Wednesday, December 31, 2008



This week's parshah is Vayyigash.

As this portion begins, Joseph's brothers face the fear that Joseph will keep Benjamin with him as a slave, and send the rest of them home to their father Jacob. Jacob's heart would be broken at this new loss.

Judah, as leader of the brothers, steps forward to offer his own life in place of Benjamin's life. This courageous act corrects the brothers' error of years earlier - they had sold one son of Rachel (Joseph) because they had viewed him as a threat to their lives, and now Judah endangered his own life to save the other son of Rachel (Benjamin).

Joseph sees that Judah has completed the brothers' repentance by righting the original wrong, and he reveals his identity. He still rebukes them, albeit somewhat subtly, for selling him: Judah's main claim on behalf of Benjamin was, 'If you take him, it will kill my father,' to which Joseph responds, 'I am Joseph, is our father still alive?' referring to the fact that they hadn't cared about this issue in selling Joseph.

The brothers are ashamed and afraid, but Joseph assures them that he won't attack them.
Joseph sends the brothers back to tell their father Jacob that he is alive, and that Jacob should come down. Jacob, reassured by Gd that it is all right to go to Egypt, comes down to Egypt.

Upon arriving in Egypt, Joseph's family meets the Pharaoh. The brothers say they are shepherds, and so they are kept apart from the sheep-worshipping Egyptians. Jacob meets the Pharaoh and blesses him.

Due the two-year-old famine, Egyptians are desperate for grain. At the end of the Torah portion they actually sell themselves to Pharaoh, as slaves, to acquire the harvest Joseph had saved up.

Have a great day,

Wednesday, December 24, 2008



This week's portion is Miketz. [Note, though, that we also read two other portions this week: one for Rosh Chodesh (the first day of the month in the lunar calendar), the other for Chanukah.]

Miketz begins with the dreams of Pharaoh, king of Egypt. In his dreams, Pharaoh sees thin cows consume fat cows but remain thin, and he sees thin grain consume plump grain but remain thin. His advisors fail to provide convincing interpretations. The butler remembers Joseph, who had successfuly interpreted dreams in prison. The butler tells Pharaoh about Joseph, and Joseph is brought to Pharaoh.

Joseph interprets the dreams as a message about Egypt's economic future. There will be seven years of great crops, and then seven years of famine. Joseph advises Pharaoh to store grain during the years of glut. Pharaoh, awed by Joseph's spiritual and practical ken, assigns Joseph a top post as chair of the project, and chief advisor to Pharaoh.

Years later, as the famine begins, Joseph's brothers descend to Egypt for food. Joseph recognizes them and has them locked up, on false charges of espioniage. They don't recognize him; he was 17 and beardless when they sold him, and now he is 30 and bearded. Further, they don't expect to see him there.

Joseph hears the brothers' conversations among themselves, and specifically their recriminations for selling him, but he is waiting for something more: Joseph wants to put them back in the position of having to choose between their own welfare and that of their youngest brother, the other son of Rachel, Benjamin. So Joseph demands that they bring Benjamin to Egypt.

Jacob refuses to send Benjamin, until his fourth son, Yehudah, points out that they will all die without food. Yehudah guarantees Benjamin's safety with his own life.

The brothers return to Egypt, and then Joseph springs his trap. Joseph arrests Benjamin on false charges of theft, and tells the brothers that they can go home safely, if only they will leave Benjamin with him. The Torah portion ends with that cliffhanger.

Have a great day,

Wednesday, December 17, 2008



This week's portion is Vayyeshev.

The portion opens with Yaakov and his family settled peacefully in Israel. Problems quickly develop, though, as Yaakov's apparent favoritism toward Yosef (the 11th of his 12 sons), and Yosef's visions of future personal greatness, alienate his brothers. The brothers suspect that he Yosef out to harm them, and they first decide to kill him, then decide only to sell him. They fool their father Yaakov into thinking Yosef is dead, showing him Yosef's special striped cloak dipped in blood.

The Torah then interrupts the story of Yosef's travels by telling us about the troubles of Yehudah (the 4th of Yaakov's 12 sons) and his children. Yehudah had three sons. His eldest married a woman named Tamar, and died soon afterward. The second son married Tamar, as was the common pre-Sinaitic practice in order to guarantee support for a widow. (This practice is related to the Mitzvah of Yibbum, but is not quite the same.) The second son died, too. We are taught that their sin was in taking steps to prevent Tamar from becoming pregnant when they were together.

Rather than marry off his youngest son to Tamar, Yehudah told her to wait for him to mature. Tamar grew impatient, and fooled Yehudah into living with her himself; she disguised herself as a prostitute. Prostitution was not illegal before the presentation of the Torah at Sinai. Tamar became pregnant, without Yehudah knowing it was from him.

When Yehudah found out that Tamar was pregnant, he was upset - she was supposed to wait for Shelah, and was considered partially married to him already by dint of the expected marriage. Yehudah ordered that she should be killed. Tamar sent Yehudah some of the articles he had left with her, though, showing that she had actually been impregnated by him. Marrying Yehudah would have been a valid substitute for marrying Shelah, and so her actions had been legitimate.

The Torah portion then returns to the story of Yosef. Yosef was sold into an Egyptian's house, and he was successful in running the household. The lady of the house tried to seduce him, unsuccessfully. She was insulted and humiliated, and so she turned the story around, accusing him of attempting to seduce her. Yosef was thrown in jail.

Yosef was successful in helping run the jail, as he had been successful as a slave. He became acquainted with the king's butler and baker, both of whom were in jail for apparent attempts to harm the king. The two of them had dreams, and Yosef interpreted the dreams: The baker would die in three days, and the butler would be restored to his position. This was, in fact, what happened.

Yosef asked the butler to speak to the authorities about him, but the butler forgot once he was out of jail.

Have a great day,

Wednesday, December 10, 2008



This week's portion is Vayyishlach.

As our portion begins, Yaakov is returning to Israel, with his family. Rather than wait for Esav to come to him, Yaakov sends messengers looking for Esav. Yaakov learns that Esav has amassed a threatening army, and so he prepares for war as well as for peace - he divides his crew into military camps, but he also sends a gift to Esav. He prays to Gd for help.

Yaakov moves his family, hangers-on and property across the Yabok river, but he lags behind himself, collecting small vessels. Yaakov encounters an unidentified being who grapples with him. Most traditional commentators say this was an angel representing Esav, in human form. The angel cannot defeat Yaakov, but he manages to weaken Yaakov's thigh – to remember this, we don’t eat the sciatic vascular bundle of an animal. The thigh wound symbolizes the fact that Esav will be able to hurt Yaakov’s descendants, but will not be able to destroy them. The angel concludes by giving Yaakov a blessing, and he names Yaakov "Yisrael."

Yaakov and Esav meet, and Esav kisses Yaakov. There is some debate as to the sincerity of the greeting; it seems clear that Yaakov did not trust the greeting, as he refused Esav's offer to join forces. Yaakov went from there to Shechem (Nablus), where he bought land.

Dinah, daughter of Yaakov and Leah, went out to tour the area. She met the local prince, Chamor, who took her and raped her. (For those who have read "The Red Tent," please note that it is a fictional work which matches neither the biblical text nor the rabbinic tradition.) Chamor wanted the family to sell Dinah to him. Outraged, the brothers conspired to make the people of the town vulnerable and then punish them for kidnapping Dinah. Yaakov was upset at their actions, and apparently he did not forgive them, as he rebuked them for their actions before he died (Genesis 49:5-7).

Gd appeared to Yaakov and officially changed his name to Yisrael.

Rachel gave birth to Binyamin, the last of the 12 tribes. She died in childbirth.

After Rachel died, Bilhah, Rachel's maid, became Yaakov's favored wife. Yaakov moved his bed into her tent. Reuven, Leah's oldest son, was upset that his mother had been so publicly spurned. As the sages understand the Torah's cryptic verses here, Reuven moved his father's bed into Leah's tent.

The Torah portion ends with a genealogy of Esav. Regarding Yishmael the Torah gave a genealogy when he left center stage, and the Torah does the same for Esav here. Esav's grandson returns later in the Torah, though, as the founder of the nation of Amalek.

Have a great day,

Wednesday, December 3, 2008



This week's portion is Vayyetze.

At the end of the previous portion, Yitzchak (Isaac) and Rivkah (Rebecca) sent Yaakov (Jacob) to Rivkah's brother Lavan's home to escape Esav (Esau), and to find a wife. Our Torah portion focusses on Yaakov's adventures outside of Israel, and the growth of the Jewish people during that exile.

En route to exile, Yaakov has a vision of angels ascending and descending a ladder. In this vision Gd promises to protect Yaakov, and Yaakov promises to serve Gd materially and spiritually. Yaakov sets up a stone monument, the first of many he would set up as memorials and as places of worship.

Yaakov arrives at a well in Lavan's town, Charan, and rebukes the local shepherds for dallying by the well. When they explain that they need help to remove the well's stone cover, he single-handedly removes the cover.

Yaakov meets his first cousin, Rachel, and is instantly impressed. Her father Lavan enslaves Yaakov, though, to get both Yaakov's wealth and his labor. Yaakov works for 7 years to be permitted to marry Rachel, but Rachel's father Lavan then substitutes Rachel's older sister Leah for Rachel. Yaakov then marries Rachel a week later, promising to work another 7 years for his marriage to her.

The family then grows:
Leah gives birth to Reuven, Shimon, Levi and Yehudah.
Rachel sees that she cannot bear children and she gives her maid Bilhah to Yaakov, and Bilhah gives birth to Dan and Naftali.
Leah sees that she has stopped bearing children and she gives her maid Zilpah to Yaakov, and Zilpah gives birth to Gad and Asher.
Leah gives birth to Yissachar, Zevulun and Dinah.
Rachel gives birth to Yosef.

Yaakov, having completed now 14 years of work for his marriage to Leah and Rachel, demands a salary from Lavan for his work. Lavan agrees, and he and Yaakov arrange odd terms (see the Torah portion itself) which seem to minimize Yaakov's reward. Gd engineers it so that the terms actually increase Yaakov's reward, even as Lavan tries to change the terms repeatedly in order to shrink Yaakov's salary. This occurs over a six year span.

Gd then tells Yaakov it’s time to leave and go home, and Yaakov departs without informing Lavan. Lavan pursues the family, claiming that everything Yaakov possesses is actually his own. Ultimately, Lavan and Yaakov agree to a pact of non-aggression.

The portion ends the way it began, with a vision; Yaakov has a vision of angels as he re-enters Israel.

Have a great day,

Wednesday, November 26, 2008



This week's portion is Toldot.

The portion begins with the pregnancy of Rivkah (Rebecca); Rivkah and Yitzchak (Isaac), after years of prayer, are given children. Rivkah learns through a prophetic message that her very active fetuses are twins, and that they are destined to battle each other for supremacy.

Those two children are Yaakov and Esav (Jacob and Esau). Yaakov is born holding on to Esav's heel, the fulcrum of Esav's leverage, and spends much of his life using that grip to his advantage.

As the children age, they pursue different ends. Esav is a hunter and bandit, while Yaakov stays in the tent and studies. Yaakov is not without guile, though; he gains leverage over Esav when Esav comes in starving from the fields, and he convinces Esav to sell the inheritance of the first-born to him. Note that this is not the same as the blessing of the firstborn; those appear to be two different entities.

There is a famine, and the family moves to Grar, a Philistine city. Yitzchak and Rivkah, learning from Avraham and Sarah, pretend that they are brother and sister to prevent the people from killing Yitzchak to take Rivkah. No one actually took Rivkah, though, before their charade
fell apart and they were discovered to be husband and wife.

The Philistines created trouble for Yitzchak and Rivkah, filling in their wells and forcing them to move from place to place, but Gd helped them achieve financial success. Ultimately, Avimelech, the Philistine leader, made a treaty with them.

Esav married at age 40, modeling his actions on his father Yitzchak's marriage at age 40. Esav's wives were idolatrous, though.

As Yitzchak aged, his vision weakened. He neared the age at which Sarah had died (127), and he decided to communicate to Esav the blessing which Gd had given Avraham, and Avraham had given to Yitzchak. Rivkah found out, understood Esav for who he was, and had Yaakov take advantage of Yitzchak's physical blindness in order to get the blessing.

Yitzchak agreed, in retrospect, that it was proper to bless Yaakov. Some suggest that he knew all along what was happening, but this is difficult to see in the Torah's sentences and in the early commentators.

In the aftermath, Rivkah heard that Esav was going to try to kill Yaakov. She told Yaakov to flee, under the pretext of finding a wife for himself with her family in Aram.

Have a great day,

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Chayyei Sarah


This week's portion is Chayyei Sarah.

The portion begins with Sarah's death and burial. Avraham eulogizes Sarah and tries to acquire a burial plot in Hebron. In negotiations, Ephron, a local Hittite, at first acts in a generous manner, then tries to take advantage of Avraham by over-charging for the land. Avraham over-pays for the land.

Avraham charges his servant Eliezer to leave Israel in order to find an appropriate wife for Isaac. Isaac is supposed to remain in Israel due to his special status as an offering to Gd, so Eliezer is sent to Avraham's grand-nephew, B'tuel.

Eliezer turns to Gd for help, asking that the right girl come to the well and perform a great act of kindness, so that he will know she is the right one. He asks that she offer water for the camels, as well as for himself. Rivka (Rebecca), B'tuel's daughter, does exactly that when she comes out to the well.

Eliezer goes back to her house, where everyone agrees to the marriage. The next day, Lavan, Rivka's brother, begins to protest and stall. Rebecca overrules him, and goes with Eliezer.

Avraham re-marries, marrying a woman named Keturah. Some say that Keturah is the same person as Hagar, Sarah's former maid. Avraham has children with her, but none of them display the greatness of Avraham and Sarah.

Avraham dies, and Yitzchak (Isaac) and Yishmael bury him. Yishmael indicates his repentance for his earlier sins by allowing Yitzchak, the younger of the two, to act ahead of him in the burial.

The portion concludes with a genealogy of Ishmael and a mention of his death. Yishmael wouldn't actually die for a long time afterward, but because he isn't relevant for the rest of the book of Genesis, the rest of his story is recorded at this point.

Have a great day,

Wednesday, November 12, 2008



This week's portion is the jam-packed parshah of Vayyera:

Avraham and the Angels
[The sequence of events at the beginning of this Torah portion may be understood in several ways because of ambiguity in the text; here is one of the traditional ways to understand it:]
Avraham circumcised himself at the end of last week's portion, and he was very weak afterward. Tradition teaches that the third day after a surgery is the day of the greatest pain, and Gd visited Avraham on that day. Gd sent Avraham three angelic messengers, disguised as human passersby; Avraham thought they were human beings.
Avraham asked Gd to wait while he tended to his visitors, offering them water to wash their feet as well as a full meal prepared with Sarah and Yishmael. One of the guests informed Avraham and Sarah that Yitzchak will be born to them. Two of the guests then departed to travel to Sdom, with a mission to destroy that area and save Lot.

Gd decided to destroy Sdom because of their xenophobic cruelty. He informed Avraham of this decision, and Avraham protested that if there were 50 righteous people among them, it would not be right to destroy the whole area. He tried to bargain Gd down to accept fewer and fewer righteous people and save the city.
In the end, Gd didn't tell Avraham whether He would destroy the city or not.

The Guests Arrive in Sdom
The angels arrived in Sdom, and met Lot. Lot insisted that they come to his home, and he offered them water and food (practices he had seen in Avraham and Sarah's home). The townspeople learned of their presence, and attacked the house in an attempt to get at them for abusive purposes. Lot betrayed his lack of righteousness by offering the townspeople his daughters in place of the visitors. Despite Lot's lack of personal merit, the angels defended Lot and his family.
The angels destroyed Sdom and saved Lot, his wife and two daughters, warning them not to look back at the city's destruction; their merit was not great enough to allow them to see the downfall of others, as they surivived. Lot's wife looked back, and was frozen as a pillar of salt in her place.
Lot and his daughters fled. When they camped, Lot's daughters got him drunk and mated with him, thinking that they would not find another man.

Avimelech and the Philistines
Avraham and Sarah saw the devastation of Sdom, and moved away to the southwest part of Israel, an area controlled by the Philistines.
As they did in Egypt in last week's Torah portion, Avraham and Sarah pretended to be brother and sister lest Avraham be killed by those who would kill him and take Sarah. Avimelech took Sarah, but Gd told him to let her go. He did so, and he rebuked Avraham for the deception.

Birth of Yitzchak
Avraham and Sarah moved away, and Sarah became pregnant and gave birth to Yitzchak. Yishmael, Yitzchak's 17-year-old half-brother, became a threat to Yitzchak, and Sarah told Avraham to evict Yishmael along with Yishmael's mother, Hagar. Gd backed up Sarah's words, and Avraham did it.
Hagar and Yishmael ran out of water in the desert, but Gd rescued them when Yishmael called out to Him.

The Binding of Yitzchak
Gd appeared to Avraham and told him to bring Yitzchak up on a mountain. Avraham understood this as an order to sacrifice Yitzchak, and so he prepared to do it even though this would have meant the end of Avraham's dreams for his descendants. At the last moment, Gd told Avraham to spare Yitzchak, and He promised Avraham that his total faith would be rewarded during the lives of his descendants.
We then learn of the birth of Rivkah, who would go on to marry Yitzchak.

Have a great day,

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Lech Lecha


The coming week's Torah portion is Lech Lecha; here's a brief outline of this action-packed portion:

Our portion begins with Gd's instruction to Avraham and Sarah - then named Avram and Sarai - to travel to Israel. He promises to make Avraham's descendants into a great nation, and to give them great blessings.

Avraham and Sarah, with Sarah's brother Lot, arrive in Israel and began to travel around the land. They experience a famine, though, and they leave Israel for Egypt. Sarah pretends to be Avraham's sister rather than his wife, lest the Pharaoh decide to kill Avraham in order to take Sarah (note that Avraham and Sarah expected that Sarah would have been taken to the Pharaoh either way; Avraham was not asking her to give her own life to save his). Sure enough, Sarah is taken to the Pharaoh, but the Pharaoh suffers a mysterious ailment inflicted by Gd whenever he approaches her, causing him to release her.

Avraham and Sarah leave Egypt, heading back to Israel. Lot splits from the family, as he has grown in wealth and needs his own space. He opts for the area of S'dom (Sodom); he selects the site for its beauty. Lot runs into trouble, though. An alliance of four kings defeats the forces of S'dom and four other nations, and captures him in the process. Avraham hears of this and comes to the rescue, defeating the four kings. He refuses to take from the spoils, though, asking only for an amount for his allies. Avraham says he does not want anyone to be able to say that he had enriched Avraham.

Gd then appears to Avraham and promises him great wealth. Avraham replies that wealth is useless to him, as he has no heir. Gd responds that Avraham and Sarah will have children, and those children will be strangers in a land not their own. They will be oppressed, and then they will return to Israel with great wealth.

Sarah sees that she cannot become pregnant, and she convinces Avraham to take her servant, Hagar, as a concubine. Hagar immediately becomes pregnant, and begins to treat Sarah poorly. Sarah responds by giving Hagar more work, and Hagar flees the house. An angel appears to her and instructs her to return to the house, informing her also about her son Yishmael's violent future.

Thirteen years later, Gd tells Avram that he will now be called "Avraham (Father of many nations)" instead of "Avram (Great father)." Sarai will now be called "Sarah (Queen)" instead of "Sarai (My queen)." Gd promises them that they will have a son, who will become a great nation.

Avraham is given the mitzvah of circumcision, and he circumcises his household.

Have a great day,

Wednesday, October 29, 2008



This week's portion is Noach:

The portion begins as Gd tells Noach to build the ark. Gd is going to destroy the world via a Flood, due to His frustration with the population's acts of Chamas. Chamas refers to the self-serving use of force to take property from people, or to kidnap people themselves. Gd decides to roll Creation back to its beginning, restoring the world to a lifeless state in which the land is again covered by water.

Gd instructs Noach to build a large ark, and save the remnants of the world's population. This exercise in kindness would stand as a strong foundation for the post-Flood world.

After the Flood, the ark lands. Noach proves that he has learned the lesson of generosity, by offering a gift to Gd from his own property. Gd then declares that He will not bring another Flood; people have natural greedy aspirations, but they can also overcome those desires. Gd assigns the rainbow special symbolism, marking His covenant with humanity.

Noach grows grapes and drinks their wine, and becomes intoxicated. His grandson, Canaan, a forerunner of the nations the Jews would meet on leaving Egypt, abuses the drunken Noach. Noach curses Canaan, and Canaan's descendants.

We are then told of the lineage of Noach's descendants, down to Avraham and Sarah.

Have a great day,

Wednesday, October 22, 2008



The Torah portion for this Shabbat is Bereishit, the beginning of the Torah. There is a lot to say in Bereishit; I will be as concise as I can manage:

The portion begins with the creation of the universe in 6 days. It is clear that at least some of this account is intended to be understood allegorically rather than as a literal historical account. The Talmud declares that the Torah's account of Creation is one of those areas which are shrouded in mystery, and its secrets are not for public consumption.

Adam and Eve are instructed to guard the Garden of Eden, and to refrain from eating the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Commentators offer varying explanations of the Tree's role; one popular view is that eating from the fruit meant internalizing good and evil, so that one would lose the ability to objectively evaluate choices, and one would now feel a personal desire for good and for evil.

A serpent convinces Eve to eat from the Tree, arguing that this would make them Creators like Gd. Eve eats, and then gives the fruit to Adam to eat. Gd evicts them from the Garden. He gives them punishments which make their creative abilities painful and difficult - Eve in bringing life into the world, Adam in producing life from the ground.

Adam and Eve have two sons, Cain and Abel. Cain kills Abel in jealousy over Abel's relationship with Gd; Cain then performs the world's first act of repentance, and Gd alleviates some of his punishment.

The Torah then records the generations between Adam/Eve and Noah. There is much more here, of course...

Have a great day,

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Shemini Atzeret / Simchat Torah


This Tuesday and Wednesday are Shmini Atzeret and Simchat Torah, and we have special Torah readings.

On Tuesday we read from the end of the Torah's "Reeh" portion, Deuteronomy 14:22-16:17. This portion is read on the last day of each holiday - the 8th day of Pesach, the 2nd day of Shavuot, and Shmini Atzeret. It is selected for its digest of the different holidays, as well as for its specification that one is not to ascend to the Beit haMikdash [Temple] in Jerusalem "empty-handed." In the absence of a Beit haMikdash this is applied as a reference to tzedakah, and we fulfill it by making Yizkor pledges.
We also read a second reading, regarding the special "Musaf" Temple offering of Shmini Atzeret. That comes from Numbers 29.

On Simchat Torah night, we begin to read the Torah's last portion - "veZot haBerachah." There are varying customs as to whether one reads 3 or 5 segments. This is not a "regulation" Torah reading; it is done to celebrate as we near the completion of the Torah.

On Simchat Torah day, we read from 3 Torah scrolls:
1. We complete the Torah, by reading its last portion..
2. As we do on Shmini Atzeret, we read the special "Musaf" Temple offering of Shmini Atzeret, since Simchat Torah is really a second day of Shmini Atzeret. This comes from Numbers 29.
3. We begin the Torah again, reading from Bereishit. This is not a "regulation" Torah reading. It is done in order to demonstrate that we never truly complete our Torah study; we simply begin again, hopefully with a greater level of understanding than we had a year ago.

Have a great Yom Tov,

Sunday, October 12, 2008



This Tuesday (and Wednesday outside Israel) we read a special reading for Succot. The reading is the same for both of the first two days of Succot - it is Leviticus 22:26-23:44, also known as "Shor O Chesev."

The Torah reading begins by stating that one may not slaughter cattle before they are eight days old. This is generally understood to be a concern that the animal may not be viable; an animal which is dying is not Kosher, even if it undergoes sh'chitah (kosher slaughter).

The Torah also mentions the rule that one may not slaughter an animal and any of its young on the same day. (The Sefer haChinuch, seven centuries ago, explained this as an eco-mitzvah to preserve species.) This has special relevance for holidays, when people tend to use more meat for private meals as well as for Temple offerings.

The Torah then lists the holidays and their practices - Shabbat, Pesach, Shavuot, Rosh haShanah, Yom Kippur and Succot.

Have a great Yom Tov,

Monday, October 6, 2008



This week's Torah portion is Haazinu.
Most of this portion is recorded in the Torah in poetic form, as two columns. It is a song describing sin, retribution and redemption, employing unusually flowery, poetic language. Even the musical cantillation notes reflect that.
At one point, Gd expresses scorn for a nation which sees events and does not understand that Gd is behind them. It isn’t clear who the recipient of Gd’s mocking tone actually is – the Jews who have sinned, or the nations who think they have triumphed on their own merits, instead of as Gd’s tools. The commentators differ on this point.
Ultimately, the Jews are told (Deut. 32:47) that the Torah is not "Reik Mikem," "empty from you." Torah is not foreign; it relates to each of us.
The portion ends with Gd’s final instruction to Moshe – that Moshe should ascend the mountain, and expire there.
Have a great day,

Sunday, September 28, 2008



This coming Shabbat we will read Vayyelech.

Vayyelech is the Torah's shortest portion. Moshe begins his final address to the Jews, on the last day of his life. We are told that Moshe never became frail; he died only because Gd had determined that this would be his time.

Moshe relents from the Sturm und Drang of his previous addresses, and presents a message of encouragement for Yehoshua and the nation. He then gives the Jews the last two Mitzvot:
1. Hakhel - Gathering at the Temple every seven years for a national Torah reading by the monarch, and
2. The Mitzvah for every Jew to write a Torah. We can fulfill the Mitzvah of writing a Torah by hiring a scribe to write or fix a Torah. Every time we purchase Torah texts, we fulfill a dimension of this Mitzvah.

Moshe then gathers the nation for a final prophecy, which will make up the rest of the Torah - the portion of Haazinu for next Shabbat, and v'Zot haBerachah for Simchat Torah.

May we all be inscribed and sealed for a great new year,

Rosh haShanah


On the two days of Rosh haShanah we read sections from Bereishit (Genesis) 21 and 22. In addition, on both days, we read a "Maftir" section describing the Temple offerings of Rosh haShanah.

The section for the first day records the birth of Yitzchak (Isaac) to Sarah and Avraham. There are many reasons to read this on Rosh haShanah; the chief reason is that Gd answered Sarah's prayer for a child on Rosh haShanah.
During the period when Sarah could not give birth, Sarah had asked Avraham to marry her maid, Hagar, that he might have a child through her. Avraham and Hagar had a son, Yishmael, who was about 14 years old when Yitzchak was born.
Yishmael was wild, and involved in various sins. Further, he threatened Yitzchak. As such, Sarah asked Avraham to evict Yishmael and Hagar. Avraham was repulsed by the idea, but Gd backed up Sarah. Hagar and Yishmael ran out of water in the desert, but Gd rewarded Yishmael's prayer by sending a well.
The reading concludes with an attempt by Avimelech, a Philistine king, to make a pact with Avraham.

The section for the second day records Gd's instruction to Avraham to "raise up" Yitzchak on a mountain. "Raise up" is a term uniquely associated with sacrificial offerings, and so Avraham prepared to offer Yitzchak to Gd on an altar. Yitzchak, who was 37 years old at the time (based on the recording of Sarah's death right after this story; she was 90 when he was born, and 127 when she died), went along with it.
As Avraham was about to offer up Yitzchak, Gd called to him to stop, and he did so. Gd declared that Avraham had proved his dedication to Gd, and that the result would be that his descendants would receive great blessings. Avraham offered up a ram to Gd; the horn of that ram is our first "Shofar" image in the Torah.
Avraham was then informed of the birth of Rivkah (Rebecca), who would later marry Yitzchak.

May we all be inscribed and sealed for a great new year of health and happiness,

Wednesday, September 24, 2008



This week's portion is Netzavim.

We begin by sounding an optimistic note. The previous portion (Ki Tavo) ended with warnings of horrific suffering if we turn away from Gd; this portion reminds the Jews that despite their various Desert debacles, they are still standing. They should not lose hope.

Moshe then describes the Jews' covenant with Gd. This is a covenant which crosses all generations (Deuteronomy 29:14). We all become responsible for each other within this covenant, insofar as correcting visible flaws and encouraging growth (Deuteronomy 29:18).

Moshe promises that repentance will always be possible (Deuteronomy 30:1-6), and that everyone can reach Gd; Gd's Mitzvot are not impossible, and are within our grasp (Deuteronomy 30:11-14). Moshe concludes this portion with a reiteration of our power of Free Will.

Have a great day,

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Ki Tavo


This week's portion is called Ki Tavo.

The portion begins with our obligation to remember that Israel is not our land, but rather it is Gd’s land. This is played out in two Mitzvot: The bringing of the Bikkurim (First Fruits) to Jerusalem, and the timely processing of Tithes.

Bikkurim: The central element of the Bikkurim is the Bikkurim-bearer's formal declaration, recited inside the Temple. The declaration's text includes a five-line summary of early Jewish history, culminating in Gd's delivery of the Jews into Israel. With this text the Bikkurim-bearer acknowledged that his land, and his success, has come from Gd. This Mitzvah of bringing Bikkurim is performed only in the times when there is a Temple in Jerusalem.

Tithes: Under this Mitzvah, a percentage of one's produce goes to the Kohanim, and a percentage goes to the Levites. A third tithe is given to the poor in some years, and in other years was consumed by the owner, in Jerusalem, in the time of the Temple. This third tithe is distributed in its different ways based on a three-year cycle, and at the end of each three-year cycle the owner is responsible to make sure he has properly distributed the tithes of the previous three years. If he has done so, he appears in the Temple and declares the proper disposition of tithes, and asks Gd to bless us.
We still separate these tithes today, but we no longer distribute them due to the absence of a Temple and its rites of purification.

The portion then delivers the instruction for the Jews to record the Torah on stones on their entry into Israel. This would serve a dual purpose of educating both the Jews and the rest of the world.

The Jews are then reminded of their covenant. The Levites deliver this reminder, speaking of great reward and warning of potential punishment. This leads into the Tochachah, a frightening warning of punishment, delivered twice in the Torah - once at the end of the book of Vayyikra (Leviticus), and once here.

The fearsome Tochachah runs through to the end of the Torah portion, and the next portion begins with the statement, "You are still here today; don't panic."

Have a great day,

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Ki Tetze


This week's portion is Ki Tetze.
Last week's portion concluded with military issues, and this week's portion begins with the same - the law of "Eishet Y'fat Toar," governing treatment of female POW's. Jewish men were allowed to bring them home and marry them, provided they first went through a "cooling-off" period in which the women would mourn for their families and accept Judaism. The women could not be forced to accept Judaism.
There is debate among the authorities as to whether the Torah permitted the soldier to live with his intended wife once before he brought her back from the battlefield, or not.
The commentators understand this law as an outlet for the soldier, preventing brutality in the heat of battle by forcing him into a holding pattern to give him a chance to discover whether his feelings are simply the effect of the battlefield.
The portion then discusses inheritance law, dealing with a case where a man has two wives and loves one more than the other, and would like to have her children inherit the greater portion of his wealth. He is instructed to follow the Torah's prescribed structure of inheritance.
The portion then discusses the law of Ben Sorer UMoreh, a rebellious son who develops addictions to meat and alcohol, and steals from his parents to feed that habit. If he refuses to listen to repeated warnings, and he continues this pattern even after being lashed in court, and the parents come back to the court requesting capital punishment, that punishment is administered.
The Talmud points out that the Torah's rules for the child's age as well as the parents' physical stature and mental state, and the requirements for what the child and parents have to do in order to get into this case, render this case an impossibility. Rather, the Ben Sorer UMoreh is introduced here in order to warn parents to keep an eye on their children, and nip addictive and destructive behavior in the bud.
The Torah now deals with social law, presenting laws regarding everything from burial and human dignity, to respect for property, to prevention of cruelty to people and animals. There are laws of local government, too - laws governing marriage and fidelity, and financial institutions.
The portion concludes with a reminder of our war with Amalek. Amalek attacked the Jews when they first came away from the Red Sea, even before the Jews received the Torah at Sinai. We are instructed to remember this battle by a nation which was so adamantly against the basic beliefs of Judaism, that it attacked even though it knew it would lose - Gd had just split the Sea and drowned the Egyptians! We commemorate this with an annual reading of these verses during the winter, right before Purim, and this week those verses are a part of our Torah portion. Someone who missed the special annual reading during the winter can still make it up by hearing this reading, and concentrating on fulfilling that Mitzvah.

Have a great day,

Wednesday, September 3, 2008



This week's portion is Shoftim.
The portion begins with a discussion of the institutions needed to run a Jewish Israel:
We begin with a Judicial System. There must be judges, and fair justice, for all people; social status may not affect justice. We see that judges preserve the social order, but they are also charged with maintaining the religious function of society.
The central court was located in the Temple complex. The judges were situated at the Temple, but they were not necessarily Kohanim (priests); the Torah says to go to "the Kohanim and Levites, and to the judges who will be around in those days."
The Torah then discusses the concept of Monarchy. It is not clear whether monarchy is an ideal, or only a concession to political necessity. The Torah places limits on the monarch's rights and powers.
The Torah then discusses the Kohanim (priests). They would not own land, but would instead live in 48 scattered cities, among the rest of the Jews.
The Torah concludes this section by discussing prophecy, repeating the constant warning against idolatry, and condemning idolatrous practices like sorcery.
The Jews are told they now have prophets because at Sinai they were afraid to hear directly from Gd.
The litmus test for a valid prophet is whether he follows Gd & Torah, or not.
Shoftim then discusses community-oriented laws, including:
Creation of a city of refuge (Ir Miklat) for accidental murderers, to protect social order and ensure justice is maintained.
Hasagat Gevul - The prohibition against cheating other people by invading their property.
Laws of false testimony.
Laws governing the military.
The portion concludes with the section of "Eglah Arufah," detailing a rite to be performed if a murdered person is found outside a town. The town is considered culpable, for their lack of hospitality indirectly caused this person's death out on the road.

Have a good day,

Wednesday, August 27, 2008



This week's portion is Re'eh.
The portion opens with Moshe's offer of two paths: Follow the Mitzvot and receive a blessing, or follow a different path and receive a curse. These passages are often cited to show that Gd gives humanity Free Will - people are empowered to choose their paths.

The Jews are instructed to reiterate these declarations of blessings and curses on their entry into Israel, at the mountains of Grizim (curse) and Eival (blessing). Six tribes would stand on one mountain and six on the other, and the Levites in the middle would turn toward each mountain for its respective verses.
The Jews are then informed that Gd will choose a site for a Beit haMikdash (Temple), and that the building of the central Beit haMikdash will render all other altars superfluous. They are to bring all offerings to that Beit haMikdash. At the same time, it is recognized that Jews won’t be able to go the Beit haMikdash daily, and so they are instructed to perform the rite of Shechitah when they prepared meat for their own use. They are instructed to cover the blood with dirt, and not eat the blood.
The Jews are then given another iteration of the constant biblical refrain: Don’t get drawn into idolatry, as may happen if they would follow the Canaanite ways or if they would latch on to a false prophet or just a persuasive person who tried to draw them in that direction.

The Torah presents the laws of Ir haNidachat, an Israeli city which is entirely idolatrous. The Talmud's majority view is that this never actually happened; even having a single Mezuzah in the city would save the city from the "Ir haNidachat" title.
The portion then discusses a key method for preserving our sanctity: The Kosher Diet. We are instructed to think before we eat; there is sanctity even in the base and animal act of ingestion. The Torah follows up with other laws related to preserving our sanctity: Tithing produce so that agriculture gains a level of sanctity, leaving Israel fallow in the Sh'mitah (Sabbatical) Year, giving charity, being kind to slaves, dedicating our first-born animals in the Beit haMikdash.
Finally, the portion concludes with one last, major element of sanctity: How we celebrate our holidays. Rather than have bacchanalian festivals or other types of indulgence, we are instructed to come to the Temple in Jerusalem and celebrate the holidays with our families and with the poor.

Have a great day,

Wednesday, August 20, 2008



This week's portion is Ekev.

Last week's portion, Va'Etchanan, ended with a warning that the Jews’ right to Israel stems from their adherence to the Torah. This week's portion begins by outlining the relationship between Torah and Israel:
1. Without Torah, the Jews will meet the same fate the Canaanite nations met.
2. When the Jews follow the Torah's laws, Gd will protect them against the other inhabitants of the land.
3. Torah is to be part of day-to-day life in Israel.

Moshe describes the beauty of Israel, too, listing the seven species for which Israel is praised: Wheat, Barley, Grapes, Figs, Pomegranate, Olives and Dates. He instructs the Jews that they should eat, be sated and bless Gd in thanks for their food.

Moshe then brings up a new theme in his 5-week oration: The Golden Calf. He reminds the Jews of what happened the first time they worshipped idols, lest they fall back into it now.

Moshe follows up with a reminder that Gd cares about all people and all events; no action is beneath His notice. He presents a beautiful contrast (Deuteronomy 10:17-18) between the majesty of Gd as King of Kings and the humility involved in His care for human beings of every social stratum.

The portion concludes by reiterating the Divine system of reward and punishment. This paragraph is incorporated into the twice-daily Shema.

Have a great day,

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Va'etchanan / Nachamu


This week's portion is VaEtchanan. This Shabbat is also known as Nachamu, 'Be Consoled,' which is the title of this week's post-Tishah b'Av Haftorah of consolation.

VaEtchanan begins with Moshe's description of his prayer to be allowed to enter Israel. Moshe details Gd's refusal to allow him to enter Israel, and then Moshe turns to the people and explains what he wants them to do after he passes on.

Moshe tells them:
1. Don't forget Sinai, and the Torah I have taught you.
2. Don't stray into idolatry.
3. Always remember that repentance is possible; even when you stray and suffer national punishment, Gd will accept you back if you return

Moshe then begins to prepare the Jews for life in Israel.

He first establishes cities of refuge, which are meant as safety zones for people who kill accidentally. Moshe establishes three cities on the eastern side of the Jordan River; when the Jews enter Israel they establish three more such cities. Moshe's cities were not "activated" until the other cities were established, but Moshe wanted to do as much as he could toward the Mitzvah.

Moshe then recounts the theology that will mark the Jews as a unique nation in Israel. He reminds them of their experience at Sinai, repeating the Ten Commandments and recalling the nation's awe at that revelation. He instructs the people in the basic belief in one Gd, reciting the "Shma" and declaring the Mitzvah of loving Gd.

Moshe then warns the Jews that in their success in Israel they shouldn't forget Gd and assimilate among the Canaanite nations; they must retain their unique spiritual identity.

Have a great day,

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Devarim / Chazon


This week's portion is D'varim.

(This Shabbat is also called "Shabbat Chazon," because of the special Haftorah portion called "Chazon," which is always read the week before the fast of Tisha b'Av. This Haftorah portion is traditionally read with special musical notes reflecting mourning; these are the same notes used to read the book of Eichah on Tisha b'Av.)

D'varim is the start of Moshe's 5-week speech to the Jews, originally presented from the 1st of Shevat through the 7th of Adar, on the eastern side of the Jordan. Moshe provides a history of the Jewish experience in the desert. Moshe specifically recounts the low points; he is trying to make sure these errors aren’t repeated after his death.

This week's portion of the speech covers the following points:
1. Moshe recounts his exasperation with handling an entire nation. He discusses the establishment of judges, and his instructions to the judges.

2. The mission of the Spies who were to investigate a military approach to the land, and who ended up giving a negative report and discouraging the nation. When the nation's males rebelled against Gd for bringing them there, Gd decreed that this generation of military-aged males would die in the desert, and the next generation would enter Israel.

3. The Jews' approach to Edom, the descendants of Esav, on the way into Israel. The Edomites refused to let them through. The Jews were instructed not to fight them, so they went around.

4. The Jews' approach to the people of Moav, with whom they were not supposed to fight, either. They went around.

5. The Jews' approach to the people of Amon, with whom they were not supposed to fight, either. They went around.

6. The Jews' approach to the Emorites, who refused to let them through. The Jews fought a war and captured many cities on the eastern the side of the Jordan. The tribes of Reuven and Gad, and half the tribe of Menasheh, chose to live there. They agreed to fight for the rest of Israel first, though, and then go back to the eastern side of the Jordan.

Monday, July 28, 2008



This week's portion, the last one in the book of Bamidbar (Numbers), is called Masei.
Masei begins with a list of the Jews' trips and encampments in the desert.

We customarily try to read all of the encampments in one reading, as a unit, which is problematic when Masei is a single portion (and not combined with the preceding portion of Matot). Some chumashim do break up this section into multiple readings.
The Jews are then instructed to eliminate idols when they enter the land, lest the idolatry lead them astray.
The portion then delineates the borders of Israel, and instructs the Jews to create Cities of Refuge for people who kill accidentally and need to flee.
Finally, the portion provides details of land-transfer and marriage for women who inherit land; these laws were meant to ensure that a tribe would not lose land if the women who owned land were to marry out of the tribe.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008



This week we read the portion of Matot.

The portion of Matot begins with the laws for annulling vows. Judaism teaches that words have spiritual power, and so a person can make a binding declaration prohibiting himself from certain benefits or certain activities, or dedicating a possession of his to the Temple. On the other hand, courts may annul personal vows, given certain conditions.
Additionally, a husband can annul his wife's vows, if they hurt him. In exchange for a man's marital obligations (outlined in the wedding Ketubah), a woman grants him certain rights - which include the ability to annul vows which damage him.
A father has financial obligations toward his unmarried daughter, and these obligations generate a right for him to annul her vows, as well.

This section is followed by a war against the nation of Midian. At the end of the "Balak" portion, Midian corrupted the Jewish males by seducing them and then luring them to idolatry. Now the Jews fought a war of retaliation.
The Jews took many vessels and cooking implements in the spoils, and Gd taught them the laws of making this equipment Kosher, as well as immersing new dining utensils in a Mikvah.

After this, the tribes of Reuven and Gad told Moshe they were not interested in receiving a share of land in Israel. Moshe warned that they would dishearten their brethren by refusing to cross the Jordan, but Gd agreed to their request for land on the eastern side of the Jordan River, on the condition that they would first help the rest of the Jews get settled in Israel.

Have a great day,

Wednesday, July 16, 2008



This week's Torah portion is Pinchas.
Pinchas begins where last week’s portion left off. The Jews had been ensnared by an unconventional Moabite assault: Instead of fighting a war, Moav sent out their daughters to seduce the Jews. The approach succeeded in leading the Jews toward abandonment of Judaism, until a man named Pinchas killed a major Jewish leader, Zimri, who had been participating in the public adultery and idolatry.
Gd promised the zealous vigilante, Pinchas, a great reward for his role. Pinchas received a promise of Shalom (peace) from Gd; Gd would protect him from reprisal. Further, Pinchas was made into a Kohen. (Although he was already a grandson of Aharon, he was not a Kohen, as he was born before Aharon was made into a Kohen. Now, though, he would qualify as a Kohen, as would his descendants.)

The Torah does not generally reward vigilante justice (see Yaakov's rebuke of Shimon and Levi), and so the commentators wrestle with the question of why Pinchas was not only protected, but even rewarded for his actions.
Gd then instructed Moshe to count the Jewish people, in preparation for war against the nation of Midian. The Torah records the census of each family.
Following the census, Moshe began to instruct the nation in the way they would divide up the land of Israel. Under Jewish law, land is inherited by males so as to keep the land within the tribe. However (as noted in the Talmud in Ketuvot), the sons must provide for their sisters; in the event that there isn’t enough to provide for both the sons and daughters, the daughters get everything.

The daughters of a man named Tzelafchad came forth with a problem – their father had died, and left only daughters. Who would inherit the land? Would it go to the broader tribe? Moshe was stumped, and he brought this question to Gd. Gd responded that the daughters of Tzelafchad were correct; in the absence of sons, the land would go to the daughters.
After this incident, Gd told Moshe to climb Mount Avarim, from which he could see Israel before his death. Moshe asked that Gd appoint a proper leader in his stead. Moshe wanted a leader who would put himself on the line, leading the nation to war rather than sitting behind the lines. Gd responded that Yehoshua (Joshua) would lead the nation, and Moshe ordained Yehoshua.
The Torah portion concludes with a list of various offerings which are brought on various holidays through the year.
Have a great day,

Wednesday, July 9, 2008



This week's portion is Balak.

The portion of Balak is a bit of a biblical anomaly – its main story has no Jewish players, and therefore the Jews were not aware of this event, at all, while it was going on. Presumably we are aware of this story only because Gd told Moshe it had happened.

A man named Bilam was known throughout the Sinai/Canaan region as a sorcerer and prophet; his specialty was the area of blessings and curses. Balak, king of the nation of Moav - a nation that lived in the Transjordan area - saw the Jews coming out of the desert, and he saw what the Jews had done to Sichon, the first line of defense for Canaan. Balak realized that military might wasn’t going to stop the Jews. Instead, he hired Bilam to curse the Jews on behalf of the nations of Midian and Moav, figuring that the mystical approach might work.

This was a logical idea, in theory. Unfortunately for both Balak and Bilam, a curse works only because the person invoking the curse asks Gd to punish someone for his sins – if Gd is not interested, or if the person has no sins, then the curse fails. Gd warned Bilam repeatedly, "Don’t bother, it isn’t going to work." Bilam planned to convince Gd to accept the curse.

Bilam began to travel to Balak, and Gd sent an invisible angel to block him. Bilam didn’t see the angel, but Gd made the angel visible to the donkey, who at first tried to go around him in a field. Bilam whipped the donkey for straying. The angel re-appeared in a more narrow area, and the donkey again tried to veer around, crushing Bilam’s leg against a wall, and again Bilam whipped the donkey. On the third occasion there was no room to get around, and Bilam whipped the donkey again, and said, "If I had a sword, I would kill you!" At this point the angel appeared to Bilam and mocked him for his inability to see the angel who the donkey saw. Bilam offered to go home, but the angel said, "Go bless the Jews."

Bilam showed up and, counter to the angel’s advice, tried to curse the Jews on three separate occasions. Each time he only succeeded in blessing them, until Balak angrily dismissed Bilam. Bilam left only after prophesying the ultimate demise of Moav, as well as the other local nations.

The Midrash records that before Bilam left, he offered Balak a piece of advice, triggering the next story to appear in the Torah. Balak arranged for the local women to go seduce the Jewish males into their tents, as part of a plan to get them to worship the Moabite idols. This worked well, to such a point that the leader of the tribe of Shimon, a man named Zimri, began to publicly take part in this activity, despite a plague which was killing thousands of Jews even as he did this. Up stepped a man named Pinchas, and he killed Zimri, thereby ending the immorality, the idolatry and the plague. Next week's portion, Pinchas, will continue with the end of this incident.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008



This week's portion is Chukat. Chukat is a densely packed portion, with many sub-plots and stories.

The portion begins with the law of the Red Heifer, the Parah Adumah, an entity used for purification after contact with a human corpse. We are taught that this law has no conceivable rational explanation; it is described as a chok, meaning that it is engraved in stone. There is no explanation which a human being could divine.

Following the presentation of this law, the Torah records the death of Miriam. It is generally understood that this account marks the beginning of the Jews’ 40th year in the desert.

The Jews then ran out of water. The sages explain that the Jews’ well had existed in Miriam’s merit; once Miriam died, the water dried up. Gd told Moshe to take his stick and talk to a rock and produce water. Moshe struck the rock instead, and although this produced water, Gd punished him by telling him he could not enter Israel, since he had failed to properly sanctify Gd’s Name. Aharon died for this as well. Aharon was not active here, but it appears that he died for failing to prevent the act. (Note that there are other explanations for the error of Moshe and Aharon; the text is unclear.)

After this, the Jews came to the nation of Edom, descendants of Yaakov’s brother, Esav. Edom refused to let the Jews pass through peacefully, even with a toll. Gd told the Jews to go around Edom, instead.

After this event, Aharon died. When Aharon died, the Clouds of Glory surrounding and protecting the Jews disappeared. The Canaanite nations noticed this and took advantage, launching a raid against the Jews. The Jews prayed, and they vowed to dedicate the spoils of war to Gd. They won this war, but this was the last time they would be permitted to take such a vow. Once they entered Israel, such a vow was considered a flawed addition to the laws Gd had given. (In their war with Jericho, they would again take such a vow - and suffer as a result.)

After a period of travel, the nation again began to complain about the Manna, the travel, etc. Gd sent poisonous serpents to punish them for their evil speech. When the people began to die, the nation repented.

Gd told Moshe to create a copper serpent and put it up on a pole where people could see it. Those who gazed at the serpent lived. The Talmud explains that the serpent had no power; it was the fact that people would look heavenward for their cure, and be reminded of Gd.

The Jews continued to travel, and engaged in their opening wars with the nations who tried to block their path. We find a victory song celebrating a battle barely hinted at in the text. We also find Gd telling Moshe not to be afraid of battle; Gd would aid the Jews in their quest to enter the land.

Be well,

Wednesday, June 25, 2008



This week's portion is Korach.

Last week we read of the Spies whom the Jews sent into Israel. Those spies returned with a report attempting to convince the Jews to stay out of Israel. Gd punished the Jews for listening to the spies, sentencing them to die in the desert.

This week we get a destructive follow-up: Korach, a Levite who felt he had been snubbed when leadership positions were handed out, thought he saw his chance to strike at Moshe and Aharon. He appealed to other Jews to rebel against Moshe, arguing that Moshe had arrogated power for himself, and had instituted a variety of laws intended to create an atmosphere of obedience and to impoverish and degrade the nation. He also argued that others, besides the Kohanim, should be allowed to bring incense in the Temple; Korach assembled a group of 250 who felt they should have been allowed to bring the incense.

Moshe responded by challenging Korach’s crew to a duel of sorts. He ordered Aharon to bring incense, and he ordered Korach's crew to bring incense, to show that Gd wanted Aharon's incense - Gd would punish whoever brought an unwanted offering of incense. Moshe then turned to Gd and asked that Gd create a definitive sign in punishing Korach, so that everyone would know that the punishment and justice were Divine in origin, and not achieved through some human means. Gd responded by opening the earth to swallow Korach and his belongings. Only Korach’s sons survived, as they repented at the last moment.

A fire then consumed Korach’s backers who had tried to bring incense in the Temple.

This, of course, was not the end. Now that the Jews had seen that Moshe was backed by Gd, they attacked Moshe for inciting Gd to kill his opposition. In response, Gd sent a plague among them. Moshe was horrified, and he made use of a secret which he had learned years before - that incense would stop Divine wrath. He told Aharon to bring an offering of incense, which Aharon then did, halting the plague.

To show that Gd is not only a Gd of punishment, and that one would not die automatically upon coming close to the Temple, Gd instructed Moshe to collect a staff from each tribe, as well as one from Aharon. These staffs were left in the Tent of Gathering overnight, and the next day they found that Aharon’s staff had brought forth flowers, buds and almonds, signifying the life present in the Temple and in those who served it.

The tribe of Levi was then charged with protection of the Temple, to prevent the death of any who might accidentally enter where he did not belong.

The portion concludes by running down a list of tithes which were given to the tribe of Levi and specifically to the Kohanim, who had now been shown to have been selected by Divine decision.

Have a great day,

Wednesday, June 18, 2008



This week's portion is Sh'lach.

We left off last week as the Jewish nation began to leave Mount Sinai.

The Jews sent 12 representatives to investigate Israel and its inhabitants and to report back to Moshe. The spies did their job and returned with a report which told of a land producing great crops, but with fearsome inhabitants.

The spies opted to emphasize the negative, even to the point of contradicting themselves. Even as they said the land was great, they said that it "consumed its inhabitants," a reference to funerals they witnessed in their travels. Only Yehoshua and Kalev refused to participate in the attempt to frighten the Jews away from entering Israel.

The Jewish men listened to the spies. The women did not go along with the negative report - this is clear when Gd describes His punishment, singling out the men of military age for death; the men, specifically, had followed the spies and declared their intention to return to Egypt, and Gd responded by killing the spies and decreeing that the entire society of Jews would have to spend the next 40 years in the desert, one year for each day the spies spent in Israel, until this generation would perish. The day of this decree was the 9th of Av, Tishah b’Av, a day we commemorate with a fast down to our own times.

After Gd declared that this generation would die, the same minds who had decided to listen to the spies came up with another plan: They would show Gd they had repented. They would demonstrate their new love of Israel by leading a charge toward Israel immediately, regardless of Divine command. Moshe protested, but without success. This renegade army ran headlong into a war and was eradicated.

Following this section, the Torah portion includes a list of Korbanot - offerings and tithes. The list begins with a voluntary offering, and Gd gives the parameters under which a person may volunteer an offering. Perhaps this section is included here as a pointed message regarding the previous segment: Even volunteerism, such as was shown by the post-Spies group who tried to march to Israel singlehandedly, requires rules and boundaries.

The list also includes Challah, the tithe of dough. During the time of the Temple, one who baked more than a certain minimal amount of dough would give a portion of the dough to a Kohen family. Today, in the absence of a Temple, that portion of dough is burned.

The Torah portion then mentions the story of a wood-gatherer, who chopped wood on Shabbat and died for his sin. The Talmud cites a view suggesting that the wood-gatherer actually had noble intentions - he wanted to show people how important and serious Shabbos observance was.

Finally, the portion mentions the mitzvah of Tzitzit, of wearing four doubled strings on each corner of a four-cornered garment, as a constant reminder of our Torah. There are all sorts of mystical overtones to this mitzvah, but on a basic level this mitzvah represents a simple and valuable approach to Judaism - we make sure that Torah and mitzvot are always around us, so that we maintain an awareness of who we are and of our task in this world.

Have a great day,

Wednesday, June 11, 2008



This week's portion is B'ha'alotcha.

The portion begins with the final Mishkan [Traveling Temple] instructions. Aharon is instructed regarding the daily lighting of the Menorah, and the Levites are officially installed in their service.

It is now one year since the Jews left Egypt, and so the nation is instructed to bring the annual commemorative Pesach offering. One group, though, is unable to bring the Pesach Offering; they have been in contact with corpses, and so they are ritually ineligible for bringing offerings. Gd tells Moshe that these people should bring the Pesach offering a month later, in a make-up offering called Pesach Sheni. From that year on, people who are not able to bring the first offering bring the make-up offering one month later.

The Jews then resume their trip through the desert. A cloud leads the camp by day, and an apparition of fire leads them at night. Trumpets are blown to assemble the nation for travel, as well as to mark celebrations, war and general assemblies.

The Jews leave Sinai. They soon run into trouble, complaining about a lack of meat. The nation had done this once before, and at that point Gd gave them meat, but this time He killed the complainers. Perhaps the difference is that here the Jews didn’t just ask for meat; they also denied Gd’s gift of the Manna, thereby showing ingratitude for its beauty, taste and convenience.

Moshe, in responding to the people’s request for meat, tells Gd he gives up; he can’t handle the nation.
Gd responds by appointing 70 elders to help Moshe. The 70 elders are chosen by taking 6 from each tribe, but that yields 72, so they have a lottery. Two don’t make it, and those turn out to be brothers, Eldad and Meidad. They prophesy in the camp after the elders have departed; there is some debate as to whether this was real prophecy or faux prophecy. The Talmud offered a view that their prophecy was that Moshe would die and Joshua would take over. Joshua asked Moshe to imprison them, but Moshe said he would prefer to have everyone become a prophet.

At the end of the portion, Miriam told Aharon a negative statement about their brother Moshe. As the classic commentator Rashi (citing the Midrash) understands it, Moshe had separated from his wife Tzipporah because of his need to be available for Gd at all times, and Miriam complained that this was arrogant of Moshe.
Gd summoned Aharon and Miriam and rebuked them for their lack of respect for their younger brother, Moshe. Miriam, as the active partner in the slander, has her punishment recorded in the Torah; she receives Tzaraat, a skin ailment described elsewhere in the Torah. Moshe prayed for her and Gd healed her, but she had to stay outside the general camp for a week.
Aharon, who was silent in the slander, has his punishment for his part omitted from the Torah, but the commentator R' Abraham Ibn Ezra notes that Aharon was punished, too.
The Jews waited for Miriam to be able to re-join them, and then they continued their trek.

Have a great day,

Wednesday, June 4, 2008



This week's portion is Naso.

Naso begins with a discussion of the role of the Levites in transporting the Mishkan [Temple] as the Jews traveled in the desert, on their way to Israel.

There were three Levite families: Gershon, Kehat and Merari. Kehat carried the central sacred items of the Mishkan, such as the Ark. Gershon carred the outer parts of the Mishkan, such as the curtains and the walls of the courtyard. Merari carried the rest of the structure.

The portion then provides a census of the Levite families.

The Jews are then instructed to set up camps when they arrive at breaks in their travels, and they are given rules governing life in those camps.

The Torah then teaches two other sets of laws:

The Laws of Sotah – If a married woman and a man (either married or single) are secluded in a suspicious way, and there is only one witness, the courts cannot handle the case due to a lack of two witnesses. Instead, a rite is practiced in which the married woman drinks of a special potion which includes the erased name of Gd in it. If she and the man are guilty, they both suffer painful supernatural deaths (not administered by human hand); human courts have no power in this area, as there is only one witness. If they are innocent, Gd promises her great reward in restitution to her.

The Law of Nazir – This law provides a legal means of taking a vow of quasi-asceticism. A Nazir vows to refrain from hair-cutting and drinking wine, and to stay away from the dead. The Torah generally disapproves of unnecessary oaths; this vow is provided as an outlet for someone who feels a special need to purify himself. Even with this positive motive, the Nazirite brings a sin offering at the end, among other korbanot; this sin offering is understood by some to atone for having forsworn things which Gd declared to be permitted

The portion concludes with the dedication of the Mishkan. Aharon blessed the nation, and the Jews dedicated the Mishkan with offerings brought by each tribe's representative.

Have a great day,

Wednesday, May 28, 2008



This week's portion, the first in the book of BiMidbar (Numbers), is called "BiMidbar."

Some people pronounce this "BaMidbar." "Bimidbar" means "in the desert of," and is the way the word appears in the Torah's text.

The book of Shemot (Exodus) described the Jews’ journey from a life of slavery toward becoming a nation of Torah and of communication with Gd.
The book of Vayyikra (Leviticus) listed the laws of holiness, and the laws governing service in the Mishkan, where the Jews communicated with Gd.
The book of Bimidbar (Numbers), which begins with this week’s reading, tells of the Jews’ travels through the desert, toward Israel.

The first three portions of the book of Bimidbar deal with preparations for that journey.

Our portion of Bimidbar begins with a census, before the Jews begin to travel. Gd counts the Jews several times during their recorded trips through the desert; one explanation for the constant counting is that Gd does this to demonstrate His love for, and attention to, the Jewish people. We shower attention on the objects of our love.

The Jews are then instructed in their travel formations and in the flags each tribe will carry. The tribe of Levi is taught how to dismantle and transport the Mishkan, the Temple which will travel with the Jews, through the desert.

Have a great day,

Wednesday, May 21, 2008



This week's parshah is Bechukotai, the concluding portion of the book of Vayyikra (Leviticus).

Bechukotai begins with a promise of great national reward for fullfilling Gd’s commandments.

The portion continues with a warning of devastating national punishment for failure to perform the commandments. This warning, which appears twice in the Torah, is called the "Tochacha," the "Rebuke." It is traditionally read in a slightly lower, slightly faster voice than is used for the regular Torah reading, to demonstrate our desire to avoid the warning’s horrible punishments. (For more on this practice, see Megilah 25b.)

The Torah portion, concluding a book that focussed on holiness, ends with a discussion of the highest holiness – holiness which emanates from us, when we dedicate items or money for service of Gd in the Beit haMikdash (Temple).

Have a great day,

Wednesday, May 14, 2008



This week's portion is Behar (pronounced Bi-har).

The previous Torah portions expressed holiness-centered themes – the holiness of the people, and the holiness of the Kohanim and Temple service. B’har teaches about the holiness of the land of Israel.

Behar instructs the Jews to let the land rest every seventh year, a year which is called "Sh'mitah" in Hebrew, Sabbatical in English. Further, in every fiftieth year the Jews should return ancestral fields to their families; this year is called "Yovel" in Hebrew, Jubilee in English.

The Jews are also instructed that if an impoverished person sells his ancestral land, his family must be allowed to buy back that field at the rate paid for it initially. One who sells a home in a walled, established city, must be allowed to buy it back by refunding the purchase price within the first year after the sale.

Once the Torah discusses poverty and the possibility of selling an ancestral plot, the Torah discusses other situations in which people get into financial trouble and need to be helped out. The portion thus instructs us to extend interest-free loans, and to treat slaves well. If a Jew is sold to a non-Jew as a slave, other Jews should redeem him.

The portion sums up the issues of sanctity by tying it back to Gd as the root of all holiness – of individuals, of communities, and of land.

Have a great day,

Wednesday, May 7, 2008



This week's portion is Emor.

The previous Torah portion (Kedoshim) dealt with laws of sanctity for the general Jewish population. Emor begins with laws of sanctity for Kohanim, the 'priests' who served in the Mishkan and Beit haMikdash (Central Temple).

The Kohanim are taught that as priests of life, they must stay away from any association with death other than to take care of the burial of an immediate family member. They are also instructed that they may not marry divorcees; we are given no reason for this law, but some explain that it is meant to prevent any potential animosity or scandal from tainting the public view of the Beit haMikdash.

The Kohen Gadol (Head Kohen) is not even allowed to come in contact with death to bury a family member, and has even greater restrictions on whom he may marry.

The portion then presents laws governing offerings, as well as consumption of animals which are not offerings. The portion then lists the various holidays of the year, starting with Shabbat as the foundation of Creation and then moving through the calendar.

Moshe’s brother Aharon is then told to bring the oil for the Menorah, as well as the flour for the bread which would be on display in the Temple during the week.

The Torah portion concludes with the story of a man who blasphemed Gd. Blaspheming against Gd, invoking the Divine Name, involves a rejection of Gd’s existence and power, and so he was harshly punished.

Have a great day,

Wednesday, April 30, 2008



This week's portion is Kedoshim.

Kedoshim begins with various laws subsumed under the heading of "laws of holiness."

Nachmanides explains that this ‘holiness’ refers to transcending the letter of the law and imbuing day-to-day decisions with spirituality.
Seforno, on the other hand, identifies 'holiness' with 'being Gd-like,' imitating the acts of HaShem described in the Torah and drawing closer to HaShem in general.

In this context, we are given a series of financial laws mandating meticulous honesty in our transactions, respect and love for others, and generosity toward those in need. We are taught to love even the stranger who has come to us from the outside, and to take care not to harm him.

The latter part of the portion reiterates a constant biblical message, warning the Jews not to imitate the Egyptians and Canaanites. Various activities associated with idol worship and sexual immorality are forbidden, as the Jews are supposed to develop a lifestyle which will reflect the Torah and its values.

Have a great day,

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Acharei Mot


This week's portion is Acharei Mot.

Our portion begins where Sh'mini, the portion from three weeks ago, left off. [The intervening two portions, Tazria and Metzora, listed ritual purity-related instructions Gd gave to Aharon (Aaron) during the events that occurred during the Sh'mini portion.]

Now, having dedicated the Mishkan in Sh'mini, the Jews learn about the Mishkan's greatest day of the year, Yom Kippur. Specifically, they learn about the offerings of Yom Kippur and that day's special capacity for purification.

After this section the Torah provides general rules related to offerings. Among the benefits of these rules, such as the laws prohibiting consuming blood and bringing offerings outside the Mishkan, is that they help keep people away from idolatry.

The portion concludes with the laws prohibiting immoral relationships; these laws are mentioned here because the prohibited relationships were actually part of the practices of the idolatrous Egyptian and Canaanite cults that Gd wanted the Jews to reject.

Note that there will be no Torah Portion Outline next week, since the Shabbat reading will be a Pesach reading (from the portion of B'shalach).

Have a great day,

Wednesday, April 9, 2008



This week's portion is Metzora.

The portion of Metzora defines the process of repair for a person with Tzaraat. Our sages teach that even when Tzaraat manifests itself as a skin disease (as opposed to the clearly supernatural marks on clothes or walls), it represents an internal, spiritual disease related to slandering other people.

The treatment process for Tzaraat begins with inspection by a Kohen to determine whether one truly has Tzaraat, and to determine the end of the Tzaraat infection. One then immerses in a Mikvah, and brings offerings in the Beit haMikdash (Temple).

The portion then continues to discuss the appearance of Tzaraat marks on a person’s home, and what one should do if he sees such marks.

The portion concludes by discussing Tumah - ritual impurity - associated with male and female discharges. As some explain it, Tumah is associated with the loss of potential for life. Thus men with genital discharge, or women who lose an egg, go through a period of Tumah and then purify themselves in a Mikvah.

Have a great day,

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Tazria and HaChodesh


This week we read two portions: Tazria, and an additional segment called HaChodesh.

The end of the previous Torah portion, Sh'mini, dealt with laws of ritual purity, and that theme continues into this Torah portion, Tazria.

The Torah portion describes a rite of purification and a set of offerings brought by a woman after giving birth. According to one explanation of the Torah portion, one must go through a rite of purification after any experience involving creation or destruction of life. Thus one who comes into contact with the dead requires such a rite, and a woman who loses an egg goes through such a rite - and so does a woman who had been carrying an extra life as part of her, and now no longer is.

The Torah portion then describes Tzaraat, which is usually mis-translated as ‘leprosy.’ Tzaraat is not the same as the modern skin ailment called ‘leprosy.’ Tzaraat is a spiritual malady which manifests itself physically as marks on one’s skin. The marks are shown to a Kohen, who determines whether they are leprous or not. (For proof that this is not the same as any physical ailment, realize that this phenomenon may appear on clothing or homes!)

This disease is usually understood as punishment for slander against others – if a person publicly maligns others, that person finds himself publicly maligned, by his own skin. The marks may also appear on one’s skin, or even one’s home.

Each year we add a special reading on the week before the start of the month of Nisan. This reading, called "HaChodesh," includes Gd’s declaration to Moshe in Egypt that the Jewish annual calendar should start with the 1st of Nisan, and Gd’s initial instructions to the Jews regarding preparations for the first Pesach.

Have a great day,

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Shemini and Parah


This week we read the regular portion of Shemini and an additional portion called Parah.

This portion begins with the 8th day of the 8-day dedication of the Mishkan, the Jews’ Tabernacle with which they travelled through the desert. They brought special offerings for this day.

Aharon was the Kohen Gadol (Head Kohen), and he led the service in the Mishkan, for the first time.

Two of his sons, Nadav and Avihu, attempted to bring an unscheduled offering of incense on their first day on the job, while they were somewhat intoxicated from the celebrations of the Mishkan. A fire emerged from inside the Temple and consumed them.

Aharon was instructed to complete the service regardless of the death of his sons. He and Moshe disagreed about proper disposal of offerings in Aharon’s state of mourning; Aharon proved to be correct.

Moshe and Aharon were then given a joint instruction to convey to the nation – they were taught the laws of keeping Kosher:
1. Animals must have split hooves and must chew their cuds.
2. Fish must have fins and scales.
3. Almost all flying, swimming and crawling bugs are prohibited. Some grasshoppers are permitted, though.
4. Only certain birds are Kosher.
The Jews were taught these laws of keeping Kosher as part of using their animal aspects (eating) to attain holiness.
They were also taught about Tumah, a form of ritual impurity which could be communicated by various creatures.

Parah is the opening part of the portion of Chukat, found in the book of Bamidbar (Numbers).

In preparation for Passover, the Jews of Temple times were instructed to make themselves Tahor (ritually prepared) in order to be able to bring the Passover Offering. The rite of purification centered on the ashes of a slaughtered Parah Adumah (Red Heifer).

In order to remind people to begin this process before Passover, we read about the Red Heifer on the Shabbat preceding the Shabbat preceding the month of Nisan. Some consider this a biblical obligation, as part of preparing for Passover.

Have a great day,

Wednesday, March 19, 2008



This week's portion is Tzav (pron. tsahv).

Tzav begins where last week's portion halted, describing the services for three types of offerings to be brought in the Tabernacle:

1. Olah ("burnt offering") - Such offerings, which included personal voluntary offerings as well as communal daily offerings, were burnt entirely on the altar.

2. Chatat ("sin offering") and Asham ("guilt offering") - Parts of these offerings would go on the altar, and parts would be eaten by the Kohanim.

3. Shelamim ("whole offering" or "peace offering") - Parts were put on the altar, parts were eaten by the Kohanim, and parts were eaten by the owners of the offering.

Various types of offerings could be brought using grain flour, instead of animals; such an offering was called a Minchah. Flour was processed, and then the Kohen separated a fistful of flour using a method called Kemitzah. He then put that flour on the altar, and the rest was eaten.

The portion then describes the seven-day procedure for dedication of the Mishkan (Tabernacle). The Kohanim were dressed in their uniforms of service, and then the Mishkan was annointed with a special, spiced olive oil. The Kohanim were then annointed with that same type of oil, and their special offerings were brought.

Have a great day and a happy Purim,

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Vayyikra - Zachor


This week we read Vayyikra as our main portion, and we also read the additional portion of Zachor, which is read annually on the Shabbat preceding Purim.

Outline of Vayyikra
This portion, which starts the book of Vayyikra (Leviticus), begins right after the Jews completed construction of the Mishkan (Tabernacle), in which to worship Gd. Now that the Jews had built the building, they needed to learn about the service which would take place inside.

Vayyikra is essentially a list of various types of offerings; next week's portion (Tzav) will detail the specifics of each offering's service.

The portion begins with an Olat Nedavah, an offering which a person brings as a voluntary donation, in order to publicly affirm his relationship with Gd. Such offerings were entirely burnt on the altar. They could be brought from cattle, sheep, birds or flour.

The portion continues to discuss the Shelamim, a celebration offering. These offerings were brought to mark great occasions, and people ate parts of these offerings.

Finally, the portion presents a list of sin-offerings to be brought in the event of different types of violations of Torah law. Some offerings were linked to the person’s status; for example, the Kohen Gadol (Head Kohen) had a special offering in the event that he sinned. Other offerings were linked to the type of sin; for example, a person who withheld testimony for a trial had his own special offering. In addition, there was a special type of offering, Asham Talui, for a person who wasn't sure if he had sinned.

Outline of Zachor
Every year, Jews worldwide read the portion of "Zachor" on the Shabbat preceding Purim. This section records the story of the war the nation of Amalek launched against the Jews right after the Jews came through the Red Sea. We are biblically instructed to read this and remember it always.

We read this on the Shabbat before Purim because Haman, the villain of Purim, descended from Agag, who was a king of Amalek.

Have a great day,

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Pekudei - Shekalim - Rosh Chodesh


This week we read from three Torah scrolls:
1. The weekly portion, Pekudei.
2. The special portion for Rosh Chodesh, the first day of the month on the Hebrew calendar.
3. The special portion of "Shekalim" for the Shabbat preceding the month of Adar. This year Adar actually begins on Shabbat, and so we read Shekalim on the Shabbat that is first day of Adar.

The three portions are read in that order, because of the frequency with which they occur - the Torah portion occurs every week, Rosh Chodesh occurs 12 times per year, and Shekalim is once a year.

Pekudei begins with a list of the amounts of metal used in making the Mishkan’s (Tabernacle's) different parts. It continues to decribe the clothes made for the Kohanim.
We then learn about the assembly of the Mishkan. On the first day of the month of Nisan, after the Jews had been in the desert for almost one full year, Moshe collected all of the components and assembled the Mishkan.
A cloud then descended, signifying Divine approval of the construction. The cloud served to lead the Jews, remaining on the tent until it was time for the Jews to disassemble the Mishkan and travel to their next stop.

Rosh Chodesh
The Rosh Chodesh reading describes the offerings brought in the Mishkan, and later the Beit haMikdash [Temple], on Shabbat and on Rosh Chodesh. This portion comes from the Parshah called Pinchas.

This portion comes from the beginning of the portion of Ki Tisa, and it describes a mandatory one-time donation of a half-Shekel per soldier to the Mishkan.
After the first year, this donation became an annual Mitzvah. Every Jew (and not just every soldier) gave to the Mishkan, and later to the Beit haMikdash in Jerusalem. The donations were used to purchase offerings and incense, and the leftover money was used for improvement of the building itself and for specific communal needs.
We read this portion at the start of the month of Adar because Adar was the traditional month for the half-Shekel donations; the community would begin to make use of the collected Shekalim in the following month, Nisan. Thus the reading serves as a reminder to send in the donations.
Jews today continue to make this donation, but in the temporary absence of a Beit haMikdash we give it to tzedakah.

Have a great day,

Wednesday, February 27, 2008



In many years this portion is doubled-up with next week's Pekudei, but this year is a leap year, providing us with extra Shabbatot, so Vayyakhel and Pekudei are spread across two weeks.

Moshe descended from Sinai on Yom Kippur with the second set of Tablets, as recorded in last week's portion, and now the Jews were ready to begin building the Mishkan, which would be their Temple in the desert and for their initial entry into Israel. On the day after Yom Kippur, the Jews were instructed to keep Shabbat - and that's the way Vayyakhel begins. The Jews needed the instruction to keep Shabbat in order to teach that even construction of the Mishkan would not override Shabbat.

Moshe then communicated all of the building instructions to the Jews, and he recruited craftsmen. The Torah specifies that both men and women volunteered and contributed their materials and their work. Betzalel and Ahaliav were commissioned to lead the work.

The craftsmen soon informed Moshe that the the nation was bringing more supplies than were needed. The fact that they brought extra was, itself, an atonement for the spirit of volunteerism which was involved in creating the Golden Calf.

The Torah then goes out of its way to list everything the Jews made, even though all of these items had already been listed in Gd's instructions to Moshe. This redundancy serves to praise those who donated their time, and to show the value of their efforts.

Moshe was the one to actually assemble the Tabernacle; our Sages teach that Gd specifically left this job to him, so he would have a role in the physical creation of the Tabernacle.

Have a great day,

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Ki Tisa


This week's portion is "Ki Tisa."

The portion begins with instructions for a military census, telling Moshe to collect a half-shekel per male of military age. By using a collection for this purpose rather than a direct count, Moshe establishes the principle that we don't count Jews in a normal manner, separating them one by one from the whole, and this is a practice followed to this day.

Moshe was then instructed regarding creation of a "Kiyyor," the copper sink which was used in the Mishkan. The Kohanim washed their hands and feet with the Kiyyor before entering the Mishkan.

Gd gave Moshe the list of ingredients for the oil employed in anointing the Kohanim and the Mishkan. Gd also gave him the list of ingredients for the daily Ketoret (incense).

Gd appointed Betzalel and Ahaliav as lead craftsmen. The Jews were then reminded to keep Shabbat even during the building of the Mishkan.

The Torah then reverts to the storyline of the Jews in the desert:

After Gd's declaration of the Ten Commandments, Moshe ascended Mount Sinai. After 39 days, the Jews grew concerned that Moshe was not going to come back to them. Some commentators understand that Moshe had told the Jews he would be there for 40 days, and that the Jews erred by including the day he had ascended. Others understand that the Jews had no 40-day deadline, but simply lost patience waiting for Moshe.

The Jews asked Aharon to bring them a replacement leader, just as Aharon had brought them Moshe originally. Aharon stalled them, but they ended up building an altar and a golden calf, and celebrating. The consensus of most commentators is that this was not expected to be a true idol, but only a Moshe-like intermediary between them and Gd.

Gd told Moshe, on Sinai, about the golden calf. Moshe pleaded for the lives of the Jews, and then he descended and saw the calf for himself. Moshe smashed the tablets on which the Ten Commandments had been inscribed.

Moshe punished the creators and worshippers of the calf, and he then turned to Gd and pleaded for the lives of the rest of the Jews. He put his own life on the line, saying it would be better for Gd to erase him if Gd would erase them. Moshe also mentioned that the nations would assume Gd had killed the Jews because He couldn't bring them into Israel. Moshe also blamed Gd for giving the Jews a wealth of gold and leaving them leaderless in the desert in Moshe’s absence.

Gd agreed to let the Jews live. He taught Moshe the 13 Divine attributes of mercy, as a means of appealing to Gd whenever needed.

Gd told Moshe to make a second set of Tablets himself. Gd visibly distanced Himself from the Jews at this point, moving His manifestation outside the camp. The portion ends with a physical sign of the new distance between HaShem and the Jews – the Jews were now unable to bear the glow of Moshe's face after Moshe communicated with Gd, and so Moshe donned a veil when addressing the people.

Have a great day,