Thursday, May 29, 2014

Naso 5774

And it was that on the day Moshe (Moses) finished erecting the Mishkan (Tabernacle)…” (Bamidbar/Numbers 7:1)

Why does Torah credit Moshe with erecting the Mishkan when another man, Betzalel, was the G-d-appointed artisan who carried out the work?

Writes Rashi: “Scripture credits Moshe with it because he utterly devoted himself to it, overseeing that the design of each article conformed with what he was shown on the mount [Sinai], to instruct the craftsmen, and he did not err in any design.” In other words, Moshe had the vision, the self-sacrifice and devotion to ensure that the building project was finished, and that it was carried out the right way. While Moshe did not take part in the construction, he deserves to get the credit for taking responsibility and being accountable for the project’s completion.

As parents who wish our children to succeed and excel, we may be tempted to take over their homework and school projects so our children will get better grades. Rabbi Yechezkel Freundlich in a video on warns against this dishonest and dangerous practice: “If we do their work, who is accountable? They will learn to be responsible if we let them be responsible. They will make mistakes. They will suffer the consequences. If we allow our children to be responsible, they will be the Moshes of the Jewish people.”

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Bamidbar 5774

These are the generations/descendants of Aharon (Aaron) and Moshe (Moses) on the day the L-rd spoke to Moshe on Mount Sinai. These are the names of the sons of Aharon: Nadav and Avihu, Elazar and Itamar.” (Bamidbar/Numbers 3: 1-2)

Why does Torah name Aharon’s sons and not the sons of Moshe?

Citing Talmud (Sanhedrin 19b) Rashi writes: “They [Aharon’s sons] are considered the descendants of Moshe because Moshe taught them Torah. Whoever teaches Torah to the child of his fellow, it is as if he [the teacher] has given birth to him [the student].”

Rabbi A.L Scheinbaum in Peninim on the Torah gives the explanation of Harav Elimelech Moller: “Through the knowledge of Torah one becomes a new human being. The Torah one absorbs infuses him with new life, transforming him entirely… In Shemot (Exodus) 4:12, when Hashem instructs Moshe to go to Pharaoh, Hashem tells Moshe, ‘And I will teach you [horeiticha] what to say.’” Harav Moller notes that horeiticha is a derivative of haryon (pregnancy, gestation). Through His teaching, Hashem remakes Moshe into a new person capable of speaking to Pharaoh.

Rabbi Scheinbaum continues: “To teach is to create a new entity. It is to breathe new life into a person. Consequently, one who teaches Torah to a student is actually giving birth to him. Just as a father shares in the physical creation of his child, so, too, does the rebbe (Torah teacher) play a primary role in his spiritual conception.”

As parents, we are the primary teachers of our children. Torah (Devarim/Deuteronomy 6:7) says, “You shall teach them diligently unto your children.” Because few of us can home-school our children, we must entrust the job to teachers, rabbis and mentors, the best of whom will love our children and look out for them as much as we do. 

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Bechukotai 5774

I will provide your rains in their time, and the land will give its produce...” (Vayikra/Leviticus 26:4)

In this week’s Torah portion, G-d promises that if the Jews observe Torah laws, He will make it rain and the land will produce a bountiful harvest.

Why does the verse attribute rainfall to G-d, but produce to the land?

Rabbi Aryeh Leib Lopiansky in Shabbos Delights gives Rav David Soleveitchik’s explanation, citing Talmud (Taanit 2a). Three activities remain solely in G-d’s hands and are not given over to an intermediary: the granting of rain; childbirth; and the resurrection of the dead. The verse emphasizes that G-d alone is responsible for rain, whereas people must work the land to bring forth its produce.

When a Jewish woman announces her pregnancy, rather than wishing her a mazal tov (literally “good luck”, but more often used to express congratulations) the traditional Hebrew response is b’shaah tovah (literally, “at a good hour” or at a propitious time). This expression conveys hopes that the baby will be born when it is ready to survive outside the womb. It acknowledges the miracle of childbirth while also recognizing that uncertainties could come to pass chas v’shalom (G-d forbid) that might interfere with a successful delivery. The timing of the birth and its success is in the hands of G-d alone.

As parents (and expectant parents), it is important to recognize the things we can control, as well as the many things we simply cannot control because they are solely in G-d’s hands. Becoming a parent requires tremendous faith that G-d will provide the many miracles needed to fulfill our hopes and bring our dreams to fruition.  

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Behar 5774

You shall sound the shofar throughout the land.” (Vayikra/Leviticus 25:9)

This week’s Torah portion contains the commandments of the Yoveil (Jubilee Year) in which Jews must free all of their indentured servants. On Yom Kippur after each fiftieth year, the shofar (ram’s horn) was sounded nationwide.

What was the purpose of sounding the shofar in the Yoveil year? Why did it sound “throughout the land”?

On Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) the sound of the shofar calls to mind Avraham’s near sacrifice of his son Yitzchak (Isaac). Freeing one’s indentured servants, relinquishing one’s low-cost laborers, surely was a financial sacrifice which many people might be reluctant to make.

Writes Rav Frand on “The knowledge that he [the servants’ master] was not alone, that thousands of others throughout the land were experiencing the same wrenching ordeal, this gave each individual the strength and courage to do what he knew was right…When he heard the shofar the idea that he was not alone came to life in his mind and he was able to do what he had to do.”

Explains the Sefer HaChinuch: “There is nothing that will so encourage the heart of human beings as something done by all.” In other words, peer pressure, the desire to conform, is a great motivator.  The notion that “everyone is doing it” easily removes obstacles to difficult courses of action.

Rav Frand cautions that peer pressure can influence positively as well as negatively, and unfortunately, one does not outgrow susceptibility to peer pressure.  Therefore, it is important to surround ourselves and our families with people who want “the right things out of life.”

As parents living in times of unprecedented prosperity, it is hard to fight our tendency to “keep up with the Cohens” as they buy fancy homes and cars and host elaborate events. For the sake of our children and for our own well being, we must attempt to “keep up with the Cohens” who do many mitzvos (follow the commandments and do acts of lovingkindness) and willingly part with their money for the greater good.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Emor 5774

The son of an Israelite woman and an Egyptian man went out among the Children of Israel. And this son of the Israelite woman quarreled in the camp with an Israelite man. And the son of the Israelite woman pronounced the [Divine] name and cursed. So they brought him to Moshe (Moses). His mother’s name was Shlomit, daughter of Divri, of the tribe of Dan.” (Vayikra/Leviticus 24:10-11)

Why does Torah include the name of the blasphemer’s mother?

Rashi comments that the mother’s name provides insight about her character. He writes: “[The name Shlomit denotes that] she was a chatterbox, [always going about saying to men] “Shalom aleich (peace unto you or how are you?) [She would] greet everyone and ask about their welfare. Divri [from the verb mDaBeRet, denotes that] she was very loquacious, talking with every person. This is why she sinned.”  Rabbi A.L Scheinbaum in Peninim on the Torah suggests that shalom aleich is an opening to a conversation that could lead to idle gossip.

The Midrash explains that the blasphemer’s biological father took advantage of Shlomit. She greeted the Egyptian taskmaster with a smile when he came to her home to pick up her Israelite husband for slave labor. When the husband left the house, the Egyptian entered and Shlomit mistook him for her husband. The blasphemer was conceived during that interaction.

Writes Rabbi Zvi Teichman on “When dibur (speech) becomes merely a tool by which one gets noticed, bereft of any significant feelings, where one seeks merely to satisfy one’s instinctive craving for attention, it leads so often to indulgence and sin…Why does one ‘seek the welfare’ of everyone indiscriminately? Why does one enjoy purposeless chatter? Because it gives a false sense of being valued. But when the attention is not based on values or true self worth, then it descends rapidly to depravity.”

“She [Shlomit] was…someone just desperate for attention, a shallow relationship devoid of content…The blasphemer who was bred in an environment of superficiality cannot possibly possess the depth necessary to deal with frustration. He knows of only one way to draw attention – by cursing in a knee-jerk expression of utter frustration devoid of any meaning.”

Writes Rebbetzin Chana Bracha Siegelbaum in Women at the Crossroads: “Scripture refers to the uncontrolled speech of the mother of the blasphemer to teach us that a mother has a special responsibility to teach her children proper behavior by example. The way we use our Divine capability of speech has repercussions in our children…As mothers, we must realize our great responsibility in building the character of our children. They are influenced by who we are rather than what we preach.”

The Rebbetzin strongly cautions against blaming the mother for the child’s actions; she notes that many factors besides the mother’s character influence the child’s outcome. She gives this blessing: “May our continued endeavor to perfect our character and get closer to G-d eventually rub off on our children.”