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,