessation from work which is the really important point? Rashi, however, explains that the reference to work refers to the building of the Tabernacle. The Israelites must be occupied with its construction for six days but, on the seventh, all activities must cease.

 

The Talmud in Shabbat (49b) explains that all the activities which are forbidden on Shabbat are derived from the work in the Tabernacle. For example, dyes were needed to color the special curtains and hangings. They were obtained from plants which were sown and reaped for this purpose. Since all these activities had to stop on Shabbat, we therefore understand that all sowing and reaping is forbidden.

 

The Midrash Tanchumah explains how the various items of the Tabernacle remind us of God’s work during the six days of Creation. Rabbi Emanuel Levy lists them as follows: FIRST DAY – God created heaven and earth, as the verse in Psalms attests: “spreads out the heavens like a curtain” (104:2). Similarly, special skins were spread over the Tabernacle like curtains. SECOND DAY – God made a division between the upper and lower water. Similarly, the special curtain known as the Parochet divided the Holy of Holies from the Tent of Meeting. THIRD DAY – The waters which initially covered over the entire earth were gathered together, thereby revealing dry land. Similarly, the Tabernacle contained a special basin, the kiyor, which was designated for holding water and from which the kohanim washed their hands and feet. FOURTH DAY – God created the sun and the moon which shed light upon the earth. Similarly, the seven branched Menorah cast rays of light in the Tabernacle. FIFTH DAY – Fowl were created and certain species were also offered up as sacrifices in the Tabernacle. SIXTH DAY – Adam was created. “Adam” is also a general name for mankind and on certain occasions the Kohen Gadol (High Priest) is also referred to in the Torah by this name. The work involved in manufacturing the Tabernacle, therefore, served as a “blueprint” and a reminder of how God created the world.

 

The Talmud takes this concept even further. Bezalel, the chief architect of the Tabernacle, who “knew thoughts”, is actually accredited with knowing the letters of the Aleph-Bet which God used in creating the world (Berachot 55a). With this specialized knowledge he was thus able to create the Tabernacle, a task which was equivalent to the creation of the universe.

 

Rabbi Levy concludes that one can now understand why we must learn the forbidden acts of Shabbat activity from the Tabernacle and not from a general list. By finding the source of all these activities in the Tabernacle we become ever conscious of God’s creation of the world and are brought to a higher state of awareness of the Divine origin of all life forces.

Prepared by Devorah Abenhaim

Parshat Ki Tisa 5779

Parshat Ki Tisa 5779

“I have seen this people, and behold! it is a stiff-necked people.” (22:9)

A former President of the United States once asked his Israeli counterpart how things were going. “I have many problems,” said the Israeli. Replied the American President, “You think you have problems? You are the President of 8 million people, while I am President of 180 million.” To which the Israeli President replied, “Mr. President, you are President of 180 million people. I, however, am the President of 8 million Presidents.”

The Torah itself calls the Jewish People a stiff-necked people. Sometimes this obstinacy can be for the good and sometimes for the not so good. Stubbornness can be an extremely dangerous trait, for it can foil any attempt to improve our situation. Stubbornness enters a person’s mind and blinkers him from any other possibility other the one on which he has set his mind. Thus, in the incident with the golden calf with all its severity, the Torah doesn’t focus on the sin itself, rather on the obstinacy that it revealed. A negative action can always be atoned for and repaired, whereas implacable wrong-headedness allows no place for the way of return. However, there is also a positive side to being stubborn:

Rabbi Sinclair relates the following story: In a certain concentration camp, there was one particularly sadistic Nazi officer. One day he ordered a Jew to follow him to the top of a nearby hill. He indicated a cloud of dust rising on the distant Eastern horizon. “Do you know what that is?” “No.” replied the Jew. “That is the Russian Army. In a couple of hours they will be at the gates of the camp. The war is over for you. I want you to eat this piece of ham now, or I will shoot you.” The Jew refused on the spot without batting an eyelash. And the Nazi shot him also without batting an eyelash. Edward Gibbon in his “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” writes that of all the nations that Rome subjugated, the only people that clung successfully to its beliefs was the Jewish People. All Rome’s other vassal states managed to segue the Roman gods into their pantheon without batting an eyelash. The Jews, however, were prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice rather than abandon their faith. It is this intransigence, imbued in the spiritual genes of our people by our forefathers, that has preserved Jewish identity to this day.

Moshe comes down from the mountain after the Israelites had made the Golden Calf and VAYAR ET HA’EGEL UMECHOLOT, “…he saw the calf and the dances…”. (Ex. 32,19) Then, the Torah states, his anger flared up and he shattered the Tablets of Stone. Why was he surprised when he saw the calf? Hashem had told him that they made it. Why did he bring the Tablets down or why didn’t he shatter them before? The Seforno answers this question. He says that when Moshe was told that they had made the calf he thought he would come down to them and show them their mistake and they would do Teshuva. When he saw that they were dancing and made merry with such joy, he realized that he will not be able to readily pull them away from the calf. He came to the conclusion that they were not ready for the tablets of the Ten Commandments. We often make mistakes. If, however, we do not realize our errors and continue to justify what we did then it is much harder for us to correct our ways. We must be ready to face up and recognize our wrong doing. Only then will we be able to correct our faults.

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                                                                                                             Prepared by Devorah Abenhaim

 

 

Parshat Tetzaveh 5779

Parshat Tetzaveh 5779

Tetzaveh is the only parshah in the Torah since Moses’ birth in which Moses’ name does not appear (with the exception of the book of Deuteronomy, which consists wholly of a first-person narrative spoken by Moses). The Baal HaTurim explains that the reason for this is that, [when the people of Israel sinned with the Golden Calf,] Moses said to God: “If You do not [forgive them,] erase me from the book that You have written” (Exodus 32:31). This was realized in the parshah of Tetzaveh, since the censure of a righteous person, even if made conditional on an unfulfilled stipulation, always has some effect. The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains that While Moses’ name does not appear in the parshah of Tetzaveh, Moses himself is very much present. The entire parshah consists of God’s words to Moses! Indeed, the parshah’s first word is ve’attah, “and you”–the “you” being the person of Moses. Indeed, the word “you” connotes its subject’s very self, while a person’s name is a more superficial “handle” on his personality. This means that Moses is more present in our Parshah–that is, present in a deeper, more essential way–than any mention of his name could possibly express. This is fully in keeping with the Baal HaTurim’s explanation (cited above). Due to the fact that Moses was prepared to forgo mention of his name in the Torah for the sake of his people, he merited that his quintessential self–the level of self that cannot be captured by any name or designation–be eternalized by the Torah. It is this level of Moses’ self that is expressed by his “nameless” presence in the parshah of Tetzaveh.

 

The next 43 verses — about half of the parshah’s total — consist of God’s instructions to Moses regarding the making of the priestly garments for Aaron and his sons, who will perform the service in the Sanctuary. A total of eight types of garments were to be made. All Kohanim (priests) should wear the ketonet (tunic), michnasayim (breeches), mitznefet or migba’at (hat or turban); and avnet (sash). In addition, the Kohen Gadol (high priest) should wear a me’il (cloak), efod (apron), choshen (breastplate) and tzitz (crown). The Torah states: And [the priestly garments] shall be upon Aaron, and upon his sons, when they come in the Tent of Meeting, or when they come near to the Altar to minister in the holy place, that they bear not iniquity and die (28:43) The Midrash Rabbah relates that there was once a prince whose tutor would enter into the presence of the king on behalf of the prince; but the tutor was afraid of those who stood by the king lest one of them should attack him. What did the king do? He clothed him in his royal purple cloak, so that all who saw him might be afraid of him. Similarly, Aaron used to enter [into the Divine Presence]… and had it not been for the many merits which entered with him and aided him, he would have been unable to go in, on account of the angels that were there. For this reason did God provide him garments after the pattern of the divine garments…. as it says (Isaiah 59:17): “And [G-d] donned righteousness as a coat of mail, and a helmet of salvation upon His head, and He put on garments of vengeance for clothing, and was clad with zeal as a mantle.”

 

Parshat Tezaveh is usually read during the week preceding Purim (not this year as it is a leap year in the Hebrew calendar). Rabbi Jay Kelman notes that interestingly, the Megillah also is missing a very significant name, that of God Himself. Purim marks the period in which the direct role of God in history begins to recede. Prophecy has ended. The time has come for the Jewish people to be able to function despite hester panim – God’s face being hidden. Mordechai and Esther must use their political skills to save the Jewish people. Unlike Pesach no overt miracle will come to the rescue. During the formative years of the Jewish nation we needed the hand of God to guide us and prophets to teach us. Purim marks the transformation of the Jewish people. It is the holiday that celebrates the acceptance of the oral law which though its rules are divine, its application is left to the discretion of the Sages of every generation. Man will have to apply the Torah without guidance from God.

Moshe Rabbeinu was the faithful messenger of God bringing His word to the world. Yet the Torah is not dependant on Moses and is not even dependant on a “visible” God. But the Torah itself is eternal. Though the names of Moses and God may be missing from our Biblical reading this week, their presence is not. The hand of God and the Torah of Moses continues to be studied each and every day and though God is hidden those who look can see Him. May we be worthy to feel the presence of God in all that we do making all of our endeavors an implementation of the Divine plan for the betterment of the world.

Prepared by Devorah Abenhaim

 

Parshat Terumah 5779

Parshat Terumah 5779

The parshah states: “And you shall take trumah for Me” (Shemot 25:2). The verse uses the word lekach, which means take or acquire. King Solomon in Mishlei (4:2) uses the same word lekach to describe the Torah: “A good acquisition I have given to you, My Torah, do not abandon it.” Solomon felt that the best acquisition that a person can make is Torah. The Medrash Tanchuma tells the story of a wise scholar who was on a ship with a number of wealthy merchants. They asked him where his merchandise was. He told them that his wares were far better than theirs were. They searched all over the ship and could not find his goods, so they began to laugh at him. Shortly afterwards, pirates came and looted the ship, taking all of their valuable merchandise. The ship landed, and they were all very poor men with not even enough food to eat or clothing to wear. The wise man went to the house of study and began to learn and pray. The people saw that he was a wise man and they respected him greatly and provided for all of his needs. The former merchants, who were at the point of starvation, saw this and begged him to persuade the townspeople to help them. He said to them, “I told you that my merchandise was greater than yours. Yours is lost and mine is with me. Not only that, you do not profit every minute that you do business. Even when you do profit, you sometimes lose that profit. But the Torah is never lost, not in this world, and not in the next world.”

The Alshich asks the following question on the above verse: The trumot were gifts given to Hashem for the construction of the Mishkan and its holy vessels. The verse should therefore say “And you shall give trumah to Me.” Rav Shlomo Ganzfried in his Sefer Aperion (as quoted by Rav Beifus in Yalkut Lekach Tov) answers this question. The Torah is telling us that when you give to Hashem, you are really taking. When we give of our time or possessions to do a mitzvah, we receive a reward. The value of that reward is far greater than the cost of what we gave.

Moses begins to gather the materials for the Mishkin (tabernacle). This was the holy site where the Children of Israel would offer up their sacrifices to Hashem. The shechina (divine presence) rested upon this holy place. The Mishkan was a holy place. Its holiness was independent of time. The Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 151 tells us how to guard the sanctity of OUR holy places. Joking, idle conversation, and sarcasm are all prohibited there. We cannot enter them only for the purpose of gaining shelter from the outside weather, for a pleasure walk, or shortcut. We cannot discuss our business affairs there. Our clothing and shoes should be clean when we enter these holy places. We have to keep the synagogue and houses of study clean.

 

                                                                                                                     Prepared by Devorah Abenhaim