Thursday, March 27, 2014

Tazria 5774

When a woman conceives and gives birth to a son, she shall be tamei (ritually impure) for seven days…And if she bears a female, she shall be tamei for two weeks.” (Vayikra/Leviticus 12:2, 5)

Why is the time of tumah (ritual impurity) doubled when a girl is born?

Rav Yissocher Frand in Rabbi Frand on the Parsha writes that a pregnant woman comes “as close to being like the Creator as a human being can possibly come. [In creating new life] she gained a touch of the Divine and became sanctified.” He explains that a woman’s kedushah (sanctity/holiness) increases during pregnancy, climaxes at childbirth, and then disappears.

According to the Kuzari, when kedushah departs, it leaves a void. It follows that the greater the void left by the withdrawal of kedushah, the more tumah rushes in to fill it.

Rav Frand suggests that when a woman is pregnant with a girl, she rises to a much higher level of kedushah because her unborn daughter is a potential creator. Therefore, when she delivers a girl, a woman loses more kedushah than if the baby had been male. As a result, the mother’s tumah is proportionately greater than if she had borne a boy.

Rabbi A.L. Scheinbaum in Peninim on the Torah puts forth that the increased period of tumah accomplishes for the female child what the bris milah (ritual circumcision) does for a male child. He writes: “The striking characteristic of a Jewish her ability to sublimate herself to the level of morality and modesty to which man has a constant reminder in the form of the bris milah on his body.”

“The double period of y’mei tumah (days of ritual impurity) infuses the mother with her two-fold mission. First, she must raise her daughter to represent the character of the Jewish woman. Second, she must do so by personally being a role model of this noble virtue…With each female birth, the mother must doubly prepare herself to lead the child along the lofty path of virtue and purity.”   

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Shemini 5774

You shall be holy because I am holy. This is the law regarding animals, birds, all living creatures…to distinguish between the impure and the pure, and between the living creature (chayah) that may be eaten and the living creature that may not be eaten.” (Vayikra/Leviticus 11:45-47)

Rav Yissocher Frand on cites Rashi’s explanation of “you shall be holy.” Rashi interprets the phrase as “you shall be removed.”  Writes Rav Frand: “The Jewish definition of holiness is one who knows how to abstain, how to exert self control. A person who is not self-indulgent is, by our definition, a holy person.”

Talmud (Yoma 82b) tells the story of two pregnant women during the fast of Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement).  Both women are tempted to break their fast when the aroma of delicious food arouses their craving. Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi and Rabbi Chanina advise the women’s friends to whisper in their ears, “Today is Yom Kippur.” One woman’s cravings subside; the other cannot resist eating. The woman who abstains from eating gives birth to Rabbi Yochanan ben Nafcha, one of the greatest of the Amoraim. The other woman gives birth to the unethical Shabsai, who hoards fruit and sells it at high prices.

Rabbi Yisrael Bronstein in A Shabbos Vort credits Rabbi Akiva Eiger for pointing out hints in the verse. A woman who has recently given birth is referred to as a chayah.  Therefore, the verse may be read: “to distinguish between a child who will be virtuous [pure] or not, look at whether or not the mother ate on Yom Kippur.”

Rav Frand notes that today, if a pregnant woman must eat on Yom Kippur, it does not indicate that she will give birth to an evil child. The Talmud story relates to a time period in which people were on a high spiritual level and were held to stricter standards than today.

Why should self-indulgence be related to a lack of holiness?

Rav Frand gives the explanation he learned from Rav Neiman in Darchei Mussar: “Eventually, self-indulgence affects not only one’s relationship with G-d, but one’s relationship with his fellow man as well. If a person is self-indulgent, he is focused on ‘my needs must be gratified.’ This is the opposite of a holy person. Someone who must always satisfy his needs and his appetites will eventually not be a nice person to his fellow man.”

“Holiness is not only a concept that exists between man and G-d. Holiness also affects how we conduct our daily lives and how we interact with society. Learning to control our urges and desires causes our dealings in the marketplace and business world to be different as well.”

As parents, we cannot afford to be self-indulgent; our children’s needs come before our own desires. Pregnancy and parenting teach us to become disciplined, to fight impulses and to abstain from actions that might endanger ourselves or our children. Parenting makes us holy.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Tzav-Zachor 5774

“He shall offer, along with the korban todah (thanksgiving offering), unleavened loaves mingled with oil; unleavened wafers spread with oil; and scalded flour mixed with oil. (Vayikra/Leviticus 7:12)

Rashi explains that one makes a thanksgiving offering after surviving four potentially life-threatening situations: crossing a sea; traversing a desert, experiencing imprisonment; and undergoing serious illness. Together with the thanksgiving offering, one brings forty loaves of bread in four different forms. The kohen (priest) receives one loaf of each kind; the rest, all 36 remaining loaves, must be consumed on the day offered and by the following evening.

Other offerings could be eaten over a longer period, so why abbreviate the time period permitted for the consumption of the korban todah? 

Sforno writes: “By having a lot of bread, the miracle will be publicized by the many eaters.” Explains Rav Zechariah Tubi, Rosh Kollel Rabbanut of Yeshivat Kerem b’Yavneh: “The limitation in the time of eating…is intended to gather a greater crowd, which will be able to eat all that needs to be eaten in a relatively short time.” The Netziv concurs: “This is so he will invite many friends for a single meal on the day of the sacrifice, so the telling of the miracle will be before many people.”

The greater the crowd, the more the miracle would be publicized. All present would be moved by the firsthand account of G-d’s benevolence. They would think about G-d’s role in their lives and realize that should they ever find themselves in danger, they could call on G-d for help.

It is fitting that this year we read this Torah portion on Shabbat Zachor, the Sabbath preceding the Purim holiday. (This year, Purim begins Saturday evening, March 15.) Purim commemorates the Jewish people’s miraculous salvation from annihilation at the hands of the Persian Empire. We are obligated to publicize this miracle (pirsumei nisa) by publically reading Megillat Esther, the scroll containing the story. According to Shulchan Aruch (141:9) “the precept is best observed if one hears the Megillah in the synagogue where there is a multitude of people, for ‘in the multitude of people is the King’s glory.’ (Mishlei/Proverbs 14:28).”

By the time we become parents, we have experienced countless miracles. Close examination reveals G-d’s hand in all of the seemingly random events that become part of our life story. We must share with our children our personal stories and the stories of the Jewish people. Our children will grow up knowing that even when G-d seems hidden, He still is very much present, and continuously looks out for our welfare.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Vayikra 5774

Any meal offering that you sacrifice to Hashem shall not be chametz (leavened), for you shall not burn yeast or honey [as] a fire offering to Hashem…Offer salt on all your sacrifices.” (Vayikra/Leviticus 2:11,13)

Why are we prohibited from using yeast and honey in the sacrifices, and obligated to use salt?

Yeast is an additive that puffs up the dough, changing its state from flat to fluffy. Honey is an additive that sweetens food, changing its taste. Salt, too, is an additive, but its job is to enhance flavor rather than change it. Instead of adding new flavor or quality to the food, salt brings out flavor already present.

Rabbi Zelig Pliskin in Growth Through Torah cites Rabbi Mordechai Gifter: “When serving the A-mighty, you should follow the model of salt. That is, utilize all the abilities and talents that you have to serve Him. Do not be like yeast that causes distortion to what is there. Do not be like honey that is very sweet but is something borrowed from the outside. Be yourself, but make every effort to be all that you can be.”

Rabbi Pliskin notes the custom to dip bread in salt at the beginning of a meal, which serves to remind us of the sacrifices described in this week’s Torah portion. He writes that the table salt can also serve as a reminder to be ourselves and to fully utilize all of our talents and abilities.

As parents, we must help each of our children to identify their individual, unique talents and abilities. Then, we must be the “salt” that helps bring out each child’s potential to its fullest.