Tazria and Metzora – Combat Weapons Against Sin

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The spiritual ailment of tzaraas is the main focus of the double portion of Tazria and Metzora. This punishment is normally associated with the sin of lashon hara, slander. The Medrish Rabba in parshas Metzora shares a deterrent from speaking lashon hara, when it says that there are 5 times the word “Torah” was written in connection with tzaraas to teach us that anyone who speaks lashon hara transgresses the five books of the Torah and therefore Moshe warned the Jews, “This will be the Torah (law) of the metzora.” The Maharz”u quoting the Ba”al Akeida points out that in each of the Five books of the Torah, there are discussed episodes of lashon hara, or the transgression itself of lashon hara. We see from this how impactful the sin of lashon hara is through out the Torah, and the grave ramifications of transgressing such a sin, which is equivalent to transgressing the entire Torah; and who would wish to do such a thing G-D forbid (Vayikra Rabba 16:6).

However, lashon hara is not the only sin which is punished with tzaraas. The Medrish Rabba lists and proves that there are in fact 10 sins punished with tzaraas: (1) Idolatry, (2) incest (3) murder, (4) chilul Hashem, (5) cursing Hashem, (6) stealing from the public, (7) stealing honor from someone which is not yours, (8) haughtiness, (9) lashon hara, and (10) ayin hara, the evil eye, meaning not sharing anything with others (Vayikra Rabba 17:3).
The Medrish Tanchuma in parshas Tazria makes a very interesting observation which results in another two deterrents of sin which not only apply to lashon hara specifically or this list of ten sins in general, but really for any sin. “Another interpretation of ‘A person who has on the skin of his flesh’. Why didn’t it say, ‘Speak to the children of Israel” as it writes by all the other portions, instead it wrote ‘a person’? This refers to what the pasuk says, ‘For You are not a God Who desires wickedness; evil does not abide with You.’ (Tehillim 5:5). Because the pasuk states, [I] say, ‘My counsel shall stand, and all My desire I will do.’ (Yeshayahu 46:10). Whoever hears this pasuk might say, maybe there is a distortion of justice in Heaven. Rebbe Tanchuma said, what does ‘and all My desire I will do’ mean? He does not desire to castigate any creature, as it says ‘For I do not desire the death of him who dies’ (Yechezkel 18:32). This means, You are not a G-D who desires wickedness. (The Etz Yosef explains that since Hashem does not desire wickedness therefore, He did not mention “B’nei Yisrael,” rather “a person” because He did not want to associate them with bad.) What does ‘evil does not abide with You’ mean? Rebbe Yochanan said that King David said to Hashem, ‘Master Of The World if you seek to exonerate your creatures who is stopping You, as it says ‘Inasmuch as the King’s word is the rule, and who will say to Him, “What are You doing?”’ (Koheles 8:4)? Who is greater than You? It is the custom in the world that a governor who sits in judgement and wants to sentence innocence or guilt, he is afraid of those higher than him, that they won’t say anything bad about him, if the litigant doesn’t like the sentence he will go to the local senator who is of higher stature and if he doesn’t like that he will go to the prime minister and from there all the way up to the king, each one has a higher status then the next. The king fears no one, and You, The Master Of The World, if You want to exonerate your creatures who do You fear, ‘evil does not abide with You,’ meaning You don’t fear evil, as it says ‘For I was frightened of the wrath and the fury’ (Devarim 9:19)” (Medrish Tanchuma parshas Tazria, paragraph 7).
Hashem didn’t want to associate the state of tzaraas with the Jewish people because it’s a bad thing and He did not want His children to have any connection to it; therefore the Torah writes “a person who has on the skin of his flesh a blemish etc.” Surely Hashem is not playing a game, and making believe Jews cannot get tzaraas, if they do something wrong surely, they deserve to be punished. The Medrish itself in fact says, Hashem would not distort justice! Also, what was King David saying that Hashem has no fear to exonerate everyone? Again, wouldn’t Hashem the All-Powerful and truthful only do what is right? What then is the message of this medrish?

We must say that of course Hashem would never distort justice, but He is distraught when man sins and would rather see him immediately repent or actually avoid sinning to begin with. We see from here how much Hashem feels bad over the punishment of His creatures especially His close children, the Jewish people. To the point that Hashem did not even want to reference Bnei Yisrael with receiving tzaraas.

Realizing and imbibing into ourselves the “pain” Hashem feels when being forced to punish His children when we make mistakes should be an impetus to avoid doing wrong, coupled with the belief that Hashem has the ability to do whatever He wants and is always doing what is right and best. This, if on our minds constantly should deter us from sinning.

Shemini – Hard Work and a Thorough Analysis

In this week’s Torah portion of Shemini we find the episode of Nadav and Avihu. By the dedication of the Mishkan they erred while bringing the incense, and Hashem killed them on the spot. “And Aharon’s sons, Nadav and Avihu, each took his pan, put fire in them, and placed incense upon it, and they brought before Hashem foreign fire, which He had not commanded them. And fire went forth from before Hashem and consumed them, and they died before Hashem” (Vayikra 10:1,2).

According to the Sforno their mistake was as follows: “They were under the impression that just as the incense came after the daily offering whereby the Shechina manifested itself, as it says, ‘It shall be a continual burnt offering throughout your generations at the door of the Ohel Moed before Hashem, where I will meet with you’ (Shemos 29:42), so it would be proper to burn additional incense now that the Divine Glory had been revealed to all the people and the fire had descended, therefore they offered it before Hashem on the inner alter, of which the Torah said, ‘You shall offer no strange incense on it’ (Shemos 30:9). Now even if it was the proper thing to do had they but been commanded to do so, nevertheless they sinned by doing it now, since He had not commanded them, as Chazal said, ‘They decided the halacha in the presence of Moshe their teacher’ (Eruvin 63a).”
The Sforno is of the understanding that Nadav and Avihu’s sin was that they decided a halacha on their own, when they could have asked their teacher, Moshe Rabbeinu, what to do. Even though their thought process made a lot of sense, and it therefore seemed obvious to them that this should be their next move, they still should have consulted with their rebbe who, was not too far away, to be sure they did not overlook something. The next pasuk says that Aharon was silent, and the Sforno observes that he was “comforting himself in the thought that Hashem was sanctified through their death.”

However, at the end of the perek we find that, at first glance, it would seem Aharon himself overlooked something. “And Moshe thoroughly investigated concerning the sin offering he-goat, (The Sforno says, ‘that goat was for an everlasting statute, namely, the goat for Rosh Chodesh, a holy sacrifice for future generation.) and behold, it had been burnt! So, he was angry with Eleazar and Ithamar, Aaron’s surviving sons, saying, ‘Why did you not eat the sin offering in the holy place? For it is holy of holies, and He has given it to you to gain forgiveness for the sin of the community, (The Sforno points out, ‘although it was given to you, you had no permission to burn it because it was given to you to eat in order to bear the iniquities of the congregation,) to effect their atonement before the Hashem! Behold, its blood was not brought into the Sanctuary within, so you should have surely eaten it within holy [precincts], as I commanded!’ And Aaron spoke to Moshe, ‘But today, did they offer up their sin offering and their burnt offering before Hashem? But [if tragic events] like these had befallen me, and if I had eaten a sin offering today, would it have pleased Hashem?’ (The Sforno explains, ‘His reasoning was: if the situation were such that they were sacrificing their obligatory sin offering and their freewill burnt offering, even though these sacrifices are not permanent communal holy offerings, and we were to have eaten the sin offering today while in a state of aninus, mourning, would it have been pleasing in the sight of Hashem that in a state of aninus we should also eat a sacrifice which is obligatory upon all generations? It is well known that if a kohen who is an onen eats an offering with knowledge and intent, it cannot atone, as it says regarding kodshim kalim, the lesser holy, ‘I have not eaten thereof in my mourning’ (Devarim 26:14). Although you commanded us to eat the meal offering which is of transitory sanctity, even in a state of mourning, it does not follow that this ruling also applies in the case of permanent sacrifices.) Moshe heard [this], and it pleased him.” (Which the Sforno says means, ‘He rejoiced in the good reasoning of his brother and his sons who understood and taught, [decided the law,] so well) (Vayikra 10:16-20). (Click here for Hebrew text.)
Aharon and his sons were supposed to have eaten their portion of the Rosh Chodesh goat-offering along with the portions of other sacrifices they had brought on the day Nadav and Avihu died, and they were in mourning. Yet they chose to burn the meat of the Rosh Chodesh offering as a mourner would normally do, because they figured that only the special offerings brought specifically for the dedication of the Mishkan were allowed to be eaten in a state of mourning, while the regular offerings that would be continued for generations were not allowed to be eaten in a state of mourning, as halacha normally would dictate.

If Aharon and his sons had just seen the sudden death by Heaven of their sons and brothers for not first consulting with Moshe Rabbeinu, and the Torah even attests that Aharon understood and accepted what happened, why then did they not first consult with Moshe Rabbeinu before wasting and burning the holy meat they were supposed to eat? What is even more perplexing is that Moshe Rabbeinu was happy over Aharon’s response as to why he did what he did; were they not in the same position as Nadav and Avihu? What changed?
If we analyze each situation carefully according to the Sforno we will find that the difference between Nadav and Avihua and Aharon and the rest of his sons was the approach they took to the situation. Nadav and Avihu thought that they had a good idea which made sense, and they had only positive intent. But they did not think it through, to the very last possibility, and therefore they were faulted for acting too quickly when they should have first asked the rabbi if what they were doing was correct. Aharon and the rest of his sons, on the other hand, went through every step of the situation and completely analyzed the issue until they knew that they were making the correct choice, and were able to defend their actions accordingly.

We learn from here no matter how much we think we make sense of something, especially in halacha, we should first consult with higher authorities before acting on impulse, unless we have thoroughly analyzed the matter and know for sure that what we are doing is without a doubt correct. Yet we should be very wary of relying on our own understanding of a situation unless we are absolutely confident and know we aren’t fooling ourselves, which is not so easy to figure out. So better to err on the side of caution.

Tzav – For the Honor of the Children

This Dvar Torah is dedicated in memory of my Rosh HaYeshiva, Moreinu viRabbeinu HaRav Alter Chanoch Henoch ben Chaim Dovid Leibowitz ztzk”l, Rosh Yeshivas Chofetz Chaim, upon his yahretzeit which was Yud Nissan.

Only because of Moshe Rabbeinu’s prayer was Hashem willing to send a message to Aharon in the beginning of this week’s Torah portion of Tzav. If not for this prayer, Hashem would not want anything to do with Aharon Kohen Gadol after his involvement with the sin of the Golden Calf.
In fact, the Rosh summarizing a Medrish Rabba (Vayikra 7:1) in the beginning of this week’s parsha of Tzav which asks, “’Why wasn’t the name of Aharon mentioned in the Torah portion of Vayikra? It was because he was reprimanded for the action of the golden calf, only his sons [were mentioned, ‘Bnei Aharon’ or ‘hakohen.’ And the two times (2:3&10) in last week’s parsha that it says Aharon and his sons was only because the Torah had to differentiate between the kohen gadol and the other kohanim so Hashem felt it was not worth using extra ink just to punish Aharon.] Moshe said before Hashem, ‘Master Of The World is a pit ever hated and it’s water pleasant? Didn’t you have mercy on the olive and warned not to cut olive wood for the sake of the oil which is needed for light and meal offerings? So to, the children of Aharon are beloved before you and you don’t have mercy on the honor of their father?’ Only then did The Master acquiesce to the student and said, ‘Command Aharon’ (Vayikra 6:2).’ One can ask, what does hatred towards the father have to do with loving the sons? This can be answered with a parable to a king who had servants and two lads were guardsmen who were handsome and very strong who always walked with him. Their father was a villager. The king said it is better to make the father a knight in order to call the children sons of knights, even though the father was appalling in the king’s eyes. So too, the children of Aharon were beloved by Hashem and in their honor He called to their father and commanded him what He commanded.” (Click here and here for Hebrew text.)
We must put into perspective Aharon’s involvement in the sin of the golden calf. He by no means had any intent of creating an idol or in fact doubted that his brother Moshe would come back. Indeed, he only advised the ringleaders of the rebellion to make the golden calf in order to buy time for Moshe to come back, because they had miscalculated Moshe’s return. Aharon told them to collect gold jewelry from their wives, who he knew would refuse, but he did not realize the men would force it off them. This was after his uncle, Chur, was already killed by the mob trying to calm them down. So, whatever got Hashem upset and therefore decided to not address Aharon in the Torah portion of Vayikra, and only do so after Moshe beseeched Him to do so for his children’s sake, it must have been because of some very slight misjudgment that lead to the whole debacle. Aharon is known to have been one who ran after peace, a rodef shalom; but Hashem judges his righteous strictly, according to their level. This is analogous to a concept the Ramban mentions in the beginning of his sefer about reward and punishment, Sha’ar HaGemul, where he talks about the famous Chaza”l of when Hashem judges the world on Rosh Hashana, those who are righteous go straight to life, those who are wicked go straight to death and those in the middle are held in limbo until Yom Kippur. The Ramban mentions that included in ‘the wicked’ are “those of good deeds who transgress only one sin but are sentenced on Rosh Hashana to death, meaning they will die this coming year or live through some challenging illnesses, a life of suffering and tribulation, which just means he was sentenced to a judgement of a totally wicked person even though he is in fact righteous and deserving of life in the World to Come.” We see that a person can be viewed in “the eyes of Hashem” as being wicked at this moment, even though he is in fact very righteous. For this reason Aharon fell out of favor with Hashem after his involvement with the sin of the golden calf.

But what did it help to ask Hashem to elevate Aharon’s status for the sake of his children, out of respect for them, which really is for Hashem’s honor as well? Isn’t it a game, doesn’t it sound like a lack of truth to promote someone who doesn’t deserve a promotion on his own merits?

However, of course that can’t be true. Hashem is absolutely honest and by definition He is perfectly truthful. Rather it must be that granted on his own personal merits Aharon did not deserve to be addressed at that time, which when thinking about it is a great travesty for him because the Book of Vayikra, the service of the Kohanim in the Mishkan is Aharon’s whole essence. It’s his most important role in life and now Hashem refuses to talk to him about it, only to his children?! However, the very fact that he has children so beloved to Hashem is a merit for his promotion and that is duly justified.

Coincidentally (or not so coincidentally…) this week’s haftorah for Shabbos Hagadol concludes, “that he may turn the heart of the fathers back through the children, and the heart of the children back through their fathers” (Malachi 3:24).

Vayikra – Sacrificial Offerings and Pesach: No Double Standards

This dvar Torah is dedicated in memory of my paternal grandparents, Menachem Mendel ben Chaim and Raizel ben Moshe upon their yahretzeit, the 5th of Nissan. They passed away on the same day a few years apart. 

This week we begin the Book of Vayikra which mainly discusses the sacrificial offerings first brought in the Mishkan and eventually in the Beis HaMikdash.
Rabbeinu Bachye says the simple reason of why offerings were brought to Hashem was, “The offerings were all for the sake of mankind. For The Exulted Hashem desired that man shall be the chosen species and for him the world was created in order to be totally spiritual like the angels of Hashem, without sin. But when man sinned, he was guilty because of his evil inclination (yetzer hara) embedded inside him. It is therefore befitting for him to regret, recognize, and focus on the meek state of himself and the glorified quality of his Exulted Master who he rebelled against His word. And he is obligated to place in his heart that he sinned before Him with his body and soul. Since all the actions of man can be included in 3 categories, action, speech, and thought, which are 3 ways to sin, therefore the Torah obligated man to bring a sacrifice for his sin…” (See Rabbeinu Bachye in his entirety in Vayikra 1:9).

One of the forms of sacrifice for atonement of sin was a meal offering. There is an important lesson here which relates to Pesach. The Torah states, “Any meal offering that you will bring to Hashem should not be made with chometz, for any leaven and any honey should not be burned on the fire to Hashem” (Vayikra 2:13). Rabbeinu Bachye explains that the simple reason why no chometz or honey was part of the meal offering was because, “sacrifices were an atonement for our sins, and if not for the inciter, and enticer who is the yetzer hara, man would not sin and would not need to bring a sacrifice at all. Leaven and honey are the yetzer hara itself as Chaza”l say regarding chometz and matzah on Pesach that a person must turn his heart from the yetzer hara. That is why the Torah says, ‘Don’t eat upon it chometz’ (Devarim 16:3), referring to the korban Pesach. And the Korban Pesach was an atonement for the idols they worshipped in Egypt. For this reason, He distanced them from the yetzer hara in order to not go back to idolatry…” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
Rabbeinu Bachye concludes his simple understanding of why there aren’t chometz and honey in meal offerings saying, “and therefore [Hashem] distanced leaven and honey from the offering for it doesn’t make sense to have a dichotomy in one subject, furthermore it would appear as if one is trying to purify himself with a creepy crawler in his hand, this is self-understood.”
It would seem, and it seems logical, that the meal offering should ideally have been made with chometz in order for it to be a more respectable offering. We even find two pesukim later that Rabbeinu Bachye explains the simple reason of why offerings were salted “because it would be unbefitting for a sacrifice to Hashem to be bland, without salt. The Torah is teaching us proper manners that the Kingdom in Heaven is like the kingdom on earth, and in this manner, ‘Were you to offer it to your governor’ (Malachi 1:8)?” In fact, the korban todah, the thanksgiving offering, which is an offering giving thanks and not given as atonement for sin, was indeed made out of chometz. Ideally, an offering fit for The King should be given in the nicest and choicest way possible. It is only because the yetzer hara is associated with chometz and honey that the Torah did not want any association with it for an offering used as an atonement. Rabbeinu Bachye illustrated this point with the example of the korban pesach, which was brought as an atonement for idolatry in Egypt. In fact, the Jews worshipped the lamb along with the Egyptians, so Hashem said to slaughter the lamb and eat it as a means of belittling and defaming the Egyptian god, and only matzah can be eaten with it, in order to not have even a tiny hint, not even one iota of an association with, the yetzer hara, in order to have no association whatsoever with the enticement of sin.

Why then does the Rabbeinu Bachye add that the reason for not having leaven and honey is in order to not have a dichotomy in one’s offering or to not be holding onto an impure object while trying to purify himself? It seems that that is the reason why these ingredients aren’t allowed, and not because in order to leave the sinful path that one was on by going to the extreme to distance himself from any spec of sin or evil inclination?

It would seem that the main issue of having chometz with one’s offering for atonement is not the association with sin and the evil inclination but rather the self-contradiction created in such a sacrifice. Whether it sends a message of a dichotomy or actually in a sense is a real physical contradiction, in any event, to harbor such a state even though it might look more respectful and honorable for The King, it is not the way Hashem wants us to live our lives.

The Paschal Lamb and matzah as well as every other sacrificial atonement made without chometz sends a message that we must live a life of harmony and consistency.

Click here for Audio or here for video of another Pre-Pesach message.

Vayakhel and Pekudei-The More the Merrier

This Dvar Torah is dedicated in memory of Yehuda bar Chlifa, Rav Yehuda Edery z”l, on his yahretzeit, erev Shabbos, the 28th of Adar. May the learning of this dvar Torah bring merit to his holy neshama and chizuk to his rebbetzin yb”l.

This week’s double portion of Vaykhel and Pekudei concludes the Book of Shemos, and it discusses the building of the Mishkan. The last medrish of Medrish Tanchuma asks, “How long did it take to finish the Mshkan? Rebbi Shmuel bar Nachman responded that the work on the Mishkan took 3 months. Tishrei, Cheshvan, and Kislev and they left each part [of the Mishkan separate for three months during Teves, Shevat, and Adar. It was finally erected on the first of Nissan. Rebbe Chanina said that on the first of Adar they finished the work on the Mishkan. Why, because the amount of work they were able to accomplish in one day during the Summer took two days in the Winter just as Rebbe Shmuel bar Nachmani said, that it took 3 months to make the Mishkan. [If it was finished in the beginning of Adar] why wasn’t it set up immediately? It was because Hashem thought to combine the joy of the Mishkan with the joy of the day when Yitzchak Avinu was born. (In reality, the Etz Yosef says that Yitzchak Avinu was really born on the 15th of Nissan, not the 1st but since they are both in the same month it as if they happened at the same time.) The scoffers of the generation were making fun of and wondering why the work on the Mishkan was completed but the Mishkan was not assembled immediately. They did not know the thought process and advice of Hashem. About this King David said in Tehillim, ‘For You have made me happy O Lord, with Your work; with the work of Your hands I shall exult’ (Tehillim 92:5). ‘For You have made me happy O Lord, with Your work’ refers to the Ohel Moed (i.e. Mishkan) and ‘with the work of Your hands I shall exult’ refers to the building of the Beis HaMikdash which shall be rebuilt speedily in our days. [The next pasuk declares] ‘How great are Your works, O Lord! Your thoughts are very deep,’ referring to the fact that He thought to combine one joy with another, the day Yitzchak Avinu was born…”

The Beur HaAmarim explains why Hashem combined both happy occasions: “the reason being was that at the birth of Yitzchak all of creation, on earth and in heaven, rejoiced, as mentioned earlier in the Medrish Tanchuma (parshas Toldos, paragraph 2). The reason given there was because through him the world stabilized, for it was close to reverting back to being unformed and void (tohu vavohu), if not for him bequeathing the bris milah to future generations, which through it The Honor of Hashem’s kingdom, blessed be He, is revealed, for on this condition was the world created, as the Medrish Tanchuma states in parshas Lech Licha (paragraph 19). So, since the beginning of the stabilization of the world began in the month of Nissan when Yitzchak was born, so to the setup of the Mishkan which was befitting to be done for the revelation of Hashem’s Holy Presence on earth, and completing the settlement of the word with its Creator, as well as stabilization, is befitting to be done in this month, which is the month known for joy, for Hashem celebrated joyfully with His creations.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
Granted it makes sense that Hashem wanted to enhance the joy of the dedication of the Mishkan with the celebration of Yitzchak Avinu’s birthday, since that was the beginning of stabilization for the world. The completion of stabilization was the dedication of the Mishkan in order for the Shechina, Hashem’s Holy Presence to rest among us on Earth. In fact, the Etz Yosef adds that the whole reason why the Shechina rested in the Mishkan of Moshe was in the merit of Yitzchak. However, why was it worthwhile to bring about this enhancement of joy at the expense of what seems to be a chilul Hashem by scoffers questioning and making fun of Hashem for not erecting the Mishkan immediately when there was a chance?  Might it not possibly send a message to those people that Hashem was weak, chas vishalom, and had to muster up the ability for a whole month to rest His Holy Presence among them? Besides that, imagine all the nerves, stress, and pressure everyone must have been going through when they saw a delay in the completion of the Mishkan, especially since the Medrish right before this said that Hashem told Moshe on Yom Kippur to begin preparation for building the Mishkan as a resting place for the Shechina among His children after He accepted their atonement from the sin of the golden calf, the delay possibly might have caused them to question whether they were really forgiven or not. Why was it worthwhile delaying the Holy Shechina coming down and possibly dampening the simcha for the sake of trying to double the joyful celebration? Wasn’t the amount of joy they would have at the dedication of the Mishkan quite immense by itself?

We see from here how important it is to feel as happy as possible especially on auspicious occasions, and to try to enhance that feeling of ecstasy when at all possible. A practical application might be having a wedding on the same day as the chosson or kallah’s birthday, if at all possible, because that will intensify the thrill of the day and make it feel more special.

The Medrish Tanchuma concludes Sefer Shemos with, “Hashem said that in this world My Holy Presence was amongst you and before your eyes as it says, ‘And the appearance of the glory of the Lord… before the eyes of the children of Israel’ (Shemos 24:17). But in the future My Holy Presence shall never leave you forever, as it says, ‘and I will place My Sanctuary in their midst forever.’ (Yechezkel 37:26). ‘And I will dwell within the children of Israel, and will not forsake My people, Israel’ (Melachim Alef 6:13). Blessed is Hashem forever amen and amen.”

Ki Sisa –

Reliving History
In this week’s Torah portion of Ki Sisa we find the tragic sin of the golden calf. When Moshe Rabbeinu came down from Mount Sinai and saw what was taking place he charged, “Who is for Hashem come to me” (Shemos 32:26).  The Daas Zekeinim says that what Moshe meant was, whoever stood with fear of Hashem and did not stumble in the sin of the golden calf should come to me.

The Daas Zekeinim continues, “Immediately all of the tribe of Levi gathered around Moshe, for the tribe was complete and not one man was effected but not one tribe was found completely unscathed by all the other tribes, and therefore it writes (Devarim 33:9), ‘who said of his father and his mother, I do not see him’ by the act of the golden calf,  ‘neither did he recognize his brothers,’ by the golden calf, ‘nor did he know his children,’ by the golden calf,  ‘for they [all] observed Your word,] as opposed to the other tribes.”

The Daas Zekeinim goes on to explain why only the tribe of Levi in its totality did not sin, “And it would seem because the tribe of Levi were relatives to Moshe, not one of them wanted to replace him with another leader. And in the book of the Rambam he says that Avraham gave over the acceptance of the Torah to Yitzchak, and Yitzchak to Yaakov, and Yaakov to Levi, and his children set up yeshivas so that Torah would not disappear from them at all. And therefore, they were not subjugated in Egyptian bondage for they weren’t involved in any other work in their lifetime except toiling in Torah. And it would appear that there were 3 groups by the sin of the golden calf: (1) One group said who will walk before us and they only intended to gain a leader. (2) Another group accepted it as an idol and they were the 3000 people that were killed by the sword. (3) The tribe of Levi who all clung to Hashem.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
There are many questions that can be asked on this Daas Zekeinim. Among them:
 (A) the reason why the tribe of Levi didn’t take part in the sin was because they couldn’t come to replace their relative even though it would seem he might not be coming back, though a new leader to lead this fledgling nation would be warranted; so why did the Daas Zekeinim then bring in the Rambam? And even if the first reason and the Rambam are two different reasons, corresponding to why the tribe of Levi were not in the first two groups, why then isn’t it expressed as two different reasons? It sounds from the flow of the Daas Zekeinim that he is adding a reason as to why they did not give up on their relative.
(B) Furthermore, why did he have to mention that for the reason the Rambam gave the tribe of Levi was not enslaved in Egypt? What does that have to do with not sinning by the golden calf?
(C) Also, the Daas Zekeinim had mentioned there were others who joined the tribe of Levi who feared Hashem and did not stumble in the sin of the golden calf, but it was just that no other complete tribe was sin-free besides Levi. So which group did they belong to?
(D) Lastly, if you look at the Rambam in the actual text, he did not quote the Rambam accurately; and even if he summarized the Rambam’s teaching, it would seem he missed the point?!
The Rambam wrote: “…He [Avraham] was [saved through] a miracle and left for Charan. [There,] he began to call in a loud voice to all people and inform them that there is one God in the entire world and it is proper to serve Him. He would go out and call to the people, gathering them in city after city and country after country, until he came to the land of Canaan – proclaiming [God’s existence the entire time] – as [Genesis 21:33] states: ‘And He called there in the name of the Lord, the eternal God.’ When the people would gather around him and ask him about his statements, he would explain [them] to each one of them according to their understanding, until they turned to the path of truth. Ultimately, thousands and myriads gathered around him. These are the men of the house of Avraham. He planted in their hearts this great fundamental principle, composed texts about it, and taught it to Yitzchak, his son. Yitzchak also taught others and turned [their hearts to God]. He also taught Yaakov and appointed him as a teacher. [Yaakov] taught others and turned [the hearts] of all those who gathered around him [to God]. He also taught all of his children. He selected Levi and appointed him as the leader. He established him [as the head of] the yeshiva to teach them the way of God and observe the mitzvos of Avraham. [Yaakov] commanded his sons that the leadership should not depart from the descendants of Levi, so that the teachings would not be forgotten. This concept proceeded and gathered strength among the descendants of Jacob and those who collected around them, until there became a nation within the world which knew God. When the Jews extended their stay in Egypt, however, they learned from the [Egyptians’] deeds and began worshiping the stars as they did, with the exception of the tribe of Levi, who clung to the mitzvos of the patriarchs – the tribe of Levi never served false gods. Within a short time, the fundamental principle that Avraham had planted would have been uprooted, and the descendants of Yaacov would have returned to the errors of the world and their crookedness. Because of God’s love for us, and to uphold the oath He made to Avraham, our patriarch, He brought forth Moshe, our teacher, the master of all prophets, and sent him [to redeem the Jews]. After Moshe, our teacher, prophesied, and God chose Israel as His inheritance, He crowned them with mitzvos and informed them of the path to serve Him, [teaching them] the judgement prescribed for idol worshipers and all those who stray after it” (Rambam Hilchos Avodas Kochavim 1:3).

The Torah is the blueprints of creation and the handbook for mankind, and in fact it was always around and taught and observed by people from the beginning of time. For example, Yeshiva Shem viEver (See the Kesef Mishna on this Rambam). However, until the Jewish people as a nation accepted the Torah on Har Sinai, Torah, observance was not an obligation for anyone but just the right thing to do, which Avraham figured out on his own after it was lost to the masses for many years. He gave over his beliefs and the Torah he was able to figure out on his own to Yitzchak, who in turn taught it to Yaakov, who, in turn, in fact taught it to all his children, the 12 tribes, but appointed Levi as the leader of the mesora, tradition, and the leadership of the mesora was to be passed down from generation to generation through the tribe of Levi. So, it would seem that the reason why the tribe of Levi never stumbled in idol worship was because they felt a responsibility as leaders to uphold the mesora their forefathers gave them of keeping the Torah. If that is the case, what does that have to do with what the Daas Zekeinim said that they “set up yeshivas so that Torah would not disappear from them at all?” Where is that mentioned anywhere in the Rambam? The reason why they weren’t involved in idol worship and therefore were not involved in the sin of the golden calf was because they felt obligated to stick to a higher moral standard since they were expected to be leaders, not because they opened up yeshivas and were constantly engrossed in Torah learning?!

It would seem though that the Daas Zekeinim understood that even leaders with expectations of higher moral standards can fall prey to the temptations around them in an immoral society. Therefore it must be that only because they were so involved in toiling in Torah that it became their life force, their bloodline, to the extent that even the Egyptians saw their commitment and allowed them to not join the physical workforce of slavery. Not only was the leader of the generation involved in Torah learning, but the entire tribe was involved in opening up yeshivas and learning in them fulltime, and it made an impact on others, causing them to join at least on some level, which instilled in them Fear of Heaven and a moral code. For this reason, the tribe of Levi as a whole did not sin at all by the golden calf, and presumably those who felt a profound influence from the tribe of Levi were included in the group of those who were G-D fearing and did not succumb to the sin of the golden calf. Also, without that commitment to the Torah and its moral code, presumably they would not have been steadfast to their relative, Moshe Rabbeinu, and they would have lost hope, as others did, of him ever returning.

We learn from here that there must be a group of people who are totally committed to being completely engrossed in the learning and teaching of Torah to themselves and the masses in order for Torah to be correctly observed and preserved. We see this is true even today. What is happening now, in this day and age with the Jewish landscape seems to mirror what the Rambam is describing. May we find our “Moshe Rabbeinu” who will redeem us and brings us to the Final Redemption, speedily in our days.

Purim – Purim Meshulash

For Food for Thought in Spanish: Haga clic aquí y clic aquí para leer en español.Please share this with your Jewish Spanish speaking family, friends, and associates.

This Dvar Halacha is adapted from a shiur I heard around 20 years ago from my rebbe, Rav Avrohom Kanarek zt”l, who recently passed away. May the learning of his Torah be a zechus to his neshama. Yehi Zichro Baruch!

That year, as it is this year, is what’s called Purim Meshulash. The mitzvos of Purim are split into 3 days for Shushan Purim, observed, only in Yerushalayim, since it falls out on Shabbos. The mitzvos are split into 3 equal parts. There are 6 mitzvos:

On the 14th of Adar (Friday) the megillah is read the night before and that day and matanos li’evyonim (gifts to the poor) are given out.
On the 15th of Adar (Shabbos) al hanissim is recited in shemoneh esray as well as in bentching, and the portion of Amalek is read in the Torah.
On the 16th of Adar the Purim seuda (Purim feast) is held and mishloach manos are given out.

There is a question raised, that in order for the Torah reading to be done at least most of the minyan must be obligated, does this apply to reading megillah as well? The answer is that since Rashi says we need at least a minyan for publicizing the miracle then even if there are ten people that already heard megillah one can still read for himself since he is still publicizing the miracle. And whereas for Kaddish and Kedusha ten have to be in the same room in order to recite them, for megillah, as long as ten can hear, wherever they are, the individual fulfills reading with a minyan.

Reading Megillah is not an ordinary Rabbinic decree, it is MiDivrei Kabbala, an ordinance from the prophets, which means it was Divinely inspired. However, this is only true for the daytime. The nighttime reading was declared later by the Rabbis and is considered a Rabbinic ordinance.  

The question is,for those who live in a walled city like Yerushalayim and its surroundings, where they normally read megillah on the 15th of Adar, but this year, Purim Meshulash, when megillah reading is pushed back a day for them, is the mitzvah of reading during the day still MiDivrei Kabbala or is it only Rabbinic?

The Turei Even answers that it is dependent on an argument in the gemara between Abaye and Rabba as to why we don’t read megillah on Shabbos. Rabba says it is a decree lest a novice prohibitively walk in the public domain on Shabbos to practice reading by an expert. Abaye says the megillah reading is where the poor collects tzedakah and they cannot do that on Shabbos.

This is why the megillah reading is pushed back a day. If you say like Rabba then this is a later decree, for the original obligation was to read on Shabbos. The Rabbis came later and made a decree which permitted going against the prophets because a fence can passively uproot a Divrei Kabbala. However, according to Abaye the Anshei Knesses HaGedola, the Great Assembly, that wrote over the megillah originally made the decree themselves, since it is dependent on when the mitzvah of matanos li’evyonim is given out. Therefore it would still be a mitzvah from the prophets for walled cities even though they are reading a day earlier.

The Anshei Knesses HaGedola wrote up the megillah after it was given to them by Mordechai and Esther, which is why it is considered a davar shebikedusha, a holy matter, since it was written with Ruach Hakodesh, Divine inspiration.

Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank
, quoting a Rasha”sh gives another reason as to why it is still considered MiDivrei Kabbala, though it is read a day earlier than originally decreed. It is that since the Anshei Knesses HaGedola gave hints in the megillah by referring plurally, “zemaneihem,” that means it can be read even before (or after) the proper date when the megillah is supposed to be read (see the first Mishna in maseches Megillah), so we see that even for walled cities, reading megillah on the 14th can still be a mitzvah from the prophets.

Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank extended and applied this rule that megillah reading was originally decreed that it can be done for a number of days, for a boy who does not live in a walled city, for example he lives in America, or  Bnei Brak, Israel, and should normally listen to megillah on the 14th of Adar, however since he turns bar mitzvah on the 15th of Adar he has an obligation to read the megillah to himself on the 15th of Adar.

Teruma/Purim –

Grace and a Good Name > Money
In the beginning of this week’s Torah portion of Terumah, Hashem tells Moshe, “”Speak to the children of Israel, and have them take for Me a gift…” (Shemos 25:2). The Medrish says that this alludes to the fact that in reality everything belongs to Hashem. The Maharz”u points out that this is the message the following Medrish Rabba gives when it connects this portion to Purim.

The Medrish Rabba in the beginning of Parshas Teruma quotes a pasuk from Mishley, “’A good name is more choice than great riches and beneficent grace than silver and gold’ (Mishley 22:1). [One of the things the medrish says] this pasuk relates to is Mordechai’s name being of choice more than the wealth of Haman. Rebbe Yoshia asked, ‘What did this wicked person (Haman) do?’ He took out all his silver and gold (The Etz Yosef said it really means most of his money) and gave it to Achashveirosh. Hashem told him ‘A good name is more choice… and beneficent grace than silver and gold.’ Esther’s grace was more choice, as it says, ‘that she [Esther] won favor in his eyes’ (Esther 5:2). When the wicked one (Haman) came with his money, the king said the money is given to you. Hashem said, if you sell what’s mine with what is mine, as it says ‘For My servants are the Jewish People’ (Vayikra 25:54), it also writes, ‘Mine is the silver, Mine is the gold’ (Chaggai 2:8), therefore Hashem swore, by your life when you said the money is given to you etc. rather, ‘On that day King Achashveirosh gave to Queen Esther the house of Haman’ (Esther 8:1), (Shemos Rabba 33:5).” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
Haman was extremely rich, in fact the Medrish says elsewhere in the name of Rebbe Pinchas that there were two rich people that stood out in world history, one Jewish and one non-Jewish, and their wealth was only for their bad. Korach, the Jew, found the treasure house of silver and gold that Yosef had accumulated and hidden. Haman, the gentile, found the treasure house of the kings of Yehuda. When King Achashveirosh saw his wealth and that his ten sons were ministers, he promoted Haman to a very high position (Esther Rabba 7:5). The Etz Yosef there in fact points out that Haman was a lowly advisor, known as Memuchan, who was listed last of the advisors in the first perek of megillas Esther. He was the one who gave advice to get rid of Vashti. It would seem that King Achasveirosh might have promoted Haman so that he can somehow get to Haman’s wealth, which in fact happened because the Medrish we saw in parshas Terumah says that Haman actually gave most his wealth to Achashveirosh as payment for letting him destroy the Jewish people but,as the Yefeh Toar points out, Achashveirosh gave it back to Haman as a deposit until Haman finished his job, as it says, “And the king said to Haman, “The silver is given to you,” (Esther 3:11), instead of saying “to him, it shall be given to you” which would have implied that Achashveirosh was paying Haman to kill the Jews. The Yefeh Toar concludes that with all the money Haman was willing to give to Achashveirosh to kill the Jews,  Achashveirosh still picked Esther’s grace over all that money Haman was watching for him. The Etz Yosef also points out that Mordechai’s good name, that was mentioned in Achashveirosh’s chronicles for saving his life, was considered more worthy than Haman’s wealth to the extent that he belittled Haman and disgraced him by having him lead Mordechai on the king’s horse through the streets of Shushan.

We must take this into perspective. King Achashveirosh had a tremendous lust for money as we saw from his extravagant parties in the beginning of the Purim story and he had in his grip most of Haman’s wealth still in all he risked throwing it all away and insulting Haman by forcing him to lead his archenemy through the streets of Shushan calling out Mordechai’s honor all because Mordechai saved his life.

As for Queen Esther, what was the grace that won over Achashveirosh? The Malbim relates that in fact Achashveirosh loved Esther so much that he never thought that the law which said nobody can enter the king’s courtyard without his permission applied to her and when he saw her sheepishly standing by the entrance, granted he felt he did not have to stretch out his scepter to allow her jn, but in her humility standing by the entrance to the courtyard, not barging in, that found favor (or grace) in his eyes, for he saw that this was  righteous humility in her heart, that she didn’t realize she did not have to abide by this law, therefore he stuck out his scepter as to accept her and whatever wishes she would ask for. Esther’s timid and modest character is what in fact caught Achashveirosh’s attention and made such an impact that he felt he had to grant whatever she asked for. In the end the Jews were saved, Haman was killed, and although he had such a crave for money, he gave all of Haman’s house and wealth away to Esther who in turn gave it to Mordechai. (Click here for Hebrew text.)

Besides seeing the clear picture that Hashem can orchestrate anything because He is the Almighty, we are His people and this was all His money that He can do what He wants with, however we also see that no matter how much of a draw and a desire the thirst for money is, a good name and a graceful character are more valuable.

Mishpatim – Excuses, Excuses, Excuses…

In an introduction to this week’s Torah portion of Mishpatim, the Rashbam mentions that even though the specific halachos gleaned from the Torah portion are the most important thing, which could be found in the Talmud and is brought by his grandfather, Rashi’s commentary on the Torah, here in there, but the Rashbam is coming to explain the basic understanding of each pasuk, and therefore he will explain each mitzvah and law according to derech eretz, the proper mussar lesson, i.e. character development, that can be learned through the general understanding of the pesukim. (Click Here for Hebrew text.)

As an example, within the Torah portion there is the discussion of the laws of damages, including damages due to a pit. “And if a person opens a pit, or if a person digs a pit and does not cover it, and a bull or a donkey falls into it, the owner of the pit shall pay; he shall return money to its owner, and the dead body shall be his” (Shemos 21:34, 34). The Gemara in Bava Kamma 51a asks why the Torah has to mention both opening and digging a pit, for if one is liable for opening a pit, all the more so he should be liable for digging a pit? The Rashbam on the Torah answers this question saying, “When a person opens a pit which is deep and finishes his job already and is negligent and does not close the pit, or even if a person digs a pit and does not cover it each day by nightfall when he finishes his work, since he has to enter it the next day and dig some more, and it’s a hassle for him to cover it each day, nevertheless he is liable.” 
The Rashbam is answering the gemara’s question by saying that if one is in the midst of digging a pit, let say at a jobsite, he has every excuse, which might even make sense, or he can at least convince himself he has a logical argument of why it’s not worth covering the pit at the end of every workday as long as he has not finished the job yet. Maybe he blocked it off, put warning signs next to it, but to properly cover it, why should that be needed; what could really happen from now until the job is finished? The Torah is emphasizing that this is a lazy excuse, and one must take proper precautions to remove the potential damage one creates, even if it means covering and uncovering the pit each day until the job is done.

The Chizkuni alludes to the point the Rashbam is making and then explains in more detail the parameters of this damage. There is an important lesson that will be learnt through our responsibility to act as cognizant, mindful human beings. The Chizkuni says, “Either when a person opens a pit which was already finished for some time, or even if he digs a pit now and does not cover it in the evening because he wants to come back to it the next day to do more work of digging in the pit and he does not cover it [then he is liable]. But if he covers it then he is exempt, but only if it was covered properly. What is considered properly? Heavy enough for a wagon carrying stones to be able to ride over it, as stated in the Gemara Yerushalmi Bava Kamma 5:6, ‘Don’t make a hole under the street unless a wagon carrying stones can ride over it.’ Now if an ox falls into the open pit [then there is liability], but not if a person falls in because a person is a mindful being who would be watching where he is going, so if he falls in, he is the cause of hurting himself. The pasuk also mentions a donkey, to exclude vessels, for vessels don’t move without the protection of a person, and since he didn’t watch them well, he caused a loss to himself.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
The Chizkuni explained all the basic laws of damages due to a pit. Whether a person opened a pit that was completed a while ago, or he is in the midst of digging a pit and is too lazy to cover it at the end of each day, which is granted not easy to do because the covering must be heavy and sturdy enough to hold a wagon carrying stones going across it. However, liability is only for animals that fall into it or tripped over it; injuries to human beings and their possessions who are not animals that have a “mind of their own,” the one responsible for the pit is exempt for those damages in general because a person is expected to have enough sense to take care of himself and his possessions and be cognizant of his surroundings.
One can still wonder why this is true, for the person who opened or dug up the pit was acting negligibly by not covering it up properly, and even with all his excuses and rationales he is still liable if an animal gets hurt by the pit. So why should human injury and his vessels be any different? The pit owner was still negligent, that hasn’t changed; why should anyone else be more careful, shouldn’t it be the person who dug up or opened the pit’s fault for causing such an obstruction and danger in the street?

We see from here, and when looking into the matter this is true by other damages as well, that Hashem expects human beings to use the gift He gave us of intellect and thought in order to be cognizant of our surroundings and to take proper precautions to not hurt anyone, but also not to get hurt when it can be avoided. It does not make a difference if you are the victim or the perpetrator you are still a human being and there are expectations from Hashem to use the gifts He has endowed us with. Even if there are times when the perpetrator isn’t liable for the damage to the victim because the victim is responsible to take care of himself that still does not exempt the perpetrator from putting in his efforts to avoid the damage, he just isn’t liable if damage happens. If we don’t use our sechel prpoerly then excuses we make up are just excuses.

Yisro – Belief in Hashem and Believing in Yourself

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In this week’s Torah portion of Yisro, Hashem gave the Torah to the Jewish people at Har Sinai. The entire Torah was embodied in what’s called the Ten Commandments written on the tablets. The first of the mitzvos written on the tablets is: “I am Hashem Your G-d who took you out of the land of Egypt from the house of bondage” (Shemos 20:2).
The medrish, Tanna Dvei Eliyahu (Eliyahu Rabba, perek 26) dissects each phrase of this mitzvah and teaches us a very novel teaching, which is more than just belief in Hashem but an application of belief in Hashem emboldening us to make a positive impact on the world.: “’G-d spoke all these words, to respond: I am Hashem, your God, Who took you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage.’ Blessed is The Place Blessed is He who chose the Jews over all the non-Jews and acquired them completely and called them children and servants for His sake. Sometimes He speaks with them in plural form and at other times in singular form and he does this because He loves the Jews and is happy about them. This is what Hashem told the Jews, ‘I was sitting around 974 generations before the world was created whence I carefully thought, deliberated, formed and checked these words of the Torah and from the day the world was created until this time I sit on My Throne of Glory, the third of the day learning Torah, a third of the day I judge the world, and a third of the day I do tzedakah (righteousness) by feeding, supporting and sustaining the entire world. Of all My creations I am the one who put aside the 70 nations in this world and came and clung to you and called you Elohim (powerful being) and associated your name with My Great Name, and I called you My brother My Friend. I was before the world was created, and I am the same One from when the world was created. I am in this world and I am in the World to Come. I will kill and I will make alive, I wounded, and I will heal,’ as it says ‘in order that you know and believe Me, and understand that I am He; before Me no god was formed and after Me none shall be.  I am the Lord, and besides Me there is no Savior’ (Yeshayahu 43: 10, 11). It also says, ‘Behold I am Hashem and there is no other god besides Me, a G-d who is righteous and a savior there is no one like Me’ (Yeshayahu 42). It also says, ‘that I am God and there is no other; I am God and there is none like Me’ (Yeshayau 46:9).”

The Meorei Eish (a great grandson of the Tosfos Yom tov) shows how this ties into the first mitzvah of the Ten Commandments. He says that the point of this medrish is to explain each word of the pasuk: “I am Hashem;” that with the light of His Holy Name He simply creates, lets live and sustains the entire creation from nothing. “Your G-D” who watches over and sustains each individual; we know this because He took us out of Egypt. He created the Celestial Torah before the world was created and through it he created them and now sustains the world with it through His logic of Torah. He feeds the world, which is a general maintenance of everything alive, and supports and sustains everything. This is all derived from the name “Hashem.” Indeed, in explaining “Your G-D,” when the medrish said “I am the one who set aside the 70 nations” Hashem was informing the Jews that he kept special attention and specific maintenance upon them through prophesy, demonstrating for them very lofty and spiritual heights through prophesy. (Click here for Hebrew text.)
When the medrish says, “and called you Elohim (powerful being)” this means we were appointed to control nature, for it to be subjugated by our good actions. Furthermore, the name of G-D as Elokim refers to the fact that G-D is All Powerful, so too within man there are celestial and earthly powers included within us, and man is the pillar of creation, for which the entire world was intended. “And associated your name with My Great Name” refers to the pure soul from on high, that was imbued into every human being. Lastly, “I called you My brother My Friend.” Because through their good deeds they have the power to add the shefa (abundance of holiness), that it will increase in this world, though everything is in the Hand of Hashem nevertheless Hashem decreed that through Mankind’s deeds it will increase. Hashem was the one who said “I am Hashem your G-D” in the Ten Commandments; there were no intermediaries. He is your savior, not an angel, all powerful, who took you out of Egypt.

According to the medrish, why does Hashem let us know that we are also called Elohim, that He imbued us with a soul, a godly element within us, and that He refers to as “My Brother and My Friend?” Wouldn’t this actually detract from Hashem’s greatness and almighty, all powerful existence, which Hashem seems to want to enumerate to us in the first commandment as a complete and true picture of belief and trust in Him?

It would seem that in fact Hashem is charging us with a responsibility to the world which is the purpose and basis for our existence. Hashem has charged us with being “His partner” in sustaining and molding the world for its ultimate good. By knowing and recognizing who we work for, who entrusted us with His precious world to add onto it and mold it into a better place, and that He gave us the power and ability to do so, should empower us to want to live up to the will of our Father in Heaven, our Master, who shares with us His powers and treats us as His brother and friend, a partner in creation. What a responsibility! What an opportunity we have! This is the greatness of man that was specifically charged to the Jewish people when we accepted Hashem’s Torah.

In the First of the Ten Commandments Hashem actually is not just charging us to believe in Him but to believe in ourselves, as an impetus to increase the quality of the world He has created, “though everything is in the Hand of Hashem nevertheless Hashem decreed that through mankind’s deeds the world will upsurge.” This is a very noteworthy introduction and very apropos to our responsibility towards fulfilling and observing the rest of the Torah.