Parashat Nitzavim-Vayeilech / פרשת נצבים־וילך

In this week’s Parsha, Moshe continues to address the Jewish people and to impress upon them the importance of keeping the Torah properly, and the reward which will be afforded to those who do, and on the flip side, the severity of the recompense a person will receive for not adequately abiding by the Torah’s holy laws.  However, there is one particular equation in this week’s Parsha which does not seem to add up correctly.  The Torah says that if a person says to himself, “I will go upon my path, everything will be okay”, Hashem will not forgive him and the verses go on to say the terrible punishment he will receive.  I believe that this “non-commensurate” response requires a bit of explanation.

The famous Mashgiach, R’ Chazkal Levenstein explains beautifully that when a person says to himself that he will embark on his path and everything will be fine, he is lacking the most rudimentary and fundamental trait that a Jew is required to possess – the fear of Heaven.  A person who fosters a cavalier attitude about his life and his actions has no hope of ever returning to Torah observance, whereas a person who visualizes the consequences of his actions assumes a true level of responsibility for his misdeeds, and will do everything in his power to ensure that his mistakes are not repeated.  It is specifically for this reason that the Torah tilts all the punishment dials to the right when it comes to this kind of stance.  It is to show us how far we need to stay away from this casual approach and how necessary it is for us to work on our level of fear of retribution for our actions.  We have to always drive home the reality that if we sin, there will be very real and very unpleasant countermeasures for that sin, and allow the fear of those countermeasures to always motivate us to do the right thing.

The famous Tosafos in Shabbos (88) ask a fantastic question.  The Gemorah teaches us that in order for Hashem to have ensured that the Jews would accept the Torah properly, He held a mountain over their heads and said, “If you accept the Torah, then fine, and if you don’t, you will now be buried”.  Needless to say, they accepted the Torah.  Tosafos ask if the Jews accepted the Torah at Sinai with the famous remark “נעשה ונשמע” – “We will do, and then we will hear”, why was it necessary for Hashem to then go and hold a mountain over their heads?  Tosafos give their own answer, but The Maharal from Prague answers that although the Jews at Sinai were enthused with a predominant desire to do the will of Hashem forever the moment they uttered that famous declaration, we all know that when the inspiration which led to that moment would begin to die down with time, their resolve may not hold as strong as it once was.  I am sure that many of us can testify to the truth of this statement of the Maharal in our own lives.  It was precisely for this reason that Hashem held a mountain over their heads.  It was to teach them that although inspiration is wonderful, it is not enough.  We need to always maintain a constant level of trepidation at the thought of transgressing the word of the Torah.  This fear and this alone will be instrumental in helping us to keep our lusts in check during a time of temptation.  When we feel a pull toward a particular sin, there is a specific commandment in the Torah to arouse ourselves to feel terrified about the retribution we will receive if we cannot hold our excitement for that sin at bay, and the Torah is teaching us that only this type of fight will truly be effective at curbing our passions.

R’ Yitzchak B’lazar asks a fascinating question.  He proposes that if fear of Heaven is so integral to our service, then it should have been hardwired into our system, much the same way fear of danger or survival instincts is.  Why wouldn’t Hashem have built us with these components if He expected us to succeed in our service of Him?  R’ Yitzchak explains that had we possessed the same fear of Hashem that we do of worldly dangers, we would essentially be robots.  The factor which makes us human, and differentiates us from every other inhabitant of this earth, is our ability to choose right from wrong.  If we would fear Hashem like we do a shark, there would be no room for us to err.  You don’t find many human beings swimming in shark infested water.  Although it is difficult to reach this level of fear, this is exactly what we were created to do.

What are some practical methods a person can use to achieve a higher plane of consciousness in this area?  Firstly, it goes without saying that learning Mussar with great enthusiasm and fervor is certainly effective in increasing one’s general level of awareness of Hashem.  Another powerful tool one can implement is to boost his feeling during the prayer and blessings he recites during the day.  But I would like to share with you something R’ Nachum Zev from Kelm used to do.  He would go every week to visit the sick people in the hospital in order to help enhance his fear of Heaven.  He would explain that although we all know that Hashem is running the world, and we could be sick or healthy at any time of day based on His say so, Chazal says we cannot compare knowing something to seeing it.  When one sees the terrible disfigurements and suffering a human being can become exposed to based on no bad choices of his own, one will certainly begin to inculcate a very real sense of reward and punishment, and how vulnerable we really are at any given time.

During this period we find ourselves in, fear of Heaven is probably the most precious commodity a human being can have in his possession.  Although it is somewhat difficult to come by, let us look to the Gedolim for some examples of outstanding success in achieving fear of Hashem.  The famous Rebetzin Yaffe writes about her father the Beis Halevi; “During the month of Elul, my father was virtually inaccessible.  There was a palpable fear in the air as if there were some capital court case about to happen, and my father was on trial, and if he lost, he would be taken out to the gallows to be hung publicly.”  One of the Brisker Rav’s students once asked him whether or not all the scary feelings Chazal write about the month of Elul are to be taken literally.  The Brisker Rav responded, “of course they are.  In fact, two week’s before Rosh Hashana, I can’t even taste any of my food!”  Once another student met the Rav on the street shortly before Rosh Hashana and asked him how he was feeling.  The Rav responded that he was feeling a little scared about the upcoming judgment and that he needed to repent.  The student asked the Rav in surprise if even the Rav needed to repent.  The Rabbi looked at the man like he was crazy, and asked his Gabbai to check if the student had suffered any sort of brain injury, and remained upset at that question the rest of the day.  Although these giants clearly were able to attain an extremely heightened sense of fear of Heaven, and we are perhaps just taking baby steps to make inroads into our development, it behooves us to do everything in our power to avoid the attitude we described above in this week’s Parsha that everything will be fine, regardless of our actions, and instead replace it with one of genuine concern that our behavior is not quite up to par, and return to Hashem with all of our hearts.

May we all merit to work on our level of fear of Heaven and earn a wonderful sweet new year filled with every blessing!

Parashat Eikev / פרשת עקב

Eikev, Deuteronomy 7:12 -11:25

Moshe continues his discourse guaranteeing the Jewish people prosperity and good health if they follow the mitzvot, the commandments. He reminds us to look at our history and to know that we can and should trust in God. However, we should be careful so that we are not distracted by our material success, lest we forget and ignore God.

Moshe warns us against idolatry (the definition of idolatry is the belief that anything other than God has power) and against self-righteousness — “Do not say because of my virtue that God brought me to possess this land … but because of the wickedness of these nations that God is driving them out before you.” (Deut. 9:5). He then details our rebellions against God during the 40 years in the desert and the giving of the Second Tablets (Moshe broke the first Tablets containing the Ten Commandments during the sin of the Golden Calf.)

This week’s portion dispels a common misconception. People think that “Man does not live by bread alone” means that a person needs additional foods beyond bread to survive. The quotation in its entirety is, “Man does not live by bread alone … but by all that comes out of God’s mouth” (Deut. 8:3).

The Torah then answers a question which every human being has asked of himself: What does God want of you? “Only that you remain in awe of God your Lord, so that you will follow all His paths and love Him, serving God your Lord with all your heart and with all your soul. You must keep God’s commandments and decrees … so that all good will be yours” (Deut. 10:12).

Parashat Sh’lach / פרשת שלח־לך

Parsha Summary for Parshas Shlach

Note: The Shabbos Torah Reading is divided into 7 sections. Each section is called an Aliya [literally: Go up] since for each Aliya, one person “goes up” to make a bracha [blessing] on the Torah Reading.


1st Aliya: Moshe sends the Spies on their mission.

2nd Aliya: The Spies return carrying the massive fruits of the land. They deliver their negative report and the nation loses its faith in G-d and Moshe.

3rd Aliya: Moshe successfully argues for the life of the nation, and Hashem issues the 40 year decree of wandering and dying.

4th Aliya: The Spies die, and the nation is informed of their own punishment.

5th Aliya: The laws of the Mincha – meal offering are stated.

6th Aliya: The laws of separating Challah – the dough offering, and the communal sin offering are stated.

7th Aliya: The individual sin offering; the incident with the man who transgressed Shabbos by gathering sticks; his punishment; and the Mitzvah of Tzitzit, conclude the Parsha.

SHELACH

NUMBERS 13 (ONKELOS) — 1 And the Lord spake with Mosheh, saying: 2 Send thou men, that they may explore the land of Kenaan, which I will give to the children of Israel: one man for each tribe of their fathers shall you send, each one a ruler among them. 3 And Mosheh sent them from the wilderness of Pharan, according to the Word of the Lord. All those men were heads of the children of Israel; 4 and these are their names: Tor the tribe of Reuben, Shamua bar Zakur; 5 for the tribe of Shemeon, Shaphat bar Hori; 6 for the tribe of Jehudah, Kaleb bar Jephuneh; 7 for the tribe of Issakar, Igal bar Joseph; 8 for the tribe of Ephraim, Hoshea bar Nun; 9 for the tribe of Benyamin, Phalti bar Raphu; 10 for the tribe of Zebulon, Gediel bar Sodi; 11 for the tribe of Joseph, the tribe of Menasheh, Gaddi bar Susi; 12 for the tribe of Dan, Ammiel bar Gemali; 13 for the tribe of Asher, Sethor bar Mikael; 14 for the tribe of Naphtali, Nachbi bar Yapsi; 15 for the tribe of Gad, Geuel bar Machi: 16 These are the names of the men whom Mosheh sent to explore the land.

17 And Mosheh called Hoshea bar Nun Jehoshua. And Mosheh sent them away to explore the land of Kenaan. And he said to them, Go up hither by the south, and ascend to the mountain, 18 and see the country what it is, and the people who dwell upon it, whether they be strong or weak, few or many; 19 and what the land is in which they dwell, whether good or bad; and what the cities they inhabit, whether open, or walled in; 20 and whether the land is rich or poor; whether it hath trees or not: and you, be of good courage, and bring of the fruits of the land. And the days were the days of the first grapes.

21 And they went up, and explored the country, from the wilderness of Zin unto Rechob, to come unto Hamath. 22 And they went up by the south, and came to Hebron; and there were Achiman, Sheshai, and Talmai, sons of the giants; (and Hebron was built seven years before Tanis of Mizraim). 23 And they came to the Stream of Grapes, and cut down there a branch, with one cluster of grapes, and carried it on a staff between two; and (they took also) of the pomegranates, and of the figs. 24 That place was called the Stream of Grapes, on account of the grapes (athkela) which the sons of Israel cut down from thence. 25 And they returned from the exploration of the country at the end of forty days.

26 And they went and came to Mosheh, and to Aharon, and to all the congregation of the children of Israel at the wilderness of Pharan, at Rekam,and returned the word to them, and to all the congregation, and showed them the fruit of the land. 27 And they recounted to him, and said: We came to the land whither thou didst send us,and truly it doth produce milk and honey, and this is the fruit of it. 28 But very mighty are the people who inhabit the land, and the cities are fortified and very great; and we saw, also, the sons of the giants there. 29 The Amalkaah dwell in the land of the south, and the Hittaah and Jebusaah and Amoraah dwell in the mountain, and the Kenaanaah dwell by the sea, and upon the bank of the Jordan.

30 And Kaleb quieted the people for Mosheh, and said: Going, let us go up and possess it, for we are able to (do) it: 31 but the men who had gone up with him said, We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we. 32 And they gave forth an evil report (name) about the land which they had explored to the children of Israel, saying: The country which we have passed through to search it, is a land that killeth its inhabitants; and all the people whom we saw in it are men of stature; 33 and there we saw the giants, the sons of Anak, which are of the giants; and we looked, in our own sight, as locusts, and so were we in their eyes.

NUMBERS 14 (ONKELOS) — 1 And all the congregation lifted up and gave (forth) their voice; and all the people wept that night. 2 And all the children of Israel murmured against Mosheh and Aharon; and the whole congregation said to them, that we had died in the land of Mizraim, or that we had died in this wilderness! 3 And why is the Lord bringing us to this land, that we may fall by the sword, and our wives and our children become a prey? Would it not be better for us to return into Mizraim? 4 And they said, a man to his brother, Let us appoint a chieftain, and go back into Mizraim.

5 And Mosheh and Aharon fell upon their faces before all the assembly of the sons of Israel. 6 And Jehoshua bar Nun, and Kaleb bar Jephuneh, who were of the explorers of the land, rent their clothes. 7 And they spake to all the congregation of the sons of Israel, saying: The land, which we passed through to explore it, is a good land, most exceedingly. 8 If the Lord hath pleasure in us, even He will bring us into this land, and give us the land which produceth milk and honey. 9 Only be not rebellious against the Word of the Lord, nor be afraid of the people of the land, for they are delivered into our hand; their strength is departed from them, and the Word of the Lord is our helper: fear them not. 10 But all the congregation said that they would stone them with stones.

And the Glory of the Lord was revealed at the tabernacle of ordinance, unto ail the children of Israel. 11 And the Lord said to Mosheh, How long will this people provoke Me, and how long will they disbelieve in My Word, for all the signs which I have wrought among them? 12 I will smite them with the pestilence and consume them; and will make of thee a people greater and stronger than they. 13 But Mosheh said before the Lord, And the Mizraee will hear of it;—for Thou didst bring up by Thy power this people from among them, 14 and they will tell unto the inhabitants of this land; for they have heard that Thou, Lord, dost dwell in Thy Shekinah among this people, whose eyes behold the glorious Shekinah of the Lord, and that Thy Cloud overshadoweth them, and that in the pillar of the Cloud Thou conductest them in the day, and in the pillar of Fire by night. 15 Now if Thou shalt kill this people as one man, the nations who have heard the fame of Thy power will speak, saying: 16 Because there was not strength (enough) before the Lord to bring this people into the land which He covenanted to them, He hath killed them in the desert. 17 And now I beseech, let power be magnified from before the Lord, as Thou hast thus spoken, saying: 18 The Lord is far from anger, and great in performing goodness and truth: forgiving iniquity and rebellion and sins, pardoning them who return unto His law: but acquitting not them who will not turn, (but) visiting the sins of the fathers upon the rebellious children unto the third and unto the fourth generation. 19 Pardon, I beseech, the sins of this people according to the amplitude of Thy goodness, and as Thou hast forgiven this people from Mizraim until now.

20 And the Lord said, I have pardoned according to thy word. 21 Yet, as I live, with the glory of the Lord shall all the earth be filled. 22 Because all these men who have seen My glory, and the signs I wrought in Mizraim and in the desert, but have tempted before Me these ten times, and have not been obedient to My Word,—23 if they shall see the land which I covenanted to their fathers, nor shall any see it who have provoked before Me. 24 But My servant Kaleb, for that there was in him another spirit, and that he hath wholly followed (in) My fear, him will I bring into the land whither he went, and his children shall possess it.—25 Now the Amalkaah and the Kenaanaah dwelt in the valley.—Tomorrow, turn you and get you to the wilderness by the way of the Sea of Suph.

26 And the Lord spake with Mosheh and unto Aharon, saving: 27 How long shall this evil congregation be murmuring against Me? The murmuring of the sons of Israel which they murmur against Me is heard before Me. 28 Say to them, As I live, saith the Lord, even as ye have spoken before Me, so will I do to you. 29 In this wilderness shall your carcases fall, and all who are numbered of you, of all your numbers, from one of twenty years and upward who have murmured against me—30 if you shall come into the land in which I covenanted in My Word to cause you to dwell, except Kaleb bar Jephuneh, and Jehoshua bar Nun. 31 But your children, of whom you said they were for a prey, will I bring in, and they shall know the land which you have abhorred. 32 But your carcases shall fall in this wilderness; 33 and your children shall go about in the wilderness forty years, and shall bear your iniquities until your carcases be laid in the wilderness. 34 According to the number of the days in which you explored the land, forty days, a day for a year, a day for a year, you shall receive for your sins, even forty years, and you shall know (the consequence of) your murmuring against me.  35 I, the Lord, have made the decree in My Word,—if I will not do unto all this evil congregation who have gathered together against Me; in this wilderness shall they find their end, and here shall they die.

36 And the men whom Mosheh sent to search the land, and who returned to make all the congregation murmur against him, by bringing forth an evil name upon the land; 37 those men who brought out the evil name upon the land died by the plague before the Lord. 38 But Jehoshua bar Nun and Kaleb bar Jephuneh lived, of those men who went to explore the land. 39 And Mosheh told these words to all the children of Israel, and the people bewailed greatly. 40 And they arose in the morning to go up to the top of the mountain, saying: Behold, we will go up to the place of which the Lord hath spoken; for we have sinned. 41 But Mosheh said, Wherefore do you transgress against the decree of the Word of the Lord? But it will not prosper. 42 Go not up, for the Shekinah of the Lord is not among you, and be not broken before your enemies. 43 For the Amalkaah and the Kenaanaah are there before you, and you will fall by the sword; for, because you have turned away from the service of the Lord, the Word of the Lord will not be your helper. 44 Yet they would commit the wickedness of going up to the summit of the mountain, though the ark of the Lord’s covenant, and Mosheh, removed not from the midst of the camp. 45 And the Amalkaah and the Kenaanaah who dwelt in the mountain came down and smote them, and pursued them unto Hormah.

NUMBERS 15 (ONKELOS) — 1 And the Lord spake with Mosheh, saying: 2 Speak with the children of Israel, and say to them: When you shall (at last) have come into the land which I will give you, 3 and you will make an oblation before the Lord, a burnt offering, or a consecrated sacrifice for the release of a vow, or in a free will offering, or in your solemnities to render an acceptable service before the Lord, from the herd or from the flock; 4 let him who offereth his oblation before the Lord bring for a mincha a tenth of flour sprinkled with the fourth of a hina of oil. 5 And wine for a libation the fourth of a hina shall he make upon the burnt offering, or hallowed sacrifice, for one lamb: 6 or for a ram he shall make a mincha of two tenths of flour sprinkled with the third of a hina of oil; 7 and wine for the libation thou shalt bring the third of a hina, to be received with acceptance before the Lord. 8 And when thou makest a bullock a burnt offering, or a hallowed sacrifice for the release of a vow, or hallowed sacrifices before the Lord, 9 let him bring with the bullock a mincha of three tenths of flour sprinkled with a half hina of oil; 10 and wine shalt thou bring for the libation the half of a hina, an oblation to be received with acceptance before the Lord. 11 So shalt thou do for one bullock, or one ram, or one lamb from the lambs, or from the kids. 12 According to the number that you perform so shall you do with each, according to their number. 13 All native born (Hebrews) shall do these things to offer an oblation to be received with favour before the Lord. 14 And if a sojourner who sojourneth with you, or whoever among you in your generations will make an oblation to be received with favour before the Lord, as you do, so shall he do. 15 One congregation and one rite shall be for you and for the sojourners who sojourn; it is an everlasting statute; as you are, so shall the sojourner be before the Lord: 16 one law and one judgment shall be for you and for the sojourners who dwell with you.

17 And the Lord spake with Mosheh, saying: 18 Speak with the sons of Israel, and say to them, When you have come into the land into which I will bring you, 19 and when you eat of the bread of the land, you shall set apart a separation before the Lord. 20 Of the first of your food you shall set apart a cake for a separation; as the separation of the threshing-floor, so shall you set it apart; 21 of the first of your bread (dough) you shall give the separation before the Lord in your generations.

22 And should you be in ignorance, and not do all these commandments of which the Lord hath spoken with Mosheh, 23 even all which the Lord commanded you by the hand of Mosheh from the day that the Lord commanded and thenceforward in your generations, 24 it shall be that if anything be hid from the eyes of the congregation and you do ignorantly, then all the congregation shall make a burnt offering of one young bullock, to be received with acceptance before the Lord, with his mincha and his libation, according to the proper manner, and one kid of the goats for a sin offering: 25 and the priest shall make atonement for all the congregation of the sons of Israel, and it shall be forgiven them, for it was ignorance; but they shall bring their oblation before the Lord on account of their ignorance. 26 And it shall be forgiven to all the congregation of the children of Israel, and to the sojourners who sojourn among them; for all the people (were) in ignorance. 27 And if one sin ignorantly, he shall bring a female kid of the year for a sin offering; 28 and the priest shall make atonement for the man who hath erred in his sin through ignorance before the Lord, to atone for him, and it shall be forgiven him. 29 For the native born of the sons of Israel, and for the sojourner who sojourneth among you, one law shall there be for you, for him who acteth in ignorance. 30 But the man who doeth presumptuously, whether of the native born, or of the sojourners, he provoketh the Lord to anger, and that man shall perish from among his people: 31 because he hath despised the word of the Lord, and hath made His commandment vain, that man shall be utterly destroyed, his sin is upon him.

32 And while the children of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man stealing wood on the day of the Sabbath; 33 and they who had found him stealing wood brought him to Mosheh and Aharon, and to all the congregation. 34 And they bound him in the house of custody; for it had not been explained to them what they should do to him. 35 And the Lord said unto Mosheh, The man shall be surely put to death; all the congregation shall stone him with stones without the camp. 36 And all the congregation brought him forth without the camp, and stoned him with stones, and he died; as the Lord commanded Mosheh.

37 And the Lord spake to Mosheh, saying: 38 Speak with the children of Israel, and bid them that they make them fringes upon the borders of their garments throughout their generations, and that upon the fringes on the borders they put a ribbon of hyacinth. 39 And they shall be to you for fringes, that you may look upon it, and remember all the commandments of the Lord, and do them, and not wander after the imagination of your heart, or after the sight of your eyes, after which you have gone astray. 40 That you may remember and do all My precepts, and be saints before your God. 41 I am the Lord your God who brought you forth from the land of Mizraim to be to you Eloha: I am the Lord your God.

Matiytyahu It Is a Didactic or Teaching Gospel. While giving the account of a number of miracles, the book is marked by several discourses of considerable length, as The sermon on the Mount, chapters 3-7, the denunciation of the *Pharisees not the school of Hillel, chapter 23, the prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem and the end of the world, chapters 24-25, the address to the apostles, chapter 10; and the doctrines of the kingdom, 17:24-20:16. These portions and the parables noted above will indicate how large a portion of the book is taken up in discourses. The student can make lists of other and shorter sections of teaching.

* On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Yeshua. “ Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

He answered: ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

“You have answered correctly,” Yeshua replied. “Do this and you will live.”

But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Yeshua, “And who is my neighbor?”

Yeshua as Rabbi:

Part 1: What is a Rabbi?

Part 2: Was Yeshua a Rabbi?

Part 3: Yeshua’ Miracles

Yeshua, as an integral member of the culture he lived in, was not only a rabbi with s’mikah, but he also took part in the rabbinic culture of his day, interacting with others in that culture. As such, he was called on to answer a number of questions and to weigh in with his opinions on issues of import to that culture.

The Schools

Within his culture of early first-century Israel, there were seven primary rabbinic ’schools’ of thought, with followers – talmidim – in each school. These schools were named after the founding rabbi, even if that rabbi was no longer alive. Much like the discussion that goes on in these schools of thought within Judaism would debate key questions of theology and practice, often quite heatedly.

At the poles of thought within these schools, the most lenient (or liberal, though not in a modern sense) of the rabbinical schools was the School of Hillel. One of Hillel’s key teachings, recorded in the Talmud, is this:

That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn.

About ten years after Hillel’s death, Yeshua took this concept, building onto it in a positive fashion:

So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.

At the other end of the spectrum, the School of Shammai was the most strict in its interpretations. The remaining five schools of rabbinic thought ranged between these two, Hillel and Shammai, with key nuances – emphases or de-emphases – from the other schools. When Yeshua began his ministry near the age of 30, he entered into this context, and as one might expect, he was asked to weigh in on the great debates of the day.

Question and Answer

Within the rabbinic schools, the primary means of debate was ask-assertive conversation rather than the highly expository method in Western/Greek culture. The reason for this is based on the theory that ‘if I tell you what you should believe, the answer you have is my answer. If, however, I ask you questions that lead to the answer, when you arrive at it, the answer will be your answer. As such, if you come into contact with alternative alternative answers, you will be much less likely to abandon the one I taught you.’

I saw this type of ˜questioning  in action in Sefat, Israel in 2006 in a small photography shop run by an elderly Rabbi. The artwork in this shop was literally amazing, and one of the men in our group asked the rabbi which of the pieces was his favorite. The conversation then went like this:

Rabbi: May I ask you a question?

Jon: Yes

Rabbi: Are you married?

Jon: Yes, why?

Rabbi: Do you have children?

Jon: Yes. (pause) Why?

Rabbi: Which of them is your favorite?

And thus, he had his answer. To a westerner like me, it seems that it would have been simpler to say ‘I can’t pick one, because each has something I love’ (or something similar), but that answer would not have been nearly as personal as the one given by the elderly rabbi.

In a similar fashion, much of Yeshua’ teaching was in the form of questions and stories rather than simple exposition. On the occasions when we see him interacting with students/adherents to other schools, he uses this technique to point to an answer before giving exposition on the subject, as the answer to his questions often contain the answer he is giving. Also, in many cases where Yeshua is being questioned, it is out of an honest attempt to learn his teaching on a subject, not always to trap him.

The Debates

When Hillel died in 10 A.D., the Shammites took over the Pharisee role within the Sanhedrin and became the primary religious influence in Judea, whereas in the Galilee region, where Yeshua lived and was raised, the teachings of Hillel held sway. With this in mind, the pharisees that opposed Yeshua we often identified as Judeans (or were located in Jerusalem in Judea), whereas the ones sympathetic to Yeshua or his followers (like Gamaliel, Hillel’s grandson) were Gallilean.

According to Josephus and other Jewish records, there were a number of key debates being waged between the rabbinical schools. These included divorce, who is my neighbor, hand-washing, marriage in the afterlife, the greatest commandment, healing on the Sabbath (Shammai taught you shouldn’t even pray for the sick on the Sabbath, let alone heal them!), the purpose of the Sabbath and whether Gentiles could be saved. The animosity shown between the Shammites and the Hillelites are hard to understate, with comparisons to the classic Calvinist/Arminian debate holding similarities, with the Shammites holding to a strict fundamentalist view of scripture and practice and the Hillelites holding to a much more lenient, contextual view which emphasized the balance between love for God and love for your neighbor.

As such, it is interesting that in the eight key debates that Yeshua entered, he sided with the School of Hillel – or went even farther than Hillel – in seven and only sided with Shammai in one case (that of when divorce is acceptable).

For instance, in the debate of “who is my neighbor?”, Shammai taught that only God-fearing, observant Jews were ‘neighbors’ (thus, the only ones worthy of love). Hillel, on the other hand, taught that everyone – including one’s enemies – were ‘neighbors’, with the exception of the hated, apostate Samaritans. And so, when Yeshua was asked (in the scripture above), “Who is my neighbor?” he entered this debate:

In reply Yeshua said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.”

It should be noted that the priest and the Levite were both obeying Torah by not touching a dead or nearly-dead body and becoming unclean, so they were following the law, as interpreted by Shammai and other strict rabbinic schools of thought. According to Pharisee teaching, though, all life was sacred and the proper thing to do would have been to stop and help the man or bury him (thus becoming unclean for a time) if he died. A number of commentators suggest that the expert in the Torah was likely expecting Yeshua to make the “good guy” a pharisee, thus siding with Hillel on the issue of the importance of life above ritual cleanliness.

Instead, though, Yeshua said:

“But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” [Note: he couldn’t even SAY the word ‘Samaritan’]

Yeshua told him, “Go and do likewise.”

And so, Yeshua’ answer to the question “Who is my neighbor?” was everybody, including the most despised apostate you can think of, going further to the ‘left’ of Hillel.

So, when viewed within the context of his world, this is just one more example where we can get a view into why Yeshua was asked certain questions, how he interacted with his world, and some of the political/religious backdrop that ultimately led to his death, burial and resurrection.

 

What’s in a Name_ הושע becomes יהושע _ Sefaria Source Sheet Builder

 

Parashat Beha’alotcha / פרשת בהעלתך

Torah Portion: Numbers 8:1 – 12:16

After the dedication of the Sanctuary — the portable Temple and repository of the Torah — the Children of Israel were almost ready to start the journey to the Land of Israel. The purpose was to fulfill the mission of Abraham, the founding father: to take the Ark of the Covenant up to Jerusalem so that the light of the Torah would shine from Mount Moriah to the entire world.

The opening sections of BEHA’ALOSCHA set forth some final details relating to the Sanctuary and its services (the lighting of the Menorah, the inauguration of the Levites and their service, the law of the Second Pesach). The Torah then relates the miraculous Divine providence visible in the encampment and journeyings of the Children of Israel in the wilderness. The sections dealing with the Sanctuary conclude with the command to Moses to make trumpets, after which the Torah relates the Children of Israel’s momentous first journey from Sinai towards the Promised Land.

THE SECOND PESACH

“The Second Pesach” has two senses in connection with our parshah. In the first sense, so far there had only been one Pesach: the night of the Exodus from Egypt. The celebration of the one-time Second Pesach, a year later, free in the Wilderness, recipients of the Torah, with the Sanctuary newly erected, was itself an event. It showed that the Exodus, as the foundational event of the People, was henceforth to be institutionalized as an annual experience with the slaughter of the lamb on Passover.

The sacrifice could only be offered by those in a state of ritual purity. So central to the attachment of the Individual to the Nation is this annual sacrifice (failure to bring the sacrifice makes one liable to excision) that some provision had to be made for those who were unable to bring it in its proper time on 14 Nissan. This might be because they were far away and unable to reach thTemple, or because of defilement for any one of a number of naturally recurrent reasons (contact with the dead, menstrual impurity, etc.) Accordingly they were given a “second chance” on the annual PESACH SHENI, Second Pesach (in the second sense of the term!) institutionalized now in Torah law.

The Torah narrates in our Parshah how this vital national law, integral to the annual functioning of the Temple as the central focus of the Children of Israel, came to be revealed because when G-d commanded them in the wilderness to observe the one-time “Second Pesach” on 14 Nissan, one year after the Exodus, a number of people in the camp were ritually impure.

Knowing there was no way they could participate in the celebration of this awesome one-time event — institutionalizing for all time the annual celebration of the anniversary of the Exodus with the eating of the Paschal Lamb, they felt they had LOST OUT. They felt denied this central act of communion with fellows because of extraneous natural reasons: they had to attend to the dead.

“Why should we be worse off, not to be able to offer the sacrifice of HaShem in its appointed time among the Children of Israel” (Numbers 9:7). (The offering of the Paschal Lamb in the Sanctuary Temple was accompanied by the full Levitical choir and orchestra singing the Hallel, an awesome experience.)

“Why should we be worse off?” There was no way that they could offer the Sacrifice but they longed to be able to. It was their longing that elicited the commandment of Pesach Sheni, the annual “Second Pesach” that gave a SECOND CHANCE to those who lost out the first time — a tremendous act of love and compassion.

Longing and yearning elicits love and compassion. It is our longing for the Second Pesach, the Pesach of GEULAH, when we too, now impure through contact with the dead etc., will have a SECOND CHANCE and won’t have to feel we lost out because we didn’t experience the Pesach in Jerusalem.

Lesson 31

Parashah 31:Emor (Speak) 21:1-24:23

21:1 (i)

Vayomer ADONAI el Moshe:

Emor (אמר) el ha Kohenim Benai Aharon, ve amarta alehim lenefesh lo-yitama bamav

There shall none be tamei (defiled) for the dead among his people:

21:2 But for his kin, that is karov (near, קרב) to him, [that is], for his mother, and for his father, and for his son, and for his daughter, and for his brother,

21:3 And for his sister a betulah (virgin), that is nigh to him, which has had no husband; for her may he be tamei (defiled).

21:4 [But] he shall not defile himself, [being] a chief man among his people, to profane himself.

21:5 They shall not make baldness upon their head, neither shall they shave off the corner of their beard, nor make any cuttings in their flesh.

21:6 They shall be kodesh to their Elohim (אלהים), and not profane the Name their Elohim (אלהים): for the offerings of ADONAI (יהוה) made by fire, [and] the lechem of their Elohim (אלהים), they do offer: therefore they shall be kodesh.

21:7 They shall not take a wife [that is] a zonah, or khalalah; neither shall they take a woman put away from her husband: for he [is] kodesh to his Elohim (אלהים).

21:8 You shall sanctify him therefore; for he offers the lechem of thy Elohim (אלהים): he shall be kodesh to you:

for Ani ADONAI (יהוה), which sanctify you, [am] kodesh.

21:9 And the daughter of any Kohen, if she profane herself by playing the zonah, she profanes her father: she shall be burnt with fire.

21:10 And [he that is] Kohen haGadol among his brethren, upon whose head the anointing oil was poured, and that is consecrated to put on the garments, shall not uncover his head, nor rend his clothes;

21:11 Neither shall he go in to any dead body, nor defile himself for his father, or for his mother;

21:12 Neither shall he go out of the sanctuary, nor profane the sanctuary of his Elohim (אלהים); for the crown of the anointing oil of his Elohim (אלהים) [is] upon him: ANI ADONAI (יהוה).

21:13 And he shall take a wife in her betulah (virginity).

21:14 An almanah, or a gerusha woman, or khalalah, [or] a zonah, these shall he not take: but he shall take a betulah (virgin) of his own people to wife.

21:15 Neither shall he profane his zera among his people: for I ADONAI (יהוה) do sanctify him.

21:16(ii)

And ADONAI (יהוה) spoke to Moshe, saying:

21:17 Dvar (Speak) to Aharon, saying:

Whosoever [he be] of thy seed in their generations that has [any] blemish, let him not approach to offer the lechem of his Elohim (אלהים).

21:18 For whatsoever man [he be] that has a blemish, he shall not approach: a blind man, or a lame, or he that have a flat nose, with mismatching limbs.

21:19 Or a man that is brokenfooted, or brokenhanded,

21:20 Or hunchback, or a dwarf, or that has a blemish in his eye, or be scurvy, or scabbed, or has his stones broken;

21:21 No man that has a blemish of the zera of Aharon the Kohen shall come nigh to offer the offerings of ADONAI (יהוה) made by fire: he has a blemish; he shall not come nigh to offer the lechem of his Elohim (אלהים).

21:22 He shall eat the lechem of his Elohim (אלהים), [both] of the most kodesh, and of the kodesh.

21:23 Only he shall not go in to the poreket, nor come nigh to the altar, because he has a blemish; that he profane not my sanctuaries:

for Ani ADONAI (יהוה) do sanctify them.

21:24 And Moshe told [it] to Aharon, and to his sons, and to all the benai Yisrael.

Keyword : Say – Emor, Dvar – speak, Tzav – command chp 24

Emor rma – to say, speak, utter; Dvar rbd -to speak, declare, converse, command, promise, warn, threaten, sing

Regulations for conduct of Kohanim

(Ezekiel 44:15-31)

Instruction of the types of prohibition of the Kohen – summary outline.

A Kohen must not make himself ceremonially unclean by touching the dead body of a relative, – vs 1 Hashem is Holy no death can come to his presence. death is the result of sin.
The only exceptions are his immediate family such his mother or father, son or daughter, brother, or his virgin sister who depends on him (kohen) because she has no husband. -vs 2-3
Thhe kohenim must not shave their heads or trim their beards or cut their bodies. They must be set apart as kadosh to Hashem and must never bring shame on the name of Elohim.- vs 5-6 set apart differ than those of Kenan
The Kohenim can only marry a betulah (virgin) who has no sexual relation with any man and not to marry a woman defiled by prostitution, woman who is divorced – vs 7
A KKohen’s daughter must be modest and maintain her purity in not becoming a prostitute because she defiles her father’s holiness, and on that account she must be burned to death. – vs 9
Thee Kohen haGadol is highest rank of all the Kohenim who has the special anointing with anointing oil poured on his head, and he has been ordained to wear the golden garments. He must be neat tidy in physical appearance and never leave his hair uncombed or tear his clothing.
All the Aharonic kohenim’s descendants must not have any physical defect such as blind, lame, disfigured deformed, broken foot or arms, hunchbacked, dwarfed, defective eye, have any skin disease, scabs, damaged testicles infertity are not qualify to offer food, present special gifts and not to approach the altar to offer food to Hashem and he is not allowed to enter the room behind the inner curtain or approach the altar, for this would defile Hashem Kadosh places, however he may eat from the food offered to Hashem, including the kadosh offering and the most kadosh offerings.
Compare with the instruction Kohen of Benai Tzadok in Ezekiel 44:15-31

Brit Hadashah reading – Mattiyahu 5:38-42; Galatians 3:26-29

Parashat Emor / פרשת אמור

Torah Reading: Parshas EMOR, Leviticus 21:1-24:23

SAY TO THE PRIESTS

As discussed in Universal Torah #20 TETZAVEH, the Torah conception of the priests and their relationship with the people is radically different from the conception of the priesthood in other traditions. The Cohen of the Torah does not absolve the Israelite of his obligation to forge his own personal relationship with G-d. The Cohen is not an intermediary who performs mysterious rituals that magically guarantee that all will be well for the ignorant worshipper who stands by watching.

In many religions, the priests held or hold a monopoly on religious knowledge, often actually discouraging the pursuit of such knowledge by the masses, whose very ignorance is necessary in order for the priest to maintain his position.

By contrast, the Holy Torah was given as a fountain of truth and wisdom to Israel and to all others who want to drink its waters. The entire people of Israel is intended to be a Kingdom of Priests and a Holy Nation: the goal is for each Israelite to develop, build and cultivate his or her own bond with G-d in every detail of life. How can we do this? We need to learn how to do it. For this reason, the pride of place in the Torah tradition goes to the sage and teacher, because he is the one who can tell us how to do this. Even a MAMZER TALMID CHACHAM (an outstanding sage who is of illegitimate birth) takes precedence over the High Priest!

In our present parshah of EMOR, which is largely taken up with laws specifically relating to the priests, we see that Moses was commanded to instruct not only the priests themselves in these laws but also the Children of Israel. The Children of Israel are not to be excluded from all knowledge and understanding of the priesthood. On the contrary, they too are to study the laws relating to the priests. This is because the Israelites, as a kingdom of priests, have to have a model to learn from. The Cohanim are a kingdom within a kingdom. The Cohanim are to be to the Israelite what the Israelites are to be to the world.

The Temple is G-d’s palace on earth: a center-point for all the world to see, in order to contemplate the profundity of the message it contains and thereby to draw closer to the King. Everything about the Temple is about coming closer to G-d, particularly the KORBAN (“sacrifice”, from the Hebrew world KAROV, “close”). The entire Temple services center upon the sacrificial rites: the daily animal, grain, wine and incense offerings, the lighting of the Candelabrum, and so on. Like life in a royal court, life in the Temple was a spectacle. This was particularly so for the Israelite who brought a personal KORBAN, be it a SHLAMIM (“Peace”) offering, or an OLAH and particularly a CHATAS – sin-offering.

The animal is substituted for the person to undergo the slaughter, flaying, cutting and burning the sinner really deserves. (Those who worry about the alleged cruelty to the animal should first go and complain about the millions of animals daily slaughtered all over the world, often with great cruelty, as “sacrifices” for the gratification of men’s selfish lusts. To understand the meaning of the KORBONOS, we must be willing to think of the Temple as it actually was and will be, not try to adapt it to man-made moral “standards”.)

The SEFER HACHINUCH (explaining the meaning of the 613 commandments) discusses the sacrificial rituals at length in Mitzvah #95: Building the Temple. The ceremony consisted of various stages: SEMICHAH (the penitent’s laying on of hands on the animal’s head), SHECHITAH, the slaughter of the animal, KABALAH, collecting of its blood and sprinkling it on the altar, the flaying and cutting of the carcass, salting of the meat, the burning of the altar portions and eating by the priests of their share. The SEFER HACHINUCH explains in detail how the different stages of this unsettling and even shocking ceremony all communicated an unforgettable lesson to the penitent about how man must bring his animal side under control. We are to learn how to “slaughter” and elevate our animality by devoting our energies to G-d’s service and thereby burning our fat on His altar. (See also Nachmanides’ commentary on Leviticus 1:8).

The priests in the Temple, who conducted these ceremonies, were actors in a drama that was calculated to awaken people and induce them to think and repent rather than to hypnotize them with hocus-pocus. The role of the priest was as a facilitator, enabling people to understand the lesson for themselves.

Carrying the obligation to serve as ministers in the House and Court of G-d, the priests are a nation set apart, and are subject to an even more stringent code than the Israelites, as laid out in our parshah of EMOR. They are not allowed to defile themselves for the dead except in the case of their closest relatives. They are strictly forbidden to blemish their own bodies. They are not allowed to marry a divorcee or a woman who has been involved in a relationship tainted by immorality, etc. The Cohanim are to be a completely pure breed, fit to serve as G-d’s ministers on earth. The true Cohen is to be an exemplar in his very life of the elevated purity to which every Israelite should aspire, each according to his or her level.

The ultimate exemplar is to be the COHEN GADOL (“high priest”). Although the COHEN GADOL appears in costumes that are most gorgeous by the standards of this world, he must remain completely separated from this world. This is because his task is to keep our eyes focussed on G-d’s world. Thus the COHEN GADOL is not allowed to defile himself with the dead even in the case of his closest relatives. For in G-d’s world, there is no death but only life.

Everything about the Temple is designed to lift us up above the often tawdry world around us and to teach us how to draw closer to the underlying reality of G-d. For this reason, the Temple must be a place of the imposing splendor and beauty. Everything must be in the best repair. Not a flagstone must be loose nor an altar stone chipped. The vessels must be the finest gold and silver. And so too, the ministers themselves must be people of pleasing looks. Our parshah details the physical blemishes that disqualify a priest from participating in the Temple service itself (though not from eating sacrificial portions). The parshah also details the blemishes that disqualify an animal from being offered as a KORBAN. Everything offered to G-d has to be the very finest and most beautiful. So too, we must seek to beautify our offerings of prayers, our mitzvot, and acts of kindness, and take care that they should not be blemished.

* * *

THE CYCLE OF THE YEAR

The calling of the COHANIM was very exalted. The separation and purity demanded of them is not required of the Israelites, who on the contrary are required to be involved in the world — farming, manufacturing, selling and buying, raising families, etc. As discussed in the commentary on the previous parshah, KEDOSHIM, it is precisely through bringing every area of our actual lives under the wing of the Torah that we attain holiness.

Only the Cohen Gadol is to remain within the Temple precincts or in his nearby home in Jerusalem all the time. The people are to be throughout the country, going about their lives. For the Israelite, the relationship of G-d is one of “running and returning”: “running” in the sense of regularly rising above the mundane to make a deeper connection with the underlying reality of G-d, but then “returning”, in the sense of going back to grappling with everyday reality.

The Torah appointed a rhythm of weekly, monthly and seasonal MO’ADIM, “appointed times”, whereby the Israelites rise above the mundane and restore and strengthen their connection with the divine. Our parshah is one of several in the Torah (Ex. ch. 23; Numbers ch. 23; Deut. ch. 16) that set forth the cycle of festivals and their associated practices, each with its own particular focuses.

In our parshah (Leviticus ch. 23) one of the main themes that run through the account of the various festivals and their associated Temple practices is that of drawing ecological balance and agricultural blessing into the world. During the ALIYAH LE-REGEL — the foot-pilgrimage to the Temple on Pesach, Shavuos and Succos — the Israelites would leave the work of making a living and tilling the ground in order to participate in ceremonies whose purpose was to bless that work with G-dliness. Pesach, and Shavuos are particularly bound up with grain, which is man’s staple food. The Matzahs eaten on Pesach may be made from one of the five kinds of grain. On the second day of Pesach, at the beginning of the grain harvesting season, an Omer measure is to be brought from the newly-ripened barley crop. During the coming weeks, while the wheat-harvesting is going on, the Sefirah count directs our minds forward to Shavuos, when a “new grain offering”, the first wheat offering from the new crop — two loaves of leavened bread — was brought.

The observances of Succos are particularly bound up with the water-cycle. The four species of Esrog (citron), Lulav (palm branch), Hadass (myrtle) and Arovos (willow branches) all require ample water. Succos comes after the hot, dry summer of Eretz Israel, prior to what should be the rainy season. We take these four species in our hands and pour out our hearts like water in thanks and praise, hinting to our heavenly Father how totally dependent we are on His blessings and mercy.

The chapter in our present parshah of EMOR relating to the festival cycle leads us in the direction of next week’s parshah, BEHAR, which sets forth the commandments relating to the cycles of Sabbatical and Jubilee years, which are also bound up with agriculture, ecological balance and reverence for the earth.

* * *

HIDDEN CYCLES

Besides the cycles of festivals and Sabbaticals that give time its rhythm, the world is also governed by cycles that are often not apparent, because one generation does not know what happened in previous generations and therefore cannot understand how what happens today is cyclically rooted in what happened earlier.

To understand the incident of the MEGADEF (“blasphemer”) in the closing section of our parshah (Leviticus 24:10ff), it is necessary to understand that “the son of the Israelite woman who was the son of an Egyptian man” was, in fact, the issue of an illicit relationship. Our rabbis teach that Shulamis Bas Divri was the wife of the Israelite whom Moses saw being beaten by an Egyptian the first time he went out to visit his brothers. The Egyptian would daily drive the Israelite out of his home and send him to his labors, thereafter going into his wife. (See Rashi on Lev. 24:10 and on Exodus 2:11).

There is a deep counterpoint in the positioning of this episode in Parshas EMOR, which centers on the special purity demanded of the priests. Shulamis Bas Divri is the exemplar of the opposite: immorality. While the holiness of the priesthood requires separation and the making of distinctions between pure and impure, fine and blemished, she sought to erase distinctions, greeting everyone with a naive “Peace be upon you, peace be upon you”. As if friendly chatter is enough to turn evil into good. It was Shulamis Bas Divri’s endeavor to erase distinctions that laid her open to the immoral relationship which led to the birth of the blasphemer. The latter, however, discovered that, whether you like it or not, this IS a world of distinctions. While the blasphemer was an Israelite through his mother, he had no tribal affiliation, since this comes only through the father. Accordingly, the blasphemer had no place in the Israelite camp.

Contemporary political correctness will cry out in the voice of Shulamis Bas Divri that he should have been given a place — isn’t it unfair that he should be excluded because of a quirk of birth? Endless similar questions can be asked about other commandments in our parshah. Why should a blemished priest not be allowed to serve in the Temple? Why should a divorcee not be allowed to marry a priest? etc. etc.

Rashi brings a midrash that the blasphemer “went out” (Lev. 24:10) in the sense that he departed from the Torah: he mocked the idea that the Sanctuary Show-Bread (subject of the preceding section), which was eaten by the priests when it was nine days old, was a fitting institution in the Sanctuary of the King (Rashi ad loc.). The blasphemer could not accept G-d’s Torah the way it is. He wanted to adapt the Torah fit his own personal views.

There was a way that even the blasphemer could have found his place. As quoted at the outset, even a MAMZER TALMID CHOCHOM has precedence over the High Priest. If the blasphemer had been willing to submit himself to G-d and accept the position G-d put him in, he could have been saved. But he was not willing to submit and instead he opened his mouth and poured out a torrent of abuse.

Over sixty years previous to this, when Moses saw this man’s father striking Shulamis Bas Divri’s husband, Moses knew that there was no potential. “And he looked here and there and he saw that there was no man [that no man would come forth from him to convert, Rashi] and he struck the Egyptian” (Ex. 2:12). The rabbis taught that Moses “struck” him by invoking the Name of HaShem. It was precisely this name that the son of the Egyptian’s illicit relationship blasphemed. Prior to the Giving of the Torah, Moses inflicted instant justice on the father. However, after the Giving of the Torah, Moses was subject to the Torah like everyone else and he had to wait to hear from G-d how to deal with the blaspheming son.

The account of the punishment of the blasphemer includes related laws of punishments for killing and the damages that must be paid for inflicting injury to humans and animals. The cycles of crime and its penalties and payments revolve from generation to generation, but this is not apparent to the onlooker who sees only the here and now and does not understand what was before and what will come afterward.

Shabbat Shalom!!!

Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum

* * * * *

 

Parashat Vayikra / פרשת ויקרא

Torah Reading: Parashat VAYIKRA Leviticus 1:1-5:26

AND G-D SPOKE TO HIM FROM THE TENT OF MEETING

The last five parshahs of the Book of Exodus explained the form of the Sanctuary and its vessels, and Exodus concluded with an account of how the completed Sanctuary was finally erected by Moses on the 1st of Nissan, almost one year after the Exodus from Egypt. With the erection of the Sanctuary, the Cloud of G-d’s Glory covered the Tent of Meeting.

“And He called to Moses.” (Lev. 1:1). G-d’s call to Moses, with which VAYIKRA opens, is the immediate continuation of the narrative with which Exodus concluded. Now that the Sanctuary was complete, the next step is for us to learn what is to be done in it. The book of VAYIKRA, which takes its name from its opening word, thus begins with the detailed commandments relating to the sacrifices, since these were to be the main activity in the Sanctuary and in the Temple throughout the generations.

Leviticus, the Latin name of VAYIKRA, corresponds to the name used by the rabbis of old when referring to this book: Toras Cohanim, “The Torah of the Priests”. The book is so called not only because much of it is taken up with the sacrificial services and other ritual practices (such as purification from leprosy) in which the role of the Cohen-Priest is central. In addition, G-d’s challenge to ALL of the Children of Israel was to be “a kingdom of PRIESTS and a holy nation” (Ex. 19:6). While only the Cohen-priest may officiate at the offering of sacrifices, they could be brought by all. Many of the other commandments in Leviticus relating to “holiness” apply not only to the Cohen-Priests but to all of us. At the very heart of Leviticus is Parshas KEDOSHIM, “Be holy.” (ch’s 19-20), which contains the fundamental laws governing man’s behavior to his fellows. This is explicitly addressed to all of the Children of Israel (Lev. 19:2). The book of VAYIKRA also contains commandments that apply to gentiles. These include the laws of sacrifices with which our present parshah of VAYIKRA, opens: the first commandment is that of KORBAN OLAH, the “elevation” or whole-burned offering, which both Israelites and Gentiles are eligible to bring.

* * *

TESHUVAH

It is an ancient tradition that little boys who have learned their Aleph-Beis and are just starting to read, commence their study of the CHUMASH (Five Books of Moses) with VAYIKRA. “Let pure souls come to study the laws dealing with purity.” For a cynical, sophisticated age that feels entitled to call anything and everything into question, the Torah code of sacrifices and purification may appear ancient, primitive, complicated and irrelevant. But if we are willing to explore the Torah with the fresh eyes of children, ready to take the word of G-d on trust, with faith and belief, we can discover that the sacrificial system contains the keys to repentance and the healing of the soul and the entire world.

The theme of sacrifices enters Genesis and Exodus in a number of places. Adam, Cain and Abel, Noah and Abraham all offered sacrifices. Moses’ declared purpose in taking the Children of Israel out of Egypt was to bring sacrifices, and the animal sacrifices brought at the time of the Giving of the Torah were described (Ex.24:5), as were the sacrifices that were to be brought at the inauguration of the Sanctuary (Ex. ch. 29). However, it is here in the opening parshahs of LEVITICUS that the sacrificial system of the Torah is laid out in detail. The universal significance of this teaching is brought out in the use by the Torah of the word ADAM in introducing the sacrificial commandments: “.when a MAN (ADAM) would bring a sacrifice.” (Lev. 1:2). The sacrificial system comes to heal man’s alienation from G-d through atoning for his sins and bringing him back into a relationship of peace with Him. This is the ultimate rectification of Adam’s sin of eating the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. This sin caused the mix-up of good and evil in this world that is the root of all subsequent sin.

VAYIKRA begins with the laws of the OLAH, “elevation” or “ascending” offering, which could either be an ox, a sheep or a goat, a dove or pigeon, or take the form of a MINCHAH offering of wheat in the form of flour or unleavened loaves or wafers. In the case of an animal OLAH offering, the blood of the animal was splashed on the sides of altar, while its fat and other portions were burned on the altar. The OLAH offering comes to atone not so much for “sins of commission” — something a person did — as for “sins of omission”, what he failed to do (such as if he failed to fulfil a positive commandment). The laws of OLAH are followed by the laws of SHELAMIM, the peace-offering, an animal sacrifice whose blood and fat were offered on the altar but whose meat was shared between the priests and the one who brought the offering. The SHELAMIM sacrifice is a celebration that signifies that man has made his peace with G-d.

Next come the laws of CHATAS, the sin-offering brought for unwitting violation of Torah prohibitions whose willful infringement carries the penalty of excision. Different kinds of animals are to be brought and different procedures of atonement apply depending on whether the sinner is a private individual, the “Prince” (Nasi, king or leader), the Supreme Court (Sanhedrin) or the High Priest. [Rashi on Lev. 4:22 comments: Happy is the generation whose leader is able to admit he made a mistake and who tries to make amends.]

The last part of Parshas VAYIKRA contains commandments relating to a variety of CHATAS (“Sin”) and ASHAM (“Guilt”) offerings for specific sins. It is noteworthy that while some of the sins in question are bound up purely with man’s relation with G-d (such as unwittingly entering the Sanctuary or eating sacrifices while ritually impure), there are certain sins in man’s behavior to his fellow men that also make him liable to a sacrifice. These include the sin committed by one who, having received goods or money on trust, subsequently denies it under oath. This is at once a sin against G-d and against the person from whom he received the goods or money. It is normal and natural for a person to choose a private place without witnesses in order to entrust someone with valuable goods or money for safekeeping. Besides the two people involved, the only other “witness” to the transaction is G-d Himself, who knows what really happened. If the trustee invokes the name of G-d to swear falsely in denial of what G-d knows, this is a denial of G-d Himself. Not only must the trustee return the goods or money together with a twenty-five per cent supplement. He must also make amends to G-d by bringing a sacrifice.

* * *

THE ARI ON THE MEANING OF THE SACRIFICES

The outstanding kabbalist, Rabbi Isaac Luria (ARI) explains that the sacrificial service consisted of elements from the inanimate world (salt), the vegetable world (flour, oil and wine), the animal world (the sacrificial animal or bird), the human world (the sinner, who had to confess his sin over the offering) and the world of the souls (represented by the officiating Cohen-priest). These five realms — inanimate, vegetable, animal, human and spiritual — correspond in turn to the “worlds” of which the kabbalah speaks: Asiyah (the material world), Yetzirah (“formation”, corresponding to the vegetable realm), Beriyah (“creation”, corresponding to the animal realm), Atzilut (“emanation”, corresponding to Man) and Arich Anpin, the Crown or Root of Atzilut, corresponding to the soul.

“Know that all the different animals and birds have a soul which descends and is sustained by the CHAYOT (‘living animals’) of the Divine “Chariot” (Merkavah). The pure animals and birds are sustained by the Holy Chariot, while the impure animals and birds are sustained by the Unholy Chariot. Sometimes it happens that a soul falls and a person becomes wicked. As a punishment, this soul might be incarnated in an animal. When this animal is brought as a sacrifice (KORBAN), the effect is to bring this soul back close G-d again. Through the proper performance of the sacrificial ritual, the soul is brought back to its root and rectified. Even when the sacrificial animal is not an incarnation, it nevertheless contains holy sparks that fell at the time of creation and that are now rectified.

“When the impure animal aspect of man’s soul gains dominion over him, it causes him to sin. To rectify this, he must bring an animal as a sacrifice. The burning of the animal on the altar draws down an exalted fire that burns away the sins, drawing cleansing to the person’s animal soul from its very root. Since the impurity of the vegetable and inanimate levels is even greater than that of the animal level and also causes people to sin, they too must be represented on the altar in the form of the wine and flour libations and the salt.

“The sin of Adam caused good and evil to become mixed up, bringing a flaw into all the worlds and giving strength to the forces of evil. Accordingly G-d commanded man to bring together representatives of the inanimate, vegetable and animal realms. and through the service of the priests while the Levites sing, the Israelites stand by and the owner of the sacrifice repents, all of the worlds are cleansed and purified.

“When the Temple stands, the sacrifices elevated and purified all the fallen sparks. Today this is accomplished by the prayer services.” (Ta’amey HaMitzvos VAYIKRA).

Heb. 8:10  But this is the covenant which I will give to the family of the house of Israel after those days, Says Master Mar-Yah: I will put my Torah in their minds and inscribe it on their hearts, and I will be to them Eh·Yeh, and they will be to me a people.

Heb 8:10ܗܕܐ ܕܝܢ ܕܝܬܩܐ ܕܐܬܠ ܠܒܝܬܐ ܕܒܝܬ ܐܝܤܪܝܠ ܒܬܪ ܝܘܡܬܐ ܗܢܘܢ ܐܡܪ ܡܪܝܐ ܐܬܠܝܘܗܝ ܠܢܡܘܤܝ ܒܡܕܥܝܗܘܢ ܘܥܠ ܠܒܘܬܗܘܢ ܐܟܬܒܝܘܗܝ ܘܐܗܘܐ ܠܗܘܢ ܐܢܐ ܐܠܗܐ ܘܗܢܘܢ ܢܗܘܘܢ ܠܝ ܥܡܐ ܀

Shabbat Shalom!