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Behar

Wednesday, 22nd May 2019

The first half of Behar deals with various laws regarding "Shmita" . In short, the commandment of "Shmitta" is that in the 7th year all agricultural activities ceases, and the land of Israel lies fallow.

The land will give its fruit and you will eat to satisfaction...And if you will say ‘What will I eat in the seventh year? – Behold, we will not sow and we will not gather our crops’, I will ordain My blessing for you in the sixth year and it will yield a crop sufficient for three years (25:19-21)

Hashem (G-d) promises that if someone keeps the Shmitta year by not harvesting his field or gathering crops, he will be blessed in the year preceding the Shmitta and he will reap enough food to last the next three years.  From the verse quoted above it sounds like Hashem is giving a blessing to someone who does not trust fully in Him.  What is the explanation of these verses?

Rashi explains that the blessing of “satisfaction” that one receives from observing the Shmitta is that “even within the stomach there will be in it a blessing”, which means that one will be satiated after eating only a small amount. When the Torah then says “And if you will say ‘What will I eat in the seventh year?’” and continues to detail the blessing, one will note that the blessing is that there will be “crop sufficient for the three years”. 

The Sforno explains that any person who keeps Shmitta will be blessed with enough to eat for three years.  However, the initial blessing of “even within the stomach there will be in it a blessing” is reserved for someone who trusts in Hashem and does not question His ways.  This person will see the same small crop for one year but find that it lasts him three years.  If however, he questions Hashem and asks ‘What will I eat in the seventh year? – Because he kept the Shmitta, he still receives the blessing of having enough to eat for the three years, but when this person will receive enough crop in the first year to last for three years, he will receive the quantity of three years worth of food.  This person will have to work three times as hard on all of his fields in the sixth year, whereas the person who trusts in Hashem will not even have to work any harder in the sixth year and he will receive the same amount (qualitatively) as the one who questioned Hashem.

Emor

Thursday, 16th May 2019

Kiddush/Chillul HaShem (Sanctification or profaning of G-d's name)
 
The verse seems to be repetitive, "do not desecrate my name and I will be holy"? 
 
The verse is issuing a special warning and is addressing certain special situations where there is potential for both. 
 
Making a Minyan (Quorum for prayers) on an airplane, for example, has much potential for people who have never seen a davening (prayer service) before, to see it first hand and take part in a Holy activity.  But on the flip side, it also has potential to be a chilul Hashem due to people being inconsiderate to the people sitting in the seats closest to the Minyan. 
 
Therefore Hashem in this verse is telling us, think of this verse when you go to make a Kiddush Hashem and make sure that you do not desecrate my name and then, only then, I will be holy.

Pesach

Wednesday, 17th April 2019

Pesach (Passover) is the classic example of a festival in which we eat, drink, and live the ideas that it represents. We modify our home environment by removing all leavened products, we change our diet to eat matzah. We refrain from working, and we transform a festive meal into a high-impact, super-charged educational experience – the Pesach Seder.

Why do we go to such lengths? Wouldn’t it be easier if we just spent some time thinking about the Exodus and the lessons it teaches? The following source answers this question.

Quoting from Sefer HaChinuch, Mitzvah #16 – A person is shaped and influenced by his actions. Therefore, Pesach involves many actions to ensure that the miracles of the Exodus and its lessons are imprinted permanently into our consciousness.

It is fitting for us to do symbolic actions [e.g. eating matzah, having a Pesach Seder and telling the story of the Exodus] that remind us of the tremendous spiritual heights we reached at the Exodus. Through these actions and symbols the experience of the Exodus is imprinted permanently into our consciousness.

A person is affected and shaped by his actions [more than by his thoughts alone]. A person’s thoughts and feelings follow after his actions, either for good or for bad …

For example, if a complete degenerate … will inspire himself and exert himself to study Torah and perform mitzvos – even for the wrong reasons, such as honour and prestige – he will still begin to change in a positive direction. His self-destructive tendencies (yetzer hara – evil inclination) will be weakened since he will be influenced by his positive actions.

And on the other hand, if a completely righteous and upstanding person, who exerts himself in Torah and mitzvos, will occupy himself with negativity and impurity all day long (for example, is someone forced him to do it), at some point he will turn into a degenerate. For even the strongest person is affected by his actions …

With this principle in mind – that a person is shaped by his actions – we understand the need for the many “mitzvos and actions” regarding remembering the Exodus and its miracles, for they are a central feature of the entire Torah.

 

Metzora

Thursday, 11th April 2019

No one needs to be convinced of the problems people cause through negative speech. We probably all remember the time we wished we hadn’t said something. Sensitivity in what we say is an important key to living a happy, effective life.

There is a famous analogy regarding the topic of speech. A man who was not particularly careful about his speech came to a Rabbi. He had decided to change, and needed advice on how to go about it. The Rabbi gave him a very peculiar answer. “Take a feather pillow into the street, and release its feathers in every direction.” The man was perplexed, but his resolve was firm to do as he was advised and change his life. After doing as he was told he returned to the Rabbi. “Now what should I do?” he asked. “Go back into the street and collect all of the feathers to the very last one,” was the astounding reply. Again the man made his way into the street and began the daunting task. At his wits end he returned to the Rabbi dejected reporting his inability to keep his last words of advice. “Remember,” said the Rabbi, “that your words are like those feathers. Once they leave your mouth they never return. Make sure the words you allow out are ones you won’t have to go chasing after!”

Tazria

Wednesday, 3rd April 2019

There is a strange Law regarding Tzoraas (Leprosy): 
 
If tzoraas partially covers one’s body they are tamei (unclean).  But if the nega (blemish) has spread and now covers their entire body they are tahor (clean). 
 
What is the reason for this seemingly strange Halocho (Law)?   A person who is covered from head to toe with tzoraas should be the most tamei!?
 
The commentaries explain that G-d created Tumah (impurity) to challenge a person to achieve greater heights. It is the weapon of the Yetzer Hora (evil inclination) who seeks to suck the good out of a person.  A nega is a spiritual blemish.  When the Yetzer Hora sees this blemish, he sees a weak victim and a great opportunity to further the damage.  He wants to take what is left of this person’s good and turn it into bad. Therefore this person becomes tamei due to the attachment of the forces of evil and impurity to his body.
 
However if a person has a nega covering his entire body, this means that he is completely bad and bereft of any goodness within him.  In this case the forces of tumah have no work and no role to play in this person.  He therefore is tahor. 
 
This could be why people who hit rock bottom are capable of suddenly making a change for the good.  The battle is over and the Yetzer Hora has gone.  From there, the only way is up.

Shemini

Thursday, 28th March 2019

This week's parsha (Torah portion) contains the first occurrence of the laws related to identifying Kosher animals, fish, and fowl in the Torah. The pasuk (verse) says: "But this is what you shall NOT eat from among those that bring up their cud or that have split hooves: the camel (gamal), for it brings up its cud but its hoof is not split (parsah einenu mafris) – it is impure to you; and the hyrax (shafan), for it brings up its cud but its hoof is not split (parsah lo yafris)– it is impure to you; and the hare (arneves), for it brings up its cud, but its hoof is not split (parsah lo hifrisa) – it is impure to you." [Vayikra 11:4-6].

There is a striking inconsistency here. With the camel, the verb used to discuss the fact that the hoof is not split is conjugated in the present tense: "Parsah einenu MAFRIS" [the hoof IS NOT split]. Yet with the shafan, the verb is in the present "Parsah lo YAFRIS" [the hoof WILL NOT BE split]. Finally, with the arneves, the verb used is in the past tense: "Parsah lo HIFRISA" [the hoof WAS NOT split].

This is glaring. The terms should all be present, all future, or all past tense. There has to be a message here in the fact that the Torah uses a different form of the verb for each of these three animals.

A beautiful homiletic thought on this matter: When someone is about to pronounce "Tameh" [Impure] on a species or on any entity, one needs to be aware of its past, its present, and its future. Unless one is aware of the situation in the past, present, and future, one does not know the whole story and should not be so quick to pronounce the words "Tameh hu" [this one is impure].

One of the teachers at Bais Yaakov told the following story: There was a couple who went through the Holocaust. Before the Holocaust, they were fully observant of Torah and Mitzvos (all of it's commandments). After the Holocaust, unfortunately, the husband lost faith and said "That's it! I've had it with G-d!" The husband gave up every thing in terms of religious practice and belief.

His wife did not have that reaction. She begged her husband -- "At least go to shul (Synagogue)." The husband refused. This went on for a while. Finally the wife said to the husband, "Listen, do me a favor. Every morning you go out and buy a newspaper and you read it from cover to cover. Humor me, when you pick up the paper at the newsstand, rather than coming home to read it, go to shul and read the paper in shul -- just to make me happy!"

The husband wanted to please his wife. He spent the time reading the newspaper anyway, so he agreed to her proposal. He would go to shul every morning, sit in the back row and read the paper. This went on for years.

Now ask yourselves: If you saw a fellow come into the back row of your shul every morning, not put on Tallis (prayer shawl) or Tefillin (Phylacteries), not take a Siddur (prayer book) off the shelf, but simply make himself comfortable and read the newspaper for 45 minutes, what would your reaction be?

Most likely our reaction would be very negative. "If you want to read the newspaper, go home and read the newspaper! How dare you be so disrespectful of this holy synagogue?"
 
To their credit the people in this particular shul did not say anything critical to this individual. They did not chastise him. They began to schmooze (chat) with him, they invited him to join them for a l'chaim (drink) after davening when someone had a Yahrtzeit, they invited him to join them in social gatherings. To make a long story short, this Holocaust survivor went from reading the newspaper in the back row of the shul every day to davening in shul three times a day! Eventually, he even became president of the shul.

What does that tell us? Our inclination would have been to immediately pronounce "Tameh who lachem -- this species is definitely not a kosher animal"! But we did not know the fellow's past. We were not clear about his present situation, and we certainly could not have guessed what his future turned out to be. This is what the Torah is teaching. In order to proclaim "This one is Tameh" we must know that the hoof was not split in the past, the hoof is not currently split, and the hoof will never be split in the future. 
 
Short of that do not be so quick to say "Tameh hu lachem."

Revealing The Hidden

Monday, 18th March 2019

 

Purim: Revealing The Hidden - Rabbi Tzvi Sytner

Click here to watch the video from Aish

Cl

Vayikra

Thursday, 14th March 2019

"He (the priest) shall split it (with its feathers), he need not sever it ......." (Vayikra 1:17)
When a person feels inclined to give an offering to G-d, he may do so with the "Olah" sacrifice. If the person is poor, he may bring a dove as a sacrifice. This dove was offered on the alter with its feathers. Rashi comments that even though the smell of burning feathers is offensive, the sacrifice from this poor man still adorns the alter and is accepted by G-d. 
 
There is an important lesson that we can learn from the poor man’s sacrifice.
 
We all feel some doubt at times in regard to our spiritual growth and might feel that we are somewhat unable to reach great spiritual heights as compared to the many great sages and Rabbis and give up. This notion is a fallacy when we begin to see how precious burning feathers are when offered by a poor man.  Even burning feathers when offered with sincerity can be accepted by G-d.  When a person has nothing to offer G-d except for 'feathers', then that should still be offered. 
 
If we deem ourselves lacking ability, we should still learn Torah and offer G-d what we can even if perhaps the Torah learning may not be as grand as our friends. Even if our Torah might be like "burning feathers", we should offer it anyhow, even if only for the sake of giving whatever we have, to G-d. 
 
A king once decreed that whoever brings him the most precious item, that person will be granted a great title and prestige in the kingdom. Many people brought various magnificent and precious objects, yet the king seemed unimpressed for he already posessed many great treasures. However, in this kingdom lived a very poor man who also wished to particpate in this contest.

Although he had nothing of value, he did have a single penny. This penny was very dirty and dull in appearance, so this poor fellow decided to shine it and clean it until it sparkled.

He spent many hours shining the penny untill a magnificent shine emerged that literally lit up the room. This poor man travelled to the capital in order to gain an audience with the king so that he can present his item to the king. When the poor man presented the penny to the king, its shine was so magnificent that at first the king had mistakenly mistook the penny for a very precious gem with illuminating qualities, but after further observation it became apparent that this gem was actually just a very shiny penny.

The king then truly understood the real value of this poor man’s "most precious Item".
We must never underestimate what we personally have to offer, as long as it is given with sincerity and heart. 
 
In Talmud Barachos 5b the Sages said, "It is the same whether one does more or less, provided he intends it for the sake of Heaven".

Pekudei

Tuesday, 5th March 2019

And all the work of the Mishkan Ohel Mo'ed (Tabernacle) was finished; and the Israelites did according to all that G-d commanded Moshe (Moses), so they did (Exodus 39:32). 
 
This verse seems to be the wrong way round! Shouldn't it first say that the Israelites did according to all that G-d commanded Moshe (regarding the Tabernacle), and then say they finished making the items required for the Tabernacle? 
 
The Oznayim LaTorah explains that the latter part of the verse actually refers to all the other Mitzvot (Commandments) of the Torah which G-d commanded Moshe; it does not refer to the building of the Tabernacle. Therefore, the Torah is teaching that the Israelites completed the Tabernacle and subsequently observed the other Mitzvot. However, if this is so, why would the Torah mention this Mitzvah observance specifically upon completion of the Tabernacle? 
The Oznayim LaTorah answers by quoting the Mishnah: "One Mitzvah leads to another Mitzvah and one sin leads to another sin" (Pirkei Avot 4:2) .

G-d created a person with a balanced equilibrium in that he is inclined to do good as well as evil. When a person performs a Mitzvah he inclines his nature to the good. This now makes it easier for him to do more good deeds because he has tilted the balance in that direction. Similarly, if a person sins, he has imbued in himself a disposition to sin because that is the way he has influenced himself. It will now be easier for him to sin. 

At Mount Sinai after receiving the Torah, the Israelites' disposition was strongly in favour of Mitzvah performance to the degree where they approached the lofty level of angels, and actually found it difficult to sin. However, this changed with the golden calf. The sin of idolatry is so severe and damaging to the soul, that it not only negated the impact of the revelation at Sinai but tilted the balance the other way making it easier for them to sin! 

The Mitzvah to build the Tabernacle was to atone for the sin of making the golden calf. After they completed building the Tabernacle, they erased the effects of that sin and once more became inclined to perform Mitzvot. Hence, after they finished manufacturing all the items required for the Tabernacle and were ready to erect it, the Torah could state once again that "the Israelites did according to all that G-d commanded Moshe - refering to all of the other Mitzvot".

Pikudei

Tuesday, 5th March 2019

And all the work of the Mishkan Ohel Mo'ed (Tabernacle) was finished; and the Israelites did according to all that G-d commanded Moshe (Moses), so they did (Exodus 39:32). 
 
This verse seems to be the wrong way round! Shouldn't it first say that the Israelites did according to all that G-d commanded Moshe (regarding the Tabernacle), and then say they finished making the items required for the Tabernacle? 
 
The Oznayim LaTorah explains that the latter part of the verse actually refers to all the other Mitzvot (Commandments) of the Torah which G-d commanded Moshe; it does not refer to the building of the Tabernacle. Therefore, the Torah is teaching that the Israelites completed the Tabernacle and subsequently observed the other Mitzvot. However, if this is so, why would the Torah mention this Mitzvah observance specifically upon completion of the Tabernacle? 
The Oznayim LaTorah answers by quoting the Mishnah: "One Mitzvah leads to another Mitzvah and one sin leads to another sin" (Pirkei Avot 4:2) .

G-d created a person with a balanced equilibrium in that he is inclined to do good as well as evil. When a person performs a Mitzvah he inclines his nature to the good. This now makes it easier for him to do more good deeds because he has tilted the balance in that direction. Similarly, if a person sins, he has imbued in himself a disposition to sin because that is the way he has influenced himself. It will now be easier for him to sin. 

At Mount Sinai after receiving the Torah, the Israelites' disposition was strongly in favour of Mitzvah performance to the degree where they approached the lofty level of angels, and actually found it difficult to sin. However, this changed with the golden calf. The sin of idolatry is so severe and damaging to the soul, that it not only negated the impact of the revelation at Sinai but tilted the balance the other way making it easier for them to sin! 

The Mitzvah to build the Tabernacle was to atone for the sin of making the golden calf. After they completed building the Tabernacle, they erased the effects of that sin and once more became inclined to perform Mitzvot. Hence, after they finished manufacturing all the items required for the Tabernacle and were ready to erect it, the Torah could state once again that "the Israelites did according to all that G-d commanded Moshe - refering to all of the other Mitzvot".

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