13

Shavua Tov. The number 13 is not considered an unlucky number in Judaism. It is used in several significant situations.

Everyone is aware that 13 is the age of Bar Mitzva. This is when a young man is considered mature enough to take upon himself the observance of Mitzvot.

Thirteen represents the Thirteen Principles of Faith of the Rambam, where he lays down the basic tenements of Judaism.

There are also the Thirteen Atteibutes of Hashem or י״ג מידות, that allows us to receive G-d’s mercy rather than strict judgement.

There are also the Thirteen methods of deriving the Torah, brought by Rabbi Yishmael, that we recite each morning in our prayers.

Today’s Parsha alludes to the Thirteen Sacrifices offered in the Temple. Five were meal offerings, or מנחה, and eight were offered from animals. Three of the eight were eaten by the one offering, the Pesach sacrifice, the מעשר בהמה, when a tenth of newborn cattle were offered each year, and the תודה, thanksgiving offering. The עולה, חטאת, and אשם, were eaten by כהנים or burned on the altar. The two remaining sacrificed were the בכור and שלמים.

So we see the number 13 is a very significant number in Judaism!

Four Purim Mitzvot

Purim has four basic Mitzvot that need to be observed during the course of the day.

We are to hear the Megillah twice both in the evening and in the morning. Women are also obligated to hear the Megillah twice.

We are obligated to give מתנות לאביונים, money to the poor. We fulfill this Mitzva by giving at least a small sum to two poor people on Purim day.

We are also obligated to give משלוח מנות. We fulfill this by giving two different ready to eat foods to at least one friend.

And finally, we are to partake of סעודת פורים, the Purim meal. This year it is preferred to start and finish the meal by noon. If this is difficult, then start the meal before noon and finish three hours before Shabbat. We are to enter Shabbat with a hearty appetite for Shabbat.

Enjoy and Purim Sameach!

Purim Hatred

As Purim approaches, we see the power of hatred. Haman hated the Jews to such an extent that it consumed him. His ultimate downfall came because of the very high gallows he made for Mordechai.

Hatred is generally a very damaging emotion on any level. Nothing good ever comes of it. Hating evil is the only time such feelings could be positive.

The ארחות צדיקים takes this subject a step further, with a very specific warning. He cautions us to be aware of people who express words of love with their mouths. And yet, in their hearts they are filled with hatred. We must keep away from such people in the worst way.

Perhaps this is another important message of Purim. Not only must we be careful with the outside enemies of the Jewish people, but we must also be careful with the enemies from within. When we are aware of the hatred-how ever camouflaged, we will be protected and will see salvation. Purim Sameach

Fast of Esther

Tomorrow we observe תענית אסתר, the Fast of Esther. It is meant to commemorate the three day fast that Esther declared on Pesach, following the knowledge of Haman’s evil decree.

This particular fast symbolized a significant change in the spiritual status of the Jewish people. The sincere repentance by the entire nation of Israel, was nothing less than remarkable.

The words in the Megillah used to express this was, קימו וקבלו, they fulfilled and they accepted. The Rabbis go a step further and say, קימו באהבה מה שקבלו ביראה בהר סיני. They fulfilled out of love that which they accepted out of fear on Mount Sinai.

The תענית אסתר declared in Shushan, achieved its intended purpose. The Jewish people were saved and their enemies were destroyed. Let us hope that tomorrow’s Fast of Esther, will achieve the same results.

שאור ודבש

When we speak about קרבנות, there are certain general rules that apply to all sacrifices. One such rule mentioned in last week’s Parsha was that it was forbidden to put שאור, leaven, or דבש, honey in any קרבן.

Rabbeinu Bechaye says that one of the reasons for forbidding שאור and דבש, is that these two items were used in Pagan sacrifices. And we are not supposed to copy the ways of the Gentiles.

A more common reason for the שאור is that leaven as applies to חמץ, represents haughtiness and conceit. Similarly, the דבש, honey, is symbolic of seeking that which is sweet as represented by the יצר הרע, the evil inclination. We are to overcome our inclinations and make the right choices.

The Rambam mentions that regarding foods, the bitter is sweet and the sweet is bitter. He is referring to what is healthy and good for you. But the same applies to choices that we make.

The message of the קרבנות is that in order for them to take effect, they must come with the proper intent and humility. No שאור and דבש allowed!

קרבן חטאת

Generally, we only offer a קרבן חטאת, sin offering, for violating a serious transgression, inadvertently, or בשוגג. Serious is defined as a sin that if committed intentionally, במזיד, and with witnesses, the transgressors would get death by the court or כרת, being cut off from the Jewish people.

This is why violating Shabbat בשוגג, requires one to offer a קרבן חטאת. Intentionally violating Shabbat is סקילה, death by stoning.

There are four exceptions as to when a חטאת is offered even though the penalty is not so severe. The four cases are: one who has relations with a שפחה כנענית, non-Jewish maidservant, a נזיר who accidentally becomes טמא, a false oath while testifying, and a false oath regarding denial of possessing something deposited with him. The latter two cases are called, שבועת העדות and שבועת הפקדון.

We see from all of this how severe it is to misuse speech. We must be careful to be truthful with all that comes out of our mouths.

Amalek

Shavua Tov. It is very difficult to understand why Amalek hated עם ישראל with such a passion. This was a deep rooted hatred that has lasted for generations.

It is also interesting how the strong anti-semites make it their business to know a lot about Jewish traditions.

For example, Haman thought the month of Adar was a good time to kill the Jews because he knew that Moshe Rabbeinu died in that month. (He may have overlooked that Moshe was also born in that month.)

The Ralbag says that the reason why Amalek wanted to annihilate the Jews was because they were aware of Yitzchak’s blessing to Yakov. They knew that it was predicted that they would become slaves to the Jewish people. They thought the blessing would be canceled if all the Jews were destroyed.

May this come to pass that all our enemies be destroyed.

פרשת זכור

This Shabbat is פרשת זכור, where we remember Amalek. It is considered a Torah obligation to hear the reading of זכור this Shabbat.

If one is unable to hear the reading on Shabbat, there is the possibility of making it up by hearing the Torah reading on Purim day that also deals with Amalek.

The reason we fulfill the Mitzva of remembering Amalek at this time, is because Haman was a descendent of Amalek.

We are to be aware that Hashem’s throne is not complete as long as Amalek is in the world. They epitomize all that is evil. They include יצר הרע and עין הרע and even Satan. When Amalek is destroyed, evil is destroyed and the good is able to shine through.

This explains why the destruction of Amalek is a prerequisite to building the Temple. Amalek is darkness and the Temple is light. Darkness must be eliminated so that the light can shine. Shabbat Shalom

Appropriate Animals for Sacrifice

The Book of ויקרא deals heavily with קרבנות. Rabbeinu Bechaye noted some interesting characteristics of some of the animals fit for sacrifices.

One common factor of appropriate animals is that they are נרדפים, chased as prey by other animals. They do not attack or consume other animals.

The תורים, turtle doves were worthy of sacrifices because they were very loyal animals. The females would never mate with another turtle dove once it had already mated.

We learn that parts of the fowl were, nevertheless removed before being offered. This was because the bird most likely found its food by way of גזל, stealing. And stealing was considered one of the worst human flaws.

There is great significance and symbolism related to the קרבנות. What is most important is the כוונה, or intent in how it is offered. Proper כוונה is what allows the קרבן to achieve its ultimate purpose.

ויקרא אל משה

We begin the third book of the Torah this week, ספר ויקרא. There are many commentaries on the first three words of the Parsha, ויקרא אל משה, that Hashem “called” to Moshe.

Rabbeinu Bechaye describes this “calling” as unique to Moshe Rabbeinu. He makes a comparison to the Prophet Shmuel and the first time Hashem called out to him. Shmuel was still a young boy and was under the care of עלי, the כהן גדול. On two occasions, Hashem called to Shmuel in a dream. Both times he thought it was עלי calling him. It was עלי who understood that it was prophecy that Shmuel was receiving and he helped the young Shmuel deal with this gift that he received.

Rabbeinu Bechaye uses this story to show the greatness of the prophecy of Moshe Rabbeinu’s prophecy as compared to all other prophets.

All other prophets were addressed by way of an angel. Moshe was addressed by Hashem directly and in a conscious state, which made him stand out.

This was what was meant by ויקרא אל משה and this is also to remind us that one of the Thirteen Principles of Faith of the Rambam was that Moshe was the greatest of all prophets.

Mordechai Kicks Haman

There is a very strange Midrash connected with Purim that is not exactly politically correct.

When Haman has to take Mordechai around the city in the king’s horse, Mordechai makes a request of Haman. He tells him that he’s very tired from his three day fast. He asks him to kneel down so that he can stand on his back in order to be able to mount the horse.

When Haman complies, Mordechai kicks him very hard on his way on the horse. Haman asks why he did it. Aren’t Jews forbidden to rejoice at the fall of their enemy? Mordechai explained that this applied to Jewish enemies- not like evil Gentiles like him!

The message here is that we must not forget that we Jews are family. There is a special bond between us even when we disagree. This is something we cherish. It is not the same with Gentiles. This is the reality we must accept.

Shlomo Hamelech’s Address

Yesterday’s Haftarah was very moving. For Ashkenazim, it was from the seventh chapter of ספר מלכים. Shlomo Hamelech has completed construction of the first Temple, and he is addressing the nation.

The celebrations took place during the holiday of Succot. Shlomo gives respect to his father, David, who was not granted permission to build the Beit Hamikdash because of blood on his hand. David had fought too many battles in his lifetime.

Shlomo Hamelech also points out how Jerusalem was designated as the holy city worthy of the Temple.

What struck me about this Haftarah was the joy expressed at finally having a location from where Hashem was served.

The ideal relationship between G-d and the Jewish people is to have a Temple functioning. It is from there that the nation is elevated spiritually where they feel the Shechina, Divine Presence.

These readings are meant to instill in us a burning desire to see the third Temple rebuilt. Perhaps if we long for it with more fervor, it will come to be.

מידת סדום

Shavua Tov. There is a concept in the Gemara called מידת סדום, a measure of Sodom. This refers to a situation where one objects to prevent someone from doing something that doesn’t affect him in the least.

He only gets in the way of another person’s activities out of cruelty. If he can’t have this benefit, why should the other guy have it.

This is learned from Pirkei Avot where the Mishna describes one who simply says שלי שלי ושלך שלך, what’s mine is mine and what’s yours is yours. Some say this is מידת סדום , because such a person will never give anything of himself to another person.

As Jews, we are taught to be giving and caring, and go beyond the letter of the law. There is no place for מידת סדום in the interaction among Jews.

Moshe’s Bracha

This Shabbat is a חזק, where we end the second book of the Torah. We have completed five Parshiot dealing with building the Mishkan.

This project was highly successful in every way. It was completed earlier than expected with a surplus of capital. And the donations were made with the proper intent of generosity and for the sake of Heaven.

Moshe Rabbeinu is so pleased that he blesses the nation with the following blessing: May it be the will of Hashem that you will always find Bracha by way of the work of your hands. And may the pleasantness of Hashem be upon our handiwork and may it all be established for good.

May we all be זוכה to Moshe’s Bracha. Shabbat Shalom and Chodesh Tov.

Honest Public Figures

As we end the Book of Shemot, the end theme seems to emphasize generosity, no stealing, and giving an accounting of public funds.

We learn generosity in the manner that they gave to the Mishkan. It may have been the only time people were told to stop giving as they had all that they needed.

In preparing for the Mishkan, Moshe Rabbeinu was careful that he not be suspected of stealing in any way. He gave a detailed accounting of every single object that was used.

This is a good lesson for anyone asked to handle public funds. They must be certain that they are not suspected of any wrongdoing.

This is very appropriate today-especially when we are in elections. No theft, honesty, and generosity, is definitely the correct path to take. Moshe Rabbeinu set the example for this exemplary behavior.

Copper Wash Basin

The Torah discussed the materials used for the construction of the כיור, the wash basin. The נחושת or copper used was taken from the women.

At first, Moshe was reluctant to accept the copper that was used for the women’s mirrors. He thought that a mirror represented vanity and יצר הרע.

Hashem told Moshe that this gift was very holy and desired. It was the women who kept up the spirits of their husbands during the difficult years of slavery.

They used the mirrors to beautify themselves and continue to have children. In many ways, their faith was greater than that of the men.

Therefore, the copper donated for the כיור was a most welcome donation.

צדקה תציל ממות

On the subject of צדקה, the Gemara in בבא בתרא relates the story of a rabbi who was known as בנימין הצדיק. He was in charge of the public charity fund.

One day, a woman with seven sons came to ask Binyamin for financial help. He told her that he couldn’t help her as all of the funds were used up. The woman cried and said that she and her sons would die of starvation. בנימין הצדיק was moved and gave her money from his own pocket. He saved the woman.

A short time later, Binyamin became critically ill. The angels in Heaven pleaded on his behalf and said that saving one soul is like saving a world. Binyamin saved eight souls.

Binyamin was cured and lived another twenty two years. Another proof that צדקה תציל ממות, charity saves one from death!

בנין אב

Parshat ויקהל is mainly a summary of what went into constructing the Mishkan. It is strange that the law against using fire on Shabbat is also mentioned.

There is a great deal of discussion as to why this particular law is separated from the rest of the thirty nine מלאכות of Shabbat.

One interesting answer says that the use of fire is called a בנין אב, or a precedent, for all the other מלאכות. Just as fire is forbidden on Shabbat, so, too, are the other מלאכות forbidden.

We find another example of בנין אב with the law of לא תחסום שור בדישו, that we are not allowed to muzzle an ox when threshing. Just like the violation of this negative commandment gives one lashes, lashes would also be given for violating other negative commandments. This is the concept of בנין אב.

Betzalel’s Creativity

Shavua Tov. Our Parsha mentions the artistic talents of Betzalel and Oholiav. They were the main artisans involved in carving out the details of the Mishkan.

Rabbeinu Bechaye points out that Betzalel May have only been thirteen years old when he was given this holy mission. He also points out how much more impressive it is that their creativity came out shortly after the Egyptian slavery.

Perhaps this was a sign for the future of the Jewish people in the Exile. A study was done showing that there were many more Jewish noble prize winners during difficult times than when times were good.

Somehow we were motivated as a people to survive with creativity and ingenuity.

There was no doubt that our closeness to Hashem and sincere prayers helped give us the determination to succeed.

This is why there is a comparison between the Jewish people. Just like olive oil rises to the top when placed with other liquids, so do the Jewish people excel in every difficult situation.

Betzalel’s creativity is but one example.

פרשת שקלים

This week is the first of the ארבע פרשיות, four special Parshiot that usher in the holiday season of Purim and Pesach.

We read פרשת שקלים that discusses the annual donation expected of every Jewish male between the ages of twenty and sixty.

This commandment existed from the time of the desert and initially had nothing to do with Purim.

This collection was made in order to cover the expense of the public sacrifices offered daily in the Beit Hamikdash. The half Shekel was given by rich and poor alike. This way the entire nation had a share in these sacrifices.

Later, Haman promised the king 10,000 shekalim for the privilege of annihilating the Jewish people. Already in the desert, the half Shekel was meant for atonement for the sin of the Golden Calf.

All shekalim collected from the previous year had to be used up before the end of Adar, to make way for the new shekalim.

This Mitzva was designed to bring unity to all of כלל ישראל as they shared in the same Mitzva. This unity was to carry them through the holiday season.

Because of its importance, we donate a commemorative half Shekel to remember this beautiful Mitzva. Shabbat Shalom