Wednesday, March 28, 2007

so I have commanded

Parshat Tzav

In 8:35 Moshe concludes giving Aharon his instructions and he says to stay in the Ohel Moed for 7 days and you will not die, "כי כן צויתי" - for so I have commanded.

Since when does Moshe talk like that? Why did he not say for so Hashem commanded?

Answers? leave them in the comments..

precise instructions

Parshat Tzav

In 8:36 it tells us that Aharon and his sons did as Hashem commanded through Moshe.

Rashi tells us that this tells us the praise of Aharon and sons that they did not divert at all from what Hashem told them to do. Everything was followed precisely.

Why does the Torah have to keep telling us this? This is exactly why they were the leaders rather than other people leading the nation - because they followed Hashem's instructions precisely without mixing in their own preferences.
The Torah keeps telling us how they followed precisely what Hashem said. Ok, we got the point already. Why keep telling us?

I do not have an answer at this point. Maybe this will be question of the week.. Do you? If yes, leave it in the comments..

total dedication

Parshat Tzav

Near the end of the parsha we see Moshe giving Aharon his instructions regarding the preparatory week before the dedication of the mishkan.

In 8:33 Moshe tells Aharon not to leave the Ohel Moed for the full 7 days.

Why can't he leave? What's the big deal if he wants to step out for some air or something?

This is a job that requires complete dedication and complete immersion. One has to give himself over completely and be completely dedicated to the job. The only way for that dedication to be pure and complete is by his total immersion into the job.

He cannot have any distractions. Nothing that might, even slightly, take away his focus and concentration from the mishkan.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

opening day

Parshat Tzav

The latter half of Parshat Tzav deals with the 7 days of preparing Aharon and his sons for the kehuna, with the 8th day being in Parshat Shmini, where the transfer is actually made.

In Shir Ha'Shirim in 3:11, the passuk says, "צאינה וראינה בנות ציון..וביום שמחת לבו"- go out and gaze.. upon the crown with which his mother crowned him on the day of his wedding and on the day of the happiness (joy) of his heart.

Rashi tells us "the day of his wedding" refers to the day of the giving of the Torah, and "the day of the happiness of his heart" refers to the 8th day of the consecration, on which the mishkan was dedicated.

The 8th day, the day the transfer of the kehuna was completed and the day the mishkan was established was an especially joyous day. Shlomo Ha'Melech calls it the day of joy of his heart.

The 7 days leading up to the 8th, which are described in parshat Tzav, must have been nerve-racking, along with being frightening and inspiring at the same time. They are getting ready for the most monumentous day in history, second to none, other than Matan Torah.

Can you imagine the trepidation with which they must have performed their obligations? As Moshe is dressing Aharon and his sons in the priestly garments, making sure everything is just so, and as he is training him in the various korbanos and their laws and procedures, the thoughts that must have been going through their heads!

When people prepare for a production, in the days leading up to the performance, their level of nervousness and fear increase more each day, until it is diffused on stage at the actual performance. How much more so they must have been nervous when preparing for "opening day" at the mishkan, knowing that Bnei Yisrael, and their relationship with Hashem, would depend on Aharon's performance.

Yet, I believe, that is why it tells us, "כאשר צוה ה את משה" - as Hashem commanded Moshe - every step of the way. Moshe said, this is what Hashem told me to do. he got Aharon dressed, as Hashem commanded Moshe. He placed upon him the hoshen, as Hashem commanded Moshe. They brought certain korbanos, as Hashem commanded Moshe. And so on.

This was not a performance. They were not putting on a production, where they needed to fear mistakes, failure and embarrassment. They were following the instructions of Hashem. Exactly. To the smallest point. Therefore they did it with joy and excitement, and not with fear and nervousness.

And the climax was on the 8th day when the Mishkan was opened and the love between Hashem and the people was even tangible, manifested through the new temple. וביום שמחת לבו.

sifting out the impurities

Pesah - Shir Ha'Shirim

On Shabbos Hol Ha'Moed of Pesah we have a custom to read Shir Ha'Shirim.

In 1:1 of Shir Ha'Shirim, the passuk starts off saying, "שיר השירים אשר לשלמה". Rashi tells us that Shir Ha'Shirim is an especially holy song and book, much more so than any of the other כתובים - later biblical writings. Rashi compares it to a king who gives a kilo of wheat to a baker and tells him to sift out the various levels of impurities and use the flour to make a special delicate loaf of bread.
So too, Rashi says, is Shir Ha'Shirim. All the כתובים are holy, but Shir Ha'Shirim is קדש קדשים - especially holy.

Kodesh Kodoshim is not a separate entity, in the sense that you have two levels; holy and holy of holies, with them being independant of each other. You achieve the level of "especially holy" by taking the holy and continuing to refine it.

You can have "holiness" and still not be completely pure. If you take that "holy" and continue to sift out the impurities you can then achieve the ultimate level of holiness, holy of holies.

This is similar to Hametz itself and its disposal and metaphorically to our actions. If we continue to sift out the hametz from within us we can continue to improve our ways and strive and even achieve higher levels of kedusha, eventually reaching the status of holy of holies.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

admitting and atoning

Parshat Va'Yikra

In 5:1-6 the Torah describes certain sins that when made aware of them he then brings a korban to atone. The passuk says, " וְנֶפֶשׁ כִּי-תֶחֱטָא, וְשָׁמְעָה קוֹל אָלָה, וְהוּא עֵד, אוֹ רָאָה אוֹ יָדָע; אִם-לוֹא יַגִּיד, וְנָשָׂא עֲו‍ֹנוֹ. ב אוֹ נֶפֶשׁ, אֲשֶׁר תִּגַּע בְּכָל-דָּבָר טָמֵא, אוֹ בְנִבְלַת חַיָּה טְמֵאָה אוֹ בְּנִבְלַת בְּהֵמָה טְמֵאָה, אוֹ בְּנִבְלַת שֶׁרֶץ טָמֵא; וְנֶעְלַם מִמֶּנּוּ, וְהוּא טָמֵא וְאָשֵׁם. ג אוֹ כִי יִגַּע, בְּטֻמְאַת אָדָם, לְכֹל טֻמְאָתוֹ, אֲשֶׁר יִטְמָא בָּהּ; וְנֶעְלַם מִמֶּנּוּ, וְהוּא יָדַע וְאָשֵׁם. ד אוֹ נֶפֶשׁ כִּי תִשָּׁבַע לְבַטֵּא בִשְׂפָתַיִם לְהָרַע אוֹ לְהֵיטִיב, לְכֹל אֲשֶׁר יְבַטֵּא הָאָדָם בִּשְׁבֻעָה--וְנֶעְלַם מִמֶּנּוּ; וְהוּא-יָדַע וְאָשֵׁם, לְאַחַת מֵאֵלֶּה. ה וְהָיָה כִי-יֶאְשַׁם, לְאַחַת מֵאֵלֶּה: וְהִתְוַדָּה--אֲשֶׁר חָטָא, עָלֶיהָ. ו וְהֵבִיא אֶת-אֲשָׁמוֹ לַיהוָה עַל חַטָּאתוֹ אֲשֶׁר חָטָא ..." and in English, "1 And if any one sin, in that he heareth the voice of adjuration,...or if any one touch any unclean thing,... or if any one swear clearly with his lips to do evil, or to do good, whatsoever it be that a man shall utter clearly with an oath, and it be hid from him; and, when he knoweth of it, be guilty in one of these things; 5 and it shall be, when he shall be guilty in one of these things, that he shall confess that wherein he hath sinned; 6 and he shall bring his forfeit unto the LORD for his sin which he hath sinned, "

It is not just enough to admit your mistake, and it is not just enough to go through the motions of atonement by bringing a korban.

You have to admit your mistake and bring the korban.

Sometimes we do something and then think that just by saying "sorry" we have fulfilled our obligations to the person we hurt. The Torah says it is not enough. You have to admit your mistake and take action to atone for it.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Shehting korbanos

Parshat Va'Yikra

As we enter Sefer Va'Yikra I was wondering how my recent shehita experience would affect my understanding of the topics. Sefer Va'Yikra is mostly involving karbanos and other mikdash related issues (though not exclusively).

Many people, including myself, simply do not relate to Sefer Va'Yikra. It deals in topics that have no relevance to us today and therefore are more difficult to understand. That results, if I may be so daring and brazen as to say, in being bored and uninspired and uninterested in the whole (or most of) Sefer Va'Yikra.

As I mentioned, I was wondering of my shehita experience would somehow change all that. Make it more understandable. More interesting.

It turns out that a blogger called A Simple Jew was wondering the same thing. He emailed me and asked me for my thoughts.
A Simple Jew asks: How has your training as a shochet helped you better appreciate Sefer Vayikra since it deals with the more physical aspects of animals and their anatomy?

Rafi G. of Life In Israel responds: Honestly I was wondering if it would help me understand and relate better. I think I will only be able to answer the question completely when Sefer Vayikra is behind us. But being that I have almost finished going through half of Parshas Vayikra already, I can say that I understand better the physical aspect of the korbanos.

Meaning I am able to follow the different parts of the animal and understand what is getting burnt, what is getting eaten; what the different parts are. I realize that I do feel a certain understanding of the korbanos.

When shechting my most recent animals, I tried to contemplate what it would be like doing so in the mikdash for a korban. The first thing I thought about was the amount of time it took. Of all the people I went with, none of us were professional butchers, aside from the Arabs who skinned the animal and made the initial breakdown. It took us an awfully long time to cut the animal up. I thought about how it would be done in the mikdash when they are slaughtering tens, hundreds and even thousands of korbanos in a day.

They have to get the animal down into the rings (I am sure it was no easy feat) at the northern end and then slaughter it. They had to then skin it and cut it open and remove various organs for various procedures. They had to break it down and separate the various parts that needed to be placed on the mizbeah or eaten. This must have taken plenty of time, even assuming they had expert kohanim there butchering the animals. And they had to do this tens of times a day, minimum. The work in the mikdash must have been an awesome sight to see, the kohanim whizzing about efficiently breaking down all these animals.

The Ramban is famous for saying that when one offers a korban on the mizbeah, he is meant to consider as if he should be the one up there being sacrificed as atonement for his sins. The animal takes his place, but his feeling should be that it should have been him up there. That will spur a person on to doing t'shuva.

As I waited to shecht my animals, I looked at them and thought about that. I considered myself doing that in the mikdash (shehita is kosher for a non-kohen to perform in the mikdash) and thinking about the animal taking my place. I stood there looking at the animal, even petting it a bit and talking to it. I said to it that it is the vehicle for my performing a mitzva and it is fulfilling its purpose in this world in the process.

While maybe a professional shohet would not think about these things, because he is de-sensitized, such as a doctor is allowed to see female patients because it is so common by him the tznius issues do not affect him in that sense, I am a novice. A guy just starting out. For me to shecht a 300-500 kilo calf was an awesome experience and made me think about it.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

blessing of accomplishment

Parshat P'kudei

In 39:43 after Moshe sees that the jews had done as Hashem had commanded, the passuk says, "And Moshe blessed them".

Rashi tells us what the blessing was. He says that Moshe blessed them that the shechina should dwell in their handiwork.

Why is that such a great bracha that it gets mention? I would think they would want a blessing like Hashem should make you successful or grabnt you long life, or good health or wealth or many other things. Here they created a house for Hashem and the blessing to them is that Hashem should live in it. Isn't that just a result of their work?

I think it is because seeing the shechina rest in their handiwork means they were successful. The mishkan was not just a building and if they built it according to specs it would be fine. The mishkan needed to be built according to specs but also with the right intentions and motivations. The fact that Hashem would rest his shechina in the mishkan means they had done everything properly, not just the physical construction. It is defining a sense of accomplishment which can then be built on for the future.

Blessing them in this fashion was a great blessing. If the blessing would come true, it would give them the greatest sense of accomplishment possible.

they did what He said

Parshat P'kudei

After they make all the various items for the mishkan, the passuk tells us in 39:42-43 that they did as told. The passuk says, "According to all that the LORD commanded Moses, so the children of Israel did all the work. 43 And Moses saw all the work, and, behold, they had done it; as the LORD had commanded, even so had they done it. And Moses blessed them."

They did the work as Hashem told them, then Moshe saw that they did the work as Hashem had told them and then what Hashem had commanded them to do they had done it.

Why does it have to tell us twice that they did what Hashem said? We got the point already, we need to separate that they did what Hashem said and then have Moshe acknowledge it too?

I would like to suggest and differentiate that the first time it says they had done what Hashem commanded, it was relaying the personal sense of accomplishment. They finished the work and they had done it properly. Something to be proud of!

The second time when it was Moshe seeing they had done according to Hashem's commandments, it is different. Moshe was their supervisor. Their manager. He performed his inspection of their work and found it successful and that they had performed admirably. Not only did he see that they completed their tasks, but he then blessed them.

Moshe was being a good manager. Complimenting those he is responsible for, and motivating them for the future tasks.

Monday, March 12, 2007

women of valor

Parshat Va'Yakhel

In 35:22 it says, " And they came, both men and women, as many as were willing-hearted, and brought nose-rings, and ear-rings, and signet-rings, and girdles, all jewels of gold; even every man that brought an offering of gold unto the LORD."

This statement of the Torah is juxtaposed with a statement we read last week in Ki Tisa.

There, Aharon suggested the men bring the jewelery of their wives. We are told he was hoping the women would refuse to part with their jewelry, effecting a delay in their plans. Aharon was wrong in his assumption because the men did not wait for the agreement of the women, rather they simply took the jewelry.

The righteous women refused to be part of the Golden Calf fiasco and refused to give up their jewelry to the point that it had to be forcefully taken from them. Here, the women along with the men happily participated in donating from their personal items and jewelry on behalf of the construction of the mikdash.

the women in the Torah constantly show their dedication to Hashem's path, even when the men constantly fail.

donating your time and energy

Parshat Va'Yakhel

The parsha starts off with Moshe describing the need for people to donate the various items for the mikdash construction. He goes through the whole list of items; gold, silver, copper , various cloths and hides, various expensive dyes, oils, spices, stones and gems. Then in 35:10 the passuk says, "וכל חכם לב בכם יבאו ויעשו את כל אשר צוה ה" - and all wise people among you should come and make that which Hashem has commanded. Then it continues listing more items.

Why is this handiwork donated by the wise-hearted person in the middle of the list of items to be donated?

Not everybody can donate. Sometimes it is beyond a persons means to donate an expensive item to a shul, or in this case to the mikdash. He just cannot do it. He might feel bad that everybody else is donating while he is not, but he still cannot.

But maybe he has a skill. Maybe he can help out in a way other than by giving his money. Maybe he can donate his time, roll up his sleeves and physically do things for the shul/mikdash..

The passuk is telling us, I believe, that this type of a donation is equal to the donations of the gold, silver, spices, and boards of wood for the beams of the mikdash. A person who cannot donate the money, or prefers to donate of his unique skills, is on equal footing with other donors.

Friday, March 09, 2007

destructive anger

Parshat Ki Tisa

The question was posed: Why did Moshe need to go up to the top of Har Sinai the second time for another full 40 days? He had just been there the first time when he learned the whole Torah, reached the spiritual highs and whatever else he accomplished up there. So when he had to go the second time why did it need to be for 40 days? It could have just been a day or two to get the new set of tablets. What was he doing there for 40 days the second time?

Neil from Modern Uberdox quotes the Sfas Emes to answer this question. The Sfas Emes explains a phenomenal answer. Briefly, he says that after the first time, Israel did a horrible sin and had gone through stages of repentance. The Torah of a baal teshuva is no tthe same as that of even a tzaddik. It is much greater. After having experienced all that happened, the first set he had already studied was no longer relevant to Bnei Yisrael. Ergo, Moshe had to go up a second time to study it all over again with a fresh approach.

I would like to suggest another answer. After Moshe came down the first time, he saw what the people had done. The passuk says he got angry and threw down and broke the tablets. We know and the mussar seforim tell us that anger is really the worst of all the bad charachter traits. Often it is based on haughtiness, though I would be hard pressed to say that about Moshe who the Torah testifies about as having been the most humble person ever.

Even if anger is not based on haughtiness, even if anger is justified, as it may have been in this case, anger is still destructive. I would like to suggest that because Moshe got angry, he "ruined" the effects of his having spent 40 days on Har Sinai learning the Torah. because of his anger, even though it was justified, he had to spend more time re-learning the Torah and refining his charachter.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

unanswered question

Parshat Ki Tisa

The Torah in 34: 18-26 goes from warning about throwing the nations out of the Land of Israel to other topics, such as the holiday of Pesach, then redeeming the firstborn calf and sheep, korban pesach, bikkurim,not working on shabbos, the holidays of shavuos and sukkos, not eating meat and milk together, etc..

What is the connection between all these things? Did it just select random laws to mention here? How does it lead from one to the other?

If you have an answer, leave it in the comments

One thing leads to another

Parshat Ki Tisa

Hashem is telling the people that He is bringing them into the Land of Israel and they must chase out the nations...In 34:15 Hashem warns them, "פן תכרת ברית ליושב הארץ ... וקרא לך ואכלת מזבחו" - lest you make a treaty with the inhabitants of the land and turn after their gods and they will slaughter to their gods and will invite you and you will eat with them.

It starts off with something innocuous like getting ogether for coffee or dinner with the nice neighbor. What's wrong with eating with him - the food is kosher! he shechted the animal according to our specifications specifically so he could invite me over!! There's nothing wrong with it.

I hear myself making the above excuses for all sorts of things that are technically not wrong.

The problem is that one thing leads to another. You start off by eating dinner with him and the Torah says that it leads to worse. You develop a relationship, you get together often, your kids become good friends and end up intermarrying, and eventually your descendants are worshipping other gods. All because you made an excuse to have dinner with the guy.

That is why the Torah warns us to not to make a treaty with them and eat with them. One thing leads to another.

investing your own efforts

Parshat Ki Tisa

Moshe is preparing to go up to Har Sinai for the second time to get the new set of tablets. Hashem tells him (in 34:1-4) that he has to hew two new stone tablets like the first set, etc. and Moshe hewed his own stones.

Why did Moshe have to do this? He did not have to hew his own stones the first time around - Hashem gave them to him. Why the second time did he have to bring his own?

Rashi says that Hashem said because you broke the set I gave you, you have to bring your own this time.

Sometimes you get something for your kid. Maybe a toy or a book or whatever. The kid breaks the toy. Happens in my house all the time. They actually prefer dismantling the toys and seeing how they are constructed rather than actually playing with them!
So you get your kid a toy and he breaks it fairly quickly. Are you going to run out and by him a new toy right away? Usually not. You will make the kid earn it. You want the child to learn responsibility and about waste. He has to learn the value of the item and thereby treat it better in the future.

So too by Moshe. You broke it, so bring your own this time. Moshe was being taught the real value of these tablets. true he broke the first set for a good reason and it was justified. But forcing him to hew his own stones and shlep them up the mountain really teaches Moshe the value and increases his level of respect for the tablets. In general he will treat them better and with more respect the next time.

When you invest your own efforts in something, you respect it that much more.

wrath on luchot

Parshat Ki Tisa

Moshe comes down from Har Sinai and finds Bnei Yisrael engaged in licentious and borderline idolatrous behavior around a golden calf. Enraged, he throws down the tablets and breaks them.

Why break the tablets? What benefit is there in that? They were very valuable, as we see later from when Moshe has to make a new set, and they were very holy. So why be so extreme as to break them?

I would suggest that this is similar to what we find in the gemara regarding the Beis Hamikdash - the gemera learns from a passuk in tehillim that we thank Hashem that he took out his wrath on the stones and wood of the temple rather than on the people. He could have destroyed us, the people, but instead saved us and destroyed the Temple instead.

I would suggest that Moshe did the same. Hashem wanted to destroy the people and start over. Moshe had told Hashem not to, but I think the price of that was that he break the luchot.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

effective responses

Parshat Ki Tisa

Moshe comes down from Mt. Sinai and see what the people have done. He gets angry and throws and breaks the luchos. In 32:19 it says, "ויחר אף משה וישלך מידו את הלחות".

What was the big surprise? Hashem already told him what they had done - it should have been no shock to him when he came down? Why the extreme reaction? He should already have been mentally prepared for what he would see, even possibly already with a thought out plan of action!

Sometimes, often, our reactions are spontaneous. Especially when it is a reaction of anger and shock.
For example, when your child misbehaves, you might get angry and punish the kid.

More often than not, that spontaneous anger is really selfish - you feel insulted your kid acted a certain way. You feel hurt or embarrassed. If you would wait and think about it calmly you might come up with a more effective punishment.

Moshe here had time to think about it. This was not a reaction of shock and surprise. This was planned. He felt this was the most effective response in order to teach them the severity of what they had done.

making excuses

Parshat Ki Tisa

In 32:10,11 Hashem decides He wishes to kill out the Jewish people and start over from scratch from Moshe.

How does Moshe respond to this?

He did not make excuses for the people. He did not try to rationalize what they had done. He could have argued that they made a mistake, they were led to believe Moshe was dead, they just wanted a middleman between them and God, etc. All sorts of excuses.

But he did not.

What did he do?

He right away requested a pardon. He says, it will not look good for You to destroy them. What will the Egyptians say? The forefathers? etc. In the end his arguments calmed Hashem down (so to speak).

If your boss (for example) aproaches you with a problem, often our initial response is to try to pass the blame. We make excuses. We try to weasel out of it.

Moshe shows us that accepting the facts is the right way to face the issues. Face the facts and find a way to get around and/or solve the problem. Don't make silly excuses.

Aharon, on the other hand, we see later in 32:22,23 making excuses for his participation in the affair. He should have learned from Moshe and taken the blame for what he did and moved on. Instead he got punished for it.

delaying tactics

Parshat Ki Tisa

Moshe was late coming down from Mt. Sinai. The people were under the impression that he had died. They wanted a new leader and wanted to make what ended up being the golden calf. They approach Aharon and insist on his assistance.

In 32:2 we see Aharon instructing the people to get their wives jewelery and bring it to him.

Rashi says tha Aharon made this request as a delaying tactic. By them having to go to the wives and request jewelery, it would slow them down and give Moshe more time to return. He figured the wives would not give up the jewelery so quickly.

Sometimes it is not worth getting into a head on confrontation. A bit of subversion is useful.

But it did not help. They were more ambitious than what Aharon predicted. They went and took the jewelery without asking.

Sometimes, delaying tactics are not the way to go. Sometimes you have to take a stand.