Thursday, February 14, 2019

Dvar Torah & Podcast for Parshas Tetzaveh


       The parshiyos dealing with the construction of the Mishkan are designed pretty simply. The structure and utensils of the Mishkan are discussed in Parshas Terumah, and the clothing of the Kohanim is discussed in this week’s parsha, Parshas Tetzaveh. However, there is one utensil which is only discussed this week, the Mizbe’ach HaZahav, the Golden Alter. In previous years we have discussed why the Torah only mentions it here. But as we discussed last week, this year I would like to focus on the significance of the extreme detail the Torah gives about the construction of the Mishkan. After all, we have no real need to know the exact specifications of everything; so if the Torah mentions it, it must be important.
       The Kli Yakar examines the specifications of the Mizbe’ach and finds a deeper meaning behind them. The function of the Copper Mizbe’ach, which was discussed in last week’s parsha, was for Bnei Yisrael to bring their sacrifices upon it. One of the basic purposes of korbanos was to serve as a kapparah, as an opportunity to gain Hashem’s forgiveness for any sins. The Golden Mizbe’ach in this week’s parsha had a different purpose. It was used only for the Ketores, the Incense Offering brought twice daily. However, the Kli Yakar explains that they were actually more similar than you originally thought.
       The korbanos brought on the Copper Mizbe’ach were almost always animals. (There was a Korban Mincha made of flour, but for the most part korbanos were animals.) Therefore, the atonement received for those sacrifices was only for your physical self. Any part your physical attributes played in the sin is atoned for by a korban on this Mizbe’ach. The dimensions of the Mizbe’ach reflect this as well. It was three amos tall, the tallest of any utensil in the Mishkan. This corresponded to man, the only upright-walking, and as such the tallest, being on Earth.
       But what about the soul? It wasn’t just the physical-self that needed atonement, the spiritual-self needed forgiveness as well. That’s where the Golden Mizbe’ach came in. As it is not physical, the soul needs a non-physical representative to gain atonement. The Ketores was exactly that. The intoxicating smell of the incense, along with the strong smoke that wafted towards the heavens, brought about the forgiveness for the souls of those Jews who had sinned.
       The Ketores was brought in the morning to represent the return of the soul from God to the body, and in the evening as we return our soul to God for safekeeping. The dimensions of this Mizbe’ach were significant as well. The length and width were one amah each, recognizing the comparison of Hashem, unique in His existence, to the soul, unique in its existence. However, the height of the Mizbe’ach was two amos, corresponding to the soul’s ability to reach above its earthly confines, and make its way to the heavenly abode of Hashem Himself.
       Once again, we see the tremendous depth that went into the construction of the Mishkan. Recognizing this depth allows us to know that nothing is for nothing; that all things from Hashem have significance. And that it is possible for us to learn a great amount from even the smallest details.
Shabbat Shalom!


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


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Friday, February 8, 2019

Dvar Torah & Podcast for Parshas Terumah


       This week we begin a series of parshiyos detailing the design and construction of the Mishkan. It’s interesting that the Torah goes into such intricate detail on the Mishkan. After all, it’s not a mitzvah for generations, this was a one-time deal. Why do we need to know exactly what materials were used? Why do we need to know the exact design of each utensil? For the most part, we can’t figure out exactly what they looked like anyway. Why do we need to know exactly how everything fit together? We would never see it anyway. Its one thing for those at the time to know all these things, but for us nowadays, why would the Torah include all this?
       It must be that these details are important. In the past two parshiyos, we heard the Aseres Hadibros, i.e. we met Hashem and committed ourselves to becoming His Chosen Nation; and last week we learned the structure of law vital to a developing society. If we accept that the details of the Mishkan are important for us to know, it follows that they are also important for the development of a nation. What they are exactly is for us to discover. This week’s Dvar Torah focuses on one such idea.
       Surrounding the actual Mishkan structure was a walled-in courtyard. The columns for this wall were made of, “עֲצֵ֥י שִׁטִּ֖ים עֹֽמְדִֽים“Acacia wood, upright” (Shemos 26:15). Rashi quotes a midrash that tells an interesting story behind these trees. Yaakov Avinu planted these trees when he came down to Mitzrayim for the sole purpose that Bnei Yisrael should take them for the Mishkan when they left. The midrash continues with an even earlier origin story. Avraham Avinu had planted them near his home in Be’er Sheva. Before Yaakov went down to Mitzrayim, he visited those trees and took them with him and replanted them there, in order that they should be used for the Mishkan.
       The obvious question on this story is “why”? Why did Yaakov need these specific trees from Avraham? Why couldn’t the Bnei Yisrael plant trees on their own? Why couldn’t they take trees that were grown by the Egyptians?
       Rabbi Yaakov Kaminetzky gives two answers to these questions. The first is that Yaakov planted the trees for psychological affect. Hashem promised Yaakov that He would bring his children out of Mitzrayim, and Yaakov believed that promise would be fulfilled. And while he told his children about it, he wanted to give them a constant sign that they should be prepared to leave Egypt when the time came. The sign was these trees. If Bnei Yisrael ever doubted or forgot about how they would leave Mitzrayim, they could look at these trees and remember the directive of Yaakov; that these trees had a special purpose for Bnei Yisrael after they left Mitzrayim, that they would become the chosen nation and would have a need for these trees.
       The second answer goes into the fabric of what the Mishkan was all about. The first answer we gave didn’t answer the question why Yaakov had to take Avraham’s trees to Mitzrayim. Why couldn’t he plant his own when he got down there?
       The Mishkan was meant to be the place where Hashem could rest His presence on this Earth. As such, it was only proper that its materials be from the most precious materials; but not just in quality and rarity, also in intention. Avraham planted those trees by his inn in Be’er Sheva; from the moment they were planted, they were intended to be a source of kindness to all. Their origin was one in which they were used exclusively to follow the ways of Hashem. Therefore, Yaakov felt he needed those trees. The only wood fit for the Mishkan was wood planted with the express purpose of increasing the glory of Hashem in this world, and their final mission would be to house that glory.
       This is just one example of the tremendous depth behind the construction of the Mishkan. As we go through the next few parshiyos and continue with the details of the design and construction, I would encourage you all to see for yourselves if you can uncover some of the lessons and ideas behind this awesome building.
Shabbat Shalom!


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


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Friday, February 1, 2019

Dvar Torah & Podcast for Parshas Mishpatim


       After the giving of the Torah to Bnei Yisrael, Parshas Mishpatim begins the more practical aspects of learning a new system of life and laws. But in fact, hidden among the everyday laws of business, property damage, and personal injury, one of the most famous phrases in Jewish history is uttered. “וַיִּקַּח֙ סֵ֣פֶר הַבְּרִ֔ית וַיִּקְרָ֖א בְּאָזְנֵ֣י הָעָ֑ם וַיֹּ֣אמְר֔וּ כֹּ֛ל אֲשֶׁר־דִּבֶּ֥ר יְהֹוָ֖ה נַֽעֲשֶׂ֥ה וְנִשְׁמָֽעAnd he (Moshe) took the book of the covenant and read it within the hearing of the people, and they said, ‘All that Hashem spoke we will do and we will hear (Shemos 24:7).
       Believe it or not, the well-known phrase most commonly associated with Matan Torah actually only appears a full parsha later. This leads to the obvious question: why did it take Bnei Yisrael so long to say this? They needed to hear the laws of Mishpatim in order to have this reaction? Furthermore, it’s not as if this was their first opportunity; twice previously, in 19:8 (before Matan Torah) and 24:3, the Bnei Yisrael said “we will do”, without saying “we will hear.” So what was different about this time?
       We’ve discussed this question in previous years, but this year, I’d like to focus on the answer of Rabbi Yaakov Kaminetzky. At Har Sinai during the giving of the Torah, the pesukim explain the amazing sites the nation witnessed. Fire, thick clouds of smoke, terrifying shofar blasts, thunder and lightning, it all made for an awesome display. The main feature of these sights may have been the sound; these elements made for a tremendous sound which overloaded the senses and had an overwhelming effect on the people present. However, Chazal explain that each person actually was only able to hear what they were capable of handling.
       Based on this midrash, Reb Yaakov explains simply that the previous two times the Bnei Yisrael exclaimed “נַֽעֲשֶׂ֥ה”, it was declared by parts of the nation who could not fully hear what had gone on at Har Sinai. But this time, the pasuk describes the Torah as being read “בְּאָזְנֵ֣י הָעָ֑ם”, directly into the ears of the people. This group included the Jews who could hear all that went on at Matan Torah, which was actually the vast majority of the nation. Therefore, at this time, the Nation was ready and able to declare, “נַֽעֲשֶׂ֥ה וְנִשְׁמָֽע!” They could now acknowledge the full force of Hashem’s power on display at Har Sinai, proudly accept the Torah, and promise to keep it to its full capacity.

Shabbat Shalom!


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



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

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