Monday, May 28, 2012

Writers Wanted!

For the next few weeks, it is going to be a little tough for me to write up a Dvar Torah (though I will try my best  to come through). So I figured I would enlist my reader's help with this. If anyone is interested in writing a Dvar Torah for one of the following Parshiyos: Nasso, Behaloscha, Shelach, please let me know by emailing Please let me know soon!


Thursday, May 24, 2012

Dvar Torah for Parshas Bamidbar

       The main idea in Parshas Bamidbar is the census done by Hashem of the Bnei Yisrael. Rashi explains that since Hashem loves us so much, he is constantly counting the nation throughout the Torah, the same way someone constantly keeps track of his favorite possessions. The Torah gives an extensive list of the amount of people in each tribe, their leaders, and how they camped. The fact that so many of these pesukim are written when they are not completely necessary is one proof to Rashi’s statement.
       After the counting, the final total of men above the age of twenty was 603,550. With twelve tribes being counted, the average tribe comes out to roughly 50,000 men a tribe. However, one tribe is missing, the tribe of Levi. Rashi (Bamidbar 1:49) gives two reasons for this. First off, Shevet Levi is referred to as “לגיון של מלך”, the legion of the King; they were the tribe in charge of the services in the Mishkan and the Beis Hamikdash and as such, they deserved to be counted separately. Secondly, later on in Parshas Shelach, there is a decree put out on all twenty- year olds and above who had been part of this counting here, that they would die in the desert without entering Eretz Yisrael. This decree was a result of the sins of both the Golden Calf and the Spies. Since Shevet Levi had nothing to do with the Golden Calf and less to do with the sin of the Spies, Hashem wanted to protect them from that decree and did not include them in this counting.
       As we said earlier, the average tribe numbered roughly 50,000 men ages twenty and up. When we look at the numbers for Shevet Levi however, something seems very off. The final number for Shevet Levi is a mere 22,273 men! And not only that, Shevet Levi was counted from the age of only one month and up, meaning they have twenty years more worth of people to include in the counting and they still don’t reach even half of the average amount! What happened to Shevet Levi?
       The Ramban answers this question with a very famous idea. During the slavery in Mitzrayim, the Egyptians tried to control the Bnei Yisrael’s population by working them extra hard. However, Hashem made a miracle that the Jewish women gave birth to six babies at a time. This resulted in a population explosion, exactly the opposite of what the Egyptians intended. Shevet Levi however, was not included in this miracle since they were not enslaved. Therefore, says the Ramban, they grew at a normal rate and were not nearly as big as the other tribes.
       The Ohr HaChaim asks on this answer that the midrash says that before Yaakov died, the Bnei Yisrael’s population had already reached 600,000 men, which was the same number as when they left Mitzrayim. However, we know that the slavery didn’t start till after Yaakov died. So the population explosion couldn’t have happened as a result of the slavery, it occurred before it even started! There are two answers given to this question. The first one is, the Ohr HaChaim himself answers, that the miracle was that the Bnei Yisrael grew at the same rate they had before despite the hard slavery now. The second answer is that while Bnei Yisrael left with 600,000 men, the Midrash teaches us that four-fifths of Bnei Yisrael died during the Makkah of Choshech (Darkness). So the population did grow during the slavery, but the effects of it were wiped out before they actually left Mitzrayim.      
       Regardless, the Ohr HaChaim brings another answer to this question. (This answer is also found in the Kli Yakar.) In Parshas Shemos, the pasuk makes specific mention that Moshe’s father, Amram, returned to his wife, Yocheved, after they had been separated. The reason for their separation was the decree of Paroh that all Jewish boys born from that time on would be thrown into the Nile River. The Gemarah in Sotah (12a) explains that the reason the pasuk has to specifically mention that Amram returned to his wife was because the entire Shevet Levi had separated from their wives as a result of this decree. The answer now is obvious, because the entire Shevet separated from their wives for a significant period of time, of course they were smaller than everyone else! In fact, the Ohr HaChaim says that it was a miracle they stayed as big as they were!
       At this point, you might ask that while the fear of having your son thrown in the river was a very serious one, wasn’t this an extreme measure that the entire Shevet should separate from their wives? In fact, Miriam convinced Amram to return to Yocheved by using this very logic! The Ohr HaChaim explains that as a result of the slavery, Bnei Yisrael lost a little bit of their common sense and did not think about what would happen to their kids after they were born. If they were thrown into the river, if they had to be abandoned in the fields, it did not really affect them. However, Shevet Levi was not involved in the slavery and were also known as very distinguished people and therefore could not bring themselves to have children when there was a strong possibility of their dying. Therefore, they all separated from their wives.
        This last point was very interesting to me. The pasuk in Parshas Vezos Habracha says about Shevet Levi, “הָאֹמֵר לְאָבִיו וּלְאִמּוֹ לֹא רְאִיתִיו וְאֶת אֶחָיו לֹא הִכִּיר וְאֶת [בנו] בָּנָיו לֹא יָדָע“(He) who said of his father and his mother, ‘I do not see him’; neither did he recognize his brothers, nor did he know his children” (Devarim 33:9). This is referring to after the Golden Calf, which Shevet Levi did not participate in, when Shevet Levi was told to kill all those deserving of death from the sin. They did not hesitate, and whether the person was a stranger, a friend, or even a relative, the word of Hashem reigned supreme above all. They went out and killed every single one of them. This same seemingly vicious and fierce tribe could so much not bear the thought of there even being a possibility of their children being killed, that they separated from their wives, removing the possibility of all children, not just boys. This clearly shows that everything Shevet Levi did, whether it was to be hard and fierce or soft and kind, was purely in service to Hashem. Small wonder they are called “לגיון של מלך”, the legion of the King.

Shabbat Shalom! 

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Thursday, May 17, 2012

Dvar Torah for Parshas Bechukosai

Due to the eighth day of Pesach falling out on Shabbos, Eretz Yisrael and Chutz La'aretz have been one Parsha off for the past few weeks. Since i am in Eretz Yisrael, I have been following the calender here. Last week we read Parshas Behar, the Dvar Torah can be found here. With Chutz La'aretz laining a double Parsha this week, we will once again be synchronized.

       One of the central beliefs in Judaism is the belief in Olam Haba, the World To Come. This is the belief that after we pass away from this world, there is another spiritual realm where our souls reside for eternity. It is there where we will receive our spiritual reward for our actions done in this world.  (This is a very short explanation to a very deep subject but this is not the time or place.) While learning about this, the common question that comes up is where is Olam Haba mentioned in the Torah?
       Out of the numerous sources, 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 that the Torah is using anthropomorphism to help us relate to God). This must be in the spiritual realm of Olam Haba. (To understand how Rashi knew that the pasuk was speaking literally and not using anthropomorphism, see the explanation of the Tzeida Laderech, a commentator on Rashi,.)
       After this first question is answered, the immediate follow up question is that while all this is fine, we still needed Rashi to explain to us that the pasuk is indeed talking about Olam Haba. Why did the Torah not tell us straight out that Olam Haba exists and how it works? The Kli Yakar brings seven different ways that different commentators have used throughout history to answer this question. We won’t bring all seven, but let us see a few of them. (For those who are interested, I highly recommend reading through all seven answers. I am positive you will find them very interesting.)
       Parshas Bechukosai starts off with Hashem telling us all the good that will be done if we keep the Torah and Mitzvos. We will have plenty of rain, food, as well as peace amongst ourselves and our enemies, in addition to this promise of Olam Haba. The Rambam explains that the Torah is telling us that if we serve Hashem, He will remove any and all obstacles in our path. However, the ultimate reward which will be given in Olam Haba is not mentioned here in order to make sure that we continue to serve Hashem completely just for the sake of serving Him, without any worries of reward or punishment.
       A second answer is brought from the Ran and is found in the Sefer HaKuzari as well. One of the greatest gifts that Hashem gave us was the ability to have a Mishkan and a Beis Hamikdash where Hashem would rest his Shechinah in this world, giving us a connection to Hashem in the physical world. This idea is mentioned several times throughout the Torah. Says the Ran, if the Shechinah can connect to Bnei Yisrael in the physical world, all the more so after our spiritual selves separate from our bodies by death, they will be able to connect to Hashem. However, this is only when the Mishkan or Beis Hamikdash is standing which can only happen when we keep the Torah and Mitzvos. So really there is no need to mention Olam Haba in this context since for anyone who thinks hard about it, it is obvious.          
       A third answer comes from the Ibn Ezra in Parshas Haazinu. He explains there that the Torah was given to each and every Jew without exception. However, the concept of Olam Haba was only given to a select few because since the ideas are so deep, not everyone can understand them. The Kli Yakar explains this as follows, the concept of the spiritual rewards that are waiting for us in Olam Haba is very hard for a physical Human Being to understand, and therefore, only the smartest, most spiritual people were told these ideas.
       From this explanation, we see an amazing idea. The concept of Olam Haba was only given to a few people who were on a high enough spiritual level that they could relate to the spiritual ideas while still in this physical world. It was up to these people to study these ideas and relate over to us that which they could explain on our level. But not everyone has a fair share in the understanding of Olam Haba (at least in this world). However, the Ibn Ezra says that the entire nation received the Torah. Not just a select few, everyone! This means that the entire Torah, without any exceptions, can be explored and understood by every single Jew. There are no parts of the Torah where we can claim that they cannot be understood or applied to our lives. Everything is relevant.
       Everything we do in this world is in preparation for the World To Come. The way we are supposed to earn our way there is by studying the Torah and keeping its’ laws. It is vitally important for us to understand that when Hashem gave us the Torah, he really gave it to us, completely, totally, and without exception. Because we have it completely, every reward possible in Olam Haba is available to us. Nothing is reserved for only a select few, every Jew has equal opportunity to receive. This might be the greatest gift Hashem ever gave us, let’s be sure to make the most of it.

Shabbat Shalom!

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Thursday, May 10, 2012

Dvar Torah for Parshas Behar

Due to the eighth day of Pesach falling out on Shabbos, Eretz Yisrael and Chutz La'aretz have been one parsha off for the past few weeks. Since I am in Eretz Yisrael, I have been following the calender here. This week in Chutz La'aretz, they will be laining Parshas Emor, click here for the Dvar Torah. Next week, we will once again be synchronized.

       “וַיְדַבֵּר יְ־הֹוָ־ה אֶל מֹשֶׁה בְּהַר סִינַי לֵאמֹר“Hashem spoke to Moshe on Mount Sinai saying” (Vayikra 25:1). Parshas Behar begins with Hashem giving over to Moshe a detailed explanation of the mitzvah of Shmittah. The Meforshim (Commentators) all ask, why is it necessary for the pasuk to tell me that this conversation happened at Har Sinai? We know that all the mitzvos were given at Har Sinai even if they are not listed in the Torah as being given there, so why by Shmittah does the Torah make an exception and tell me that it was told over at Har Sinai?
       Rashi gives two answers. The first answer is from the medrash, Toras Kohanim, which says that I might have thought that while all the mitzvos were mentioned by Har Sinai, not all of its’ details were given over at that time. Therefore, the Torah tells us here, where we are listing all the details of Shmittah, that so too the details of every mitzvah were given at Har Sinai as well. His second answer is his own. Sefer Devarim is known in Chazal as “משנה תורה”, Review of the Torah, because almost all of the mitzvos previously mentioned, as well as some new ones, are said over again in this sefer. Rashi explains that since the mitzvah of Shmittah is one of the few mitzvos that is not repeated in Sefer Devarim, we see that the entire mitzvah, with all of its’ details must have been given over by Har Sinai. Therefore, the pasuk writes “בְּהַר סִינַי” to teach me that really every mitzvah was given at Har Sinai and then repeated in Sefer Devarim.
       The answers appear very similar, but the Ramban finds a very big difference between the two. The Ramban does not like Rashi’s own answer (the second answer we brought) for two reasons. First of all, there are many mitzvos besides Shmittah which are not repeated again in Sefer Devarim so we cannot necessarily learn anything from the fact that Shmittah was not repeated either. Secondly, why do we connect the mitzvos said in Sefer Devarim to Shmittah in the fact that all of their details were said over at Har Sinai? Perhaps the general rules of the mitzvos were said over at Har Sinai while the details were said over in Sefer Devarim and the reason why Har Sinai is mentioned by Shmittah is because its’ details were given over there as well. But only the mitzvah of Shmittah is like this, meaning that there is absolutely no connection between Shmittah and any of the other mitzvos! The Ramban has no problem with the medrash, however. Earlier in Parshas Mishpatim, the general rule of Shmittah was given (See Shemos 23:11), while the details are given here. Later on in Parshas Bechukosai, the pasuk says, “אֵלֶּה הַמִּצְוֹת אֲשֶׁר צִוָּה יְ־הֹוָ־ה אֶת מֹשֶׁה אֶל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל בְּהַר סִינָי“These are the commandments that Hashem commanded Moshe to the Bnei Yisrael on Har Sinai” (Vayikra 27:34). By writing “בְּהַר סִינָי”, this pasuk connects all other mitzvos to Shmittah and teaches us that the mitzvos were taught in separate general and detail lessons, all at Har Sinai.
       The Seforno brings the medrash from Toras Kohanim to answer our question and then asks one of his own. The Seforno learns that the Torah was not written in order of how events happened, so if this mitzvah was actually given at Har Sinai, way back in Sefer Shemos, how come it was told over here at this point? He answers that at this point in time, before the sin of the spies, the Bnei Yisrael were on the verge of entering Eretz Yisrael. Therefore, Moshe told over the mitzvah of Shmittah since their stay in Eretz Yisrael was dependent on the keeping of that mitzvah. (For more on this idea, see [26:34].)
       The Kli Yakar has his own idea to answer our question. When Moshe went up on Har Sinai for the first time to receive the Torah, forty-nine days had passed since Bnei Yisrael had left Egypt. Until that day when the Torah was given, Har Sinai was nothing more than a simple mountain. Now it was given a much higher level of spirituality. Therefore, it would make sense to assume that on the day the Torah was given, it became forbidden to do any sort of agricultural work on Har Sinai. At that time, Hashem decided to take this idea of seven sets of seven and the fiftieth day afterwards and give it to Eretz Yisrael and make it forbidden in agriculture as well. Therefore, every seventh year we have Shmittah, and every fiftieth year, Yovel, where it is forbidden to do any labor in your fields. Har Sinai, the place where the Torah was given, and Eretz Yisrael, where, Chazal teach us, the air itself makes you wiser, and where Chazal say “אין תורה כתורת ארץ ישראל”, “There is no Torah like the Torah of the land of Israel”, these two places should share this special kedushah where physical labor is forbidden, allowing you to focus completely on the study of Torah.

Shabbat Shalom!'

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Thursday, May 3, 2012

Dvar Torah for Parshas Emor

Due to the eighth day of Pesach falling out on Shabbos, for the next few weeks Eretz Yisrael and Chutz La'aretz will be one Parsha off. Since I am in Eretz Yisrael, I will be following the calender here. This week in Chutz La'aretz they will be laining Parshas Acharei-Kedoshim. For a link to the Dvar Torah, click here. We will continue to be one week off till Parshas Bechukosai. 

This week's Dvar Torah is dedicated L'ilui Nishmas my Great-Grandfather, Phillip Grossman פייבל ראובן בן מרדכי, who was niftar this week. Whatever he did, he always, always gave his maximum effort, every single time.

       In Parshas Emor, Hashem explains the different Yomim Tovim (Festivals) to Moshe in order for Moshe to tell them over to Bnei Yisrael. The dates, obligations, and a short explanation of each Yom Tov are written by each one. By the holiday of Succos however, a different element is introduced.
       In Perek 23 Pasuk 36, the pasuk says, “שִׁבְעַת יָמִים תַּקְרִיבוּ אִשֶּׁה לַי־הֹוָ־ה בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁמִינִי מִקְרָא קֹדֶשׁ יִהְיֶה לָכֶם וְהִקְרַבְתֶּם אִשֶּׁה לַי־הֹוָ־ה עֲצֶרֶת הִוא“For a seven-day period you shall offer a fire-offering to Hashem; on the eighth day there shall be a calling of holiness for you and you shall offer a fire-offering to Hashem, it is a restraining (עצרת)…” (Vayikra 23:36). Till this point, only on Pesach do we have a day of Yom Tov followed by five “normal” days, what we refer to as Chol Hamoed, followed by another day of Yom Tov on the seventh day. Succos has this same seven day structure as Pesach but an eighth day is added to the cycle which is also Yom Tov. What is the purpose of this last day and why is it referred to as Atzeres (עצרת)?  
       The Seforno explains that this word “עצרת", should be understood based on its literal translation, meaning “a restraining”. While we have an obligation to refrain from work on Holidays, we also have an obligation to stop and reflect on the time we are spending in Yerushalayim and the Beis Hamikdash. With all the preparations for Yom Tov and the excitement of the Chag itself, it is very easy to lose sight of the opportunity presented by this Holiday, namely, the opportunity to rejoice in our service to Hashem in the holiest spot on Earth. This is especially applicable by the Chagim of Pesach, Shavuos, and Succos where there is an obligation to celebrate in the Beis Hamikdash. By having a day of Atzeres, we can stop and redirect our thoughts towards the celebration of Hashem and the Torah.
       But why do we need an entirely new day for this redirection? Why don’t we just do it on the seventh day of Succos? Perhaps we can use Rashi’s explanation on our pasuk to answer this question. He compares the holiday of Succos to a King inviting his son to the palace for a tremendous feast which lasts several days. When the feast is finally over, the King is sad to see his son go and asks him to stay one more day since, “קשה עלי פרידתכם“Your departure is hard for me” (Rashi on Vayikra 23:36). The day of עצרת is not only the day where we redirect our thoughts towards Hashem, it is also the day where Hashem redirects his thoughts towards us. As a result, this day ends up being a day where both Hashem and the Nation of Yisrael make each other the most special thing to them.     
       The question arises that after we see how special the eighth day of Succos is, why do we not do the same thing on Pesach? We have mentioned a couple of ways how Pesach and Succos are similar, they both are seven days long with two days of Chag, you are required to travel to Yerushalayim to both of them; so why do we not make an Atzeres on Pesach as well?
       The Ramban explains that Chazal in many places refer to Shavuos by a different name, Atzeres. Chazal are teaching us that the fifty days between Pesach and Shavuos are really in the category of Chol Hamoed, all leading up to the day of Shavuos which is really the last day of Pesach! On the day we celebrate the giving of the Torah, what better way is there to celebrate the everlasting bond between Bnei Yisrael and Hashem than having a day of Atzeres where we stop and redirect our thoughts towards Hashem while he does the same towards us.
       As we get closer and closer to Shavuos, we are working to get to a level of Kabbalas Hatorah, Acceptance of the Torah, culminating in our celebration on Shavuos. As we prepare ourselves, we must keep in mind that Shavuos is also the day of עצרת, the day where we re-direct and re-commit our thoughts to serving Hashem. Putting all this together, it comes out that Shavuos is one of the most important days of the year! We re-accept the Torah, gather our thoughts back towards Hashem, and Hashem makes an extra commitment towards us, all in one day! If we can prepare ourselves properly for this upcoming Chag, there is no telling how much we can accomplish.

Shabbat Shalom! 

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