Thursday, March 29, 2012

Dvar Torah for Parshas Tzav

Parshas Tzav goes into the details of the different korbanos (sacrifices). Korbanos can be brought for a variety of reasons but the two main ones are as part of the process of forgiveness for a sin or to give thanks to Hashem. While the Torah goes into great detail about them and in general they are connected with some very exciting events, we learn a tremendous lesson about korbanos from this week’s Haftorah. “כי לא דברתי את אבותיכם ולא צויתים ביום הוציא [הוציאי] אותם מארץ מצרים על דברי עולה וזבח כי אם את הדבר הזה צויתי אותם לאמר שמעו בקולי והייתי לכם לאלהים ואתם תהיו לי לעם והלכתם בכל הדרך אשר אצוה אתכם למען ייטב לכם“For I did not speak with your forefathers nor did I command them- on the day I took them out of the land of Egypt- concerning an olah or any sacrifice. Rather, I commanded them regarding only this matter, saying: ‘Hear My voice that I may be a God unto you and you will be a people unto Me; and you shall follow along the entire path in which I command you, so that it will go well for you” (Yirmiyahu 7:22-23). The pasuk tells us that when we first became a nation, Hashem did not mention anything about the korbanos. This shows us that while the korbanos are a tremendous gift from Hashem, he would rather we keep all the mitzvos properly and not have to bring korbanos at all (or at least the ones that are not direct commandments)! This is something to keep in mind as we discuss this concept.

The Kli Yakar points out a few differences in the language of the different korbanos. The pasuk says by a Korban Shelamim, “וְזֹאת תּוֹרַת זֶבַח הַשְּׁלָמִים אֲשֶׁר יַקְרִיב לַי־הֹוָ־ה“This is the law of the sacrifice of the peace-offering that one will offer to Hashem” (Vayikra 7:11). The Shelamim is the only korban which has the phrase “that one will offer to Hashem” written by it. This is because, as we have explained, all the other korbanos are brought to atone for sins. The Shelamim, however, is brought to give thanks to Hashem. Therefore, it is more special to Hashem than the other ones. Similarly, in Pasuk 30, the pasuk writes, “יָדָיו תְּבִיאֶינָה“His hands shall bring [it]” (7:30). The pasuk is speaking about the Shelamim and says that “his hands” shall bring the korban, something which is not written by any other korban. This is because, to give an example, someone who is bringing a present to the king is more than happy to bring it himself while someone who is trying to gain forgiveness instead sends a messenger.

The Kli Yakar also gives a deeper insight into the korbanos. Five times in this parshah, by each one of the five types of korbanos, the phrase “זֹאת תּוֹרַת“This is the law [of]”, is used. He explains that each one of these phrases correspond to a different one of the five books of the Torah. Sefer Bereishis is compared to the Korban Olah which is completely burnt up on the Mizbe’ach. We learn this from the four times in Sefer Bereishis where we see someone bring an Olah, by Hevel, Noach, Avraham and Yaakov.

Sefer Shemos is compared to the Korban Mincha which is made out of flour, oil, and other spices. When the Mincha is later baked, it is made into Matzah. The laws of Matzah and leaven and unleavened bread are explained extensively in Sefer Shemos by the laws of Pesach, thus giving this korban a strong connection to Sefer Shemos. Sefer Vayikra is represented by the Korban Chatas, the sin-offering. This sefer comes right after the sin of the Golden Calf at the end of Sefer Shemos. And as we have already explained, the laws of the korbanos, which this sefer is about, were only given to us in order that we should be able to gain atonement for our sins (besides for the Shelamim).

Sefer Bamidbar corresponds to the Korban Asham, the guilt-offering. This is because even though the laws of an Asham are discussed here in Sefer Vayikra, there is one more section of the Torah that discusses it in Parshas Bamidbar, making that point the official end of the laws of Asham. And lastly, Sefer Devarim is comparable to the Korban Shelamim since the laws of Shelamim are discussed several times throughout the sefer.

The point of this is that one who engages in the study of any of the books of the Torah, it is as if they have brought that corresponding korban. What a tremendous opportunity! Even though we do not have the Beis Hamikdash or the Mizbe’ach nowadays, we still have the opportunity to be rewarded for the mitzvah korbanos. But as great as korbanos are, let us remember that it is even better to not need them at all. May we all be zoche to see the day when the Beis Hamikdash is rebuilt and all its services are restored.

Shabbat Shalom!

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Thursday, March 22, 2012

Dvar Torah for Parshas Vayikra/Hachodesh

This week’s parshah starts off, “וַיִּקְרָא אֶל מֹשֶׁה וַיְדַבֵּר יְ־הֹוָ־ה אֵלָיו מֵאֹהֶל מוֹעֵד לֵאמֹר“And He called to Moshe, and Hashem spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting, saying.”(Vayikra 1:1). If you take a look inside a Torah Scroll, you will notice that the א in the word “וַיִּקְרָא” is written smaller than the other letters. There are a number of explanations offered for this. One is that while Hashem wanted to write the word “וַיִּקְרָא“And He called” in the Torah, Moshe felt that this would be a very haughty thing for him to write about himself, that Hashem would call specifically for him. Instead, he wanted to write the word “ויקר”, which could be translated as “and it happened”, meaning that it was only happenstance that Moshe was the one who answered Hashem’s call. In the end, they compromised by writing a small א. The Medrash explains that Moshe put the extra ink from the א on his face which caused his face to shine brightly (See Shemos 34:29).

In Parshas Balak when Hashem appeared to Balaam, the non-Jewish prophet, the pasuk uses the word “ויקר”. Rashi explains that this means that Hashem appeared to Balaam in a transient and impure way. This is meant to show us that Balaam had no business receiving prophecy from Hashem. In fact, Chazal tell us that the only reason why Balaam became a prophet was in order that the nations of the world should not claim that they would have followed Hashem if they had had a prophet to guide them. This is very different from the word “וַיִּקְרָא” which Rashi explains is a language of affection and shows how much Hashem desired to speak specifically with the very righteous Moshe. Having explained on a midrashic level why the א is small in the last paragraph, on a pshat level, why would the א be written smaller knowing the bad connotations of the word “ויקר”?

The Kli Yakar explains that by writing the word “ויקר”, we actually want to compare Balaam’s prophecy to Moshe’s, but not in the way you might think. As we said earlier, Balaam did not deserve from his own merit to be a Navi, it was only in order to be able to refute the other nations’ claims that Hashem granted him nevuah. So Balaam exceeded his abilities by becoming a Navi. Moshe, on his own level, also exceeded his abilities in his own prophecy. The fact that Moshe could talk to Hashem face to face was not supposed to be attainable by anyone human, yet Moshe did so on many occasions. By making it appear as if the Torah wrote “ויקר”, we are connecting Moshe and Balaam and showing this common theme between them.

What was it that allowed these two men to go beyond their potential and allow them to reach higher levels than were possible for them? The answer to this question is also the same for both; it was purely because of the honor and the merit of Bnei Yisrael. Because of the high level that Bnei Yisrael reached in order to accept the Torah, Moshe was able to go up to the heavens and study it straight from the mouth of God. This is why once Bnei Yisrael sinned with the Golden Calf, Hashem tells him, “לך רד“Go, descend”(Shemos 32:7), which the gemarah explains means to descend from his high level. Later on, the pasuk tells us that Moshe regained that kedushah and spoke to Hashem face to face (See 33:11). Similarly with Balaam, the only reason he became a Navi was to refute the nations’ complaint that they could have kept the Torah as well as the Bnei Yisrael. Now that this has been refuted, it is a great honor and credit to us that we are able to serve Hashem properly, like no one else can.

With this idea, the Kli Yakar explains why Rashi felt the need to bring two explanations for the word “ויקר”, transience and impurity. After we have explained that the Torah is trying to show how much Moshe and Balaam gained because of Bnei Yisrael by using the word “ויקר”, why is there an א in the pasuk at all, big or small? Rashi explains that the concept of impurity obviously doesn’t apply to Moshe’s prophecy. However, his nevuah was still transient since it was really beyond what he was supposed to have had and could have been nothing more than “happenstance”. Therefore the א was still written, albeit small.

It is easy to look at this explanation and decide that it is an insult to Moshe Rabbeinu, that in reality he did not deserve to see Hashem and was just the lucky man who happened to be leading Bnei Yisrael at the time that they were at their highest level. God forbid! Moshe was the most-deserving person to be able to speak to Hashem face to face in all of history, the same way that Balaam was the most deserving non-Jew to be a prophet. (Balaam, however, misused his opportunity.) Instead, we should focus on how much Hashem loves and affords honor to us, the Jewish People. Deserving or not, it was only in our merit that Moshe was able to reach the heights that he did. For we are Bnei Yisrael, the chosen nation of Hashem. Let us learn to appreciate and understand what that means. Am Yisrael Chai!

Shabbat Shalom!

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Thursday, March 15, 2012

Dvar Torah for Parshas Vayakhel-Pekudei

This week we have a double parshah, Vayakhel- Pekudei, in which Moshe tells over to Bnei Yisrael all the details of the Mishkan which we have seen in previous parshiyos. We are introduced to Betzalel, Oholiav, and their entire team of artisans who were in charge of the construction. The pesukim also tell us that each and every member of the Jewish nation donated with full hearts to the Mishkan’s construction; all wanting to contribute to this very special building.

Parshas Vayakhel starts off, “וַיַּקְהֵל מֹשֶׁה אֶת כָּל עֲדַת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל“And Moshe assembled the entire assembly of the Bnei Yisrael…” (Shemos 35:1). Rashi explains that this gathering took place the day after Yom Kippur which was the day Moshe came down from Har Sinai for the second time. The Kli Yakar points out that according to Rashi, this is the same day that Yisro set up the court system after seeing Moshe sitting and judging the entire nation by himself (See Shemos 18:13-26). It seems that this was quite a busy day! Between Moshe judging the entire nation, Yisro setting up a new system of judges, Moshe telling over the details of the Mishkan to the nation, and the collection of the materials for the construction, there just does not seem to be enough time in the day for all these events to have taken place.

The Kli Yakar explains that the first thing Moshe wanted to do was tell over the mitzvah of the Mishkan, however, he was worried that someone might donate something which was involved in a dispute as to who it belonged. In order to avoid this, he sat and judged every case so that all monetary disputes would be settled and then anything could be donated to the Mishkan without any doubts as to its ownership. After he finished judging, he then told Bnei Yisrael to donate. The donations were given over several days. He proves this from the pasuk later on which says, “קְחוּ מֵאִתְּכֶם תְּרוּמָה לַי־הֹוָ־ה“Take from yourselves a portion for Hashem” (35:5), specifically from that which is yours.

The Kli Yakar also offers a deeper explanation of this pasuk. He explains that the word “וַיַּקְהֵל” does not refer to simply any gathering of people, but specifically a gathering of people who have joined together and want to be together with each other. In order for Bnei Yisrael to build the Mishkan together, they had to be a united group; therefore, Moshe gathered them together the day after Yom Kippur, which is the day on which we join together and become one people. At this time, it was very easy for Moshe to gather them together as the nation was still fully united after the Holiday.

However, the unifying effect of Yom Kippur does not extend to monetary disputes and without intervention Bnei Yisrael would soon fall out of this unified state. So Moshe spent that day judging everyone’s arguments in order that Bnei Yisrael would become united on all fronts. Once we were united as both brothers and businessmen, the construction of the Mishkan could really begin, for now the Mishkan would truly be a group endeavor.

(This is also why after this time we find several other places where Moshe gathers Bnei Yisrael using “וַיַּקְהֵל”. From this point on they were constantly in a state where this type of gathering was possible.)

The Kli Yakar concludes with a vort from the Zohar. After Moshe gathers the people but before he tells them to build the Mishkan, he tells over the halachah of not lighting a fire on Shabbos. The Zohar explains that this is in fact referring to the fire of Machlokes. We are more susceptible to arguing on Shabbos since we do not have any work do distract us, therefore the pasuk reminds us specifically to not argue on Shabbos. This is also true for us, Machlokes is so damaging, we must make sure that we are not burned by its’ fire. When we are united as one people, we can accomplish so much. We can even build the Mishkan, and in the future, the Beis Hamikdash, the building which houses the Shechinah of Hashem.

Shabbat Shalom!

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Friday, March 9, 2012

Dvar Torah for Purim 5772/2012

The holiday of Purim conjures up images of eating, drinking, bright, colorful costumes, and big baskets of Mishloach Manos. The tremendous simcha is felt clearly by each and every Jew. In contrast, when we think of the holiday of Yom Kippur, the first images that come up are somber ones. A day spent in prayer and fasting, everyone dressed in white, tears spilled as we beg and pray Hashem for forgiveness. This somber day seems worlds apart from the unbridled joy we experience on Purim. But in reality, nothing could be further from the truth.

The SHL”A brings from the Arizal that Yom Kippur and Purim are in fact more connected than you might think. Yom Kippur, which is known as יום הכיפורים in the Torah, can also be read as "יום כ-פורים", “the day that is similar to Purim”. This means that Purim is an even holier day than Yom Kippur, so much so that it is Yom Kippur that is compared to Purim and not the other way around! How can it be that Yom Kippur, the day where we lift ourselves to greater levels does not compare to the potential of Purim, a day known mostly for its physical joy and activities?

The answer lies in our own potential. On Yom Kippur, we attempt to compare ourselves to angels by cutting ourselves off from the physical. The reason why we fast, do not wear leather shoes and the other restrictions of Yom Kippur is in order to reach this level of spirituality. However, as humans, our true purpose is not to be exactly like angels. Unlike angels, we have physical traits and therefore we must use these traits in our service of Hashem. The fact that we are not on the high spiritual level of Malachim and instead wallow in our physical characteristics actually means that we have greater potential than Malachim to grow. Since Malachim are already purely spiritual, there is no way they can grow, however, we who are on a much lower level have the opportunity to grow and obtain higher levels of Kedushah. In fact, our “lower” level actually can propel us to higher places that even the Malachim can’t reach!

Purim is this day when we indulge ourselves in the physical and use to it propel us forward spiritually. All of the days mitzvos, Mishloach Manos, Matanos L’Evyonim, the seudah; they all promote achdus amongst Jews, the same way that angels have complete unity. This angelic unity is also what we try to imitate on Yom Kippur. The only difference is that on Purim we use these abilities which are special to us in order to achieve this level. Since our potential is greater, Purim becomes an even greater day than Yom Kippur!

The Shulchan Aruch says “חייב אינש לבסומי בפוריא עד דלא ידע בין ארור המן לברוך מרדכי“A person has an obligation to drink on Purim until he does not know the difference between ‘cursed be Haman’ and ‘blessed be Mordechai” (O.C. 635:2). This seems to indicate that the obligation of Purim is fulfilled by reaching a state of “non-understanding”; someone who cannot even remember the difference between one of our greatest heroes, Mordechai, and one of our greatest enemies, Haman, obviously is not in complete control of his faculties. Based on our knowledge of the Arizal that Purim is one of our greatest opportunities to grow, how does this make sense?

Rabbi Chaim Shmuelevitz in his sefer, Sichos Mussar, explains that this halacha teaches us an important lesson in Avodas Hashem. In Shmuel I, we learn the story of Shaul’s battle with Amalek. While Bnei Yisrael were victorious in battle, it proved extremely costly for Shaul. Shaul was given very specific orders from Shmuel HaNavi (through a nevuah from Hashem) that he should kill every man, women, child and animal of Amalek. The story is told that Shaul did not kill Agag, the King of Amalek, or all the animals, right away. Because of this, Shaul’s kingdom was stripped away from him and given to Dovid. Why was Shaul’s punishment so severe? People do Aveiros all the time, why was Shaul’s so much more terrible than any other?

The answer lies in Shaul’s thought process. The gemarah in Yoma (22b) tells us that before Shaul went into battle, he started to debate back and forth the value of killing every animal and every single little kid. Was all this really necessary? The animals could be used as Korbanos to Hashem and the children surely hadn’t done any Aveiros! The answer is that it was absolutely necessary simply because that was what Hashem had commanded. He had surely thought through every detail and had no need for Shaul to go back over his plan to see if he could find something wrong with it. This showed a strong lack of faith in Hashem.

To use a parable, let’s say your friend is the greatest business investor in the world and he comes to you with a new proposition. He then asks you to file it for him and take care of everything that needs to be done. After he leaves, you look over the plan and change it into what you think is a much smarter, much safer plan. When your friend finds out what you did, how do you think he will react! “Why didn’t you trust me? I’m the greatest investor in the world, I know what I’m doing! What do you know compared to me!” Similarly with us and Hashem; he has thought through all these plans already, we have no place making our own adjustments. This is the mark of a true עבד, servant, someone who explicitly trusts his master to make the right decisions, no matter how crazy they might seem.

This, explains the Sichos Mussar, is how we understand this halacha. On this special day of Purim, we have to realize that we aren’t business partners with God in this world, we are his servants, and to be a servant is to realize that my master is in complete control. When we drink, we realize that we don’t have control over what happens in the world allowing us to put ourselves completely in Hashem’s hands. We must reach this state of “עד דלא ידע” “until we don’t know”, in order to reach Purim’s ultimate potential, true service of Hashem.

Happy Purim and Shabbat Shalom!

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Thursday, March 1, 2012

Dvar Torah for Parshas Tetzaveh (Shabbos Zachor)

Because of preparations for next week’s Purim Dvar Torah, this week’s Dvar Torah is on the shorter side. We appreciate your understanding and look forward to providing you with great Divrei Torah every week!
After discussing the vessels and the structure of the Mishkan, the next step in its’ construction is the clothes of the Kohanim which are now discussed in this week’s parshah, Parshas Tetzaveh. As in Parshas Terumah, the pesukim go into great detail explaining the workings of the clothing including, the design, how they were made, and how everything fit together.
Every Kohen had a standard set of clothing containing four items: a turban, a pair of pants, a long shirt-like garment known as the Ktones, and a belt. The Kohen Gadol (High Priest) had an extra four pieces of clothing befitting his high position. They consisted of: the Me’il, a garment similar to today’s talis, the apron-like Ephod, the Choshen, breastplate, and the Tzitz, which was worn on his forehead.
The pasuk tells us that a special method of design called, “מַעֲשֵׂה חֹשֵׁב”, was used in the making of both the Choshen and the Ephod but not by any of the other articles of clothing. (This method is also mentioned by the coverings of the Mishkan structure in Parshas Terumah. See Shemos 26:1.) Rashi explains this method as, “אריגת שתי קירות שאין צורות שני עבריה דומות זו לזו“(this is) the weaving of two surfaces (i.e. two sides of the same cloth), so that the images of the two sides are not like each other” (Shemos 28:6). Basically, one piece of cloth was woven with two completely different pictures on either side of it! This was truly a work of a master craftsmanship.
The Kli Yakar explains the significance behind this design. There is a gemarah in Maseches Zevachim (88b) which explains that each of the eight articles of the Kohen Gadol’s clothing atoned for a different sin. The Choshen atoned for miscarriage of justice and the Ephod atoned for Avoda Zara. The six sins atoned for by the other pieces of clothing are murder, illicit relations, arrogance, thoughts of desire for things which are against the Torah, slander (לשון הרע), and insolence (chutzpah). The sins of Avoda Zara and the miscarriage of justice are different from the rest of these sins because even if you only transgressed these two with your thoughts, it is still considered as if you actually did a physical act. (The sin of desire is obviously one of thoughts and not actions, but I believe the difference is that it is never considered as if you did an actual physical act like by Avoda Zara.) If there is an Avoda Zara which is served by thinking about it, someone who does think about it, even though he never actually did anything physical, will be guilty of the sin of Avoda Zara. Similarly, the only compass a judge has with which to guide himself is his thought process. If he misjudges the case, he didn’t physically misjudge the case, it was merely his thoughts! Still, we consider you as having actively transgressed this sin.
The Kli Yakar uses a play on words here. He takes the words “מַעֲשֵׂה חֹשֵׁב” and connects them to the word “מחשבה”, “thoughts”. This special design used in the construction of the Mishkan is actually referring to the fact that these two pieces of clothing teach us that our thoughts can also be harmful.
Rashi brings this gemarah in Zevachim as well, however, the only item he references it to is the Choshen. In fact, Rashi references it twice, and while the first time he brings it as his first explanation, the second time he brings it at the end of his explanation and only in order to cover all his bases. What is different about the Choshen that Rashi felt the need to bring this gemarah here but not by any of the other ones?
Let’s look at the two times Rashi brings this gemarah. The first time is in Pasuk 15, “וְעָשִׂיתָ חֹשֶׁן מִשְׁפָּט מַעֲשֵׂה חֹשֵׁב כְּמַעֲשֵׂה אֵפֹד תַּעֲשֶׂנּוּ“You shall make the Choshen of Judgment the work of an artist, like the work of the Ephod shall you make it…” (28:15), and the second time is in Pasuk 30, “וְנָתַתָּ אֶל חֹשֶׁן הַמִּשְׁפָּט אֶת הָאוּרִים וְאֶת הַתֻּמִּים“Into the Choshen of Judgment shall you place the Urim and the Tumim…” (28:30). While the Choshen is referenced many times between Pasuk 15 and 30, these two pesukim are the only instances where it is referred to as “חֹשֶׁן מִשְׁפָּט”, the Choshen of Judgment. In every other instance it is referred to simply as the Choshen. It must be that the word “מִשְׁפָּט" is not part of the Choshen's title, rather, it is only used in order to describe it. So why would the pasuk refer to the Choshen in this manner? Rashi explains that in these two places the pasuk is referring back to the Gemarah in Zevachim. When the Choshen is called “מִשְׁפָּט”, the pasuk is teaching us that the Choshen will restore judgment by atoning for the breakdown of it. Since none of the other items have any sort of title which could reference back to their corresponding sin, Rashi feels no need to explain them from this gemarah, especially as it is not the simple explanation.
Shabbat Shalom!
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*NOTE: There is a third pasuk which refers to the Choshen as the חֹשֶׁן מִשְׁפָּט which I did not mention in the Dvar Torah. I had two explanations for this, either the Pasuk has no reference to the concept of justice or because it is right next to Pasuk 30, Rashi explains both pesukim at the same time.