Category Archives: 5782

Erroneously Humble (Metzora)

Erroneously Humble (Metzora)

Don’t be humble, you’re not that great. -Golda Meir

This week’s Torah reading deals with the laws of the Metzora, a person who was afflicted with Tzaraat, an unusual skin disease that was ascribed to some spiritual infraction. While the details of what that infraction might be are not mentioned in the Torah, the Sages ascribe a number of various sins as to the reason why a person might contract Tzaraat.

In any case, after the Metzora’s exile from the Israelite camp and the healing of their symptoms, the Torah prescribes a detailed sacrifice and purification process. Part of the process includes using both hyssop and cedar wood.

The Chidushei HaRim on Leviticus 14:4 quotes the grand rabbinic commentator, Rashi, who states that a person will be afflicted with Tzaraat due to haughtiness. Therefore, it is sensible and symbolic that as part of the purification process, hyssop, a lowly humble shrub should be used. It reminds the haughty, arrogant Metzora of the need to learn humility and make humility a more serious part of their persona going forward.

However, the Chidushei HaRim wonders why cedar wood is also included in the formula. The cedar is one of the tallest, strongest, and most majestic biblical trees. It would seem strange that someone who has been diagnosed with a case of undue haughtiness should have the mightiest product of the land as part of their purification process.

He answers that the cedar is required for the opposite case of arrogance – misplaced humility. There are times when a person is called on to step forward. They will have the opportunity to do some good deed, to stand up for what’s right when it might be unpopular, to perform some Mitzvah when it’s inconvenient or might attract unwanted attention. Then a person might incorrectly humble themselves and think “who do I think I am that I should do this thing and go against the current.” They put themselves down as the lowly hyssop shrub. That is also wrong. They need to raise themselves like the great cedar and step forward. They need to strengthen themselves to do what’s right, what’s needed, and what perhaps no one around them is willing to do. In such situations, there is no place for erroneous humility. A person needs to proudly and courageously do God’s will.

May we avoid both ends of the attitudinal spectrum, both arrogance, and inappropriate humility.

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Kasher Ve’sameach,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To Pesach preparations.

The Proximity of Being Far (Tazria)

The Proximity of Being Far (Tazria)

Absence diminishes little passions and increases great ones, as wind extinguishes candles and fans a fire. -Francois de la Rochefoucauld

The Torah reading of Tazria delves into what might be considered arcane laws of the ritual purity of a woman after childbirth. According to Torah law, a woman after childbirth becomes ritually impure for a determined period of time. After that time, she needs to bring a sacrifice as part of her purification process enabling her to once again access the Temple and visit that holy location.

The Chidushei HaRim on Leviticus 12:2 delves into what’s behind that period of distancing, of keeping a woman who has just given birth, far from the Temple. He draws on the story of Abraham bringing Isaac to Mount Moriah to be sacrificed as per God’s command. The verse there describes how Abraham had seen the place from “afar.” He was far away when he encounters some aspect of divinity. To make the quandary more poignant, the Chidushei HaRim implies that Abraham, who is about to undertake the most meaningful and trying moment of his life, the fulfillment of God’s apparent command to sacrifice his son, finds that God is “distant.” Nonetheless, Abraham pushes on, despite the distance, and aims to bridge that gap, not only geographically but spiritually as well.

After the fact, after Abraham successfully passes the challenge of obeying God’s command and after Isaac is spared, Abraham realizes that God’s apparent distance was a good and necessary thing. It made him tap into his love of God. It made him dig deeper into the inner recesses of his soul and realize that God is always with him, no matter how “distant” God may seem.

Abraham passed on this capacity to feel God to all of his descendants. It is one of the reasons that in the Amida prayer we reference the “shield of Abraham.” It energizes and invigorates our ability to connect to God, whether we are feeling near or distant. In a certain sense, there can even be an advantage to feeling distant as that can increase the yearning, the desire and the impetus to reach out to God and to explore our own inner reserves to find and connect with Him.

May we always find God, no matter how distant He may seem.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To the memory of Yazan Fallah from Kasra Samia, and Shirel Aboukaret from Netanya, the two Border Police officers killed in the terrorist attack in Hadera on Sunday.

Instructions Grant Existence (Shmini)

Instructions Grant Existence (Shmini)

I count life just a stuff to try the soul’s strength on. -Robert Browning

On the eighth day of the very detailed and instruction-filled consecration ceremony of the Tabernacle, Aaron’s two older sons, Nadav and Avihu, bring a “strange” fire, an unscripted part of the ceremony. The response is immediate and fatal. God sends a fire that kills both of them instantly.

There’s a plethora of commentaries as to what exactly Nadav and Avihu’s sins were and why the repercussions were so severe.

The Chidushei HaRim on Leviticus 10:1 provides a fascinating thought as to the actual mechanics of what was going on.

He states that Nadav and Avihu were in a state of total devotion to God. They wanted to cleave and attach themselves to God, and at what they thought was a propitious time, they created this innovative offering of bringing a fire which was not commanded into the Sanctuary. Their devotion to God was indeed supreme and admirable. However, their innovating to such an extent and putting their entire heart and soul into something God didn’t command proved to disrupt the mechanics of their very existence.

The Chidushei HaRim explains that when we do something for God, when we perform a Mitzva, we are somehow expending our soul. It seems the soul seeks to connect to God more seriously and wants to “jump ship” from our mortal forms. However, the very Mitzva we perform, the instructions that God has given us, are what reinstate and keep the soul in the body. The Mitzvot, the instructions which God has commanded in some spiritual sense are the very things that grant our existence.

However, when Nadav and Avihu “gave it their all” for something which God had not commanded, there were no instructions, there was no Mitzva to revitalize their souls and make sure they stayed alive. Therefore, immediately after they offered this “strange” fire, they couldn’t remain in physical existence. Their souls could no longer stay in their bodies as there was no Mitzva, no instruction set, that would “reinstall” their souls. Hence we have the Midrash that states that God’s fire consumed Nadav and Avihu’s souls but their bodies remained intact.

May we keep to the instructions as much as possible. They’re challenging enough.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To the memory of Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky zt”l.

Secret Accomplishments (Tzav)

Secret Accomplishments (Tzav)

To keep your secret is wisdom; but to expect others to keep it is folly. -Samuel Johnson

Rashi, the great Rabbinic commentator, states on the first verse of this week’s Torah reading that the word Tzav “Command” teaches us that God needs to give us additional urging on for us to fulfill the commands when there’s some monetary loss involved. The context in our verse is the command to bring a burnt offering (the Olah) which was completely consumed on the altar without providing a direct material benefit to anyone (as opposed to a number of other sacrifices, where the bringer or the Kohens partake of the meat). Hence, according to Rashi, the need for an extra divine push to use money.

The Chidushei HaRim on Leviticus 6:2 based on Rashi’s comments, explores the insights the Hebrew language provides when it comes to the nomenclature of wealth and possessions.

One of the words in Hebrew for possessions is “Nechasim,” the root of which means “hidden.” This seems counterintuitive, for typically one’s possessions are things that can be seen, perceived and counted. However, upon further thought, one will realize that a prudent wealthy person will indeed keep most of their wealth and possessions hidden and out of sight. In fact, the tendency to hide one’s wealth may identify the rich much more than the poor. Therefore, the word “Nechasim” possessions may indeed describe a deeper reality of things that are often hidden.

The Chidushei HaRim learns from the hiddenness of our possessions a similar importance to the hiddenness of our divine service. Our service of God, our Torah efforts should likewise be discreet and hidden. We should be cautious in publicizing what we’re doing in the religious realm. We should be so circumspect in our labors and in internalizing divine matters, that at some level, we ourselves shouldn’t realize what we have, and it should be hidden even from our own consciousness.

The Chidushei HaRim explains that such a person, a person who has a hidden spirituality can be considered wealthy. He has “Nechasim,” hidden possessions.

May we realize that it’s often the quiet, discreet people who are hidden treasures of depth, service and Torah.

Purim Sameach and Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To asteroid 2022 EB5 which unexpectedly hit our planet but burnt up harmlessly in the atmosphere.

Prepared for Holiness (Vayikra)

Prepared for Holiness (Vayikra)

Most people have the will to win, few have the will to prepare to win. -Bob Knight

The beginning of the Book of Leviticus tells us how God calls out to Moses. It uses the somewhat unusual verb of “Vayikra” whose simple translation is “And He called out,” as opposed to the more common Vayidaber “and He spoke” or Vayomer “and He said.”

The Chidushei HaRim on Leviticus 1:1 explains that before God spoke to Moses, this time and all other times, He called out to him first. God calls out to Moses before speaking further so that Moses can prepare himself for the meeting. The initial call is both an invitation and an opportunity to prepare for an encounter with the divine.

The Chidushei HaRim states that in all matters of holiness, it is vital to have these two elements before proceeding. There must be a summoning, an invitation, even if it’s to oneself to engage in God’s command, and there must be preparation, there must be a mental determination and affirmation that one is about to fulfill God’s will.

Without setting one’s mind to the task, without being conscious and deliberate about what one is about to do, without preparing to do what one has decided is correct to do, the subsequent act lacks power, lacks vigor, lacks effectiveness, and according to the Chidushei HaRim, may even lack relevance.

To infuse meaning in our prayers, in our Torah study, in our charity, in our acts of kindness, it cannot be a rote, mechanical response. Merely going through the motions strips our efforts of significance. We must be conscious, deliberate and thoughtful. We must realize that what we’re doing carries weight, it carries consequences. The power of our fulfillment of God’s will, when done with forethought and preparation is so formidable that it reverberates throughout the upper realms.

When we accept the yoke of Heaven as opposed to merely falling back on routine or habit, it allows us to accept the yoke of the Mitzvot, of the commandments and whatever specific commandment we are about to perform.

May we always seek to prepare ourselves for holiness and for a more direct connection with God.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To Israel playing a mediating role in the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

Overabundance of Just Enough (Pekudei)

Overabundance of Just Enough (Pekudei)

The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little. -Franklin D. Roosevelt

In building the Tabernacle in the desert, at the foot of Mount Sinai, God directs Moses to take up a collection of materials from the people of Israel. They donate gold, silver, copper, wood, skins, cloth, thread and anything else that was needed. The people of Israel are so generous with their contributions that the artisans tell Moses they need to stop with the contributions. They have more than enough material to complete the construction of the Tabernacle.

The Chidushei HaRim on Exodus 38:21 reads a seeming contradiction in the verse. The verse can be read as saying that there was enough, meaning they received exactly the materials they needed and not more, but that at the same time they had too much. So, which is it? Was it enough or was it too much?

The Chidushei HaRim answers that because the people of Israel contributed to the Tabernacle for the sake of Heaven, without any ulterior motives, they reached a place over and above nature itself. They reached a place where there was no contradiction between “just enough” and “too much.” Having reached that supernatural place because of their selfless generosity, it empowered the people of Israel to have access to that supernatural state for all time.

The Chidushei Harim continues to explain that what the people of Israel proceed to do with that eternal power is to construct the Mishkan L’edut “A Tabernacle for the Pact.” What exactly the Mishkan L’edut is and how it differs, if it does, from the simpler appellation of just Mishkan “Tabernacle” he doesn’t say. Though it is likely safe to suggest that it is directly related to the Tabernacle housing the Luchot HaBrit, the Tablets of the Pact with the Ten Commandments written on them by the hand of God. A Pact between God and the people of Israel that would last forever and that would survive the Tabernacle itself in its travels and various incarnations.

May we always feel that we have enough in the physical realm while always reaching to connect with more of God in the spiritual realm, via the eternal Pact, the Torah.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To the many volunteers who are helping the hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian refugees and in particular to my friend Rabbi Avi Baumol of Krakow who is actively helping at the Ukrainian border. They are raising funds needed for the effort at this link: https://www.friendsofjcckrakow.org/ukraine

Being Smart is Secondary (Vayakhel)

Being Smart is Secondary (Vayakhel)

Character is higher than intellect. A great soul will be strong to live as well as think. -Ralph Waldo Emerson

For the construction of the Tabernacle, God designates Bezalel as the master architect. The verse states:

“See, God has singled out by name Bezalel, son of Uri son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, endowing him with a divine spirit of skill, ability, and knowledge in every kind of craft.”

The Chidushei HaRim on Exodus 35:30 highlights the fact that Bezalel is singled out by “name.” He then proceeds to quote the Mishnaic dictum of “It’s better to have a good name than good oil,” which is classically interpreted to mean that it’s better to have a good name as an upstanding person than wealth and riches.

He then draws a comparison between the good name the prophets Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi possessed versus the good oil, the anointing oil, that was used to anoint and consecrate Nadav and Avihu as Kohens, as priests in the Tabernacle.

Nadav and Avihu, the sons of Aaron the High Priest, went too far in their roles when they brought the strange, unasked-for fire in the Tabernacle and were promptly struck down by God with a divine fire. Conversely, the prophets Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi were unharmed when they were thrown into a fiery furnace by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon.

The Chidushei HaRim interprets the analogy of “oil” as being wisdom. He would interpret the dictum as “It’s more important to first possess good character before wisdom.” He claims that while Nadav and Avihu were extremely intelligent, their characters were not yet developed and mature enough as compared to their intelligence. Therefore, their intelligence was on a rocky foundation.

Their father, Aaron, possessed both character and wisdom which is hinted at by the verse in Psalms:

“It is like fine oil on the head running down onto the beard, the beard of Aaron, that comes down according to his character traits.” -Psalms 133:2

May the strength of our character always be a foundation for whatever intelligence we’re blessed with.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To the safety and wellbeing of our brothers and sisters in Ukraine.

Essential Anonymous Author (Ki Tisa)

Essential Anonymous Author (Ki Tisa)

The cult of individuality and personality, which promotes painters and poets only to promote itself, is really a business. The greater the genius of the personage, the greater the profit. -George Grosz

Last week’s Torah reading, the Torah reading of Tetzave, is notorious for not mentioning the name of Moses throughout the reading portion. It’s an unusual phenomenon, given the fact that Moses is the intermediary throughout these commands. Readers have become accustomed to the mantra-like repetition throughout much of the Five Books of Moses of the verse “And God spoke to Moses saying.” However, in Tetzave, this ubiquitous phrase, as well as Moses’ very name is conspicuously absent.

There is a Midrash that explains a possible reason, traced back to this week’s reading. The nation of Israel famously forces Aaron to construct the Golden Calf which they then proceed to worship, against God’s freshly delivered Ten Commandments. God threatens to destroy the Jewish nation in punishment. Moses intercedes, begs God for mercy, and in an unusual argument, he tells God to erase his name from God’s book. God responds that he won’t erase Moses’ name, but rather that of those who have sinned so blatantly against God.

The Midrash explains that the absence of Moses’ name from last week’s reading is a small reminder or even punishment for Moses’ suggestion that his name be erased.

The Chidushei HaRim on Exodus 32:32 has a completely different explanation for why Moses’ name isn’t mentioned in the portion of Tetzave. He states that when one toils in studying the Torah, in unlocking its secrets, in transmitting Torah to others, then indeed, a person merits that the Torah lesson should be repeated in their name, that the agent of transmission should be remembered by name. However, there is an entirely different level of Torah transmission. There is the level when a person is willing to sacrifice themselves for the greater good. When Moses stood up to God to protect the Jewish nation from His wrath, when Moses was willing to be erased from the Book that he was so integral in its transmission, then Moses ascended to the level of not just being a transmitter of the Torah, but of being part and parcel of the Torah.

In a sense, Moses, by his sacrifice, became so integral to the Torah that his individuality was subsumed by the Torah, and he ceased for that period of time to exist independent of the Torah. His integration with the Torah was so profound that his name became unnecessary. For those verses and chapters where he’s not named, he was one with the Torah, so it became extraneous to name him.

May we find ways to learn, transmit and attach ourselves to the Torah, at all levels.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To the Ariel family of the Kadima-Zoran community in Israel for being blessed with growing the largest strawberry in the world: https://www.timesofisrael.com/israeli-strawberry-wins-guinness-record-as-worlds-largest/

Acolytes of an Anonymous Sage (Tetzave)

Acolytes of an Anonymous Sage (Tetzave)

Avoid popularity if you would have peace. -Abraham Lincoln

A special part of the Tabernacle service was the lighting of the Candelabrum, the Menorah. This special task was charged to Aaron, the first High Priest and to his descendants after him. Not only was Aaron responsible for lighting the Menorah and creating light in the sanctified place, but he also possessed an inner light that shone upon those he interacted with (as did Moses in a much more pronounced and observable way).

Aaron, along with his brother, Moses, are the righteous sages of their generation, as well as role models and inspiration for all future generations. These Tzadikim, these righteous ones, managed to communicate directly with God (Moses more so than Aaron), were beloved by Him and intercede on multiple occasions on behalf of the people of Israel, when God’s wrath is upon them.

The Chidushei Harim on Exodus 27:20 takes the opportunity to embark on an exposition regarding a Tzadik. He quotes a Talmudic dictum that there isn’t a generation that doesn’t have its share of Tzadikim, righteous people at the level of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Furthermore, every person has the capacity to connect somehow with a Tzadik of their generation, even if they don’t know the identity of the Tzadik.

He explains that one of the mechanisms to connect to a Tzadik which can assist in our stronger connection to God, is through the Sabbath. The Sabbath too possesses a special divine light. If a person enters the Sabbath with a sense of trepidation, of awe, of expectancy in the upcoming closer encounter with God, those feelings allow for a greater absorption of the sanctified light of the Sabbath, a light similar to the light that a Tzadik is imbued with and which can radiate onwards to those in his generation.

Somehow, bringing in the Sabbath with the right anticipation connects us to this divine light shared by the Tzadikim of our generation.

May we be able to discern and appreciate the light of Shabbat and come in contact with Tzadikim, whether we or they know so or not.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To all those who’ve completed and to those who’ve started the cycle of learning Tanach (the Hebrew Bible) as part of the 929 program. Mazal Tov!

Divine Charity Cycle (Trumah)

Divine Charity Cycle (Trumah)

The human contribution is the essential ingredient. It is only in the giving of oneself to others that we truly live. -Ethel Percy Andrus

The Jewish nation has been freed from Egypt; they’ve received the Torah with God’s Revelation at Mount Sinai. Now, at the foot of the mountain, they start their next grand task, the building of the Tabernacle with all its sacred objects, including the altars, the Candelabrum, the Showbread Table and in the inner sanctum, in the Holy of Holies, the Ark containing the Tablets of the Law.

However, to build this Tabernacle with its array of special items, materials are needed. And that’s how this week’s Torah reading starts off. God instructs Moses to ask for donations (this is the original synagogue fundraiser).

God tells Moses:

“And you will take for Me a contribution, from every person whose heart so moves him, you shall take My contribution.”

The Chidushei HaRim on Exodus 25:2 notes the possessive language of “take,” “for Me,” and “My.” He explains that God is saying a few things in this verse. The first part is that a person needs to “take” themselves out of their mundane matters of this world. God is saying you need to take yourselves away from your narrow, personal, selfish concerns and dedicate yourselves “for Me.” Only a person whose heart moves him to contribute can really dedicate themselves to God. There is little room for God in the selfish man’s heart.

However, the Chidushei HaRim’s deeper point is that the truth is that everything we contribute to God is already His. All of creation, everything in it, ourselves, our possessions, our abilities, our time, are all from Him. When we give to Him, we are giving Him what is His. Any illusions we have that something, anything, belongs to us, is false and misleading. God has given us of His bounty, of His blessings, in part, to see how we use them. How do we use our gifts and blessings? Do we hoard? Do we keep it to ourselves? Do we only think of ourselves? Or do we think of a greater purpose, be it family, community, those that are more needy or disadvantaged?

Drawing on God’s blessings and participating in the divine cyclical chain of giving is a privilege which can be continuously improved, strengthened and renewed.

May we find the most effective uses for the bounty God gives us.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To the start of two months of Adar in this Jewish leap year. May they usher in greater joy.