Friday, June 14, 2019

Dvar Torah & Podcast for Parshas Bahaloscha


       Parshas Behaloscha ends with the story of Miriam being stricken with tzara’as. After questioning if some of Moshe’s actions were actually commands from Hashem or simply his own personal stringencies, Hashem gives Miriam tzara’as as punishment for her lashon hara against her brother. Following her accusation, the Torah writes one of the most famous pesukim in the entire book, “"וְהָאִ֥ישׁ משֶׁ֖ה עָנָ֣יו מְאֹ֑ד מִכֹּל֙ הָאָדָ֔ם אֲשֶׁ֖ר עַל־פְּנֵ֥י הָֽאֲדָמָֽה “The man, Moshe, was exceedingly humble, more so than any other person on the face of the earth” (Bamidbar 12:3). The reason for this pasuk being placed here is in direct response to Miriam’s claim; Moshe’s humility was his chief attribute, and in this manner, as well as many others, he was the greatest man alive. It was simply ridiculous to suspect such a man could ever act in seeming contradiction to the word of Hashem; which he was privileged to hear directly from Hashem’s mouth.
       But what exactly made Moshe the most humble man alive? Well, first, let’s try to define humility. A common explanation for humble is someone who doesn’t try to make himself into an important person, someone who acts with deference to those around him. In fact, the dictionary definition is someone who acts with submission. Two stories in the Torah concerning Moshe don’t seem to reflect these definitions of humility. One story is the first conversation between Moshe and Hashem at the Burning Bush. Hashem continually asks Moshe to be the leader and savior the Bnei Yisrael need to take them out of Mitzrayim, and Moshe keeps refusing the position; until, Hashem stops asking and tells Moshe that he needs to be the one.
       If we examine this story and compare it to our definition of humility, it seems that Moshe did exactly what he was supposed to do! He tried to stay out of the spotlight, refused any drop of honor offered to him, and only took it when it was literally forced upon him. This must be the source of his humility! Actually, Chazal teach us that Moshe was wrong to refuse Hashem, and was actually punished for his hesitation in that he lost the chance to be the Kohen Gadol. So, not only is this story the opposite of what we thought, Chazal teach us that losing out on the additional honor of being the Kohen Gadol was a punishment! So far, it doesn’t seem as if our definition is correct.
       A second instance in the Torah where you see Moshe connected with humility is our pasuk here. The Torah that we have was dictated by Hashem Himself and written over by Moshe word for word exactly as he heard it. That includes this pasuk! Can you imagine how difficult it was for a humble man like Moshe to have to write that he was the most humble man alive? For a truly humble person, it must have been torture! And yet, we find no record, in the Written or Oral Torah, that Moshe had any difficulty with this sentence like he did with the conversation by the Bush. How could this be? Perhaps we need to reevaluate our definition of humility.
       Humility is not about staying away from the limelight or being submissive to those around you. That, in fact, is the opposite of humility. We are all given tremendous abilities from Hashem to accomplish many things throughout our lives. These abilities allow us to do some things poorly, some things well, and some things extremely well; this last group is what we usually refer to as our talents. To use our talents in the right way and for the right purpose is enjoyable for ourselves, but at the same time, it’s our way of showing Hashem how much we appreciate the gifts He has given us. To refuse a talent is to show-up Hashem, as if to say, ‘I don’t need your gifts!’ Simply doing what we are good at is a way of serving Hashem!
       At the same time, we must realize that our talents are not our own, they are gifts from Hashem. So we have no reason to use them as sources of arrogance, after all, we didn’t become these people just through our own efforts! Furthermore, we must recognize that we were given these gifts for a reason. Everyone is unique, Hashem chose you above the billions of other people in the world to use this talent. If you don’t use it in the best way possible, then why do you even deserve it? Therefore, it’s our responsibility and mission to go about using our talents to further Hashem’s plan in this world; in whatever way that may be.
       This is the true definition of humility, recognizing the greatness and uniqueness that lives within you and how that makes you an incredible being. While at the same time, understanding the responsibility placed upon you to make the best use of your greatness and how arrogance is pointless when the greatness didn’t originate with you.
       We can now understand the stories of Moshe. By the Bush, Moshe was refusing to use his greatness in the way Hashem intended, to save the Jewish People. Therefore, Hashem was upset with him. But when it comes to our pasuk, Moshe did exactly what he was supposed to do. Humility is an important attribute, one that we must all make a part of ourselves. Who better to learn it from than the best! Hashem wanted everyone to know that Moshe was the most humble man alive in order that we should study his actions and learn what true humility is (besides for the fact that it was true, Moshe was the most humble, and he couldn’t exactly argue truths like he could argue about mission at the Burning Bush). Knowing this fact, we can go back and examine Moshe’s life to understand what true humility is, and that is exactly what we have done this week.

Shabbat Shalom!   
      
Click here for last year's Dvar Torah for Parshas Bahaloscha

Click here for this week's Podcast




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Friday, June 7, 2019

Dvar Torah & Podcast for Parshas Nasso


       Parshas Nasso continues the theme begun in Parshas Bamidbar with the setting up of the society of the Jewish People. After discussing the order of encampment in last week’s parsha, this week we move on to the consecration of the Mishkan, the literal and figurative center of Jewish life in the desert. Over the course of twelve days, the nassi of each shevet had the opportunity to bring a korban consisting of silver, incense, animals, and other items. And upon the completion of the twelve days, the Mishkan was open and ready for business.
       In the parsha immediately preceding the korbanos of the Nesi’im, we are introduced to one of the most famous blessings in Judaism, the Birkas Kohanim, the series of three blessings given by the Kohanim to the Bnei Yisrael. The brachos go as follows, “יְבָרֶכְךָ יְהוָה וְיִשְׁמְרֶךָ. יָאֵר יְהוָה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ וִיחֻנֶּךָּ. יִשָּׂא יְהוָה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ וְיָשֵׂם לְךָ שָׁלוֹם"  “May the Lord bless you and watch over you. May the Lord cause His countenance to shine to you and favor you. May the Lord raise His countenance toward you and grant you peace.” (Bamidbar 6:24-26). There are many ideas bound into these blessings, which are perhaps the most special blessings we have in Judaism.
       The Kli Yakar mentions several ideas, two of which we will focus on this week. The first is how each bracha seems to indicate an even closer relationship level with Hashem. In the first bracha, He promises to watch over us, in the way any sworn protector will watch over his charge. In the next bracha, it says Hashem will shine His face towards us; meaning, not only will we have the protection of Hashem, but we will have that (figurative) face-to-face connection that is appropriate of close relationships. Finally, Hashem will lift His face towards us, meaning, He holds us above even Himself, and dedicates Himself to our well-being.
       The second point to focus on is why the korbanos of the Nesi’im immediately follow these brachos. The Kli Yakar explains that it all comes down to the conclusion of Birkas Kohanim, the culmination of all three brachos, the final mention of peace. These brachos show us the path Hashem will lay for us on the road to complete blessing, ending with peace, the greatest blessing of all. Without peace, the Birkas Kohanim is incomplete. Therefore, the immediate narrative is that of the Nesi’im bringing their korbanos, which exemplified peace among the tribes. Without any signs of jealousy or competition, each Nasi took their own day to consecrate the Mishkan, and even brought the same exact korban! They felt no need to outdo the other. They showcased the commitment of the entire nation to establishing the Mishkan, a home for Hashem among them, built on complete unity.

Shabbat Shalom!


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Friday, May 31, 2019

Dvar Torah & Podcast for Parshas Bamidbar


       After receiving the Torah and setting up the culture and society of the Bnei Yisrael is Sefers Shemos and Vayikra, Sefer Bamidbar begins the process of the nation traveling to Eretz Yisrael. And what better way for the Sefer to begin than to describe the camping method. The Torah details exactly how the nation camped and traveled, the process that the nation went through to shift from camping mode to traveling mode, the formation of the tribe during these, even the exact order that they traveled in, as directed by Hashem to Moshe.
       They encamped in a box formation, three tribes together on each side, with the Mishkan in the middle surrounded by Shevet Levi. The tribes of Yehuda, Yissachar, and Zevulun were together in front (on the eastern side). Reuven, Shimon, and Gad on their right, to the south of the Mishkan. In the back to the west were Efraim, Menashe, and Binyamin. To the north on the left side of the formation were Dan, Asher, and Naftali. Chazal tell us that Yaakov Avinu determined this formation. When he died, he instructed his sons to position themselves in this manner when they carried his body for burial in Eretz Yisrael. What was the reason for this formation? Why were these specific tribes paired up with each other and why on those specific sides?
       Rav Hirsh gives an explanation in his classic manner. Let’s begin with the front group. Each of the three shevatim on that side figured prominently in the material and spiritual success of the nation. Yehuda was the royal tribe, Yissachar was responsible for constant Torah study, and Zevulun was the most prominent commercial tribe. (All these ideas are found in their blessings given to them by Yaakov in Bereishis 49, and brought into reality through the remainder of NaCH.) So right at the front of the nation were the most vital pieces to their survival, the ruling party, Torah study, and financial support.
       The two side groups each contained an important factor in the protection of the nation. The tribes of Shimon and Gad were known as fierce warriors, and Reuven was known for having a softer character. These traits balanced each other out, and allowed this group to be the physical protectors of the nation. Dan, Asher, and Naftali were all known for traits that would help grow and develop the culture of the nation. Dan was known for quick thinking, Asher for refined taste, and Naftali for eloquence. (As we mentioned before, these characteristics are all based on Yaakov’s blessings to his children in Bereishis 49.)
       When it comes to the back group, Rav Hirsh admits that it’s not as clear to him as the others. However, he focuses on the bracha Yaakov gave Menashe and Efraim in Bereishis 48 that they should both become great and mighty tribes. This greatness and might was why they camped opposite Yehuda, not just practically as extra protection in the rear of the group, but symbolically as well. Later on in history, the tribes of Yosef would break away from the Kingdom of Yehuda, denying his leadership of Bnei Yisrael. Instead of complementing Yehuda with their greatness, they instead tried to tear his greatness away from him. Therefore, they were positioned opposite him in the back.
       Similarly, the first King of Yisrael, Shaul, was from the tribe of Binyamin. Even though he didn’t steal any kingdom from Yehuda as there was no king yet in his day, because Binyamin did produce a king, perhaps that’s why they was placed in this same grouping.

Shabbat Shalom!   


Click here for last year's Dvar Torah for Parshas Bamidbar

Click here to listen this this week's Podcast (Also available on Apple Podcasts)

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Friday, May 24, 2019

Dvar Torah & Podcast for Parshas Bechukosai

Please be aware: Due to the eighth day of Pesach falling out on Shabbos, Eretz Yisrael and CHU"L will be one parsha off for the next several weeks. 



       One of the central beliefs in Judaism is the belief in Olam Haba, the World To Come. This is the belief that beyond this physical world in which we currently reside, there is a spiritual realm where our souls will spend eternity. It is there where we will receive our spiritual reward for our actions done in this world. And because it is a basic tenant of Judaism, the question commonly arises, how come Olam Haba is not mentioned in the Torah?
       While it is never mentioned explicitly, the meforshim have several explanations as to where we see Olam Haba hinted to in the Torah. One of them is found in this week’s parshah; “וְהִתְהַלַּכְתִּי בְּתוֹכְכֶם וְהָיִיתִי לָכֶם לֵאלֹהִים…” “I will walk among you, I will be a God to you…” (Vayikra 26:12). Rashi explains that when Hashem says He will walk among us, it must be referring to a place where there can actually be a concept of God walking, and not simply the Torah using anthropomorphic language to help us relate to Him. This could only be the spiritual realm of Olam Haba.
       If this is true, the question still remains: if Olam Haba really is one of the our most important beliefs, why did the Torah not tell us straight out that it exists? The Kli Yakar brings seven answers commentators have used to answer this question. We have discussed some of these answers in previous years, here are several more.
       The Ibn Ezra in Parshas Ha’azinu (Devarim 32:39) explains that while the Torah was given to each and every Jew, because of the depth of ideas behind Olam Haba, it can only be understood by one in every few thousand people. Similarly, explains the Ramban, all the ideas mentioned in Parshas Bechukosai seem to be simple acts of nature, however, when a person looks into these ideas with an open mind, it’s easy to see that they are nothing of the sort. For example, the Torah promises that if Bnei Yisrael keep to the Torah, they will have rain at very specific times (see Vayikra 26:4 Rashi). This is not a natural idea in the slightest. However, when a person reaches a certain spiritual level, their Neshama begins to have a certain effect on their physical surroundings. And a natural occurrence of rain can become a highly spiritual event. So the Torah doesn’t have to talk about Olam Haba since if your Neshama reaches that level it’s supposed to reach, it will become obvious to you through the increased spirituality surrounding your actions that there must be a world beyond this physical one.
       The Ran gives a different answer. In those days, and frankly nowadays as well, most people did not believe in Hashgacha Pratis, Divine Providence. Either they believed in predetermined destiny or that Hashem completely left this world after creation. So in this Parshah, Hashem wants to show that people who do good will be rewarded, or the opposite, in this world where everyone can see the results. If He left complete reward and punishment for Olam Haba, it would be impossible for anyone to guarantee that there actually is reward and punishment. Therefore, the Torah doesn’t even mention it.  
       Finally, the Ramban in Devarim (11:13) explains that when deciding on whether to reward or punish the world at large, Hashem looks at the actions of the world as a whole. In those cases, even wicked people receive the good with the righteous and the righteous receive the evil with the wicked. However, the reward of Olam Haba is based on an individual’s performance. Therefore, it has no direct reference in the Torah. However, it is referenced by other mitzvos such as honoring your parents, which are individual-based actions.

Chazak Chazak V’Nischazek!

Shabbat Shalom!




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Friday, May 17, 2019

Dvar Torah & Podcast for Parshas Behar

       Please be aware: Due to the eighth day of Pesach falling out on Shabbos, Eretz Yisrael and CHU"L will be one parsha off for the next several weeks. 
       
       Parshas Behar opens with the laws of Shmittah. The basic laws of Shmittah are that every seven years, in Eretz Yisrael, you are not allowed to plant or care for your fields; they are considered ownerless. The purpose of this is, among other things, to show us that everything we own really belongs to Hashem. It is only through His kindness that we have sustenance.
       In many ways, Shmittah is comparable to our weekly Shabbos, in fact the pasuk refers to it as “שַׁבָּ֖ת לַֽיהֹוָ֑ה”, a Shabbos for Hashem (Vayikra 25:4). However, there is a key difference between them. During our Shabbos, the Torah prohibits any sort of work. There are famously 39 categories of work which the Torah forbids on Shabbos, but there are numerous subcategories which also fall under the Torah prohibition of work. However, when it comes to Shmittah, the Torah prohibitions are few. In fact, it’s only what’s specifically mentioned in the text; i.e. planting in the field and vineyard, and harvesting their as well. The Gemarah (Moed Katan 3a) explains that while there are other prohibitions on Shmittah, they fall under the Rabbinical umbrella; only these four are Torah prohibitions. What is the difference between Shabbos and Shmittah that the Torah has such a discrepancy?  
       Rav Samson Rafael Hirsch explains that there is a key difference in the meaning behind Shabbos and Shmittah. On Shabbos, the idea is to acknowledge Hashem as the Creator and Ruler over all of Creation. We do this by not performing any and all creative acts. But it is not enough to prohibit just actual work, rather, any and all examples of creative energy must cease. Therefore, even the smallest details of work are prohibited by the Torah. When it comes to Shmittah, however, we are acknowledging Hashem’s rule over the land, specifically Eretz Yisrael. Ownership of a certain part of land is shown by the ability to plant and harvest as you please. Once these aspects are out of your control, it is clear you are not the owner, even if other labor aspects are still allowed.
Shabbat Shalom!

Click here for last year's Dvar Torah & Podcast for Parshas Behar


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Dvar Torah & Podcast for Parshas Emor


              Please be aware: Due to the eighth day of Pesach falling out on Shabbos, Eretz Yisrael and CHU"L will be one parsha off for the next several weeks. 



       In Parshas Emor, Hashem gives Moshe detailed explanations of all the Yomim Tovim we celebrate over the course of the year. From the Shalosh Regalim, to the Yomim Noraim, even the weekly Shabbos, they are all discussed in this week’s parsha. But these details were not meant to stay with Moshe, Hashem specifically tells him to give over this information to the Bnei Yisrael. While there are times where Hashem does not need to tell Moshe specifically to give over the information, it’s just implied that he should, when it comes to the holidays, Moshe had specific instructions to do so.
       A good example of material that is just implied to be given over is the first topic of discussion in the parsha, the special laws of the Kohanim. While every single Jew is given a certain holy status as a standard, the Kohanim have a higher general standard than the rest of the nation. Due to this, they have certain privileges and restrictions that don’t apply to everyone else. Hashem told these laws over to Moshe the same way He told him about the holidays, but only instructed him to tell it over to the Kohanim; we know these laws because they are written in the Torah, but Moshe was not obligated to tell them to the nation at large.
       This makes sense; if you are not a Kohen, there’s no reason for you to know the laws of the Kohanim, as opposed to the laws of the holidays which everyone needs to know. But how come the Kohen laws are out in the open for everyone to see? Some of them could potentially be embarrassing and quite private; so why wouldn’t they be kept private from the rest of the nation?
       The Ramban explains that it is precisely because of this potential embarrassment that these laws must be made public. Not only do the Kohanim have their own special holiness, as the stewards in the Beis Hamikdash, they hold the key to the holiness of the entire nation. It is up to the people as a whole to make sure this holiness does not suffer due to one person. Therefore, the Torah tells us the exact rules and regulations for the Kohanim so that the Beis Din can make sure everything stays kosher. Of course, we don’t expect anything to happen, but it is important to be prepared for this nonetheless.
Shabbat Shalom!




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Thursday, April 4, 2019

Dvar Torah & Podcast for Parshas Tazria


       This week, we read Parshas Tazria, the first of two parshiyos dealing with the halachos of tzara’as. While next week’s parsha deals with what to do once you have tzara’as, this week, we discuss how it comes about. While tzara’as is commonly translated as leprosy, it is not actually a physical disease. While it might share some of the same characteristics, unlike leprosy, tzara’as can effect more than the human body. In addition to appearing on your body, tzara’as can also appear on clothing and the wall of a house. According to some opinions, each type of tzara’as comes as a result of a different sin. But everyone agrees that it appears on your body as a result of speaking lashon hara.
       The three types of tzara’as correspond to the three layers of protection a person places over themselves. First, a person’s body protects itself. Next, we use clothing as protection from the environment. Lastly, your shelter protects you from greater dangers, and also provides comfort. The infection of tzara’as represents the removal of these coverings. As the tzara’as affects more and more of your personal space, more of you is revealed. It is for this reason that someone with tzara’as, when he is declared tamei, is obligated to leave his head bare (See Vayikra 13:45); in full symbolism of how his private actions have been laid bare before everyone.
       The Kli Yakar looks at the development of the tzara’as and says an idea from the medrash. The actual order of how a person is affected by tzara’as is it first appears on his house, then his clothing, and only afterwards, if he still doesn’t do teshuva, does it appear on his body. Having it appear on your body seems to be the most embarrassing or unsightly, and therefore, says the Kli Yakar, there’s no way that the merciful Hashem would give the worst punishment first. Rather, first it appears on his house. If he doesn’t do teshuva, it comes on his clothing, and if he still doesn’t repent, it appears on his body.
       If this is the proper order, how come the Torah presents the three levels in the opposite order, with the body coming first, then the clothing, and finally the house? The Kli Yakar explains that this is a show of the mercy of Hashem. When He warned Paroh about the upcoming makkos, Hashem warned him about Makkas Bechoros before even the makkah of Blood appeared. This was because Hashem first sends a warning with the worst possible punishment in order to motivate you to repent before any punishment begins. Then, He actually sends the easiest punishment in order not to harm you too badly. It is only if you don’t listen to the repeat warnings that He finally brings the worst punishment applicable; in our case, tzara’as on your body. The way that Hashem acted mercifully with Paroh, He did the same with the punishment of tzara’as.
Shabbat Shalom!


Click here for last year's Dvar Torah for Parshas Tazria


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