Archive for the ‘ 2-Shemot ’ Category

Dvar Torah Parshat Terumah 5773 2013

The theme of this week’s Sidra is the construction of the משכן or Tabernacle in the Wilderness. This was later to serve as the model for the בית המקדש or the Temple in Yerushalayim. In the משכן there were two rooms, one of which was called קודש or Holy and one was called קודש הקדשים or Holy of Holies. Certain functions by the Kohanim were carried out in the room called Holy. The Holy of Holies was reserved only for the High Priest to enter once a year on Yom Kippur. There was a partition separating these two rooms.

Among the items in the Holy room were a table that contained the “Show Bread” which was replaced every week and the Menorah which was lit every day. Harav Kook, the first chief Rabbi of Israel, points out that these two items represent the blessings of prosperity in the world. The table represented the material and physical blessings. The Menorah represented the spiritual blessings of the world.

The Rabbi indicated that there was no partition between them. This suggested that both the material and spiritual matters in the world need not be relegated to different parts of our lives. They can exist with each other simultaneously without conflict. That is why there was no partition between them.

This room was separated, however, from the Holy of Holies with a curtain. The Holy of Holies contained the Torah. It was separated from everything else because it was sacrosanct and stood above all else. It was the word of Hashem and was not to be on a level with our material needs nor even with our spiritual requirements.

Dvar Torah Parshat Mishpatim 5773 2013

Many people question the need for studying the Talmud. Isn’t it sufficient to study the Shulchan Aruch, the Code of Jewish Law, to learn the commandments that constitute our religious practices and we can then live a true religious Jewish life? Why are we required to spend years of study when all we have to know is what we are obliged to perform?
The answer lies in the explanation of the first verse in this Sidra. The Torah starts with the words: “And these are the laws, אֲשֶׁר תָּשִׂים לִפְנֵיהֶם which you shall place before them.” (Ex. 21,1) Rashi expounds on these words and says: Hashem said to Moshe, “It should not enter your mind to say ‘I shall teach them a section of the Torah or a single Halachah twice or three times until it becomes clear in their minds … but I shall not take the trouble to make them understand the reasons of each thing and its significance’… therefore the Torah says אֲשֶׁר תָּשִׂים לִפְנֵיהֶם which thou shall set before them like a table fully laid before a person with everything ready for eating.”
True, if one studies the Code of Jewish Laws he will know what is required of him but he will not understand the meaning and significance of it. That is what the study of the Talmud will give him. There the laws are expounded, discussed, analyzed and made meaningful. It is tragic that not all people have devoted time to the study of the Talmud.

Dvar Torah Parshat Yitro 2013 5773

We read this week about מתן תורה the giving or the receiving of the Torah. There is a very strange Midrash concerning this episode. The Torah tells us that the people stood at Mt. Sinai בְּתַחְתִּית הָהָר at the bottom of the mountain. (Ex. 19,17) Oddly enough the literal translation of these words means “under the mountain”.

Because of this wording Chazal tell us that Hashem lifted up the mountain and placed it over the heads of the people and said:אם אתם מקבלים התורה – מוטב, “if you accept the Torah, fine. If not you will be destroyed here.” (Shab. 88a) Obviously, He was forcing them to accept the Torah.

What happened? We shall read next week that the people were so ready to accept the Torah that they proclaimed: נַעֲשֶׂה וְנִשְׁמָע “we will do and we will obey”. (Ex. 24,7) According to Chazal this passage preceded receiving the Torah and they were willing to accept it readily without even knowing what was in it. Why did Hashem have to force it on them now? The commentary of the Tosafot (Shab. 88a) explains that there was thunder and lightning and the mountain was engulfed in flame. This frightened the Israelites.

Rabbi J.B. Soloveitchik explains that when they were first told that they would be a Chosen People they were delighted. When they stood close to the mountain and they were close to Hashem they developed exceptional prophetic vision. They saw that being a Chosen People entails major tragedies because of the hatred that would develop against them among the nations of the world. Of that, the fiery mountain was an omen. It was then that they wanted to back out of the agreement with Hashem and did not want to accept the Torah. Throughout history the Jews have seen the result of being a Chosen People.

Dvar Torah Parshat BeShalach 5773 2013

Bnei Israel have finally left Egypt and are on their way to the land promised to them by their forefathers. The journey should have taken eleven days as we learn in the opening verses of Deuteronomy. (Deut. 1,2) That was not to be. Instead we read in this week’s Portion that Hashem led them on a long journey through the Wilderness. Why so?

The Torah gives us the answer to this question. The opening verse in this Portion states that Hashem did not lead them through the short route:
כִּי קָרוֹב הוּא, “…because it was near, for Hashem said, ‘Perhaps the people will reconsider when they see a war, and they will return to Egypt’.” (Ex. 13,17)

The “Sefat Emet”, written in the early 19th century, has a unique interpretation of this passage. The usual understanding of its meaning is that since it was near and if they would encounter a war they will want to return to Egypt. He explains that the fact that it is near is the reason Hashem did not want them to go in that direction. If they would have gone straight to the Promised Land they would not have been prepared to live there.

Living in Israel is not easy. Chazal said: Eretz Israel is acquired through hardship. Anyone who has made Aliya knows that while it is great coming and living in Israel, one must be prepared to undergo numerous unpleasant experiences.

While this is true for individuals it is also true for the nation as a whole. Since its founding Israel has had to contend with its neighbors and also now with the world at large. Hashem led the Jews through the Wilderness to prepare them for what was needed to obtain and to live in the Promised Land.

Dvar Torah Parshat Va’Era 2013 5773

In last week’s Sidra, Moshe and Aharon appeared before Pharaoh as Hashem had commanded them to do. Moshe asked with the now famous word, “Let my people go”. Instead of complying with this request, Pharaoh toughened the burden of the people.

Moshe’s reaction was surprising. He spoke harshly to Hashem and complained: “Why have You done evil to this people? From the time I came to Pharaoh …he did evil to this people.”(Ex. 5,22)

Rashi in this week’s Portion (Ex. 6,9) refers us to the Rabbinic passage in Sanhedrin in which Hashem bemoans the fact that our forefathers are gone. “Alas for those who are gone and are no more to be found. I said to Avraham: Walk through the land…I will give it to you. Yet when he sought a place to bury Sarah, he did not find one but had to purchase it. Nevertheless, he did not question me.

“I said to Yitzchak: Dwell in this land and I will be with you. Yet when his servants dug wells they were disputed. Nevertheless, he did not question me.

“I said to Yaakov: The land upon which you lie I will give to your seed. Yet when (he returned to the land of his father and ) he had to pitch his tent he did not find a place until he purchased it. Nevertheless, he did not question me.

“Yet you say to me: You have not delivered Thy people.”
The question is: Did Moshe fall below the stature of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov?
The answer is that the trials and tribulations of our forefathers were all for private matters that affected them personally. With Moshe the situation was different. Here the matter affected the Jewish people. It affected the well-being of all the Jews living and slaving in Egypt. Under such conditions a good leader cannot keep still. A true leader must speak up and take action. Moshe, being the ultimate leader, had to act.

Dvar Torah Parshat Shemot 2013 5773

The Book of Shemot begins by telling us that Yaakov and his children came to Egypt. Then it says: וְיוֹסֵף הָיָה בְמִצְרָיִם, “…and Yosef was in Egypt.” (Ex. 1,5) Though Yosef was the viceroy in Egypt and though they gave him the name צָפְנַת פַּעְנֵחַ, he nevertheless did not give up his Jewish name. The Torah testifies that he was still Yosef in Egypt. When his two sons were born he gave them Jewish names, Ephraim and Menasheh.

This practice of giving children Jewish names in Egypt helped keep them together as a people. Chazal tell us this is one of the reasons for their redemption.

A name is a great way of identifying a person as a member of a people and it is a dominant influence in keeping a Jew within the Jewish fold. A non-Jewish name can often be the first step of losing one’s Jewish identity.

It is unfortunate that many Jews living in the Diaspora find it proper to give their children a common name used in the country and do not bother to also give them a Jewish name. While this may not be the reason but it is one step that can lead to assimilation.

No matter what name a Jewish child is given so that there is no embarrassment living in a non-Jewish environment, there should also be a Jewish name and the child should know what it is.

Dvar Torah Parshat Vayakhel Pekude 5772 2012

וַיַּקְהֵל מֹשֶׁה, Moshe gathers all the people to tell them about the construction of the משכן, the Tabernacle. This is somewhat strange, for at no other time when he conveyed a Mitzvah to them does the Torah tell us that he gathered all the people together.

Perhaps the reason was based on his prophetic vision when he foresaw that the בית המקדש or Temple in Yerushalayim will be destroyed because of שנאת חינם, unfounded hatred. Jews at that time would be disunited and dislike each other for no valid reason. Because of this needless hatred Hashem will have the בית המקדש destroyed.

To avoid this same fate befalling the Tabernacle that Moshe was about to build in the Wilderness, he gathered the people and wanted them to agree to build the משכן in unity. There was to be no hatred or bad feelings among them.

Other Mitzvot were given without fear of their being abandoned because of poor relationships between Jewish people. Hence it was not necessary to gather the people when conveying Hashem’s Mitzvot. The building of the משכן was different. Moshe wanted to avoid that the Mishkan should suffer the same fate that was going to happen centuries later with the בית המקדש. Hence he had to gather the people and emphasize to them the importance of their unity.

Dvar Torah Parshat Ki Tisa 5772 2012

When the Jewish people built the Golden Calf Moshe was on Mt. Sinai. Hashem notifies Moshe of the transgression of the Israelites and tells him to go down from the mountain to the people. He tells Moshe that He will destroy the Bnei Yisrael. Moshe’s immediate reaction is to start praying that Hashem should forgive them. וַיְחַל מֹשֶׁה “And Moshe pleaded before Hashem…”. (Ex. 32,11)

The great commentator on the Torah, Ibn Ezra, states that Moshe did not pray at this particular time. He first went down to the people, destroyed the Golden Calf, and punished the perpetrators of the crime and only then went up again to plead before Hashem on behalf of the Jewish people. What was Ibn Ezra’s reason for this opinion?

My teacher Rabbi Soloveitchik offers an answer to this question. Moshe could not pray for forgiveness while the Golden Calf still existed. How could Hashem forgive the people while they are in the midst of transgressing? He had to correct the situation and then ask for forgiveness.

Hence Moshe went down from the mountain, destroyed the Golden Calf and punished the perpetrators of the crime. Only then did he ascend the mountain again and asked Hashem to forgive the Jewish people.

If we hurt someone’s feelings or mistreat a friend, we cannot expect to be forgiven until we correct the situation we created. Only then can we expect to be pardoned.

Dvar Torah Parshat Tetzaveh 5772 2012

The oil used to light the Menorah in the Mishkan and later in the Bet Hamikdash had to be שֶׁמֶן זַיִת זָךְ כָּתִית, “…pure, pressed olive oil, beaten…”. (Ex.27,20) Rashi explains that the oil was not obtained by grinding the olives in a mill, which is the normal process. Rather, the olives were placed in a mortar and beaten to avoid their oil being mixed with dregs. The first drop of oil that was extracted from each olive was collected and was used for lighting the Menorah.

The word זָךְ, translated in this context as pure has many different corollary meanings. It also means spotless, innocent, fine and many other translations. The Menorah on which this oil was lit had to be specifically made MIKSHAH, beaten. The word for beaten comes from the Hebrew word KASHEH which means hard.

We have a strange combination here. The Menorah had to be hard and the oil had to be pure and fine. The oil had to be fine and soft in contrast to the Menorah. The Kohen who lit the Menorah and was also a leader of the people had to have these same qualifications. He had to have a hard or strong nature and simultaneously he had to have a soft and pure streak in him.

A proficient person needs these qualities. At times he has to be strong and hard in his actions and at times he has to be soft and lenient in his dealings. The wise person knows when each of these characteristics and traits is called for.

Dvar Torah Parshat Terumah 5772 2012

The construction of the Mishkan and the various items that are to be included in it are described in great detail. One of the items is הָאָרֹן, or the Ark. The Torah calls this ark אֲרוֹן הָעֵדֻת, “…the ark of testimony…”.(Ex.25,22) Why is the Ark given this name?

The Torah itself answers this question. It gives two reasons. First, Moshe was told: וְנָתַתָּ אֶל הָאָרֹן אֵת הָעֵדֻת, “You shall place in the Ark the Testimony…”. (Ex. 25,16) The tablets of stone, containing the Ten Commandments, were to be placed in the Ark. These tablets serve as the testimony that our people stood at Mt. Sinai and heard Hashem proclaiming the commandments by which we Jews have lived for centuries. This is one reason why the Ark was given the designation הָעֵדֻת or “testimony”.

The Torah gives us another reason. וְנוֹעַדְתִּי לְךָ שָׁם, “And there I will meet with you, and I will speak with you from above the Ark cover…” (Ex. 25,22) The Ark is thus being designated as the meeting place between Hashem and Moshe who represents the Jewish people. This is another explanation why the Ark was called הָעֵדֻת or “testimony”. The name is so designated to remind us of a past event and to emphasize our closeness to Hashem.

Interestingly, the three major Jewish holidays are also called in the Torah מועדים and in singular מועד or “testimony”. The word הָעֵדֻת and מועד stem from the same root, עד, meaning “testimony”. We celebrate these holidays to remind us or to testify to the fact that Hashem took us out of Egypt. On each of these holidays, when the Temple stood in Yerushalayim, the Jews were instructed to journey to the Temple and to appear before Hashem.

The holidays serve the same purpose as the Ark. They testify about events of the past and demonstrate our closeness to Hashem.

Dvar Torah Parshat Mishpatim 5772 2012

In the Tanach the word Elokim does not always mean Hashem. It also has the meaning of judge or court. In today’s Sidra we are told, if someone accepts the responsibility of watching another person’s item and it is stolen or lost, the law depends on what kind of a watchman he was. If he was paid for watching, he is obligated to make good the loss and must pay the owner the value of the item. If, however, he had promised to watch the item without remuneration, he is not compelled to make good the loss. This does not mean, though, that he is completely without any obligation. He must appear in court and swear to the fact that the item was stolen or lost and he had not laid his hand on it, meaning, he had not used it for his own purposes.

The language the Torah uses to tell us about this obligation is: וְנִקְרַב בַּעַל הַבַּיִת אֶל הָאֱלֹהִים “…and the householder (the watchman) shall approach the court that he has not laid his hand upon his fellow’s property.” (Ex. 22,7) The word הָאֱלֹהִים here does not refer to Hashem but to the judge.

A Rabbi once explained that regardless of the real meaning of the text, the fact that the Torah uses this expression teaches us another worthwhile message. If a person wants to come close to Hashem (הָאֱלֹקִים), he must be sure that he had not laid a hand upon, harmed or hurt another fellow Jew. To come spiritually close to Hashem one must be sure that he is innocent and had not offended another person.

Dvar Torah Parshat Yitro 5772 2012 – Measure for Measure…

Yitro listens to Moshe and hears him relate all the great wonders that Hashem did for the Bnei Israel in Egypt. He is awed by what he hears and praises Hashem and says: בָּרוּךְ יְקֹוָק. He does not stop at that but adds that Hashem is great: כִּי בַדָּבָר אֲשֶׁר זָדוּ עֲלֵיהֶם “…for in the very matter in which [the Egyptians] had conspired against them… .” (Ex. 18,11)

Rashi explains this passage, based on the explanation of Onkelos. The greatness displayed here was that Hashem punished the Egyptians by the very thing that Pharaoh wanted to destroy the Jews. He wanted to drown the Jewish children in the Nile and Hashem turned this intention around and brought it upon the Egyptians. It was Pharaoh’s army that drowned in the Red Sea. This is a principle that Chazal teach us Hashem uses in this world, namely, the principle of מדה כנגד מדה, measure for measure.

In our own conduct we must be ever mindful that often we fall prey to our own actions. We often do things that come back to haunt us. Before doing or saying something to spite someone, think twice. The action or the words can eventually turn around and do harm to our own selves.

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