Thursday, March 29, 2012

Tzav 5772

This week’s parsha continues with the laws concerning sacrifices, including the Korban Todah, the thanksgiving offering. Rashi explains that the Korban Todah was made voluntarily when a person experienced one of the following miraculous salvations: crossing a sea; crossing a desert; being released from prison; healing from illness.  With the exception of the Korban Todah, all of the second-tier sacrifices could be eaten for two days and one night. “The flesh of his thanksgiving offering shall be eaten on the day it is offered up; he shall not leave any of it over until morning.”

What is the connection between the Todah’s single-day consumption and the fact that it is brought to show appreciation for experiencing a miracle?

To answer, first we must understand the purpose of miracles – why G-d makes them and what we are supposed to learn from experiencing them. HaRav Moshe Reiss suggests that miracles are like cardiac defibrillators. Writes Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann on “After they [defibrillators] accomplish their task, all they have done is given the heart a one-time jolt back into reality; from there on in, the heart must regain its ability to function independent of external stimulation.”

The function of a miracle is a wake-up call. It is, so to speak, the defibrillator of the soul. Writes Rabbi Hoffmann: “Sometimes we take things for granted; we forget to be grateful for life’s daily miracles. When we experience something extraordinary, we are shocked; we experience extreme gratefulness and appreciation. The point [says the Imrei Emes] is not simply to remember that amazing event; the point is to integrate that appreciation into our daily lives.”

The Imrei Emes explains that the Korban Todah is only eaten for one day to remind us not to dwell on the miracle too long, for each day contains its own miracles and wonders. Writes Rabbi Hoffmann: “The function of the human body, with its countless millions of chemical reactions and electrical stimuli occurring each and every second completely unbeknownst to us, is a miracle of untold and unexplored proportions.”  By experiencing a miraculous salvation, we have seen how precious life is, but we should not over-think this one-time experience. Instead, we should use it as an impetus to appreciating all of life’s myriad miracles.

Becoming a parent is a miracle, as are the many milestones children reach. What goes on in between, from moment to moment, also is nothing short of miraculous. May we learn to appreciate the countless miracles of daily life, and never need a “defibrillator” for our souls.

Excerpted from an article by Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann. Read the article in its entirety at:

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Vayikra 5772

This week we begin the third book of Torah, Vayikra, known in English as Leviticus. The parsha begins: "[Vayikra] And He called to Moshe, and the L-rd spoke to him…"

Usually when G-d speaks to Moshe in Torah, the text says "G-d spoke to Moshe, saying…" Why does G-d here call to Moshe before addressing him?

Writes Rashi: "Calling is a language of affection, the language that the ministering angels use, as it says 'one called to the other and said…'" Rashi then notes that when G-d communicates with prophets of the other nations of the world, He uses "language of transitoriness and impurity." He gives the example of Bilam: [Vayikar Elokim] G-d "happened upon" Bilam. (Bamidbar/Numbers 23:4)

Rabbi Abba Wagensberg cites on the explanation of the commentator Shem MiShmuel: for Bilam, communicating with G-d is just something that "happens", in other words, just another event in Bilam's life. Writes Rabbi Wagensberg: "Speaking with G-d did not change Bilam or move him to grow in any way…he was not willing to change any aspect of his lifestyle."

According to Rabbi Wagensberg, "The point of Torah is to make a difference and spur us to growth. Surface knowledge that doesn't make a difference in our lives is almost worthless. The true value of Torah is revealed when we allow it to penetrate, and when we use that wisdom to change our lives."

G-d calls to Moshe to teach him the laws concerning the sacrifices. The Hebrew word for sacrifices, korbanot, shares a root with the Hebrew word karov, near. This teaches that the purpose of sacrifice is to grow closer to G-d.

Write Rabbi Yisroel and Rabbi Osher Anshel Jungreis: "Teaching Torah must always be preceded by a call that is an expression of love, concern and closeness. Only when such a relationship has been formed, only when such bonding takes place, can the Torah teacher have a positive impact on his disciples."

As parents, we must convey G-d's words with love, warmth and kindness. Only then will our children be able to absorb the teaching and make it a permanent part of their lives.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Vayakhel/Pekudei 5772

This week we read two parshiyot, Vayakhel and Pekudei. Vayakhel means “assembled”, as in Moshe assembles the whole community in a single entity.  Pekudei means “accounts”, an idea that emphasizes the value of the individual over the whole, i.e., every individual “counts” as a single entity.

What can we learn from the juxtaposition of these two parshiot?

The Lubavitcher Rebbe asks: What is more important: a team mentality where every person belongs to a whole, giant community which is greater than its constituent parts? Or, is it more important to stress the worth of the individual, how each person is created by G-d, utterly unique, with individual talents and abilities?

When the two parshiyot come together, Torah gives us the spiritual potential to harmonize these two opposing dynamics – group and individual.

Explains the Rebbe: Each of us must be aware of the surrounding world and must view it as an organic whole. No one of us, no matter how great our capabilities, can successfully function entirely on our own.  However, when we see ourselves as an element within a greater picture, a whole which is greater than its parts, our individual importance is enhanced rather than diminished: our personal identity becomes fused with the larger unity in which we share.

In Pekudei, Moshe takes an accounting of the elements of the Sanctuary, the place where G-d’s presence rests.  Our Sages tell us that when G-d causes His presence to dwell amidst our people as a whole, He also invests Himself within the midst of every individual. Every person thus becomes a Sanctuary in microcosm. By developing our own potentials to the utmost, shouldering all the responsibility we have been given, and yet joining together with others for this higher purpose, we reveal G-dliness in our own lives and spread awareness of G-d in the world at large.

As parents, we must nurture the individual potentials of our children, while at the same time teaching our children that they are part of a greater Jewish community. We must encourage our children to use their skills and talents to benefit the community-at-large, and make them mindful of their responsibility as members of a community.    

Friday, March 9, 2012

Ki Tisa 5772

In this week’s parsha, G-d tells Moshe to conduct a census of the Jewish nation. He further instructs: “This shall they give, everyone who goes through the counting: half a shekel.” Rashi explains that G-d shows Moshe an image of a coin made of fire and says to Moshe, “They [each] should give a coin like this.”

Why does G-d show Moshe a coin of fire?

Rebbe Moshe of Kobrin answers:  A coin of fire hints to the fact that every coin that goes to tzedakah (charity) “burns” with the fire of the yetzer hara (evil inclination.)   Whenever someone considers giving a coin to tzedakah, the yetzer hara tries to prevent the person from doing a mitzvah.  Writes Rabbi Yisrael Bronstein: “It requires an extraordinary amount of will power and perseverance to defeat the yetzer hara and carry out the mitzvah. By doing so, [one] earns a merit that is very great.”

The Rebbe of Kotzk maintains that when a person performs even a modest act of charity with the fire of passion and enthusiasm, he is giving a piece of his soul.  The Ba’al Ha Turim points out that the numerical value of the Hebrew words shekel and nefesh (soul) are indeed the same.

The Ba’al Ha Turim also notes that the Hebrew word v’natnu (“each shall give” spelled in Hebrew vav, nun, taf, nun, vav) is a palindrome – it can be read the same way backwards and forward. This teaches us that whatever a person donates to tzedakah will ultimately be returned.

Rabbi Nachman of Breslav notes that fire is one of our most necessary elements: it warms us, provides light and enables us to cook food. However, he warns, fire also has the power to consume and destroy. Just as it is important for us to use fire properly, so must we also use money properly.  Writes Rabbi Bronstein: “On the one hand [money] can be put to very good use if it enables [one] to perform mitzvot and good deeds. But on the other hand, money can completely consume a person’s character.”

In our money-obsessed and consumer-driven world, it is more important than ever for parents to teach children to use money responsibly, and for good. 

Thursday, March 1, 2012

T'tzaveh/Zachor 5772

This week’s parsha begins with G-d instructing Moshe (Moses): “V’Atah t’tzaveh  -- And you shall command the Children of Israel, and they shall take to you pure olive oil, crushed for lighting.”

Since this Shabbat precedes Purim, which we observe this year on Thursday, March 8, we also read the maftir portion Zachor (Devarim/Deuteronomy 25:17-19) which describes how Amalek attacks the Jewish people as they leave Egypt, and gives us the mitzvah (commandment) to zachor (remember) what Amalek did.  Haman, the evil prime minister in the Purim story, descends from Amalek.

(Read the story of Purim at )

What is the connection between the “pure, crushed oil” and remembering Amalek?

Writes Rabbi Yaakov Menken on  “The Tzeror HaMor offers a homiletic explanation of the need for pure oil.  Israel is compared to an olive:  just as an olive produces its pure oil only when it is crushed, so too we see the Nation of Israel at its finest when it faces difficult trials.  Israel is also compared to oil, which cannot mix with other liquids – rather, it always rises to the top. Even if you shake and mix Israel among the nations of the world, we always remain distinct…It is specifically in the face of great difficulties that Israel separates out and rises up.”

Notes Rochel Holzkenner on  “Jews throughout history were able to remain [distinct] committed to Torah despite the tremendous danger that this commitment entailed.  For example, despite Haman’s threat to annihilate the entire Jewish nation, the Jews didn’t renounce their Jewish identity – they didn’t even attempt to hide it.  Instead, they publicly rallied together in prayer and Torah study.”

Today, a new Haman has arisen in modern-day Persia, known as Iran, and a new menace confronts the Jewish people.  Rav Moshe Wolfson is quoted in Hamodia as saying: “The leader of Iran says clearly that he wants to kill, rachmana litzlan (G-d help us), every Yid in the world, just like Haman.” Rav Wolfson  goes on to insist that this imminent threat  to our existence demands that we beseech G-d and that we strengthen ourselves in Torah, prayer and acts of loving-kindness.

Writes Rabbi Shraga Simmons on “Amalek attacked the Jews karcha – which literally means by way of happenstance.  Amalek’s entire philosophy is that there is no design or providence in the world.  Everything is haphazard, dictated by chance, luck and fate. That’s why Haman, a direct descendant of Amalek, decided to kill the Jews based on a lottery [pur], from which the name Purim is derived.” 

Rabbi Simmons continues: “Philosophically, Amalek and the Jewish people stand at opposite ends of the spectrum. Judaism believes that the world has purpose and meaning, and that G-d is intimately involved in our lives. Indeed, that is the very lesson of Purim: Even when things seem bleak, G-d is there, guiding events.”

As parents, it is important to convey to our children that we rely upon G-d, and that everything that happens is within G-d’s control.  We must teach our children how to pray, that is, to turn to G-d when they feel threatened or “crushed.”  And we must teach them to zachor (remember) that G-d will help us.