Thursday, February 21, 2013

Dvar Torah for Parshas Zachor/Purim 5773 (2013)--Week of Parshas Tetzaveh

AIMeMTorah would like to thank Daniel Sax for writing this week's Dvar Torah.

       Every year on the Shabbos before Purim, we fulfill a Torah commission to read Parshas Zachor. It includes the commandment of remembering Amalek and what they have done to the Jewish people, and our instruction to eliminate them not only physically but spiritually as well.  The commandment is so extensive that we are told to eradicate Amalek’s animals as well, so that we leave no trace of Amalek’s existence in this world.
       On Purim we read, “מִלְחָמָה לַיהֹוָה בַּעֲמָלֵק מִדֹּר דֹּר “…a war for Hashem against Amalek from generation to generation” (Shemos 17:16). It also says in Parshas Zachor, “זָכוֹר אֵת אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה לְךָ עֲמָלֵק בַּדֶּרֶךְ בְּצֵאתְכֶם מִמִּצְרָיִם. " אֲשֶׁר קָרְךָ בַּדֶּרֶךְ “Remember what Amalek did to you on the way, when you went out of Egypt. How he happened upon you on the way…” (Devarim 25:18-19). A popular question asked is to why is the word “way” repeated? 
       Amalek attacked the Jewish people immediately following their exodus from Egypt. This was a real test for the Jews. They had just received the Torah with G-d declaring them as His people; and suddenly, just as the Jews seemed vulnerable, Amalek attacked, albeit unsuccessfully. Amalek has since haunted the Jewish People until this very day.  We can see a clear trend as to when Amalek attacks. The attacks come every time the Jews are in a transition period.  Right after the Torah was given we were attacked, Shmuel HaNavi had an endless fight with Agag—the king of Amalek, following the destruction of the first Beis Hamikdash (Holy Temple) we were threatened by Haman as part of the Purim miracle, and even recently following the declaration of the State of Israel we were attacked by our surrounding neighbors. All these were moments of transition when the Jewish people were perhaps most vulnerable. Choosing to attack only at these times displays the cowardice of the Amalek nation. 
       The first time the pasuk says “way” refers to that present time in the desert when the Jews were closest to G-d and Amalek came to battle for the first time. The repetition of the word “way”, ties into the first pasuk we quoted from Shemos. Although Amalek was defeated in the desert, they continued to strike from generation to generation and into the modern era. It will be an endless war until we can completely eradicate Amalek as we are commissioned too. Achieving this will lead to the rebuilding of the third Beis Hamikdash where there will be no Amalek to come against us.
       Haman was a descendant of Agag, the king of Amalek in the times of the Prophets. The reason why we read Parshas Zachor on the Shabbos prior to Purim is because Megillas Esther (The Book of Esther) is one of the Jewish People’s many battles with Amalek.  Haman threatened to wipe out every single Jew in the world but did not succeed. G-d is never directly mentioned in the story of Purim but we know that He was “hidden” throughout the 14 year time period of the Megillah. But even without G-d’s “direct” presence, Mordecai, Esther, and the Jewish People prevailed and defeated Amalek once again. This is a lesson that we can apply for ourselves today.  G-d is “hidden” in our time and Amalek continues to discreetly threaten us, but if we remain true to G-d’s with Torah and Mitzvos, we will come out on top just like Mordecai and Esther did. 

Shabbat Shalom and A Frailichin Purim!

Daniel Sax studied at Yeshivas Derech Etz Chaim in Jerusalem. He currently studies in Duquesne University. He is a first-time contributor to Ancient Ideas for the Modern Mind.

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Thursday, February 14, 2013

Dvar Torah for Parshas Terumah

       In this week’s parshah, Parshas Terumah, Hashem begins describing to Moshe the design and structure of the Mishkan and its’ utensils. The parshah begins with Hashem telling him the materials that will be required for the building and how they will be collected. “דַּבֵּר אֶל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וְיִקְחוּ לִי תְּרוּמָה מֵאֵת כָּל אִישׁ אֲשֶׁר יִדְּבֶנּוּ לִבּוֹ תִּקְחוּ אֶת תְּרוּמָתִי. וְזֹאת הַתְּרוּמָה אֲשֶׁר תִּקְחוּ מֵאִתָּם זָהָב וָכֶסֶף וּנְחֹשֶׁת." “Speak to the Children of Yisrael and they shall take to Me a portion, from every man whose heart will motivate him you shall take My portion. This is the portion that you shall take from them: gold, and silver, and copper” (Shemos 25:2-3). Rashi asks in Pasuk 2, how come the pasuk mentions this “תְּרוּמָה”, the donations, three different times? He explains that there were three different things Bnei Yisrael had to donate for. The first donation was the Half-Shekel donation mentioned in Parshas Ki Sisa, and which we read about last week in Parshas Shekalim, which was required for all adult males and was used to pay for the sockets of the pillars of the Mishkan. The second was also required of all adult males and was used to pay for the communal korbanos. The third one was for materials for the Mishkan building, and was optional and open to every person.
       The Kli Yakar asks several questions on these pesukim. First of all, how come the first two תרומות are applied to Hashem (“they shall take to Me a portion”, “you shall take My portion” [25:2]) and the third is not (“the portion you should take from them” [25:3])? Secondly, how come by the first two, the language of “יקח”, taking, is mentioned before the תְּרוּמָה and by the third it’s mentioned afterward? Finally, we brought Rashi who explained that the first two sets of donations, mentioned in Pasuk 2, were mandatory while the third was optional. So how come in Pasuk 2, by the two mandatory donations, the Torah writes, “מֵאֵת כָּל אִישׁ אֲשֶׁר יִדְּבֶנּוּ לִבּוֹ“from every man whose heart will motivate him”, it’s a required donation! It has nothing to do with how a person feels about donating!
       The Kli Yakar begins by explaining that since the first two sets of donations were required, no one could stop the collectors from collecting the money from the people. Therefore, the pasuk mentions the taking before the donating itself since the money will be taken regardless of whether the people want to give it. The third donation, however, is optional so the donating is mentioned before the taking. This is also why the first two donations are attributed to Hashem, since you are required to give them up. The third however, is completely up to the donator to give or not. Therefore, the donation is completely attributed to the people.
       He then proceeds to explain the pasuk thusly: “דַּבֵּר אֶל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וְיִקְחוּ לִי תְּרוּמָה”, appoint people to collect the donations from the people; however, the collectors must first donate themselves. “מֵאֵת כָּל אִישׁ אֲשֶׁר יִדְּבֶנּוּ לִבּוֹ תִּקְחוּ אֶת תְּרוּמָתִי” When you collect from the nation, there will be people for whom “דוה ליבם”, their hearts will be sad from having to give (similar to the words in the pasuk, “אֲשֶׁר יִדְּבֶנּוּ לִבּוֹ”). The collection from these people should be done by Moshe and Aharon themselves since no one will argue with them over having to give. When the pasuk says, “תִּקְחוּ אֶת תְּרוּמָתִי” “you shall take my portion”, “you” it is referring to Moshe and Aharon.
       The Kli Yakar then gives a second answer the first question. We have seen in many places that Hashem rests his shechinah only where people act with humility and removes himself when there is arrogance. The fact that the first two donations were mandatory means that everybody was giving the exact same amount. As a result, there could be no arrogance connected to the first two  תרומותsince no one person’s donation was more than the anyone else’s. Therefore, Hashem connects his name to them. (“they shall take to Me a portion”, “you shall take My portion”). However, the donations to the Mishkan had no set amount; some people gave more and some less. Because of this, there was a potential for people to hold themselves above the others because of their larger donations. Therefore, the Torah does not attribute the donations directly to Hashem.

Shabbat Shalom!    

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Friday, February 8, 2013

Dvar Torah for Parshas Mishpatim

       In previous years, we have shown in this week’s parshah examples of Moshe Rabbeinu’s greatness. Specifically, the story at the end of the parshah where Moshe and Aharon are joined on Har Sinai by Aharon’s oldest sons, Nadav and Avihu, and the nation’s seventy elders is the example we have used. The Torah relates how Nadav, Avihu and the Elders followed Moshe a little ways up the mountain and were able to observe the Shechinah of Hashem. The very next pasuk says, “וְאֶל אֲצִילֵי בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל לֹא שָׁלַח יָדוֹ וַיֶּחֱזוּ אֶת הָאֱלֹהִים וַיֹּאכְלוּ וַיִּשְׁתּוּ“And to the nobles of the Children of Yisrael, He did not send forth his hand—they viewed God, and they ate and drank” (Shemos 24:11).
       Rashi explains in pasuk 10 that when they gazed upon the Shechinah, they saw a level of Hashem which they were not deserving of seeing. Normally, this results in instant death, as the physical body is only able to perceive so much spirituality; but in order to not subdue the overall rejoicing surrounding the giving of the Torah, Hashem waited till later on to carry out their sentence. This is what is meant in pasuk 11 when it says “He did not send forth his hand”, that Hashem refrained from killing them. Rashi goes on to say that we see clearly from the fact that they followed up this revelation by eating and drinking that they hadn’t taken this experience with the proper humility and were deserving of death.      
       The Ohr HaChaim takes a different approach to this. He asks three questions on the wording of the pasuk. First off, why does the pasuk need to tell me that we are talking about, “אֲצִילֵי בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל”, the “nobles of Yisrael”? We already mentioned in pasuk 9 all the people pasuk 10 is referring to and we have no reason to assume that those terms have changed. Secondly, why does the pasuk 10 say, “וַיֶּחֱזוּ אֶת הָאֱלֹהִים“They viewed God”, the Torah already told us “וַיִּרְאוּ אֵת אֱלֹהֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל“They saw the God of Yisrael”, in pasuk 10? Finally, the entire pasuk 11 appears to be written backwards. The pasuk first tells us the result of their action, that Hashem did not kill them, and then tells us what they had done to warrant such a reaction, that they saw Hashem and ate and drank?
       Later on in Parshas Ki Sisa, Moshe asks Hashem to be able to see his essence. Hashem places Moshe in a rock, places his palm over the rock, and as he passes by, lifts his hand off the rock and allows Moshe to see his back. (Obviously, this is not to be taken literally as Hashem has no body.) The purpose of covering Moshe’s view was to prevent him from seeing a level of Hashem that he was not deserving of experiencing until the part he was deserving of was the only part visible.
       The Ohr HaChaim answers his questions by using this same idea. Hashem allowed the “אֲצִילֵי בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל” to view a certain degree of his Shechinah, and the pasuk tells us that “לֹא שָׁלַח יָדוֹ”, that he did not send forth his hand, meaning that while he prevented Moshe from seeing something he was not deserving of, he did not prevent them from seeing above their level. The pasuk repeats the fact that they were nobleman to tell us that this is the reason why.
       This seems to say that these noblemen were allowed to see more than Moshe! The Ohr HaChaim explains how this is not true. When Hashem covered Moshe and didn’t allow him to see him, that level of the Shechinah which he was not allowed to see was still there in Moshe’s presence, it just was not visible to him. However, when Hashem revealed himself to the noblemen, while they were viewing Hashem at a degree beyond their level, the level of presence that was there was all visible to them. And says the Ohr HaChaim, the level they saw now was what Moshe was used to seeing all the time! Therefore, the pasuk does not have to mention that Hashem did not cover Moshe at this time together with everyone else; for Moshe, this experience was not anything new!   
       From this we gain another insight into Moshe’s greatness. These were the greatest men in the entire nation, and yet, what for them was an once-in-a-lifetime experience, far beyond what they actually deserved, for Moshe it was his normal perception of Hashem.

Shabbat Shalom!

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Friday, February 1, 2013

Dvar Torah for Parshas Yisro

       Parshas Yisro contains the single most important event in the history of the Jewish Nation, the Giving of the Torah. This is what establishes our eternal relationship with God and defines everything we do in life. However, before we could accept the Torah, there were certain requirements which had to be reached. The events leading up to Matan Torah show us what they were.
       When Bnei Yisrael arrive at Har Sinai, the sight of the Giving of the Torah, the pasuk says, “וַיִּסְעוּ מֵרְפִידִים וַיָּבֹאוּ מִדְבַּר סִינַי וַיַּחֲנוּ בַּמִּדְבָּר וַיִּחַן שָׁם יִשְׂרָאֵל נֶגֶד הָהָר“They (Bnei Yisrael) traveled from Refidim, and they arrived at the desert of Sinai, and they encamped in the desert, and Israel encamped there opposite the mountain” (Shemos 19:2). The Kli Yakar points out several seemingly repetitive statements in the pasuk. First of all, the first time the pasuk says they camped at the mountain, it uses the plural form, “וַיַּחֲנוּ”; however, when it talks about their encampment later on in the pasuk, it refers to them in the singular form, “וַיִּחַן”. Secondly, the pasuk first calls it the “desert of Sinai’ but later refers to it simply as “the desert”. Lastly, the pasuk first refers calls the mountain by its name, Sinai, but at the end of the pasuk calls it simply “the mountain”! In fact, says the Kli Yakar, the whole second half of the pasuk starting from “וַיַּחֲנוּ …” seems completely superfluous!
       Rashi gives a very famous explanation of why the singular form “וַיִּחַן” is used to refer to the millions of people that made up Yisrael. The reason they are called one man is because they were acting as one man as such that everyone was at peace with each other and there were no arguments. The Kli Yakar uses this explanation to say that the Torah could not be given until Bnei Yisrael reached a level of complete peace amongst themselves. In fact, the pasuk in Mishlei (Proverbs) says about the Torah, “וְכָל נְתִיבוֹתֶיהָ שָׁלוֹם“All its’ paths are peace” (Mishlei 3:17).
       The pasuk tells us Bnei Yisrael traveled from Refidim which, as we spoke about last week, is where they challenged Hashem and fought amongst each other. So they traveled from this place of machlokes, and reached “מִדְבַּר סִינַי”, the desert of Sinai. There is a well-known medrash which explains why Hashem chose this mountain to give the Torah on. The medrash says how all the mountains in the desert were bragging about themselves and saying why they deserved to have the Torah given on them. Har Sinai was the lowest mountain in the area and did not say anything at all, thinking that there was no way it would be chosen because of its insignificant size and beauty. Hashem chose it because of this humility it showed. When Bnei Yisrael came and saw this small, humble mountain was the one Hashem had chosen to be the sight of the most spectacular event in history, they all took this to heart and realized that humility and self-effacement is the true way to accept the Torah and live in peace.
       So when Bnei Yisrael arrived at the desert, they were still in their old mindset, therefore the pasuk refers to their encampment in plural. However, once they camped opposite “הָהָר”, the mountain, they realized their foolishness and afterwards are referred to as a single unit. This entire process is alluded to in the pasuk by all these seemingly extra words.
       Chazal say that we should treat every day as if we received the Torah today, that way it will stay just as precious and exciting to us as on the day we got it. Perhaps we should also treat every day as if we learned the lessons of receiving the Torah as well, that way we can always keep in mind what allows us to accept the Torah in the first place. This Shabbos, let’s work on focusing not just on ourselves but our family, friends, and community, because we can only truly accept the Torah when we are all together.

Shabbat Shalom!  

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