The Role of the Kohein

This week’s Parsha is אמור. The main subject is the special role the Kohanim played in Jewish life.

They were meant to live on a higher level of Kedusha than the rest of the Jewish community. They worked in the Beit Hamikdash and offered sacrifices. They were chosen to bless the nation every day. The Shechina, Divine Presence, passes through the fingers of the Kohein.

The Kohein acted as a doctor in some ways as he was the one who diagnosed the blemish of צרעת, leprosy.

They were given the role of being the educators of the Jewish people. In addition, a disproportionate number of Kohanim served as judges in various courts. They were also chosen to eat holy foods such as תרומה, and sacrifices.

For all of these reasons, the Kohein had special laws of sanctification. He could not come in contact with the dead. He was supposed to be given priority with Aliyot to the Torah, and leading the Benching.

It is a responsibility and privilege to serve עם ישראל as a Kohein.

פורש מן הציבור

The Gemara in מסכת תענית speaks about how each individual must see himself as part of the community. Specifically, the צבור needed to rally together to pray during a drought.

The Gemara goes on to explain that one of the questions we will be asked after we leave this world is whether we did our part in taking care of the needs of the community. This is referred to as פורש מן הציבור.

The Gemara uses this subject to remind us that the next world is truly the עולם של אמת. One cannot fool Hashem and one’s entire life is placed before him.

There are times when it is necessary that we remind ourselves of what is important and what is not. In the end, there is true justice. We are rewarded for our Mitzvot and punished for our sins. Being פורש מן הציבור is one topic that one needs to take seriously.

תשלומים

The Gemara in מסכת הרכות speaks of the subject of תשלומים. This refers to making up a missed Davening.

If one forgot to say Maariv, he can say two שמונה עשרה’s at Shacharit. If one forgot Shacharit, the same for Mincha. If one forgot Mincha, he can say two Shmone Esreis at Maariv, even though Maariv represents the start of a new day.

The Gemara makes a point of the difference between טעה and ביטל. The word טעה implies that he accidentally forgot to daven, he can make it up in the next prayer. However, ביטל refers to intentionally missing Davening. In this case, he may not make up for his error. This is the Halacha of תשלומים.

Decadence

A major topic of both אחרי מות and קדושים is sexual morality. Parshat אחרי מות gives the warning against forbidden relationships, and Parshat קדושים gives the warning.

There is another Pasuk that warns against acting in the ways of מצרים or in the ways of כנען. Rabbi Soloveitchik contends that Egypt was the most technologically advanced country and Canaan the most primitive. The Rambam said that Egypt had reached the peak of decadence. This was evidenced by the fact that men married men and women married women. Isn’t it interesting how there is a connection between technological advancement and decadence? Sounds pretty familiar.

Shabbat- A Taste if the World to Come

Shavua Tov. Rabbi Soloveitchik points out that the Pasuk in קדושים says ואת שבתותי תשמורו, to keep My Shabbats in the plural. There is a שבת עילאי and שבת תתאי, a heavenly Shabbat and earthly Shabbat.

The Rav explains that Shabbat is so lofty that the sin of Adam does not apply on Shabbat. There is no hard labor with no endless uninterrupted work. There is temporarily no fear or worry about making a living, There is no competitiveness and no fear of our mortality. During Shabbat, all of this stop, It is truly a taste of עולם הבא. Hope you had a great Shabbat!

לא תעמוד על דם רעך

This week we read אחרי מות-קדושים in Israel. There are numerous laws in these two Parshas. The Pasuk that sticks out today on יום העצמאות is לא תעמוד על דם רעך, that one may not stand by his brother’s blood.

Rabbi Soloveitchik wrote that both he and other American Jews were guilty of violating this Pasuk during the Holocaust. He felt that they should have done much more.

One of the glaring outstanding characteristics of the State of Israel, is the concern for every Jew all over the world. Israel has become the watchdog for the Jewish people. Israel does not stand by and protects.

The Israeli army is another example of not standing by one’s brother’s blood. There is unbelievable unity. Each soldier looks after his brother regardless of his background.

There are so many reasons why we salute Israel and give thanks to Hashem for this wonderful gift. Caring for one another is one of them. חג עצמאות שמח

יום הזכרון

Today we acknowledge our fallen soldiers and the more than 3,000 victims of Arab terror. It is a very sad day in Israel as the loss is felt by all.

It is at this time that we give recognition to all of those brave fighters who gave their lives so that we have a safe and secure Jewish homeland.

I am always reminded of King David’s lament of King Saul and Jonathan, David’s best friend. This is found in Chapter 23 of Samuel I. Some of the excerpts from this chapter are as follows: “How have the mighty fallen? Saul and Jonathan, beloved and pleasant in their lives, and in their death not parted. They were swifter than eagles, stronger than lions. O daughters of Israel, weep over Saul, who would clothe you in scarlet with finery, who would place golden jewelry upon your clothing. I am distressed over you, my brother Jonathan, you were so pleasant to me. How have the mighty fallen.”

May the memory of our fallen heroes be for a blessing, and may mourning and sadness cease from the House of Israel.

Character Influences-Not Words

Rabbi Soloveitchik contends that the Lithuanian rabbis were not great orators. He said that Rav Chaim Soloveitchik was a great educator but only spoke publicly twice a year.

Rav Elchanan Spector gave the same speech every year for Shabbat Shuva. He would say, “We are foolish and have committed transgressions.” He would then break down and cry uncontrollably. The congregation wept with him. Moshe Rabbeinu was a stutterer. These rabbis were able to influence because of their moral character. People could feel their sincerity.

Some of our greatest rabbis were not great orators. There are moments that an impassioned speech can truly influence. Ezra Hasopher made one of the greatest speeches in history.  He was able to convince Jews to divorce their foreign wives.

Even though Ezra did make a great speech, the effect came because of his righteousness. Words alone are not what influences. It depends on the moral character of the speaker, that affects people.

Character Influences-Not Words

Rabbi Soloveitchik contends that the Lithuanian rabbis were not great orators. He said that Rav Chaim Soloveitchik was a great educator but only spoke publicly twice a year.

Rav Elchanan Spector gave the same speech every year for Shabbat Shuva. He would say, “We are foolish and have committed transgressions.” He would then break down and cry uncontrollably. The congregation wept with him. Moshe Rabbeinu was a stutterer. These rabbis were able to influence because of their moral character. People could feel their sincerity.

Some of our greatest rabbis were not great orators. There are moments that an impassioned speech can truly influence. Ezra Hasopher made one of the greatest speeches in history.  He was able to convince Jews to divorce their foreign wives.

Even though Ezra did make a great speech, the effect came because of his righteousness. Words alone are not what influences. It depends on the moral character of the speaker, that affects people.

Live Humbly in Exile

The Gemara in מסכת תענית on 10b makes a very strong point in our dealings with non-Jews. This is learned from what Yakov told his sons when the seven years of famine began.

He told his sons, “למה תתראו״, which is translated as,”Why should you be afraid?” The Gemara gives a different explanation to say the following: Do not show yourselves that you are filled up-not before Eisav and not before Yishmael.

Eisav and Yishmael do not have food. You should not arouse their jealousy because you have plenty and they have less.

This is an important source for how Jews are supposed to act when living among Gentiles. We are never allowed to flaunt our wealth in order to cause jealousy. We are to live as humble guests if we live outside of Israel. Humility is important everywhere but especially in Chutz L’Aretz.

Discipline

The standard reason why a woman giving birth offers a sin offering is that she needs to atone for her vowing never to have a child. The כלי יקר says that this sacrifice is connected to the sin of Eve in the Garden of Eden.

The lesson to be learned was the need for discipline. Judaism is very much based on discipline and waiting. We wait three years before we can eat the fruit of a newly planted tree. We wait to pray before eating and we don’t eat until we make a Bracha.

Husband and wife wait for Mikva until they are reunited each month. The ability to wait not only teaches discipline but it is the very thing that brings about holiness. Judaism allows us to partake of physical pleasures of this world. It is the time and place when we partake that brings about Kedusha. Waiting and discipline are the ingredients that bring about holiness.

Leprosy and גאוה

Shavua Tov. Today’s Parshiot of תזריע-מצורע have צרעת, leprosy, as its theme. In addition to Lashon Hara, evil speech as the major cause of leprosy, Rabbi Soloveitchik mentions גאוה, haughtiness or conceit, as an additional reason.

He writes that גאוה is the trait of a tyrant. He includes such people as נבוכדנצר, המן, and ירבעם בן נבט as individuals who were full of גאוה.

He brings the Midrashic story where Hashem begs ירבעם to do תשובה ש and he says that if he does, Hashem, בן ישי (David), and him, will all walk together in גן עדן in Eternity. Yeravam asks who will be first. Hashem answers that David will be first and he will be second. Yeravam refuses.

This is how גאוה clouds the thinking of a person. The leper has to stay outside of the camp before he can be part of the עם.

Rules of Circumcision

In Israel, we read תזריע-מצורע this Shabbat. The Torah tells us that if a woman gives birth to a male, he must be circumcised on the eighth day. Many points are learned from this Pasuk.

The mentioning of the eighth day, teaches that one may violate Shabbat if the eighth day falls on Shabbat.

Another point is that the act of Brit Milah fulfills a positive commandment for which we make a Bracha, על המילה. Circumcision and קרבן פסח are the only two positive commandments where there is a punishment for non fulfillment. (The punishment for both is Karet.)

The third aspect of ברית מילה is that it makes the child a בן ברית, an official Jew. He is now qualified to offer a קרבן as a Jew. This is why there is a second Bracha at a Brit, להכניסו בבריתו של אברהם אבינו. Shabbat Shalom

Jealousy of Nadav and Avihu

The Gemara in מסכת סנהדרין 52a, gives its reason for the punishment to Nadav and Avihu.

The Gemara says the following: Moshe and Aharon were walking on the way with Nadav and Avihu behind them, and all of Israel were behind them. Nadav said to Avihu, “When will these two old men die so that you and I can lead the nation?” Hashem said to them, “We will see who will bury who!”

Many use this little story to emphasize that G-d is the ultimate One in charge. The plans we make, totally depend on Him and we must humbly accept what we are given.

However, the Maharsha uses very strong words to describe the effects of jealousy. Nadav and Avihu were guilty of being jealous of Moshe and Aharon and their Kavod. When the שר של גיהנום, the ministering angel of Gehennom, saw this and grit his teeth, and brought about their complete demise.

This explanation is a frightening warning of what awaits those who are consumed with jealousy. We must work extra hard to overcome this horrible negative trait of jealousy.

וידום אהרון

One of the truly impressive stories of the Torah, is the manner in which Aharon accepted the tragedy of the death of his two sons, Nadav and Avihu. The Torah simply tells us וידום אהרון, that Aharon was silent.

This became a future requirement for every כהן גדול. He was not allowed to become an אונן and mourn for the loss of his close relatives.

Aharon’s behavior also symbolized how a Jew is expected to accept Hashem’s decrees.We do not question Hashem’s judgement and we submit to whatever He sends our way-good or bad.

We are at that time of year when we painfully remember Jews who gave their lives defending the land of Israel, or perished simply because they were Jewish. There have been innumerable cases of וידום אהרון in the manner they accepted their fate.

Aharon set the example of how to accept tragedy. Let us hope and pray that such suffering is behind us, and joy and salvation await us.

Animal Sacrifices

Rabbi Joshua Berman defended the importance of offering sacrifices in previous Temples as well as in the future Beit Hamikdash.

This claim is based on a Pasuk in בראשית that says פרו ורבו, Be fruitful and multiply and rule over all of the animals. Man’s dominion over the world was part of the Divine plan. Man was also commanded to emulate the ways of Hashem. He did this by acting with kindness and compassion.

The offering of animal sacrifices to G-d was meant to drive home the point that although one can act in a G-d like manner, he was still subservient to Hashem. Thus, the animal that man had dominion over, became the vehicle to show G-d’s ultimate dominion.

Rabbi Berman claims that there is not a single source in biblical or Talmudic writings that advocate or praises vegetarians. He says that those who protest the use of animals for sacrifices, are animal rights activists.

Instead of emulating G-d and using the animal as a symbol to get closer to Him, the animal rights people glorify the animal because they themselves behave in a more animal-like manner than a G-d-like manner.

I realize all of this is debatable, but it does give us food for thought.

Yosef’s Adopted Father

Yosef’s Adopted Father

Rabbi Bin Nun has a novel explanation of the fiasco that led to the enslavement of the Jewish people in Egypt. He says that the reason Yosef never tried to make contact with his father in Egypt, was that Yosef believed that Yakov and the brothers agreed to disown Yosef after creating strife and jealousy in the family.

His being thrown into the pit and ultimately sold, was viewed as a clear sign of his rejection. Pharoah had Yosef removed from the pit and new clothes placed on him. The brothers removed his clothes and threw him into the pit.

Pharoah became like an adopted father to Yosef. When Yakov eventually came to Egypt, he was not sure where Yosef’s loyalty was. However, when he saw how his grandsons, Efraim and Menashe were raised, he was comforted.

That first Pharoah was so good to Yosef, that he allowed him to bury Yakov in Canaan. This was against Egyptian practices, as they embalmed their leaders.

The way the tables turned and how the Egypt experience became unbearable, was a lesson for future exiles. As good as things were for the Jews for extended periods of time, it never was permanent. It always ended in either expulsion, extermination, or assimilation.

שעבוד מלכיות

Shavua Tov. Another interesting point made by Joshua Berman in his book on The Temple, relates to the concept of שעבוד מלכיות.

This is a term used to describe our subservience to other kingdoms or governments. The Rambam was of the opinion that the only difference between this world and the next is שעבוד מלכיות. Some insist that we are already living in this period as Jews are free to practice their religion wherever they are.

Berman’s point is that our prayers and subservience is meant to be towards the King of Kings, Hashem. It has always been an obstacle while we were in the Exile, because we were forced to pay homage to the ruling king or leader. It was difficult to do this to both an earthly and Heavenly king.

We are to be grateful that we have Israel and we no longer have that obstacle. We can now devote ourselves to Hashem with no hindrances.

Yesterday was seven. ספירת העומר.

Beit Hamikdash-Unity, Education, Justice

The Beit Hamikdash does take center stage on the holiday of Pesach. This was the only one of the three pilgrimage festivals where the women also needed to appear. They also were commanded to partake of the קרבן פסח together with the men.

Many do not realize that the Beit Hamikdash had three other important functions aside from offering sacrifices. It was a place of Jewish unity, education and justice.

Despite the division of the land by tribes, the visit to Jerusalem brought about Jewish unity. If we consider that the מעשר שני or its monetary value needed to be consumed in Jerusalem, it certainly was shared by all of the pilgrims regardless of their tribe. This brought Jewish unity for sure.

The Levites fulfilled the role of educators. The Kohanim and Leviim only served two weeks out of the year. They were not given a portion of land in Israel. Their job was to educate and a large number of them served as judges.

Justice was served with the great Sanhedrin being located on the Temple Mount. The holiness of the place no doubt profoundly inspired the judges. They were certain to give correct judgement with such inspiration. Hence, the Temple united, educated, and helped bring about justice .

Mount Sinai and Temple Pilgrimage

In his book, “The temple: its symbolism and meaning then and now,” Joshua Berman makes a comparison between the revelation at Mount Sinai and the holiday pilgrimage to the Beit Hamikdash.

The experience at Sinai was not meant to be a one time experience. It was a very dramatic moment that showed the special bond between Hashem and the Jewish people. Just as Hashem appeared in the thickness of the clouds at Sinai, His Presence was also felt in the Temple.

Rabbi Berman described the Temple as the dwelling place of the Shechina, the Divine Presence. The act of worshipping on the pilgrimage festivals, is an attachment to G-d, similar to that of Sinai.

We are able to feel a taste of this holiness each time we visit the Kotel. If this is felt when coming in contact with a remnant of the Beit Hamikdash, we can only imagine the type of spiritual exhilaration felt on holidays like Pesach.

There was a clear fulfillment of “You will be My people and I will be your G-d,” as mentioned by the prophet.

This will felt at Sinai and it was also felt in the Beit Hamikdash on the holidays.