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arashat Metzorah – Shabbat Hagadol 5779

This week’s parashah, Parashat Metzorah, deals mainly with the rules concerning Tzaraat, leprosy, and describes the ritual of purifying and reintegrating the person who was ill with that disease back into the society.

In addition, the text also mentions the appearance of a “plague” in the stones of a person’s house. It is written:

“When you enter the land of Canaan that I give you as a possession, and I inflict an eruptive plague upon a house in the land you possess, the owner of the house shall come and tell the priest, saying, “Something like a plague has appeared upon my house.” (Vayikra 14:34-35).

According to these verses, when someone found in his or her house a plague, that person had to tell this to the priest.

It is interesting to note that the person was not asked to solve the problem or abandon the house.  A person was only required to go to the Cohen, the priest, and tell him what is happening in the house. The person had to admit that something wrong was happening in his house, and it was out of his control.

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Torah Thoughts: Shabbat Hachodesh 5779

This will be a different and special Shabbat because we will read from three different Torah Scrolls. We will read the regular weekly Torah section, or parasha, from the first scroll. Then, because this Shabbat is Rosh Chodesh, the beginning of a new Hebrew month, we will read the corresponding paragraph from the second scroll. Finally, this Shabbat marks the beginning of the month of Nissan, and thus we call it Shabbat Hachodesh. During this Shabbat we have a special Torah reading (which this year we will read from a third Torah scroll), that describes the first night of Passover.

Shabbat Hachodesh occurs either on the Shabbat before Rosh Chodesh Nisan or on Rosh Chodesh itself as it does this year. The maftir reading is Exodus 12:1-20, which contains the orders to eat the Passover sacrifice, bitter herbs (maror) and unleavened bread (matza). It also includes God’s order to put blood on the doorposts and many more Passover laws.

This same reading includes the first public commandment given in the Torah, which is that we must sanctify the new moon. As it is written, “This month shall mark for you the beginning of the months; it shall be the first of the months of the year for you.” This is a remarkable commandment because it gives the Jewish people the power to control their own calendar. You may say that God gave the Jewish people control over  their time.

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Parashat Sh’mini 5779

This week’s parashah, parashat Sh’mini, relates an event in which Nadab and Abihu, sons of Aaron, who was the first Cohen Hagadol (great priest), died by a strange fire that they had caused in the altar of the Mishkan (Tabernacle). Many commentators have tried to explain what Aaron’s sons actually did and what that strange fire meant.

However, in this essay I do not want to stop at this fact, but, rather to explore the reaction of the father when he learned about the tragedy of his sons. The Torah tells us: “Vayidom Aharon” (“And Aaron was silent”) (Vayikra 10:3). Aaron lost his loved ones, his children, and he remained silent; he was speechless, he had no words to say.

Aaron had the gift of speech, he was able to stand before Pharaoh and tell him Moses’ words. However, after the tragedy his sons suffered, Aaron was silent. His grief was so deep, and his horror was so consuming that no words came to him.

Some commentators explain that Aaron was silent and didn’t cry or question or complain at his painful loss because he accepted God’s harsh judgment.

We might also think that the tragedy was so sudden that it paralyzed him, and he did not realize what happened or maybe his anguish and pain were so great and deep that he could not express these difficult feelings in words.

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Parashat Tzav 5779

In this week’s parashah, Parashat Tzav, just as in the previous one, we find a description of the different Korbanot (sacrifices or offerings) that had to be offered at the Mishkan (Tabernacle).  Among them, there is one called Korban Sh’lamim, which had the purpose of thanking God for the outcome of some situation people were going through.

 According to tradition, this sacrifice was made at times when someone survived a dangerous situation, such as having been cured of a serious illness, getting out of prison, crossing an ocean, or surviving a journey through the wilderness.  This practice is the biblical origin of the Birkat HaGomel prayer, recited in our synagogues when someone has survived a dangerous situation. The person is called for an Aliya and then, she or he recites this prayer.

It is interesting to note that in Vayikra Rabba, the sages say:  “At the end of the days, all sacrifices shall be nullified, except for the sacrifice of thanksgiving; all prayers shall be nullified, except for the prayer of thanksgiving.” (Vayikra Rabba 9, 7)

The question raised by this text is why this kind of sacrifice is different.  What makes it so special, being the only one that will not be cancelled?

Some people say that all offerings are done to rectify something that we ourselves have failed to accomplish.  The guilt sacrifice (asham) is brought for several transgressions. The atonement sacrifice (chatat), for involuntary sins.  The holocaust sacrifice (olah), for evil thoughts.  But the korban todah is different from all others.  This offering is brought to the Temple without the mediation of any transgression; it is pure giving. For this reason, our sages say that in the future, all offerings will be cancelled except the peaceful sacrifice. The nature of this sacrifice is unique and incomparable.

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Torah Thoughts: Parashat Vayikra – Shabbat ZachorHanukkah 5779

This Shabbat is the Shabbat prior to Purim, and it has a special name, Shabbat Zachor, or the Shabbat of remembrance (literally, “remember”). This is because we read a special maftir from a second Torah scroll. On this paragraph we read, “Remember what Amalek did to you on the way, when you went out of Egypt” (Deuteronomy 25:17-19). What is the reason for this reading? Why are we to remember this biblical episode in our days?

Amalek’s people attacked Israel in the desert, an act symboling cruelty to the weak. Haman, the villain of the Book of Esther, is identified as a descendant of Amalek. Before celebrating during Purim, we must remember that the Children of Israel went to war with the Amalekites. We, the Jewish people, are not to be at ease until all the modern Amalekites are blotted out.

As Rabbi Irving Greenberg points out, Zachor (remember) “is a mitzvah that has made modern Jews uncomfortable. The natural desire to forget and be happy collides with the ongoing pain of memory and analysis.… Some modern people who are future-oriented stress the need to forgive. They argue that there will be no reconciliation as long as the memories of the cruelties and atrocities of the past are preserved and thrown in the face of those involved. ‘Forget and forgive’ becomes their slogan.”

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Parashat P’kudei 5779

What do you do when something very valuable to you is broken? It could be a piece of crystal, a painting, an instrument or a sculpture. Maybe you try to fix it. If it is not possible, you buy another one, or you just get angry and then, you forget it.

Many years ago, something very valuable to the people of Israel was broken, the Tablets of the Law. During this important moment, when the people of Israel had the privilege of witnessing the divine revelation, when they were about to receive the Ten commandments written and carved by God, everything was spoiled.

Everything about that magical and special moment crumbled. The people lost their perspective and were not aware of what they were going to witness. Maybe they were not prepared for that sacred event.

On the other hand, perhaps Moses was too rash to break such a special and unique treasure. Both the leader and the people were participants in an act that would impact future generations.

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Parashat Ki Tisa 5779

This week’s parashah includes a very famous story: it is the making of the golden calf by the people of Israel. Moses climbed Mount Sinai to receive the tablets of the law and deliver them to the people.  Because Moses had not returned, the people asked Aaron to build them an idol that would guide them.  Moses, full of wrath at seeing that the people had removed themselves from God’s path, broke the tablets of the law.

This episode was, and is, extremely controversial.  Why did Moses do such a thing?  The people were wrong, but to break the tablets sculpted and written by God?  Was that necessary?  There are those who defend Moses, and there are those who condemn him.

Almost at the end of the parashah, we are told that God said to Moses: “Carve two tablets of stone like the first, and I will inscribe upon the tablets the words that were on the first tablets, which you shattered” (Sh’mot 34:1).

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Torah Thoughts: Parashat Tetzave 5779

This week we read Parashat Tetzave. It begins with God ordering Moses to light and take care of the Menorah, the seven-armed candelabrum that was located in the Mishkan, the Tabernacle. God says,

And you shall command the children of Israel, and they shall take to you pure olive oil, crushed for lighting, to kindle the lamps continually (Exodus 27:20).

The sages noticed that the beginning of this verse could have been written as, “command the Children of Israel,” without having to specify that “you shall command the Children of Israel.” This “you” address seems to be superfluous; it is clear that the person who is being addressed with these words (Moses) is the one who has to command the Children of Israel about the lighting of the Menorah. Why, then, insist on explicitly addressing the verse to this person?

The rabbis learned a beautiful lesson from the redundancy of the word “you” in our verse. The lesson is that if you are required to command others, you first need to evaluate and correct yourself; first command “you,” then you can command others!

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