131221 – Parshat Shemot

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VbeshalachORTIFY YOURSELF

Rabbi Yosil Rosenzweig

rebyosil@gmail.com

PARSHAT SHEMOT

Shemot (Exodus) 1:1-6:1

Haftarah: Isaiah 26:6-28:13, 29:22-23

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What’s in a name? “And the king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, the name of the first was Shifra and the name of the second was Pu’ah…” (Shemot 1:15).

RaShI says that: “Shifra is YoCheved (the mother of Miryam, Aharon and Moshe), because Sh’miShaferet – she beautified the new born babies. And Pu’ah is Miryam, because Sh’Po’ah – she cries and speaks and coos at the child in the manner of women who try to sooth the crying babe.”

So, when we are introduced to Moshe’s mother and sister we find that they are not referred to by their given names, but, rather, by the names that described them not only as midwives, but as protectors of new born Hebrew babies.

Similarly, though we know baby Moshe by the name given to him by the daughter of Pharaoh because: “Moshituh – I drew him from the water,” Our Midrash teaches us that Moshe had many Hebrew names. The Me’am Lo’ez on Shemot 2:10 quotes a number of Midrashic sources and provides us with an amazing teaching: “Our sages have taught that Moshe was called by many names.

  • His father Amram called him Chaver, because of him [Moshe] he was “NitChaber – he was reunited” with his wife (RaShI to chapter 2 verse 1). And this was a worthy name because he also “reunited” Israel with their Father in heaven.
  • “And his mother YoCheved called him YeKuti’el, because, I had “Tikvah – hope” that Hashem would return my womb for birthing.
  • “His sister Miryam called him Yered, because she “YaRda – went down” to the Nile and saw what was to become of him. That name was also worthy because “HeReed – he brought down” the Torah to Israel from the heavens, also because the Manna “came down” in his merit. She also referred to him as Tuvya, because he was Tov – good.
  • “And his brother Aharon called him Avi Zanu’ach, because “Avi Zanach – my father abandoned” my mother and remarried her and Moshe was born. And this name was also a worthy one because he caused Israel to “abandon” their idolatrous ways and also because his prayers caused Hashem to “abandon” His punishment of Israel (after the sin of the golden calf).
  • “His nursemaids called him Avi Socho because he was the “father of the prophets” who are referred to as Sochim – agents.
  • “His grandfather Kahat called him Avigdor because in his merit Pharaoh “Gadar – restricted” his decree to throw the male children into the Nile.
  • “And the Children of Israel called him Shemaya for in Moshe’s days did Hashem “Shema – hear” our cries.
  • “And from all these names, he was called by the name Moshe, which was given to him by the daughter of Pharaoh.”

None of the [above mentioned] names are mentioned in the five books of the Torah. And even Hashem referred to him only as Moshe. This is suggestive of Pharaoh’s daughter’s greatness, for she is considered as if she was his mother. And from this we learn that an orphan that is raised in a home that does not embitter him with harsh words is considered as if he was born to that house. “And Hashem said to the daughter of Pharaoh: Even though Moshe was not your son, you treated him as one, so will I treat you accordingly. I will call you Batya – the daughter of G-d.”

The names in both the written and oral Torah aid or deepen our understanding of the people that these names describe. We have just seen how the true characters of Yocheved, Miryam and Moshe are revealed by the choice of names that are given to them. The metamorphosis that took place when Avram became Avraham, or YeKuti’el became Moshe is an important link to our perception of who these people really were.

Likewise, the names that are attributed to Hashem are very significant. At the beginning of next week’s Parsha Va’Eira, (Shemot 6:1-2), Hashem says to Moshe: “…I am Hashem. I appeared to Avraham, Yitzchak and Ya’acov as Kel Shakai, but with My Name Hashem I did not make myself known to them.”

Why the different names of Hashem? Kel Shakai or Elokim denotes the Master of Justice and/or the Master of Nature. Bereishit Bara Elokim Et HaShamayim V’Et HaAretz – In the beginning Elokim [the Master of Nature and Law] created the heavens and earth). Up to this point in Jewish history, Hashem was the Creator and He kept His word precisely. But then Hashem revealed another aspect of Himself. The four letter name of Hashem (which we never pronounce) denotes timeless mercy. In His redemption of Israel from Egypt, whether or not Israel deserved it, Hashem exhibited a side of Himself that even the Patriarchs were unaware of.

Our Parsha alludes to this new side of Hashem when He reveals Himself to Moshe at the burning bush (chapter 3). He explains that He will now fulfill all the promises that He swore to Avraham, Yitzchak and Ya’acov, and that Moshe will serve as the agent of His benevolence. In verses 13 and 14 we find the following conversation: Moshe said to Hashem, “Behold when I come to the Children of Israel and say to them, ‘The G-d of your fathers has sent me to you, ‘and they say, ‘What is His name?’ – what shall I say to them?” Hashem answered Moshe, Eheyeh Asher Eheyeh – I Shall Be As I Shall Be.” And He said, “So shall you say to the Children of Israel, ‘I Shall Be’ has sent me to you.”

This cryptic name of G-d has been pondered often by students of the Torah. The interpretation that speaks closest to my heart I found in a book called Orchat Tzaddikim – The Ways Of The Righteous. The (anonymous) author writes in the chapter called The Gate of Truth, that the word Eheyeh – I Shall Be appears in the Five Books of Moshe 21 times, and its Gematriya (numeric value) is also 21. Aleph = 1, Hey = 5, Yod = 10 and Hey = 5. The total numeric value of all the word Eheyeh in the Torah appear 21 times 21 the Gematriya of Eheyeh, equals a total of 441. The Hebrew word Emet (truth) also equals 441 (Aleph = 1, Mem = 40, and Tav = 400).

Hashem said to Moshe that when the Children of Israel ask you what Hashem’s Name is, tell them “Truth” has sent me to you, and they will understand.

Just as scientists have discovered that DNA carries pieces of our personalities and behavior patterns, so too, do our Hebrew names carry a world of unfulfilled potential for us to release.

What’s in a name, everything, personality, character, essence and even hope. Let us all live up to our names and the true traits and potentials that are contained in each of them.

Shabbat Shalom,

Reb Yosil

131109 – Parshat VaYeitzei

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VORTIFY YOURSELF

Reb Yosil Rosenzweig

Leah and Rachelrebyosil@gmail.com

PARSHAT VAYEITZEI

Bereishit (Genesis) 28:10 – 31:3

Haftarah – Hosea 12:13 – 14:10

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In last week’s Parsha some commentators discussed the concept that both Ya’akov and Eisav were meant to continue and become the third generation of patriarchs. We continue with that theme in this week’s Parsha’s discussion of Ya’akov marrying the two sisters, Rachel and Layah. Rabbis Mendel Kessin and Azri’el Tauber both do an extensive analysis of this interesting chapter in the birth and future of the B’nei Yisra’el.

Rabbi Kessin teaches that in the original plan for mankind, the divine purpose for man was to bring holiness into the world. This is called in Hebrew HitPashtut HaKedushah (the spreading of holiness). However, when the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, was eaten, the Yetzer Hara – Evil Inclination entered into our beings and became part of us. Because of that act, an additional purpose was given to mankind, K’Fiyat Hara (the destruction of Evil). After both the generations of No’ach and Babel failed to fulfill these purposes, Avraham and his children were chosen to bring about these two objectives.

Avraham spread holiness in the world by going out and teaching the ways of HaShem, through his own example. Yitzchak was a solitary man who endeavored to perfect himself and thereby, destroy evil.

Remember that Eisav was a man of the field, and Ya’akov, a dweller of tents. If Eisav had been true to his fate, he would have conquered the physical and material world (Eisav was a man of the field), and accomplish the spreading of holiness by making the mundane holy. Ya’akov, like his father, tried to perfect his entire being, and disallow any evil to exist in his proximity (a dweller of tents).

Rabbi Azri’el Tauber gives us a parable to better understand Eisav. Imagine that a person was born into the home of a powerful Mafioso. The negative influence and pressure on this child would be tremendous. Nevertheless, if he grew up to be a good wholesome person, it would only be because of exerting colossal efforts of self-discipline. Rabbi Tauber says that Eisav was born with enormous impediments to holiness, a strong inclination to materialism, and powerful lusts that needed conquering, consequently – the challenge. Had he channeled and redirected those feelings, Eisav could have become a powerful spiritual force. Instead succumbed to the temptations of the material world and instead of spreading holiness; he spread evil itself. Because of his display of evil, his brother Ya’akov then attempted to take on Eisav’s duties (of HitPashtut HaKedushah) in addition to his own (K’Fiyat Hara).

Now Lavan had two daughters; the name of the older was Layah and the name of the younger was Rachel. Layah’s eyes were tender (Rakot), while Rachel was beautiful of form and beautiful of appearance” (Bereishit 29:16, 17). RaShI cites a Midrash (Rabba 70:15) that explains that Layah’s eyes were tender (from weeping during prayer) because it was decreed that she marry the now evil Eisav. “People used to say that Rivkah had two sons and Lavan had two daughters, the elder daughter would be married to the elder son, while the younger daughter was destined to marry the younger son.” When Layah heard of Eisav’s downfall, she wept in prayer, because instead of marrying a Tzaddik (a righteous man), she would have to marry a Rasha (an evil man). Layah prayed for an annulment of the decree (and her prayers were answered).

But the manner in which her prayers were answered is most interesting. Ya’akov made an arrangement to marry Rachel after he completed seven years of servitude for his uncle Lavan. Distrusting Lavan, he gave Rachel signals to use under the Chupah (the marriage canopy); so that he would know that the veiled bride was, in fact, Rachel. When Lavan substituted Layah for Rachel, Rachel gave her sister Ya’akov’s signals so that Layah would not be embarrassed. When Ya’akov discovered that he was married to Layah, he protested: “…So he said to Lavan, ‘What is this you have done to me? Was it not for Rachel that I worked for you? Why have you deceived me?’ Lavan said, ‘Such is not done in our place, to give the younger before the elder. Complete the week of this one (seven days of Sheva Berachot) and we will give you the other one too, for the work that you will perform for me yet another seven years” (Bereishit 29:25-27).

The Lekutei Basar Lekutei brings a ChaZaL (a rabbinical teaching) that explains that when Ya’akov said to Lavan, “Why have you deceived me?” Layah replied; “But didn’t you deceive your father when you said, ‘I am Eisav your firstborn?’ ”

The Lekutei Basar Lekutei found it very strange that Layah would defend Eisav, whom she despised. Rather, her words should be understood this way: if your claim to the birth right is true, then Eisav’s claim for me, as his wife, has also been claimed by you. Do not deceive yourself, your father, or me, by taking only part of his birthright.

Layah became the mother of six son’s/tribes and a daughter Deena; and through her maidservant Zilpah, she was accredited with another two sons/tribes. Rachel, on the other hand, became the mother of only sons/two tribes; and through her maidservant Bilhah, with another two sons/tribes. Layah’s prayers were answered; she married a Tzaddik and become a significant partner in the birth of the nation of Israel.

Our Parsha began with Ya’akov leaving Eretz Yisra’el to find a wife. It ends after he becomes the father of a nation and returns home with two wives. Rachel and Layah also became the foundation of this future nation blending their strengths into the spiritual DNA of the B’nei Yisra’el in order to fulfill their true destiny.

Shabbat Shalom,

Reb Yosil

131012 – Parshat Lech Lecha

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Lech LechaReb Yosil Rosenzweig

rebyosil@gmail.com

PARSHAT LECH LECHA

Bereishit (Genesis) 12:1-17:27

Haftarah – Isaiah 40:27-41:16

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The call and its message were direct and clear. A people and a land were chosen simultaneously. Avraham’s was to become the founder of “a great nation” which is to be a blessing for “all the families of the earth.” This was to take place in a particular land, to which HaShem would now direct him.

Looking at HaShem’s command to Avraham, we see that, while going to the land is certainly its goal, it contains more than just one purpose. There are two distinct but intrinsic parts to the command, each conveying an important purpose. One without the other just cannot work.

Normally, when a person leaves for abroad, he first walks out of his home, then bids farewell to his family and only lastly leaves the country. The instructions given to Avraham for his departure are in the reverse order. The reason seems to be that Torah is not referring merely to the act of physically moving from where he had lived. The Torah’s message moves us to a different rung on the existential ladder, for when one detaches oneself mentally and spiritually from one’s regular habitat, it is the “old country” that one leaves first, then one distances oneself from family and friends, and only last is one estranged from the home in which one has grown up.

This act of detachment is seen as the main focus of Avraham’s next step, embarking on the road to the land which HaShem promised to show him. The moving from and the moving to are actually one single drama, but they are carried out in two acts of equal importance.

Translations of the Bible usually skip over one small word in the Hebrew original, where the command to Avram starts with the words Lech Lecha. It is true that, grammatically, those two words together can have the simple connotation of the single word Lech, “Go!” or “Go forth,” which is how they appear in most translations (also see Nachmanides’ commentary). However, RaShI and many other commentators, including the rabbis in the Midrash, are not ready to dismiss the extra word. Lech means “Go!” Lech Lecha is more than that, and ought to be translated (as some translators do) “You shall go,” or more correctly: “Go to yourself”!

Leaving the “old country,” his clan and his father’s home was, accordingly, a step towards Avraham’s going “to himself,” prior to assuming the role of nation–founder, smasher of idols, proclaimer of a new great faith and the one who is entrusted with the task of being a blessing to “all the families of the earth.”

A great Chassidic master of the 19th century, Reb Aryeh Leib Alter, the second Rebbe of Gur (1837–1895), who is known as the Sefat Emet, maintains that every human being is commanded daily to engage in the experience of Lech Lecha, to “get thee out” of his country, his family and his home, to move away from the negative influences which surround him, to go to himself by getting away from himself. The commanding voice is thus directed to all of us. But it was only Avraham who first heard and followed this command. Lech Lecha, then, is more than just an instruction to Avraham, but it is a charge and a challenge which we can all share – to free ourselves of those influences that confine us and confound our personal, spiritual development, and it is thus an invitation to a whole and integrated human encounter in the process of individualization and self-actualization.

Shabbat Shalom,

Reb Yosil

130831 – Parshi’ot NeTzavim & VaYeLech

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Torah WritingReb Yosil Rosenzweig

rebyosil@gmail.com

PARSHI’OT NETZAVIM/VAYELECH

Devarim (Deuteronomy) 29:9-31:30

Haftarah – Isaiah 61:10-63:9

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In the second Parsha of the two Parshi’ot read this week, Moshe Rabbeinu passes the mantle of leadership to his faithful disciple Yehoshu’a and Moshe steps aside and allows Yehoshu’a to guide Am Yisra’el. HaShem asks Moshe to summon Yehoshu’a to the entrance of the Ohel Mo’ed so that they might receive instruction together.

HaShem tells them that after Moshe passes away, Am Yisra’el will forsake the Torah and HaShem will conceal His Face from them, and great suffering will ensue.

The Torah therefore commands that Am Yisra’el should: “Kitvu Lachem Et Hashirah HaZot, V’Limdu Et B’nei Yisra’el, Simah B’Fihem, Liman Ti’hiyu Li Hashirah HaZot, L’Ayd BiB’nei Yisra’el – Write this song for yourselves, and teach it to the B’nei Yisra’el, place it in their mouths, so that this song shall be for Me a witness, against the B’nei Yisra’el” (Devarim 31:19).

HaShem requires every Jew to write a Sefer Torah (Kitvu Lachem Et Hashirah HaZot) in order to recall the covenant and the responsibility of that covenant with HaShem.

HaShem refers to the Torah as Shirah, literally ‘the song’. Song is perhaps a bad translation. In Hebrew, Shirah can mean song or poem. I believe that poem would be more accurate. This gives us great insight into what the Torah is and how we are to relate to it.

Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Yehudah Berlin, commonly known as the NeTZIV (1817-1893) presents a beautiful explanation of this thought. He writes that scripture is commonly viewed as prose and therefore taken literally. However, if we relate to the Torah as poetry, then the purpose of the Torah Sh’Ba’al Peh (the oral Torah), becomes clear – to illuminate and clarify the meaning

behind text.

For instance, when we read in the Torah that our matriarch Sara lived for “one hundred years and twenty years and seven years,” its unusual phrasing alludes to a deeper meaning. The Torah is sending us a message that at the age of one hundred, she was as sinless as a twenty year old. At twenty, she had the innocent beauty of a seven year old.

When we look at the Torah as prose, we often get bogged down in the validity and conflicting interpretations of Torah Sh’Ba’al Peh. But when we see it as poetry, Torah Sh’Ba’al Peh adds dimension and a wide spectrum of meaning to each and every word.

The verse that teaches us this is in itself a classic example of the opportunity to see deeper than just the words. The MaLBIM (acronym for Meir Leibush ben Yechi’el Michel, 1809-1879) asks why the Torah says “Liman Ti’hiyu Li L’Ayd BiB’nei Yisra’el (so that this song shall be for Me a witness, against the B’nei Yisra’el”). On first reading, one might understand from these words that when the B’nei Yisra’el stray from the Torah, the Torah itself will testify against them. As prose, this seems to be the meaning behind the words. But does HaShem need a witness to govern the universe?

The MaLBIM explains with a parable. A king frees one of his subjects who was imprisoned for theft and appoints him to guard his treasury. Since the king knew that by nature this man was prone to thievery, and it was safe to assume that he might steal again; the king chronicled the appointment in full detail.

The other citizens believed that the king did so to warn the former thief, that if he ever stole in the future, he would be put to death for stealing from the king is an act of treason. But actually, the king’s reason for writing it all down was to remind himself, that if this man was ever caught stealing, the king should be lenient with him, for he should have known better than to appoint him keeper of the treasury.

So, too, does HaShem record here: “So that this song shall be for Me a witness, against the B’nei Yisra’el“. The King of kings asks that this poetry be recorded, with all its nuances and all its meanings so that the King will always be aware of our shortcomings and act in a Merciful manner towards us.

Those who study the Torah as prose, view HaShem as a Vengeful G-d. Those who study the Torah as poetry; view HaShem as a Merciful G-d. At the approach of the Yamim Nora’im (the Days of Awe), when we beseech HaShem to be merciful with us, may we have the insight to see the poetry of His Torah.

Shabbat Shalom and may you be inscribed and sealed in the Book of Life.

Reb Yosil

130515 – Shavu’ot

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Reb Yosil Rosenzweig

rebyosil@gmail.com

SHAVU’OT – 5773

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The Barrel Or The Flow

While the festival of Shavu’ot represents Z.man Matan Torateinu – the Period of the Giving of our Torah, our tradition teaches us that we did not accept the Toah out of passion, but rather out of an insinuation of coercion.How is it possible that the Torah be binding upon us and every previous and future generation of Jews when in fact, we were coerced into the Covenant with HaShem?

A review of the sources can help us shed light on this matter.

  • Moshe brought the people forth the nation from the camp toward HaShem, and they stood at the bottom of the mountain. Shemot 19:17
  • RaShI teaches us that when the Torah says: At the bottom of the mountain,  means at the foot of the mountain.
  • But according to the Talmud, the mountain was plucked from its place and was held over them like a barrel. (Tractate Shabbat 88a).
  • The Talmud goes on to say (Tractate Shabbat 88a): At the bottom of the mountain: Rav Avdimi bar Chama bar Chasa said: This teaches us that the Holy One Blessed Be He placed the mountain over them like an inverted barrel and said to them; “If you accept the Torah – good, but if you do not [accept the Torah], then there will be your burial place.

We must therefore reexamine the verse. For the words seem to be out of order. Instead of: “Moshe brought the people forth the nation from the camp toward HaShem,” the verse should have said, “Moses brought the people forth the nation from…” and only then “to meet HaShem.”

Our Sages teach that all the souls of Israel, of both past and future generations, were present at Mount Sinai and this is hinted to in our verse, as it is written:

Not with you alone do I make this covenant and this oath, but with those who stand here with us this day before HaShem our G-d and also with those who are not with us today” (Devarim 29:14; Midrash Tanchuma Yitro 11).

There is a Hebrew word in our verse that is not translated. The verse actually reads: “Moses took Et HaAm – the people to meet HaShem from the camp.” The word “Et” can be an untranslatable word that assists the grammar; hence our translation omitted it. Or, “Et” can mean “with.” “Moses took with the people” – together with the B’nei Yisra’el of his generation, Moses took others to Mount Sinai.

These others were the souls of other generations, which were visible only by HaShem. Our verse thus says: “Moses took with the people [the souls visible only] to HaShem from the camp” (Ben Ish Chai, Derushim Parshat Yitro).

The Oral Law

They stood in the bottom of the mountain” (Shemot 19:17). HaShem turned the mountain over Israel like a barrel and said: If you accept the Torah, fine. If not, there will be burial place (Tractate Shabbat[1] 88a).

Why did HaShem have to coerce the Israelites to accept the Torah? They had already accepted the Torah by saying, “Na’aseh V’niShmah – We shall do and we shall hear” (Exodus 24:7)! What was the point of holding the mountain, over the Jews and what was the point of hollowing out the mountain like a barrel? It would have been just as threatening if it were not hollow!

What the Israelites had accepted willingly was the Written Torah. They said, “We shall do and we shall hear” – we shall do as we hear and understand from the verses of the Torah. HaShem had to coerce them to accept the Oral Law. He hollowed out the mountain like a barrel to teach them that each letter of the Written Torah contains innumerable Halachot expounded in the Oral Law, just as a barrel contains innumerable drops of wine. Their acceptance of the Written Torah would therefore have to include acceptance of the Oral Law (Ben Ish Chai, Sefer Ben Yehoyada).

However there is an even more profound understanding of the mountain/barrel. Consider that the barrel were a glass case. HaShem could have been appealing to the Children of Israel not to let the moment be wasted. He was telling the B’nei Yisra’el that they had an opportunity to become an eternal nation that would continue to live generation after generation not in memory but in reality. Many nations can still be viewed, studied and appreciated by going to museums and gazing at their handiwork. Ancient books can be discovered, reprinted and studied and an appreciation of the teachings and wisdom can be attained. But all that is but a look at the archeological showcase of history.

Israel had an opportunity to make history by becoming an eternal nation that would adapt, modify and amend itself to the winds of change and modernity without losing the spark of revelation that challenged them at the “bottom of the mountain.” Yes, without the Na’aseh V’niShmah, without both the Written and Oral Torah, Israel would eventually become a force that would lose its light.

Classes in ancient religions would ponder on the affect that Israel had on the region for just a few centuries, but stagnation and entropy set in and petrified the once vital force of Judaism. Or, a guarantee of eternal strength would emanate from the “bottom of the mountain,” and the ability of light, inspiration and enlightenment would come from this small nation of freed slaves. Is this coercion or is this the only real choice that Israel could make.

How are we to achieve this power? We know that the – Mitzvot of the Torah are divided into two different groups. Mitzvot Bain Adam LaMakom – commandments between Man and G-d, and Mitzvot Bain Adam L’Chaveiro – commandments between Man and Community. Israel tends to oscillate between these two extremes. Some Jewish groups emphasize the rituals of Judaism and minimize the social context of Mitzvot, while other groups emphasize the social and minimize the ritualistic. We therefore must examine that which HaShem expects of us. “And now O Israel, what does the L-rd, your G-d, demand of you? Only to fear HaShem, your G-d, to walk in all His ways and to love Him and to worship the L-rd, your G-d, with all your heart and with all your soul” (Devarim 10:12).

A song of David: O L-rd, who will sojourn in Your tent, who will dwell upon Your holy mount? He who walks uprightly and works righteousness and speaks truth in his heart.

Who does not slander with his tongue, who does his neighbor no harm, neither does he take up reproach upon his kinsman. A corrupt person is despised in his eyes, and he honors those that are G-d-fearing, he swears even to [his own] harm and does not withdraw his words. He does not lend his money with interest, nor does he accept a bribe against the innocent, whoever does these things shall never falter” (Psalms 15:1-5).

“He has told you O man: what is good, and what does the L-rd demands of you, but: to do justice, and loving-kindness, and to walk discreetly with your G-d “ (Micah 6:8).

All of the above references emphasize the Mitzvot Bain Adam L’Chaveiro – commandments between Man and Community. Does that mean that the Mitzvot Bain Adam LaMakom – commandments between Man and G-d are secondary or even unnecessary?

Notice that each of the above-mentioned definitions of righteous behavior alludes to Halacha: to walk in all His ways; who walks uprightly, to walk discreetly with your G-d.

Lech – to walk, or to go – shares the same root as Halacha – Jewish law. This is the manner in which we must focus our spiritual attention. The combination of Written and Oral Law brings meaning and rationale to the myriad of obligations we have taken upon ourselves. The blending of the positive and the negative Mitzvot represent the affection and love we must cultivate in ourselves to experience the proper relationship that we must establish with our Creator. And it is the melding of our Mitzvot Bain Adam LaMakom – commandments between Man and G-d, and Mitzvot Bain Adam L’Chaveiro – commandments between Man and Community, which brings out the very best in us. The rituals teach us to look deeper and deeper into the meaning of our conformity to the Covenant and the human displays of kindness become our manifestation of a living, binding Covenant.

Yes, if we as a nation did not accept all aspects of Torah then the mountain would have crushed us and we would have disappeared from the annals of living history. To choose Halacha – the Way – is to choose His Way, and just as His Way is eternal, so too, do we become the manifestation of His eternity.

As you celebrate and observe this special festival, stand at the bottom of the mountain and purposefully join the many links of those who chose His Way, enabling you to connect your past to your future.

Chag Samei’ach,

Reb Yosil


[1] Talmudic tractate in the Order of Mo’ed – dealing with the laws of the Sabbath.

130316 – Parshat VaYikra

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Reb Yosil Rosenzweig

rebyosil@gmail.com

PARSHAT VAYIKRa

VaYikra (Leviticus) 1:1-5:26

Haftarah – Isaiah 43:21-44:23

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What does it mean to be human? What is it that defines our essence? Are we the social animal described by Aristotle, or the thinking animal proposed by Descartes?

Clearly, one can come up with a variety of definitions for the human being, from the notion of the creature who loves for no reason, to that being which hates for no reason at all. But I would like to suggest that the opening verses of Sefer VaYikra, the Book of Leviticus, present us with a different, somewhat surprising idea of what it really means to be human, and it is certainly not the usual first–choice definition for the human spirit.

It is tied, in essence, to the theme of this Biblical book, namely that of sacrifice: “I sacrifice, therefore I am.” I refer to this as surprising because we are, as part of this exercise, searching for a universal, human definition, and the sacrificial cult detailed in Leviticus is rather particularistic; it is parochial in its scope, and according to some, even primitive. So great is this perception that large segments of modern Jewry, intent on erasing all barriers between Jews and the rest of humankind, endeavoring to put only Judaism’s best foot forward, have practically edited out all references to sacrifices from time–honored prayers in the prayer book and from the festival Torah readings. These are decisions that have been made by the liturgical authorities in other denominations in Judaism. But I might contend that in their haste to whitewash Jewish texts and to remove them of any last vestige of the sacrificial cult, they sometimes overlook concepts and possibilities in the text, whose underlying message strikes at the heart of the human existential need.

Sefer VaYikra, the Book of Leviticus, begins with HaShem calling to Moses, and presenting a command which is the theme of the entire book, and perhaps of all of life: “Speak to the children of Israel, when any man of you shall bring from themselves a sacrifice to HaShem, from the cattle, from the herd or from the flock…” (Lev. 1:2).

When any person from among you” doesn’t really do justice to the original Hebrew term, namely the word Adam – human. “Human beings, when they shall bring from themselves a sacrifice” is how it really should read. Adam is, after all, the most universal term for humankind, for personhood, since it evokes the first human who ever lived and from whom every single person in existence is derived and descended, and it is the root word of Adamah – earth, from which all life emanates and originates. Not only does Adam seem out of place in this particular context, but if we remove the word “Adam,” the verse still makes perfect sense.

Hence, the Torah is teaching us that the essence of the human being is his/her or her need, and ability to sacrifice. And the logic behind this concept inheres in the most fundamental aspect of the human predicament/condition. It is after all, only the human being, among all other physical creatures of the world, who is aware of his/her own limitations, who lives in the shadow of his/her own mortality, and since the time of Adam is aware of the painful reality that no matter how strong, powerful or brilliant he/she may be, he/she will ultimately by vanquished by death. his/her only hope is to link themselves to a Being and a cause which is greater than them, which was there before they were born and which will be there after they dies.

I once had a discussion in one of my evening class discussing the issue of whether or not we can change HaShem’s plan. We might call this our struggle with Bashert – predestination, and our ability to be the architects of our own destiny. Many of these very questions were raised by participants in the group: What is the purpose of life? What does it mean for us to be human? What is it all for? Why live? Because in the end, we decay and rot away. And yet, so many of us are smitten with the bug to amass wealth and material goods in this world, to achieve and create fame and fortune. Many people collect and assemble their wealth in order to utilize it for themselves, in order to enjoy these material means in the here–and–now. However, our mortality teaches that our material possessions do not really belong to us; one day we will be forced to leave them and the entire world behind, and in fact they often fall into the very opposite hands from those we would have liked to have received them. Hence the real paradox of life: only those objects which we commit to a higher, more sublime cause and purpose, which we give to HaShem, to a sanctuary, to a study hall, to a home for the sick and aged, to a shelter and haven for the poor and disadvantaged – only those are truly ours, because they enable us to live beyond our limited lifetime, perhaps to all eternity. Only that which we sacrifice is really ours. Only that which we give of ourselves to others has a lasting significance and purpose.

The expressions of sacrifice, or sharing and giving, are, and can be, various; but common to building a synagogue or a Yeshiva, or funding a new hospital wing or a scholarship fund, and assuming other tasks to ease the sufferings and the challenges of humankind, is that all link us to a greater good, a hope for the future. I may die, but to the extent that I devoted my life to causes that will not die, that live on and endure, I also will live on. Sacrifice makes it possible to bathe in the light of eternity.

Jewish history, and the city of Jerusalem, the center of the universe, emanate from this fundamental truth, as seen and reflected in HaShem’s initial command to Abraham to sacrifice his beloved Isaac on Mount Mori’ah, the eventual site of the Temple. Yitzchak – Isaac was the first “Olah – whole burnt offering.” In effect, HaShem was teaching Abraham that his newfound faith would only endure in history eternally if he, Abraham, were willing to commit to it his most beloved object, paradoxically his very future. In his willingness to make that sacrifice, Abraham secured his religions and his own eternity.

But the Torah teaches that the most significant sacrifices of all that we can make are not our material goods, but are rather our own selves, our time and our effort, our intellects and our unique abilities. People must sacrifice “MeKem – from themselves” (Lev. 1:2). Giving a child the gift of a check is hardly as significant as giving a child the gift of our time, of our personalities, of our thoughts and of our struggles. And this, too, HaShem teaches Abraham. HaShem ultimately instructs Abraham not to slay Isaac, but to allow Isaac to live because the greatest sacrifice we can make is not in dying for HaShem; we do not believe in Jihad, in religious war and struggle, but rather in living in accordance with His commands and desires. Isaac, in life, is called an Olah – a whole burnt offering.

Strangely enough, RaShI, the well–known and celebrated Biblical commentator, suggests another reason for the seemingly superfluous use of the term “Adam” in our text. The Torah, he contends, is teaching us that just as Adam, the first human being, never sacrificed stolen goods, since everything in the world belonged to him, so are we prohibited from sacrificing anything which is stolen and is not our own. Such a lesson certainly protects Jewish society against a Robin Hood mentality, which steals from the rich in order to give to the poor. In our faith and in our ethical teachings, we do not believe that the ends justify the means, and we must always pursue justice by means of justice.

Perhaps, then, RaShI is protecting us against an even deeper and more demonically appealing, danger inherent in the identification that we might make with Divine service. We can only sacrifice objects or characteristics which technically, if even in a limited sense, belong to us. We dare not sacrifice innocent human beings, even if we believe that such a sacrifice will prevent the murder of Jews. We cannot offer up ourselves on a funeral pyre, commit suicide with a dying gasp of “let my soul die together with the Philistines,” or the Palestinians. Our lives belong to HaShem, and we dare not steal that which is His, even in our gift to Him. Judaism is not Machiavellian. And the ends can never justify the means. We are each an end unto ourselves and not a means for the achievements of others.

Let us celebrate our potential, the opportunities we have to properly sacrifice for just and noble causes; to give of ourselves to serve purposes that go beyond our earthly existence, and ensure the eternity of our souls and the enduring value of our earthly existence.

Shabbat Shalom,

Reb Yosil

Parshat VaYelech/Shabbat Shuvah

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VORTIFY YOURSELF

Reb Yosil Rosenzweig

rebyosil@gmail.com

PARSHAT VAYELECH

SHABBAT SHUVAH

Devarim (Deuteronomy) 31:1-30

Haftarah – Hosea 14:2-10; Micah 7:18-20; Joel 2:15-27

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The Shabbat before Yom Kippur is called “Shabbat Shuvah – the Sabbath of Return” because the opening words of the Haftarah begin, “Shuvah Yisra’el Ahd HaShem Elokecha, – Return O Israel to HaShem your God” (Hosea 14:2). By transgressing HaShem’s commandments, we distance ourselves from Him. At this special time between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur we should take advantage of this auspicious time to return to our higher calling and renew our covenant with HaShem by aligning ourselves to His commandments.

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In our Parsha this week Moshe Rabbeinu passes the mantle of leadership to his faithful disciple Yehoshu’a (Joshua), and Moshe steps aside and allows Yehoshu’a to guide Am Yisra’el – the nation of Israel. HaShem asks Moshe to summon Yehoshu’a to the entrance of the Ohel Mo’ed (Tabernacle) so that they might receive instruction together. HaShem tells them that after Moshe passes away, Am Yisra’el will forsake the Torah and HaShem will conceal His Face from them and great suffering will ensue.

HaShem therefore commands Am Yisra’el to: “Kitvu Lachem Et HaShirah HaZot, V’Limdu Et B’nei Yisra’el, Simah B’Fihem, Liman Ti’hiyu Li HaShirah HaZot, L’Eid BiB’nei Yisra’el – Write this song for yourselves, and teach it to the B’nei Yisra’el, place it in their mouths, so that this song shall be for Me a witness, against the B’nei Yisra’el” (Devarim 31:19). HaShem requires of every Jew to write a Sefer Torah (Kitvu Lachem Et HaShirah HaZot) in order to recall the covenant and the responsibility of that covenant between them and HaShem.

HaShem refers to the Torah as Shirah, commonly translated as ‘the song’ however, song is perhaps a bad translation. In Hebrew, Shirah can mean song or poem. A song has two parts, the music and the lyrics. Music would be referred to as Zimra; while the lyrics would be referred to a Shirah; therefore I believe that poem would be more accurate. This gives us great insight into what the Torah is and how we are to relate to it.

Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Yehudah Berlin, commonly known as the NeTZIV (1817-1893) presents a beautiful explanation of this thought. He writes that scripture is commonly viewed as prose and therefore taken literally. However, if we relate to the Torah as poetry, then the purpose of the Torah Sh’Ba’al Peh (the oral Torah – a much needed organic understanding of the Torah), becomes clear, it illuminates and clarifies the meaning behind text by nuances: a change in spelling; awkward words or phrases; different sizes of letters; even meanings not visible in translations. Prose is literal, poetry is expansive.

For instance, when we read in the Torah that our matriarch Sarah lived for “one hundred years and twenty years and seven years” (Bereishit – Genesis 23:1), the unusual phrasing (100 + 20 + 7 years) is unusual and therefore alludes to a deeper meaning. The Torah is sending us a message that at the age of one hundred, Sarah had the beauty of a twenty year old and at twenty she had the innocence of a seven year old. When we look at the Torah as prose, we often gloss over the text. But when we view it as poetry, our oral tradition adds dimension and a wide spectrums of meaning to each and every word.

The verse that teaches us this is in itself a classic example of the opportunity to see deeper than just the words. The MaLBIM (acronym for Meir Leibush ben Yechi’el Michel, 1809-1879) asks why the Torah says “so that this song shall be for Me a witness, against the Children of Israel.” On first reading, one might understand from these words that when the Israel strays from the Torah, the Torah itself will testify against them. As prose, this seems to be HaShem’s intent. But does HaShem need a witness to govern the universe?

The MaLBIM explains with a parable. A king frees one of his subjects who was imprisoned for theft and appoints him to guard his treasury. Since the king knew that by nature this man was prone to thievery, and it was safe to assume that he might steal again, the king chronicled the appointment in full detail. The citizens believed that the king did so to warn the former thief, that if he ever stole in the future he would be put to death, for stealing from the king is an act of treason. But actually, the king’s reason for writing it all down was to remind himself, that if this man was ever caught stealing; the king should be lenient with him, for he should have known better than to appoint a thief as keeper of the treasury. So, too, HaShem records here: “So that this poem shall be for Me a witness, against the Children of Israel.” The King of kings proclaims that this poetry be recorded, with all its nuances and all its meanings so that God will always be aware of our shortcomings and act towards us in a merciful manner.

Those who study the Old Testament as prose, view HaShem as a Vengeful God. However, those who study the Torah as poetry, view HaShem as a Merciful God. On this Shabbat Shuvah – the Sabbath of return when we read the words of Micah 14:2, 3 and 6: “Return, O Israel, unto the Lord your God, for you have fallen because of your sins. Take words with you and return to the Lord…I will heal their affliction, and I will take them back generously in love; for My anger has turned away from them.” At the approach of Yom Kippur – the Day of Atonement, when we beseech HaShem to be merciful with us, may we have the insight to see the poetry of His Torah.

Shabbat Shalom.

Reb Yosil

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