Thursday, April 26, 2007

a friend and a brother

Parshas K'Doshim

In 19:17 the passuk tells us, "לא תשנא את אחיך בלבבך הוכח תוכיח את עמיתך" - Do not hate your brother in your heart, rebuke your friend.

Both parts of the passuk are referring to your fellow Jew - not to hate your fellow Jew in your heart, but to get it out and work things out, and to rebuke your fellow Jew.

So why the change of terminology? Why use the term "brother" and then switch to "friend"?

I think the passuk is telling us that if you are going to hate somebody, hate him like your brother, and if you are going to rebuke somebody, rebuke him like a friend.

In other words, nobody hates their brother secretly while making it look like you get along. if you hate your brother you always fight with him. There is nothing swept under the carpets between brothers. When you rebuke your friend, you do so to help him improve himself and you do it in a constructive manner.

So whenever you might hate a fellow Jew, it should at least be as though he was a brother. Out in the open. Not made to look like love but having the hatred fester beneath the surface.

Whenever you rebuke a fellow Jew it should be as a friend, done constructively.

licentiousness and idol worship

Parshat Acharei Mos

In 18:21 the Torah warns us of passing our children through the fires of Molech, as a form of idol worship.
The Torah just listed numerous details of the prohibitions of עריות, then it throws in this passuk of idol worship, then it continues with a few more of עריות before it moves on to other topics.

What is the connection? Why in the middle of all this עריות do we throw in the idol worship verse?

The only connection I can think of is that among the commentaries we often find explained (commonly by the Golden Calf for example) how עריות and idol worship are very much connected. We do not understand idol worship that well, because the gemara tells us that the Great Men of Assembly cancelled the desire for idol worship due to what they saw as an increased threat, we often find idol worship going hand in hand with licentiousness.

That could be the reason for the proximity of the psukim here.

Anybody have an explanation?

who would eat blood anyway?

Parshat Acharei Mos

in 17:10-14, we have a span of 5 psukim in which the Torah tells us 5 times not to eat blood and another 3 times that someone who does eat blood will be cut off from Israel.

Isn't that a bit much? Why the need to repeat it so much? Especially considering the general revulsion people have to eating blood - almost nobody eats blood, so why repeat it so much?

Maybe because the severity of eating blood is so high because of its relation to the soul - כי הדם הוא הנפש.

Anybody have a good explanation?

death in the Holies

Parshat Acharei Mos

In 16:2 Hashem tells Moshe to tell Aharon. "ואל יבא בכל עת אל הקדש...ולא ימות" - that he cannot just walk into the Holy of Holies whenever he wants... and he will not die.

Rashi adds that this is so he should not die the way his sons died.

His sons died because they brought unauthorized sacrifices in the Holy. They did not just walk in. Also over there the commentaries search for alternative explanations that were the cause of their deaths. Such as they decided halacha in front of Moshe, or they entered the Holy while inebriated, etc.

So how does this warning compare to the death of Ahaon's sons?

The only answer I can think of offhand is that it is referring to the method of death. The punishment would be the same even though the offense is different (slightly).

Tuesday, April 17, 2007


Parshat Mitzora

14:35 "And the owner of the house will come forth and tell the Kohen saying something like a nega I have seen in my house..."

Why would anyone go to the Kohen? The tzara'as is completely dependant on the declaration of the Kohen, so why go to the Kohen? You see a splotch - just ignore it. What is pushing these people to actually go to the Kohen nad clear it up? It is not like a disease that if youignore and avoid the doctor you could die from it. Here it is a matter of purity and impurity and if you do not go the Kohen you have avoided declaring it impure! Who wants to dismantle the bricks of their house or stay in isolation for a couple of weeks - just ignore it!?

I think this is indicative of the integrity required of us. The Torah puts us on the honor system and expects us to act properly. When you see usch a splotch, no matter how inconvenient the timing is, you are expected to drop everything and go to the Kohen. No police or court orders ordering you to do anything.
It is just between you and God. Nobody else even needs to know about it. Maybe the splotch is on a covered part of your skin. Or inside your house. Or on clothes that you do not even need top wear. And despite all that, the person will go to the Kohen and do what needs to be done.

defer to authority

Parshat Tazria

In 13: 14-17 the Torah discusses the asic form of tzara'as and says, "He will come to the Kohen...and show the Kohen..if it changes to white he will be pure..the Kohen will declare him impure..etc"

This is a very simple form of tzara'as. Some forms are complicated;different colors, hairs, on clothes, on the walls of the house, etc.. but the form here is very simple and the splotch on the skin is either white or fleshy. What is the big deal that the Kohen is needed for this?

A person has to defer to authority. it could not have been too difficult to recognize this splotch and identify it as either pure or impure - most people probably could have done this one on their own.

But no. ובא אל הכהן- he comes to the Kohen. He has to respect the authority of the Kohen and defer to him and allow the Kohen to do his job.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

no preferential treatment

Parshat Sh'mini

The children of Aharon, Nadav and Avihu, enter the Mishkan in the Holy of Holies and offer an unauthorized sacrifice. For it they are punished with immediate death. In 10:3 Moshe says to Aharon, "That is what Hashem said By My close ones I shall be sanctified".

What a wicked person gets punished, people are understanding. They say he deserved it anyway. When a tzaddik gets punished it usually raises questions of faith. Why do bad things happen to good people, and the like.

These guys had heavy duty vitamin P (Protexia). There wer eonly 5 kohanim at the time, and they were two of them. They were the sons of Aharon. the nephews of Moshe. These are two people who are among an elite group and people hand-selected by God to lead the Jewish Nation.

With all that going for them, you would think they would be given a little leeway. Okay, so they did something wrong. We can let it slide. Nobody even knew they did anything wrong anyway - they did it in the Holy of Holies where nobody could see or know. Hashem could easily have slapped them on the wrist and said I will let it go this time just don't do it again.

But no. In My close ones I will be sanctified. When Hashem takes their lives, especially these people, as punishment for their actions, it makes the kiddush Hashem even greater. People see that the rules apply to everybody equally. There is no preferential treatment.

Moshe, Aharon, and families have to perform equally as, or even better than, everybody else. בקרבי אקדש.

even Aharon was not above suspicion

Parshat Sh'mini

In 9:1, the first passuk of the parsha, the Torah tells us, "And it was on the eighth day Moshe called to Aharon and his sons and to the elders of Israel."

Rashi tells us that he did so in order to make sure everybody knew that Aharon entered the Mishkan and served as Kohen by the order of Hashem and not on his own decision.

I find it amazing that after all that has happened until now and after the constant testimony by Hashem in the Torah that Moshe and Aharon performed specifically according to the directives from Hashem, he is still under suspicion. there still needs to be outside confirmation that Aharon is acting faithfully and not on his own initiative.

What does he need to do already for people to trust him and not think he is pulling a fast one?

The lesson, I think, is that nobody is above suspicion. Everybody must behave in a way that raises them above any possible suspicion. Nobody should assume they have people's trust and if they do something, even if it looks questionable they will still have people's unwavering trust and support.

People are naturally skeptical about others, especially about leaders. Leaders must be careful to act in ways that keep them above suspicion. Aharon and Moshe were careful to do so.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

what you say and how you say it

Parshat Bo

In the haggada, The Rasha, the wicked son, asks what is this service to you? The answer we respond to him is by striking him on the teeth and telling him that had he been in Egypt he would not have gone out with the rest of the Jews.

In Parshat Bo, in 12:26-27, the passuk says, "when your children say to you what is this service for you? You will say it is the Pesah sacrifice for Hashem who skipped over the houses of the Jews...etc.

Why is it that in the haggada when the Rasha asks this questions he is punched in the face but in the Torah we give the child an answer. What is the difference? And why in the haggada do we say the Rasha will ask this question when in the Humash it does not differentiate and it seems that it is a valid question?

I think the difference is in the attitude and the setting. In the Humash, the question is being asked out of interest and curiosity. In the haggada the question is being asked out of rejection and scoffing.

When the children ask because they really don't know but want to, the answer is about the Pesah sacrifice. Whenthe children ask and it is clear they are asking in a scoffing and rejecting manner, the answer has to be sharper.

As "they" say, it is not just what you say, but how you say it.