Monday, February 26, 2007

concern for each Jew

Parshat T'Tzaveh

In 28:29-30 the passuk tells us, " וְנָשָׂא אַהֲרֹן אֶת-שְׁמוֹת בְּנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל בְּחֹשֶׁן הַמִּשְׁפָּט, עַל-לִבּוֹ--בְּבֹאוֹ אֶל-הַקֹּדֶשׁ: לְזִכָּרֹן לִפְנֵי-ה', תָּמִיד...וְנָתַתָּ אֶל-חֹשֶׁן הַמִּשְׁפָּט, אֶת-הָאוּרִים וְאֶת-הַתֻּמִּים, וְהָיוּ עַל-לֵב אַהֲרֹן, בְּבֹאוֹ לִפְנֵי ה'; וְנָשָׂא אַהֲרֹן אֶת-מִשְׁפַּט בְּנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל עַל-לִבּוֹ, לִפְנֵי ה'--תָּמִיד" - And Aaron shall bear the names of the children of Israel in the breastplate of judgment upon his heart, when he goeth in unto the holy place, for a memorial before the LORD continually. And thou shalt put in the breastplate of judgment the Urim and the Thummim; and they shall be upon Aaron's heart, when he goeth in before the LORD; and Aaron shall bear the judgment of the children of Israel upon his heart before the LORD continually.

The passuk tells us two issues about Aharon carrying Bnei Yisrael on his heart. Once about the names and once about their concerns.

The names of Bnei Yisrael indicate something personal. Aharon has to think about every Jew all the time. Whenever he goes into the Holies, he must have the welfare of every individual Jew in his heart.

The judgement of Bnei Yisrael refers to the concerns of the people. When Aharon goes into the Holies, he must bring with him the worries and concerns of the people.

The act of Aharon (or any Kohen) entering into the Holies and performing the obligations, is not a power trip, nor is it an act limited to the benefit of himself or the nation on some sort of macro level. Aharon must have at the top of his concerns the needs, the worries, the concerns of every individual Jew.

That is a lesson for anybody in leadership positions. You are there representing the people. You are not in place in order to personally benefit, though that might very well be a result of such positioning. You are there in order to look out for the needs of the people. You are there to remember each person and his concerns, and you are to bear them on your heart at all times. That should be what drives and motivates you to act.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

details of the construction

Parshat T'rumah

Why does the Torah have to describe in such great detail the contruction specifications of the mishkan? This was a one-time requirment, as the Beit Hamikdash was contructed differently.

Why was it so important go inform us of all the specifics? Unless you are an engineer or an architect, it is all pretty boring. Why not write down the generals - build x for this and y for that, etc. use these materials, etc.. Why all the specifics?

We often find many things transmitted without having been specifically written in detail in the Torah. Why was this written in such great detail?

removing the poles

Parshat T'rumah

When describing the construction specifications of the Aron, the Torah says poles must be made to carry the Aron and placed in the rings on the side of the Aron. In 25:15 it says, "בטבעות הארון יהיו הבדים לא יסורו ממנו" - in the rings of the aron will be placed the poles, they should not be removed from it. Rashi adds "Forever" meaning the poles have to remain forever in the rings of the aron.

This means there is always going to be a prohibition against one removing them, even when the aron is sitting in the Beit Hamikdash and is not in transit.

What is the purpose of the poles during this majority of the time where the aron is not in transit? Why are they so important that there is a specific issur against removing them?

Furthermore, why require such an issur when physically they were constructed in a way that made them impossible to remove (the tips were wider than the size of the ring, so there was no way the poles could be removed)?

Why are these poles so important?

Do you have any thoughts on this?

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

how hard is it to count to 70?

(this post is cross-posted at Yontiff Thoughts and at DafNotes)

We recently learned in daf yomi the calculations, and miscalculations, of the 70 years of exile after the destruction of the first Beis Hamikdash and prior to the rebuilding of the second Beis Hamikdash.

One would think that 70 years is not too difficult to keep track of, especially when you are living within the thick of it. However, we see Ahashverosh miscounted the 70 years. So did other people. Nobody knew from when to begin the count of 70, therefore everybody's count was skewed and nobody had the correct target date. It was only after the rebuilding of the Beis Hamikdash began that we could look back and say we know when the count of 70 years of exile began.

The same is true in the upcoming parsha regarding the creation of the golden calf. The Jews knew Moshe was going to be on Mt. Sinai for 40 days. How hard is it to count 40 days? Yet they miscounted and that led them to making the mistake of creating the golden calf.

We have many dates and calculations throughout tanach and Jewish history. Great Rabbis have calculated with varying conclusions the dates of the coming of Moshiah, the end of the world, the redemption, etc. These dates come and go. We then question how the great Rabbis could be wrong and lose faith (sometimes) or simply become cynical when hearing such things.
We have to realize that we never know where to begin the count, and therefore our counts and calculations are always wrong. It is only in hindsight we can look back and say where the count began.

The gemara says the world will only last 6000 years. That is pretty good reason to start getting nervous. We are now in the year 5767 (of the Jewish calendar). That only leaves 233 years left to go before armageddon!

But considering the fact that pretty much every count in the Torah and Jewish history was found to be miscalculated, we have to consider that we have no idea when the count of 6000 years begins. Did the 6000 years begin from the first day of creation? Maybe from Avraham recognizing monotheism? Maybe from matan Torah? Maybe from the jewish nation entering Eretz Yisroel? Or maybe from multitudes of other placemarks in jewish history. We have no idea when the count begins, and will only know after it actually happens.

I think it was the Rambam who said not to bother calculating the coming of the mashiah, as doing so only causes people to lose faith when the predicted event does not happen. Instead of worrying about specific dates and calculations that will almost definitely be wrong anyways, we should heed the advice of the great masters and be "mefashfesh b'maasav" - look at our ways and correct our actions and try to prepare in that way for the days of Mashiah.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

new blog

Feel free to check out my newest blog called Yontiff Thoughts.

As its name indicates, it will be dedicated to my thoughts, chiddushim, and lessons extrapolated regarding the various Jewish holidays.

With Purim on its way, along with daf yomi currently and conveniently learning masechet megilla, the first holiday to be discussed will be Purim and Megillat Esther, with pesach coming right on its heels!

Check it out and feel free to keep coming back for more if you enjoy it...

Hag Sameah!

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Even Hashem takes risks

Parshat Mishpatim

hashem continues promising His support if the Jews continue serving Hashem and not turning away to other gods. Hashem says in 23:29, "I will not chase [the enemy nations] out [of Israel] in one year, lest the land become desolate and the wild animals will overtake you."

In 23:33 He implores them to not make treaties with the various enemy nations and not let them continue living in Israel. He says, "Do not let them live in your land, lest they will lead you astray..."

First Hashem says He will only get rid of them slowly so as not to put you in physical danger but then he warns you against letting them continue living in Israel.

Look at the great risk Hashem was taking in order to protect the Jewish people. There was a basic inherent risk in letting the nations stay in Israel with the Jews. It was clear and obvious that they would cause the Jews to sin. But Hashem was willing to ignore that, at least in the short term, just so that the Jews would not be in danger physically from animals.

bread and water

Parshat Mishpatim

Hashem tells the Jews that he knows they will eventually sin and He warns them not to. In 23:25 Hashem concludes, "If you serve Hashem, he will bless your bread and your water and remove sickness from amongst you."

Why is that the reward for following Hashem faithfully? Why bread and water? Why not say I will give you wealth, or whatever. Why bread and water?

Bread and water are the basic staples needed to survive. The Jews already learned from the incident by Mara that wealth and other promises do not matter, if the basics such as bread and water are not covered.

That is why Hashem promises them if they serve Him, He will ensure their health and their supply of bread and water. Anything beyond that is extra, but these are the basic needs.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

going on vacation

Parshat Mishpatim

The parsha begins by talking about different types of slaves and their terms of bondage. The Torah talks about the slaves and maidservants finishing their terms, and says they will go free. The term the Torah uses for the freedom is "חופש" - hofesh.

Hofesh is generally used to mean "vacation". Was the slave finishing his years of service and then going to Miami Beach to relax for a few weeks?

I would like to suggest that Hofesh is not really meant to be used as "vacation". Rather, going on hofesh means one is liberated from his servitude and can get back to dealing with his normal responsibilities.
Maybe "balashon" blog can analyze the word and discuss the actual meaning, or maybe he has and I missed it.

So next time your boss gives you hofesh, ask for time off to relax instead!!

Thursday, February 08, 2007

preceding the relationship with Hashem

Parshat Yisro

At the end of the parsha in 20:22-23 we have two interesting lessons learned directly from the construction of the mizbeiah:
  1. Stones do not hear, see or have feelings, yet the Torah says not to use metal in hewing the stones for the mizbeiah because metal is the source of strife and disharmony (weapons for war), so how much more so someone who actually effects peace between different people will avoid tribulations.
  2. These stones have no concerns, yet the Torah says not to make steps so as not to shame the stones with the (semi-)nakedness of the Kohen, how much more so one should be careful not to shame a person who does have feelings and concerns and is created in the image of Hashem.

It is interesting that we learn such direct lessons from the construction of the stones for the mizbeiah. The various other parts of the mishkan all teach us things by their representation (e.g. table represents wealth, candelabrum represents wisdom, etc..). Yet only here do we see a specific lesson being directly taught.

I think the mizbeiah is representative of our relationship with Hashem. It is the focal point of our relationship. That is where we directly relate and interact with Hashem.

The place that is such a focal point needs to be constructed at such a level of complete purity. Our relationship with Hashem is dependant on our relationship with our fellow man. If we do not treat our fellow man with the respect he deserves, we will never be able to fully develop the relationship with Hashem.

Because the mizebiah is the focal point of our relationship with Hashem, that is why it directly tells us these important lessons, so that we will be able to develop our relationship with Hashem by first perfecting our relationship with man

a similar lesson

Parshat Yisro

At the end of the parsha in 20:23, Hashems warns them to make a mizbeiah but not to make steps, "אשר לא תגלה ערותך עליו" - so your nakedness should not be uncovered upon it.

Rashi tells us that despite the fact that it is not really erva because the Kohen was wearing pants under the robe (gotchkas of sorts) but it is similar to gilui erva.

People sometimes hear things that make them uncomfortable. They then look for ways to disassociate themselves from those statements, in order to remove the guilt. One of the ways of doing this is by saying that the comparison is not valid for reasons x, y and z and therefore the lesson is not valid.

I recently wrote some articles, among others, in which I made comparisons to derive certain lessons. It is true that the items compared are not 100% exact. They rarely are. Yet, I felt, the lessons are valid, at least t consider and think about.

Yet, people find ways of saying the comparison is completely invalid. That way they do not have to consider the ramifications of such lessons.

We see here such an approach of making lessons is completely valid. The Kohen was not exposed over the stones. He was not shaming the stones with his nakedness. After all, he was dressed. Yet the Torah still considers it as if the Kohen was shaming the stones, just because it was similar.

Fountain of Youth

Parshat Yisro

In 20:12 in the middle of the Ten Commandments we encounter the commandment to honor one's parents. The passuk then adds, "למען יאריכון ימיך על האדמה" – so that you should extend your life on the land.

There is a debate among the commentators whether this is one promise, that you will achieve longevity in the land, or two promises, that you will achieve longevity and will have Eretz Yisrael to live in.

What does this have to do with honoring one's parents? Why is this reward promised here rather than by any of the other commandments? What is unique about honoring one's parents above all the other commandments that this one gets a specific promise of reward while the others do not? And why is the reward longevity of all things?

My thoughts are that this is because honoring one's parents is such an integral commandment and is really the basis of almost everything that it deserves extra, to show its importance. By honoring your parents you are showing the importance of tradition, which is what parents teach the children, and your connection to your past and to Hashem.

Naturally, that will also lead to longevity, and longevity in Eretz Yisrael. A person who honors his parents shows his connection to tradition and his dedication to continuing that tradition. Such a person will ensure that, aside from him continuing the tradition, he makes sure the tradition continues in his future generations. That will give his life longevity, as his life will be extended through his children.