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 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!

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.

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

Parashat Metzora / פרשת מצרע

LET’S STUDY ONKELOS

STUDY GUIDE METZORA (CHAPTER 14:1–15:33) SUMMARY OF THE TORAH PORTION
The purification process of the metzora is outlined; the indigent metzora is allowed to bring fewer sacrifices; a house afflicted with tzara’at has a special purification procedure; the Torah addresses the impurity derived from female and male bodily discharges and under what conditions the impurity is transmitted; distinctions are made between the impurity of a menstruant and the impurity acquired by other body flows; the Israelites are warned to separate themselves from impurity lest they defile the Tabernacle.
THE CASE OF THE EXTRA HAY:
ARE THERE SUPERFLUOUS LETTERS IN THE TORAH?
There is a glaring use of the letter hay in our parashah in chapter 14 that points to a biblical style that needs clarification. Six times, in 14:13 (pages 102 and 103),1 22 (pages 104 and 105), 30 (twice, pages 104 and 105) and 31 (twice, pages 106 and 107), there appears a hay that seems extraneous and unnecessary and our targumist was faced with the challenge of how to treat the letter in his translation. We mentioned
1 All page numbers refer to the Onkelos on the Torah volume.
2
before in our Guides and commentary that Onkelos follows the school of Rabbi Ishmael in seeing the Torah “speaking in the language that human beings would clearly understand” and not agreeing with the view of Rabbi Akiva who considered it necessary to regard every biblical linguistic irregularity as a launching pad for exegesis and interpretation. This orientation may seem strange to us today because, by and large, Rabbi Akiva’s opinion prevailed and the extraordinary expansion of the Oral Law is predicated upon it.
These facts make it important and valuable for us to understand what to expect of the Onkelos translator when he confronted the challenge of the biblical hay that really doesn’t belong in the text. Our examination will help understand the different ways that Torah is interpreted. While we are using chapter 14 as our focus, this phenomenon of apparently superfluous letters is found many times elsewhere in the Torah.
Let us examine the four verses referred to above and the unnecessary hays that are found in them. With regard to the process of purification the metzora must undergo, the Torah states:
13. “He slaughters the lamb in the place where the guilt offering and burnt offering are slaughtered, ‘bimkom hakodesh,’ (literally, in the place of the holy).”
Onkelos, recognizing that the hay of hakodesh is superfluous, drops it and renders the phrase be’atar kadish, in a holy place, as if the Torah had, bimkom kodesh.
22. “. . . one as the guilt offering, (‘ve’ha’echad olah’), and one as the burnt offering.”
Onkelos drops the hay, “the,” and renders as if the Torah read ve’chad.
30. “He prepares the one (‘ha’echad’) of the turtledoves or the pigeons (‘b’nei hayonah’).”
The targumist replaces ha’echad with chad and hayonah with yonah, again removing the superfluous hays.
31. “(He prepares) what he can afford, the one (‘ha’echad’) as the guilt offering and the one (‘ha’echad’) as the burnt offering.”
In both cases, the targumist substitutes chad for ha’echad, “one” for “the one.”
It may seem trivial to stress the liberty taken by the targumist in eliminating a Torah letter in his translation. But, reflect for a moment. What is the halakhah? What if a Torah scroll were found with one of its hays missing from it? The law is that the Torah is pasul, invalid, unfit for use for the public synagogue Torah reading, even if it is the only Torah available. Just one missing letter renders a Torah unfit for use. That is how holy the halakhah considers each and every letter. Yet, here we have a translator eliminating a letter, as if it did not exist, six times in one chapter, in a translation that has been venerated by the sages for sixteen hundred years.
As we note in our “Onkelos Highlight” (page 110):
3
Anyone who has completed a year of Modern Hebrew language study would agree that a “hay” should not be placed where the Torah placed it. This raises two questions (1) Was the Torah wrong by using the “hay” in the passage? (2) How could the targumist be so brazen as to remove a letter that the Torah felt was necessary? There are essentially two approaches to resolving these questions. The first approach accepts the idea that the Torah added “hays” for a purpose, but nevertheless recognizes that the targumist is after all a translator and not a halakhist and he is allowed to remove the “hays” to clarify the verse for his readership. The second approach would argue that the Torah “speaks in human language” and God did not insert every letter to teach halakhic lessons; therefore while the “hays” were appropriate in ancient Hebrew, a translator who wants to make the text clear to modern readers is perfectly free to remove them.
In our Preface to Leviticus (pages xv and xvi) we clarify the targumist’s approach, lest it be considered irreverent, which it most certainly is not:
The targumist’s acceptance of Rabbi Ishmael’s view does not mean that he rejected the entire body of law, theology, and values that emanated from the exegetical genius of the sages who extracted mountains of halakhah and aggadot not evident in Scripture itself. Onkelos, we believe, would certainly have acknowledged these rabbinical interpretations that comprise this Oral Law and tradition.
Our contention is that the targumist did not want to incorporate these laws into his translation, not because he rejected them, but because he did not view the teaching of the Oral Torah to be his task. He was a translator. He wanted to provide a literal understanding of the text on its own terms. Yet, notwithstanding the fact that the targumist ignored the oral traditions, which did not directly reflect the literal understanding of the text, the sages who wrote the Talmud and Midrashim that contained their teachings gave Onkelos their “seal of approval” without feeling at all uncomfortable that their exegesis was not incorporated into it.
They obviously felt that it is vitally important for every lover of the Bible to focus with as much fervor on the plain meaning of the text as on the multitudinous interpretations of the text. “Peshat”—that is, the literal meaning of Scripture—is, after all, the first of the four accepted categories of biblical understanding known as “pardes,” which refers to “peshat,” “remez,” “derash,” and “sod,” the literal, allegorical, homiletical, and mystical discernment of Torah.
The rabbinic mandate of “shnayim mikra v’echad Targum,” the imperative of reading the Torah portion twice in the Hebrew and once with Onkelos, is especially relevant today so that our immersion in commentaries and exegesis, in the spirit of “hafoch bah v’hafoch bah, d’kulay bah,” “search well in the Torah for everything is in it,” will not deflect us from attempting to first grasp the plain meaning of Scripture.
4
ADDITIONAL DISCUSSIONS
ON ONKELOS
We focused on the seemingly superfluous hay in this Guide. We showed, in essence, that biblical Hebrew is different than contemporary Hebrew. Biblical Hebrew inserts the definite article hay, “the,” in places that modern Hebrew would not place it. Languages change. Some rabbis and scholars ignore this idea and read significant, legal and homiletical lessons into the superfluous hay. But our targumist, as a translator, while respecting the legal and homiletical lessons, does not place them into his translation.
This situation with the hay is not unique. Another, more prevalent situation is the letter vav, which means “and,” “but,” “however,” “then,” and the like. Biblical Hebrew introduces many sentences with the letter, even when contemporary Hebrew would not use it. Again, as with the hay, many rabbis and scholars read lessons into the usage (readers may want to see an example in our commentary on Exodus 21:1, and look again at the example in the Tzav Guide on page three about the vav). Onkelos generally retains these vavs, but does not insert or even hint at the lessons others read into the letter. Do you think that the targumist was justified in disregarding the biblical style in regard to the hay? Why?
GENERAL DISCUSSION
Many people consider the Torah message relevant for all times. Does the fact that the Torah was written in biblical Hebrew, which is different than contemporary Hebrew, threaten this idea in any way? Or, should we say that the Torah had to be written in a language that the people who received it could understand?
FOR FURTHER STUDY
1. See 14:12 and commentary, “PENALTY OFFERING” (page 103). Why does the metzora bring an asham (penalty offering)?
2. See 14:16 and commentary, “HAND” (page 102). A characteristic change made by the targumist when Scripture uses a figure of speech, a part that represents a whole.
3. See 15:11 and commentary, “WITHOUT RINSING HIS HANDS” (page 112, continuing on page 115). Onkelos misses a chance to clarify a perplexing phrase

Parshas Tazria-HaChodesh

Parshas Tazria

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, 2nd and 3rd Aliya: The laws of purity and impurity as they pertain to childbirth are discussed. The basic laws of Tzaras, its diagnosis by a Kohain, the possibility of a quarantine, and the laws of Tzaras as it relates to healthy and infected skin are discussed.

4th, 5th, 6th, & 7th Aliyot: The laws of Tzaras as it relates to a burn, a bald patch, dull white spots, and the presence of a Tzaras blemish on clothing is detailed.


Maftir HaChodesh

This week, in addition to the regular Parsha, we read the section known as HaChodesh. The additional sections of Shekalim, Zachor, Parah, and Chodesh are read prior to Pesach for both commemorative and practical reasons.

This additional section from Shemos, Parshas Bo, Chapter 12, is read on the Shabbos before the month of Nissan, or on the Shabbos of Rosh Chodesh Nissan. This section is an account of the very first Mitzvah given to the Jewish people as a nation. It includes the concept of Rosh Chodesh – the New Moon, as well as the basic laws of Pesach and the Pascal Lamb. Being that Pesach starts on the 15th of Nissan, this section is read about two weeks before Pesach begins. As with Parshas Parah, Chazal wanted the reading of this Parsha to be a reminder that Pesach is almost upon us! Only two more weeks to make the necessary arrangements to get to Yerushalayim and bring the Paschal Lamb! Only two more weeks and your house had better be in order! (are you panicked yet?)

It is interesting that Hashem selected the Mitzvah of the New Moon as the first national Mitzvah. Basically, the Mitzvah required two eye witnesses to testify before Beis Din that they had seen the tiny sliver of the new moon’s crescent that is the very first exposure of the moon’s new monthly cycle. The Beis Din would then declare the start of the new month.

The most obvious consequence of this procedure was the 29 or 30 day month, otherwise identified by a one or two day Rosh Chodesh. A two day Rosh Chodesh is comprised of the 30th day of the previous month and the 1st day of the new month. A one day Rosh Chodesh means that the preceding month was only 29 days long making Rosh Chodesh the 1st day of the new month. This would have an immediate effect on the scheduling of Yomim Tovim and other calendar ordained activities. It underscores from the very inception of the nation that the Beis Din, representing the Rabbinic leadership of the nation, were the single most important factor in guaranteeing the practice of Torah throughout time. It was as if G-d would wait for Beis Din to notify Him when His Yomim Tovim were to be.


Haftorah HaChodesh
Ezekiel Chapter 45

This week’s Haftorah is from Yechezkel – Ezekiel Chapter 45 and is related to the reading of Parshas Hachodesh. The latter chapters of Yechezkel describe the future Bais Hamikdash and the service that will take place once Mashiach has come and the Jews have returned to Eretz Israel. The Haftorah describes the offering that the Prince (the King or the High Priest) will bring on Rosh Chodesh – the New Moon.

This selection from Yechezkel is especially appropriate for the Shabbos that precedes or coincides with the beginning of the month of Nissan. The month of Nissan is known as the month of redemption. Our exodus from Egypt took place in the month of Nissan. The Mishkan was first assembled on Rosh Chodesh Nissan. The Mizbeach was inaugurated into service during the first 12 days of Nissan. Therefore, we hope that this year, in the month of Nissan, we will again merit to be redeemed from exile, rebuild the Bais Hamikdash, and again inaugurate the Mizbeach by bringing the Rosh Chodesh offering in the service of G-d.

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

Parashat Vayikra / פרשת ויקרא

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 & 2nd & 3rd Aliyot: The instructions for offering a “Oleh” – burnt offering (fully consumed on the Alter) is detailed. This offering could be brought from a bull, or male sheep or goat. The less expensive “Oleh”, using a Turtle Dove or common dove, is described. The Mincha, an offering made from baked, fried, or deep fried matzoh type crackers is detailed.

4th Aliya: The Korban Shlomim – the peace offering, brought from male or female cattle, sheep, and goats is described.

5th Aliya: This aliya describes this Korban Chatas – the sin offering. Three unique sin offerings are described:

1. When the High Priest sinned
2. If the King sinned
3. If the entire nation sinned because of a wrong ruling by the Sanhedrin – High Court. Note: A Korban Chatas could only be offered if the sin was unintentional.

6th & 7th Aliyot: The Korban Chatas of a commoner is detailed, as well as the specifics of the Korban Asham – the guilt offering. This Korban was offered in instances where intentional wrong doing was implicated; such as not fulfilling an assumed oath, or doing something questionable without first ascertaining the law. Additionally, a type of Asham was offered in instances of dishonesty and swearing falsely.

http://www.sefaria.org/sheets/3999?embed=1

Maftir HaChodesh

This week, in addition to the regular Parsha, we read the section known as HaChodesh. The additional sections of Shekalim, Zachor, Parah, and Chodesh are read prior to Pesach for both commemorative and practical reasons.

This additional section from Shemos, Parshas Bo, Chapter 12, is read on the Shabbos before the month of Nissan, or on the Shabbos of Rosh Chodesh Nissan. This section is an account of the very first Mitzvah given to the Jewish people as a nation. It includes the concept of Rosh Chodesh – the New Moon, as well as the basic laws of Pesach and the Pascal Lamb. Being that Pesach starts on the 15th of Nissan, this section is read about two weeks before Pesach begins. As with Parshas Parah, Chazal wanted the reading of this Parsha to be a reminder that Pesach is almost upon us! Only two more weeks to make the necessary arrangements to get to Yerushalayim and bring the Paschal Lamb! Only two more weeks and your house had better be in order! (are you panicked yet?)

It is interesting that Hashem selected the Mitzvah of the New Moon as the first national Mitzvah. Basically, the Mitzvah required two eye witnesses to testify before Beis Din that they had seen the tiny sliver of the new moon’s crescent that is the very first exposure of the moon’s new monthly cycle. The Beis Din would then declare the start of the new month.

The most obvious consequence of this procedure was the 29 or 30 day month, otherwise identified by a one or two day Rosh Chodesh. A two day Rosh Chodesh is comprised of the 30th day of the previous month and the 1st day of the new month. A one day Rosh Chodesh means that the preceding month was only 29 days long making Rosh Chodesh the 1st day of the new month. This would have an immediate effect on the scheduling of Yomim Tovim and other calendar ordained activities. It underscores from the very inception of the nation that the Beis Din, representing the Rabbinic leadership of the nation, were the single most important factor in guaranteeing the practice of Torah throughout time. It was as if G-d would wait for Beis Din to notify Him when His Yomim Tovim were to be.

Summary of The Haftorah:
Haftorah HaChodesh
Ezekiel Chapter 45

This week’s Haftorah is from Yechezkel – Ezekiel Chapter 45 and is related to the reading of Parshas Hachodesh. The latter chapters of Yechezkel describe the future Bais Hamikdash and the service that will take place once Mashiach has come and the Jews have returned to Eretz Israel. The Haftorah describes the offering that the Prince (the King or the High Priest) will bring on Rosh Chodesh – the New Moon.

This selection from Yechezkel is especially appropriate for the Shabbos that precedes or coincides with the beginning of the month of Nissan. The month of Nissan is known as the month of redemption. Our exodus from Egypt took place in the month of Nissan. The Mishkan was first assembled on Rosh Chodesh Nissan. The Mizbeach was inaugurated into service during the first 12 days of Nissan. Therefore, we hope that this year, in the month of Nissan, we will again merit to be redeemed from exile, rebuild the Bais Hamikdash, and again inaugurate the Mizbeach by bringing the Rosh Chodesh offering in the service of G-d.