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).

Parshas & Haftorah Beshalach

Parshas Beshalach

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: The Bnai Yisroel (Children of Israel – Jews) had left Mitzrayim (Egypt). The closest route to Eretz Yisroel (The Land of Israel) was along the Mediterranean coast up into Israel. However; this territory was occupied by the Philistines. The Bnai Yisroel were not ready for a battle, so Hashem (G-d) lead them toward the Sea of Reeds. Pharaoh was informed that The Bnai Yisroel appeared to be lost, and he strengthened his resolve and that of his people and pursued the Jews into the Desert.

2nd Aliya: The Egyptians caught up to the Jews as they were camped by the edge of the sea. (Imagine the thundering sound, and cloud of dust that 600 charging chariots must have made and you can begin to understand the pure terror that must have struck the hearts of the people.) Moshe reassured them that they only had to trust Hashem and stand silently as His awesome majesty wiped out the might of Mitzrayim.

3rd Aliya: Moshe was told to stretch out his staff over the sea. Hashem separated the Jews from the Egyptians with a cloud cover and caused an Easterly wind to blow the entire night. As the waters parted, the Bnai Yisroel entered between the towering walls of water and crossed to the other side. The Egyptians chased after them into the parted waters of the sea.

4th Aliya: Moshe stretched his arm back over the sea and the waters returned to their natural state, drowning the might and glory of Egypt’s best. The Bnai Yisroel witnessed G-d’s awesome display of justice and they believed in the reality of Hashem and in the appointment of Moshe as His most trusted servant. Moshe, and then Miriam, lead the Bnai Yisroel in a spontaneous song of exaltation and thanksgiving. The incident with the bitter waters at Marah is detailed.

5th Aliya: The Bnai Yisroel struggled with the realities of their experience, attempting to balance faith with practical concerns for survival. The concerns for food and water were overwhelming and Moshe promised them quail and Maana. These “miracles” were introduced to the Jews as evidence of Hashem’s love, caring, honor and glory.

6th Aliya: The Bnai Yisroel were given strict instructions regarding the gathering and eating of the Maana. They were introduced to Shabbos, and an urn of Manna was saved for posterity.

7th Aliya: The nation traveled to Rephidim, and confronted Moshe over the issue of water. Moshe saw this as an unnecessary challenge to Hashem’s caring and love. Hashem instructed Moshe to hit the rock and bring forth water. The final episode in the Parsha was Amalek’s unprovoked attack on the newly independent nation. Yehoshua lead the attack against Amalek while Moshe, Aharon, and Chur (Miriam’s son) stood atop the battle field with Moshe’s arms stretched heavenward. Hashem commanded us to eradicate and never forget Amalek’s evil.

Haftorah Beshalach
Shoftim 4:4

This weeks Haftorah is found in Shoftim (Judges) chapter 4. It relates the story of Devorah the Prophet, who along with her husband Barak, ruled the nation for 40 years. The year was 2654 – 1107 b.c.e and the nation was subject to the rule of Yavin of Canaan and his evil General Sisra. In a decisive battle at the foot of Mt. Tabor by the brook of Kishon, Hashem delivered the armies of Yavin into the hands of Barak and the Bnai Yisroel (Children of Israel). Sisra, the general, fled the battlefield on foot and sought refuge in the tent of Yael (a non-jew). He asked for water but she gave him milk, and he then fell into a deep sleep. Yael took a tent stake and drove it through the skull of the evil Sisra.

Reminiscent of the destruction of Mitzrayim by the Yam Suff (Sea of Reeds) and the Shira which was sung by the Bnai Yisroel, Devorah sang a magnificent song filled with the praises and glory of Hashem. This Haftorah is the longest Haftorah in the course of the year.

Parsha Summary, Copyright © 2016 by Rabbi Aron Tendler and Torah.org.

Parashat Vayigash / פרשת ויגש

VAYIGASH

Torah Reading: VAYIGASH Gen. 44:18-47:27.

“AND JUDAH STEPPED FORWARD.”

The key to the dramatic encounter between Judah and Joseph with which our parshah of VAYIGASH begins is to be found in the Haftara our sages attached to this parshah: Ezekiel’s vision of the joining of the two sticks. One stick the prophet was to inscribe with the names of Judah and the Children of Israel his friends — the kingdom of Torah Law and spirituality under David. The other stick he was to inscribe “to Joseph Tree of Ephraim and all the House of Israel his friends” — secular, assimilated Israelite might: economic, political, military, involvement in the material world. The prophet was to join the two sticks and make them one, signifying that they will become —

“One nation in the earth in the mountains of Israel, and one king will be over all of them as King, and they will no longer be two nations and they will no longer be split into two kingdoms. And my servant David will be king over them and one shepherd will be for them all [King Mashiach]. And they will go in My laws and guard My statutes and do them. And they will dwell in the land that I have given to My servant Jacob in which your fathers dwelled, and they and their children and children’s children will dwell upon it forever, and David My servant will be Prince to them forever. And I will cut for them a Covenant of Peace, an eternal Covenant will be for them. And I will give them and multiply them and I will put My Holy Temple within them forever. And My Dwelling will be upon them and I will be G-d for them, and they will be My People. And the Nations will know that I am HaShem who sanctifies Israel that My Sanctuary should be among them forever ” (Ezekiel 37:28).

The encounter in our parshah between Judah and Joseph is the paradigm of this necessary joining between the two aspects of Israelite being in the world, spiritual and material. For its own existence, the Torah “kingdom” depends upon the successful material presence of Israel in the world, be it in the Land of Israel or in “Goshen”. (“Goshen” would include all historical and present-day centers of Jewish sojourn in exile and dispersal east or west.) For “if there is no flour [bread to eat], there is no Torah”. Likewise, material Israel cannot survive without true Torah leadership — Melech HaMashiach. Jacob saw this, which is why “he sent Judah ahead of him to Joseph to rule before him to Goshen” (Gen. 46:28). It is the Torah leader who must rule over Israel, and Torah leadership must direct Israeli worldly power to the nation’s prophetic mission of being worthy of building the Temple in the Land of Israel from which the Law will go forth to all the Nations.

Yom HaShoah / יום השואה

Yom HaZikaron laShoah ve-laG’vurah (יום הזיכרון לשואה ולגבורה; “Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Day”), known colloquially in Israel and abroad as Yom HaShoah (יום השואה) and in English as Holocaust Remembrance Day, or Holocaust Day, is observed as Israel’s day of commemoration for the approximately six million Jews and five million others who perished in the Holocaust as a result of the actions carried out by Nazi Germany and its accessories, and for the Jewish resistance in that period. In Israel, it is a national memorial day and public holiday. It was inaugurated on 1953, anchored by a law signed by the Prime Minister of Israel David Ben-Gurion and the President of Israel Yitzhak Ben-Zvi. It is held on the 27th of Nisan (April/May), unless the 27th would be adjacent to Shabbat, in which case the date is shifted by a day.

Yom HaShoah begins at sundown on Wed, 04 May 2016.

The Omer Counting Period

The period of the counting of the Omer is exalted indeed and filled with sanctity, as the Ramban writes in his commentary on Parashat Emor that the days between the holidays of Pesach and Shavuot, i.e. the Omer counting period, retain the sanctity of Chol Ha’Moedand are not days of national tragedy and mourning like the Three Weeks between the Seventeenth of Tammuz and the Ninth of Av.

Nevertheless, a terrible occurrence befell the Jewish nation during this time, as the Gemara (Yevamot 62b) recounts: “Rabbi Akiva had twelve thousand pairs of students and they all died between Pesach and Shavuot because they did not treat each other respectfully.” They all perished from Askara (an agonizing illness leading to acute respiratory failure).
The Responsa of the Geonim (the Sages of Israel of the generation immediately preceding that of the Rishonim) mention that because of this tragic event, the entire Jewish nation observes the custom of not getting married during this period of time as a sign of mourning.
Nevertheless, we do not observe these mourning customs throughout the entire duration of the Omer period; these customs are only observed until the 33rd or 34th day of the Omer, for the Sefer Ha’Manhig and other great Rishonim write that Rabbi Akiva’s students ceased dying on the 33rd day of the Omer. Indeed, the Rama (in his gloss on Chapter 493) rules that from the 33rd day of the Omer, it is permissible to hold weddings.
On the other hand, the Sephardic custom is to continue these mourning customs until the 34th day of the Omer and it is forbidden to get married on any of these days. The reason for this is based on what the Sefer Ha’Manhig has written in the name of Rabbeinu Zerachya Ha’Levi who had found in any old manuscript that had come from Spain that the students of Rabbi Akiva died from Pesach until “half of Shavuot.” This means that the thirty days preceding the holiday of Shavuot are divided in half, i.e. fifteen days before Shavuot, and on this day, Rabbi Akiva’s students ceased dying.
Other Rishonim concur and write that if we subtract fifteen days from the forty-nine days between Pesach and Shavuot, the product will be thirty-four. It is nevertheless permissible to get married immediately from the morning of the 34th day of the Omer, for the rule regarding the laws of mourning is that “a portion of the day is likened to the entire day.” Thus, since a portion of the 34th day of the Omer has already passed, one need not observe the mourning customs any longer.
It is permissible to hold an engagement party during the Omer counting period. If the actual Shidduch has been closed at the time of the celebration (as opposed to at an earlier time), there are those who rule leniently and allow for music at this party as well.

The Mitzvah of Counting the Omer

The Torah states (Vayikra 21, 15): “And you shall count for yourselves, from the day following the Shabbat, from the day the waved Omer offering is brought, seven complete weeks shall they be.” Our Sages (Menachot 65b) have a tradition that the “day following the Shabbat” refers to the day following the first day of Pesach which is a holiday. (This is what is meant by the words, “the day following the Shabbat,” i.e. the day following the first day of Pesach which is a holiday, also known as “Shabbaton.” Therefore, on the night following the first day of Pesach following Arvit, we immediately begin counting the Omer.) It is a Torah commandment to count the Omer beginning from the Sixteenth of Nissan until the end of seven weeks, which is a period of forty-nine days.

Counting the Omer-A Torah or Rabbinic Commandment
Nevertheless, since the Torah also states (Devarim 16, 9), “You shall count for yourselves seven weeks, from when the sickle begins to strike the standing stalks shall you begin to count these seven weeks,” which means from the time the Omer offering was harvested and unfortunately nowadays when the Bet Hamikdash no longer stands, we have neither the harvesting of or bringing of the Omer offering. Thus, this Mitzvah of counting the Omer is only rabbinic in commemoration of the services performed in the Bet Hamikdash. Therefore, in the “Leshem Yichud” text customarily recited before counting the Omer, one should omit the phrase, “As the Torah states, ‘And you shall count for yourselves’” etc. for the Mitzvah of counting the Omer is no longer a Torah commandment. (Although according to the opinion of the Rambam and the Ra’avaya there is no correlation between the Mitzvah of counting the Omer and the harvesting the Omer and according to them the Mitzvah of counting the Omer is a Torah commandment even nowadays, nonetheless, we do not rule this way and the Halacha in this matter follows Maran Ha’Shulchan Aruch, whose rulings we have accepted, who rules that counting the Omer is only a rabbinic commandment nowadays, for this is indeed the opinion of Rav Hai Gaon, Tosafot,  Rosh,  Itur,  Rashba, Ran, and others).

One Who Forgets to Count One Day
The Mitzvah of counting the Omer is a Mitzvah during every single day of the counting period, and for this reason we recite a blessing on it before counting every single day.

However, according to the opinion of the Ba’al Halachot Gedolot, if one has forgotten to count the Omer on one day during the counting period he can no longer continue to count the Omer since it is not possible to count by skipping (for if one counts one, two, four, he has counted incorrectly; thus, if one missed counting one day he can no longer rectify this and what he counts from now on is not considered counting at all). Halachically speaking, we hold that even if one has forgotten to count one day of the Omer, he may in fact continue to count the rest of the days for every day is a separate Mitzvah regardless of the other days. Nevertheless, since we always follow the great rule of “when in doubt, do not bless,” regarding the blessing we are concerned about the opinion of the Ba’al Halachot Gedolot. Therefore, if one forgets to count one day of the Omer, one should continue to count the rest of the days as usual; however, from now on he should not recite the blessing before counting.

A Child who Turns Thirteen during the Omer
Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l  discusses (in his Responsa Yabia Omer, Volume 3, Orach Chaim, Chapter 27) the Halacha regarding a child who turns thirteen years old during the Omer period. Since the days he has counted until this point were counted when he was still a child and not halachically obligated to perform the Mitzvot like an adult, his status is similar to one who has not counted the Omer until now and thus does not continue to count with a blessing on subsequent nights. He speaks lengthily and brings a great many sources to support his view. The luminaries of the previous generation debated this matter at length. Nevertheless, halachically speaking, a child who turns thirteen years old during the Omer should continue to count on the subsequent night without reciting a blessing.

The Time for the Counting and the Laws of Women and Counting the Omer
The appropriate time for counting the Omer is at night; however, if one forgets to count at night, one may count throughout the day without reciting a blessing before counting, in which case one may continue counting on all subsequent nights while reciting a blessing.

Women who count the Omer should not recite a blessing before counting. According to our custom though, women do not count the Omer at all. The reason for this is discussed by the Mekubalim.

 

Parashat Achrei Mot / פרשת אחרי מות

Ha’aretz‘s cartoonist summarizes a substantial slice of what concerns us this week. He depicts one variety of religious Jews wanting to perform a sacrifice on the Temple Mount, and another Jew, unkempt and secular, walking his dog in the opposite direction.

The Jew leading a young goat in the direction of the Temple Mount is neither ultra-Orthodox nor typically Orthodox. He’s part of a fringe hard to describe other than with the word “nutty,” seeking to perform what neither the ultra-Orthodox nor Orthodox establishment accepts, i.e., an animal sacrifice on the Temple Mount, sure to cause the shedding of a greater quantity of human blood. The young man we’ve seen on the news with a goat in his arms (resembling the red head in the cartoon), after being stopped by the police, associates with one of the tiny groups of fanatics with a mission to reestablish ancient rites of Judaism along with the construction of a Temple, with who cares what it does to Muslim holy sites and the prospect of religious war. Presumably they expect the help of the Almighty, with better results than when He/She/It was most recently tested in Europe.

Pesach, and the equally long holiday of Succoth are flash points of Jewish-Muslim bloodshed. The Hebrew Bible commands Jews to visit Jerusalem at those times for the purpose of sacrificing animals or birds on the Temple altar. It was a time of high tension in ancient as well as modern times, as Jesus found to his misery or glory, depending on interpretation. Upsetting the tables of money changers became a symbol of Christian anti-Semitism focused on Jews’ concern for money. At the time, however, it was an essential part of the ritual in allowing Jews coming from all parts of the world to use the money they brought with them to buy what they provided to the priests for sacrifice.image

 

There hasn’t been a Temple or an altar for two millennia, and most Jews accept realities. But these holidays are a time for Jewish and Muslim extremists to encounter one another, and do their best to involve others in their mischief.

We can argue till the cows are ready for sacrifice if Israeli officials did the right thing in 1967 when they conceded control of the Temple Mount to Muslim religious authorities. It became one of several Israeli gestures not reciprocated, but it has become a norm whose violation would be dangerous.

Jordan considers itself the guardian of Muslim sites in Jerusalem, and has expressed itself against both Jews who cause problems for Muslims on the Temple Mount, as well as Israeli police that enter the Mount and deal with Muslim and Jewish troublemakers. According to the Jordanians, both actions are violations of international law.

That allegation about international law is a matter of some dispute. However, it is convenient to allow Jordanian authorities to express themselves, and view it as part of the noisy lip service that typifies what worthies of the world say about this place. The Bard would speak once again about sound and fury, and go on to other matters.

Another way that Jewish extremists exploit the holiday season for their purposes appears in efforts of non-Orthodox women to perform rituals that the Orthodox forbid them, and to do them alongside the Western Wall.

Israeli courts have adjudicated both the rights of Jews to the Temple Mount and the rights of women to do what they want where they want to do it. The law in both cases is muddied by pragmatic efforts to avoid rioting (among Jews) or bloodshed (involving Muslims).

Some months ago government officials claimed to reach a compromise with non-Orthodox Jews about extending the area of the Western Wall, and allowing non-Orthodox rituals there. However, it has left the headlines, seemingly stymied by Orthodox and non-Orthodox Jews, as well as by Palestinians who raise hell about any Jewish construction near al Aqsa.

Non-Orthodox Jews object to the use of “extremists” for the Women of the Wall, but in this place the adjective is appropriate. Non-Orthodox women, intense about their right to pray as they wish and where they wish, are numerically insignificant in the Israeli population, and likely enough to cause trouble for the police to act against them.

Israel Radio broadcast on Monday of this week an interview with a former Chief Rabbi who praised the record and functions of women in Jewish history, but proclaimed that it was forbidden for them to raise their hands in the manner of the priestly blessing, read from the Torah, or pray alongside men at the Western Wall.

We also heard from angry non-Orthodox women. Freedom of expression exists here, but freedom nowhere is absolute.

There are differences in the problems caused by the extremists. Jews wanting to take over the Temple Mount from Muslims, or even to pray on the Temple Mount may cause Muslim and Jewish blood to flow. Women wanting to pray as men do at the Western Wall are only liable to cause Jews to curse one another, or perhaps–at the extreme–engage in the low level violence of pushing, shoving, and ineffectual hitting.

It’s not only during the holidays that the Temple Mount in capable of provoking Jewish-Muslim violence.

Prior to Succoth in 1996, Prime Minister Netanyahu authorized the opening of a recently cleared ancient tunnel. It provoked several days of rioting by Muslims claiming that it threatened al Aqsa Mosque, with the result of some 16 Israeli and 60 Palestinian deaths.

Ariel Sharon’s visit to the Temple Mount in September, 2000 helped to spark the Second Intifada. It claimed 1,100 Israeli and 4,700 Palestinian deaths before it petered out in 2005.

Palestinians’ claim that the visits of Israeli politicians to the Temple Mount threatened Islam, provided one impetus for the most recent wave of violence that has caused the deaths of 34 Israeli and 200 Palestinian/Israeli Arabs.

There are wars of religion not too far from here so far racketing up millions of casualties and many more refugees.

Israel’s secular plurality will rely on our largely (but not entirely) Jewish police and army to keep us safe from both domestic and foreign extremists.

Going back to the cartoon in Ha’aretz, what’s missing is how most Israeli Jews celebrate the middle days of Pesach. The radio provides periodic announcements of traffic jams on the way to beaches and forest parks, announcements of which facilities are already filled and accepting no additional visitors, and a daily tally of casualties from traffic or other holiday mishaps.

In the Jewish country as elsewhere, drive carefully is an appropriate accompaniment to wishing one another a pleasant holiday.

Reprinted with author’s permission from The Jerusalem Post