Posts Tagged: Rav Moshe Taragin

Va’era

In Parshas Vaera, Hashem appears again to Moshe, giving him a renewed jolt of energy, so to speak, and restarts the geula process. By way of quick review, at the end of Parshas Shmos, Moshe is very troubled by his initial failed efforts to convince Paraoh to allow Bnei Yisrael to leave Egypt. Bnei Yisrael blame him for making their lives even more difficult, and Moshe questions why Hashem has not yet saved His people, and, if anything, has only exacerbated the situation.

In the opening passuk of Vaera, Hashem proceeds to reveal Himself in an even more profound way than ever before; more so than by the burning bush and to the Avot. He instructs Moshe to use the four famous expressions of redemption, inspire the people, and appear before Paraoh as a strong, united front; we are poised for what seems like a huge re-group/4th quarter rally/achdusclinic.

That is the stage, set in the first 8 psukim in Perek 6…

After Hashem’s rousing speech to Moshe, along comes passuk 9, and instead of an exuberant, rallying response from the nation, the Torah tells us (6:9):

יְדַבֵּר מֹשֶׁה כֵּן אֶל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וְלֹא שָׁמְעוּ אֶל מֹשֶׁה מִקֹּצֶר רוּחַ וּמֵעֲבֹדָה קָשָׁה
The rally falls flat; Bnei Yisrael still do not believe, and basically from that point until the korban Pesach at the end of Parshat Bo, they play a very passive role in the unfolding of Yetziat Mitzrayim.

Two interesting thoughts from this passuk:

1. The Meshech Chochmah points out that the kotzeir ruach was Bnei Yisrael’s inability to dream and have grand expectations about the future. It was a deflation and contraction of their imagination. They were so drained from simply trying to get through the day in Mitzrayim, that they couldn’t start to fathom the long term dreams of geula, Eretz Yisrael, and serving one Master in Hashem.

This phenomenon exists today as well. We too can fall victim to the hardships and atrocities that are all too ubiquitous in the world today, and lose sight and hope of the future. But just like Hashem fulfilled His promise then to the Avos and Moshe Rabbeinu, by springing Bnei Yisrael from bondage, so too:
אני מאמין באמונה שלמה בביאת המשיח ואף על פי שיתמהמה עם כל זה אחכה לו בכל יום

The message – no matter what difficulties we face and the avodah kasha of our time, we cannot lose hope and fall victim to kotzer ruach.

2. Breishis Rabba links the “avodah kasha” term with virtually an entire chapter in Sefer Yechezkel. Chapter 20 in Yechezkel details the depths Bnei Yisrael descended to in Egypt, and how steeped in paganism they were. Bnei Yisrael were told to lift themselves out of the muck, but they were too mired in avodah zara, and they failed. They refused Hashem’s offer.

The language in Yechezkel is quite shocking. As an example:
וַיַּמְרוּ בִי וְלֹא אָבוּ לִשְׁמֹעַ אֵלַי אִישׁ אֶת שִׁקּוּצֵי עֵינֵיהֶם לֹא הִשְׁלִיכוּ וְאֶת
גִּלּוּלֵי מִצְרַיִם לֹא עָזָבוּ וָאֹמַר לִשְׁפֹּךְ חֲמָתִי עֲלֵיהֶם לְכַלּוֹת אַפִּי בָּהֶם בְּתוֹךְ אֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם
But they rebelled against Me, and would not hearken to Me; every man did not cast away the detestable things of their eyes, neither did they forsake the idols of Egypt; then I said I would pour out My fury upon them, to spend My anger upon them in the midst of the land of Egypt.

They were too involved with the influences of Mitzrayim to listen to the word of Hashem and the word of Moshe. There is a well-known medrash that, while enslaved in Egypt, Bnei Yisrael did not change their names or their manner of dress, but even keeping this in mind, they could still have been living in two worlds – part jewish identity, part enticed by paganism. As the Navi Eliyahu says to Bnei Yisrael, in the famous story on Har HaCarmel, in Melachim I 18:21:

וַיִּגַּשׁ אֵלִיָּהוּ אֶל כָּל הָעָם וַיֹּאמֶר עַד מָתַי אַתֶּם פֹּסְחִים עַל שְׁתֵּי הַסְּעִפִּים – אִם ה’ הָאֱ-לֹהִים לְכוּ אַחֲרָיו, וְאִם הַבַּעַל לְכוּ אַחֲרָיו
And Elijah came near to all the people, and said: ‘How long will you hobble between two opinions? If the Hashem is the Lord, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him.’
Surely living in the 21st century, trying to maintain our religion in the modern world, we can understand this concept.

So we see that the two words of “avodah kasha” is a hyperlink to an entire perek in Yechezkeil. It is not a “pretty” perek, so it makes sense that its contents wouldn’t be recorded in Shmot, which is more about the grandeur of yetziat mitzrayim, but it is a part of our history nonetheless.

But what can we learn from Yechekel? As quoted above, Yecehzkel records Hashem considering annihilating Bnei Yisrael. Ultimately, Hashem decides to spare them, because destroying them would desecrate His Name. How so? There was so much that had already been invested with the Avos, and in that region, that it would be a waste to destroy Bnei Yisrael in Mitzrayim. Had Bnei Yisrael been destroyed, there would have been a massive regression of Hashem’s presence in the world. It would have been too counterproductive for the world to destroy Bnei Yisrael. Hashem didn’t want to leave a massive vacuum devoid of kedusha. We didn’t deserve redemption, but were redeemed nonetheless because of our potential.

In a shiur given by Rav Moshe Taragin, he discusses the concept of “deserving” redemption. Certainly, this notion of “deserving” redemption is not something that we as humans can really judge. But Rav Taragin suggest that our role in the 21st Century isn’t as much to infuse the world with the concept of a monotheistic G-d, but rather to defend our G-d and His profile. Much of the world acknowledges the existence of G-d, but vandalize His Name.

Islam is a monotheistic religion, after all, but their deity, as we know all too well, is understood by a powerful sect of that religion to encourage war and bloodshed. Our job as monotheistic believers, is to represent Hashem as befits Him; a kind, merciful, benevolent G-d: Keil rachum v’chanun.

In that same light, we were given a country in 1948 and it is our job as Jews to use it as a place of morality, peace, advancements in medicine and science, education, etc. Similarly, Jews have risen to great heights in business, political office, wealth; it is our responsibility to use those positions and monetary means for tikkun olam, instead of corruption and greed. Whether we “deserve” to be redeemed now, or whether we have “deserved” it in the past, is obviously up to Hashem. But we are taught that the reason Hashem did not destroy us in Egypt, in spite of our poor behavior, was because the world would have been too devoid of Hashem’s presence without us here to represent Him. Therefore, the message is that we must embrace that responsibility and utilize our time to the fullest, as ovdei Hashem, constantly making kiddushei Hashem, and not, chas v’shalom, the opposite.

Daniella A”H, certainly understood this idea, living up to Hashem’s expectations of us in this world, infusing this world with kedusha and exemplary middos. She lived a life of chessed, integrity, tzniyus, by greeting every person she met with a smile and incredible kindness. May we continue on in her shining example.

Vayeitzei

The first passuk in Vayeitzei, which is the precursor to Yaakov’s famous dream, reads:
וַיֵּצֵא יַעֲקֹב מִבְּאֵר שָׁבַע וַיֵּלֶךְ חָרָנָה

The first passuk in the second perek of the parsha (the day after Yaakov’s dream):
וַיִּשָּׂא יַעֲקֹב רַגְלָיו וַיֵּלֶךְ אַרְצָה בְנֵי קֶדֶם

Why does the Torah include the descriptive phrasing of Yaakov lifting his legs? We know how a person walks – lifting one foot, putting it in front of the other, etc. – why does the Torah need to tell us how Yaakov was walking? It seems superfluous to tell us about the mechanic’s of Yaakov’s legs. The torah should have just said:
וילך יעקב ארצה בני קדם

Rashi 29:1, quotes Breishis Rabbah that explains that when Yaakov received the good news the night before that Hashem would be with him and protect him, he was so happy with the good news, and so: “nasah libo et raglav, v’na’aseh kal” – his heart “carried” his legs. He was no longer worried; he was calmer from hearing Hashem’s promise. To quote Rashi/Breishis Rabbah:
וישא יעקב רגליו: משנתבשר בשורה טובה שהובטח בשמירה, נשא לבו את רגליו ונעשה קל ללכת

We see that the Midrash offers a psychological and technical reason for Yaakov’s flight of foot i.e. the good news Yaakov received. He felt better, so he was able to move faster.

Rav Moshe Taragin suggests that an even broader perspective from Yaakov’s standpoint, which contributed to Yaakov’s enthusiastic travel:
Yaakov’s position as one of the Avos had just been confirmed – the dream and subsequent promise he was given by Hashem was the first time Hashem spoke with Yaakov since receiving/acquiring the bracha from Yitzchak. Following Hashem’s assurance, his journey, destiny and life’s vision became much clearer, and therefore he moved with greater energy and vigor.

In life we all have “projects”. The short-term projects are easier. We invest in them for a finite amount of time, and if we are successful, then that breeds confidence and motivation and encouragement to accomplish more. Investment, success, motivation, more investment, more success, etc. When we see the light at the end of the tunnel, it is much easier to run toward it.

But what about the long-term projects? The macro and grand projects that require more than just a few days or weeks to accomplish? Those endeavors require great discipline, but even more so, they require tremendous vision.
Running to meet our daily schedules, we may lose sight of the longer term and broader picture and can become distracted, dragging our feet, losing interest – we’re not dragging our feet on the project at hand, but we may be slowing down and losing traction on the larger goals.

One could actually say Yaakov actually passes too quickly at the beginning of Vayeitzei – he passes the makom of the Beit Hamikdash and has to return because he “missed” it:
וַיִּיקַץ יַעֲקֹב מִשְּׁנָתוֹ וַיֹּאמֶר אָכֵן יֵשׁ ה’ בַּמָּקוֹם הַזֶּה וְאָנֹכִי לֹא יָדָעְתִּי

The story immediately after “vayisah raglav” is the story of Yaakov removing the large stone from the well and meeting his future wife, Rachel. He is certainly excited to see Rachel, which gives him the strength to remove the stone, but in Rachel, he also sees a key element of his life’s path. He is excited to remove the stone, help her, and set in motion the path toward a life together.

Hashem promises Yaakov a legacy, and within hours finds his wife. Yitzchak, by contrast, had to wait around for Eliezer to come back with Rivkah; Yaakov finds his wife immediately once he gets the concrete vision of his future. He is able to walk quickly and remove heavy stones.
Discipline is then needed to endure 7 years of work for Lavan to marry Rachel, and then another 7 years after Lavan tricks him.  Unquestionably, Yaakov needed this discipline to work all those years. But without the vision of marrying Rachel whom he felt was his zivug, he may have given up hope.  He had a yearning to marry Rachel and fulfill his destiny, and allowed nothing to deter him. Yaakov demonstrated the need for both vision and discipline to be truly successful.

Yaakov’s ability to keep the grand picture squarely in focus, and the discipline to move him along his path, is the reason he had the vigor and the energy to walk swiftly, remove heavy stones, eventually marry his wife, and complete his destiny of being the last of the Avos.

Many seforim discuss the difference between Leah (representing nistar, dor hamidbar, shamayim, spirituality, lofty goals, Mashiach ben David), and Rachel (representing giluey, dor Eretz Yisrael, aretz, living in physical world but conquering the physical, Mashiach ben Yosef, etc.).
Yaakov, realizing the importance of joining both, marries Leah and Rachel. As we see from the quarreling amongst the sons of Yaakov, housing all 12 shvatim under one roof, and loving two wives, was no easy accomplishment. However, Yaakov had the vision to see it through. Yaakov, who dreams of a ladder entrenched in the ground but rising to the heavens, understood the duality required to properly serve Hashem and to successfully reach our own personal goals and destinies.

Pinchas

[based in part on a shiur by Rav Moshe Taragin]

In the middle of Parshat Pinchas, the text momentarily transports us back to a story from 3 weeks ago, namely that of Korach and his rebellion.

Bamidbar 26:9-11
‘ט:  וּבְנֵי אֱלִיאָב נְמוּאֵל וְדָתָן וַאֲבִירָם הוּא-דָתָן וַאֲבִירָם קרואי (קְרִיאֵי) הָעֵדָה אֲשֶׁר הִצּוּ עַל-מֹשֶׁה וְעַל-אַהֲרֹן בַּעֲדַת-קֹרַח בְּהַצֹּתָם עַל ה
י:  וַתִּפְתַּח הָאָרֶץ אֶת-פִּיהָ וַתִּבְלַע אֹתָם וְאֶת-קֹרַח–בְּמוֹת הָעֵדָה בַּאֲכֹל הָאֵשׁ אֵת חֲמִשִּׁים וּמָאתַיִם אִישׁ וַיִּהְיוּ, לְנֵס
יא:  וּבְנֵי-קֹרַח לֹא-מֵתוּ

In the middle of the census, while enumerating the families of Shevet Levi, the Torah reminds us of Korach’s revolt, and mentions that Korach’s sons did not die along with their father and his cohorts.

The Gemara in Sanhedrin 110a says that as Korach’s sons were about to fall into Gehinom, a piece of earth jutted out, caught them, and there they said shira:
ובני קרח לא מתו תנא משום רבינו אמרו מקום נתבצר להם בגיהנם וישבו עליו ואמרו שירה
Chazal interpret shira to mean that they authored/sang perakim in Tehillim.

The Maharsha in his Chidushei Aggadot says that they sang Tehillim 88:

It is a very harsh introspection, and represents perhaps the more classic idea of teshuva; we are in a downward spiral, we have been bad, all hope is lost, we cry out to Hashem for help and mercy.

The Zohar, on the other hand, says that they sang Tehillim 48 – otherwise known as the Shir shel Yom we say every Monday.
At first glance, it appears to be a strange song for Korach’s sons to sing, if their goal was teshuva. It describes the beauty of Yerushalayim, joining together and celebrating, mentioning kings from other nations trembling at the sight of Yerushalayim — this is a starkly different tone than Perek 88. What sort of teshuva is Perek 48??

Rav Taragin suggests that there are (at least) two types of teshuva:
One type is looking very insular, recognizing our wrongdoing and shortcomings of our actions and desires. We acknowledge our human frailties and reach out to Hashem to save us.

A second type of teshuva comes from connecting to the idea of geula and the larger community. The Midrash says that all of Bnei Yisrael’s sins were atoned for at Yam Suf through the singing of Az Yashir. But there are no passages in that shira about any admission of wrongdoing. Rather, the shira is an enthusiastic expression of geula – coming together as a nation to praise Hashem and bursting forth with excitement about entering Eretz Yisrael.

Teshuva isn’t only about retracting inward, but also about expanding our imagination and connecting to something larger than ourselves; joining a larger narrative (in song, at times), stripping away ego and replacing it with selflessness for the betterment of the Jewish people.

Korach and his followers felt they got passed over for leadership positions. As anyone is prone to fall victim to, they got wrapped up in their own personal aspirations, and forgot about the larger arc and national trajectory; they lost sense of the idea of going to Eretz Yisrael to set up a Mikdash; they “forgot” that Hashem knows what He’s doing, and finds the right leaders to carry out His will.

Teshuva requires both (i) moral/personal inventory, and (ii) communal/outward consciousness and sensitivity.

According to the Zohar, the sons of Korach chose the second voice, looked to the holiest place in the world, and eventually merited the ability to serve there as Leviim.
This may be a stretch, but perhaps Perek 48 of Tehillim, in addition to being a form of teshuva for Adat Korach, also addresses and tries to serve as a tikkun for the sin of the Meraglim: Instead of having faith that the land Hashem promised to us could indeed be acquired, the Meraglim were consumed by fear.

The stories are linked in that Adat Korach and the Meraglim both doubted Hashem’s decisions. Korach doubted Hashem’s choice and allocation of leadership, and the Meraglim doubted Hashem’s choice of a proper land. The lack of perspective of the Mergalim, in not remembering Eretz Yisrael’s intrinsic holiness and the promise that Hashem would deliver us there to serve Him, is another kind of example of neglecting the larger arc and trajectory, discussed above. They couldn’t get past their own fears, and the importance and beauty of the Land was lost in their eyes…

The Mergalim’s report includes the word רָאִינוּ three times in reference to the frightening sights that they encountered on their excursion. (Bamidbar 13: 28, 32, 33)

In Tehillim 48, a form of the word רָאה and the same word of רָאִינוּ is used, but the roles and perspectives are reversed:
כִּי הִנֵּה הַמְּלָכִים נוֹעֲדוּ עָבְרוּ יַחְדָּו הֵמָּה רָאוֹ כֵּן תָּמָהוּ נִבְהֲלוּ נֶחְפָּזוּ
Here, the kings of the other nations see Yerushalayim and THEY are the ones trembling with fear.
And finally, the view of what is being “seen” by us, produces an entirely different result:
כַּאֲשֶׁר שָׁמַעְנוּ כֵּן רָאִינוּ בְּעִיר ה’ צְבָאוֹת — the authors of this perek now see clearly the splendor of the land, instead of the shortcomings – that is the tikkun of the Meraglim. We are no longer “like grasshoppers” as the Meraglim described themselves to be, rather we are rejoicing in Yerushalayim’s towers and palaces (סֹבּוּ צִיּוֹן וְהַקִּיפוּהָ סִפְרוּ מִגְדָּלֶיהָ שִׁיתוּ לִבְּכֶם לְחֵילָה פַּסְּגוּ אַרְמְנוֹתֶיהָ) and reveling in Hashem’s enduring strength.

 

B’har

[Based on a shiur given by Rav Moshe Taragin]

On the first passuk in Parshat B’har, Rashi quotes the very famous question posed by Toras Kohanim:
Mai inyan Shmitta eitzel Har Sinai?

What special relevance does the mitzva of Shmitta have that it should be specially noted that it was given on Har Sinai?! All the mitzvot were given on Har Sinai, so what is the highlighting of Shmitta coming to teach us?
The Toras Kohanim answers that this parsha of Shmitta becomes the template to demonstrate other mitzvot. The generalities of mitzvot, and the details of mitzvot, were both given at the same time on Har Sinai. For example with Shmittah, the generality exists in Parshat Mishpatim (22:10-11), and Parshat B’har then goes into the details of Shmitta. Both were given at Har Sinai, to show the importance of the macro and micro significance of the mitzvot. Shmitta is the opportunity to teach us this lesson.
But this concept doesn’t really answer why it was Shmitta of all mitzvot that was chosen as the template. The answer given isn’t about any specific aspects of Shmitta, per se, so why Shmitta of all mitzvot?
A few characteristics and lessons learned from Shmitta that may help answer:

1. Loyalty and adherence over time to the specific rules that direct us toward a general idea or goal :

The concept of Shmitta is a very logical one. Unlike a mitzvah such as Parah Aduma, for example, the reasoning of Shmitta is readily perceptible both agriculturally and socially: It makes sense to give nature a year to replenish itself; to rest the land and allow it to restore itself. Similarly, we can understand the general concept of taking a year to allow those less fortunate to gather food from the fields of those with more to give, thereby restoring some equilibrium to the distribution of wealth among the nation.
Specifically because the general goals of Shmitta are so obvious, the technical rules can be vulnerable to being overlooked or altered. Over time, we may want to get around the rules in order to serve the greater agenda. For example, modern, technological advances have changed some of the limitations on land. One could make the argument that we should alter some of the Shmitta laws; maybe not plant in the seventh year, but fertilize or use bio-engineering or other modern methods of land replenishment. Maybe we should work that seventh year so we can give more to poor people, etc.
It is tempting to get caught up in generalities if they logically make sense, and we might be tempted to make that logical agenda easier to achieve by changing the details.
(Another example Rav Taragin discusses is Shabbos. We can understand the concept of taking a day to spend with family, community. Certain sects within Judaism, however, have taken the position that we should alter things on Shabbos to “enhance” our experience; allowing music so we can enhance our experience of services, or permitting driving so more people can come to synagogue, etc.)
Shmitta teaches strict adherence to details, even when times change. That is Har Sinai. Mitzvot come from Hashem and they are enduring and everlasting. As a general rule, (without the proper Rabbinic authority) we cannot shy away from or alter details to serve a larger purpose.

2. Challenge of delving into the laws of a mitzvah that arises quickly or infrequently:

Shmitta and Yovel only occur once every 7 and 50 years, respectively. It is much easier to immerse ourselves in the study of other mitzvot, which occur or demand our attention more frequently. Teffilin – which are required 6 out of every 7 days – or Shabbos – which occurs once a week – have a greater likelihood of holding our interest and attention.
The challenge of Shmitta is to get us to delve into the laws of something that isn’t necessarily relevant on a daily or weekly basis. It teaches us that the infrequently-occurring laws are just as important as other, more ubiquitous laws dictated to us at Har Sinai.

3. Challenge of delving into the laws of mitzvot that are not immediately performable/achievable:

The Gemara in Keddushin says that 61 years passed from time Bnei Yisrael learned the laws of Shmitta until the time they observed their first Shmittta year. When Bnei Yisrael learned about Shmitta on Har Sinai, they thought they were immediately going into the land, but unfortunately the Meraglim episode delayed entry by 40 years. Nevertheless, they were still expected to maintain the same level of intensity and interest, not only in generalities of Shmitta concepts, but also on a granular level.

We learn Torah – all parts of it – because it is the word of Hashem, not necessarily to implement immediately. We learn about service in the Beis HaMikdash, for example, even though as of this moment we do not have one. Torah is Torah regardless of its potential for immediate application. It is timeless and eternally critical, simply because it is the word of Hashem.

At Sinai, the Jews received all aspects of Torah, including those they would not utilize right away. Despite lacking immediate practical significance, these laws with deferred application, are a part of one complete Torah that was received at Har Sinai.

Finally, the Brisker Rov (Chiddushei HaGriz) explains that mastering the laws of Shmitta is extremely difficult. Its laws are intricate and, on the surface, boring to the casual reader. Ma’amad Har Sinai, by contrast, was full of excitement. The drama and flair of the receiving of the Torah can garner far more interest and demand for elaboration. The bright lights, the “kolos u’vrakim…v’kol shofar” of Ma’amad Har Sinai should be studied with the same care and excitement as the precision we place on Halachic matters. Although some sections of Torah may sometimes seem like high-level bullet points, and other sections like a detailed tax code, l’havdil, it is one Torah, and the excitement and intensity we put forth, should be uniform throughout our study of the Torah’s component parts.

Achrei Mot

[Based on a dvar torah written by R’ David Silverberg on the VBM]

Parshat Acharei-Mot introduces the obligation of kisui ha-dam – covering the blood that spills out of birds or non-domesticated animals, when slaughtering them for consumption:

“And if any Israelite…who hunts down an animal or a bird that may be eaten, he shall pour out its blood and cover it with earth” (17:13).

A few approaches and explanations offered, with regard to the practice of kisui ha-dam:

1. The Rambam, in his Moreh Nevuchim (3:46), consistent with his general approach to mitzvot as intended to negate the pagan practices and beliefs of the ancients, explains the obligation of kisui ha-dam on the basis of the blood rituals reportedly practiced by the ancient pagans. The pagans considered blood to be food of the spirits, and therefore some sects would collect the blood of a slaughtered animal in a receptacle and eat the animal’s meat while sitting around the blood. By doing this, the pagans believed they were forging some sort of camaraderie with the “spirits,” because both the idolaters and the spirits would be feasting at the same time, on the animal and the animal’s blood, respectively.

The prevalence of this practice, according to the Rambam, gave rise to the Torah prohibition against eating blood, as well as to the prominent role of blood-sprinkling in the sacrificial process, which precluded the possibility of ritual gatherings around animal blood. The blood of birds and non-domesticated beasts, which, by and large, were not offered as sacrifices, had to be covered, so as to prevent ceremonial “spirit assemblies” near the site of spilt blood.

2. The Sefer Ha-chinukh (187) explains this obligation as aimed at preserving the refined character of the people. Should one grow accustomed to slaughtering animals and immediately proceed to partake of its meat as the blood remained exposed in a pool on the ground, he may develop a violent, heartless tendencies. Therefore, the Torah required covering the blood as a measure of self-respect and dignity.

3. Rav Shimshon Refael Hirsch similarly follows his general approach of viewing mitzvoth as symbols of the general values and ideals the Torah seeks to promote. Covering animals’ blood, represents the need to distance the animalistic essence from the human being. When we kill an animal for food, there is a risk of blurring the lines between humans and animals. After all, animals kill other animals to eat and survive, and human beings do the same thing. If we begin to think in this way, human beings are relegated into little more than a sophisticated animal participating in the ongoing struggle for survival.In order to reinforce the qualitative difference between man and carnivorous animals, the Torah required refraining from ingesting the blood, and required man to even go a step further and conceal the slaughtered animal’s blood. The Torah writes in this context, “For the life of all flesh – its blood is its life. Therefore I say to the Israelite people: You shall not partake of the blood of any flesh” (17:14).Rav Hirsch explains that in animals, the blood signifies the “life” – the essential component of the organism’s being. Regarding the creation of the human being, by contrast, we are told that Hashem“blew into his nostrils the breath of life” (Bereishit 2:7). Obviously, human beings need blood coursing through our veins to be able to sustain life, but the essence of a human being is his neshama, infused within him at the time of creation. As such, it stands fundamentally apart from the essence of all other living creatures.
Hashem therefore mandated that when the animal body becomes “part of” the human body – when a human being ingests the meat the animal – the “life” of the animal, represented by the blood, be distanced from the “life” – the internal soul – of the human being. The blood is mixed with earth, symbolic of its belonging to the same class as the earth, namely the source of the physical component of man (“The Lord G-d formed man from the dust of the earth” – B’reishit 2:7). The human being is thus reminded that the animal’s essence ranks together with the human’s external, physical existence, for only the human being possesses a unique divine strength and inspiration that elevates him above the rest of creation.

In trying to connect this to the upcoming Pesach holiday and a nice idea for the Seder, I was reminded of an idea I heard from Rav Moshe Taragin –
The Korban Pesach was a blend of being a Korban for Hashem, as well as food for us to consume on the night of Yetziat Mitzrayim.

What is the significance of the blood of the lamb that was to be applied to the doorpost? The simple reading is that it was a sign for Hashem to identify the Jewish homes.
The Gemara in Psachim mentions another purpose, and says blood on the doorpost was zrikas hadam. According to the general laws of karbanot, since a lamb is a domesticated animal, its blood is not covered, rather it is elevated by being sprinkled on the Mizbeach. The Korban Pesach was the first korban of an entire nation, but we didn’t have a Mizbeach! How could there be a sacrifice with no Mizbeach?? He answers that the first Mizbeach was the doorposts — the home. So the home is a specifically a place for serving Hashem. We don’t only serve Hashem in a synagogue or Beis Medrash, rather we also serve Him with family in the home. Clearly, the home and the family unit (immediate and communal) are key elements of Leil HaSeder.

At the moment of the Jewish people becoming the Jewish nation, we highlight the importance of our difference from the animal kingdom – and the ideal of being controlled by our neshamot, rather than our physical, animalistic composition – and we elevate our homes into a Mikdash Me’at and a place ofavodas Hashem. In trying to mimic that first Seder night, we hopefully turn our own homes on Pesach (as a model for the rest of the year) into a place for family gathering, divrei torah, avodas Hashem andsimchas yomtov.

Vayakhel

[Based on a shiur given by Rav Moshe Taragin]

The first perek of Parshat Vayakhel can be roughly broken into 3 sections:
1. Psukim 1-3: Moshe gathers the entire nation and discusses Shabbos.
2. Psukim 4-20: Moshe speaks to the entire nation and gives them instructions on gathering items for the Mishkan and what would need to be built. (end of Rishon)
3. Psukim 21-35: The actual Mishkan process begins; details of the actual logistics and carrying out of the instructions for constructing the Mishkan.

An easily “overlooked” passuk is verse 20:

כ  וַיֵּצְאוּ כָּל עֲדַת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל מִלִּפְנֵי מֹשֶׁה And all the congregation of the children of Israel departed from the presence of Moses.

…Obviously Bnei Yisrael were not going to be doing the actual building in the exact same place where the instructions were given. In order to gather the materials for the Mishkan and execute the instructions, they would first have to physically leave Moshe’s tent! It seems like a very technical passuk – they had to leave Moshe’s tent in order to go get the items for the Mishkan – so why do we need it? What is message of vayeitzu kol adas B’nei Yisrael?

Rav Taragin offers 3 possible answers:
1. Eagerness and Relief: The Midrash says the exit was a combination of eagerness and cathartic joy that they were brought back into Hashem’s and Moshe’s good graces after the Cheit Ha’Eigel. No more mask on Moshe – he was now accessible and communicative with them.
The Midrash says: “k’shenisbasru Yisrael b’mechilas oso ha’avon, samchu simcha yeseraih v’yatzu b’zrizus” — When Bnei Yisrael heard that they were absolved of the sin [of the Golden Calf], they had tremendous joy and exited with fervor/excitement. They channeled their relief and joy into positive, creative energy. There are moments in life we feel we’ve been spared or been granted something magnificent. We take this new-found relief and joy and try to use it to propel ourselves to new heights.

2. Unity, attained (2 types): Encountering Hashem is experienced most acutely through the collective. We are most effective when we are together (hence the gathering of ALL of Bnei Yisrael to build the Mishkan, and the concept of a minyan, importance of community, b’rov Am hadras Melech, etc.). But there are two ways of becoming a collective unit:

a) Unification by a skilled leader: During and after the Cheit Ha’Eigel there was a great deal of disunity among the nation; disunity between Shevet Levi (non-transgressors) and the rest of Bnei Yisrael, between the women (also non-transgressors) and the men, the consequences of the killing of Chur, etc. The incredible strength of Moshe’s personality, was that he was able to unite the entirenation. This occurs in the first 19 psukim of Perek 35. And then comes verse 20…

b) Unification through realization of commonality and shared goals: Verse 20 says that Bnei Yisrael left “mi’lifnei Moshe” – they all departed from the presence of Moshe. That is to say, they all decided to go out together “despite” Moshe, so to speak. The project assigned to them of building the Mishkan, created a unified spirit. With this goal in mind, they no longer needed to be held together quite so firmly by the strength of an individual. (This should not be taken as a diminishing of Moshe, chas v’shalom, rather a commentary on how Moshe “put them back together” and gave them a collective mission, which allowed them to move forward as a unit). The internal unity of common interest and agenda is arguably stronger and more enduring than unity borne out from the imposed charisma of a leader.

3. Empowerment to the people (through building): The Torah’s inclusion of Bnei Yisrael walking away from Moshe is a metaphor for taking their newly acquired sense of power and purpose, which was just bestowed upon them:
Bnei Yisrael needed Moshe more than ever in Parshat Ki Tissa and the Golden Calf episode. Part of why Moshe’s name is absent from Parshat Tetzaveh is to contrast it with his towering presence in Ki Tissa, where he “defies” Hashem’s threats, davens relentlessly, doesn’t eat drink or sleep on Har Sinai, he comes down the mountain with his face is shining brightly, etc. He achieves tremendous heights at a time Bnei Yisrael needed him in the worst way.
How do you deliver self-respect back to the people, in an empowering way, without fostering a dependence and a feeling that only the great Moshe could build a house for Hashem? How do you make them not feel small and ashamed?
Moshe appoints Betzalel and Ohaliav. He empowers all men and women to contribute toward the Mishkan and assist in its construction. He activates people, giving them autonomy, and important roles, thus gives them back their dignity and confidence. This is especially critical for a ba’al cheit – to not suppress a sinner in his/her fragility and futility.
Moshe downgrades himself, in a sense, taking a less central role in building the Mishkan, and empowers the nation. He takes a shattered people and rebuilds their unity and allows them to recognize and exercise their talents and confidence, which sustains itself long after they’ve “departed” and walked away from the presence of their leader. THEY build the Mishkan, and this is one of the crowning achievements of Moshe Rabbeinu. After the nation’s most damaging collective sin, he is able to do what is needed to prop them back up to re-assume the role of the Chosen people of HKBH.

Obviously, there are many links between Shabbos and the Mishkan. I would like to suggest that this last idea connects to the first section of the chapter, regarding the observance of Shabbos: We are instructed in psukim 1-3 to work for 6 days, to stop on the 7th day because it’s kodesh, and not to kindle a flame on Shabbos.
The Chasam Sofer explains that when the passuk states, “Six days you shall do your work”, it is teaching us that it is our duty during the six days of the work week to kindle a flame of devotion to Hashem by engaging in Torah study and serving Hashem with fervor… “But the seventh day shall be holy for you, a day of complete rest for Hashem”– so that come Shabbos, this flame of spiritual fervor will blaze on its own. The Torah concludes: “You shall not kindle fire in any of your dwellings on the Sabbath day.” The Torah is telling us not to wait until Shabbos to kindle this flame of spiritual fervor; rather, begin to kindle this flame during the six weekdays. We can’t expect to gain the full potential of d’veikus with Hashem that Shabbos is supposed to bring, unless we make Hashem a part of our lives during the rest of the week. L’havdil, we would never rush into the palace of a king of basar v’dam having given no thought to the visit, so kal vachomer we shouldn’t show up to the palace of the Melech Malchei Hamlachim, without making proper hachanos.
Every day we say at the end of davening, “hayom yom X b’shabbat.” On a daily basis we try to draw down the kedusha of shabbos, but really it’s a two-way street; ouractions during the week influence our Shabbos, and an ideal-Shabbos will hopefully influence our week. By properly utilizing the 6 other days of the week, we have the power to make the occurence of Shabbos even greater.

This is true as we prepare in the days leading up to Shabbos, and certainly on Shabbos itself. The central commandments of Shabbos are Zachor and Shamor. I think that they reflect the power of what Hashem did during the first 7 days of Creation and every day since, on the one hand, and what we are empowered to do with our observance of Shabbos, as well:

Zachor: Stopping to remember that Hashem created the world for 6 days, and then rested. It is a commemoration of what Hashem did during the 6+1 days of Creation, which we try to emulate. There are countless aspects of the world to marvel at, and so much about the power of creation to inspire us, yet there is also something wonderful about taking a day to stop creating. So we try to remember this and the lessons of Creation. It seems to me, however, that this is slightly more passive than Shamor. The 7th day of the week is going to come no matter what; Shabbos occurs regardless of our remembrance. But its mere occurrence is only one piece of Shabbos.

Shamor: Our active role in observing and enjoying Shabbos. As we say, Yismichu b’malchuscha, Shomrei Shabbat v’korei oneg am mekadshei shevi’i – we are given an active part in sanctifying Shabbos, just as Hashem and Moshe gave Bnei Yisrael a key role in the construction of the Mishkan. Shabbos is about so much more than eating, taking naps and being mindful of all the things we can’t do. We are empowered to elevate the day of Shabbos through our actions (teffilaTalmud Torah, appreciation of what we have, dibuk chaveirim, etc.) and observance, and hopefully merit to use each passing week to enhance the week to come.

Terumah

[Based on a combination of ma’amarim from the sefer, Imrei Baruch: Terumah, ma’amarim ה and ז ]

One of many lessons that can be learned from the Kruvim, described in this week’s Parsha, is the importance of respecting differing method of avodas Hashem.
As an intro, there is a relevant question asked by Rav Yaakov Kaminetsky zt”l: Why was the institution of the flags for each tribe, described in detail in Parshat Bamidbar, not incorporated until the second year from when BNY left Egypt?

He answers, that the unique tribal flags could only exist properly after the Mishkan was erected. Each shevet had its own way of serving Hashem. The Ramban explains that the reason the Torah lists out every Nasi from every shevet and the korban each one brought for the Channukat HaMizbeach, despite the fact that all the korbanot for each Nasi were exactly the same in form, is because each one had a slightly differentkavana when they brought the korban. For example, the Nasi of Yehuda had kavanaregarding kingship; Yissachar for Torah study; Zevulun for commerce, etc.  Each tribe served Hashem in different ways and using different skills and traits.

Hashem knew that it would be dangerous to divide the tribes under different flags/colors before a centralized symbol of service of Hashem was established. And along came the Mishkan to fill that role, in Nissan of the second year. Before the Mishkan, a brand new nation, partitioned under 12 different flags could easily slip into quarreling and fighting over which shevet’s method, motto or style was the correct way of serving Hashem. Once the Mishkan was in place, however – serving as a reminder to every member of every shevet that the key to how they lived was to follow the word of Hashem and serve Him – then it was safe for the shvatim to begin identifying themselves by their own unique style. They could do this while always keeping in mind the broad national responsibility and loyalty. Symbolic of this equality, is the fact that the tribes set up their flags in a circle around the Mishkan, with no preferential treatment.

Two features of the Kruvim demonstrate this idea of the importance of respecting methods of avodas Hashem that may differ from our personal style:

1. The Kruvim faced each other: Shmot 25:20 says:

וְהָיוּ הַכְּרֻבִים פֹּרְשֵׂי כְנָפַיִם לְמַעְלָה סֹכְכִים בְּכַנְפֵיהֶם עַל-הַכַּפֹּרֶת
וּפְנֵיהֶם אִישׁ אֶל-אָחִיו אֶל הַכַּפֹּרֶת יִהְיוּ פְּנֵי הַכְּרֻבִים

And the cherubim shall spread out their wings on high, screening the ark-cover with their wings, with their faces one to another; toward the ark-cover shall the faces of the cherubim be.

Facing each other is a sign of respect, and acknowledgment that each person canlearn from the other. Furthermore, the Kruvim were placed in the Kodesh HaKedashim,which was covered with the skins of very special animals: Shmot 26:14:
עֹרֹת תְּחָשִׁים מִלְמָעְלָה

Rashi explains that the techash was a type of animal that only existed during the time of the Mishkan, and its skin was full of many colors. The colorful skin of the techashsignifies the many ways one can properly serve Hashem.

2. The Kruvim had the faces of children: a sign of innocence, free of any concept of competition, grandeur or entitlement.

…So how can we achieve this level of respect for our fellow Jews and ovdei Hashem? One suggestion is to follow the famous maxim in Pirkei Avos 1:6: “Yehoshua ben Perachya omer – Asei lecha Rav v’kanei lecha chaveir. V’havei dan et kol adam l’kaf zechut.”

What is the connection between (i) getting for yourself a Rav and a friend, and (ii) giving people the benefit of the doubt?
If you don’t give people the benefit of the doubt, then you’ll think that person is acting improperly and want to divorce yourself from them. There may be times that your Rav or your friend is doing something that doesn’t seem correct. In fact, there are times when they may actually be incorrect. But don’t think that your friend has to always be perfect, or that they must do exactly as you do in order to be worthy of your respect.  Don’t think that we are in a place to judge.  Rabbi Sacks, in his Letters to the Next Generation, writes, Be very slow indeed to judge others. If they are wrong, G-d will judge them. If we are wrong, G-d will judge us…Always seek out the friendship of those who are strong where you are weak. None of us has all the virtues. Even a Moses needed an Aaron. The work of a team, a partnership, a collaboration with others who have different gifts or different ways of looking at things, is always greater than any one individual can achieve alone… The righteous see the good in people; the self-righteous see the bad.”

If there is mutual respect among us, then we put ourselves in the greatest position to learn and grow from one another.

—————————————————

[Based on a shiur given by Rav Moshe Taragin]

One of the most famous psukim about the Torah is found in Parshat V’zot Ha’bracha:
Devarim 33:4:

תּוֹרָה צִוָּה לָנוּ מֹשֶׁה מוֹרָשָׁה קְהִלַּת יַעֲקֹב

Pretty straightforward concept that Hahsem commanded the Torah to Moshe. The ambiguous word is morasha — what exactly does that mean and why is Torah described in that way?

Morasha is usually translated as inheritance, legacy, province.

This passuk, written at the very end of the Torah, is discussed in detail in Medrash Rabbah in Terumah.
To give some context to the discussion of this passuk from another parsha within Parshat Terumah, it is important to note that Parshat Terumah is actually chronologically out of order, and to highlight why that might be: The collection for the Mishkan was a kaparah for the Eigel HaZahav. This atonement is therefore done afterthe Eigel in Parshat Ki Tissa. So Terumah is juxtaposed to Matan Torah for a reason…

The Ramban explains that building the Mishkan and the concept of the everyday rituals is a continuation of Har Sinai. We transition from grandiose experience of Sinai to the everyday observance of Halacha. Religion is not all fireworks and dramatic revelations.

So the Torah puts Terumah and the Mishkan here, right after Yitro and Mishpatim, to teach us about the different roles of Torah – the grand and the everyday.

Chazal, therefore, use this opportunity to invoke Torah tziva lanu Moshe, and teach us about another characteristic (or two) about the nature of Torah…

The Midrash says: Al tikri morasha, elah me’orasah =
Our relationship to Torah and Hashem is a marriage. The concept of a romantic, martial relationship with Torah and Hashem is found in many places.
In the same exact Midrash, it says on our passuk: “Al tikri morasha elah yerusha“…

So which one is it? Is Torah an inheritance or a marriage??
If anything, the concepts of an inheritance and a marriage are in opposition to one another – one is handed to you (unless you’re into the prearranged marriage thing, in which case both are handed to you); the other is a romantic pursuit, full of excitement and initiative!?!

The answer is that Torah encapsulates both. The Torah has been handed down to us (yerusha), but we also each find our own passionate chelek in Torah.

Speaking to the yerusha aspect: Part of religion is the wisdom to accept certain truths. We can’t self-intuit everything. We can’t say: I only believe in what I can rationally prove. Some things are handed down, and, as G-d fearing and believing Jews, we simply accept as true. To quote Rabbi Sacks, “faith is not a certainty; it is the courage to live with uncertainty.”
There is nothing intellectually weak or lacking by adhering to the concept that we cant know or prove everything.

Of course there is a tremendous amount of intellect and introspection demanded in Judaism as well – and that is the romantic piece; finding personal ways the Torah speaks to us, hopefully every day of our lives.

“Reishis chochmah yiras Hashem” – To be pious, you need to be intelligent; and to be intelligent you have to be wise enough to understand the limits of human intellect. That is the dual nature of our religion.

To further elaborate on the yerusha aspect, the Midrash brings a parable of a prince who is captured at a young age, and raised by barbarians. He returns to his kingdom after many years and isn’t shy about staking a claim to his rightful throne. The words in the Midrash are: “L’yerushas avosai ani chozeir” – I am returning to the inheritance of my forefathers.

The nimshal is that no matter how far you wander, you can come back and not be embarrassed. It is yours and you can always return.

Inheritance and romance are both necessary aspects of Torah and religion. The message to the most religious and least affiliated Jew is the same: recognize that you are grounded in Torah with a chelek elokah mima’al (“neshama sheh’nattata bi tehora hee” as we say every morning), and no matter how far we wander or how often we stumble, we cannot lose that anchoring.

Shabbat Shalom and a Gut Rosh Chodesh Adar.