Category Archives: Netziv

Self-punishment

First posted on The Times of Israel at: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/behukotai-self-punishment/

Netziv Leviticus: Behukotai

Self-punishment

“A human being fashions his consequences as surely as he fashions his goods or his dwelling. Nothing that he says, thinks or does is without consequences.” -Norman Cousins

The Torah is as harsh with its punishments as it is generous with its rewards. Some people, while happy to receive rewards for good acts, believe it unjust for us to be punished for going against the directives of God.

The Netziv on Leviticus 26:3 explains that God’s list of punishments shouldn’t be seen as capricious intervention on His part against those who ignore Him. Rather it is a list of warnings, much like a doctor’s health warning, that if a person chooses to follow an unhealthy path, then the inevitable consequence is the pain and suffering that will ensue.

The “punishments” then are not necessarily some special response on God’s part, but rather it is the natural result of the actions we take. God is merely warning us to avoid such paths in order to be spared from the resultant outcome.

So for our own selfish interest and self-preservation, there may be some wisdom in following God’s directives.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

 

Dedication

To the good Rabbis of Buenos Aires for such a warm welcome.

 

Family Reconciliation

First posted on The Times of Israel at: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/behar-family-reconciliation/

Netziv Leviticus: Behar

Family Reconciliation

So much of what is best in us is bound up in our love of family, that it remains the measure of our stability because it measures our sense of loyalty. All other pacts of love or fear derive from it and are modeled upon it.” -Haniel Long

Fights within families are part of human nature. Spouses; children with their parents; siblings – all have their share of altercations. However, sometimes some disagreements are so vitriolic, so hard fought, so anger-inducing that a separation ensues. The separation may be short-lived and the family members reconcile, reunite and family life continues. But other times, the damage is so deep, so hurtful, that only time and distance seems to ease the pain.

The Torah mandates that every fifty years the properties within the land of Israel must revert to their original owners. It is the Jubilee year that is celebrated at the end of a cycle of seven Sabbatical years. The Netziv on Leviticus 25:10 notes that the verse of the Jubilee uses a dual language. It states that each person will return to his inheritance and to his family.

The Netziv explains that this verse is speaking to family members who have grown distant, who have left their ancestors home, who may have differences, who may have traveled to distant lands and foreign shores. It is stating that the Jubilee is an opportunity to return home, to reconcile, to return to ones roots. Not only is it an opportunity, not only is it a right and a privilege – it is an obligation.

May we not have to wait for the Jubilee to return to our proper homes.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To the State of Israel on its 66th birthday and to its Uruguayan emissaries. It’s wonderful to celebrate our homeland’s growth and success together.

 

Selective Lineage

First posted on The Times of Israel at: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/emor-selective-lineage/

Netziv Leviticus: Emor

Selective Lineage

“From our ancestors come our names from our virtues our honor.” –Proverb

According to Jewish Law, Jewishness is passed on by ones mother. However, ones tribal affiliation (meaning, of the twelve original tribes of Israel) was passed on by ones father. This remains true in the two major groups within Judaism that still retain a tribal (and sub-tribal) identity – the Levites and the Cohanim.

Therefore, what we would consider the overarching national Jewish identity is a function of matrilineal descent. Meanwhile, the more specific tribal identity is a function of patrilineal descent, though currently less relevant to most Jews, as our tribal histories and lineages have been mostly forgotten in the mists of time. Most non-Levites and non-Cohanim are presumed to descend from some amalgamation of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin. This is not taking into account rediscovered lost tribes, such as Jewish Ethiopians who are believed to be descendants of the tribe of Dan, or Jewish Indians from the tribe of Menashe, or other groups around the world that are being discovered.

However, the Netziv on Leviticus 22:11, highlights yet another, third type of ancestry. Let’s call it “sanctity lineage”. The case is of a non-Jewish slave woman that was purchased by a Cohen. In a sense the slave is considered the property of the Cohen. A child born to that woman (and not even sired by the Cohen) is likewise considered the property of the Cohen, with the unique and unusual privilege, not available to any other group within Judaism — even though this child is not Jewish — to eat and partake of the “truma”, the special portion that Jews in Temple times were required to give to the Cohen and was considered sacred.

What this sheds light on, is that inherited status depends on the purpose. For determining Jewishness, we follow the mother. For determining tribe, we follow the father. For determining whether one can eat from the sacred “truma”, we follow the “owner”.

May we have clarity on our pedigree, identities and affiliation and know the difference between them.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

 

Dedication

To my friend, Elli Fischer, for his extensive writings in general and his recent article on the difference between identity and affiliation in particular.

 

Religious Convenience

First posted on The Times of Israel at: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/kedoshim-religious-convenience/

Netziv Leviticus: Kedoshim

Religious Convenience

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” -Martin Luther King, Jr.

There is a trend in religious life, whether one was born into it, or one joins it later in life, to live a certain lifestyle, within a certain community. Aspects of religious service become rote. We do things without giving it much thought. It becomes convenient. If we are confronted with a change from the comfortable, if there is something in the religious obligation that we don’t like or inconveniences us, then we decide that we are doing enough in our divine obligations, that there is no need to be “so” religious.

In a related theme, there is an unusual and particularly harsh punishment concerning eating of sacrificial meat that was offered during Temple times. It is meant to be consumed within two days. If it is eaten on the third day – a sin known as “pigul”, the violator’s punishment is “karet”, which is translated as “cut off”. “Karet” is variably explained as he will die young, his children will die, and/or his eternal soul will cease to be. However one looks at it, it seems like an inordinately unforgiving penalty for what amounts to eating leftovers a day past their expiration date.

The Netziv on Leviticus 19:8 explains that the infraction reveals a much deeper problem. If one eats within the prescribed time, then all is well. However, if one decides that it is not convenient, that he wishes to indulge a bit more in the tasty and expensive meat that he already paid for and grilled, then it demonstrates that his entire service of God is really self-serving. His lifestyle is in reality one of indulgence and gratification and is an express rejection of and rebellion against God. Such a person though outwardly “observant” has issues with his understanding of the demands and responsibilities of divine service.

May we strengthen the good things we do and do them because they are right, and not just convenient.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To all those who exerted themselves in preparing and providing Kosher for Passover food. It certainly wasn’t convenient, but was highly delicious and appreciated.

 

Smart Diet

First posted on The Times of Israel at: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/acharei-mot-smart-diet/

Netziv Leviticus: Acharei Mot

Smart Diet

“Their kitchen is their shrine, the cook their priest, the table their altar, and their belly their god.” -Charles Buck

There is a now-apocryphal story making the rounds of a gentile mother in a supermarket telling her nagging child that he can’t have something because it’s “not kosher.” A curious Jew inquires as to the family’s identity. The mother readily admits she is not Jewish, but says she picked up the term watching a Jewish mother in a supermarket in a similar circumstance of a nagging child, and then magically, the words “it’s not kosher” immediately stopped all annoying requests. The gentile mother was impressed and now uses the sorcerous word for any situation where she will brook no argument. More TV? “Not kosher”, a new toy? “Not kosher”. The child may grow up with a skewed understanding of what the term “kosher” means, but there is one underlying meaning that they got. It involves a statement that the item or action is out of bounds. There is a higher authority that has deemed that whatever it is you want, you need to control yourself and accept that not all your desires can be fulfilled.

In the business of eating there is a wide spectrum of practices in regards to observing the laws of eating Kosher. They range from being directly involved in slaughtering, processing and eating only foods where one personally supervised the production, to the other extreme of eating anything that crawls, is grown, found or manufactured on our planet. Within that range there are people who rely only on very specific supervision groups; those that will rely on any Jewish supervision; those that will purchase and prepare Kosher products for the home, but be more lax on what they eat outside; those that are particular that their meat and chicken are kosher but are less concerned about any other products; and an infinite variety of other standards, preferences and personal quirks when it comes to determining what we ingest.

There are also a variety of reasons that are proposed as to why one should eat Kosher. A popular one that receives sporadic scientific support is that it’s healthier. A Kabbalistic reason is that it helps the soul. The Netziv on Leviticus on 17:16 gives a reason I hadn’t heard before: eating Kosher makes you smarter. He phrases it in the negative. Eating non-kosher makes you dumb. Giving in to ones cravings and baser emotions makes one dumb and can lead a person to other sins. Therefore the reverse must also be true. By eating a kosher diet, it must somehow improve ones intelligence, ones mental capacity and agility. It leads one to restrain oneself, to exhibit self-control. Such mastery can be a strong developer of character and of a sense of boundaries. And it may also be healthier for body and soul.

May all who choose to, enjoy a happy and kosher Pesach.

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach,

Ben-Tzion

 

Dedication

To my friend and colleague, Moshe Silberberg, for his unending efforts to provide Kosher food to the Jewish community of Uruguay.

Some people never learn…

First posted on The Times of Israel at: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/metzora-some-people-never-learn/ 

Netziv Leviticus: Metzora

Some people never learn…

“Obstinacy is will asserting itself without being able to justify itself. It is persistence without a reasonable motive. It is the tenacity of self-love substituted for that of reason and conscience.” -Henri Frederic Amiel

It is said that experience is the best teacher, but sometimes even that is not enough. There are times when actions and their consequences are so clear that it is only by a great force of will or delusion that the correct lessons are ignored.

The Torah dedicates a lot of ink to the malady known as tzaraat. There are three categories of tzaraat: afflictions upon the structure of ones house, afflictions upon ones clothing and affliction upon ones body. Tzaraat is generally attributed to gossip. Rabbinic commentators explain that if one gossips, God sends an initial warning by affecting ones house. The damage, minor as it may be, is meant to be an opportunity to deliberate as to the spiritual ills that lead to the physical harm.

If one gets the message, they clean up their act, fix their house and life goes on. However, the Netziv on Leviticus 14:44 explains, if one doesn’t get the message, if one doesn’t excise the spiritual illness from themselves, the tzaraat will return and with more force.

The second level that is affected, is ones clothing, ones personal possessions – much closer. The final level that is affected is ones body.

May we use the opportunities that damage and afflictions give us to contemplate our lives and areas for repair and improvement, especially regarding the great evil of gossip.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To all those who are both careful with what they put in their mouths over Pesach as well as with what comes out of their mouths the whole year.

 

A Secret of Jewish Marriage

First posted on The Times of Israel at: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/tazria-a-secret-of-jewish-marriage/

Netziv Leviticus: Tazria

A Secret of Jewish Marriage

“Subdue your appetites, my dears, and you’ve conquered human nature.” -Charles Dickens

There is a commandment that is not spoken about frequently or openly due to its sensitive nature and as a result is also not well known amongst many people. It is the law of Family Purity (taharat ha’mishpacha).

In essence, what it legislates, is that a married couple cannot have any physical contact the days during which the woman experiences her monthly period of menstruation. The couple can only touch again after a suitable period of waiting and after the woman has gone to the ritual bath (mikveh).

This monthly cycle of separation and reunion can have a transformative effect on the couple’s relationship and marriage. The Netziv on Leviticus 12:2 explains that this is purposeful. By having a brief period of enforced separation from intimacy each spouse may become more attracted to the other. Besides increasing the physical attraction, it also frames the relationship as not just a physical one but also a spiritual one. It encourages the couple to talk to each other. It inspires the couple to find and do activities together beyond just the physical. Instead of focusing just on our bodies, we also focus on our souls.

Anyone wanting to know more about this important aspect of married Jewish life is invited to contact your local Rabbi or Rebbetzin.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To the Mikveh ladies who selflessly assist in this vital commandment.

 

 

Scheduling Joy

First posted on The Times of Israel at: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/shmini-scheduling-joy/

Netziv Leviticus: Shmini

Scheduling Joy

“Tranquil pleasures last the longest; we are not fitted to bear the burden of great joys.” – Nevell Bovee

Weddings are generally happy events. The bride, groom and their families prepare for months, investing great time and money to ensure that every garment, dish, flower, tablecloth and picture will be to their and their guests’ liking.

There is joy, dancing and merriment. It is thought to be among the happiest moments of the couple’s life. The Netziv on Leviticus 9:1 throws cold water on that concept. He comes to his conclusion from the Jewish experience upon receiving God’s law.

When the Jewish people receive the Torah on Mount Sinai, there is fire, lightning, trumpet blasts – a bright and loud show. Only when the Tablets that Moses brought from Sinai are placed in their permanent home, in the Tabernacle, do we see the Jewish nation celebrating and feasting.

The Netziv compares the event at Mount Sinai to the wedding night. There is excitement, perhaps even giddiness, but the bride and groom are too nervous, too anxious to truly experience joy. When the Tablets are placed in the Tabernacle is when the bride and groom come home. Only at home can they truly celebrate. Only at home can they truly experience a serious, tranquil, long-lasting joy.

May joy always be a part of our lives.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To those that invest time and money in after the wedding.

Unholy Leftovers

First posted on The Times of Israel at: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/tzav-unholy-leftovers/

Netziv Leviticus: Tzav

Unholy Leftovers

“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow”. -Melody Beattie

Disclaimer: I truly enjoy leftovers and look forward to eating as much as I can get of my wife’s cooking. The above title is not meant in any way as a negative reflection of her culinary abilities, as our many guests can attest to.

However, in the list of animal sacrifices that were offered at the Sanctuary/Temple there are curious guidelines as to the time span within which the meat can be eaten. For the sacrifice of thanksgiving (Toda) there is an interesting combination of a relatively short period to eat and a lot of bread that is meant to accompany the sacrifice.

The Toda sacrifice is brought when a person wishes to give thanks to God for a particularly significant event, salvation, or overt manifestation of God in ones life.

The Netziv on Leviticus 7:13 explains that the constrained time to eat plentiful food for the thanksgiving offering is deliberate. Its purpose is to force the person to publicize the sacrifice he’s offering and the cause, and to invite as many people as possible to partake in the feast of thanks thereby spreading the word far and wide as to God’s direct involvement in our lives. Hence, by prohibiting leftovers, one is obliged to invite more people than he might have otherwise.

May we always have reasons to celebrate together and thank God for the goodness and the miraculous in our lives.

Shabbat Shalom and Happy Purim,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To all those who know how to have fun without getting drunk.

Selfless Self-prayer

First posted on The Times of Israel at: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/vayikra-selfless-self-prayer/

Netziv Leviticus: Vayikra

Selfless Self-prayer

“Let everyone try and find that as a result of daily prayer he adds something new to his life, something with which nothing can be compared.” -Mahatma Gandhi

Jewish liturgy is often written in the plural form. We should have others in mind in our prayers. Therefore, one might develop feelings of guilt if one were to pray for oneself. How selfish would that be?

The Book of Leviticus presents us with a variety of sacrifices that are brought in the Tabernacle and were subsequently offered in the Temple of Jerusalem.

The Netziv on Leviticus 1:2 explains, as do most Rabbinic commentators, that prayer is a substitute for the sacrifices that were offered. However, he adds, that just as the penitent brings his own sacrifice, so it is with prayer. It is always most effective and appropriate when the person seeking divine assistance prays for himself.

However, there are sacrifices that the spiritual leadership brings on behalf of the people. According to the Netziv, this parallels the ability of a person who doesn’t know how to pray to ask the community leadership to pray on his behalf.

We should develop our prayer abilities, and for those of us feeling deficient in that area – find someone who can help us in that department.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To the beginning of the Uruguayan school and work year. Feel free to join us at the synagogue for community prayer.

To Betty and Wolf Gruenberg on their wonderful hosting. May all their prayers be answered.