Thursday, March 31, 2011

Dvar Torah for Parshas Tazria/ Hachodesh

      The week before Rosh Chodesh Nissan, we read the last of the four special parshahs, Parshas Hachodesh. In it is discussed the first mitzvah given to the B’nei Yisrael as a nation, the mitzvah of Rosh Chodesh, Sanctifying the New Moon. This mitzvah is followed in the parshah by the mitzvah of Korban Pesach (Passover lamb offering) and other laws of Pesach.
      It makes sense logically that Hashem would give the mitzvah of Rosh Chodesh together with the laws of Pesach since sanctifying the moon would determine what day the holidays would begin. When Bais Din (Jewish Court) would determine based on the testimony of two witnesses that it was Rosh Chodesh, they would declare that day the first of the month and start counting the days of the month from there, therefore determining the starting day for Pesach and the other holidays. However, perhaps we can find a deeper connection between the mitzvah of Rosh Chodesh and Korban Pesach. 
      Chazal tell us that in ancient times, the god of Egypt was the sheep. It is for this reason Yosef tells his brothers in Parshas Vayigash that the Egyptians hated all shepherds, for someone to lead their god and not have the god lead itself was the highest form of degradation. Furthermore, the constellation for the month of Nissan, the current month during our Parshah’s events, is Aries, the lamb. Hashem specifically commanded the Jewish People to slaughter a lamb as the Pesach offering in order to show that he was ruler of all the land including up in the sky by the constellations and down on the ground with the sheep. Additionally, Aries is the “first-born” of the constellations as it comes first in line, Hashem wanted to destroy not only the first-born of the Egyptians down on the ground but also the first-born of the sky.
      Hashem commanded the Jews to designate the lamb that they were going to use for the Korban Pesach on the Tenth of Nissan, five days before they actually sacrificed it. One of the reasons Hashem had them separate it so early was to show that even early in the month, when the constellation is still “powerful”, Hashem is still more powerful than it.
      It is for these reasons, says the Kli Yakar, that Hashem gave us the mitzvah of Rosh Chodesh right before the mitzvah of Korban Pesach. By knowing the exact date and how far into the Month of the Lamb we were, Hashem’s authority was shown that much more to everyone. So when we read Parshas Hachodesh this week and say Hallel on Rosh Chodesh next week (and in a few weeks when we celebrate Pesach), realize that this is not any old parshah and this month is not any old month, when we celebrate the sanctification of this month, we are celebrating the complete rule and authority Hashem has over the world. May we merit that this month, this realization will be spread throughout the entire world with the coming of mashiach. And may the pasuk “ביום ההוא יהיה ה אחד ושמו אחד” “On that day, Hashem will be one and his name will be one”, be fulfilled.
Shabbat Shalom!

Friday, March 25, 2011

No Dvar Torah This Week

Due to the short week caused by Purim, there will be no Dvar Torah this week, Parshas Shmini. We will return b'ezrat hashem next week.

Shabbat Shalom!


Thursday, March 17, 2011

Dvar Torah for Purim- Shabbos Zachor

There are many different ideas to be learned from the story of Purim. What better proof is there that Hashem protects us in any and every situation? Or a more specific example, the hidden miracles that are done for us each day. There are many other ideas and themes which are seen in the megillah, but all of these examples have to do with what we see written clearly in the story. The point of every story in Tanach is for us to take something from it that makes us better people that might not be so obvious. Let’s explore Purim to find this lesson.
There are four mitzvos which we do on Purim: reading the megillah, mishloach manos (food gifts to friends), matanos l’evyonim (gifts to the poor), and seudas Purim (festive meal). All of these mitzvos have one thing in common, they all promote achdus, unity. It is obvious how the last three promote achdus, the megillah also falls into this category because there is an extra mitzvah to read the megillah with a large crowd. It seems strange that this would be the theme of Purim as for all intents and purposes it seems that the Jews in Shushan were united? What is it about Purim that the Chachamim decided to make it a day promoting unity?
Two weeks ago, we read Parshas Shekalim, which talks about B’nei Yisrael each paying a silver half-shekel to help pay for certain parts of the Mishkan’s construction. (This practice was continued in the time of the Beis Hamikdash with the money going to pay for the public korbanos.) There was plenty of money donated for the Mishkan, why did Hashem require B’nei Yisrael to pay an extra half-shekel? The answer is so that everyone could say they had an equal share in the building of the Mishkan. When Haman went to Achashverosh to ask him for permission to kill the Jews, he offered him a bribe of 10,000 silver coins. The midrash asks how come that specific amount and how come the coins were silver and not gold, the more precious metal? The answer is that Haman calculated that the amount of half-shekels that the B’nei Yisrael in the desert would have given in their lifetimes combined would equal 10,000. Haman recognized this power that the giving of the Machatzis Ha-shekel had to bring B’nei Yisrael together. In order to counteract the power of the Jewish unity, Haman promised the same amount of money and in the same currency, as the Jewish donations to Hashem.
Another example is from that same conversation between Haman and Achashverosh. It’s based on how Haman describes the Jews. Before he actually names which nation he wants to kill out, Haman says to Achashverosh, “יֶשְׁנוֹ עַם-אֶחָד מְפֻזָּר וּמְפֹרָד בֵּין הָעַמִּים” “There is a nation which is separate and spread out amongst the other nations…” (Esther 3:8). The midrash explains that Haman didn’t mean that they were physically spread out, rather that they remain separate from the rest of the nations as a group. The specific example the midrash brings is that Jewish stores were closed on Jewish holidays but remained open on Non-Jewish holidays. Is there a more obvious separation than that!
From our own enemy, we learn a very important lesson. We are different than all the other nations and we always will be. We are lucky to be the Chosen Nation and we must embrace this status in all aspects of our life. If our most hated enemy can recognize this power, how much we must take advantage of it! This holiday of Purim, let us all work on our achdus in order that we can continue to serve Hashem in the best way possible, as a group.       

Shabbat Shalom and Purim Sameach!


Thursday, March 10, 2011

Dvar Torah for Parshas Vayikra

      Sefer Vayikra is also known as Toras Kohanim, the Torah of the Kohanim. This is because the entire sefer deals primarily with the laws of korbanos (sacrifices), which are brought by the Kohanim, and the laws of Kohanim, i.e. how they must act, live, what benefits they receive. This week’s parshah deals with the laws of korbanos.
      The pasuk says, “וְכָל קָרְבַּן מִנְחָתְךָ בַּמֶּלַח תִּמְלָח וְלֹא תַשְׁבִּית מֶלַח בְּרִית אֱלֹהֶיךָ מֵעַל מִנְחָתֶךָ עַל כָּל קָרְבָּנְךָ תַּקְרִיב מֶלַח” “You shall salt your every meal-offering with salt; you may not discontinue the salt of your God’s covenant from upon your meal-offering, on all your offerings shall you offer salt.”(2:13) There is a mitzvah that every korban must be brought with salt. What is the purpose of this mitzvah? Why is it so important to have salt on every korban, so much so that if salt is not used, the bringer of the korban is over an aveirah?
      Rabbeinu Bachaya explains this mitzvah on three different levels. First, on the pshat (simple explanation) level he gives two reasons. The first is that we learn how to treat a korban, which is Hashem’s “food”, from how we treat a human king’s food. The same way you wouldn’t serve a human king his food without salt, so too a korban should not be brought without salt out of respect for Hashem. The second reason he learns out from the Rambam in Moreh Nevuchim (Guide to the Perplexed) who explains that a sacrifice for Avodah Zarah was never brought with salt since they wanted the sacrifice to be as bloody as possible and salt would soak up the blood. In order to stay as far away from Avodah Zarah as possible, we put salt on our korbanos.
      He next explains it on a midrashic level. He brings a series of midrashim which describe the scene at the time of creation. At first there was just water over everything, then Hashem created the horizon which separated the waters form each other with some becoming the sky above the horizon and some staying below as the ocean. The ocean began to cry to Hashem that it was no longer close to his shechinah. (Maybe this is why the ocean is salty!) Because of its pain, hugh tsunamis started to form around the world with water shooting up to the heavens. In order to appease the ocean, Hashem promised it three things: 1. The sky would not be allowed to say shirah to Hashem every day until the ocean gave it permission. 2. Every Succos there was a special ceremony as part of the prayer for rain where water would be poured in the Beis Hamikdash. 3. Salt, which comes from the ocean, would be put on every single korban brought for Hashem. The ocean then came back and said, “Hashem, a third of the world is desert, which merited having the Torah given in it. A third of the world is civilized land, on which the Beis Hamikdash was built. A third of the world is water, what do we get?” Because of this complaint, Hashem promised the ocean that salt would be brought on every korban.
      The third way the Rabbeinu Bachaya explains this idea is on a kabbalistic level. Salt is formed by the sun heating up water until the water is completely evaporated and only the salt from the water is left. Ironically, it is these two elements of water and fire which normally cannot function in the same environment which form the chemical compound of salt. So too was the creation of the world. Hashem first wanted to create the world using only the מדת הדין, the middah of judgment. Once he saw that the world could not survive like that, he included in the creation מדת הרחמים, the middah of mercy in order to balance it out. The same irony by salt is repeated here. How is it possible for judgment and mercy to co-exist, they are by definition opposites! The lesson we learn from salt is that just how the conflicting ingredients in salt give it the power to both maintain and destroy the world, so too the way the world was created. Salt maintains the world as it can be used as a preservative and it destroys since it sucks the nutrients out of the soil rendering it unfit for planting. So too if the world was run only on judgment could be both good and bad and the same thing if the world was run only on mercy. This is why salt is referred to in the pasuk as “מֶלַח בְּרִית אֱלֹהֶיךָ” “the salt of your God’s covenant”, salt symbolizes the foundation of the creation of the world. And that is why it is brought along with every korban.

Shabbat Shalom!


Thursday, March 3, 2011

Dvar Torah for Parshas Pekudei- Shekalim

I am a little unsure as to what the true meaning of this midrash is. Anyone who has any explanation, please comment below or email me and let me know what you think.
Parshas Pekudei continues where Parshas Vayakhel left off in describing the construction and assembling of the Mishkan. As we mentioned last week, these two parshiyos are almost exact copies of Parshiyos Terumah and Tetzaveh with Pekudei being similar to Tetzaveh which deals with the Kohanim’s clothing. With this week’s parshah, we complete the story of the Mishkan and the Book of Shemos.
“אֵלֶּה פְקוּדֵי הַמִּשְׁכָּן מִשְׁכַּן הָעֵדֻת אֲשֶׁר פֻּקַּד עַל פִּי מֹשֶׁה” “These are the accountings of the Mishkan, which were counted at the word of Moses…” (38:21). The parshah starts off with a tally of all the materials used in the building of the Mishkan. This seems to be a very strange place to bring this information as the Mishkan is not finished yet; we still need to make the Kohanim’s clothing! Why does the Torah interrupt our story now to tell us this as opposed to when everything is finished?
In order to answer this question, the Kli Yakar brings two midrashim. The first midrash states that the place of Beis Hamikdash (or the Mishkan) down here in this world, is lined up directly with the Beis Hamikdash in heaven. This cannot mean that they were physically lined up because the Mishkan moved with the Bnei Yisrael in the desert, never staying in the same place permanently. Rather, there was also a Mishkan (and a Beis Hamikdash) in heaven built exactly like the one down here was supposed to be built. When Moshe went up to Har Sinai, Hashem showed him based on the Mishkan up there how the Mishkan down here was supposed to look. However, there are no Kohanim serving in the Mishkan in heaven and therefore no need for the Kohanim’s clothing. So Hashem could not show Moshe exactly how the Kohanim’s clothing were supposed to look, Moshe had to figure it out himself based on Hashem’s description.
He brings a proof to this from the fact that it says several times in Parshas Terumah, which deals exclusively with the Mishkan building, “כְּכֹל אֲשֶׁר אֲנִי מַרְאֶה אוֹתְךָ” “According to all that I show you…” (25:9), or some variation of that sentence. Additionally, in Parshas Vayakhel, it mentions how Moshe built the Mishkan exactly how Hashem showed him on the mountain. In Parshiyos Tetzaveh and Pekudei, however, this idea is not mentioned at all, to show you that Hashem did not show Moshe any form of the Kohanim’s clothing when he was on Har Sinai. This is why there is a break between the structure of the Mishkan and the Kohanim’s clothing, they are not considered part of the actual Mishkan (even though they are integral to the Mishkan’s purpose), only what was shown to Moshe in heaven is considered part of the actual Mishkan.
Another way of answering using this idea is that since Moshe did not know exactly what the Bigdei Kehunah (Kohanim’s clothing) were supposed to look like, he had to be extra careful with making them. The Torah testifies that he did make them exactly how they were supposed to since it says several times in this week’s parshah that they were made “כַּאֲשֶׁר צִוָּה יְ־הֹוָ־ה אֶת מֹשֶׁה” “as Hashem commanded Moshe.” (See 39:5 for example.) The reason the counting of materials is placed right before the making of the Bigdei Kehunah is to show that just like Moshe was exact in the building of the Mishkan, which he knew exactly how it was supposed to look and therefore knew how much material had to be used, he was also exact in the making of the Bigdei Kehunah.
The second midrash is based on the pasuk “אֵלֶּה פְקוּדֵי הַמִּשְׁכָּן מִשְׁכַּן הָעֵדֻת” “These are the accountings of the Mishkan, the Mishkan of the Testimony” (38:21). How come it has to say the word “מִשְׁכַּן” twice? The midrash explains that this word is the same as “משכון”, collateral. The two Batei Mikdash (Holy Temples) were collateral for the Bnei Yisrael. If the nation would sin, the buildings would be destroyed instead of the people. This applied to the Mishkan as well specifically for the sin of the Golden Calf. Since Hashem forgave the Jewish people for the Golden Calf, they merited to have to Mishkan built. But this concept did not apply to the Kohanim’s clothing, the punishment would be taken out on the stones and wood of the Mishkan (and the Beis Hamikdash), but the cloth and gold of the Bigdei Kehunah would be spared. Therefore, the reason the tally of Mishkan materials was placed in between is because different conditions applied to the Mishkan as a building and the Kohanim’s clothing.
We should all strive to be as careful in our Avodas Hashem as Moshe was in the making of the Kohanim’s clothing. Just like he was exact in following Hashem’s word, so should we be in our own avodah. With that zchus (merit) we should all see the Beis Hamikdash rebuilt speedily in our times.
Shabbat Shalom!