Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Who Are You Fighting For? - Hashem and the Jewish People

Despite being directly told by G-d to command the Jewish people to take revenge for themselves against Midyan ("nikom nikmas B'nei Yisrael"), Moshe told the Jewish people to take revenge for G-d ("nikmas Hashem"). Why did Moshe contradict, even slightly, an order from G-d and change His words from an obligation to take Jewish revenge into Divine revenge?

Friday, July 4, 2014

Beyond Our Wildest Dreams - Hashem's Master Plan

As though it were not obvious, the gemara (Bava Basra 14b) says that Moshe wrote "his" sefer, i.e. the five chumashim, and the stories of Bil'am and Iyov. Rashi explains that despite Bil'am's story not being relevant to Moshe, Moshe still included it in the chumash. A perhaps simpler understanding, and maybe Rashi's intention, would be that unlike every other story in the Torah, there was no witness to or participant in the entire story. All of Bil'am and Balak's plan against the Jewish people was plotted and thwarted from afar, without the knowledge of any Jew.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Adam - One Man #BringBackOurBoys

In an age of mandatory political correctness, some of our Sages' statements have unfortunately been criticized. This hardly reflects a new phenomenon, as over a century ago, during the Beilis Trial in which a Russian Jew was accused of killing a teenage boy (blood libel), the prosecution found a "racist" statement of Chazal based off a word in this week's parsha.

At the conclusion of the laws of tumas meis which opens Parshas Chukas, the Torah summarizes "zos ha'Torah adam ki yamus ba'ohel," literally, these are the laws of when a person dies in the tent. The gemara (Yevamos 61a), understands the word "adam," a person, as an indication that only Jewish corpses create tumah, "atem keruyim adam v'ein ha'Ovdei Kochavim keruyim adam," only Jews are called "adam." During the Beilis Trial, the non-Jews dug up this Talmudic wisdom and attacked it as racist. What is the proper Jewish response?

Friday, June 13, 2014

An Ordinary Life - The Meaning of Tzitzis

In one of the worst events in Jewish history, the event occurring on and thus defining the saddest day on the Jewish calendar, the spies returned from the land of Israel with a negative report. Instead of focusing on the beautiful parts of the lush land, its large fruit, and easy access (with the many funerals transpiring), they exaggerated negatives and instilled the Jewish people with fear. In the process, their hopes of ever entering Israel were quashed. But why?

The twelve spies were not ordinary people; to the contrary, "kulam anashim roshei B'nei Yisrael," they were all leaders, and not those elected due to political charm. How can such holy men betray their people and their G-d and mislead the nation? What motivated them to do so?

Friday, May 30, 2014

Can Money Buy Happiness? - Protecting Our Blessings

The brief yet meaningful birkas kohanim, recited as part of our daily prayers, begins with three words, “ye'varecheca Hashem vi’yishmerecha,” Hashem should bless you and protect you. Rashi quotes the Medrash to explain the relationship between these two verbs. Immediately after receiving a blessing for prosperity, G-d must ensure, as only He can, to protect that blessing from potential threats. Though Rashi provides the example of bandits as a threat, according to the later commentaries, Rashi’s words can actually refer to two types of threats.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Numbers Not Names

Sefer Bamidbar begins with the counting of the Jewish people. As the counting seems redundant, Rashi wonders why Hashem continuously counts His people and explains that He does so "mitoch chibasan lifanav moneh osam kol sha'ah," out of love. Looking back just a few decades, Jews may find it hard to consider being counted a privilege. In fact, an entire Holocaust education organization exists, Names Not Numbers, whose title seems to indicate a desire to move beyond Jews being counted.

Friday, May 9, 2014

It Doesn't Make Any Sense - Why We Keep the Mitzvos

Parshas Behar derives its name from the first pasuk, in which Hashem commands, at Har Sinai, the mitzvah of shemittah, resting the land every seventh year. Rashi asks why, regarding the mitzvah of shemittah, does the Torah suddenly mention the site of command. He answers that all mitzvos, like shemittah, were given at Sinai. This comparison, widely quoted in later commentaries, seems insufficient in explaining why this mitzvah was singled out in its connection to Har Sinai.