The Nazir

The Nazir, is a central topic in today’s Parsha. There is great controversy between the Rambam and Ramban as to whether the choice to separate from wine, the dead, and not cutting hair, is a praiseworthy act.

The Rambam felt it was a negative decision, which is why the Nazir offers a sin offering at the end of his Nazirite vow. It’s as if he is telling Hashem that He did not give us enough laws in the Torah. He is afflicting himself unnecessarily.

The Ramban, on the other hand, felt that trying to elevate oneself spiritually, has to be positive. His explanation for the sin offering is that he is punished for ending this period of added spirituality.

Shimon Hatzaddik, who was כהן גדול for forty years, only had one encounter with a Nazir. It involved an extremely handsome individual who first saw his reflection by a small body of water. He needed to become a Nazir to contain his יצר הרע. Such a Nazir, certainly did a praiseworthy act.

We need to be certain that all acts of Kedusha that we take upon ourselves, should be solely motivated by the intention to get closer to Hashem. Shabbat Shalom

Desert Travel

Parshat נשא continues with the special תפקיד, or role of the three Levite families, גרשון קהת and מררי. They were to carry the curtains, the beams, and the holy vessels.

Moshe Rabbeinu had special עגלות, or wagons made for גרשון and מררי to transport the beams and curtains. However, the holy vessels had to be carried by the קהת family. The Torah says בכתף ישאו, that it had to be carried on their shoulders.

We also find that עגלות were mentioned when transporting Yakov Avinu to Egypt, as directed by Yosef. This would further emphasize that Yakov was a living sacred being.

Rabbi Soloveitchik notes that it was forbidden to watch the wrapping of the holy vessels. It was meant to be a רמז to the importance of צניעות, modesty.

It is interesting to note all of the symbolism that is learned from the Torah, even when giving details of how the Jews traveled in the desert.

Achdut

One other message to take with us from Shavuot is אחדות, or Jewish unity. The Pasuk says, ויחן ישראל כנגד ההר, Israel dwelled opposite the mountain. It should have said ויחנו, in the plural.

The explanation is כאיש אחד בלב אחד, as one man with one heart. This teaches that on Mount Sinai there was incredible unity among the Jewish people. This was certainly important at that moment of Divine revelation when we received the Torah.

Some say this is the explanation of the famous story of the non-Jew who asked to be taught the Torah on רגל אחד, one foot. The play on words of רגל is that it could be referring to the שלוש רגלים. The non-Jew is asking what the meaning of the רגל of Shavuot was all about. Succot was about dwelling in a Succa and Pesach was about Matza and the Seder. What was Shavuot about? Hillel answered that the message of Shavuot was ואהבת לרעך כמוך, love your neighbor as yourself. The rest is commentary. We need to take this feeling of Achdut and love into the summer months ahead.

Conversion

One of the themes of Shavuot is the subject of conversion. The entire nation converted on הר סיני as they accepted the Torah. We also read the Book of Ruth which is also about the most famous convert among the Jewish people.

The Rambam discusses the rules for conversion in הלכות איסורי ביאה chapter fourteen. He uses Ruth as the example of one who is מתאמצת, insistent or persistent in her desire to become Jewish. We first try to determine what the motivation was of the potential convert. We first want to make sure that there isn’t a romance involved. It is obvious from ancient times that people will convert in order to marry the Jew they have fallen for in love. We also want to be sure that they are not using the conversion for personal gain.

If after all of this, the convert still stubbornly wants to be Jewish, he is allowed to convert.

Momentum

Now that Shavuot is behind us, we should carry this momentum into the summer that is upon us. Hopefully, the experience of מתן תורה, receiving the Torah, will keep us focused on where our thoughts should be.

The first chapter of מסילת ישרים, speaks of man’s purpose in this world. The ultimate is to achieve the שלימות האמיתי, the true perfection. This is accomplished by knowing what is important and what is not.

We are not here on this world in order to acquire physical possessions or to experience physical pleasures. We are here because of the eternal existence that awaits us in the next world.

Our behavior and actions in this world, are the means towards meriting life in עולם הבא. This world is filled with too many difficulties and imperfections, for us to believe that justice will be found here. True justice is in the next world.

The Torah we study and the Mitzvot we perform are the pursuits that give us satisfaction. This is combined with a complete dependence on Hashem.

Shavuot was meant to reaffirm these basic truths. Let us hope this momentum will keep us focused in the coming weeks ahead.

Uniqueness and יקנה״ז

This Shabbat we read פרשת במדבר, as we start the fourth book of the Torah. The Parsha begins with a census taking of the Jewish people.

Counting shows how precious the עם is. It is also meant to show Hashem’s kindness, as we went from a nation of seventy to over 600,000 in only 210 years.

Rabbi Soloveitchik adds that counting shows that each individual has his own uniqueness. It is important that we see how we are unique, and that we not be afraid to express this uniqueness.

This year Shavuot follows Shabbat and presents us with a יקנה״ז situation. This abbreviation teaches the order that we are to use as we make Kiddush on Saturday night.

The order is as follows: First, we make a Bracha on יין, wine, בורא פרי הגפן. We then make קידוש for Shavuot. After this, נר, a Bracha on the candle and a special text for הבדלה. The Kiddush ends with זמן, which is the Bracha of שהחיינו. This is יקנה״ז. Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach

יעוד

The Jewish people made two declarations before receiving the Torah. The נעשה ונשמע, we will do and we will hear, is pretty well known. This was a complete acceptance by עם ישראל to observe all of the Mitzvot of the Torah with complete faith.

The lesser known declaration that was also made, was simply, נעשה. In this situation, Moshe Rabbeinu explained that there was a special יעוד, or destiny, for the Jewish people.

In ספר התודעה, this יעוד is explained to mean that עם ישראל were destined to be different than any other nation. They were to carry the weight of the world. They were to teach the world morality where the desire was self indulgence and immorality.

This יעוד also meant that the Jewish people would suffer discrimination at the hands of the other nations. As Moshe explained all of this to the עם, they readily and enthusiastically answered with נעשה. They were now ready to receive the Torah.

Trust in G-d

Last week’s Haftarah makes two very important statements. The first is ארור הגבר אשר יבטח באדם, “Cursed is the man who puts his faith in other men.” And the second Pasuk says, ברוך הגבר אשר יבטח בה׳, “Blessed is the man who trusts in Hashem.”

There is a clear message made by the prophet. One needs to understand where one is able to feel a sense of security. People foolishly think that they can achieve this peace of mind by amassing wealth and physical possessions. They believe that as long as they are in control of others based on their status, all will be well. Man can lack loyalty or scruples and bring this person down. ( The media does this to good people all the time. )

Only faith in Hashem creates real security. Hashem will never forsake those who trust in Him. He is the G-d of truth and true justice is with Him. We must never forget this simple message. ברוך הגבר אשר יבטח בה׳

U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem

Today’s big event of moving the embassy to Jerusalem, reminds me of Isaiah 53. This is one of the more misunderstood chapters in all of Tanach.

On the surface, it is an ideal proof for the missionaries, but it obviously is not. There are verses that say, “We esteemed him not.” “He suffered for our sins.” “He was cast out of the land of the living.”

The correct interpretation is that this is a prophecy about the future. The “we” in this case refers to the nations of the world. The “he” refers to the Jewish people.

The prophet is saying that there will come a time when the nations of the world will realize that they had misjudged the Jewish people. They were looked down upon and despised by most. But a time will come when there will be terrible guilt feelings by the nations of the world.

The nations will come to respect and admire the Jewish people. Israel will become the admiration of the world. They will truly fulfill their role as a “light unto the nations.”

It looks like today is the day that this prophecy is being fulfilled.

Seven Stages of Rebellion

Yesterday’s Parsha discusses the punishment for not observing the Mitzvot. Rashi points out that the Pasuk, אם בחוקותי תמאסו, if you despise my statutes, indicates seven stages of turning against Hashem.

The stages of deterioration are as follows: It begins with לא למד, he does not study Torah. This is followed by לא עשה, not observing the Mitzvot. The next stage is מואס באחרים העושים, despises others who do observe. He then is שונא את החכמים, hates the Rabbis. After this, מונע את האחרים, prevents others from observing. This leads to כופר במצוות, denying the Mitzvot. And the final stage is כופר בעיקר, he denies the basic principles of Judaism.

It is understandable how this is a  clear indication of turning against Hashem. Such actions will be met with severe punishment.

Yom Yerushalayim

Shavua Tov. Tonight is the celebration of fifty-one years since the liberation of Jerusalem. Yom Yerushalayim is a justifiable reason for great celebration.

The miracle of the Six Day War, was one of biblical proportions. It probably was the greatest miracle since biblical times.

It took Joshua seven years to conquer thirty-one kings. In 1967, this was done in six days. Anyone incapable of seeing the hand of G-d is blind.

At times like this, it is incumbent upon every Jew to acknowledge this great with celebration and the recitation of Hallel with a Bracha.

Hakarat Hatov, recognizing and giving thanks to Hashem is a basic principle of the Torah. This certainly must be done on this great day of יום ירושלים. And we need to give thanks again on Monday as we will witness another miracle as the United States embassy moves to Jerusalem. A double Chag Sameach!

Israel’s Attachment to the Land

This week’s Parsha, בחוקותי, ends ספר ויקרא and has the first תוכחה, rebuke. In this case, blessings and curses are mentioned in the plural. In the second תוכחה in כי תבוא it is said in singular.

One of the interesting verses says והשמתי אני את הארץ, , “that I will leave the land desolate.”

Rabbi Soloveitchik points out that enemies of Israel will also not find gratification from the land. Only Israel can make the land produce. Christians, Muslims, Crusaders, were all drawn to Israel, and all failed. The land changed hands so many times, but nobody developed it agriculturally, industrially, or scientifically.

Seeing the abundance of beautiful produce in Israel today is a clear proof of Hashem’s great blessing, the fulfillment of prophecy, and attests to the special relationship between Hashem and the Jewish people. Shabbat Shalom

We Struggle and They Struggle

There is a prayer we are to say after learning Torah when we leave the study hall. This was composed by נחוניא בן הקנה in the Mishna.

The prayer thanks Hashem that our lot is one where we are involved in Torah. “We struggle and they struggle. We struggle and receive reward and they struggle and do not receive reward.”

The simple explanation is that there are many who live meaningless lives, wasting time on frivolities. While those immersed in Torah, have meaning, purpose, and reward.

Rashi insists that those who struggle and receive no reward refers to shopkeepers. The explanation is that if one’s shop is open for several hours and he is hoping for Parnassa. He only sees reward for his efforts if customers purchase his wares. However, when one studies Torah for several hours and has difficulty understanding the material, still gets his reward for making the effort.

This is what is meant by, “We struggle and get reward and they struggle and do not get reward.”

Living Securely in our Land

Both פרשת בהר and בחוקותי mention וישבתם בארץ לבטח, that you will live securely in your land. The commentary on these verses teach that only in Israel does one live securely- which is not the case outside of Israel.

Rabbi Soloveitchik points out that the first person in Tanach to make a common mistake was Elimelech, the father in-law of Ruth. He felt that security was expressed with one’s finances. Elimelech thought that as long as he held on to his wealth and possessions, he would be safe and secure. In essence, he thought he could build a wall of economic security.

There are others who foolishly believe that bombs and rockets give a sense of security. The Torah is teaching us that if one truly wants to feel safe, he needs to be living in ארץ ישראל being dependent only on Hashem in His land. Money and rockets are not nearly as strong as the knowledge that it is G-d and Eretz Yisrael that are the ultimate protection.

We must remember that בארץ אתה יושב לבטח ולא בחוצה לה. In your land you are secure, but not outside of the land.

בהם תעבודו

The Parsha spoke of the laws concerning the עבד כנעני. These were non-Jews who chose to become Torah observant to the extent that they kept all of the Mitzvot a woman observed.

They performed Brit Mila and Mikva, but remained slaves for their entire life. The Pasuk says, בהם תעבודו, that “You are to work them”. They are your property and they are given to your children as an inheritance.

The only way they go free is if they are injured by their master by having their eye or tooth knocked out. When they go free, they are immediately considered as Jews.

The story of רבי אליעזר in the Gemara is puzzling. In order to make a Minyan, רבי אליעזר  freed his עבד כנעני. His action proved that even a rabbinical law of the group needing a Minyan, took precedence over the commander of בהם תעבודו.

Yovel and Shofar

The laws of יובל are also mentioned in the Parsha. The announcement of the jubilee year was made on Yom Kippur of the fiftieth year.

All Hebrew slaves were set free in addition to ancestral land being returned to their original owners. This is also where the famous line of, “Proclaim liberty throughout the land to all the inhabitants thereof” was mentioned. This is found on the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia.

The announcement of יובל came with the blowing of the Shofar. The Torah says, והעברת שופר תרועה בחדש השביעי, that the Shofar is blown on the seventh month.

Rabbi Soloveitchik contrasts this Mitzva of Shofar with that of Rosh Hashanah. Here, by יובל, the Mitzva is to blow the Shofar. On Rosh Hashanah, the Mitzva is to hear the Shofar.

The practical difference is that the Mitzva of Shofar is fulfilled on Rosh Hashanah even with a stolen Shofar. The sounds need to be heard. But on יובל, the Mitzva is not fulfilled with a stolen Shofar, for the Mitzva is to blow the Shofar.

Money Matters

Shavua Tov. A major section of פרשת בהר were discussions concerning money matters. Aside from the laws of the Sabbatical year, there was also a discussion concerning ancestral property returning to its original owner at יובל, the jubilee year.

The Gemara in בבא מציעא discussed a special rabbinic enactment meant to protect the consumer. They ruled that a transaction was not finalized with the payment of money. It was only completed when the object purchased was actually delivered.

The Rabbis were concerned that the seller might not be careful to protect the merchandise like he should, since he was already paid. The purchaser had the right to withdraw from the deal even after paying for a specific item.

Learning such laws make us appreciate the wisdom and concern for כלל ישראל on all levels.

חומה for Protection

This week’s Parsha, בהר, discusses the sale of a home in a walled city. Unlike fields that return to their original owner at יובל, the jubilee year, the walled city’s home is sold permanently after one year.

There is a strange Pasuk that needs explanation. The wording and the way that it’s written is, אשר לא חומה, which would mean that it has no wall. This is the כתיב, as it is written. However, the קרי, the way that it’s read, is אשר לו חומה, that it has a wall.

Rabbi Soloveitchik explains that there is a deeper meaning here. Sometimes we might feel that לא חומה, that there’s no wall, or no protection and that we are vulnerable. In reality, if we only had faith, we would see that לו חומה, there actually is a wall. Hashem is the ultimate protector and if we would only trust in Him, we would realize that we are never without a חומה. Shabbat Shalom

Lag B’Omer

Tonight is Lag B’Omer. It is generally understood that this is the day when the plague that killed the 24,000 students of רבי עקיבא had ended.

The lesser known reason for celebrating Lag B’Omer is that this is the Yahrtzeit of רבי שמעון בר יוחאי. It is also referred to as the Hilula of רבי שמעון.

It was Rabbi Shimon, himself, who requested that the anniversary of his death be celebrated with rejoicing and light, rather than sadness and mourning. Tradition relates that its sun had not set until he had revealed all that he had been permitted to reveal. It was Rashbi that had written the Zohar when he hid in the cave for twelve years.

The bonfires lit are looked as massive Yahrtzeit candles celebrating the life of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai.

Havdala Wine

There is a custom that the Havdala wine is not to be shared with the members of the household. It is to be drunk entirely by the one making Havdala.

Women were excluded because some said that the forbidden fruit that Eve gave to Adam, were grapes. This sin caused division and separation. Havdala describes the separation between holy and profane and Israel and the nations. Hinting to Eve’s sin at that time would be inappropriate.

The reason the wine or grape juice should not be shared with the children is that it is necessary to drink a sufficient amount, a רביעית, in order to make the after blessing. If the wine is shared, a sufficient amount will not be consumed.

This information comes from a book titled, טעמי המנהגים, the reason for customs.

This would also imply that women should not make Havdala. This seems to be preferred, but there are times when women need to make Havdala if no men are around. Notice that I prefaced this as a מנהג, a custom.