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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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