• Dvar for Vayikra (Leviticus 1:1-5:26)

    The very first Passuk (verse) in Sefer Vayikra (Leviticus) describes G-d calling Moshe to tell him about all the different offerings that needed to be brought, and how they should be performed. The last letter in the word “Vayikra” (which means “called”) was written smaller then the rest (the Alef). Why is this letter shrunk? Furthermore, why is the whole book called Vayikra, “And He called”?

    Most commentaries explain that Moshe didn’t want to make a big deal of the fact that G-d called him and no one else, and therefore wanted to use the same word without the last letter, which would still have the same meaning, but wouldn’t be as affectionate a greeting (it would mean “and G-d happened upon…”). This shows us the great sensitivity and humility that Moshe had. Rabeinu Yonah offers us an insight into humility and human nature by explaining that some people who feel that they are lacking in a quality or in knowledge sometimes compensate for it by lowering others, thereby making themselves seem like they’re better by comparison. Moshe was the greatest prophet, but he was also the humblest because he was confident in himself and in his abilities, and didn’t need to lower others, even indirectly.

    But there’s an even more powerful message Moshe could be teaching us: The one letter he chose to shrink was the Alef, which is the first letter in the Hebrew alphabet…The very first step we have to glean is that even though Moshe was a great person, he sought to downplay it by shrinking that letter. But there’s yet another hidden hint for us in this word: The letter that’s  shrunk, Alef, actually has a meaning as a word: It means “to teach”. The message being taught to us is clear… The first and most important lesson in life is to recognize our egos, and work on not letting it control us (whenever we get angry, it’s because our ego is telling us that we deserve something.) The second lesson is that instead of lowering others to make us look better, we should raise our own standards, and become better. And finally, the last lesson is to take these lessons and teach and share them with someone else.

  • Dvar for Behar-Bechukotai (Leviticus 25:1-27:34)

    One of this week’s Parshiot, Behar, relates that G-d spoke to Moshe (Moses) on Mount Sinai, saying that for six years you may plant your fields, but the seventh year is a Sabbath for the land. Why does the Torah specify that G-d is speaking on “Mount Sinai?”

    One possible explanation could be because the Sabbatical year is one mitzvah which proves that only G-d could be the Author who gave the Torah on Mount Sinai, because it is there that He promises that the year before the Sabbatical will provide enough crops for the next three years (25:20-21). No human being would ever write this law because it would be disproved within six years. The fact that G-d chose to display his control using this commandment also teaches us a lesson about our accomplishments. If G-d chooses to give us more (crops, money or otherwise), He can do so by having us win the lottery where it’s obvious that He intervened, or he can make our companies and crops suddenly produce better where we can be tempted to take the credit for the increase. It’s up to us to see the bigger picture, and recognize the value of G-d’s commitment to those that appreciate Him.

  • Dvar for Emor (Leviticus 21:1-24:23)

    Parshat Emor contains the commandment to count 49 days from the bringing of the omer barley offering on the day after Passover to the holiday of Shavuot. Although the Torah does not spell out the rationale for this mitzvah, the later Rabbinic literature identifies this 49 day period as a time for personal development; just as the Jews needed 49 days to rise from the level of impurity they reached in Egypt to the level of holiness required to receive the Torah on the first Shavuot, so too every individual should utilize the 49 days to ready themselves to commemorate the giving of the  Torah on each Shavuot.

    There is a famous legal dispute as to whether counting the omer is one mitzvah (commandment) with 49 parts or 49 separate mitzvot. Practically, both opinions are respected: If one forgot to count on a given day, they continue to count on the next day, in accord with the second view, but they no longer recite a blessing because according to the first view they have spoiled their fulfillment of the commandment.

    Perhaps each of these positions is relevant not just to the counting itself, but to the spiritual development for which we strive during this period of time.  On the one hand, spiritual accomplishments must be approached one step at a time. Each of the 49 days stands on its own and each step we take has great value.  On the other hand, individual steps that are intermittent are not enough to reach the goal.  For true success, continuity is needed as well, maintaining the effort for 49 days without fail.  May we merit to use the remaining days of this year’s counting of the omer to reach new heights.

  • Daily Aliya for Emor, Shlishi (3rd Aliya)

    Aliya Summary: Blemished animals are disqualified for sacrificial use. This Aliya also forbids the castration of animals, sacrificing animals before they are eight days old, and slaughtering a mother animal and her child on the same day. The Aliya concludes with the mitzvah of kiddush Hashem, sanctifying G‑d’s Name by giving one’s life rather than transgressing certain cardinal sins.

    We may not desecrate G-d’s Name; we must sanctify His Name: These commandments have many facets. A Jew is required to give up their life rather than violate one of the “big three”: murder, incest/adultery and idolatry. In times of “forced conversion”, martyrdom is required even for the “smallest” violation.

  • Daily Aliya for Emor, Sheni (2nd Aliya)

    Aliya Summary: This Aliya discusses bodily blemishes and ritual impurities which disqualify a Kohen from performing the Temple priestly duties. The Aliya then lays down the rules regarding who in the Kohen’s household may eat teruma, the tithe from produce given to the Kohanim.

    Interesting point from ou.org: If a non-kohen eats Teruma (food meant for the kohen) intentionally, he is liable to “death penalty from heaven”. The punishment for eating Tevel (food not yet processed/split up) is the same. Perhaps we have here examples of the opposite types of sin. The former sin involves eating something “too sacred” for the individual. The latter is a sin that involves the opposite – the Tevel is so profane without any “mitzvot” separated, no sanctifying acts having been done with it. Going beyond halachic limits in either direction is equally sinful.

  • Daily Aliya for Acharei Mot-Kedoshim, Shvii (7th Aliya)

    Aliya Summary: The Torah sets the punishments for individuals who curse their parents and those who engage in prohibited sexual relations. We are instructed not to follow the customs and traditions of the heathens, and to be meticulous about eating only kosher foods. The Torah portion ends with an rejoinder that we be holy.

    Notice the dual role that every Jew must play. We are each individuals and we are part of Klal Yisrael. We are exhorted to keep the Torah as individuals, but we are also “advised” to be faithful to G-d so that tragedies will not happen to the People of Israel as a whole.

  • Daily Aliya for Acharei Mot-Kedoshim, Shishi (6th Aliya)

    Aliya Summary: We are commandment to love converts. We are also enjoined to be truthful in business dealing by maintaining honest weights and measures. The Torah prescribes capital punishment for one who worships Molech; a form of idolatry which required human sacrifices. The Torah also describes the punishment which will befall the nation if they neglect to punish Molech worshippers.

    Keep all of G-d’s statutes and laws. (This too is a commandment, but it would be “unfair” to count it among the 613 mitzvot, because it is general and all-encompassing of the other mitzvot of the Torah. The Rambam excludes this kind of mitzva from the counting of 613 commandments in the rule he sets down in the first section of his Book of Mitzvot. )

  • Dvar for Acharei Mot/Kedoshim (Leviticus 16:1-20:27)

    Did you know that the airline safety announcements were taken from one of this week’s Parshiot, Acharei Mot? When the Torah says that the Kohen Gadol (high priest) worked for forgiveness of himself, his family and of the nation as a whole (16:17), one should wonder why he couldn’t just work on forgiveness for everyone, which would clearly also include himself and his family.

    The answer is that before we can think about fixing the world, we need to fix ourselves and our immediate surroundings. As the airlines say, “secure your mask before assisting others.” What’s  even more interesting in the wording is that the word “forgiveness” is only mentioned once, and yet it affects himself, his family and the entire nation. It seems that a single positive action can have the affect of improving ourselves, our families AND the nation! It’s clear from this that finding ways to improve ourselves has a cumulative affect far greater than the improvements themselves, an important concept which should motivate us to find us a mask to secure.

  • Daily Aliya for Acharei Mot-Kedoshim, Chamishi (5th Aliya)

    Aliya Summary: More mitzvot: Not to pervert justice, gossip, be indifferent to a fellow’s predicament, hate a fellow Jew, bear grudges, or take revenge. To reprimand a sinner, and to love every Jew. The following statutes are also given here: not to sow a field with two kinds of seed, wear a garment made of a mixture of wool and linen (shatnez), or crossbreed animals. The section also includes with the laws of one who commits adultery with a half-free maidservant. We are introduced to the laws of “orlah,” the prohibition against eating the fruit of a new sapling for the first three years, and the obligation to sanctify the fruit of the fourth year. We are enjoined not to engage in witchcraft or prostitution, or tattoo our bodies. Men are instructed not to destroy the hair at the edges of their scalp or the corners of their beards. We are commanded to observe the Shabbat; respect G‑d’s sanctuary, Torah scholars and the elderly.

    The Talmud tells of a Rabbi who told his colleague that when he sees men sitting by the roadside, he circumvents them so as not to burden them with standing for him as he passes by. His friend told him that he was not acting wisely, because the Torah attached Reverence for G-d to the mitzva of standing for the elderly and the Torah Scholar, and one should not “spare them” from this mitzva/opportunity.

  • Daily Aliya for Acharei Mot-Kedoshim, Revii (4th Aliya)

    Aliya Summary: The prohibitions against homosexuality and bestiality are mentioned. The Jews are then warned that engaging in these forbidden relationships will result in their expulsion from the Land of Israel — a holy land which cannot tolerate immoral behavior. G‑d commands the Jewish people to be holy. This section then briefly discuses several laws: revering parents; observing the Shabbat; prohibitions against idolatry; the obligation to burn “leftover” sacrificial flesh; the obligation to leave certain parts of one’s harvest for the poor; not to lie, cheat, withhold wages, swear falsely, curse or mislead another.

    BE HOLY! – HOW? In light of the exceptionally large number of mitzvot in this sedra (K’doshim), one can fairly assume that the answer to that question is – by the observance of mitzvot. This means more than “just going through the motions”. It means a Torah way of life, mitzvot for the right motives and with the right enthusiasm.

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