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Geshmack Dvar Torah of the Week: February 2010

Friday, 26 February 2010

Inherent Similarities

This week's Parsha begins by detailing the garments that the Kohen Gadol would wear when serving in the the Beis HaMikdash.

וְיִרְכְּסוּ אֶת הַחֹשֶׁן מִטַּבְּעֹתָיו אֶל טַבְּעֹת הָאֵפֹד בִּפְתִיל תְּכֵלֶת לִהְיוֹת עַל חֵשֶׁב הָאֵפוֹד וְלֹא יִזַּח הַחֹשֶׁן מֵעַל הָאֵפוֹד
- And they shall fasten the breastplate by its rings to the rings of the apron with a blue cord, so that it may be upon the band of the apron, and the breastplate will not move off the apron. (28:28)

Why is the Torah particular that there should be no separation between the choshen and the eiphod?

There is a Gemara in Erchin 16a that explains how each of the garments that the Kohen Gadol wore would atone for a different sin. The eiphod atoned for idol worship, while the breast-place atoned for dishonesty in monetary matters (judicial and business).

R' Moshe Feinstein (biography here) answers our question with a very sharp piece of mussar. He explains that someone who worships idols does not believe that Hashem controls the world. This is obvious. But he adds something surprising - that someone who is prepared to distort monetary matters is guilty of the same crime! How is this so? Distortion and dishonesty regarding monetary matters shows that a person thinks that he has the ability to add to a person's wealth, and more than that, he truly believes no-one knows, or otherwise he would never do such a thing. He thinks that through his illegitimate behaviour he can control financial affairs, but what he fails to realise is that this is not in his power. Only Hashem can influence and control the financial status of a person.

R' Moshe Feinstein explains that the root of both sins is the same - a belief that Hashem lacks control over the world. Therefore, since they are inherently similar, the Torah specifies that they are inseperable.

Courtesy of R' Kirsch from the JLE - thanks!

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The Uniqueness of Purim

The Midrash Mishlei states that after Moshiach comes, we will cease to observe all the Yomim Tovim, except Purim. Many commentators have asked why this should be? Surely the miracle of Purim was not as momentous as the Exodus from Egypt, or the giving of the Torah at Sinai? Furthermore, Purim is a Yom Tov deRabanan (Rabbinically instituted), so why should it be celebrated when Yomim Tovim deOraisa (Torah instituted) are not?

The Sfas Emes asks another question. The Megilla clearly states that Purim is "עַל-שֵׁם הַפּוּר" - "because of the lottery" (performed by Haman). Why then do we use the plural form - Purim to refer to this Yom Tov which celebrates a single lottery? And surely Haman's lottery was not the primary part of the nes of Purim. Why would we choose to name the Yom Tov after an incidental and perhaps even un-miraculous event?

The Sfas Emes explains that we would only use the name Purim if the "pur" was an integral part of the nes. When Haman cast his lots, it was "לְהַשְׁמִיד לַהֲרֹג וּלְאַבֵּד" - to utterly destroy the Jews. Yet, as the eternal nation, the Jews cannot ever be completely destroyed, meaning that Haman's plot was doomed to fail from the very beginning. The "pur" therefore was dual in nature. On the surface it appeared to be detrimental for the Jews, yet by it's very design condemned Haman to fail and thus lead to the Jews' salvation. To reflect this duality, we refer to Purim in the plural to underline that even events that seem 'bad' are a part of Hashem's plan and turn out for the good of Klal Yisroel.

The Vilna Gaon in his commentary on Esther explains that this is why we will celebrate Purim after Moshiach. Previous miracles where Hashem has revealed Himself and performed supernatural miracles will be eclipsed by the miraculous events surrounding the coming of Moshiach. The Yomim Tovim commemorating these events will no longer be celebrated because the events they recall will be of secondary importance in comparison to those we will witness in the future. Purim however, occupies a unique space amongst the other Yomim Tovim. It recalls that Hashem's hand guides our lives and that all events are controlled by Him even if we do not openly see Him. Thus we will continue to celebrate this unique Yom Tov that offers us a glimpse of His master plan that guides nature even when Yomim Tovim celebrating supernatural events are no longer celebrated.

Have a Geshmacke Purim!

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Thursday, 18 February 2010

The Kruvim

There is a Gemara in Baba Basra 99 that discusses the Kruvim (cherubs). It brings down conflicting psukim, that faced each faced the other, or whether they faced the wall ie away from each other. The Gemara concludes that when the Jews were righteous they faced each other, and when they sinned, they turned away. The symbolism is clear.

There is a Gemara in Yuma 54 that when the Temple was destroyed, the Gentiles who burst in found them hugging. Many commentators query this: the only reason the Temple was destroyed was because the Jews sinned, so why were they even facing each other, let alone hugging?

There are three answers, which have overlapping themes.

The Ritva explains that Hashem punishes us exactly, and when the punishment is finished He loves us again, we have gotten our due. The Temple was destroyed, and G-ds anger had subsided.

The Klausenberger Rebbe says that this occurred so as not to disgrace the Jews, as clearly the position of the Kruvim was noteworthy, so if the punishment was to see the destruction of the Temple, then further embarrassment would be pointless if word spread that the Kruvim were facing opposite direction, ie that G-d was angry with the Jews.

The Arizal says that the Gentiles were not the subject of G-d' anger, the Jews were. As such, the Gentiles, who were just the objects through which G-d implemented His judgement. In this regard, they were insignificant, and could not hold a candle to the Jews, as it were.

During the destruction, there was a traitor called Yosef of Meshisa who informed for the Romans. As a reward for his treachery, he was allowed to walk into the Temple and take a treasure for himself. He went in and took the Menorah, but was informed that the Romans were unaware of the aesthetic beauty the treasures, so he could not have it, but could go back in and take something else. He refused, and said it had been bad enough he'd angered his G-d once, and would nto do so again. He was tortured, and killed, but it is noteworthy that just going into the Temple had affected him so much so that he was now willing to die rather than betray his people and religion again. There was something that was supernatural about the Temple, that Gentiles were not party to.

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Tuesday, 9 February 2010

What is money for?

In the part of the Parsha that discusses the way one should treat others, the monetary law mentioned explains that one must take care of the needy. The pasuk (22:24) says אִם כֶּסֶף תַּלְוֶה אֶת עַמִּי אֶת הֶעָנִי עִמָּךְ...... - When you lend money to My people, to the poor person with you....

There is a slight difficulty in interpreting the word עִמָּךְ - with you - in the context. There are explanations by the Alshich, Vilna Gaon, and Kli Yakar, among others, regarding the way money and charity are perceived.

The Alshich (biography here) explains that money is not ours, it is merely deposited with us by G-d. We are given the privilege of having money in order to share it with people who are less fortunate. He explains that the pasuk is telling us that אִם כֶּסֶף תַּלְוֶה אֶת עַמִּי - when we lend money - אֶת הֶעָנִי עִמָּךְ - it belongs to the poor, it just happens to be with you. This is a lesson we can certainly take aboard, that nothing is really "ours", and we should therefore take great responsibility and care for it.

The Vilna Gaon (biography here) explains that the pasuk is alluding to a standard monetary law: loans are done before witnesses to prevent unscrupulous activity, whereas charity is done in solitude, and no-one needs to know. אִם כֶּסֶף תַּלְוֶה - When you lend money - אֶת עַמִּי - do so before My people - אֶת הֶעָנִי - the poor however - עִמָּךְ - do it alone. This is certainly the correct way to give charity, in secret.

The Kli Yakar (biography here) explains that when a person gives charity or a charitable loan, all good deeds and benefits resultant from it are credited to the person who financed the good deeds and actions. אִם כֶּסֶף תַּלְוֶה אֶת עַמִּי אֶת הֶעָנִי - If you lend/give money to my people or the needy - עִמָּךְ (all the merits that result) are with you too!

We can certainly incorporate all these ideas when we give charity, that the money is not ours to begin with, that we should do it in secret, and that the merit of charity does not stop once you've given it, you still receive all resultant merits performed as a result of your kindness.

Cross posted on The Living Torah Weekly

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Thursday, 4 February 2010

All over the place

This is courtesy of D. It is a bombardment of questions, with answers that tie and unify the themes of the questions.

The Orach Chaim asks at Shemos 3:5, when G-d reveals Himself to Moshe, why G-d waits until Moshe is on the mountain and at the burning bush (the bush was on Mt Sinai, this episode occurred there) to tell him he must take his shoes off as he is on sacred ground. But why not warn him before he climbs the mountain?

At 3:11, he asks "who am I take them out?", and G-d responds (3:12) that "וַיֹּאמֶר כִּי אֶהְיֶה עִמָּךְ וְזֶה לְּךָ הָאוֹת כִּי אָנֹכִי שְׁלַחְתִּיךָ בְּהוֹצִיאֲךָ אֶת הָעָם מִמִּצְרַיִם תַּעַבְדוּן אֶת הָאֱ־לֹהִים עַל הָהָר הַזֶּה - And He said, "For I will be with you, and this is the sign for you that it was I Who sent you. When you take the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain." "

The first question: how is this remotely helpful as a reply to a slave in Egpyt querying his would-be saviour's legitimacy? It's not a proof, it's a statement about the future, but does not ascertain anything at the time the proof is warranted.

The second question, where does תַּעַבְדוּן - worship, enter the equation? Apart from their acceptance, weren't the Jews entirely passive? What worship did they perform on Mt Sinai?

In Beshalach, 17:1, the pasuk informs us that when the Jews camped in Refidim, they had no water. 5 verses later, G-d tells Moses to strike a rock at Horeb (Mt Sinai). Refidim is far from Horeb, so what's going on?

In Yisro, 19:12, instructions are issued to build a boundary around Mt Sinai, and the next pasuk specifies laws "לֹא תִגַּע בּוֹ יָד כִּי סָקוֹל יִסָּקֵל אוֹ יָרֹה יִיָּרֶה אִם בְּהֵמָה אִם אִישׁ לֹא יִחְיֶה בִּמְשֹׁךְ הַיֹּבֵל הֵמָּה יַעֲלוּ בָהָר - No hand shall touch it, for he shall be stoned or cast down; whether man or beast, he shall not live. When the ram's horn (Shofar) sounds a long, drawn out blast, they may ascend the mountain."

Why is it that no one, not even an animal, can stray into the mountain, nor were they even allowed to touch it 3 days before the Torah was given?

There is a concept with Kadshim (sacred items and laws) about there being a permit, a mattir, to use something something that was once Kodesh(sacred). Why is it that there is such a requirement here?

Lastly, after the Ten Commmandments, there is an instruction to build a Mizbeach Adama, an earthen altar (20:21). What is the connection between G-d giving us the Torah and building an altar there?

End of questions.

The Rambam (Maimonides) explains that all instance of G-d speaking to a person are through messengers/angels and the like. The only "face to face" meeting with G-d was with Moshe

To answer our question of why wait until he is there to tell him to remove the shoes, the answer is simple once pointed out; וַיֵּרָא מַלְאַךְ ה' אֵלָיו בְּלַבַּת אֵשׁ מִתּוֹךְ הַסְּנֶה וַיַּרְא וְהִנֵּה הַסְּנֶה בֹּעֵר בָּאֵשׁ וְהַסְּנֶה אֵינֶנּוּ אֻכָּל - An angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire from within the thorn bush, and behold, the thorn bush was burning with fire, but the thorn bush was not being consumed." (3:2)

Only at 3:4 does G-d appear - וַיַּרְא ה' כִּי סָר לִרְאוֹת וַיִּקְרָא אֵלָיו אֱ־לֹהִים מִתּוֹךְ הַסְּנֶה וַיֹּאמֶר מֹשֶׁה מֹשֶׁה וַיֹּאמֶר הִנֵּנִי - The Lord saw that he had turned to see, and God called to him from within the thorn bush, and He said, "Moses, Moses!" And he said, "Here I am!"

So this explains why he was only warned once he was there; as he ascended, there was no prohibition, G-d wasn't there, an angel was! Only once G-d appeared did the land become holy so he would need to take off his shoes.

Bearing in mind that the land itself, Mt Sinai, was already holy from that moment, we can further understand the "proof" that Moshe was meant to tell people, which Targum Yonasan ben Uziel explains at 19:5 that the mountain of G-d was the proof; that there was a place waiting for the Jews where the Torah would be given, and the Mishkan would be built, they were now a nation in waiting.

So it has been established that the land was holy before the Torah was given, and the Chizkuni explains that in Refidim, when they had no water, Moshe went to Horeb, and brought back a rock from there, and it was this rock from Mt Sinai that he struck to make water.

What about the permit/mattir to use the land? Where does that enter the equation? The Ibn Ezra quotes R' Hai Gaon that the Shofar was blown when the command to build the Mishkan was given, and this Shofar, coupled with the sacrifices brought on the Mizbeach Adama (earthen altar), transferred the holiness from the mountain to the Mishkan .

So the mountain was forbidden and holy once G-d revealed Himself at the burning bush. In shachris (morning prayers), in the section regarding the sacrifices, we say "olas hatamid ka'asuya b'har sinai" that we bring the Tamid sacrifice like on Mt Sinai. So when did we bring sacrifices on Mt Sinai? At the time the Mishkan was consecrated for the first time, on Mt Sinai!

With this we can understand why the pasuk said תַּעַבְדוּן - worship. They did worship at Mt Sinai, when they consecrated the Mishkan by bringing the sacrifices, using the earthen altar and blowing the Shofar, which transferred the innate holiness of Mt Sinai that had been there since G-d had revealed himself to the Mishkan.

I think that ties up all the loose ends. :)

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An eighth of an eighth

There is a Gemara in Sota 5a says that it is good to be humble, and quantifies this as an eighth of an eighth (1/64). This is seemingly arbitrary as the number is random, and how would we measure 1/64th of arrogance to find the suitable degree of humility?

The Vilna Gaon (biography here) has classic answer, that the 8th pasuk in the 8th parsha (Vayishlach) says "קָטֹנְתִּי מִכֹּל הַחֲסָדִים וּמִכָּל הָאֱמֶת אֲשֶׁר עָשִׂיתָ אֶת עַבְדֶּךָ - I have become small from all the kindnesses and from all the truth that You have rendered Your servant" - on which Rashi elaborates " קטנתי מכל החסדים : נתמעטו זכיותי על ידי החסדים והאמת שעשית עמי - I have become small: My merits have diminished because of the kindnesses and the truth that You have rendered me". This is a classic answer to what the Gemara is referencing, that we should assume that our merits have become small and that we are not actually all that, considering all G-d has done for us.

The Koheles Yitzchak delves deeper into the number 64, and says that the Gemara in Megila 29 tells the story of how all the mountains spoke to G-d, as it were, and competed for the right to have the Ten Commandents given on them, and Mt. Sinai "won" the right, and we are informed that one of the mountains was call Tabor.

In a Gemara in Bava Basra 73, the measurements of Tabor are listed, that it was 4 parsa tall, which is 16 mil, and a mil is the distance a person can walk outside a poulated area on Shabbos - 2,000 amot (cubits), so 16x2,000 cubits = 32,000.

There is a Mishna in Midos 2:1 that says that Mt Sinai was 500 cubits high. 500 fits 64 times into 32,000, ie Mt Sinai was 1/64th as tall as Tabor, and it was selected.

There is a third answered suggested by the Maharsha (biography here), that the word for arrogance in Hebrew - גס - has the numerical value of 63. Being a part of something greater (1/64th) is the way we should perceive things.

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