Saturday, March 24, 2007

Parshat Tzav

This week's portion begins with something strange. The Cohen Gadol is commanded to remove some of the ashes from the altar every morning, and place them outside the Temple. Only he can do this, and it seems strange that such a menial task should be given to one so important. The Hebrew term for this procedure is terumat hadeshen. Terumah means 'elevating' and is usually associated with particularly holy things, however this part of the service appears to be one of the least holy.
"The Cohen will wear his fitted linen tunic... he shall pick up the ashes of what the fire consumed... on the altar. He shall remove his garments and put on other garments, and he shall remove the ashes to the outside of the camp, to a pure place." (Leviticus 6; 3-4). Rashi (ibid.) explains that it is not an obligation for the Cohen to change his clothes, but the Torah is teaching us good manners. He should change so that his priestly garments should not become soiled. Rashi uses the analogy of a servant before a master who should wear different clothes for preparing the food and pouring the wine.
The seven preparatory days in which the Cohanim, the Mishkan and all the utensils were sanctified and dedicated for holy use is described at the end of the portion. During this period Moshe served as the priest, since the Cohanim had not yet been sanctified. The Talmud (Ta'anis 11b) finds that Moshe wore a plain white tunic, and Tosefos (Chagiga 6b) explains that this was for practical reasons. Had Moshe worn the priestly garments, this would mean that it is permissible for anyone to wear them. In addition to this, the vestments had not been consecrated for service, and had Moshe worn them this would have taught us that in the future (e.g. the Second Temple) the priestly garments could be worn before consecration. It is clear why Moshe could not wear priestly clothing, but why should his garments be plain white?
The Cohen Gadol wore plain white clothing when he entered the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur. The Talmud (Yoma 23b) entertains the possibility that the Cohen should wear the clothes in which he entered the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur for the daily removal of the ashes. Though the Talmud reject this suggestion we have to understand the assumptions underlying this suggestion.
One of the greatest dangers facing a person in a position of authority is that it can lead to pride. Judaism views pride as equal to idolatry in its severity. It is therefore of the utmost importance that the Cohen Gadol, as the intermediary between G-d and the nation, should not fall victim to pride. Clothing brings honour to a person, as we see from Rabbi Yochanan who would refer to his clothes as ‘my honourable ones'. Though he has been sent to perform the holiest task on the holiest day, by wearing plain garments the Cohen Gadol retains his humility. Similarly, Moshe, the most humble of all men, wore a plain white tunic when consecrating the Mishkan and Cohanim. He allowed no room for his pride.
We can now understand why it is important for the Cohen Gadol to personally remove the ashes from the altar. By performing such a menial task he is reminded daily of the need for humility. Since the very act itself is one designed to instill humility, there is no need for him to wear the white garments of Yom Kippur. Maybe this is the reason for the name terumat hadeshen. Through the humility which this act instills the Cohen is actually elevated, as the Talmud (Eruvin 13b) states: If someone chases after honour, it flees from them, but if they flee from honour it comes to them.

Parshat Tzav (Daf Hashavua)

I wrote this while in Edinburgh many years ago and it was printed in 'Daf Hashavua' which can be found at here
Leave me a message with your comments.
Shavua Tov

"Clothes Maketh the Man" Rabbi David Sedley - Edinburgh Synagogue

The second half of this week's Torah portion describes the investiture of
the Kohanim by Moses. Moses dressed Aaron and his sons, anointed them with
oil, offered the inauguration sacrifices and performed all the sacrificial
rites. This ceremony lasted for seven days, and for the entire week Moses
served as the Kohen.

The white robe
Moses' role as Kohen was alluded to at the time of the Burning Bush: 'The
wrath of G-d burned against Moses, and He said, 'Is there not Aaron your
brother, the Levite? ...' (Shemot 4:14) The Talmud (Zevarchim 102a)
explains that Moses was punished for arousing G-d's anger: 'I had intended
that kehunah (priesthood) would come forth from you. Now it will not be so,
rather he (Aaron) will be a Kohen and you will be a Levite. The Sages
stated that Moses only served as Kohen for the first seven days.'

The Talmud (Ta'anit 11b) asks, 'What did Moses wear for those seven days of
inauguration? Rabbi Elazar bar Rabbi Yosi stated, 'It is clear that Moses
wore a white robe when he was serving in the Tabernacle for those first
seven days'. How is it possible that the Torah describes the garments worn
by the Kohanim in such detail, without which we would have no way of
knowing how they should be dressed, yet it is 'clear' that Moses wore a
simple white robe?

The public face
Carl Gustav Jung held that we each have a persona which we use to show
ourselves and others who we are. However, a persona does not necessarily
give us an insight into persons themselves, rather it shows what they and
society expect of them. A persona is only a mask for the collective psyche,
a mask that feigns individuality, and tries to make others and oneself
believe that one is an individual, whereas one is simply playing a part in
which the collective psyche speaks'. (The Practice of Psychotherapy, C.W.
16 p.53)

Billy Joel describes how our public face sometimes hides our true selves.
'We all have a face that we hide away forever, and we take them out and
show ourselves when everyone is gone. Some are satin, some are steel, some
are silk and some are leather, they are the faces of the stranger but we
love to try them on' (The Stranger). Sometimes we create an image through
physical satin, silk and leather. Our clothing indicates who we are to
society which expects certain people to dress in a certain way. For example
an accountant is expected to wear a suit and tie but a plumber is not.
People 'dress for success', or 'dress to kill', to show that they belong to
a certain group, or to show that they do not belong to a particular
collective with its specific viewpoint. Hamlet stated that 'The apparel oft
proclaims the man' (Hamlet 1:3).

Clothing can give us a 'social face', but it also influences us and helps
us to define ourselves. We wear certain clothes to portray ourselves to
others, but that same clothing influences us, and sometimes also defines us
to ourselves. This is the reason behind Jewish religious garb. The Torah
tells us that the purpose of Tzitzit is 'that you may see it and remember
all the commandments of G-d, and perform them; and not explore after your
heart and after your eyes...' (Bemidbar 15:39). Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato
explains: 'There is a deeper concept included in this commandment. Man must
wear G-d's insignia, very much as a vassal wears the insignia of his
master. This is part of accepting G-d's yoke and subjugating oneself to
Him.' (Derech Hashem 4:6:6)

Dual Functions
The Talmud (Nedarim 35b) teaches that Kohanim have to serve a dual
function, as G-d's representatives to the nation, and as representatives of
the people to G-d. They had to inspire awe in the nation, as they
personified G-d's forgiveness of His people, and they had to be supplicants
before G-d on behalf of the Jewish people.'You shall make holy garments for
Aaron your brother, for honour and splendour.' (Shemot 28:2). The Rambam
explains that the clothes indicated the role of the Kohanim as showing
'honour' to G-d as servants of the people and showing the 'splendour' of
G-d to the nation. In order to enable the Kohanim to fulfil their dual
role, they needed garments which would atone for the nation, yet at the
same time show G-d's splendour to them.

Moshe Rabbeinu did not require the external trappings of exquisite clothing
in order to inspire awe in the nation or to remind him of his relationship
with G-d. His whole essence proclaimed those roles. Moses was both the
'Moses, the man of G-d' (Devarim 33:1), speaking for G-d to the nation, and
'Moses My servant' (ibid 34:5), faithfully serving as the representative of
the people. As he had no need for special clothing, he could wear the plain
white linen garb of the angel Gabriel, who appeared to Ezekiel as the man
clothed in linen' (Ezekiel 10:2).

Summary - Tzav

G-d instructs the Cohanim (priests), through Moshe, the laws concerning the sacrifices. They are commanded to remove the ashes each morning from those sacrifices that were left burning over night. They are also instructed to ensure that a fire is continually burning on the altar. They are told how to offer the flour offerings that are brought by the nation. They are also told what sacrifice a Cohen is to bring on the day he is appointed as Priest. That same flour offering is brought daily by the High Priest.
Explicit instructions are given for the procedures for sacrificing the sin offerings (Chataot), the guilt offerings (Ashamim) and the peace offerings (Shelamim)
The people of Israel are commanded not to eat the cheilev (certain pieces of fat) or blood from any animal. The Torah commands that certain pieces of the meat from the Shelamim are given to the Cohanim to eat.
The portion ends with the anointing of Aaron and his sons as Cohanim. Moshe acts as High Priest during their initiation ceremony. He must dress the Cohanim, anoint them, and offer sacrifices on their behalf. The Cohanim are instructed to stay in the Ohel Moed (Communion Tent) for seven days to complete their inauguration.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Tosefet Bracha - Vayikra 2

“When a person from you will bring a sacrifice” (1; 2)

The idea of sacrifices, their reasons and their purpose, seems on a surface level very difficult for us to grasp and understand. On the whole topic of sacrifices the Rambam gives an explanation in the third section of Moreh Nevuchim (Guide for the Perplexed) in chapter 3. In summary he understands that the sacrificial rites were because it was difficult for the Israelites to abandon the customs of the surrounding nations which they had been living with for hundreds of years. These nations all offered all kinds of sacrifices to their gods, therefore G-d commanded us with ‘kosher’ sacrifices that would be acceptable to Him in order to wean us from them. This idea of the Rambam’s seems similar to an idea presented in the Talmud (Temura 27a): If there is a permitted way of doing something a person won’t choose to do it in a forbidden way. They would prefer the holy and proper way of doing it.
The Ramban in Parshat Bereishit (4; 3-4) attacks the Rambam. He writes: this will shut the mouth of those who are very confused about the purpose of sacrifices. By ‘confused’ he means this Rambam in Moreh Nevuchim, sicne he was the first of the commentaries to speak about this issue in this way (apart from that hint in the Talmud). The reason that the Ramban objects to Rambam’s understanding is simple. In the times of Cain and Abel there were no other people in the world (apart from Adam and Eve), yet they offered sacrifices which were pleasing to G-d. Therefore the idea that sacrifices are a response to the idolatry of the nations doesn’t make sense.
Furthermore the Talmud in Shabbat (28b) says that Adam also brought a sacrifice when he was the only person in world.
Even though this appears to be a very strong attack, but in reality it is not a valid challenge at all. We will explain this shortly. Now we will just point out that this is not a claim against Rambam, since he wasn’t the one who invented this idea. Rather it is explicit in the Midrash Rabba on Acharei Mot on the verse “each man that will slaughter an animal” (17; 3):
Each person from the house of Israel who will slaughter an ox, sheep or goat within the camp, or outside the camp and not bring it to the Ohel Moed as a sacrifice in the Mishkan, it will be considered like murder for that person. Rabbi Pinchas said in the name of Rabbi Levi by way of analogy: this is like a prince who became very disgusting and would eat meat that was diseased or decaying. The king said, ‘if only he would eat at my royal table regularly he would become repulsed by those foods’. So too with Israel, who were desperate to chase after idols while they were in Egypt, and they used to offer sacrifices to the demons and other forbidden things. This led them to suffer all kinds of punishments. G-d said, ‘if only they would bring sacrifices to my Ohel Moed they would be separated from idolatry and be saved from punishment.
It couldn’t be more clear that the words of the Rambam are simply the ideas of this Midrash. It is unfortunate that the Rambam didn’t bring his source for this, which would have saved him from so much criticism and so many attacks.
The Midrash is similar to the words of the Mechilta (although there it is abbreviated) on the verse “Draw and take for yourselves a sheep and offer the Pesach sacrifice” (Shemot 12; 21). What does it mean ‘to draw’? Withdraw from your idolatry (i.e. from sacrificing to idols) and offer the Pesach sacrifice to G-d.
Even more than this, the basic idea of the Rambam is in the Torah itself in Parshat Acharei Mot. After it finishes discussing the obligation to bring sacrifices to the Ohel Moed it states: “You shall bring them there so that ou shall no longer offer sacrifices to the demons which you lust after”. What could be more explicit than that?
It is also clear from the Talmud (Temura) on the verse in Pinchas “Be careful to offer my sacrifice, my food” – to me and not to any other master. These few words contain the same deep and long idea of the Rambam.
Therefore it is unfortunate that the Ramban chose to use this idea as a stick with which to beat the Rambam. It is an idea which is explicit in the Torah, Talmud, Midrash and Mechilta. If he has a difficulty with this idea he should have tried to explain the text of the Chumash to answer his difficulty rather than dishonouring the Rambam.
Regarding the Ramban’s challenge from the sacrifices of Cain and Abel (and Adam) we have already said that it is ‘apparently’ a difficulty. The word ‘apparently’ was intentional because the truth is that there is no difficulty at all. The desire for idolatry was from the time of creation. We can perhaps explain the reason and basis for this desire. Originally the relationship between G-d and people was so close and apparent that it was almost like the relationship between two people. People would speak with G-d almost like with close friends and near acquaintances, like we find many times in the book of Bereishit, and like G-d spoke later with Moshe. The verse states “G-d spoke with Moshe face to face like a person speaks with his friend” (Ki Tissa). Because of this closeness they held the mistaken idea that it was possible to honour and give gifts to G-d through physical offerings. They thought that sacrifices was in some way giving glory to G-d.
After the later generations started worshipping idols they retained their earlier custom of offering sacrifices, and added many more kinds of sacrifices, details and rituals, as is normal when you have many people with false ideas. This concept reached Egypt and the Israelites became infected with this idea because of their intermingling with the Egyptians. They learnt from their hosts about sacrificing to idols and statues. Therefore now, in the desert, they were commanded to separate from them. Since it was difficult for them to separate from what had been their custom for centuries, therefore G-d gave them a way of transforming this idea into a holy one, as explained above.
G-d should forgive the Ramban for his attack on the Rambam.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Tosefet Bracha - Vayikra

“He called (Vayikra) to Moshe” (1; 1)

The Ba’al HaTurim on this verse explains that the letter aleph of Vayikra is small so that it will look like the word vayikar (happened). Moshe wanted to have the language of happenstance which shows that G-d just came incidentally to the prophet, like it says regarding Bilam (Bamidbar 23; 4) “G-d happened (vayikar) upon Bilam”. Therefore Moshe asked G-d to write a small aleph in the Torah.
This is a very difficult comment of the Ba’al HaTurim. We find many times that the word Vayikra is used regarding Moshe. For example in Yitro (Shemot 19; 3), Mishpatim (Shemot 24; 16). In addition, why would Moshe want to be similar to Bilam in this regard? Especially as the Sages learn the word vayikar to imply many disgusting things – look at Rashi there, and the Zohar parshat Balak page 210b.
However we can explain the hint of the small aleph according to a comment of the Shach on Yoreh Deah 245; 8 in the name of the Kol Bo. He writes in the name of ‘the Rabbis said’ that we begin teaching children from Vayikra, because G-d has said, let the pure children come and learn the section that deals with purity. Perhaps it is to this that the small aleph alludes (to the small children learning (aleph means to learn).
The Shach and the Kol Bo didn’t bring the source for this custom. We should point out where it comes from. It says in the Midrash Tanchuma on parshat Tzav (14): Rabbi Asia said, why do the children begin learning from Vayikra? Because all the sacrifices are written in it. Since they are pure and don’t know the taste of sin, therefore G-d said that they should begin learning the section that deals with sacrifices. Let the pure ones come and involve themselves with the process of purification (through sacrifices) and I will consider it as if they were standing and offering the sacrifices before Me. This teaches you that since the destruction of the Temple when we have no more sacrifices (which keep the world in existence), if it were not for the children learning the parshiot of sacrifices the world would not be able to exist.
It is therefore correct that the Shach brought this statement in the name of the Kol Bo in the name of ‘the Rabbis said’, since it is in fact from Rabbi Tanchuma the author of that Midrash. He was one of the great Amoraim mentioned many times in both the Yerushalmi and the Midrash Rabba.
Look also regarding this at the Zohar on parshat Vayechi (234b) and on parshat Tzav (239a) on the verse “This is the Torah of the Olah, the Mincha and the Chatat” (7; 37).
Regarding this custom of beginning to teach the children from Vayikra the Shach writes that this is still the custom today (and he lived t the beginning of the 17th century). However, nowadays, we have lost this custom, along with so many of the ancient and beautiful customs of earlier generations, and they shall never be heard of or seen again.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Parshat Vayikra

Preparing for Greatness

This week we begin a new book of the Chumash, Vayikra. The book is predominantly about the sacrificial rites of the Temple and Tabernacle so the English name seems more appropriate than the Hebrew. Leviticus indicates that the book deals with the work of the Levites (priests). How is the Hebrew name of Vayikra apt for this section?
The book begins, "He called (Vayikra) to Moshe, and G-d spoke to him from the tent of meeting, saying...". Rashi's opening comment on this portion is: Each time G-d spoke to Moshe, told him something, or commanded him, He first called to him. This is a word denoting love and closeness, as we find with the ministering angels, "They call one to another..." (Isaiah 6; 3). However, when G-d speaks to non-Jewish prophets He appears to them 'incidentally', as the Torah states, "The L-rd happened (Vayikar) upon Bilam".
Since G-d called first to Moshe before every prophecy, why did Rashi not make this comment until now? And what difference does it make if G-d calls first before speaking to a prophet, or just appears to them? We would have expected the message of the prophecy to be important, but not necessarily whether G-d first gives the prophet a warning or not. Ohr Gedaliyahu (on Vayikra) explains that when G-d called to Moshe it was as if He was saying 'Prepare yourself to come near to Me'. This is what Rashi means by calling Vayikra a term of closeness, that it gave Moshe an opportunity to prepare himself and draw near to G-d. The Midrash (Rabba, Devarim Ki Tavo 7-9) finds a hint to this from the way G-d gave the Torah to Moshe. The verse states "G-d called to Moshe to the top of the mountain - and Moshe elevated himself" (Exodus 19; 20). In a similar vein, when a man comes up to read from the Torah, he must first be 'called up'.
We see therefore that through calling G-d gives a person an opportunity to prepare themselves to come close to G-d. In this way the Torah that they will receive will not be merely tangential to them, but they will be able to absorb it, to make it part of themselves. This is the opposite of what happened with Bilam. G-d came to him 'incidentally', without calling to him first. Though Bilam received a message through prophecy, we see that this fact had no effect on Bilam's personal conduct. He still remained greedy, cunning, and steadfast in his hatred of the Jews.
We see this idea in the main topic of Vayikra which is sacrifices. The Hebrew word for sacrifice is Korban, which comes from the root Karov, meaning closeness. Though the whole concept of sacrifices, and the mechanism through which it works seems very strange and foreign to us now, we can accept the principle that bringing an animal to the Temple is a symbol of giving something to G-d. Particularly nowadays, that prayer has replaced sacrifices, we understand that this gives us a chance to give of ourselves to G-d, and through this draw close to Him.
We believe that G-d lacks nothing, and since He created us we would not have expected that there is anything that we could possibly give to him. However, Rabbi Dessler (Michtav Me'Eliyahu - Kuntrus HaChessed) writes that the only way to truly come to love someone is through giving to them (which is perhaps the opposite of the way we normally view things). If we were not given any opportunity to give to G-d we would also not be able to come to love Him. Therefore in His kindness He commanded us to bring certain sacrifices, and nowadays prayers in their place, to offer to Him. In this way we can elevate ourselves, and come to love G-d. With this understanding we see that the commands about the sacrifices are analogous to G-d's calling before revealing Himself to a prophet. It gives the opportunity to turn G-d's unilateral love into a relationship, and enables humans to attach themselves to G-d.

Summary - Vayikra

The book of Vayikra (literally ‘He called’, known as Leviticus in English), is primarily concerned with the Cohanim (Priests) and the Mishkan (Tabernacle). In this week's portion, G-d instructs Moshe to tell the people about korbanot (sacrifices). The different types of korbanot are listed and explained. The first group of korbanot mentioned are the olot (singular olah), or burnt offerings. The type of korban that one brings depends on one's wealth, either an animal, a dove, or a meal offering. After being slaughtered and prepared, each of these is completely burnt on the altar.
Another type of korban is that of the first grain, bikurim. This is to be brought as soon as the grains have ripened on the stalk. A shlamim (peace offering) is a voluntary sacrifice of either a cow, a sheep or a goat. After it has been slaughtered, parts of it are burnt on the altar, and the meat is eaten by the person who brought it. The next group of korbanot are the chatot (sin offering, singular chatat) which were brought after inadvertently committing certain sins. The Torah lists different types of chatat which would be brought by the Cohen Gadol (High Priest), the entire community, a Prince of a tribe, or a regular person.
Another korban is the guilt offering, asham,which includes the korban oleh v’yored (varying sacrifice). It is brought if a person who has witnessed an event refuses to testify. It is also brought if a person makes a verbal oath and forgets about it, or if someone becomes tamei (impure) and enters the Temple. A fixed asham is brought if a person accidentally derives benefit from something dedicated to the Temple. It is also brought when someone is unsure whether they transgressed certain prohibitions for which they should bring a chatat, or if he takes a false oath, denying possession of a deposit or a found object.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Tosefet Bracha - Pekudei

“Moshe blessed them…” (39; 43)
Rashi explains that the blessing was ‘May it be G-d’s will that He rest His Shechina (presence) in your handiwork’ (in other words in this Mishkan that you have made).
Why did they need this bracha? G-d had already promised them “Make for Me a Mikdash, and I will dwell in your midst” (Terumah 25; 8). Based on this promise the people should have been sure that the Shechina would rest in the Mishkan even without Moshe’s bracha.
Perhaps we can explain based on the Yalkut (Midrash) on Melachim (I 6; 7) on the verse “the House (Temple) when it was built…”. This teaches that a large portion of the work was done miraculously by the shamir worm (which would cut through solid materials by crawling over them). Many of the stones and gems were cut to size using this shamir worm, and they would miraculously be cut to exactly the right dimensions. This is the meaning of ‘when it was built’, by itself. This miracle showed G-d’s close connection to the building of the Temple.
In the construction of the Mishkan there were no public miracles like this. All fo the cutting of materials had to be done by the people themselves. Moshe was concerned that perhaps the fact that G-d did not provide miracles for the construction showed that He was not completely happy with what they had done. Therefore Moshe was concerned that perhaps the Shechina would not dwell there, in the construction that they had made themselves.
Alternatively, we could explain based on the wording of the bracha, ‘the Shechina should rest in your handiwork’. Perhaps it is not referring to the totality of the Mishkan, but rather to each individual part of its construction. He blessed them that everything that they did should be done with blessing. This is similar to the phrase we say in the ‘Mi Sheberach’ – ‘G-d should send blessing on all the works of your hands’. The phrase ‘cause His Shechina to dwell’ sometimes applies to success, like we find in the Gemara (Shabbat 56a) on the vese “David behaved himself wisely in all his ways and G-d was with him” (Shmuel I 18; 14) – this means that the Shechina was with him, and everything that he did would turn out for the best. Perhaps this is what Rashi means also, when he uses the language of ‘blessing’ to describe Moshe’s prayer.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The Relevant Parsha

As I was browsing the web I found htis very interesting parsha blog. Have a look and let me know what you think (I hae no connection with it, just thought it looked good)

The Relevant Parsha

Monday, March 12, 2007

Parshat Vayakhel

Selflessness, Prayer and Mishkan

The Ba'al HaTurim (commentary on Exodus 40; 33) points out the seemingly redundant repetition of the phrase, "As G-d commanded Moshe" after each item for the Mishkan was constructed. He explains that as a reward for Moshe's pleading for the Jews after the sin of the Golden Calf, when he said, "Please erase me from your book", G-d constantly repeats Moshe's name in this portion. The Ba'al HaTurim notes further that the phrase "As G-d commanded Moshe" appears eighteen times in this portion, corresponding to the eighteen blessings of the weekday Amida. The phrase, "As G-d commanded, so they did" appears once, and corresponds to the additional nineteenth blessing against heretics. How are these three ideas - Moshe's pleading, the Amida, and the construction of the Mishkan - related?
The Talmud (Berachot 28b) asks what the eighteen blessings of the Amida correspond to. Several answers are given: Rabbi Hillel son of Rabbi Shmuel says they correspond to the eighteen times G-d's name is mentioned in Havu LaShem B'nei Eilim (Psalm 29), Rav Yosef says that they are in place of the eighteen times G-d's name is mentioned in the Shema and Rav Tanchum says in the name of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi that they correspond to the eighteen vertebrae in the spine.
It seems understandable to relate the blessings of the Amida to mentions of G-d's name, since the purpose of prayer is to create a connection with G-d. However, what is the connection between the Amida and the spine? The Talmud hints at the answer to this with another statement of Rav Tanchum in the name of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi, that one should bow during the Amida to the extent that the vertebrae stick out. For Rav Tanchum it seems that the essence of the Amida is subjugation to G-d's will, evidenced through bowing. Elsewhere (Bava Kamma 16a) the Talmud states that a person's spine transforms into a snake after seven years if they do not bow during Modim. We understand the metaphor of the Talmud, if a person refuses to show humility before G-d, and does not bow in thanksgiving, they come to resemble the snake of the Garden of Eden, who also rebelled against its Creator.
This self-nullification in the presence of G-d is what Moshe did on Mount Sinai. After the sin of the Calf, Moshe was prepared to sacrifice himself in order to save the nation. The Rashbam (commentary on ibid. 32; 32) explains that "Erase me from Your book" refers to the book of life. Moshe was prepared to give up his role in this world and the next in order to save the nation. This is the ultimate in subjugation and humility. Moshe felt that he did not deserve any merit in his own right, but that his only value was as the leader of the people. Therefore if they were to be wiped out, he would forfeit his share of both worlds.
The construction of the Mishkan involved months of skilled and difficult work. Though everyone brought donations for the Mishkan, only a few people had the requisite skills to fashion the materials according to the Divine blueprints. Eventually, when Moshe assembled everything and the nation saw the beauty of the structure, with its gold, silver and precious gems, along with colourful woven tapestries, it would have been natural for those involved in the construction to take a certain satisfaction and pride in their work. However, this would have negated everything that the Mishkan represented. How can a human being using their body, which is a gift from G-d, to fashion the materials which were created by G-d, according to a plan given by G-d, take any personal pride in their accomplishments? This is similar to the statement of Pirkei Avos (2; 9), "If you have learnt much Torah, do not claim credit for yourself, since you were created for this very purpose".
Therefore the Torah repeats the phrase, "As G-d commanded Moshe" eighteen times, to show that the Mishkan was constructed with the same selflessness which Moshe embodied. The only purpose was to fulfill the will of G-d. Similarly, in prayer, we should strive for this commitment to serving G-d. We do not make requests of G-d for our own pleasure, but so that we will be better able to perform the will of our Creator.

Summary - Vayakhel/Pekudei


Moshe assembles the Children of Israel, reviews with them the laws of Shabbat, then instructs them in the building of the Tabernacle. Each person brings whatever their heart motivates them to bring. The women bring precious jewels and spun wool and linen. The men bring silver, copper, wood and cloth. The princes of each tribe bring the stones for the High Priest's breastplate and shoulder pads, and spices and oil.
Betzalel is designated by G-d as master craftsman and Oholiav as his assistant. Moshe summons them, and others with the wisdom and insight to build G-d's Sanctuary. The people continue to bring gifts every day, until they have more than enough materials. Moshe commands the people to stop bringing gifts.
The Torah lists the items made for the Tabernacle, starting with the curtains, the cover, the planks, the partitions and the screen. They the vessels; the Ark, the Cover, the Table, and the Menorah. The two altars - the Incense Altar out of gold and the Burnt Offering Altar from copper. A special copper wash basin is constructed for the Cohanim to wash their hands and feet. Lastly, the courtyard is made by surrounding the area with lace hangings with an embroidered screen at the entrance.


Pikudei begins with the accountings (pikudim) of the materials for the Tabernacle. It lists which materials, and how much of them, were used. It also explains how the priestly garments are made: the ephod, the breastplate, the robe, the headplate, the tunics, the turban, the breeches, the hats and the belt.
The Tabernacle is completed and brought to Moshe. He sees that all the work has been done as G-d commanded, and blesses the workers. G-d gives Moshe instructions how to erect the Tabernacle. On the first of Nissan, in the second year after leaving Egypt, the Tabernacle is erected by Moshe.
After Moshe has placed all the items in the Tabernacle as commanded by G-d, the Cloud of Glory comes to rest upon it. When the Jews are encamped, the cloud remains there by day, and becomes a pillar of fire by night. When the cloud rises from the Tabernacle, it is a sign for the Children of Israel to continue their travels.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Tosefet Bracha - Ki Tissa 2

“Aharon called and said ‘tomorrow is a festival for G-d’” (32; 8)

Rashi tries to figure out what Aharon means by this – which festival is he referring to? It seems to me based on the end of Talmud Ta’anit (30b): There was no happier day for Israel than the day that the tablets were given.
Aharon was certain that the next day Moshe would arrive and bring the tablets, and there would be a festival.
We must also examine how this statement fits with another statement that says: There was no happier day for Israel than Yom Kippur (Ta’anit 26b). They can’t both be the happiest day. Perhaps we can explain that the happiness of Yom Kippur was purely physical. It was the day that the women would go out to the fields and the men would seek a spouse. The day that the tablets were given was purely spiritual. Therefore they could each be the happiest day in their own realm. Alternatively, we could answer based on the Midrash Rabba that it was on Yom Kippur that Moshe descended the mountain for the final time with the second set of tablets. In that case there would be no contradiction between the two sources.

“Let me know Your ways” (33; 13)
The Talmud (Brachot 7a) says that this was Moshe’s request to know the ways of G-d. ‘Why are there righteous who suffer and wicked who prosper?’ The Talmud there gives many different explanations.
I am amazed. It seems that there is a very simple and basic answer to this question. The Talmud in Nida (16b) says that before the creation of a child they announce in Heaven all the aspects of his life. Whether he will be strong or weak, wise or foolish, rich or poor. The only thing that is not decided before birth is whether he will be righteous or wicked, since this depends on a person’s free choice. This is the one area where G-d gives a person free will, to decide how they will relate to Him. ‘Everything is in the hands of Heaven except the fear of Heaven’.
It turns out therefore that if a person’s lot is to be poor, and he decides by himself to become righteous, this would be a case of ‘righteous who suffer’. Conversely if it is decreed that a person will be rich, yet they decide to be wicked, we would view this as the ‘wicked who prosper’. This is obvious and simple. Perhaps Moshe was asking a more complicated question (which would explain why the Talmud doesn’t give this answer).

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Tosefet Bracha - Ki Tissa 1

“They said, ‘These are your gods, Israel, who brought you out of the land of Egypt’” (32; 4)

According to the simple reading of the story, they should have said ‘this is our god who brought us out’. It should have used the first person plural, rather than the third person, and the description of the calf should have been in the singular (this is your god). For comparison (l’havdil bein kodesh l’chol) when they saw G-d at the crossing of the sea they said ‘This is my G-d’.
But we can explain based on the Midrash that it was the Erev Rav (mixed multitude) who built the calf. These were people from other nations who left Egypt with Israel, as it says in Parshat Bo (12; 38) “Also Erev Rav went up with them”. Rashi explains there that it was a mixture of many different nations who ‘converted’ and left with the Israelites. We will explain in Parshat Netzavim (on the verse “From your wood choppers to your water drawers”) that they fooled Moshe into thinking that they were sincere in their conversion. However they only converted in outward appearance, but not with their hearts.
They wanted to cause the Israelites to sin with the golden calf, as Rashi explains earlier (verse 7) “your nation has sinned”, that it refers to the Erev Rav. The Zohar also explains on an earlier verse (verse 1) “The people saw that Moshe tarried on the mountain” – who was this people? It was the Erev Rav. Rashi also explains in parshat Beha’alotecha on the verse “The people were complaining” (11; 1) – the word ‘people’ always means wicked people. Similarly in the Midrash Raba (Balak 20): Everywhere that it says ‘the people’ it always speaks derogatorily. We find many references to ‘the people’ when it talks about sin. For example in Isaiah (49; 1) “The people who go in darkness”, or in Yeremiah (8; 5) “Why is this people so wild?”
Once they succeeded in their plan to build an idol and they managed to persuade some of the Israelites to join with them, they weren’t satisfied, and tried to honour the idol in front of the rest of the Israelites. They said to the Israelites “These are your gods, Israel, who brought you out of the land of Egypt”. They used the plural language for ‘gods’ and ‘brought’ as a sign of respect, for in Biblical Hebrew we find that plural language is a honorific way of speaking. For example it says “Let us make man” (Bereishit 1; 26), “Let us descend” (ibid. 11; 7) etc.
The Erev Rav intended to honour the calf and make it great so that the sin and punishment of the Israelites would increase. ‘To push the rock after the fallen’ to quote the Talmud in Erechin (30b).
This explains why Nechemia changed the language. When he repeats all of Jewish history to the people who returned from Bavel he uses the singular “They also made for themselves a graven calf, and they said ‘this is your god who brought you out of the land of Egypt’.” (Nechemiah 9; 18). He changed from the plural to the singular to show that the Erev Rav had intended to give honour to the calf with their usage of the plural, and he did not wish to give it any honour at all.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Parshat Ki Tissa

Replacement Idols

In this week's Torah portion we read about the sin of the Golden Calf. Many questions can be asked on this topic; how could the nation who heard G-d's voice and accepted the Torah only a few weeks earlier suddenly rebel against Him and begin to worship idols? However, I want to address the issue of why, of all the idols they could have made, they built a calf. (Look in the Ramban's commentary to this section for a kabbalistic idea). The simple answer is that they had seen the Egyptians worshipping cows, and were merely imitating the rituals of their former masters. However, it seems strange that having seen what happened to the Egyptians, and knowing that G-d was greater than any of their gods they would chose to revert back to that form of idolatry.
If we look at the words of the Torah we find that the original intent of the Israelites was not to build an idol in place of G-d, but rather in place of Moshe: The people gathered around Aharon and said to him, "Rise up and make for us gods that will go before us, for we know not what has become of this man Moshe who brought us up from the land of Egypt" (Exodus 32; 1). The word elohim which is translated here as gods is also often used to mean judges, and thus the simple interpretation of this verse is that they want another leader in place of Moshe, who has disappeared. Only after the calf was built did some of the people begin to say that it was in place of G-d.
Moshe had been the one to lead them through the desert, mould them into a nation, and provide them with the Manna (which according to the Talmud fell in the merit of Moshe). When they looked for a suitable substitute they remembered Yosef, who had been the viceroy in Egypt, made Egypt into the superpower of the ancient Middle East, and provided food for the people through his careful planning and storing. He seemed like the perfect person to take over in place of Moshe. The only problem was that he had been dead for over 200 years. However, they were carrying his coffin with them, and they remembered the blessing that Ya'akov had given to Yosef on his death bed. "A charming son is Yosef, a charming son to the eye; the girls stepped the see the rising ox" (Genesis 49; 22). Yosef is associated with the image of an ox. When Moshe wanted to find where his coffin was buried in the Nile, he threw in a piece of parchment containing the words "arise ox" and his coffin rose to the surface. That same piece of parchment was used when they built the Golden Calf to bring it to life. (Midrash Shir HaShirim 1; 11).
However, there was also another side of Yosef that the people tried to capture in their idol, that of youthfulness. He is described several times in the Torah as a na'ar, an adolescent. Yosef throughout his life retained qualities of youthfulness, such as a desire to maintain physical beauty, a belief that nothing is impossible, and the naiveté and honesty which led him to be sold by his brothers in the first place. When Pharaoh elevated Yosef to power he tried to turn him into an 'adult' by giving him a new name and identity. Yet as we see from the verse above the girls were flocking to look after him, and he retained his charming youthfulness.
The people who built the calf wanted these qualities in their new leader. Idols often take the form of youthful heroes, with invincible powers. The Talmud also tells us that the main motivation for the Jews to build the Golden Calf was to permit to themselves the sexual liaisons that had been forbidden by the Torah and Moshe. Therefore, they didn't build an ox as their god, but a calf. The proof that the people were primarily interested in the youthful qualities of the Calf is from the Midrash (Tanchuma 8, quoted in Rashi v. 22) regarding the laws of the red heifer (which we read today as our special Maftir). Symbolically the 'cow' came to atone for the sin of the 'calf' as if to say let the mother come and clean up the mess left by her child. The calf is the young child, created by the young nation, in their quest to escape from the confining laws they had received at Sinai.
The irony of the situation is that Yosef himself went to great lengths to prevent the Egyptians themselves from worshipping cows. The Midrash (Bereishis Rabti 712) explains that when Yosef told the Egyptians to "Bring your cattle (as payment for the grain)" (Exodus 47; 16) his intent was to wean them from their idols. However, his plan backfired on his descendants, who themselves began to worship the very idol that Yosef had removed from the Egyptians.

Summary Ki Tissa

G-d instructs Moshe (Moses) to take a census. All the males over twenty must give half a shekel of silver, as an offering to G-d, and the number of people will be determined by counting the total amount of silver.
G-d instructs Moshe to make a copper washstand. The Cohanim must wash their hands from this before entering the Ohel Mo'ed (Communion Tent). G-d gives Moshe the recipe for the anointing oil. He instructs Moshe to anoint the Ohel Mo'ed, the Ark and all the other vessels, to sanctify them. Moshe must also anoint Aharon and his sons to sanctify them as Cohanim (Priests). G-d gives Moshe the recipe for the incense, which is to be offered in the Ohel Mo'ed.
G-d tells Moshe that He has selected Betzalel ben Chur as the main craftsman for building the Ohel Mo'ed and its vessels. Oholiav ben Achisamach will be his assistant. G-d tells Moshe to instruct the Jews about the laws of Shabbat, and the punishment for not observing it. Shabbat will be an eternal covenant between G-d and the Jewish people.
Moshe receives the two tablets of testimony written by G-d. Meanwhile the people realise that Moshe has not returned when expected and feared he is dead. They ask Aharon to make them an oracle to lead them. He tries to stall them, but eventually melts down gold and a golden calf emerges from the fire. The people begin to offer sacrifices to this idol, and get up to enjoy themselves.
G-d tells Moshe to descend the Mount as the people have become corrupt. G-d threatens to destroy them all and begin a new nation from Moshe. Moshe asks for their forgiveness or else erase his (Moshe's) name from the Torah; G-d accepts his prayer. When Moshe sees the nation practising idolatry he smashes the tablets and destroys the calf. The sons of Levi punish the transgressors, executing 3000 men.
Moshe sets up his tent outside the camp, and the Cloud of Glory came to it. Moshe ascends Mount Sinai again and asks G-d to show him how He conducts the world. Moshe is told to stand in the crevice of a rock and G-d shows him His "back". Moshe is instructed to make new tablets and G-d makes a covenant with the nation; He will drive out the nations from before them and they will observe His commandments. They are commanded against idol worship, intermarriage and the combination of milk and meat and are taught the laws of Pesach, the first born animals, the first fruits, Shabbos, Shavuos and Succos. When Moshe descends with the new tablets, his face is radiant from his contact with G-d and he must wear a mask over his face so that people can look at him.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Tosefet Bracha Tetzaveh 2

“You shall make an altar for offering incense” (30; 1)

It is very strange that this parsha is here, when logically I would have expected it in parshat Terumah, where we have the instructions for all the other utensils in the Mishkan. Parshat Tetzaveh deals only with the clothes of the Cohanim, so this instruction seems very out of place.
Perhaps we can say based on the explanation in Parshat Korach. Korach and his followers were arguing and challenging the rights of Aharon to be the Cohen Gadol. It was through the incense that the argument was resolved (when Aharon’s incense offering was accepted by G-d, and all the challengers were killed). This showed that Aharon had the honour of being Cohen Gadol based on Divine decree, not nepotism. This is explicit in the verse (Bamidbar 17; 5) “An eternal remembrance for the Children of Israel that nobody who is not a descendent of Aharon should offer the incense”.
Since it is in this Parsha that Aharon becomes sanctified to be the Cohen Gadol, that is why the mitzvah of building the incense altar comes in this parsha – to show that through the incense Aharon’s authority was Divinely sanctioned, and nobody has the rights to challenge it.
We can give another allegorical answer as to why it does not appear in parshat Terumah. Rav Ya’abetz writes in his siddur that the reason we recite ‘pitum haketoret’ (the recipe for the incense) at the end of Shacharit is for the same reason that we bring out the incense at the end of a meal (and recite the blessing over it – Talmud Brachot 42b). The Talmud’s word for the incense after a meal, mugmar is the Aramaic translation of the Torah word for incense ketoret as we see from Shir Hashirim (3; 6) “From the incense (ketoret) of myrhh and frankincense. The Aramaic translation is m’tagmara (mugmar). Therefore in this parsha which deals with the clothing, and after the preceding parsha that deals with the utensils, and the order of the consecration of the Cohanim, comes the incense, to show that everything ‘smells good’ and will find favour with G-d.
But it is not at all clear why we use the word mizbeach (altar) in regard to the incense altar. The root of the word mizbeach is zevach meaning animal sacrifice. Why does the Torah use this word for the implement that was used for offering the incense? This implement should be called a maktir.
Perhaps this is why the Sages explain allegorically that the word mizbeach is an acronym for mechila (forgiveness), zechut (merit), bracha (blessing) and chaim (life) (Vayikra Rabba). This teaches us that the incense brings all these good things to the world. See also Talmud Ketubot 10b.

Tosefet Bracha Tetzaveh 1

“And his voice was will be heard when he comes into the holy” (28; 35)

In the Mesorah on this verse it says that the word v’nishma (and we will hear/ and it/ he will be heard) appears three times in Tanach. Once here, once in Parshat Mishpatim in the phrase na’aseh v’nishma (we will do and we will hear), and once in Megillat Esther v’nishma patshegen hamelech (the decree of the king was heard). It is not clear what the connection is between these three verses.
Perhaps we can explain that the Mesorah here is hinting at the prayer that the Cohen Gadol said after coming out of the Holy of Holies. The verse says “He will atone for himself, and his brothers and all of Israel”. He will atone for himself, for all the other Cohanim (his brothers) and one for all of Israel.
This is what the Mesorah is hinting to us. “His voice will be heard” – his own prayer. “We will do and we will hear” – for all the Cohanim, who have the task of serving G-d in the Temple. “The decree of the king was heard” was a decree for all of the world and all of klal Yisrael.