130309 – Parshi’ot VaYakhel/Pekudei Shabbat HaChodesh

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HaChodesh 01VORTIFY YOURSELF

Reb Yosil Rosenzweig

rebyosil@gmail.com

PARSHI’OT VAYAKHEL-PEKUDEI

SHABBAT HACHODESH

Torah Reading: Shemot (Exodus) 35:1 – 40:38

Maftir: Shemot 12:1 – 20

Haftarah: Ezekiel 35:16 – 46:18

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Our sages established four special Shabbat Torah readings to commemorate special events of the pre-Passover season prior to the expected great Roman exile as a Zecher LeChurban – a remembrance of the Temple destruction. The four Parshi’ot are:

  1. Parshat Shekalim: Feb. 9, 2013 (dealing with the half-Shekel tax – Exodus 30:11-16), this portion is read on the Shabbat preceding Rosh Chodesh Adar or Adar II in a leap year.
  2. Parshat Zachor: Feb. 23, 2013 (both remembering and not forgetting the evil nation of Amalek), the Shabbat immediately preceding Purim. The portion of Amalek (Deut. 25:17-19) is read, since Haman was a descendant of Agog, King of Amalek.
  3. Parshat Para: March 2, 2013, Numbers 19:1-22 is read on the Shabbat following Purim (purifying anyone’s contaminated body via the sprinkling of the ashes of the red heifer so that one may enter the Temple area to sacrifice and eat the Pascal lamb offering).
  4. Parshat HaChodesh: March 9, 2013, finally, on the Shabbat preceding Rosh Chodesh Nissan, (recalling the first national Mitzvah of our special lunar/solar calendar), we read the special Maftir from Exodus 12:1-20. These verses contain the commandment to make Nissan the head of all months. This was the first Mitzvah given to the Jewish people while still in Egypt.

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Central to the Torah’s teaching about the building of the Mishkan is the word “Lev – heart.” Those skilled in building and designing are said to be “Chacham Lev – wise hearted.” Furthermore, the text continues to note “Nisa’o Libo” (Exodus 35:21), meaning that “their hearts stir them up” to do the work; literally, their hearts carried them along in these sacred tasks. And finally, there is a third category – those who are referred to as “willing hearted,” who contribute voluntarily of their means for the precious material that was necessary for building HaShem’s sanctuary.

The Torah distinguishes between the “wise hearted” and the “willing hearted” as follows: HaShem grants wise heartedness, but willing heartedness is self–motivated. The wise–hearted artisans, both men and women, are said to have their special skill instilled in them by HaShem. But they, must motivate themselves to use their skills on behalf of the Almighty. The existence of these two types of people – those who are wise–hearted and those whose hearts stirred them up into action – are referred to in the text of the Parsha: “And Moses called…. every wise–hearted person, in whose heart the Lord had put wisdom, even everyone whose heart stirred him or her up to the work to do it” (Exodus 36:2). Without allowing their hearts to stir them up to do the work, the artisans’ God–given skills would be of no avail to the communal purpose.

These skilled persons and stirred up hearts who do the building, the weaving, and fashioning, are thus paralleled to the willing–hearted, who provide the material for the communal work. They, too, it is said, are carried along by the hearts: “And they came everyone whose heart stirred him or her up, and everyone whose heart made him or her willing, and brought the Lord’s offering for the work of the tent of meeting….nose rings, and earrings, and signet rings, all jewels made of gold” (Exodus 35:21-22). Without their willing hearts, all of their lovely possessions would be of no avail to the community. It was this quality of willingness, of wanting to share with the community from their material well–being that distinguished them from the others.

These descriptions therefore stress each individual’s heartfelt action as a precondition and prerequisite to this successful construction of the desert sanctuary, in which HaShem’s presence could more readily be felt. By contrast, in last week’s episode of the Sin of the Golden Calf, when jewelry is also brought to serve as the raw material for the idol, the givers are not depicted as individuals, but rather as a mass of people who approach Aaron and who are told to “break off your gold rings, which are in the ears of your wives, your sons and your daughters” (Exodus 32:2). A mere half sentence is devoted to the people’s action. They are told what to do and they do it, they obey, not as if they were bringing a free–will offering, but compliantly, prompted by their own mob psychology. In breaking their covenant with HaShem, they also break themselves apart, as individuals.

But in this week’s Parshi’ot, the Torah describes the people in a different light and focus, rebuilding their individual and collective identity by focusing on them as individuals who join with a sacred communal effort, freely giving their wisdom and their means to glorify HaShem.

It is hard not to find in this story a lesson of how a Jewish community should really function. There are many among us, those who are “wise hearted” in one way or another, but who see this wisdom as hard–earned rather than as being a God given endowment. Similarly, there are those among us who have earned the means to give to others, but who see no communal claim on their wealth. They, too, have earned it of their own strength and brilliance, so they think, by dint of their own hard work, which in their minds is divorced from any Divine factor.

This week’s Torah portion comes to teach us the true nature and quality of the giver, dramatizing a willingness to give of ourselves, of our talents and our means, for purposes beyond ourselves. It is not enough to encourage our children to excel in learning. Our pride in Jewish intellectual and artistic achievements is misplaced and misused if we do not insist that our intellectuals and our artists perform HaShem’s work in the community. And our pride in Jewish material well-being is likewise misplaced if we do not tax ourselves, so that those with special skills can be given the means with which to serve and teach in our communities. What we have, what we’ve been blessed with in terms of material goods and the matter of the mind, is ours to use not only for individual pursuits, but also for the greater good of society. The heart and the mind are to be guided by a willingness to share our gifts with others, so that society may benefit from our pooled resources and shared efforts.

Many are the ways in which our hearts and our minds can think and exist in tandem for common cause. I read about a student at Yeshiva University, who was recently given an outstanding award by a national organization that recognizes talent on campuses. Among the many activities this young man was involved in are the University blood drive, the Committee for Racial Tolerance on Campus, various intramural sports, captain of various sports teams, former president of the Junior class, and the list goes on. The Dean indicated that never, in his recollection, could he remember a student who had so many talents in so many areas, and gave of his heart and his mind to so many important causes. He is not only “wise hearted” but also “willing hearted.” Generosity needs both components – the feelings of the heart as well as the inspiration and the vision of the mind – to be realized in its proper form.

Our Parsha teaches us what it is that distinguishes humankind and sets us apart above all other creations, and enables us to be co–creators with HaShem. Brains and brawn is not only necessary to do the hard work that is a prerequisite of success. It is also about the ability to infuse these efforts with heart and feeling, to lend the human side to one’s efforts. More praiseworthy than the domineering employer who makes millions, is the humane, benevolent boss who, while carefully watching the bottom line, has never lost sight of the human side of work and industry.

Shabbat Shalom,

Reb Yosil

121222 – Parshat VaYiGash

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VORTIFY YOURSELF

Reb Yosil Rosenzweig

rebyosil@gmail.com

Parshat VaYigash

Bereishit (Genesis) 44:18-47:27

Haftarah Ezekiel 37:15-28

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I recall once sitting at an organizational meeting where a debate ensued concern­ing an evaluation of recent efforts of the organization. The point under consideration was a definition of “success,” and whether or not the organization had been “success­ful” in its efforts with regard to that program. Only once in the entire Torah is there actually any refer­ence a “successful” person. And that was with regard to Yosef, who we are told was an “Ish Matzli’ach – a successful man” (Gen. 39:1-2).

This gives rise, of course, to the same question, “what is success?” In our age and in our culture, success is usually (and mistakenly), associated with great material achieve­ments, with power, money, glamour and popularity. That is the modern definition of success – the criteria used for the “rich and famous” of our society. And yet, the Torah presents us with an alternative and what I believe to be a more profound defini­tion of success. The Jewish definition of a success story can be found by examining Yosef’s own life story.

Throughout Yosef’s life, he faced a series of critical tests and challenges. They represent the types of crises and problems experienced by all of us during our lifetimes. First, at the tender age of seventeen, he was persecuted by his own brothers, torn away from his family and thrown into an alien environment. The love and care of a doting father is now replaced by the harsh demands of a slave owner. It is obviously a period of gloom and doom in his young life. And two possibili­ties exist at such a moment. One can be overcome with self–pity, despair and hopelessness. Or, one can determine to make the best of a difficult situation and face the future with hope and faith and determination.

Yosef opted for the second alternative. In his hour of misfortune and trouble and travail, he was imbued with faith in HaShem, and because “HaShem was with Yosef (39:2),” he never lost hope. He applied himself to his work; he found a blessing in the curse: he was able to see the silver lining in the clouds, and he did the best he could do under difficult circumstances. He was thus an “Ish Matzli’ach” in that circumstance. He rose to the occasion.

The next crisis provided Yosef with a serious moral test. He had to face the powerful attraction of the mistress of the house, namely the wife of Potiphar and fight against temptation and evil. And as the Midrash and other sources indicate, it was not an easy matter. After all, Yosef was a young man, very attractive, with all of the urges of a person of his age. We all know how many people have capitulated to lusts and sexual urges, and have succumbed to impulse. But again, Yosef succeed­ed, for at the height of this crisis and this challenge, he felt that he was not alone. He was able to see and recognize and be conscious of his moral responsibilities, of his presence before the Almighty and of his father’s teach­ings and reputation. In a forceful tone he replied: “How can I do this great evil and sin against HaShem?” (Gen. 39:9)

The third crisis of Yosef’s life came when he faced the powerful Pharaoh, and brilliantly interpreted his dream. From the bottom of a dark pit, he has now risen to the heights of fame, success and new fortune. He was about to become the Viceroy of Egypt. All admired his wisdom and his ingenuity, especially at that time of crisis for that country. It was so easy and so tempting to become vain and arrogant at his newfound success and influence, to treat success in a mood of self-congratulation. But Yosef, in characteristic humility, answers “It is not in me, only HaShem will give an answer to Pha­raoh” (Gen. 41:16). Once again Yosef has succeeded. He has not permit­ted his meteoric rise and popularity and influence to corrupt or compro­mise his life and his princi­ples. He doesn’t put on the mantle of arrogance; he doesn’t strut about proud as a peacock, drunk with his own success.

And the final crisis of his life is recorded in this week’s Sedra. How will Yosef deal with his brothers after so many years of estrange­ment? When Yosef reveals his identity to his brothers, he immediately reassures them of his fraternal feelings by declaring, “For it was to preserve life that HaShem sent me ahead of you…to give you a remnant on the earth…to save your lives in a great deliverance” – (Gen. 45:5-7). It is important to notice how often Yosef refers to HaShem at this tense moment of rapprochement, when he reintroduces himself to his brothers and seeks to affect a mending of ways.

These are the types of crises that we actually all face in life, each representing a different category. All of us at one time or another certainly fight despair, we battle our conscience, we seek to retain humility in the face of success, and we attempt to repair estrangements with those nearest and dearest to us. If throughout these various fluctuations of life we remember that man is not alone, but that man can be responsible for his actions, can at least guide his destiny, and in spite of all of our achievements, our lives are still in the hands of HaShem, then we too can succeed like Yosef.

Success is a matter of measure and humility, of not taking one’s self too seriously, in believing that one has to be in total control, otherwise we lose it all. Success is not just making it, but knowing how to take it. Success means that one tries to do the best with what one has been given, never abandon­ing one’s principles; remaining close to one’s ideals, and capable of resisting the allure of overly vain and selfish pursuits. And success means that one can be good to one’s self; that one can work to realize one’s potential, but that one never forgets the final act and ingredient in the process of “making it,” and that is  HaShem’s good graces. Success also means that one sees achievement in the ordinary accomplishments. Success means that one need not move mountains; but success can be manifest in the ordinary everyday happenings, in raising a good family, in being a good provider, friend and citizen.

Shabbat Shalom,

Reb Yosil

120512 – Parshat Emor – Lag B’Omer

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VORTIFY YOURSELF

Reb Yosil Rosenzweig

rebyosil@gmail.com

PARSHAT EMOR – LAG B’OMER

VaYikra (Leviticus) 21:1 – 24:23

Haftorah – Ezekiel 44:15-31

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This past Thursday, May 10th, we celebrated Lag B’Omer, a minor holiday that is full of joy, charm and mystery. Lag B’Omer is the 33rd day of the Omer, about two thirds through a period of counting 49 days from the 2nd night of Pesach (Passover) through the eve of the Shavu’ot festival (Pentecost).

In this week’s Parsha we find the commandment of both the Omer offering (Vayikra 23:9-14) and the Omer counting: “You shall count for yourselves – from the morrow of the rest day [Pesach], from the day that you bring the Omer of the waving offering – they shall be seven complete weeks…” (VaYikra 23:15). Therefore we count each day and each week until the seven weeks are completed which leads immediately into the festival of Shavu’ot.

There is another aspect that is essential to the process of our counting. The Zohar Chadash (Kabalistic Midrash and part of the Zohar) teaches: “When the B’nei Yisra’el were in Egypt, they became defiled by all manner of impurity until they sank to the 49th level of spiritual impurity. The Holy One Blessed Be He, delivered them out of slavery and invested them with 49 degrees of purity.” Thus, on each of the 49 days between Pesach and Shavu’ot, the Children of Israel shed and ascended a level until they stood before Mt Sinai spiritually cleansed of the impurities of their Egyptian existence.

So too, we count and we simulate this experience into our own lives, striving to elevate ourselves each day of each week, for 49 days in order to become worthy of accepting the Torah from a position of increased purity. In many Siddurim (prayer books) within the prayers of the Omer counting, we find mention of 7 Kabbalistic Sefirot (qualities or powers), that in turn have 7 related elements, and that together (7 X 7) equal the 49 levels of purification. Every evening at the counting, we mention a particular part of these 49 elements and we strive to acknowledge and perfect that aspect within our personalities.

Another feature of the Omer period is also a 33 day mourning period associated with these 49 days. The Talmud relates a perplexing story: “Rebbi Akiva had 12,000 pairs of students [throughout Eretz Yisrael], and they all passed away [in a plague] because they did not show each other respect…they all passed away [during 33 days] between Pesach and Shavu’ot, and the world was barren until Rebbi Akiva approached [a new set of 5 students] and taught them Torah…” (Gemara Yevamot 62b).

A 33 day mourning period was rabbinically imposed forbidding certain forms of rejoicing, shaving, getting haircuts, listening to music and by association – getting married. But which 33 days are considered the days of mourning? Some Jews (mostly Sephardim [Jews from Spanish and Middle-Eastern descent]) hold that the first 33 days of the Omer is the mourning period. Other’s mostly Ashkenazim (Jews from German and European descent) hold from the new month of Iyar until the 3rd day of Sivan (3 days before Shavu’ot). I personally accept the theory of the MaHaRYL (acronym for Moreinu HaRav Yehoshua Leib [our teacher, the Rabbi Joshua Leib Diskin], Brisk, Lithuania and Jerusalem – 1818-1898) who claims: …”none died during the holiest 17 of the 50 days– the 7 Sabbaths, the 6 days of Pesach (minus one Sabbath), Isru Chag [the day after Pesach], and the 3 days of Rosh Chodesh [the new moons]! Therefore, only 33 days were set for mourning.”

One mystery that we still have is in the Talmud’s statement: “they all passed away because they did not show each other respect.” We must acknowledge that Rebbi Akiva’s 12,000 pairs of students were not just university students who were simply searching for themselves in his Yeshiva. Rebbi Akiva’s students were Tana’im (rabbis of the Mishnaic period) men of great stature and integrity and we must assume that they were not subject to whims of impropriety. These were men of great culture and refinement. So what does it mean when the Talmud says that “they did not show each other respect?

Most answers that I have heard over the years have not satisfied me. A few years back I participated in a study session in Cleveland, Ohio during Pesach and heard a Rabbi Margereten deliver a talk on the subject. He said in the name of Rav Aharon Kotler ZT”L (dean of the famous Lakewood, New Jersey Yeshiva [1892-1962]) that the 12,000 pairs of students actually loved each very much but at times allowed that love to become too familiar. If they were agitated or excited, they would take out their frustrations on their study partner, similar to what we do to our spouses and children. They disrespected each other in the name of love, which made their Torah worthless.

At that time in our history, the Roman occupation of Israel had all but destroyed our Jewish heritage. Rebbi Akiva, through clandestine means and great sacrifice continued to teach Torah with a death penalty looming overhead. Yet, because of their lack of respect (what ever that means), their Torah was considered unworthy of transmission to future generations and they died of a plague that was Divinely rooted (If you consider this incomprehensible, review the Parshi’ot of TAZRIYA-METZORAH which discusses a disease similar to leprosy that was caused by Lashon HaRa – gossip).

After the death of the 24 thousand students, Rebbi Akiva chose 5 new students: R’ Meir; R’ Yehuda bar Ilai; R’ Shimon bar Yochai (who died on Lag B’Omer and who is buried in Meron the site of the great Lag B’Omer celebration in Israel); R’ Yosi ben Chalafta; and R’ Elazar ben Shamu’a. Practically all of the oral Torah that has been transmitted to us today, which includes Mishnah, Zohar, Midrash, Sifrei, Sifra, etc. are the products of these five students of Rebbi Akiva. Can you imagine how much more Torah knowledge we would have if the 12,000 pairs of students had lived?

I find it strange that during the time of the writing of the Talmud, when massive information and Jewish trivia were being transmitted for future generations, the question of which 33 days of mourning (among the 49 days) is left a mystery. Halachically, problems could arise when there is a conflict between Jews of differing Minhagim (customs). Let us say that I held that the latter 33 days were the days of mourning and I was marrying off a child during the first few days of the Omer. Among my guests to the wedding are Jews who held that the first 33 days are the days of mourning. Are they allowed to attend the wedding?

I heard from one Rabbi (I can’t remember his name) that while a Jew is not allowed make a wedding during the mourning period, yet they would be required to attend the wedding of another’s out of respect, clearly, as a Tikkun (repair) of the shortcomings of Rebbi Akiva’s students.

We obviously learn that while required to observe the Torah and its Halacha, more importantly we must always demonstrate respect for one another in order to make our Torah and our Halacha worthy of continuing for generations to come.

Shabbat Shalom,

Reb Yosil

120324 – Parshat VaYikra – Shabbat Rosh Chodesh – Parshat HaChodesh

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VORTIFY YOURSELF

Reb Yosil Rosenzweig

rebyosil@gmail.com

PARSHAT VAYIKRA

VaYikra (Leviticus) 1:1 – 5:26

SHABBAT ROSH CHODESH

VaYikra (Leviticus) 28:9-15

PARSHAT HACHODESH

Shemot (Exodus) 12:1-20

Haftarah – Ezekiel 45:16-46:18

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The Rabbi’s instituted four special readings in the period prior to Passover, to remind our nation in exile of the centrality of Jerusalem and the glory of its former Temple and also to remind us of the upcoming Passover season. The first special reading is called Parshat Shekalim (Shemot [Exodus] 30:11-16 – the portion of the Shekels) which reminds us that a national census was taken at the beginning of the month of Nisan, when each male over the age of 20 would contribute one half shekel of silver to the Temple coffers for daily offerings on behalf of the nation. The second reading is called Parshat Zachor (Devarim [Deuteronomy] 25:17-19 – the portion of the remembering) when we remember the attack by Amalek against the weary and feeble of our nation after we left Egypt. The third reading is called Parshat Para (VaYikra 19:1-22 – the portion of the Red Heifer) which reminds us that in order to enter the Temple area to slaughter the Pascal sacrifice, one who was contaminated by contact with the dead, could undergo a ritual of purification using the ashes of the red heifer. And finally, the last portion called Parshat HaChodesh (Shemot 12:1-20 – the portion of the Moon) reminds us of our unique Jewish calendar that was commanded to us prior to our exodus from Egypt.

This year, Parshat HaChodesh coincides with Rosh Chodesh (the new month of) Nisan and we have a very special Torah reading in the synagogue. Instead of two Torah’s being read for our weekly Parsha and for Rosh Chodesh, the additional reading for Parshat HaChodesh means that three Torah scrolls will be used this Shabbat. Six Aliyot (six people are honored with the readings) are read from the first scroll, a second Torah is then placed on the Bima and the seventh Aliyah is read from the portion commanding the bringing of a special offering in the Temple (honoring the holiness of the New Moon – VaYikra 28:9-15). The third Torah is then brought up for Maftir (the concluding reading), for Shabbat HaChodesh (Shemot 12:1-20). The use of three Torah’s on Shabbat is highly unusual, if you don’t often attend Shabbat Services, check it out.

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One of the main purposes of Torah observance is for an individual to train themselves to become a “Mentch” (a modest and moral person). This concept finds no better source than the opening words of our Parsha. However, before we even examine this thought, one must first understand one of the methods of transmission of the Torah’s teachings.

There is not one single Mitzvah in the Torah that is self-defining. Since Mitzvot are commands – laws, the need defining in order to understand the parameters that define observance and transgression. Let’s use “honor you father and mother” as an example, how does one perform this Mitzvah? Is it obedience to their wishes, or, showing respect even when they are abusive? Is the definition subjective and we can therefore define it are we see fit, or is there a set definition of how to respect or disrespect our parents? The “Oral Law” that lies hidden behind each Mitzvah defines for us the true will of the Creator.

This Masoret – transmission – is often found in the grammar, tenses, spelling and letter formation of the Hebrew words themselves. Example: each letter in the Torah must be precisely transcribed. A Sefer Torah (a Torah scroll) that has any error; a chipped letter, a letter that touches another letter, or a letter that is written out of proportion, renders the Sefer Torah “Pasul” (invalid). Each letter has its own exact shape and must be fashioned by an ordained scribe exactly as transmitted, any deviation of that shape is unacceptable. Yet, we find that the opening word of our Parsha and the Book of VaYikra (Leviticus) has an undersized Aleph (the “a” sound): “VAYIKRa – And He [HaShem] called [to Moshe]…” In the side graphic of the word VAYIKRa, compare the size of the letter “Aleph,” the last letter of the first word (reading from right to left) and the first letter of the second word. When letters are written according to tradition and yet their size is out of proportion, we know that a message is being transmitted to us from the author of the message (see the “Vortify – 980328) (this phenomenon is not addressed in most translated versions of the Torah; it is unique to the Hebrew text alone).

Let’s now return to our thesis, Mentchlichkeit – correct conduct. Our commentators give various meanings to the condensed Aleph. RaShI (acronym for Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, France [1040 – 1105]) comments that the small Aleph signifies Moshe’s humility. RaShI contends that the word VaYikra is actually a term of endearment. Whenever HaShem would call out to Moshe He would say, “Moshe, Moshe,” to which Moshe responded, “Heneini (here I am).” RaShI teaches: “HaShem’s call to Moshe was as a friend calling another friend. As it says in Isaiah 6:3, ‘and they [the angels} called out to one another and said; ‘Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of Hosts.’ But [when HaShem called out to] the gentile prophets He revealed Himself to them in a less formal manner as it says in BaMidbar (Numbers) 23:4 ‘And HaShem (VaYakar – without the Aleph) chanced upon Bilaam.‘ “Both VaYakar and VaYikra are terms used to summon prophets by HaShem, but VaYikra has a special degree of companionship attached to it. So why the small Aleph in VAYIKRa?

The Midrash teaches us that Moshe was so humble and unassuming that he did not want there to be a differentiation between him and other prophets. When Moshe was transcribing the Torah he wanted to leave out the letter Aleph from VAYIKRa which would infer that HaShem just chanced upon him as he did other prophets. But HaShem, who dictated the Torah to Moshe, refused to allow this change to His text. However, He did allow the letter Aleph to appear small, to teach us this lesson in humility.

Another understanding of the small Aleph is quoted in Me’am Lo’ez (a monumental Ladino commentary on the entire Torah begun by Rabbi Ya’akov Culi of Constantinople – 1689-1732) that reminds us that the Tabernacle had just been built and entry into it by non-priests was forbidden. He writes:    “The verse also comes to teach us the submissiveness of Moshe our teacher. For even though he had permission to enter the Tabernacle at any hour [any time] that he desired, Moshe didn’t want to enter this first time after the Tabernacle was dedicated until HaShem called upon him and invited him to enter, as we are taught: “Derech Eretz Kadma LaTorah – proper conduct (or respect for others) precedes even Torah” (VaYikra Rabbah 9:3). The verse (Bereishit [Genesis] 3:24) says: ‘…to guard the way to the Tree of Life,’ which is to say, that HaShem commanded Adam first to show proper conduct (respect) and then to watch over the Tree of Life (which is symbolic of the Torah itself). It is not enough that a person is just knowledgeable, he must also be cultured and refined. Therefore the Torah informs us that even though Moshe our teacher had permission to enter, he did not enter until he was called.”

The Me’am Lo’ez stresses that the small Aleph not only teaches us about Moshe’s humility but also that proper conduct is expected even from the greatest of our sages. This might be the source of the Mishnah in the Ethics of Our Ancestors that reads: “Where there is no Torah, there is no proper conduct; and where there is no proper conduct there is no Torah.” (Avot 3:21)

Commenting on this Mishnah, the Ga’on of Vilna (Rabbi Eliyahu ben Shlomo Zalman, 1720-1797) writes: “The individual’s entire service to HaShem is contingent upon the perfection of his character traits, which are like a garment enveloping the Mitzvot and the principals of the Torah.”

The virtues of humility and a refined personality (and so much more) is learned from one undersized Aleph in one word, can you imagine the wisdom that can be derived from a entire word?

Shabbat Shalom,

Reb Yosil

120317 – Parshi’ot VayaKel/Pekudei & Parshat Para

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VORTIFY YOURSELF

Reb Yosil Rosenzweig

rebyosil@gmail.com

Parshi’ot VayaKel/Pekudei

Parshat Parah

Shemot (Exodus) 35:1 – 38:20

Maftir: VaYikra (Numbers) 19:1 – 22

Haftorah – Ezekiel 36:16 – 38

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Our sages established four special Shabbat Torah readings to commemorate special events of the pre-Passover season prior to the expected great Roman exile as a Zecher LeChurban – a remembrance of the Temple destruction. The four Parshi’ot are:

  • Parshat Shekalim – Feb. 18, 2012 (dealing with the half-Shekel tax, Shemot 30:11-16), this portion is read on the Shabbat preceding Rosh Chodesh Adar or Adar II in a leap year to remind us that in Temple times we would participate in the census that funded the communal offerings in the Temple.
  • Parshat Zachor – March 3, 2012 (remembering and not forgetting the evil nation of Amalek), is read the Shabbat immediately preceding Purim. The portion of Amalek Devarim (Deut.) 25:17-19 is read, since the Purim villain Haman was a descendant of Agag, King of Amalek.
  • Parshat Para – March 17, 2012, VaYikra (Numbers) 19:1-22 (dealing with purifying one’s contaminated body via the sprinkling of the ashes of the Red Heifer so that one may enter the Temple area to sacrifice and eat the Pascal lamb offering) is read on the Shabbat following Purim.
  • Parshat HaChodesh – March 24, 2012, finally, on the Shabbat preceding Rosh Chodesh Nissan, (recalling the first national Mitzvah of our special lunar/solar calendar, we read the special Maftir from Shemot 12:1-20. These verses contain the commandment to make the month of Nissan the head of all months. This was the first Mitzvah given to the Jewish people while still in Egypt.

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I am not going to analyze a particular passage of our Parsha this week in my usual manner. I have decided instead to explain how the thirty nine forbidden actions on Shabbat were determined, because the Mitzvah of Shabbat is so central to the Jewish experience. Let me begin by saying that from the time that the commandment of Shabbat was given (at Mareh, prior to receiving the Torah, see RaShI Shemot 15:25), the 39 “forms of creative labor” were revealed. However, after 1,500 years, the transmission of the law was muddled and a biblical reference needed to be determined.

Our Parsha begins with Moshe assembling the B’nei Yisra’el and teaching them the Mitzvah (commandment) of observing Shabbat. To put the event into perspective, we know that Moshe ascended Mount Sinai on the 6th of Sivan (which we celebrate as the festival of Shavu’ot) and returned on the 17th of Tamuz (observed as the day that the sieges of Jerusalem took place in both the first and second Temple periods). He broke the tablets on the 18th and carried out the judgment against the transgressors.

On the 19th of Tamuz he again ascended Mount Sinai (Devarim [Deuteronomy] 9:18), this time to plead for mercy for the Israelites, and returned on the 29th of Av, when HaShem agreed to forgive the people and give them the second tablets. Moshe ascended Mt. Sinai (for a third time) on Rosh Chodesh Av, again, for a period of 40 days and nights and descended with the second tablets on the 10th of Tishre (Yom Kippur), which now puts Yom Kippur as a Day of Atonement into perspective, since HaShem forgave us for the sin of the golden calf and continues to forgive those who call out in prayer, repentance and charity.

The very next day, the scene of assembly takes place. RaShI (Shemot 35:2) emphasizes that despite their enthusiasm to show their love and gratitude to HaShem by building the Mishkan (the tabernacle), the B’nei Yisra’el were instructed not to allow the erection of the Mishkan to take preference over observance of Shabbat.

But the question remains, what is forbidden to be done on Shabbat? The Torah mentions in many different places that “MELACHA” (creative labor often mistranslated as “work”) is forbidden. But a definition of Melacha is not provided. However, from the juxtaposition of the Shabbat and the Mishkan in this week’s Parsha, the Talmud in Tractate Shabbat 97b deduces that the 39 Melachot (plural of Melacha) that went into the construction of the Mishkan define the forbidden actions on Shabbat.

To understand this connection, we must understand that our Halachic (legal) tradition helps us to understand obscure words or phrases in the Torah. These traditions were passed down orally from Moshe Rabbeinu until the time of the Talmud. When the oral tradition was written down so that it would not be lost, Rabbi Ishma’el authored a Beraita (authoritative draft of the law, some of which were refined to become Mishna – the written oral tradition). His Beraita was included in the introduction to the Sifra (a Midrashic work that exhaustively clarifies the Book of Vayikra – Leviticus). The B’raita lists the Thirteen Rules by which the Torah can be properly interpreted within the context of our oral tradition (the Thirteen Rules are similar to the axioms of geometry).

The second of the thirteen rules is the Gezerah Shavah (similar words in different contexts are meant to clarify one another). In our case, regarding Shabbat, the word Melachah (…”do not do any form of Melachah.” Shemot 35:2) is undefined, while in connection with the building of the

Mishkan the word Melachah or Malechet is defined by 39 forms of creative labor. The Talmud then reinforces our traditional understanding of Melachah with a biblical passage proving the connection. A list of the Thirteen Rules can be found in the Morning Service of any Siddur (prayer book) after the review of the daily sacrifices. In the Artscroll Siddur, it can be found on pages 48 – 52 (with an excellent overview and description) and in the Birnbaum Siddur on pages 41 – 45.

I have listed below the 39 Melachot and the purpose of the Melachah:

1. Plowing 2. Planting 3. Harvesting 4. Gathering 5. Threshing 6. Sifting 7. Selecting 8. Winnowing 9. Grinding 10. Kneading* 11. Baking. Purpose: To grow and process plants needed to make dyes to color the wool and skins used in the Mishkan. The Jerusalem Talmud holds that the purpose of kneading and baking were to prepare the 12 “show-breads.”

12. Shearing 13. Bleaching 14. Dyeing 15. Spinning  16. Weaving 17. Combing 18. Separating thread      19. Threading a loom 20. Threading a harness 21. Tying a knot 22. Untying a knot      23. Sewing 24. Tearing. Purpose: To prepare the wool and weave it into curtains.

25. Trapping 26. Slaughtering 27. Skinning 28. Tanning 29. Smoothing 30. Marking 31. Cutting to a shape. Purpose: To prepare the skins for the Mishkan covering.

32. Writing 33. Erasing. Purpose: To rebuild the Mishkan properly, letters were written on the courtyard pillars to identify their position. Letters were often erased and rewritten.

34. Building 35. Demolishing. Purpose: To assemble and disassemble the Mishkan when traveling.

36. Kindling 37. Extinguishing a fire. Purpose: To light the fires needed for dyeing the wool and smelting the metals. Fire was also extinguished to produce charcoal.

38. Final hammer blow (completing). Purpose: To complete the metal construction

39. Carrying. Purpose: To move the pillars from the wagons to a Public Area and vice versa; to bring the tithes from the tents to a Public area.

The above listed Melachot are the sources of all Torah and Rabbinic Law regarding what is permissible and not permissible on Shabbat and Biblical holidays. However, categorizing certain areas of technology has become confusing. For instance, where does the use electricity fit into a category of Melacha? There are two main schools of thought: The first is that it is fire and since kindling and extinguishing are forbidden, the use of electricity is also forbidden. Another school of thought holds that while electricity can be used for light, it is but a minor use of electricity. Electricity is used to heat and to cool, to power engines and to power utensils, all of which are activated by a switch. The activation of a switch completes a circuit which allows the electricity to flow and therefore falls into the category of “the final hammer blow” or, completing something (the circuit) on Shabbat that was incomplete prior to Shabbat.

Shabbat is central to the Jewish experience. Without it our Jewishness begins to fade. Its observance is our way of expressing that HaShem created the world in six days and rested on the seventh; that He took us out of bondage and gave us the right to choose between good and evil; it allows us to be unhindered by the labors of life in an ever increasing technological world; and, it allows us to interact with those most dear to us, HaShem and our families.

The Zionist philosopher Achad HaAm once said: “More than the Jews keep the Shabbat, Shabbat keeps the Jews.” Shabbat is our lifeline to eternity. The more we put into our Shabbatot the more we receive in return.

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Parshat Para: While the additional Torah reading deals specifically with the Laws of the red Heifer, our special Haftarah contains passages that are most inspirational, for I have seen this prophesy coming true. The awakening of the Jewish people after what seems like HaShem disbursed and forsook us among the nations is coming to an end. “And I will sanctify My great name, which was profaned among the nations, which you have profaned in their midst; and the nations shall know that I am the Lord, says the HaShem Elohim, when I shall be sanctified in you before their eyes. For I will take you from among the nations, and gather you from all countries, and will bring you into your own land. Then I will sprinkle clean water (a reference to the Red Heifer) upon you, and you shall be clean from all your filthiness; and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put inside you; and I will take away the heart of stone from your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh. And I will put My spirit inside you, and cause you to follow My statutes, and you shall keep My judgments, and do them. And you shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; and you shall be My people, and I will be your God” (Ezekiel 36:22 – 28).

Shabbat Shalom,

Reb Yosil

120121 – Parshat VaEira

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VORTIFY YOURSELF

Reb Yosil Rosenzweig

rebyosil@gmail.com

PARSHAT VA’EIRA

Shemot (Exodus) 6:2-9:35

Haftarah Ezekiel 28:25-29:21

120121

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I was asked by a friend to republish this “Vort” which originally appeared in 2005.

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THE GIFT OF AN INHERITANCE AND A HERITAGE

Every parent would like to leave an inheritance to children and grandchildren; some even work their entire lives, denying themselves vacations and little luxuries, in order to amass some sort of nest–egg as an inheritance. Others live in disappointed frustration because they fear they will not have the wherewithal to leave behind a sizable “will and testimony.” What does our Torah have to say about a proper bequest for future generations?

The Torah has two similar words that relate to bequest, Morasha and Yerusha; the first is generally translated as heritage, the second as inheritance. This week’s portion of Va’Eira mentions Morasha for the first time:

And I will bring you into the land concerning which I raised My hand to give it to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob; and I will give it to you for a heritage [Morasha]: I am God” (Exodus 6:8).

It is interesting to note that in Webster’s Dictionary the words heritage and inheritance are virtually synonymous. Heritage is defined as “property that is or can be inherited.” Biblical Hebrew, however, is very precise and exact; different words have different meanings – there are no synonyms. The different contexts in which the two words Morasha and Yerusha appear can be very revealing about different kind of bequests – and even different kinds of relationships between parents and children, different priorities handed down from generation to generation – which these bequests engender.

We might then explore four different distinctions in meaning between the terms Yerusha and Morasha, inheritance and heritage, which should provide important instruction and inspiration to parents in determining and defining their bequests to their children.

First, the Jerusalem Talmud speaks of Yerusha as something that comes easily. A person dies, leaves an inheritance, and the heir is not required to do anything at all except receive the gift. But just being there is not enough when it comes to Morasha. The Jerusalem Talmud says that the extra letter “Mem” in this word is a grammatical sign of intensity. In order for an individual to come into possession of a Morasha, he has to work for it. An inheritance is what you get from the previous generation, without your particular input; a heritage requires your active involvement and participation. A Yerusha is a check your father left you; a Morasha is a business which your parent may have started, but into which you put much sweat, blood and tears, your own efforts and energies.

In order to further emphasize this point, the Torah generally uses the term Morasha (heritage) only in reference to Torah and the Land of Israel. When the Twelve Tribes of Israel are blessed at the end of Devarim (Deuteronomy), the Torah declares:

“Moses prescribed the Torah to us, an eternal heritage (Morasha) for the congregation of Jacob” – Devarim 33:4.

Furthermore, the Babylonian Talmud says there are three gifts which G-d gave the Jewish people that can only be acquired through commitment and suffering: “Torah, the Land of Israel and the World to Come” (Berachot 5a).

We understand that neither Torah, the Land of Israel, nor the World to Come is acquired passively. The Talmudic sages specifically teach that “Torah is not a Yerusha (an inheritance),” which comes automatically to a child. All achievement in Torah depends on an individual’s own efforts and desire. Maimonides states:

“…on the path of Torah acquisition…no one can merit the crown of Torah unless he is willing to destroy his desire for materialism while in pursuit of Torah expertise.”

Similarly, the Land of Israel cannot be acquired without “sacrifice and suffering,” and those two words take on different meanings as we pass through history. Nothing is more apparent in modern Israel today. A heritage comes hard, not easy, and our national heritage is Torah and Israel. And of course the World to Come can only be acquired by a life of dedication to HaShem’s will.

The second difference between Morasha and Yerusha is bound up with the first. The sages of the Midrash tie the word Morasha to a cognate term which sounds similar; do not only read Morasha but also read M’orasah, fiancée, or my betrothed. The kind of emotion one feels for a fiancée is precisely that which provides an individual with strength, courage and commitment to work tirelessly and to willingly sacrifice. Yerusha requires no special feeling. Morasha, however, demands emotional commitment. And so it has always been regarding Torah, Israel and the World of Come, for our Jewish people.

Torah is not just another intellectual pursuit. Does the chairman of the philosophy department walk through the library stacks, kissing copies of Aristotle if they fall to the floor, or dance with the collected writings of Plato? But we kiss the Torah whenever it is taken from the ark, and we have a special holiday dedicated to dancing with the Torah. And when we learn Torah, it is often with a melody, the expressions of the heart.

Third, the difference between Yerusha and Morasha is the difference between that which is tangible and that which is intangible. You can put your hands on a Yerusha; you can put it in the bank or hang it on the wall. A Morasha, however, does not have to be so. You need not touch it in order to feel it. It can be an idea, an ideal – a way of life.

A Yiddish poem puts it very well:

  • “My parents couldn’t leave me a car, but they left me a prayer: `Go with G-d.’
  • My parents couldn’t leave me money, but they left me a charge: `Give to those less fortunate.’
  • My parents couldn’t leave me jewelry, but they left me an ideal: `Be a Mensch.’ All I got was words. They only left me words, but those words are the bedrock of my life.”

The last distinction is probably the most important. A Yerusha is something which can be depleted, wasted. Even the largest amount of money bequeathed can be squandered, or legitimately lost. In contrast, a Morasha must be given over intact to the next generation. Its grammatical form means “to hand over to someone else.” Silver is an inheritance, and can be spent, melted down or used in whatever way the inheritor desires. But a pair of silver candlesticks is a heritage, an heirloom meant to be passed down and used from parent to child.

Tragically, many of us focus too much on inheritance and too little on heritage. We pass down money and material goods, but not meaning and a message. We pass down items but not ideals; possessions but not principles. Jewish parents have bequeathed the ideals of Torah and Israel to their children for 3,300 years, and that’s the secret behind our continued vitality to this very day.

Never mind your inheritance. The real question is: What will be the heritage that you will bequeath to your children? I have a very close friend who recently bewailed the fact that she wasn’t given the tools to appreciate her heritage from her parents. Only recently through contact with Torah personalities was she able to appreciate her Judaism. Perhaps in dealing with the Jewish continuity debate and discussion, we need to consider our use of language. What, in fact, are we continuing?

It is not a matter of inheritance as much as heritage. It is this sense of “Morasha” that endures and inspires our successors in subsequent generations. The most valuable inheritance, then, is a sense of heritage.

We need then to more effectively communicate a sense of intimacy and warmth with the message of our faith and with the lessons of our personal and collective histories; for this is the legacy that lasts, the gift that survives beyond our physical journey.

Shabbat Shalom,

Reb Yosil

110507 – Parshat Emor

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VORTIFY YOURSELF

Rabbi Yosil Rosenzweig

rebyosil@gmail.com

PARSHAT EMOR

VaYikra (Leviticus) 21:1 – 24:23

Haftarah – Ezekiel 44:15-31

110507

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Perhaps you recall the experience from your childhood. You get all dressed up for a holiday or a family Simcha – a wedding, for instance, or a special birthday party. As you wait for the rest of the family to get ready, your mother or father warns, “Don’t go outside; you’ll get your clothes dirty.”

The fear of dirt runs deep within us, and dirt need not be physical. There are dirty jokes and dirty tricks; people can have foul mouths and filthy minds. We speak even of sin as moral pollution – picture Lady Macbeth frantically scrubbing herself free of the “damned [cursed] spot” that has come from her many crimes.

Spiritually, too, the Torah speaks of purity and pollution. What mud puddles are to brand new clothes, and murder to moral virtue, ritual impurity is to spiritual sanctity. The problem is that the realm of the spiritual is a lot harder to imagine. But it is real nonetheless. Just from its exposure to the air, silverware collects tarnish, and if you leave it long enough, you will forget that there is anything shiny underneath. So, too, the part of us that is spiritual requires periodic shining from the tarnish of daily life.

There is nothing inherently wrong with the oxygen that tarnishes silver. Indeed, without oxygen, life itself would end. So, too, there is nothing evil about the morass of unspiritual details that consume the bulk of every waking day. Office work, house cleaning, cooking, shopping, eating and relaxing in front of the television set are all part of what it is to be human. These also are elements in G-d’s world, a slice of G-d’s plan for us who were put here, to work and watch over His earthly enterprise.

But at times we yearn to escape the mundane. Every once in a while, from deep within, we feel the need to be touched by the Divine, to be transformed by a burst of beauty, to be moved by the presence of love, to suspend our list of “things to do” and put on hold the harsh pace that drives us relentlessly, even as we pursue the good and happy things that we enjoy.

Those moments when we see beyond the hassle of the day by day, and stare instead into a shining moment of eternity, the Torah calls this sacred. Sacred moments then are times when we are relieved from having to worry about what there is to do, or whether something works. That explains why Shabbat is sacred: it is a day for doing nothing related to our weekday schedule. Similarly, one of our prayers describes Chanukah lights as sacred, because “we may not put them to any other use.” If you read by them, for instance, they are not sacred anymore.

Even the sacred music of our prayers is not performed the way concert music is. The music of our worship should be music for our souls, music that speaks to the deepest part of our being, getting beyond our normally critical selves. In the moments of the sacred, we thus strip ourselves free from worldly pursuits, so that we do not allow ourselves to become overwhelmed by those pursuits.

To a great extent, the entire book of Leviticus is a grand metaphor for the need to nurture our spiritual selves. So our Parsha this week speaks of the Kohen Gadol – the high priest, who is told not to go out of the sanctuary where he is ministering. Our commentators explain that we worry lest the priest be polluted. Not that the priest may remain forever indoors, of course. In fact, the Ibn Ezra says he is required to leave in order to perform Mitzvot, even though, like a child in new clothes, he may well meet up with impurities there.

In fact, this is implied in a verse from last week’s Parsha of Kedoshim, where it details the Yom Kippur atonement ritual. While the Kohen Gadol ministered in the Holy of Holies on that one special, sacred day, and had the sole distinction of entry into that inner sanctum, the Torah also enjoins him, and in the case of the Biblical narrative, it refers to himself saying “that he may not come at all times into the holy place” (Lev. 16:2). Some see this as an important injunction and reminder that the Kohen Gadol leads not only in the pristine purity and ivory tower environment of the Temple, but his true leadership is in the street, in the marketplace among the common folk, and amid the challenges of ordinary, mundane life.

In that regard we are all high priests, commanded to leave the sanctuaries of our lives in order to spend our time in the busy world where impurities abound. Physical filth galore inundates our urban areas, and moral obscenities abound in society. But there is spiritual sludge as well, the film that gathers on our souls if we never retreat from the world of work and worry, and enter instead into the sanctuaries of the spirit that we call our sacred places. There are sacred times, too, our portion calls them: Shabbat and Mo’adim (sacred times), for instance.

Comes Shabbat, and we are bidden to remember the high priest within each of us. It is our time to unwind from the struggle of daily life; to find our way to a synagogue and then to a quiet spot and to lose one’s in one’s own secret place of serenity. Turn off your inner ticking clock that reminds you always of what is not yet done. Look deeply into the eyes of someone you love. Take a deep breath and marvel at the fact that you are still alive.

How do we honor time in our lives? Do we take advantage of Shabbat and our holidays to explore the many facets of our spiritual lives? Holidays provide a “time out” to reflect on values that give meaning and purpose to our “ordinary time.” Without “sacred time,” our lives lack distinctions. I suspect that the feelings expressed in the phrases “our lives are out of control” and “I just can’t get off this treadmill” come about because we ignore opportunities to give meaning and holiness to our lives, to our possessions and to our time.

Like the priest called out of the Sanctuary to do the Mitzvot, we, too, are summoned to be active in the world. But on occasion we have the right, even the need, to retreat far away from pedestrian pursuits and revive our soul with the freshness of the sacred. The mundane certainly matters, but at times a helping of holiness, a dash of the Divine, provides the necessary corrective and restorative quality to a life that otherwise could and would be overrun by ordinary activity. Life demands a mixture of the mundane with the sublime. Together they represent the recipe for life and meaningful living.

As a final thought, when the Torah beseeches us to: “become a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” Shemot (Exodus) 19:6, we might consider taking this suggestion literally.

Shabbat Shalom,

Reb Yosil Rosenzweig

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