The Three Oaths

Shir Hashirim has the words השבעתי אתכם, that I made you swear, three times.

The Talmud at the end of מסכת כתובות says that this repetition refers to the “three oaths” that were made between Israel and the nations during Israel’s long and bitter exile.

The three oaths were that Israel would not rebel against those nations that were hosting them. They allegedly agreed that they would not return to Israel in large numbers, but would wait for Mashiach. And the third oath was that the nations of the world would not oppress us too much.

While some use these oaths as an excuse not to make Aliya, others claim that the deal is off. This is because they did oppress us too much.

Once they broke their part of the deal, Jews are certainly allowed to make Aliya from all over the world.

שיר השירים

Yesterday we read שיר השירים. This is one of the most controversial books in all of Tanach. It was not certain if it should even become one of the books of Tanach, if not for Rabbi Akiva.

He said that if all the other books of Tanach are holy, then שיר השירים is Holy of Holies.

There is a hidden plot to this book that is also meant to answer the scoffers of Judaism. The reuniting of the two lovers at the end of שיר השירים, is a hint to the ultimate reuniting of עם ישראל with Hashem.

After suffering scorn and embarrassment by all those around them, the two lovers prove that only their love is true. Everyone acknowledges this to be true, just as all of the world will one day acknowledge the truth of Judaism.

Again, all of the gloating of the nations of the world and how we were abandoned, will be proven wrong. This is the message of שיר השירים.

Gratitude

Moadim Lesimcha and Shavua Tov. We began counting ספירת העומר this evening.

Now that the Seder is behind us, what should be uppermost on our minds is הכרת הטוב, giving gratitude to Hashem for our lot in the world.

We certainly should be grateful on a personal level for Hashem’s abundant blessings. We need never to take for granted Hashem’s kindness in giving us so much.

On a national level, the recent fire in France at Notre Dame, should serve as a reminder as to how much we suffered at the hands of the Christians. We were mocked and ridiculed for our G-d having abandoned us.

Today we see the rebirth of the State of Israel, and Jewish influence all over the world. Hashem has returned to His people. Our very existence serves as living proof of the falsehood of Christianity and Islam. For that, too, we need to be immensely grateful.

והיא שעמדה

A favorite Seder Dvar Torah of mine is the commentary on the words והיא שעמדה.

The usual interpretation is that we need to give thanks to Hashem because in every generation there are enemies wishing to destroy us. And Hashem always comes to our aid to save us from their hand.

The word והיא, literally means, “and she”. We use the feminine to equally acknowledge that it is in the merit of our saintly Jewish women that allowed us to survive our bitter exile.

Also the word, והיא, hints to individual things that also saved us. The “ו” equals six and hints to the six books of the Mishna. The “ה” refers to the five books of the Torah. The “י” refers to the Ten Commandments. And the “א” refers to Hashem is One.

A little Seder thought for Pesach. Have a חג כשר ושמח!

Afikomen By Midnight

Every year we are given the last time we are allowed to eat the Afikomen. Just as the קרבן פסח was to be consumed by midnight, so, too, should we finish our “dessert”, namely, the Afikomen by midnight.

Anyone who learned the first Mishna in Brachot knows that whenever there is a Mitzva to be completed by חצות, midnight, really has until עמוד השחר, daybreak, to complete the Mitzva. The Rabbis said חצות, in order to distance a person from sinning.

Even though, technically, the same applies after the fact, by אפיקומן, there is a difference. If one only started his Seder after midnight for whatever reason, he can only say the Bracha of המוציא on the Matza, and is no longer allowed to say the once a year Bracha of על אכילת מצה.

It’s good to have a perspective on things. But it’s even better to do things on time.

חמץ שעבר עליו הפסח

We are taught to be careful with חמץ שעבר עליו הפסח. This refers to unsold Chametz that was left in the possession of a Jew during Pesach.

We are supposed to ask store owners to produce a certificate that says, אישור מכירת חמץ, proving that the Chametz was sold and that place did not violate this prohibition.

Most are not aware that חמץ שעבר עליו הפסח is a rabbinic enactment. If you think about it, this has to be rabbinic. For if someone ate unsold Chametz, he is still eating Kosher food, and it’s no longer Pesach. Nevertheless, because eating Chametz on Pesach carries with it a כרת punishment, we are meant to be very careful to handle our Chametz with care.

עד אחד נאמן באיסורים

One final point connected to last week’s Parsha. We learn an important Halachic concept from the Pasuk וספרה לה שבעת ימים, that she counts for herself seven days. The Rabbis learn from this עד אחד נאמן באיסורים, that one witness is believed in matters of איסורים.

This means that we trust the testimony of one person regarding whether something is permitted or forbidden. For example, one individual is trusted to let us know how much milk fell into a meat dish. This way we figure out if it is אסור or מותר.

The section of Shulchan Aruch that deals with איסור והיתר is called יורה דעה. The main subject are things that are permitted or forbidden.

When the Torah says that two witnesses are required in a matter, this refers to cases where an actual sin was seen by two who report it to בית דין and the appropriate punishment is given.

In the first instance, we get the facts based on the testimony of one. But punishment is only meted out when there are two witnesses.

7 or 12 Days

A common question asked regarding the laws of טהרת המשפחה comes from yesterday’s Parsha. It is known that the separation between husband and wife is a minimum of twelve days related to menstruation. The Torah seems to say it is only a seven day separation. Why did the Rabbis add the extra five days?

Aside from the more complicated answer of not being certain as to what the woman’s actual status is. It might be that she is a זבה and must wait seven days or she is נידה and waits seven days.

Putting this reason aside, there are two explanations that explain the insistence of a twelve day separation. One answer is that the Rabbis felt that the extra five day separation increases תשוקה, or passion. The extra waiting makes the reunion that much more special.

And the other answer is similar in that this extended separation creates a “honeymoon” like atmosphere between husband and wife. Every month has its anticipation of being reunited. The system works and the wisdom of the Rabbis is remarkable!

והגדת לבנך

Shavua Tov. Just returned from the Shabbat Hagadol Drasha of the Chief Rabbi, David Lau. His talk was based on the obligation to fulfill the commandment of והגדת לבנך, to tell the Pesach story to your son.

Rav Lau claims that every year he receives questions on this topic from divorced couples who share custody on the various holidays.

Fathers who did not have rights to be with their children on Pesach, because they had the children on Succot, try to get their children on Pesach as well because of their need to fulfill והגדת לבנך. How could they be denied the fulfillment of this Torah commandment?

There are many opinions regarding this question. Rav Lau took the position that the father would not be granted Pesach rights. His main reason was that this Mitzva can be fulfilled by a שליח. And as long as the father makes sure that his children will be told the Pesach story, he has fulfilled his obligation of והגדת לבנך.

Shabbat Hagadol

This Shabbat is known as Shabbat Hagadol. It is also known as שבת הנס הגדול. The great miracle referred to the taking of the Paschal lamb on the tenth of Nissan, which fell on Shabbat, and the Egyptians did not protest. The lamb was worshipped as a god in Egypt and it was a big surprise that they accepted that these same lambs would be slaughtered as the קרבן פסח.

Another reason it is called שבת הגדול, is because of the words of the Haftarah from the Book of Malachi. The prophet refers to the time when הנה היום הגדול בא, “Behold a great day is coming.” This is referring to the great day of Mashiach that will be preceded by the coming of אליהו הנביא.

This Shabbat is also one where it is customary to hear words of inspiration from the leading rabbi of the community. This is known as the Shabbat Hagadol Drasha.

It is also customary to read parts of the Haggadah in the afternoon between עבדים היינו and after דיינו.

Shabbat Hagadol is a very important Shabbat, indeed. Shabbat Shalom

Evil Speech

This Shabbat we read פרשת מצורע. Usually, תזריע-מצורע are read together, but because of this year being a leap year, they are read separately.

The major subject of the Parsha is צרעת, or leprosy. We use a play on words and say that מצורע is an acronym for מוציא שם רע, bringing a bad name on someone.

Leprosy was considered the ultimate punishment for לשון הרע, and using speech in a negative way. There is even a rabbinic quote that says that לשון הרע is worse than the three cardinal sins of idol worship, murder, and immorality.

The damage that comes from using speech in a negative way, is sometimes irreparable. Physical wounds can heel. But the pain that is caused from harsh words or insults, never come back.

This is the reason why the leper is quarantined from the camp. He caused divisiveness among individuals, and is not allowed to interact with people, until he is cured.

Although we no longer have the methods of purification as we did in Temple times, we must be careful to use speech only in a positive manner.

Children and the Seder

There is a קיצור שלחן ערוך that is called מקור חיים. It was written in the ‘60’s or ‘70’s by Rabbi Chaim David Halevi, who eventually became Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv.

His book is used in many schools in Israel, as he brings both Ashkenazi and Sephardic customs. His writing style is clear and understandable.

The מקור חיים, as he was known, made a very strong point regarding the Seder. The children are the most important people at the Seder. They must be kept involved and everything should focus on them.

We must fulfill the והגדת לבנך, tell your children, through them. They are the future. And we must never minimize the impression that a well run Seder can make on them.

We are to try to keep them awake and encourage them to ask questions.

We began as a nation in Egypt, and we must continue with our future generations by telling them the story of Egypt.

ביטול חמץ

Regarding the removal of Chametz from our homes, there are varying opinions. It is always a good idea to start with what is forbidden from the Torah, and then move on to the Rabbis.

The Torah forbids what we refer to as בל יראה and בל ימצא, you shall not see and you shall not find. These are two separate prohibitions.

The Torah’s method for removal of חמץ, is simply, ביטול, or nullification.

This involves the ביטול declaration that you are relinquishing ownership of your חמץ and you are making it ownerless like the dust of the earth. This technically means that you do not own any Chametz.

It is the Rabbis who require the actual removal and the checking of the entire house for Chametz. And after all of this, we do בדיקת חמץ the night before Pesach.

We must not forget the symbolism of all of this. Chametz represents haughtiness and our negative personality flaws. This is what we really should concentrate on getting rid of during this Pesach season.

Matza

There is an interesting Halacha in the name of the Vilna Gaon. Unlike most authorities, he ruled that we are to use two Matzot and not three, at the Seder.

This is based on decisions rendered by various Rishonim.

Another slight difference in the name of the Gaon, is his Psak regarding eating Matzot. Most opinions say that the real obligation to eat Matza, is at the Seder. The Torah clearly says, בערב תאכלו מצות, referring to the Seder.

He learns the Pasuk, שבעת ימים תאכל מצות, to teach that it may not be the same level of obligation as eating Matza at the Seder, but it is still a Mitzva to eat Matza all seven days.

Our Beginning as a Nation

Shavua Tov. פרשת החודש that was read today reflects on our emerging as a nation after being in Egypt for 210 years.

Moshe and Aharon are given the command in the decadent Land of Egypt, that Nissan was to be the first of all months. They were to begin making the necessary preparations to leave on their way to Eretz Yisrael.

The immediate business at hand was to prepare the קרבן פסח. The lambs were to be taken on the 10th of Nissan, slaughtered on the fourteenth, and its blood painted on the doorposts. This blood along with the blood of the ברית מילה that they were also involved in, is what saved each Jewish home. The מלאך המות, Angel of death, passed over these homes.

It is our obligation to retell this story every year in order that we recognize Hashem’s kindness in taking us out of bondage.

This הכרת הטוב, where we enumerate the numerous other favors Hashem bestowed upon us, is one of the major themes of Pesach. It is incumbent upon us that we learn this lesson among the many other lessons taught at this time.

A World of Light and Darkness

This week’s Parsha is תזריע, which begins by speaking of a woman giving birth. There is a whole process as to how the new mother adjusts to the experience of giving birth.

She must be separated for a period until she gets back to herself and again functions as a productive spiritual being. She is even obligated to offer a קרבן when the purification process is over.

Rabbeinu Bechaye points out that the new baby is making a transition of his own. While he is in the womb, he is in the world of חושך, darkness. As the child grows, he becomes part of this world. It is a world of both אור and חושך, light and darkness. And if this individual grows to live a saintly way of life, he will enter the world that is complete אור.

May we all merit to pass all of the tests of this world of אור and חושך, and be זוכה to the world that is כולו אור. Shabbat Shalom

פרשת החודש

This coming Shabbat is very special and unusual. It is one of those rare Shabbats that three Torahs are taken out and read.

The first six Aliyot are for the regular Torah reading of תזריע. The seventh Aliya is connected to Rosh Chodesh. And the Maftir is read from שמות י״ב and is known as פרשת החודש.

Since it is the first day of Nissan, we are to study in earnest, the laws related to Pesach preparations. Many of the details are mentioned in this special Torah reading.

The corresponding Haftarah for פרשת החודש, is read from the Book of Yechezkel, that also deals with Pesach and its unique Halachot.

Attaining Holiness

The end of פרשת שמיני closes with the words, והתקדישתם והייתם קדושים which means, “Sanctify yourselves and be holy.”

What separates Jews from the rest of the world, is our ability to attain holiness. We expect of the Gentiles that they be righteous, but it is expected of us that we be holy.

The Talmud in מסכת יומא says that even if we try a little to achieve this קדושה, we will be helped a great deal from above.

The תורה תמימה says that the double language mentioned here teaches that מצוה גוררת מצוה, that one Mitzva leads to another.

We are also taught that we achieve holiness by acting in a moral manner. The words, קדושים תהיו, “Be holy”, comes about when we guard ourselves in sexual matters.

Sometimes it is important to reiterate this goal of trying to attain holiness.

Aharon’s Silence

A very significant part of the tragedy of the death of Aharon’s two sons, Nadav and Avihu, was Aharon’s reaction. The Torah simply says, וידום אהרון, and Aharon remained silent.

Aharon’s silence was highly commendable as he did not question Hashem’s justice at all. He set the example for future generations as to how to deal with tragedy.

We can contrast Aharon’s reaction to that of איוב, Job. When he lost his children, Iyov said the famous Pasuk, “Man enters the world naked and returns naked. Hashem gives and Hashem takes away. May the name of Hashem be blessed.”

At this point, he accepted his horrible decree. But later, went through a stage of bitterness and disrespect towards G-d.

At one point, the Talmud in בבא בתרא says that Iyov was reprimanded because of his constant second guessing the ways of G-d. He is told, “Are you a Chavruta towards Heaven that you can question Hashem’s ways?”

We are to follow Aharon’s example of absolute faith and trust that Hashem knows best.

Heavenly Fire

Rabbeinu Bechaye points out that fire from שמים has been used in numerous situations to clarify matters.

We saw the tragedy of the fire that consumed נדב ואביהו, the sons of Aharon. However, there were numerous other times when a Heavenly fire was a blessing.  The fire that came down in Eliyahu Hanavi’s time in his showdown with Baal, totally defeated them.

Both David and Shlomo witnessed Heavenly fires.

We also learned of such  fires when Gidon was chosen as שופט, judge. And it also took place when מנוח, the father of Shimshon, was told that his son would be a redeemer of Israel.

The people in those times were worthy of such Divine signs that brought clarity as to what Hashem’s will was.

As we witness more and more open miracles here in Israel, it won’t be long before we, too, will merit seeing Heavenly fires.