Rosh Hashana 5779

Monday, September 17, 2018

Certain parshios are to fall out at certain times of the year. For example, Mikeitz is always during Shabbos Chanukah; Devarim is always the shabbos before Tisha B'Av. Parshas Nitzavim always falls out the week before Rosh Hashanah. Why is that? Is there some sort of message connecting back to the Yomim Nora'im found within this short parsha?
The Ramban (30:11) explains that there surely is a connection. From 30:11-14, the Torah talks about a mitzvah that is attainable and easy to implement. However, it isn't clear which mitzvah is being described. The Ramban explains that these four verses are working off of the previous paragraph that details the mitzvah of teshuvah (repentance). The Torah is teaching us that doing teshuvah is easy and accessible; it's not a foreign concept that no one can reach. This is surely appropriate as we enter the Yomim Nora'im and prepare ourselves with Selichos, davening, and asking for forgiveness from those we have wronged.
However, despite what the Ramban says, there are still two questions that arise. Firstly, is teshuvah really that simple? Even though it's described as a four-step process by the Rambam, each of those steps aren't the easiest things in the world. Secondly, if the message is about teshuvah, why didn't Chazal then set up the calendar for Nitzavim to fall out on Shabbos Shuvah between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur?
Rav Yosef Dov Soloveichik in "Before Hashem You Shall Be Purified" discusses how Rosh Hashanah isn't really about teshuvah. The day is about re-anointing G-d as our King and praising Him. There are even customs to not mention any kind of confession of sin, a step in the teshuvah process, from the prayers on Rosh Hashanah; for example, some leave out a few of the lines from Avinu Malkeinu because it states that "we have sinned." But, says the Rav, there is a small aspect of teshuvah within the Day of Judgment. Rosh Hashanah represents "Hirhur Teshuvah", the mere thought or consideration of repenting. We see from Chazal that even the minute thought of thinking of doing teshuvah holds water and is crucial. The Gemara in Kiddushin (49b) gives a case of when a man betroths a woman on condition that he is a tzaddik (righteous person) that the betrothal is binding even if it's known that he's a rasha (wicked person); this is because he may have had a "hirhur teshuvah" at that very moment. That split second is powerful enough to make his betrothal binding. We see from here that hirhur teshuvah does wonders despite its minuscule moment and effort.
Using the Rav's idea, I would like to suggest that the Ramban may be referring to this idea of hirhur teshuvah. Out of the whole process of Teshuvah, that first spark of consideration is quick and easy; anyone can have that thought and it can motivate a person to continue the process despite the challenging steps that follow. This may be why Nitzavim is before Rosh Hashanah and not during the Ten Days of Repentance; its message of hirhur teshuvah *only* works for Rosh Hashanah. It is a good way to kick off the Ten Days of Repentance as we move towards Yom Kippur. May we all build upon the momentum of hirhur teshuvah and complete the process not only with Yom Kippur, but through the rest of our lives.

Ki Tavo 5778

Friday, August 31, 2018

Chapter 28 contains the potential blessings and curses we would receive for either following or not following the Torah's laws respectively. The Or Hachaim (28:21 and 28:47) splits up the Tocha'cha, or "Rebuke" into different sections by what is being addressed in each. Verses 21-44 address the punishments for not keeping the negative commandments. This is because the verse opens up with potential afflictions that would cling to us. Similarly, we afflict ourselves spiritually with "ailments" that cling to our soul. Verses 47-58 address the punishments for not doing the positive commandments. The verse states that we didn't worship G-d with happiness and wholeheartedly. The punishment is measure for measure as we would be sent into exile and "worship" the tyrant who enslaves us. If we don't accept the yoke of commandments, we'll get an actual physical yoke on our necks from our enemies.
The Or Hachaim then asks the question, why did Moshe have to repeat the concept of rebuke? The Torah already did so at the end of Sefer Vayikra! He offers the suggestion that the rebuke in Bechukosai was addressing the people as a whole; all the pronouns there are in the plural tense. One would think that if a good amount of the people were keeping the Torah's commandments, G-d would overlook the minute amount of people not doing so. This is not the case. Moshe used the singular tense here to stress the idea that G-d focuses on us as individuals as well.

Tisha B'Av 5778

Saturday, July 21, 2018

The story of Rabbi Akiva and the foxes on the Temple Mount ends the tractate of Makkos and is to bring us comfort during the exile. He laughs cheerfully as he sees the foxes; if the first part of the prophecy has come true (ie. the destruction of the Temple and the barrenness of the land), then surely the second part is to come true as well.
However, we do see that the final part of the prophecy that Rabbi Akiva mentions in fact has been fulfilled. The streets of Jerusalem are indeed filled with people young and old. So why do we still mourn?
The answer is simple. We still don't have our Temple back. We can prosper in the land of Israel. We can build it up with the latest trends in technology and agriculture. We can make it the most populated area of Jews in the world. We can have one of the best armies in the world.
But we're not done yet. Not until we bring G-d's Presence back into our midsts. These are all minor steps in the right direction, but we have many more to go.
May we be zocheh to see the Final Redemption and the final Temple built, a place that will be deemed a "house of prayer for all nations".

Tetzaveh 5778

Thursday, February 22, 2018

If one looks at the order of the vessels and clothing made for the Mishkan, one would see that one final vessel was made at the very end. This was the golden altar which was used for bringing the incense ("ketores" in Hebrew). Why was it mentioned after everything else had been completed? It should have been mentioned along with the other vessels such as the menorah and table.
The Ramban explains that this was to teach Bnei Yisroel that their service was not complete yet. Right before the golden altar is mentioned, Hashem sums up the Mishkan and says it will allow Him to dwell among the nation. However, there would be an additional service to carry out: bringing the incense twice a day for His honor. As we learn later on in the Torah, the incense had the special ability to stop plagues and combat G-d's harsh judgment. The Seforno adds that the incense's job was not to bring G-d's presence into the Mishkan like the other vessels, nor was it to bring His physical expression of existence into the Mishkan as the sacrifices did. This was to show honor to Him after He accepted the sacrifices.
What we can take away from this Ramban is the idea that we are never done with our service to G-d. Once we finish one thing, we move onto the next item on our list of duties. For example, on the day of Purim itself we begin learning the laws of Pesach, which takes place a month later. We prepare for the next holiday as we wrap up another. We also see this idea when we finish a Masechta of Gemara. In the concluding prayer, we mention that we will return and re-learn what we just completed and hope that we will be able to go on and finish many others as well. We continue to grow and move upwards in our service of G-d as well as ourselves.

Shemot 5778

Friday, January 5, 2018

Antisemitism has been around for quite a long time. We can say since the days of Yaakov that such a concept has existed as Lavan tried to uproot him and his descendants. However, the first to really carry out a plan against the Jewish nation was Pharaoh. The Kli Yakar paints Pharaoh as the first nationalist who rallied up his people to take back their country. In 1:9, he says "to his nation, 'behold, the nation of Israel is numerous and stronger than us." He emphasizes "nation" and tells the Egyptians that it's impossible for two opposite nations to dwell in one place; the Jews are stronger and will outnumber them soon. His plan is to have them hurt themselves. Pharaoh knows they are strong due to their dedication to G-d's service. But if he can have them pay taxes towards Egypt's priests, that's as if the Jews were worshipping foreign deities. His plan succeeded and he was able to enslave them because of it.

Vayechi 5778

Thursday, December 28, 2017

As Yaakov blesses each of his sons, he makes Yehuda's descendants the rulers of all of Israel. "The scepter shall not depart from Judah" (49:10). The Ramban understands this as saying the kingship will never switch from the Tribe of Yehuda to another tribe (as opposed to never falling, which it did numerous times due to exile). Because of this, the Hasmoneans were punished for what they did after the Chanukah story. Yes, if it wasn't for them, the Torah would have been lost forever. However, they fell to their enemies later on because they established the Hasmonean dynasty instead of restoring the kingship to Yehuda. The Gemara in Baba Basra (3a) notes that Herod was only able to come to power because of their punishment.
The Ramban mentions a second possible reason as to why they were punished. Since they were priests, their sole obligation was to serve Hashem in the Beis Hamikdash, as is stated in Bamidbar 18:7. He then brings a Yerushalmi in Horayos (3:2) that speaks of the prohibition to anoint priests as kings.

Chanukah 5778

Thursday, December 14, 2017

When one analyzes Chanukah along with its halachos and ideas, there are many comparisons from it to Succos. To name a few:

-The dispute between Beis Hillel and Beis Shammai in the Talmud (Shabbos 21b). Beis Hillel says we start with one candle and continue adding on each day of Chanukah while Beis Shammai says to start with eight and subtract a candle each day. Beis Hillel's reasoning is that we go up in sanctity and not down; Beis Shammai's reasoning is that it corresponds to the sacrifices given on Succos, which decreased in number each day.
-The Shulchan Aruch in Orach Chaim 671:6 notes that a Chanukiah must be placed lower than 20 amos (cubits); otherwise you don't fulfill the mitzvah of lighting Chanukah candles. The Mishna Berurah says this is because people won't notice it above that height. Similarly, The Shulchan Aruch in 633:1 rules that a Succah which is 20 amos tall is deemed invalid for use. The Gemara in Succah (2a) mentions three different reasons this is so.
-There is a strong emphasis on the concept of "hiddur", or beautifying a mitzvah with both holidays. On Chanukah, we follow the custom of doing the extra beautification of lighting candles, which reverts back to the dispute between Beis Hillel and Beis Shammai. On Succos, we look to use the most beautiful four species to fulfill our mitzvah of shaking them.

What's the connection between these two holidays? Why is there an overlap of similar ideas between these seemingly unrelated festivals?
The Aruch Hashulchan in Orach Chaim 670:5 gives a few reasons as to why Chanukah is eight days. His final reason is based on the verses from the Book of Maccabees, a scroll written from the time of the Second Temple and is part of the Apocrypha. He mentions that the Syrian Greeks had prohibited the Jews from bringing sacrifices during Succos and Shmini Atzeres. Once they defeated the Syrian Greeks, they restored the Temple and had decided to celebrate both Succos and Shmini Atzeres starting on the 25th of Kislev. They even brought lulavim. From then on, they decreed to keep those eight days as a holiday for generations (II Maccabees 10:5-8). So in essence, Chanukah is a make-up day for Succos.
My 12th grade rebbe, Rabbi Meir Soloveichik, noted an additional tidbit. In Al Hanissim, we mention how the Maccabees restored the Temple, purified everything, and "lit lamps in the courtyard." What was being lit? It couldn't have been the Menorah because that was in the inner chamber known as the "heichal"!
The Mishna in Succah (5:2-3) describes what would be done to prepare the Beis Hamikdash for the Simchas Beis Hashoevah, the water libation celebration. Once Yom Tov was over, they would place four golden candelabras in the courtyard and light them using old pieces of priests' clothing. These would illuminate all of Jerusalem. This must be what we are referring to in Al Hanissim. The Maccabees made sure to fully reenact the Succos festival they had missed. The Simchas Beis Hashoevah was the grandest celebration one could ever witness; how fitting it was to have one after defeating the Syrian Greeks and saving Judaism.
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