Honesty with Gentiles

This week we read פרשת בהר that deals with שמיטה, the sabbatical year, and laws related to inheriting the land.

There are references to the stranger living in the land as well as the עבד כנעני. The stranger refers to the גר תושב who accepts the observance of the seven Noachide laws. The עבד כנעני accepts all of the Mitzvot incumbent on a woman, and has a Jewish master.

Rabbeinu Bechaye introduces a concept called גזל הגוי, which simply means, stealing from a non-Jew. We must take extra care to be certain that the Gentile is treated fairly and is not taken advantage of.

We learn this from Yakov Avinu. It refers to when the brothers returned from Egypt after seeing Yosef, and they found that all of their money was returned to them. Yakov instructed his sons to return that money. He did not want to be accused of stealing from non-Jews.

We learn from here how careful we must be in our dealings with non-Jews, that we act in a dignified upright manner. Shabbat Shalom

Power of Court

Parshat אמור has a long section discussing the holidays. The dates of these holidays are determined by the בית דין.

They determine whether a month is twenty nine or thirty days, and whether or not there will be an extra month of Adar.

One rabbi put it in an interesting manner. It is the בית דין that decides whether we will be eating Hamentashen on Purim or Matza on Pesach. This depends if an extra Adar is added.

Despite the holiness of Yom Kippur and other festivals, we apply the principle of בית דין של מטה גוזר, בית דין של מעלה מקיים, that the court on earth decrees, and the court in Heaven fulfills.

No Preventing Animals from Reproducing

In פרשת אמור, there is a discussion of the subject of מום, blemishes. There are מומים that apply to Kohanim that prevents them from serving in the Temple.

The Rambam says that there are ninety blemishes that apply to animals and 140 that apply to humans. Regarding animals, they can still be eaten but not offered as sacrifices. Regarding Kohanim, they are allowed to eat sanctified foods.

In Chapter 22:24, there is a reference to an animal’s sexual organs being crushed (מעוך and Katut). The ספר החינוך lists as one of the 613 Mitzvot, the prohibition of spaying or neutering an animal. One who does so with warning and witnesses would be punished with lashes.

We must be careful to study all of the details of the Torah and observe them.

Only Teshuva

In פרשת אמור there is a Pasuk that says אך בעשור לחודש תענו את נפשותיכם, “But on the tenth of the month, you shall afflict your souls.”

We learn that the word אך which we translate as “but” always has a special teaching. We use the word אך to teach the thirty nine מלאכות on Shabbat. And we learn permission to cook on holidays from the word אך.

The present אך is related to Yom Kippur. We are not to assume that we are automatically forgiven on the tenth of Tishrei. The אך in this case teaches that “only” if we do sincere Teshuva are we given atonement. But the day itself is only effective when it is accompanied by sincere repentance.

Matrilineal Descent

Rabbeinu Bechaye has an interesting take on the episode of the blasphemer. He writes that the Torah made a point of telling us that he was בן אשה ישראלית, that he was the son of an Israelite woman. He was also בן איש מצרי, the son of an Egyptian man.

Rabbeinu Bechaye saw this as a further proof that we follow the mother to determine if someone is Jewish or not.

The gripe of this man was that he wanted to pitch his tent with the Tribe of Dan as his mother was from Dan. Other members of Dan forbade him from being there. This enraged him and caused him to curse G-d, which led to his being put to death.

They really needed to settle the issue of connecting a tribe to a non-Jewish father. The blasphemer should have waited for the matter to be solved. But, incidentally, we learned about matrilineal descent.

Kohanim Leaving Israel

Shavua Tov. Yesterday ספירת העומר was 21.

On the very first Pasuk in פרשת אמור, the תורה תמימה brings a commentary from the ירושלמי that says that a male Kohein is not allowed to go to חוץ לארץ but a בת כהן is allowed.

This is learned from the words בני אהרון where it literally means the sons of Aaron but not the daughters.

The Rambam explains that the Rabbis made a decree regarding what they called, טומאת העמים, the impurity of the nations.

Therefore, anyone who left Israel would be defiled and would need to go through purification of at least a Mikva. The debate was whether this applied even to the אויר, the “air” of חוץ לארץ or only the land.

This would mean that if a Kohein put his תרומה in the air space of חוץ לארץ, it would be defiled and needed to be burned.

Even though the laws of טומאה and טהרה applied mainly during the time of the Temple, Kohanim need to be more careful about leaving Israel- even on Pesach!

Israel Independence Day

Today יום העצמאות is celebrated in Israel. We acknowledge the miracle of the State of Israel. The Jewish people have a homeland after nearly 2000 years. And we further marvel at the incredible strides made in so brief a time.

When historians will look back at this seventy-one year period, it will be difficult to believe that so much could be accomplished in so short a time.

One of the highlights of this day is the air show provided by the Israeli Air Force. Anyone who has the most basic understanding of Jewish history, should swell with pride seeing fighter jets with a Jewish star flying overhead and defending the Jewish people.

It is a very special day where we are to give thanks to Hashem for beginning to rebuild the House of Israel.

חג עצמאות שמח ושבת שלום.

קידוש ה׳

In this coming week’s Parsha, אמור, we have a Pasuk that is appropriate for יום הזכרון, the day when we remember our fallen soldiers.

The Pasuk says, ונקדשתי בתוך בני ישראל, “And I should be sanctified in the midst of the Children of Israel.” This is followed by the prohibition of חילול ה׳, desecrating the name of G-d. There is no greater קידוש ה׳ than one giving his life for the sake of the Jewish people.

Such holy people are received in שמים among the most sacred. It is even written that their bodies remain intact as a result of their heroic act.

There have been in our history, martyrs who were murdered only because of their being Jewish.

What should comfort us today is that such martyrdom is a rarity. We now are able to defend ourselves and stand up against our aggressors.

It is truly tragic to lose any Jew, but the majority of those we remember today, gave their lives fighting for our people.

The consolation is that such defense of עם ישראל, is a sign of change that the loss of life was not in vain. Our fallen soldiers have helped pave the way of strengthening עם ישראל and helping to bring our ultimate redemption. This is true קידוש ה׳.

ערלה בחוץ לארץ

In פרשת קדושים, we have the Mitzva of ערלה. This is the commandment to wait three years before eating the fruit of the tree.

There is a statement that says that ערלה is הלכה למשה מסיני. It is a puzzling statement because ערלה is clearly mentioned in the Torah. What aspect is handed down from Hashem to Moshe Rabbeinu.

The הלכה למשה מסיני applies to חוץ לארץ. In Israel, the laws of ערלה applies everywhere and in all circumstances. When in doubt, we must take the strict ruling. However, in חוץ לארץ when there is a doubt, we can be lenient. ערלה is observed outside of Israel when it is definite. This is the הלכה למשה מסיני that we go לקולא in חוץ לארץ.

לפני עור

The Pasuk in the Torah that says לפני עור לא תתן מכשול, not to put a stumbling block before a blind person, has interesting connotations.

The most famous one is that we are not to give bad advice to someone who doesn’t know better. He is blind in a sense and relies on us for direction.

Another aspect of לפני עור, applies to our dealings with non-Jews. We are not to present obstacles in their obligation to observe the Seven Noachide Laws.

An example would be the following: Gentiles are not allowed to worship idols as one of the seven laws. Therefore, it would be forbidden to sell jewelry to a non-Jew that has a cross, a symbol of עבודה זרה. It would especially apply if a store owner would entice with a very low price.

It would be a good idea for those profiting from tourists to be careful not to violate לפני עור, in their dealings with non-Jews.

Guard Your Tongue

There is a Pasuk in yesterday’s Parsha that says לא תלך רכיל, that one should not be a peddler of gossip. This is the source in the Torah for improper speech.

The Rambam in הלכות דעות fine tunes his definition of such speech into three categories: The first is רכילות which refers to simple true gossip about another person. It is not negative speech but just idle talk.

The second category is לשון הרע, which refers to true gossip about another person but negative. Such conversation makes that person look bad and is damaging.

The final category of the Rambam is מוציא שם רע, bringing a bad name on a person. Here lies are spoken about the person. And this is the most damaging speech of all.

We must follow the advice of the חפץ חיים and guard are tongues!

True Friends

Shavua Tov. I am always very moved by the Haftarah we read today for מחר חודש, when Rosh Chodesh falls on Sunday.

It describes the scene of David running away from King Shaul, who is trying to kill him. Shaul’s son Yonatan, David’s trusted friend, agrees to give him a signal if he must run away. They were hoping that Shaul calmed down and was no longer angry with David. The signal indicated that David must run away which meant that the two trusted friends were likely to never see each other again.

They embraced for what they thought was the last time. David wept so profusely that it took him a while to collect himself.

This relationship is described as אהבה שאינה תלויה בדבר, a love that was not dependent on anything. It was true and real. It is something to emulate and admire. Love between friends that is filled with loyalty and trust is the goal. We should all try to be such friends to others and, hopefully, it will be reciprocated. חודש טוב.

Love the Convert

A major theme of פרשת קדושים are its numerous ethical laws. The one law that is often overlooked is the commandment ואהבתם את הגר, that we must love the convert.

In the Parsha, it’s worded as ואהבת לו כמוך, that you should love him like yourself. The question that is asked is why is there a separate Mitzva to love the convert when we are not supposed to remind someone that he’s a convert. This is a separate prohibition of לא תונו, not to oppress.

The answer that is given is that we need to make a special effort to understand the convert. Every one of them has his own story. It is unusual to find two converts who have a similar story.

With Jews, we only need to ask what country he comes from and we are able to know his origins. This is true among Ashkenazi and Sephardi Jews, or even Chassidic Jews.

This is why we have a Mitzva of loving the convert. We need to love him and understand him. Shabbat Shalom

תאוה

As an introduction to פרשת קדושים, Rabbeinu Bechaye discusses the challenge that one has in overcoming his תאוה. This word is generally translated as lust or desires.

It really refers more to types of obsessions where the individual really struggles to overcome them.

Rabbeinu Bechaye says that תאוות can come in four ways: בגופו, with his physical body and refers to lusting after women forbidden to him. It includes overcoming improper sexual urges.

The second is במאכלו, with food. This can include forbidden foods or an overall obsession with eating. One needs to conquer this תאוה as well.

The third is דיבורו, speech. Some have a difficult time to overcome their desire to gossip and speak לשון הרע. They got some satisfaction in bad mouthing people. This, too must be overcome.

And the fourth תאוה is במחשבתו, with one’s thoughts. Some find it difficult to maintain pure thoughts throughout the day. It is also important to drive away negative thoughts that bring us down. Worrying is also included in negative thinking.

The ultimate goal is קדושה. If one can overcome his תאוה in these four areas, he will be successful in achieving the ultimate goal of קדושה, holiness.

One Who Lives in Israel is a Tzaddik

This week’s Parsha and last week’s Parsha both end with the words, “ולא תקיא הארץ אתכם”, that the Land should not vomit you out.

Based on these Pesukim, it is said that anyone who lives in Israel, is a Tzaddik. For if one were not righteous, the Land would not tolerate him. This is the reason given that the seven nations be driven from Israel. Their ways are evil, and the Land cannot tolerate their behavior.

There is a well known Midrash that says that in the future, those who chose to live in Israel will fly, while those who came under duress, will not be able to fly. They will be told that their connection to materialism holds them down and doesn’t allow them to soar.

Therefore, those who struggle to make their lives here, and suffer hardships that they wouldn’t in the Diaspora, will be rewarded. Hashem already views them as Tzaddikim.

וחי בהם

Parshat אחרי מות also has the Mitzva of וחי בהם, that we are to live by the Mitzvot and not die by them. This is the source for פיקוח נפש taking precedence over Shabbat laws.

The Rambam discusses situations where one must be prepared to give his life על קידוש ה׳, sanctifying the name of G-d.

People who give their lives only because they are Jewish, have sanctified Hashem on the highest level, as did Lori Gilbert-Kaye, in San Diego.

However, the Rambam also mentions that if one could have avoided a situation where he would have had to to give his life, by leaving a dangerous place, and doesn’t, has not sanctified G-d’s name.

The Rambam has very harsh words for one who chooses to live under an oppressive king, when he could have lived somewhere else.

I am not minimizing the tragedies of Pittsburgh and now, San Diego. It just seems that it is obvious that Hashem is telling his children to come home to Israel. They need to wake up and hear the call. Enough mourning and sadness. Time for all Jews to come home!

כיסוי הדם

Another Halacha that is mentioned in פרשת אחרי מות, is the law of כיסוי הדם. This refers to our obligation to cover the blood of an עוף, fowl, and a חיה, a non-domesticated animal.

When שחיטה, ritual slaughtering is done on these types of animals, soft dirt or ash, needs to be waiting, that is used to cover  the blood.

A ברכה is also recited that ends with the words, על כיסוי הדם.

There is a Midrash that says that the birds are rewarded with this special. This is because they joined together to cover the blood of הבל, after he was murdered by his brother, קין.

This unusual Mitzva is still observed by שוחטים, to this very day.

Ritual slaughtering is allowed on Yom Tov, but only if there is soft soil or ash that is prepared from before the Chag. This is also one of those Mitzvot that very few people ever get to observe.

היתר במות

Shavua Tov. We Israelis read Parshat Acharei-Mot today and we will be on a different schedule from our Diaspora counterparts. They  celebrated יום טוב שני and will read אחרי מות next week.

One of the lesser known subjects alluded to in the Parsha, is היתר במות. This refers to a brief period in our history when there was in between time when there was no Mishkan or Beit Hamikdash.

People were allowed to make their own altars during this time and offer sacrifices. They were only allowed to offer free will offerings but not obligatory sacrifices. Once the Mishkan or Beit Hamikdash stood, it was forbidden to offer any sacrifices anywhere else. Non-Jews were also allowed to offer free will sacrifices as well in the Mishkan or Beit Hamikdash.

This temporary period of so called home-made altars was the period known as היתר במות.

Moshe’s Empowerment

The Rambam makes an important observation in connection with the leadership of Moshe Rabbeinu. He wanted to make it abundantly clear that we believe in the prophecies of Moshe for one reason only.

The Rambam says that Moshe was the only leader in the history of mankind who was empowered directly by G-d to be the leader of the Jewish people. The Pasuk in Yitro is cited which says, “Behold I will appear to you in the thickness of the clouds, in order that the nation hears when I speak with you, so that they will believe in you, forever.”

The entire nation heard Hashem tell Moshe that he was to lead the people. This never happened before. This is why we believe in the truth of Moshe’s teachings. His performance of miracles pales in comparison with this empowerment.

Chag Sameach and Shabbat Shalom

The Rambam on Egypt

The Rambam takes a different view than Rav Yehuda Halevi regarding the miracles of Egypt. He felt that in time, the great miracles of the Exodus could be minimized and viewed as acts of nature.

We see this prediction of the Rambam as containing some truth. Many theories regarding the splitting of the Red Sea have emerged over the years. Similarly, even the Ten Plagues are seen by some as coincidences and freaks of nature.

Therefore, the Rambam felt that it is much stronger to come to the knowledge of Hashem by way of the intellect. A person needs to use his mind to figure out why the existence of G-d makes sense. And that the most worthwhile endeavor one can do, is serve G-d with all his heart, soul, and might.