Lag B’ Omer

Today is Lag B’omer. The emphasis of this day is very different between Chassidim and Kabbalists and Ashkenazi Mitnagdim.

The latter focus on Rabbi Akiva and the end of the plague to his students. They also mention Bar Kochba and his rebellion and the custom of bows and arrows.

The Chassidim and Kabbalists focus more on the Yahrtzeit of רבי שמעון בר יוחאי and his contribution of bringing light unto the world by writing the Zohar. They see this day as very auspicious for all kinds of סגולות. In the merit of Rabbi Shimon, prayers are especially answered on this day.

The Zohar was brought alive in later years by the Ari Z’l, and the Baal Shem Tov. For this reason, the majority of the half million that visit Meron tonight are Chassidim and Sephardim. In any case, Lag B’omer is a special and happy day for עם ישראל.

New Beginnings

An important idea that is learned from the Parsha, is that we always get a chance to make new beginnings.

Rabbi Berel Wein elaborated on this by showing how many times we are given a chance to start over. Debts are forgiven during the Shmitta year. This way, one has hope even after he has accumulated heavy obligations to others.

When one gets married or makes Aliya, his sins are forgiven, and he also has a chance to start over.

The יובל, Jubilee year allows for family estates to be returned to their ancestors.

And, of course, the concept of Teshuva, repentance, is available to everyone, so that no matter how far away one gets from Hashem, he can always come back.

This is an answer that solves the problem where so often people feel that their problems are insurmountable. The Torah is aware of this and helps find ways to fix the problems and allow us to start all over again.

אונאה

The term אונאה was used twice in פרשת בהר. The word אונאה refers to a form of mistreating or belittling someone.

One type is referred to as

אונאת ממון

which is taking advantage of someone in money matters. When selling movable items, one should not make a profit of more than one sixth which is called שתות.

The other type is אונאת דברים, which is mistreatment with words. The typical example is that it is forbidden to remind someone that he is a convert. Or, remind someone that he is a Baal Teshuva, in order to make that person feel small.

It is important for us to put emphasis on laws such as these, that teach proper moral and ethical behavior.

Impoverished Hebrew Slave

Parshat בהר is a very short Parsha, but has numerous laws. Among them is the continuation of the laws of the Hebrew slave, עבד עברי.

The discussion of עבד עברי in פרשת משפטים refers to a Jewish thief. When he cannot pay for his theft, he is sold into slavery for six years.

Our Parsha speaks of the עבד עברי who is forced to sell himself into slavery because of his terrible poverty. To add insult to injury, he may find it difficult to even find a Jewish master.

In the event that he is bought by a non-Jewish master, known as a גר תושב, his family must do everything possible to buy him back.

The commentators do not believe such poverty happened by chance. The poverty was brought about by a lack of diligence in observing the Shmitta laws and in giving charity.

One must remember that he receives Divine protection when he is diligent in observing all Mitzvot.

פסח שני

Shavua Tov. Tonight and tomorrow is פסח שני. It falls on the fourteenth of Iyar, exactly one month after the date of the preparation of the קרבן פסח.

This special day was mentioned in the Torah when several individuals confronted Moshe Rabbeinu to ask if there was a way to make up their lost ability to offer the Pesach sacrifice, as they were ritually unclean at the time of the sacrifice.

Moshe received an answer from Hashem that the fourteenth of Iyar was the day to offer the sacrifice. In addition to the ritually impure, those who lived far away and didn’t make it to Jerusalem on time, were also given a second chance.

We commemorate this day with no תחנון and some have the custom of eating Matza as well.

May we soon be זוכה to offer the קרבן פסח.

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.