Essence of Peace- Parshat Pinchas

13 07 2012

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller

The parsha begins by telling us that Pinchas was rewarded with the brit shalom, the covenant of peace, for boldly avenging the honor of Hashem. Pinchas performed an act of vengeance. He was c

ertainly righteous. He did not express misplaced hostility, egotism, or superiority. However

, Hashem deals with us midah k’neged midah. He relates to us in a way that matches our beha

vior, as the verse says “Hashem tzilcha.” Hashem is your shadow. One would think that the zealous Pinchas would be rewarded with the role of eternal warrior. Perhaps he would have appeared as a reincarnation of King David who slayed Golyat or Yehuda Maccabee who conquered the Greeks. Why was he rewarded with the covenant of peace?

Alacrity and kana’ut (zealousness) are not just the desire to eliminate evil. The motivating force for this middah is that one treasures goodness. Pinchas’s vengeance did not stem from hatred but from love. The more one is drawn towards good, the more one will hate evil.

If there were children trapped in a burning apartment, you’d break down the door and flood the house with water, not because you hate the fire but because you desperately want to save the children. Pinchas acted in this manner. His goal was to preserve holiness. This is why Hashem gave him the covenant of peace. He’d be the one to draw things together.

Pinchas teaches us what true zealousness is about. There will always be issues that we will have to fight against. We must stamp out evil but it should never take on its own energy. Rather kana’ut should come out of a desire for purity and holiness, which is what true peace is about.





The Mystery of Death – Short Parsha Vort

28 06 2012

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rabbi Avishai David

Parshat Chukat begins with the verse, “Zot chukat haTorah asher tzivah Hashem.” The Targum translates the words zot chukat as, “This is the divine dictum.” The Torah refers to the enigmatic chok of parah adumah (red heifer) which purifies those that are impure and defiles those that are pure.

Rav Soloveitchik notes that chukat doesn’t merely refer to the performance of a ritual, but to the mystery of death. We see this later in the parsha where it says “Zot haTorah adam ki yamut ba’ohel.” This is the law when a man dies. Death defiles. It removes the Divine image and only the body remains.

Tumat hamet (the impurity of death) is not included in the list of all the other forms of tumah (impurity) in the Torah because there’s a radical difference. While all the other forms of tumah are aesthetically jarring, tumat hamet is even more. It’s not simply the cessation of an organism Death is the departure of the soul from the physical body. Aesthetic ugliness can be washed away by prayer and immersion in the mikvah (ritual pool). But tumat hamet needs haza’ah, sprinkling of the ashes of the parah adumah.

Death is a transition not a termination. The soul of a person is immortal. The incomprehensible ritual of parah adumah suggests that the human effort to comprehend death is futile without accepting the fundamental concept of Divine Providence.

The details of parah aduma are found in parshat Chukat because para aduma acts as a bridge between the rebellion of Korach and the travels of the Jews in the desert. The rebellion took place during the second year of the exodus. For 38 years there was hester panim; Hashem’s face was hidden. It was a long silent period. Rashi says this dark time was like the parah adumah. It was beyond human comprehension. Chazal didn’t try to rationalize parah adumah. They taught that there are certain areas that are chukim. There are times when man must suspend his own judgment and accept the inscrutable will of Hashem.





Parshat Beha’alotcha:Ultimate Eternity

8 06 2012

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rabbi Avishai David

In this week’s parsha, the Torah records a dialogue between Moshe and Yitro. Moshe invites Yitro to join the Jewish people on their journey to Israel. He assures him that only good will come of it. However, Yitro categorically rejects the offer. Moshe implores him again, “If you will accompany us, you too will receive the good that Hashem has promised for us.” The Torah does not tell us Yitro’s second response. There is a disagreement among the sages whether he acquiesced or not. Assuming he did, which is the position of the Rambam and other commentaries, why was offer one summarily dismissed and offer number two accepted?

The Rambam notes that the first time Moshe promised Yitro material possessions: gold, silver, and cattle, but he rejected them. The second time he offered him a portion in Eretz Yisrael. The Rambam derives this from the additional language the Torah uses, “Vayaha hatov hahu asher heitiv Hashem.” Moshe assures Yitro that he too will acquire a portion in Israel. Yitro fully understood the value of the holy land. Moshe wasn’t offering him something transient but ultimate eternity.

This should be our perspective too. Undoubtedly all of us have a need for sustenance, but that shouldn’t be our focus. Our goal should be to tap into spirituality and infinity that the land of Israel represents.





Parshat Behar: Walking with G-d

10 05 2012

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rabbi Avishai David

In Parshat Bechukotai, the term halicha (walking) is used many times in reference to our observance of the mitzvot. The parsha begins, “Im bechukotai teileichu. If you will walk in my statutes.” Further on the Hashem writes, “V’hithalachti b’tochechem. I will walk with you.” The parsha continues, “Va’olech etchem. I will walk with you.”

Later on in the parsha, the Torah presents the other side of the coin. “V’halachtem imi keri. If you will walk with me keri.” The Rambam explains that this means we don’t recognize Hashem’s involvement in our lives. The Torah tells us, “If you walk with me b’keri I will walk with you b’keri.Hashem will respond to us in the way a person conducts himself.

We can follow the halicha of Hashem. The result will be as the Torah describes in the beginning of Bechukotai, “I will dwell among them and walk with them.” Rashi comments on this, “I will walk with you in gan eden.” Or it can be the opposite, halicha b’keri, which will ultimately lead to terrible consequences.

Hashem told Avraham Avinu, “Kum hithalech b’aretz.” Get up and walk the length and breadth of the land. Avraham chose righteousness and walked with Hashem.

May we follow in the footsteps of our forefathers.

 





Parshat Tazria and Metzora: Mirror Image

27 04 2012

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Mrs. Shira Smiles

Why did the Torah specifically designate the kohen to determine the status of a nega (leprosy spot)?

Tzaraat was not a physical disease but rather a sign of a spiritual malady within the person. For that one needed to go to a spiritual source for help, to a kohen. The kohanim represent those who teach Torah. They are our spiritual guides. It’s difficult for a person to admit his faults. This is why the Torah says, “V’huva el hakohen.” The metzora is brought to the kohen. The kohen was meant to guide the metzorah on the path to repentance.

Rav Gamliel Rabinowitz explains the Targum Unkeles which describes the metzora as an adam segira, a person who is closed in. Often a person with a spiritual illness refuses to listen to other people. Haughtiness is the quintessential sign of an impure person. Therefore, the way to respond was, “V’huva el hakohen,” He must nullify himself before the tzaddik. He must recognize his need for guidance.

Rav Pliskin writes that the kohen would teach the person how to pray to the Almighty for help. In addition, he himself would pray for the welfare of the person. This is a lesson for all of us. When we are faced with challenges, we must seek out a spiritual guide. We must look for someone who can point out the areas where we need to improve. We must ask for advice about what to pray for and ask him to pray for us too.

The Shaarei Chaim explains that when the kohen pronounced the person tameh (impure), the pronouncement created the tumah (impurity). The moment the kohen pronounced the person impure, the laws of impurity were activated and he could begin fixing himself.

The Noam Elimelech notes that the kohen was the spiritual mentor of the people. The names of the different kinds of tzaraat wounds indicate the different desires people have to connect to Hashem. Se’eit a person who wants to connect with Hashem, sapachat is one who yearns for attachment, baheret is one who has a light within him that desires to connect to Hashem. They want to bond with Hashem but it’s only external. They don’t have the right intentions. These people would also go to the kohen to help turn their avodat Hashem into something deeper and more meaningful.





Parshat Vaykhel: The Secret of One

15 03 2012

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rabbi Hershel Reichman 

Why is the mitzvah of Shabbat mentioned in this parsha with a specific emphasis on gathering together? In addition, why is there a special mention of the prohibition of not kindling a fire? Furthermore, in earlier parshiot the mitzvah of building the mishkan is discussed before the mitzvah of Shabbat, but in Parshat Vaykhel the order is reversed. Why?                                                                                                                                

The Shem Mishmuel explains. In Parshat Terumah the pasuk says, “Take for me a portion from every person whose heart willingly offers.” The Midrash interprets this to mean that before the sin of the golden calf every person was holy enough in his own right to warrant the building of the mishkan. In Parshat Vaykhel it says, “Those who are generous should contribute.” After the sin, there was a shift from the individual to the communal level. Now only as a nation could they build the mishkan.

Shabbat is the secret of one. During the week nature creates a veil behind which Hashem hides, but on Shabbat, the world, Israel and Hashem become united. Shabbat gives us the power of connection. This is why it’s mentioned first. In this parsha, Shabbat comes first to unite the individuals into a group worthy of the Mishkan.

How can we understand how a tzaddik of Aharon’s stature helped fashion the golden calf? When Moshe ascended to heaven to receive the Torah, Aharon saw that the people had lost their unifying figure. It was as if Moshe had spiritually left them. They no longer felt bound together with a single minded purpose and goal. Moshe was the soul of the Jewish nation. Similarly, Shabbat is the soul of the world, uniting all in purpose.

Where there is holiness, impurity seeks to get in. Therefore, when a person’s soul departs, his body becomes tamei, impure. When Moshe’s soul left the Jews, the void he left was filled by evil energies, which created havoc among the Jews. Aharon knew how much Moshe’s presence meant to the people. They needed something that would unify them. He therefore told them to contribute gold. Gold symbolizes giving up one’s personal aspirations for a higher national goal. Aharon threw the gold into the fire. Fire has the power to purge evil. Aharon thought the fire would refine their desires and lead them back to pure unity. He meant to fashion the golden calf as a harmless statue inspiring in some ways, but not at all idolatrous, but he failed. The Jewish people could not overcome the evil forces that had set in.

When Moshe came down from heaven, he threw the calf into the fire and purified the people. Vaykhel-He then gathered them together. He created a unified community. He reversed the order of commandments and gave the Jews Shabbat first. For Shabbat is raza d’echad-the secret of one. It is the key to our unity and our ultimate ability to build a dwelling place for Hashem in this world.





Parshat Ki Tisa- Reaching for Holiness

9 03 2012

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rabbi Hershel Reichman 

At the time of the giving of the Torah, the Jewish people rose to the level of Adam before the sin. How did they fall so quickly after that with cheit haegel (the sin of the golden calf)? The commentators explain that their intentions were not evil. They thought Moshe had died and that they had been left alone in the desert. Perhaps they reasoned that it was a question of life and death and that they could suspend Torah law to create an intermediary that would connect them with Hashem.

Shem Mishmuel points out that often people will sin with good motives, and that good intentions are never lost. Hashem takes them, purifies them and adds them to the sinner’s credit. We see this with the story of the Korach rebellion. Hashem commanded Moshe to take the 250 fire pans that had been used for sin and fashion them into an iron plate to cover the altar. The 250 people desired to come closer to Hashem through the position of the kehuna gedola (high priest). They had a noble goal but their actions were wrong. They were punished, but the vessels they used were consecrated for the holy mishkan.

The Torah teaches that actions are more important than intentions. The ends do not justify the means. Whether one achieves one’s goal or not doesn’t matter so much, but the way we do it must be right. Nevertheless good intentions still count. Moshe burned the calf and mixed the ashes with water and had the Jews drink it. His intent was to destroy the Jews’ evil deeds and retain their initial pure thoughts which had been to serve Hashem. Their good intentions were captured in the water and it saved them when they drank the potion. Those who were true sinners died.

Other religions downplay actions and upgrade intentions. Judaism teaches the opposite. Evil actions bear consequences. Yet if one’s intentions are noble they are not lost.