Saturday, 27 May 2017

Yitro Vs. Ruth

originally published on 1/12/14

We read the 10 Dibrot on both P. Yitro and on Shavuot, and technically on vo'Etchanan, too! We also read the Scroll of Ruth on Shavuot so we can easily "connect the dots" between Ruth and the Dibrot
Now let's ask -

What do Yitro and Ruth have in common, and where do they differ?

What they do have in common is the discovery of the ONE TRUE G-D! No denying the sincerity of their common quest for that Holy Grail - so to speak.

Where do they differ?

Yitro found G-d, but - despite his relationship to his daughter and son-in-law - he subsequently abandoned the Jewish People to return to Midian.

Ruth, however, cleaved to Naomi and abandoned Moab to live the life of a beggar in Judea. Her commitment motto? Ameich Ami Veilokayich Elokai!. Her declaration of loyalty to the Jewish Nation preceded her commitment to G-D!

Blasphemy? Adearrabbah - a prerequisite! Yitro is the prototype of the Noahide who has found the True G-d but needs no society.

Ruth is the true convert, the prototypical "Ger Tzedeq" (actually Giyoert of course!). There is one reason to convert to Judaism following one's Spiritual Journey - to join the Priestly Kingdom and the Holy Nation. In truth, to live a life of G-dliness as an individual spiritual seeker needs no Judaism or Peoplehood.

Ruth's progeny? David and Mashiach. Her affiliation to our peoplehood earned her common destiny with us.
Yitro? A good guy to whom we say "fare thee well". Who of Yitro's descendants makes a glorious impact? Not the descendants of Hever haKeini who are allies.

Any sincere spiritual seeker can find G-d as an individual Noahide, but the prototypical Ger/Giyoret shares Jewish Destiny and Torah, as well as G-d.

Shalom,
RRW

Naaseh v'Nishma 2 - The D'var Torah

 originally published 1/14/14

The age-old question or issue grappled with by the Midrash is:
"Why did the Israelites precede Nishma with Naaseh"? IOW how could any Naaseh take place without a preceding Nishma to know WHAT to do first? Seems obvious!

There are several beautiful nuggets in Rabbinical Literature on this. This D'var Torah as I recall was originally based upon a Malbim. But in subsequent years, I could not locate it there. So, suffice it to say I didn't make it up but I've forgotten the precise source. Anyone who CAN identify the source is most welcome to fill the gap.

What's the p'shat of a NISHMA that follows a Naaseh? It seems obvious that in order to facilitate any Naaseh, SOME "how- to" handbook is a given - whether oral, mimetic, or even on video, Naaseh presumes a pre-existing prescription. As such, Halachah l'maaseh is a predicate for Naaseh, and therefore Kal vochomer must precede any Nishma.
So the sequence is
Mitzva
Performance [Naaseh]
THEN
Nishma!
So what is the definition of that term Nishma?

Nishma simply may be defined as Torah Lishmah. In fact, it is Torah WITHOUT any pragmatic ramification!
So when we learn Shulchan Aruch in order to Observe Shabbat, that is NOT a function of Naaseh, it is a preparation, a "hechsher mitzvah" for Naaseh.
Nishma goes beyond Observance. It is deeper. It is unique to Israel to go beyond the Divine Command.
As such, there are many implications to this. Most reserved for an upcoming post
The simplest and most straightforward Implication is that Men AND women have an equal obligation in [most of] Naaseh. Thus any "Torah" that teaches practical Halachah is equally required for both genders
However, Nishma is purely a Masculine Obligation of "Torah Lishma"
-----------------

To briefly expand the question of whether this theoretical Torah lishma is merely Optional to or Off-limits to women is the subject of debate.
At any rate, this is the essence of the d'var Torah - that Torah studied BEYOND that which is a prerequisite for Performance THAT is Nishma.
BEH in upcoming posts I will
•.Expound on some of the other ramifications
• Offer some alternative understandings of "NISHMA"

Shalom
RRW

Choosing to be Chosen - Rabbi Steven Saks

 Haftarah of Vayeishev is Amos 2:6-3:8

Originally published 4/19/10, 1:00 pm.
Choosing to be Chosen
By Rabbi Steven Saks

Jews have often been criticized for referring to themselves as “the chosen people.” After all, the referring to oneself as chosen does sound pompous and elitist.
The idea of choice is central to the holiday of Shavuot. God chose to reveal himself at Mount Sinai to the Israelites and the Israelites chose to accept the Torah. The Israelites when offered the Torah accepted with enthusiasm responding naaseh v’nishmah literally meaning we will do and we will listen. In other words the Israelites were so eager to accept the Torah they pledged to fulfill its precepts before they had the opportunity to hear them. It’s like signing a contract first then reading it. Regardless, the Israelites accepted upon themselves God’s mitzvoth commandments as spelled out in the Torah.
Through the performance of the mitzvoth the Israelites were to become a Goy Kodosh a holy nation. In other words simply being an Israelite does not make one a holy person. Rather the Israelite becomes holy by acting in a holy manner, by performing the mitzvoth. The idea that the Israelite is holy simply because he is a member of the chosen people is firmly rejected by the prophet Amos.
Bible Scholar Bernard Anderson points out that the prophet Amos repudiated the idea that the God of Israel was a national God that Israel could mobilize in the service of the nation’s own interest. According to Amos, being chosen by God did not entitle Israel to special privilege and protection rather it meant that Israel had accepted upon herself the responsibility to serve God. According to Amos, God is a universal God who is active in the histories of all nations as demonstrated by Amos 9:7.
Are you not like the Kushites to me, O people of Israel? Says the Lord. Did I not bring Israel out of the land of Egypt? And the Philistines from Caphtor, and the Arameans from Kir?

The other nations have not realized this because they have not shared the intimate relationship with God that Israel has been allowed to.
Rabbi Hertz in his commentary on the Bible explains that two teachings are enunciated through Amos 9:7. The first is that God has guided all other nations as well as Israel. All races are equally dear to him, and the hand of providence is evident not only in the migration of Israel but in every historical movement. The second teaching is that God’s special relationship with Israel rests on moral foundations. A degenerate Israel is of no more worth to God than other immoral nations.
Amos is believed to have prophesized between the years 765-750 B.C.E during the reign of Jeroboam the Second, a time of great affluence for the northern Kingdom of Israel. The prophet condemns the people for engaging in hallow religious ritual while failing to care for the poor.
So we see that choosing to be “the chosen” means accepting additional responsibility. In part, potential converts are discouraged from converting to Judaism because of this added responsibility. Yet, one can chose to become a member of “the chosen people” if he or she desires.
The Rabbis teach that the Torah was given in the dessert, in a barren area, because it is hefgar unclaimed property. In other words anyone can accept the yoke of the Torah upon him or her self. The Book of Ruth which is read on Shavuot tells the story of Ruth, the Moabite who is considered the quintessential convert to Judaism. Many female converts choose Ruth as their Hebrew name. Ruth did not have yichus an impressive lineage. The Moabites were enemies of Israel and descended from the incestuous relationship between Lot and his eldest daughter as detailed in Genesis 19.
Yet, Ruth chooses to follow her mother in law Naomi back to Israel and becomes an Israelite. Ruth is not shunned for becoming an Israelite; rather Jewish history views her as an exalted figure. Ruth is the great grandmother of King David from whom the Messiah will emerge. So we see that the Messiah will be a descendant from a woman who was born a non-Jew.
Anyone who believes that he/she is superior to others because of his/her Jewish birth misses the message of the Book of Ruth. Being chosen does not confer any sort of genetic superiority rather, being chosen means that we choose to develop our relationship with God.
As we celebrate the giving of the Torah lets us choose to strengthen our relationship with God by climbing the ladder of mitzvoth. No matter what we consider ourselves, Reform, Conservative, Orthodox or other, we can climb the ladder of mitzvoth by increasing our ritual observance (such as attending services more often). Just as importantly we can climb the ladder of mitzvoth by increasing our observance of laws which govern our relationships with fellow human beings (such as giving charity and conducting business honestly).
By climbing the ladder of mitzvoth we are ascending the heights of Mount Sinai and in the process become better individuals. May we all reach new heights this Shavuot.

* * * * *
Note: Rabbi Saks is one of my students - Rabbi Rich Wolpoe

Sunday, 21 May 2017

P. Vayiqra - Shemen for M'nachot and the Mystery of the Pach Shemen

Originally published 3/11/11, 10:22 am.

See Vayiqra 2:1 and Rashi

Rashi asks -
Q: Why is "Shemen" said twice?
A: Because the 2nd & 3rd drops are kosher for m'nachot unlike the shemen for the m'norah which may come only from the first drop.

Now using this we can understand and answer the Question -
Why would the Kohein Gadol seal a "pach shemen"?
A. Because he needed to set aside M'norah oil away from M'nachot oil.
Mystery solved!  Unless the 2 oils appear differently to the naked eye.

Shalom,
RRW

P. Vayiqra - "Qorbon"

Originally published 3/10/11, 8:58 pm.

Here is some trivia to contemplate...

In which Books of Tanach can the term "Qorbon" [in its many forms] be found; as opposed to using terms like Zevach, etc.?

Credit for this insight goes to R Sacha Pecaric who has translated the Humash into Polish wherein he discussed this curious phenomenon.
Zhinkuyen Pan Rabbin Sacha.

Hint: consult a good robust Concordance. See if a pattern emerges

Shalom,
RRW

P. Vayiqra - Lirtzono, Kofin Oto ad she'omer "Rotzeh Ani"

Originally published 3/11/11, 2:10 pm.

See Vayiqra 1:3
Rashi D"H "Yaqriv Oto"
Torah T'mimah #25,26
Quoting -
• Arachin 21a
• Qiddushin 50a
• Rambam MT Hil. Geirushin 2:20

People wonder where the Rambam got the notion of coercing a Get - when Halachah requires that a Get must be given of one's one free will.
One can follow the bouncing ball from Qorbanot that shows that we can coerce an offering which must also be of one's own free will.

The Rambam provides a caveat. One must be an otherwise Observant Jew who resists doing the proper thing. This would not work with a complete rebel or - as the Rambam himself notes - that Judaism does not require this act.
Interestingly, the Moznayim Touger edition cites neither of the 2 Talmudic passages above

Shalom,
RRW

Vayikra: Progression and Regression

Originally published 3/14/08, 12:23 PM, Eastern Daylight Time.

From the archives of Nishma's Online Library , we have chosen an article that relates to the week's parsha, both to direct you to this dvar Torah but also for the purposes of initiating some discussion.

This week's parsha is Vayikra. The topic is the movement of ethics, specifically are we becoming more or less ethical? Rambam contends that sacrifices were an allowance to past weaknesses in the human being and it is better to worship God without animal sacrifices. Ramban strongly disagrees. If sacrifices were ordained at Sinai, they are part of the perfect Torah. Is there any possible reconciliation for these divergent opinions

We invite you to look at an article on this topic here.
http://www.nishma.org/articles/insight/spark5754-19.htm

Parshah: Vayikra, "Leviticus, Sacrifices, and Dialectic"

Perhaps one of the more controversial aspects of the Torah is the karbanot - the sacrificial cult. Rambam champions a rationalistic approach very in vogue with most moderns. On the other hand, Ramban has a multi-level approach that includes a massive dose of spiritual symbolism very popular with Mystics.

Rav Shimshon Rephael Hirsch embraced this symbolic approach in his own commentary and modernized it according to the sensibilities of the 19th Century. The Ritva defends Rambam from attacks by Ramban. This is most fascinating because Ritva was the key student of Ramban's most famous student. He goes on to show that Rambam was not as "anti-sacrifice" as he appears to be at first glance.

Thus the dialectic is thus:
  • Thesis: Torah/Ramban pro-sacrifice
  • Antithesis: Prophets/Rambam questioning the sacrificial cult
  • Synthesis: Ritva answering Rambam's attacks.
This fascinating overview is culled from the opening article by the late, great, Nechama Leibowitz OBM On Vayikra. I highly recommend this give and take as she cites original sources. Note: This Ritva is in the further study section.

Shalom, RRW

Saturday, 20 May 2017

P. Vayiqra - Two Mussar Maxims from Torah T'mimah

Here are two tweets giving us Mussar on the parshah from the Torah Temimah.

"@NishmaTweet: P. Vayiqra 1:1 Mussar 1 TT [1] don't enter pi'tom. Announce yourself first. Good etiquette, good psychology."

"@NishmaTweet: P. Vayiqra 1:1 Mussar 2 TT [2] don't talk or address someone w/o getting their approval first also Good etiquette & good psychology."

Thus, we see some Midrash Halachah offering us practical ethical behaviour:
Don't startle people by entering abruptly.
Don't talk or preach to people w/o asking their permission first.
Be considerate - and use wisdom when doing so.

Shavua Tov,
Shalom,
RRW

Parsha: Vayikra, "Catholic Israel"



"When the entire congregation errs..." (Leviticus 4:13), Hazal equates the following :
  • "The entire congregation errs" ==> The Sanhedrin errs.
Now, In the absence of any Sanhedrin it makes sense to go back to the original text. It now follows  to imply the converse:
  • The Sanhedrin ==> The entire Congregation of Israel.
---------------------
Illustration:
The United States' of America's Congress, or the Canadian Parliament represent all of the the people. In the absence of such a representative body, then all of the people represent themselves.

Shalom,
RRW

P. Vayiqra - The Torah on Infallibility

In Hamishi of Vayiqra we see three cases of sin/error:

A. A Kohein Gadol who sins/errs.
B. The entire congregation -or as per Hazal the Sanhedrin - but perhaps BOTH understandings apply.
C. A Nassi.

In Sh'mini, Moshe apparently renders an incorrect hora'h and is corrected by his brother Aharon.
Who - I.E. what individual - in Judaism is infallible?

Shalom,
RRW

Saturday, 6 May 2017

Parsha: Emor, "Is Sefirat ha'Omer One Mitzva or Two?"

originally posted August 9, 2015

The Rambam firmly construes Sefirat Ha'Omer as one MitzvahSefer HaHinuch concurs with the Rambam's read. Abbaye, however, affirms in the Talmud that just as it is a Mitzva to count days – so it is a Mitzva to count weeks. 

These passages strongly suggest two separate MitzvotIn Parshat Emor we read, "Tisp'ru Chamishim YOM" (Vaykira:  23: 16), while the text states in Parshat R'eih, "Sheva Shavuot Tispar Lach" . (Devarim: R'eih: 16:9Doesn't it seem obvious that the two verses in the Torah describe two separate but equal actions?

Problem: How can an individual nowadays simply argue with the Rambam - especially without any further support? Furthermore, must I not construe the silence of so many peer reviews that as implicit acquiescence? 

A rabbinic intern recently provided an informative answer in his shiurRabbeinu Yerucham considers Sefirah as two separate MitzvotHe also posits that as well. My hypothesis now has supporting evidence.

I asked the speaker how he had found this relatively obscure source. He had noted that the new edition of the Minhat Hinuch has this source cited in the footnotes. This indicates that the matter assumed to be a slam dunk by the Hinuch is, in reality, a matter of dispute. Rabbeinu Yerucham had already articulated this voice of opposition, so I need no  longer be concerned about the silence of the peer review.


Case Closed


-------------------------------------------------


Comment On Original Post.

Aside from a bit of Talmud Torah - why did I post this comment?

Sometimes we see something and we assume it to be axiomatic, mutually agreed upon. In attempting to master rational thinking, I came across the concept of "not jumping to conclusions".  After all, if Jews are always questioning,  why was the Rambam's ruling of only one mitzva never questioned? It seemed likely that seeing it as two mitzvoth was an equally good read.

Failing to research this myself, I humbly concluded that Rambam won by acclamation. Case Closed. QED. 

However, after attending a Shiur in which the rabbi found a source that did challenge this Rambam, I had to recant.  Now I realized that my question - my observation - had some validity in classic sources.  It was just unnecessary for other sources to question the Rambam once Rabbeinu Yerucham posed his challenge. I could no longer construe their silence as acquiescence to the Rambam's decision.

In fact, I could now conclude nothing. Although, I now suspect that the silence is possible confirmation that both reads are about 50-50. and therefore no one needs to enter the fray to reject either side as off-target.

This is an important principle to realize: just because we have not seen a competing source does not mean it is not there! I must also confess to not researching the matter in depth. It therefore has also taught me a bit of humility.

Shalom,

RRW

Parshat Emor - Ayin Tachat Ayin, etc.

originally posted May 7, 2015

ויקרא פרק כד

יז ואיש, כי יכה כל-נפש אדם--מות, יומת.  יח ומכה נפש-בהמה, ישלמנה--נפש, תחת נפש. 
יט ואיש, כי-יתן מום בעמיתו--כאשר עשה, כן יעשה לו. 
כ שבר, תחת שבר, עין תחת עין, שן תחת שן--כאשר יתן מום באדם, כן ינתן בו. 
כא ומכה בהמה, ישלמנה; ומכה אדם, יומת



Given:
ומכה נפש-בהמה, ישלמנה--
נפש, תחת נפש.

It seems obvious in context that when someone destroys another's OX that beit din does not destroy his OX!! Rather the damager pays comcpnesation.

And so too, it would seem from context - davar hallameid mai'inyono - that the rest of ayin tachat ayin addresses compensation, too!

And that the lone exception is explicit, namely murdering a fellow human, where execution is specified.

Kol Tuv,
RRW

Saturday, 29 April 2017

P. Acharei-Mot, K'doshim - A Novel perspective on Arayyot

originally posted April 25, 2015

The Traditional perspective in the various Arayyot taboos are that they are a function of indivdual Q'dushah. In other words, these laws promote Holiness in the INDIVIDUAL person by a demanding code of highly moral behaviour, etc.

The Preamble in Acharei-Mot discusses avoiding Egyptian and Canaanite Behaviour. I suggest that the Torah is suggesting that we as a Torah society not emulate those societies. The clincher? V'nichr'tu Han'fashot ha'osot.

Shloymie: Let's say you're correct - Just how does this societal taboo work?

RRW: Let's assume that humans have a libido. And that this tempts humans to "objectify" targets in a predatory manner.

Left unchanneled, a man's Mother, Sister Daughter, might be subjected to predatory behaviour. Even boys and animals could become objectified via Mishkav Zachar or Bestiality.

This society creates a sense where a child has no safety at home. Nor could a child bathe or shower safely with members of the same gender. It is a society of predatory objectification.

Taboos to the Rescue

By imposing deep-seated taboos, the children are given a safety net. Girls need not fear their brothers or even fathers. Children may feel safe in same-gender showers or wash-rooms.

Take away this safety-net, and Egyptian-style objectification may run amok. Sisters grow up to be their brothers's spouses. They grow up as targets from an accepting society.

To my way of thinking, these taboos are targeted at creating a society of reduced objectification.

L'havdil it's analogous to Burkas in Moslem cultures

We take taboos against incest for granted because Xtian Societies have already adopted much of this from Leviticus.. Before mattan Torah, no one could take it for granted.

Shalom,
RRW

Parsha: Kedoshim, "Kedusha - Beyond the Spiritual"

We chose an article from Nishma's Online Library archives  that relates to the week's parsha, both to direct you to this dvar Torah and to initiate some discussion.

This week's parsha is Kedoshim. The topic is kedusha. We invite you to look at a
Spark of the Week 5756-15: Kedusha: Beyond the Spiritual on this topic. 


Shalom,

RBH

Re: [Avodah] Acharei Mot "What Happens After Develops From What Happened Before"

originally posted April 25, 2015

On Mon, Apr 14, 2008 at 7:38 PM, Cantor Wolberg <cantorwolberg@cox.net> wrote:

Acharei Mot is the only Torah portion with the word "death" in its title.  As we know, death in Judaism is associated with tamei.
However, as everything must be taken in context, so too, should death.  The portion "Acharei Mot" is followed by "Kedoshim".

So the context is much more optimistic than at first appearance. "Acharei Mot"  "AFTER death", is "Kedoshim", holiness.

Death is not the finality; holiness is.

ri


Also the cute quip
Acharei mot
Kedoshim emor

After one dies call them holy [iow don't hold any grudge after death]


--
Kol Tuv / Best Regards,
RabbiRichWolpoe@Gmail.com
see: http://nishmablog.blogspot.com/

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Tazria/Metzorah: Childbirth and Circumcisions

To many, the insertion of the mitzvah of mila, circumcision, in the presentation of the laws of the yodedet, the woman who gave birth, may just seem to be a narrative coincidence. Once the Torah was taking about the birth of a boy, it also mentioned mila. The commentators, however, find it bewildering. What does one have to do with the other?

Rabbi Hecht addresses this issue in an Insight from 5756 available at http://www.nishma.org/articles/insight/spark5756-14.html

P. Tazria - "Uvayom Hashmini"

Short version:

Questions
1. How is it that a woman giving birth to a Zachar makes her Tum'ah for only seven days while birthing a N'qievah lasts a fortnight?
2. What is uvayom hashmini yimol b'sar orlato doing here?

Answer:
The Brith Millah on the 8th day shortens the woman's condition either due to:
A. The Torah gave her dispensation to attend the Brit
B. The healing power of the mal'ach habbrit mitigates the damage she suffers, thereby "commuting her sentence to time served."

Shalom,
RRW

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Parsha: Shemini, "Asher Lo Tsivah"

Pick your preferred parshanut.  

Parshanut suggests three translations of the phrase, "Asher Lo Tzivah" (Vayikra: 10:1) There is basically a 2-way split concerning Nadav and Avihu (N&A) and their eish zara. The first two schools may help start a future Nishmablog poll, BE"H, though the third school is kinda' tangential.

  1. "They were commanded NOT"  N&A were actually seeking to grow spiritually through transgressing the commandment NOT to bring such an eish zarah [Tur et. Al.] It literally went up in flames  Don't serve Hashem by violating protocol
  2.  "They were NOT commanded" - N&A added on an extra embellishments. They acted excessively "frum"  and their zeal was their sin in their spiritual approach. This idea is very popular among Left-wing circles. Don't be mosif "humrot". [Bal tosif. Al t'hee tzaddiq harbei
  3. This explanation can work for either side of the split. Since N&A brought ersatz K'toret, they were left unprotected to eish Hashem and vulnerable to a form of spiritual "radiation."  Their action was not so much a sin as a failure to use real Ketoret. It was what they failed to do which allowed them to get burnt. [See Haforah of Uzah]. Genuine Ketoret was tantamount to a radiation suit; don't play with the rules lest you risk exposure.

Let me tell a related story.  

There once lived a woman looking to add a spiritual dimension to her avodah. A Great Gadol, "Moshe," asked her to experiment by wearing a four-cornered garment without tzitzit. She felt exhilirated. 

Moshe exclaimed, "For three months, you have been wearing a garment without any religious or halachic value, it is thus clear that your feeling comes from a source outside of the Mitzvah", and he [Moshe] did not grant her permission to wear a Talit " [Source?]


To which Avodah's R Micha Berger protested:

We do many things that come from sources outside the mitzvah. "Hinei Keil yeshuasi" before Havdalah, for example. The particular patterns of hand washing most qehillos use for neigl vasr or before hamotziQabbalas Shabbos. Etc, etc, etc... Why is this woman wanting to do something that makes her feel connected to the Borei valueless just because it is non-halachic? Would this Gadol "Moshe" have given the same advice to NCSY and tell them to stop doing kumzitzin or a pre-havdalah "ebbing" for an hour? [Source??]

This offers us a segue towards a poll on valid paths to spirituality in Judaism. Which guidelines are permitted or desirable?

Shalom
RRW

P. Shmini - Asher Lo Tsivah 2 - Truth or Consequences

Originally published 3/31/11, 6:54 pm.
Previously, I had written:
3. [Can work either way] N&A were left vulnerable to a form of spiritual "radiation" because their Q'toret with eish zarah was ersatz instead of genuine, leaving them unprotected against "eish Hashem". Not sin so much as a failure to use a bona fide Q'toret allowed them to get burnt. [See Hafatarah of Uzah]. A genuine q'toret was tantamount to a radiation suit. Don't play with the rules lest you risk exposure.
Background:
When I was teaching the Parshah at Cong. MT. Sinai in Wash Heights, circa late 1990's, I made a conscious approach to shift away from the idea of punishment and vindictiveness and towards "spiritual consequences" in order to portray that "Elohim-Teva-Middat Haddin" is a function of the natural order and that Elohim is not out to get anyone. I was mostly inspired by Sefer Hachinuch's compassionate approach to Torah, and BE"H I've since discovered a similar Hashqafah in Tomer D'vorah, as well as, to an extent, in other s'farim.
When a child such as myself who once did this - but please do NOT try it at home - sticks his hand into an electric outlet one will receive a shock but not due to a malicious, vindictive G-d.
Similarly,  Nadav & Avihu and Uzzah died - according to my parshanut - because they got overwhelmingly exposed to a kind of radiation. This same radiation of shechinah, for instance, could blind those peeking at birkas kohanim in the. Mikdash. Or could kill the Kohein Gadol on YK if or when his Q'toret or Avodah were somehow flawed. The cloud of a valid Q'tores acts as a Divine shield protecting the Kohein Gadol. Nadav & Avihu lacked that.
Uzzah could never touch the Aron Hakodesh with his bare hands and live. I darshen away any "anger" on behalf of Hashem and see it as merely as manifestation of a typical human perception of Divine Anger
L'mashal: my daughter once banged herself as a toddler against the table. The baby-sitter yelled, "bad table" a very human reaction. But the table was static. So was the "radiation" from the Aron in Uzzah's case or the Shechinah in the case of Nadav &Avihu. Their impulsivity got them in trouble by going to an unsafe precinct without proper protection.
Similarly, when one cheats with weights and measures Hashem ALLOWS Amaleiq C"V to harm us. He does not necessarily send them. Yes this is similar to l'havdil Jerry Falwell's "drashah" regarding 9/11, the removal of a Divine Shield. His reason for HOW/WHY that shield was removed is quite debatable, but I had already bought into that approach myself long before 9/11.

An Adam Harishon who defies Hashem by eating the forbidden fruit may not remain in Gan Eden.
A Bnai Yisroel dor hamidbar that weeps over the spies cannot enter Israel.
A King Shaul who saves Agag may not rule. Even though, as per Midrash, Shaul was no sinner, he suffered for his flaw as did all of the above suffer the consequences of their character flaws.
Thus the onesh in the Torah is, to me, Consequences, as in Truth or consequences.
And yes - Once in a while a neis intervenes, for example, in the case of Yosef in the pit, etc.
I hope this helps.

Shalom,
RRW

Parsha: Shemini, "Olam Chesed Yiboneh"


Another D'var Torah from Cantor Wolberg--
Shalom,
RRW

---------------------------------------
There's a verse in Parshat Shemini (Lev. 11:13) which states: "These shall you abominate from among the birds, they may not be eaten; they are an abomination..." In other words, fowl that are cruel are not eligible to be kosher. One will not always find cruel fowl necessarily exercising cruelty (we see this in the human species as well). It would therefore have been impractical and impossible to have positively identified a specific bird as being unfit. Therefore, the Torah must list all the fowl that are unsuitable for eating.

There is an overriding concept in the laws of kashruth that the characteristics of what we eat somehow have a great influence on the way we behave. The old saying: "You are what you eat." We do not want to associate ourselves for instance with cruelty, therefore we are forbidden to eat cruel animals, and in this case, some species of fowl. Among the fowl that are listed as being non kosher is the chasidah, the white stork. You may ask what cruel character trait does the stork possess. Rashi mentions that the reason it is called a "chasidah" is because it does chesed only with its friends regarding the food it finds. On the surface this seems strange. If the stork acts kindly with its food, why is it disqualified as being kosher?

A beautiful explanation to this difficulty has been given by the Chidushei Harim, in which he explains the nature of the stork. He says that the fact the stork only shows its kindness with its friends defines its cruelty. A fowl who is not in the circle of the stork's good buddies is excluded from getting any help from the stork in finding food. In other words, the stork is very selective in its kindness. This type of kindness is misleading. We, as Jews, are commanded even to help our foes. If we come across someone we dislike intensely who needs help, we are commanded to help. The stork, on the other hand, helps only his inner circle of friends. It is this character trait of differentiating between close friends and others when it comes to providing food that makes the stork non-kosher.

Chesed means reaching out altruistically, with love and generosity to all. The process of maturing involves developing our sense of caring for others. This is crucial for spiritual health. The Talmud likens someone who doesn't give to others as the "walking dead." A non-giving soul is malnourished and withered. It is only through unconditional love that our successful future will be built. In the words of King David (Psalm 89:3): Olam chesed yiboneh - "the world is built on kindness." The more this kindness dissipates and degenerates, the more danger of the foundation collapsing.

- Cantor Wolberg

Parsha: Shemini, "Punishment or Consequences?"

Let's start with Acharei Mot. What does "v'lo yamut" imply?

Coming into the proximity of the Qodshei Qodshim requires protection . For Aharon, that meant a proper Q'toret. An improper Qktoret - even b'shogeig - could have left the Kohen Gadol without his "radiation suit." He would risk death through exposure to an overwhelming dose of Q'dusha, not through his transgressions. Like an electrician with a  faulty rubber glove, the shock would be overwhelming.

Back to Nadav and Avihu. Fire consumed them mainly because their ersatz Q'toret failed to protect them. Therefore Aharon was commanded how to avoid such a similar catastrophe.

And as for Uzah - in the Haftara of Sh'mini - he wasn't punished. He lacked protection from the aron's overwhelming  Q'dusha.

Electricity, radiation and high places all entail physical risk. It's like a child sticking his finger in an exposed socket. Hashem is not punishing the kid. We are fixated on the concept of seeing din as punishment. Din isn't "punishment," but natural consequences.

Shalom,
RRW

Thursday, 13 April 2017

Parsha: BeShalah, "Mah Titz'aq Eilai?"

originally posted January 16, 2016

See Shmot: Beshalah: 14:15


Rashi cites a Midrash explaining why Hashem tells Moshe to stop praying. He offers two reasons. 

A No time to lengthen prayer if people are suffering
B. Hashem is asking, "why Bother ME? It's in Your hands!"


This reminds me of a wise statement about Prayer and Action:
PRAY as if everything depends upon G-d,
ACT as if everything depends upon you!

Shalom, RRW

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Parsha: Bo, V'yameish Hoshech Onkelos, Rashi and Sinai"

originally posted January 9, 2016

Bo 10:21 "V'yameish Hoshech"

Rashi says that, "k'mo v'ya'ameish...V'Onkelos Tirgeim l'shon hassarah k'mo
'Lo yamish'. "

If Targum Onkelos is miSinai, then how can Rashi argue that, "Ein hadibbur m'ushav al havav"
If Rashi MAY argue - then what does it mean to say Onkelos is MiSinai?


Shalom,

RRW

Parsha: Vo'eira, "Y'hee l'Tanin"

originally posted January 2, 2016

 Y'hee l'Tanin (Vo'eira 7:9)

Pick your Parshanut Preference

1. Rashi states that the tanin is a SNAKE
2. R' Hirsch and others call the tanin a CROCODILE.

Advantages to #1
Advantages to #2
  • In Parshat Sh'mot, it SAYS Nachash - but here says it's a Tanin. Given the use of two words, we naturally expect a distinction!
  • Crocodiles were symbols of Egypt, so this would have been more symbolic. As Haftarah Vo'eira [EZE 29:3] says TaniM that is HaRoveitz. Crocodiles crouch, snakes don't
  • If you read Taninim in Parshat Breishit 1:21 as great lizards, this matches it a bit better
Pick your preferred approach.

Shalom,

RRW

Parsha Bo - The Zohar - Obtaining Ultimate Freedom

originally posted January 9, 2016

Paraphrase

The Israelites first had to throw off all the higher forces ruling them, until they entered the domain of the Holy One, and tied themselves to GOD alone

Only then were they rescued from Egyptian Bondage when all forces subjugating them had been discarded and GOD alone had become MASTER.

See Zohar Bo 40a
Hoq l'Yisro'el - Bo Day 2

Kol Tuv,
RRW

Parsha: Bo, "Makkat Hoshech and Posh'ei Yisra'el"

originally posted January 9, 2016

See Bo 10:22, and Rashi's words about the phrase, "Vayhee Hoshech..."


Rashi notes that  "Posh'ei Yisra'elwere purged during Hoshech. I've always been troubled by this statement. If all the reshaim died during Makkat Hoshech, then how did ones like Datan and Aviram survive?

A clue lies in Rashi's own words. Rashi wrote that ONLY those "shelo hayyu rotzim latzeit" were killed. 
IOW, only the ones who wanted to stay in Egypt were killed. It seems that while only one SUBSET of Posh'im were purged, other "nudniks" seemed to survive. These may be the ones we see causing trouble in the Midbar later


Shalom,

RRW

Parsha, Vo'eira, "Koveid Leiv Par'oh"





Originally posted January 2, 2016  
Pick your Parshanut Preference:
  1. Koveid or Hazak are two words which BOTH refer to Pharaoh acting stubbornly. The classic commentators seem to use the two words interchangeably.
  2. Koveid could mean something else entirely, such as, "heavy".
Background:
In Egyptian Mythology, a human's heart was weighed at death. 
This was done by weighing one's heart (conscience) against the feather of Maat (truth and justice)... Anubis weighs Hunefer's [humann's] heart against the feather to see if he is worthy of joining the gods in the Fields of Peace. Ammut is also present, as a demon waiting to devour Hunefer's heart should he prove unworthy.  (The British Museum)
If a person's heart were light as the feather of the goddess Maat, then that person earned "Heaven." Otherwise, his soul would be devoured by another Egyptian goddess, Ammut.
Thus a HEAVY heart might mean an evil person and not a stubborn one. 

This p'shat might have some advantages
  1. It is more literal
  2. It matches what we know about Egyptian Culture
  3. It places Israel in Egypt at the Exodus despite the "critics"
  4. It distinguishes the 2 terms
Disadvantage:
  1. It's NOT traditional
Pick your preferred approach.


Shalom,

RRW

Parsha: Vo'eira, "Modifying P'shat of Text Based upon a Contradiction"

originally posted January 2, 2016

See Rashi on  Vo'eira 6:18.

Basing himself on the phrase, "Hayyei Qehat," Rashi asserts that the text here can't be taken literally. A logical reading of other passages shows that it would have been difficult, if not impossible, for Bnei Yisrael to have spent 400/430 years in Egypt. Then the issue remains, what to do with the 400/430 years!?

It seems to me that Rashi could have gone the other way. That is, why not say the Yichus was not literal instead? Why not say that generations were skipped and so that literally was the number of years!

The response to that is that Hazal have deemed that period as 210 years. It has been adopted AFAIK by Seder Olam

This same issue is in a previous NishmaBlog poll re: may we set aside a literal reading of text when Hazal themselves have not chosen to do so? (For the results of that poll, see http://nishmablog.blogspot.ca/2011/01/results-of-poll-on-parshanut-how.html)


Shalom,

RRW

Parsha: Sh'mot, "The Risks of Political Partisanship"

originally posted on Dec. 26, 2015

As the popular hypothesis goes - the Hyksos Pharaohs [the so-called Shepherd Kings] allied themselves with the Hebrews. Then, when the Hyksos' dynasty was overthrown, the Hebrews were left high and dry - especially since native Egyptians detested shepherds. [Miqqetz 43:32]

There are hints in Vayigash and Sh'mot that support this. In Vayigash, Pharaoh seems interested in tying Joseph's family to his own interests. He asks the brothers about becoming his personal Royal Shepherds [47:6]. However, we see that a new King [dynasty?] arose that knew not Joseph [1:8] in Sh'mot.

If this is true, then there is a pragmatic lesson here:  "Don't put your [political] eggs in one basket." Although Joseph and his brothers enjoyed ascendancy when allied to that Hyksos dynasty, they were subsequently exiled to the political wilderness when their patrons were removed from power.

Simply said, since the Hebrews were unanimously allied to one single party, they were powerless when that party lost power.

Something to think about when making "political bedfellows"

Shalom,
RRW

Parsha: Bo, "Rashi on P'shat and D'rash"

originally posted January 9, 2016

Rashi D"H V'im yim'at habbayyit...(Bo 12:4 )

First, Rashi says, "X l'fee f'shuto..." 
Namely, if there aren't enough people to completely eat the Pesach lamb, and they will come to have Nottar, then these people are to join their neighbors.

V'od yeish bo Midrash: "That following 'shenimnu' they may still withdraw whilst the lamb still lives". Rashi does NOT force the P'shat to conform to D'rash EVEN when that D'rash is Halachic and not Aggadic.

Thus, P'shat of a phrase can be independent of the Halachot derived from it . Even though the p'shat here IS influenced by Halachah. It conforms to an explicit text concerning Nottar. Although we can't be certain, it doesn't seem to CONTRADICT halachah either! 

Summary:

While Rashi does suggest that P'shat conforms with Halachah,  he also mentions that Halachic D'rash adds a dimension that goes well beyond P'shat.


Shalom,

RRW

Saturday, 1 April 2017

Tzav: The Challenge of Unity

From the archives of Nishma's Online Library , we have chosen an article that relates to the week's parsha, both to direct you to this dvar Torah but also for the purposes of initiating some discussion.

This week's parsha is Tzav.

We invite you to look at an article on this topic here.
http://www.nishma.org/articles/insight/insight5760-36.htm

Sunday, 19 March 2017

The Arba Parshiot

Originally published 3/4/11, 11:19 am. 

As we conclude the Arba Parshiot this week with, of course, Parshat HaChodesh, we invite you to take a look at
Insight 5756-12: From Purim to Pesach
at
http://www.nishma.org/articles/insight/spark5756-12.html 

Saturday, 18 March 2017

Pekudei: The Cloud

Originally published 2/28/09, 5:50 PM, Eastern Daylight Time.
From the archives of Nishma's Online Library, we have chosen an article that relates to the week's parsha, both to direct you to this dvar Torah but also for the purposes of initiating some discussion.

This week's parsha is Pekudei and our topic is the cloud over the Ohel Mo'ed. It is really not so simple to assume that it symbolizes God's Presence.

We invite you to further look at this issue at
http://www.nishma.org/articles/insight/insight5769-22.htm

Vayakhel: The Motivation for Giving

Originally published 2/28/09, 5:50 PM, Eastern Daylight Time.

From the archives of Nishma's Online Library, we have chosen an article that relates to the week's parsha, both to direct you to this dvar Torah but also for the purposes of initiating some discussion.

This week's parsha is Vayakhel. The topic is tzedakah, specifically how we decide to distribute our funds for worthwhile causes. There are always more needs than available funds, so how do we determine priorities? Where would you put the call to give toward the Mishkan in a world of competing needs?

We invite you to look at an article on this genaral topic at
http://www.nishma.org/articles/insight/insight5757-10.html

Monday, 13 March 2017

Parsha: Ki Tisa, "Aaron's Honour"


We need not be overly judgmental re: Aharon's role in the Eigel Masecha when we read the following:
What's with the sarcasm against Aharon? Yes, the making of the gold into the form of a calf was, as per Rashi to 32:4, not Aharon's doing (it was done by Egyptian magicians or by Micha, as the case may be). So according to this, he could indeed correctly say: "All I did was throw the gold into the fire, and as far as I was concerned it would have just melted there into a big blob; others are to blame for the actual making of the calf.
Same thing with "hisparaku." True that Aharon tells the people "paraku," but in a transitive rather than a reflexive sense: "take off the golden rings from your wives', sons', and daughters' ears..." - but not from your own. Whereas the next verse continues that they instead brought him their own jewelry: "vayisparaku" - a reflexive form - "all of the people took off the gold rings in their ears..." (Rashi makes this point explicitly in his commentary to 32:2.) So Aharon's description in 32:24 is indeed in keeping with this. "I asked only 'lemi zahav' - go see who in your families has gold available; but 'hisparaku,' they took off their own earrings, which I had not expected."
In short, then, Aharon is giving a quite accurate summary of what happened, distinguishing between what he did (asking for people to bring their families' gold, throwing it in the fire) and what he did not do (having them bring their own gold, making the calf). He's not trying to mislead Moshe. If anything, he leaves out other considerations in his own favor, such as his fear for his life after seeing Chur murdered for opposing them (Rashi to 32:5).

Kol tuv,
- Alex Heppenheimer
- aheppenh@yahoo.com
-Mahpach list
- Reproduced with the permission of Alex Heppenheimer

When in doubt - give our "icons" a break.

Shalom, RRW

P. Ki Tissa - Rashi on Ki Shicheit Amcha

A liberal friend of mine would like to advance a correspondingly liberal conversion policy that is contrary to GPS and other more restrictive policies.

What does Rashi say about such kind-heartedness?

Ki Tisa 22:7 D"H "Ki. Shicheit Amcha"

Hashem talking to Moshe -
"You went ahead and converted them w/o consulting ME and said 'good that the converts should embrace the Sh'china' those are the ones who caused this corruption"

I'm sure that nevertheless Hashem does embrace Geirim. However, the context here is that Moshe accepted a mass of Geirim who were motivated by the Wonders of the Exodus and not by a solid yearning to embrace Hashem and the Jewish People - in stark contrast to Ruth! This "Erev Rav" was composed of "front-runners", not sincere proselytes

The Road to 'H..L' is paved with Good Intentions. Moshe's Chessed lacked the necessary restriction, and his liberalism introduced a corrupting influence, that would eventually serve as an internal fifth column

The history of the events here is not essential. What is essential is Hazal's attitude of warning us of the danger of being inclusive w/o weighing the potential negative consequences

Of course HOW restrictive we should be is a matter for discussion. It is only natural to react to a failed policy in either direction, namely either too exclusive or too inclusive


Shalom
RRW