Friday, May 15, 2015

Living the Good Life - How to Help the Poor

When man was first created, he was described as possessing a “nefesh chaya,” a living soul. Onkelus famously defines this human soul as an ability to speak. Onkelus was clearly sensitive to the additional life granted to humans over animals. The Netziv, noting the same observation, writes a fundamental idea in defining the word “chaya,” life, in this context and many others.

Friday, March 20, 2015

You Are What You Eat - Insights Into Korbanos

As Pesach approaches, the topic of acceptable and unacceptable foods are on people's minds. Aside from Pesach, foods occupy an important part of this week's parsha.
Among the intricate laws surrounding the sacrifice service introduced in Sefer Vayikra, a few that stand out are the prohibition to bring honey or yeast as part of any sacrifice in addition to the requirement to include salt in every sacrifice. Clearly, these specific laws have meaning and many commentaries note that the meanings transcend the sacrifice service in the Temple; they are equally as relevant in contemporary times. What is the message that these required and prohibited ingredients are supposed to teach?

Friday, January 30, 2015

Sing for the Moment...and Eternity

In the two most famous words of the Shiras Ha'Yam, Moshe and the Jewish people begin their song with "Az yashir," "then [they] will sing." In addition to the many insights offered to explain the word "az," "then," the meaning of the second word, "yashir," or at least its future tense has perplexed many commentaries.

Rashi suggests that after witnessing the splitting of the sea, Moshe and the Jews contemplated beginning to sing, or as Artscroll translates, "Then Moshe and the Children of Israel chose to sing this song...". Rashi then cites a Medrash offering a different explanation. The future tense, "yashir," is indeed referring to a song to be sung in the future, and this pasuk alludes to the revival of the dead. In other words, in addition to the song that the Jews sang on that day, they will sing again another song at a later date, i.e. techiyas ha'meisim.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Which Came First - The Mitzvah or the Exodus?

On the way out of Mitzrayim, Moshe informs the people Jewish about many commandments surrounding their departure. He commands them to take matzah and sacrifice the korban Pesach, among others. He also commands them with the famous phrase, "v'higadita li'vincha," tell your children, the two words which serve as the basis for our annual Seder night.

The words which follow the commandment of "v'higadita li'vincha," the content of what to tell the children is a little less clear. "Ba'avur zeh asah Hashem li b'tzeisi mi'Mitzrayim," because of this G-d has acted on my behalf when I left Egypt (Artscroll). Rashi says that "zeh/this" refers to the mitzvos of korban Pesach and matzah. Seemingly, then, the pasuk is out of order; G-d has acted on my behalf, therefore I am performing these mitzvos.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Will You Will It? - Using Our Free Will Properly

One of the most famous theological questions that arises from the Chumash is based on a story which transpires in our parsha. Time after time, Moshe approaches Pharaoh requesting freedom for the Jewish people, and time after time, Pharaoh refuses. What makes Pharaoh's refusal unique, however, is the lack of choice he seemed to have had in the matter.

Even though Jews believe in free will as a prerequisite for reward and punishment (see for example the Rambam), Hashem repeatedly informs Moshe that "Ani ak'sheh es lev Pharaoh," I will harden his heart. As promised, throughout the ten plagues, the pesukim alternate between "chizak," "kaved," and "hikshah," different forms of stiffening Pharaoh's heart and ostensibly removing his free will. But how could it be?

Friday, January 2, 2015

The Good Life - Which Life?

In Yakov's final beracha to his children, he offers each son unique advice and prophesizes each son's future road in serving G-d. When addressing his sixth son Yissachar, Yakov says "Vayar menucha ki tov v'es ha'aretz ki na'ema, va'yeit shichmo lisbol...", he saw the good of tranquility ("menucha"), and bent  his shoulder to bear. The relationship between the two parts of the pasuk, Yissachar's seeing the good of tranquility and his bending his shoulder, is disputed.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Be a Mentch - The Sin of Yosef's Brothers

Moments after the brothers of Yosef are commanded by incognito Yosef to bring Binyamin down to Mitzrayim, they finally recognize that something is wrong and they are to blame: "Aval asheimim anachnu," We are guilty, they proclaim. Of course they were guilty. The shevatim had committed one of the greatest interpersonal atrocities in our people's history, a crime for which, our Sages say, we are still being punished. They fought with their brother, sold him to a far away land, and lied to their father to cover it all up. Sibling rivalry at its worst. And yet, the end of that same pasuk that begins with their confession does not end with admitting the sin of selling their brother; rather, the brothers conclude, "asher ra'inu tzaras nafsho b'his'chaneno eilenu v'lo shamanu," "We saw his heartfelt anguish when he pleaded with us and we paid no heed" (Artscroll). After committing the grave sin of selling their brother, is it possible that they can only think about the few moments after, watching him beg for his life and ignoring him?