Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Tetzaveh by Reb Oizer

Parsha Potpourri
Parshas Tetzaveh – Vol. 2, Issue 15
Compiled by Oizer Alport

ואתה תצוה את בני ישראל ויקחו אליך שמן זית זך כתית למאור להעלת נר תמיד (27:20)
As our verse discusses the use of olive oil for the menorah in the Beis HaMikdash, the Medrash (Shemos Rabbah 36:1) expounds upon a verse in Yirmiyahu (11:16) in which the prophet compares the Jewish people to olives. One explanation of the Medrash is that just as olive oil is unique in that it remains completely separate and rises to the top when combined with any other liquid, similarly the Jews will always remain distinct from their non-Jewish neighbors and will be superior to them as long they perform Hashem’s will.
In his commentary to a very similar Medrash (Shir HaShirim Rabbah 1:21), the Y’dei Moshe quotes a fascinating legal ruling which he heard from the Rav of Krakow, who was his brother-in-law. The Medrash states that olive oil will rise to the top when mixed with every משקה (liquid) in the world.
However, when he mixed it with whiskey, he found that the olive oil actually settled to the bottom. In order to resolve this scientific challenge to the words of the Medrash, we are forced to conclude that whiskey is not legally considered a liquid, and as a result one shouldn’t use whiskey to make Kiddush on Shabbos day, which must be recited over a “liquid!” (See however Machatzis HaShekel Orach Chaim 272:6 who quotes this opinion and concludes that it is inappropriate to derive legal rulings from Aggadic sources; additionally, highly unscientific tests seem to contradict his claims about the result of mixing whiskey with olive oil.)

ועשית בגדי קדש לאהרן אחיך לכבוד ולתפארת (28:2)
Rav Yitzchok Hutner once related that while studying in Slabodka, he often heard America referred to as the “goldeneh medina..” Lliving in the poverty that was rampant in Eastern Europe at that time, he couldn’t even begin to imagine the wealth and excess being referred to. Even upon arriving at America’s shores, he and all of the immigrants with whom he associated continued living under very simple and modest conditions. Hearing everybody complain about the difficulty in finding a job which paid a decent salary and allowed a person to respect his religious traditions, Rav Hutner remained cynical about the reports that America was a country where money was the most precious commodity and dollars rolled through the streets.
One day, that all changed. Rav Hutner was walking down a Brooklyn street during the week of Parshas Tetzaveh, and he observed two small Jewish boys playing ball in front of their house. The older of the two was regaling his younger brother with all that he had learned from his Rebbe about the lofty role of the Kohen Gadol – his eight beautiful garments, made to invoke glory and splendor; the sacrifices he was able to bring daily in the Beis HaMikdash; and of course, his unique role in effecting atonement for the entire Jewish people once annually, on the holiest day of the year in the holiest place on earth. The young boy listened with interest and fascination, envisioning the action transpiring before his very eyes. He paused to take it all in and digest it before asking … “Tell me, what do you think his annual salary was?” Sadly, Rav Hutner would say later that he had finally been welcomed to the goldeneh medina!

והיה על אהרן לשרת ונשמע קולו בבאו אל הקדש לפני ד' ובצאתו ולא ימות (28:35)
The Gemora in Pesachim (112a) relates that Rabbi Akiva gave seven commands to his son Rabbi Yehoshua. One of them was that he shouldn’t enter his house suddenly and unexpectedly. In his commentary on the Gemora, the Rashbam quotes a Medrash which relates that whenever he approached his home, Rabbi Yochanan would intentionally make noise so as to alert anybody who may be inside to his imminent arrival.
Rabbi Yochanan explained his actions based on our verse, which states that the Kohen Gadol must have bells on the hem of his Me’il (Robe) in order that the sound announcing his entrance should be heard whenever he entered Hashem’s Sanctuary.
Rav Shmaryahu Arieli questions how an individual person, even one as great as Rabbi Yochanan or Rabbi Akiva, could derive guidelines for proper conduct from the Torah’s rules for the Kohen Gadol, who was subject to special stringencies due to the sanctity of the Temple in which he served?
Rav Arieli quotes the Gemora in Sotah (17a), which teaches that if a husband and wife dwell together in peace and harmony, the Shechina (Divine Presence) will rest between them and fill their house with an atmosphere of Holiness. If so, we can understand that any man with a successful marriage must recognize that the Shechina resides in his house and conduct himself just as the Kohen Gadol did.
Lest one think that these lofty levels were only for previous generations, a modern-day example of such behavior can be found in a beautiful story involving Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach. Somebody was once discussing an important issue with Rav Shlomo Zalman on his way home. As they walked through the streets of Jerusalem, Rav Shlomo Zalman suddenly paused to straighten and clean his clothes.
As his clothing didn’t appear disheveled to begin with, the man inquired as to the cause of the Rav’s actions. The saintly Rav replied that he had been blessed for decades to live in peace and tranquility with his wonderful, loving wife, and they were therefore fortunate to feel Hashem as a regular presence in their home. As they were turning the block to approach his house, he felt compelled to ensure that his appearance would be appropriate for the important Guest he was about to greet!
In light of such daily behavior, it shouldn’t be surprising to conclude by mentioning that at the funeral of his beloved wife and lifelong partner Rebbetzin Chaya Rivkah, the normally humble Rav Shlomo Zalman announced that it is customary that at the funeral of one’s spouse, he should ask forgiveness from the deceased for anything he may have done or said that caused pain in any way.
However, Rav Shlomo Zalman continued, “I have no need to do so, for I can say with complete confidence that in almost 54 years of marriage, I never once upset or hurt her in any way, and there is nothing for which I need to ask her forgiveness.”
Although marriage brings its daily challenges for even the most compatible of spouses, let us learn to overcome them by viewing our efforts to keep the peace as bringing the Divine presence into our homes, thereby turning ourselves into High Priests who serve Hashem every time we enter our homes and instill an atmosphere or happiness and harmony.

שבעת ימים ילבשם הכהן תחתיו מבניו אשר יבא אל אהל מועד לשרת בקדש (29:30)
A controversy once broke out when the Rav of a small town in Europe passed away. The leaders of the community wanted to appoint an outsider to take his place, while some of the Rav’s sons argued that they were suited for the position and deserved precedence as the “inheritors” of their deceased father. They agreed to bring the dispute to the Chofetz Chaim for resolution.
The Chofetz Chaim began by agreeing that Jewish law recognizes that all religious positions, including Rabbinical appointments, are subject to be inherited by the offspring of the deceased. However, the Gemora in Yoma (72b) distinguishes between the son of the Kohen Gadol, who may inherit his father’s purely religious position, and the son of the Kohen Meshuach Milchama (the Kohen who leads the Jews to battle), who may not. Because the latter position is uniquely intended for a man of war and is not purely a religious function, the fact that somebody was suited to the role is irrelevant to his son’s capacity to inherit and fill the role.
Similarly, it was once true that the function of the Rav of a community was purely religious in nature – to render legal rulings and to teach the people – and his children were legally entitled to be offered the position before other candidates were considered.
However, the Chofetz Chaim continued, this has unfortunately changed due to the assault of the reform and communist movements on traditional religious standards and values. As a result, the role of the Rav has been transformed into that of a general leading his troops into a fierce battle, regarding which the Gemora rules that the children are not entitled to automatic precedence in inheriting and filling the position of the deceased Rav!
זכור את אשר עשה לך עמלק בדרך בצאתכם ממצרים (דברים 25:17)
The Kli Yakar writes (Shemos 17:8) that in relating that Amalek attacked the Jewish people in Refidim, the Torah is hinting to the source of their ability to have any power over the Jews. As long as the Jewish nation is in a state of internal unity, Amalek has no ability to harm them. Refidim (רפידם) contains within it the letters which form the root of the word פירוד – separation – hinting to the fact that when the Jews encamped there, they were stricken by strife and discord (see Rashi Shemos 19:2).
The Chiddushei HaRim suggests that this is alluded to by the Torah’s emphasis on remembering what Hashem did לך – to (the singular) you, as Amalek holds no sway over a united Jewish nation. Rashi writes (Devorim 25:18) that Amalek struck at those who had been expelled by the Clouds of Glory from the Jewish camp as a result of their sins. Those individuals didn’t enjoy the merit of being part of the community, and they were therefore susceptible to Amalek’s attacks.
Haman, who was descended from Amalek, learned this lesson from his ancestors. The Sfas Emes notes that Haman described to Achashverosh (Esther 3:8) his desire to eradicate an עם מפוזר ומפורד. Literally, he described the Jews as a people who are scattered and dispersed around the world, but this may also be understood as a nation of people are who separated from one another and lacking in unity.
The Shelah HaKadosh writes that recognizing the true source of Haman’s power, Esther immediately began efforts to unify the nation, instructing Mordechai (Esther 4:16) go gather together all of the Jews, not just physically but also symbolically. Not surprisingly, it was this national togetherness which prevailed, as is memorialized in the well-known song Shoshanas Yaakov צהלה ושמחה בראותם יחד תכלת מרדכי – the Jewish nation was cheerful and glad when they saw together that Mordechai was robed in royal blue – a lesson which should inspire us to new levels of feeling a sense of community and togetherness with our fellow Jews in these difficult times for our people.

Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):

1) Hashem told Moshe (27:20) to command the Jewish people to take pure olive oil in order to light the menorah. Is it also preferable to use olive oil instead of candles to light one’s Shabbos candles? (Mishnah Berurah 264:23, Pri Megodim Aishel Avrohom 264:12, Aruch HaShulchan Orach Chaim 264, Dibros Moshe Shabbos Chapter 2 Ha’arah 23, Shu”t Az Nidb’ru 3:4)
2) Hashem told Moshe (28:3) to instruct the “wise of heart” to make garments for Aharon. Hashem later added (31:6) that He had placed wisdom into the hearts of those are wise to allow them to do so. From this latter verse the Gemora in Berachos (55a) derives that Hashem only gives wisdom to one who already possesses it. How did these wise-hearted individuals escape the apparent catch-22, and from where did they attain their initial wisdom? (Baal HaTurim 28:3, Nefesh HaChaim 4:5, Sichos Mussar 5733:2, Shiras Dovid)
3) The Gemora in Yoma (9b) states that the first Temple was destroyed for the sin of idol-worship. As the Gemora in Zevochim (88b) states that the ephod (28:6-12) atoned for the sin of idolatry, how could the Beis HaMikdash be destroyed for a sin for which the ephod effected atonement? (Shavuos 7b, Tosefos Sanhedrin 37b, Rav Chaim Kanievsky quoted in M’rafsin Igri)
4) As the Me’il was a four-cornered garment, why wasn’t the Kohen Gadol required to place tzitzis on its corners? (Minchas Chinuch 99:4, Shu”t Doveiv Meishorim 3:16, Chavatzeles HaSharon)
5) Why was there a need for two different altars in the Mishkan? (Kli Yakar, Taam V’Daas)
6) Rashi writes (Devorim 25:19) that in order to completely blot out the memory of Amalek, a person must also destroy the possessions of the Amalekites so that their name shouldn’t be mentioned in conjunction with the item. How was Esther permitted to accept the house of Haman (Esther 8:1), who was descended from Amalek (Targum Sheini Esther 3:1), instead of insisting upon its destruction? (Rav Yerucham Perlow on Smag Aseh 59, Chavatzeles HaSharon)

© 2007 by Oizer Alport. Permission is granted to reproduce and distribute as long as credit is given. To receive weekly via email or to send comments or suggestions, write to parshapotpourri@optonline.net

Purim by Reb Jay


At the time of Kabalas HaTorah, Bnei Yisroel stood at the foot of the mountain. Rav Avdimi Bar Chama Bar Chasa says this teaches that Hashem held the mountain over the Jewish people and said to them: “If you accept the Torah, good. If not, this shall be your burial place”. Rav Acha Bar Yaakov says we see from here that the acceptance of the Torah was coerced. Rava says it was reaccepted (willingly) in the days of Achashverosh, as it is written Kimu V’kiblu (Shabbos 88a).

What is the implication of Kimu V’kiblu? That when Klal Yisroel accepted the mitzvos of Purim upon themselves, this shows that they willingly accepted the Torah, albeit 1300 years later (the Maharal writes that the trepidation of Klal Yisroel in accepting the Torah was regarding the Oral Law; thus by accepting these mitzvos which had been decreed by the Rabanan, they were showing their acceptance of the Oral Law).

However, the Gemara in Shabbos (14b) states that Shlomo HaMelech instituted the mitzvos of eruvin and netilas yadayim. Therefore, Klal Yisroel already accepted upon themselves mitzvos d’rabanan, so why doesn’t the Gemara say that they reaccepted the Torah (willingly) in the days of Shlomo HaMelech? What is unique about Purim?

The Miracle of Purim occurred between the first and second Beis Hamikdash. This was a time of unprecedented change for Klal Yisroel. To go from having a Beis Hamikdash, to having it destroyed was a potentially a devastating loss that could lead to tremendous despair. People could think that the relationship between Hashem and Klal Yisroel had now ended. Klal Yisroel was in a transition period from Ha’aras Panim (seeing Hashem’s “face” kaviyachol) to Hastaras Panim--the hiding of Hashem’s “face” (in fact, soon after the Miracle of Purim, the gift of prophecy was lost--Yoma 9b). It was in this framework that the Miracle of Purim occurred.

Megillas Esther is unique in that the name of Hashem is never mentioned openly. The meforshim explain that this is to teach us that just as Hashem effects salvation for us through open miracles above nature--l’maaleh min hateva (i.e,Pesach), He also effects salvation for us within nature (i.e, Purim). The Miracle of Purim was a gift to enable us to understand this concept.

When Klal Yisroel said Kimu V’kiblu and willingly accepted these mitzvos, it was more than the mitzvos they were accepting. Klal Yisroel was accepting the hashgacha of the Ribono Shel Olam, even B’hastaras panim.

In order to understand this, we must first understand the dilemma posed by the aforementioned Gemara in Shabbos. It says in the Parshas Mishpatim that when Klal Yisroel accepted the Torah, they said na’aseh v’nishma--we will do and we will listen, thus implying they fully accepted the Torah willingly. Yet the Gemara mentioned here says Hashem had to hold the mountain over their heads in order to make them accept it. There are many answers to this apparent contradiction. One answer is that Hashem did not literally hold the mountain over their heads. However, by virtue of what Klal Yisroel experienced at Har Sinai--this unprecedented closeness with Hashem--it is as if He held a mountain over their heads. Klal Yisroel lost their Free will because of their proximity to Hashem (the Ramban learns that Malachim have a degree of free will, but they are unable to manifest it, due to their closeness with Hashem).

It was only during the days of Purim that they reaccepted the Torah willingly. When Klal Yisroel saw that even at a time of hastaras panim--when Hashem seemingly turns His face away from us--there is still hashgacha, that He is still guiding us. It was to this hashgacha, and to the mitzvas hayom of Purim that Klal Yisroel said Kimu V’kiblu--we will fulfill and we accept.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Terumah by Reb Jay

In this week’s parsha, the Jewish people are commanded to build the Mishkan (tabernacle): “They shall make a sanctuary for Me, so that I may dwell amongst them” (Shemos 25:8).

Then instructions are given on building different vessels which would be inside the Mishkan, starting with the Aron (which would hold in it the Tablets which Moshe received at Sinai): “They shall make an ark of shittim wood” (Shemos 25:10). After the Aron, commands are given to build the Keruvim, the Shulchan and the Menorah. Only after this are the detailed instructions given for how to build the Mishkan itself, its covering, its walls etc.

If the Mishkan was intended to have been built first, why were the specifications given for the ark first? And when Moshe gave over the instructions to Betzalel the son of Uri, who had been appointed to build the Mishkan, he told him to first build the ark, then build the Mishkan. Betzalel correctly deduced that first the house is built in which the “furniture” will be placed (Meseches Brochos 55a). Why would Moshe deviate from the order given to him by Hashem?

In Judaism, spiritual acts and instructions often have as much significance as physical ones do. Even though the physical construction of the Tabernacle was to take place before the construction of the ark, because the ark housed the Torah it was the focal point of the Tabernacle. So the first mention was of the Tabernacle, as that was to be the first tangible thing to be built. But the specifications were given first for the ark, because the ark is the purpose of the tabernacle not vice versa.

The Mishkan was built as an equal to the world (Midrash Rabbah Bamidbar), a world of compressed spirituality, a place where Hashem’s presence could dwell in this world. The Torah was the impetus and the blueprint for the world: “Hashem looked in the Torah and created the world” (Zohar HaKadosh Parshas Terumah). So just as in the Mishkan, on a spiritual level, the ark preceded the Mishkan, as the raison d'être of the Mishkan was to be the ark, so too the Torah preceded the world, as the raison d'être of the world is the Torah.

What does it mean the Torah predates the world? The concepts listed in the Torah are not subject to the constraints of time. True, there are certain commandments at the present time which are not in practice, such as the laws of the Karbanos, and the laws relating to a king. This is not because these laws are no longer relevant, but rather, we lack the necessary means to fulfill them.

The idea that the Torah is older than the world itself forces us to confront reality in a completely different fashion. Instead of trying to see and understand the Torah through the glasses of contemporary mores, we must view contemporary reality through the spectrum of the Torah.

One of the biggest challenges to being a Jew in our society is the problem that very often our views will conflict with the New York Times, G-d forbid.

The perspective of the Torah is the perspective of Hashem. A perspective not clouded by changing views.

We must remember to view the Torah from this perspective, and when we do so, we will see the wonder of the Torah, that it is truly timeless.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Yisro by Ivaylo

This week's Torah portion touches a live nerve deep within my own soul. Much akin to Moses' father-in-law, my personal path to spirituality has been anything but straight and narrow. Born, raised, and indoctrinated behind the Iron Curtain, the chances of discovering a faith, any faith, were somewhere between slim and none. Yet, I am here to tell You - if I could do it, against all odds, so can You.
At the age of thirteen or so, I was awoken in the middle of the night by an unusual dream - an image of a word had been emblazoned deep in my mind's eye. The word, which at that age I did not know the definition of, was "EMANATION." That is how my search for truth commenced. Looking back, sometimes I wish that there was some sort of explanation attached to it, something to push me towards Judaism even then. But it was not meant to be, I had to pass through years of trials, tribulations, twists, turns and a myriad of dead ends, to finally make it where I stand today.
The sages teach us that when we are introduced to a spiritual concept that is true, it resonates within our soul, and we know it is absolutely true, even if we are unable to prove it in any tangible fashion. That is how I feel about Judaism. The sources tell of an angel who teaches the entire Torah to every child in the womb, and when the child is born the angel causes the child to forget it by gifting it with speech. On a personal note, Torah learning for me feels like remembering, rather than learning anew. It is said that the souls of the generations of Israel, as well as the souls of all future converts were present at Mt. Sinal. Again I feel, I know, that I was there, and the experience at Mt. Sinai is inside my own heart.
Where Yitro and I differ, however is at the historical backdrop in which we join the Jewish people. A spiritual giant of a man, Yitro heard what G-d had done for the Jewish people and hurried over to embrace their faith. Things could not be better for the Jews, and becoming one carried certain intrinsic benefits. As for myself, you don't need many examples from our day and age to prove you that as Jews, we are fighting an uphill battle. So why make life harder than it already is?
My father, may G-d have mercy on his soul, did not relate to my understanding of spirituality. An atheist to the bone, he viewed my journey as a waste of time and energy. My mother, a nominal Christian, supports my actions, as she feels in her heart that this is not a choice I have made - this is who I am.
What about you? Do you know who you are? Do you know what you are doing here?
The answers to all these questions, and more are to be found in Torah. Study, learn, help others learn, do the mitzvahs that's what I feel defines our existence. Moreover, if you are doing what you are supposed to be doing, if you are fulfilling your mission, your soul reverberates with joy, and you are truly happy to serve Hashem.

Ivaylo V. Stanev

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Yisro by Rabbi Naftali Ganzweig

וישמע יתרו כהן מדין
R’ Leibel Eiger says that the background of Yisro (and his résumé) as an introduction to the giving of the Torah is to teach us that anyone searching for the truth shall not be discouraged from trials, trivia’s and past experiences and one shall always hope for salvation. Yisro who was so far from the truth born and bred to idolatry merited to come close to Hashem, surely a Jew can hope for salvation, merit to come close, learn and teach others. Therefore one should not be disheartened but hope daily Today I will merit to come close to Hashem.

ביום הזה באו מדבר סיני
פרש"י שיהיו דברי תורה חדשים עליך
Thoughts of failed past learning experiences are irrelevant, while learning Torah they can only bring to discouragement and lead to weakness therefore one shall see the words of Torah as new as if he is beginning to learn Today. - Sar Shalom
כל אשר דבר ה' נעשה
Every thing that Hashem has spoken we shall do
Two men met on a flight. Upon schmoozing about their trip one said to the other, why is it that you are sitting in first class? a limo is awaiting your arrival to bring you to a comfortable apartment (on the house), while I am paying for my economy ticket out of my own pocket? The answer was simple; I am on a business trip my boss is providing me with my necessities that I may serve him with full devotion and capabilities I therefore must be comfortable and rested to be able to work at my full capacity, were as you are going for your own interests and you must cater to yourself.

The Bnei Yissochor asks why by birchas hamozon (grace after meals) do we say (when ten men are present) nivarech (let us bless) Elokeinu – Midas hadin (attributes of judgment) and not nivarech Hashem – Midas horachamim (attributes of mercy)? (since sustenance is an attribute of mercy) To which he answers that since Klal Yisroel are servants of Hashem it is obligatory that that a master give his servant food, therefore it is appropriate to say nivarech Elokeinu (judgment) since we are avdei Hashem
The afore mentioned story of our travelers is a parable. If our agenda is one of devotion to Hashem then we are on a business trip – all necessities are included (luxuries are extra) otherwise it’s out of pocket expenses

Mazal Tov to our counterpart Al Hatorah V’al H’avodah on the occasion of one year of harbotzas Hatorah – much hatzlochah B”H

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Yisro by Reb Jay

In this week’s parsha, Moshe is reunited with his father-in-law, Yisro.

While Yisro is there, he observes Moshe as he carries out his role as judge of the Jewish Nation. While observing he notices that the people are standing all day and waiting their turn for Moshe to judge them. Yisro asks Moshe: “What is this thing you do to the people? Why do you sit alone with all the people standing by you from morning to evening?” (Shemos 18:14).

Yisro was concerned both about Moshe and the people. He worried that Moshe would soon be worn out, and that the people were waiting too long to receive justice. Yisro proposed that they establish a court system with lower courts and higher courts, thus easing the burden on Moshe and the people.

What does it mean “from the morning to the evening”? The Gemara in Shabbos (10a) asks, “did Moshe literally sit and judge the entire day? When did he have time to study Torah?” The answer given is that whoever involves himself in proper judgement for even one hour, it is as if he is a partner with Hashem in the act of creation.

We learn two fundamental concepts from this Gemara.

One is the importance of Torah study. That as important as judging other Jews is (important enough to be considered a partner with Hashem) and the kindness Moshe was doing for the community, nonetheless, the thought that he would go the whole day without Torah study is considered inconceivable.

The second thing we learn is that it is possible for a person to perform an act that will place him on the level of being a partner with Hashem.

What does this mean?

The level of judgement is an extremely high level. Without justice the world is not able to exist, as we see from the story of Noach (in the time of Noach thievery was normative, which bespoke the terrible lack of justice, thus necessitating the destruction of the world). Rashi in the first parsha of the Torah explains that Hashem first “thought” to create the world in judgement, and then added mercy.

This does not mean Hashem thought, the way a human being has a thought process, and then changed His mind and added mercy. Rather, it means that for the world to exist solely by virtue of judgement is ideal. A level which, for the most part, man is unable to aspire to, thus the need for mercy. However, judgement is such an important virtue that for Hashem to will the world through judgement (the world only exists by virtue of Hashem’s will) even if it never came to fruition (for man would be unable to survive), nonetheless shows the importance of judgement.

So a person who is involved in judgement is attaching himself to the ideal level of the creation of the world.

What is one to do who is not a judge, how does such a person become a partner with Hashem? There is one other action a person can do that makes him a partner with Hashem in the creation of the world. That is the recital of the “Vayichulu” prayer (Bereshis 2:1-3) on Friday night. These are the verses that speak of the first Shabbos after the six days of creation. The reason being that a person who says this believes Hashem created the world. Even if we are unable to live up to the ideals of Midas Hadin (judegment), at least on Shabbos we can acknowledge that Hashem created the world. And when we put this belief into action, we have begun to fulfill our mission on this earth.