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וזאת הברכה

This week, we will be reading Parashat V’Zot Habracha. The fourth Passuk of this Parasha states,

תּוֹרָה צִוָּה לָנוּ מֹשֶׁה מוֹרָשָׁה קְהִלַּת יַעֲקֹב:

The Torah that Moses commanded us is a legacy for the congregation of Jacob (Deuteronomy 33:4)

The only other time in the Torah that the word Morasha is used, is in reference to Eretz Yisrael.

וְהֵבֵאתִי אֶתְכֶם אֶל הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר נָשָׂאתִי אֶת יָדִי לָתֵת אֹתָהּ לְאַבְרָהָם לְיִצְחָק וּלְיַעֲקֹב וְנָתַתִּי אֹתָהּ לָכֶם מוֹרָשָׁה אֲנִי יְ־ה

I will bring you to the land, concerning which I raised My hand to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, and I will give it to you as a heritage; I am the Lord.’ (Exodus 6:8)

The word Morasha does not mean the passive acceptance of an inheritance. It is an eternal inheritance that you must work for. You must toil in it, struggle and fight for it, only then it truly becomes yours. I believe we see this today with both Torah and Eretz Yisrael. It’s hard to keep the Torah and to fulfill all the Mitzvot. It’s not easy, it’s not cool, and it means you have a ton of assignments due at the end of the semester while missing three weeks of uni. But we struggle and try, because of our commitment and love for our heritage.

Similarly, these days it might not be so easy to love Israel when Zionists are characterised as baby killing, evil, occupiers. We have to work hard at our Ahavat Ha’aretz and learn as much as we can in order to defend ourselves and our homeland from the media, the Socialist Alternative, the far right, academics and many more.

May this year be the year we merit to live our Morasha, in our Morasha, fulfilling the Torah in our homeland.

zavatchalavudvash:

The first Aliyah of this week’s Parsha discusses the consequences of not following the laws of God. The culmination of these numerous consequences is the exile of our people from the Land of Israel. One of the most interesting verses in the Sedra demonstrates the difference between sins…

Tisha B’av is considered the most dangerous day in the Jewish calendar. How much more dangerous then for our soldiers fighting in Gaza.

This idea is simple. Get together with a group of friends or family and divide between you the entire sefer tehillim (book of psalms). Recite your allocated part at some point over Tisha B’av, ensuring that between you the entire sefer is recited.

Together we can recite sefer tehillim many times over Tisha B’av in an effort to protect our soldiers who are defending our country and our people. Please invite your friends so this can spread further!

Am Yisrael Chai! Have and easy and meaningful fast.

תשעה באב הוא היום הכי מסוכן בלוח השנה היהודית. השנה הוא אפילו יותר מסוכן לחיילים שלנו שלוחמים בעזה.

הרעיון פשוט. תתארגן קבוצה עם החבריך או המשפחתך, וחולק ספר תהילים. כל אחד יקרא חלק אחד בט’ אב, וביחד תקראו את כל הספר.

ביחד אנחנו יכולים לקרא ספר תהילים מאות פעמים בתשעה באב כדי להגן על חיילינו שמגנים על מדינתנו ועמנו.

שנאת חינם גרמה לחורבן בית שני, אבל השנה נתאחד להגן על חיילינו, על עם ישראל. בעזרת ה’ האחדות הזאת תהיה תיקון לעבירות שלנו בעבר, ונזכה לראות את בית המקדש השלישי והגאולה השלימה במהרה בימינו אמן.

עם ישראל חי!!!
צום קל!

תזמינו את כל החברים שלך לאירוע הזה

Parshat Tazria

This weeks Dvar Torah is based on ideas from Rabbi Twersky, Rav Mosheh Lichtenstien and some of my own brain’s inner thoughts. 

The main theme of this week’s Parsha is Tumah and Taharah - purity and impurity. But what does that really mean? What makes something pure and what makes something impure? 

We usually think of the purity spectrum as a neutral base, impurity below that and purity above that. However, R’ Moshe Lichtenstien argues differently. He says that being Tahor is our natural state, Tumah is below that and Kedushah is above that. 

This really is not a radical idea, we say it in Birkot Hashachar every. 

אלוהי נשמה שנתת בי טהורה היא

My God, the soul that you gave me is pure

This is one of the largest differences between Christian and Jewish theology. Judaism believes that every human is not only born neutral, but born pure. We believe all of humanity is born set on the path towards good naturally. Rambam says in Hilchot Teshuva that

 ור במחשבתך דבר זה שאומרים טפשי אומות העולם ורב גלמי בני ישראל: שהקבה גוזר על האדם מתחילת בריתו להיות צדיק או רשע. אין הדבר כן אלא כל אדם ראוי לו להיות צדיק כמו משה רבינו או רשע כירבעם או חכם או סבל או רחמן או אכזרי..

.

(הלכות Don’t think that at the beginning of each human’s life God decrees whether he will be righteous or wicked. This is not the case; rather, each man can choose whether to be righteous like Moshe or wicked like Yeravam, wise or simple, compassionate or cruel.

(Hilchot Teshuva 2:5)

In contrast to this, Christianity believes in the concept of Original Sin. 

If we’re all born pure, and being Tahor is our natural state, what makes something Tamei? 

R’ Moshe Lichtenstien explains that the largest violation of the natural system is death. Therefore, all impurity is somehow connected to death. This is clearly demonstrated by Tumat Nidah and Tumat Zav which are both connected to death through the loss of potential life - by menstruation of seminal emissions. 

But this week’s Parsha teaches that a Yoledet, a woman who gives birth is Tamei! How is this possible? Childbirth is not only natural, but it bringing life into the world, how is this Tamei? Furthermore, the bloods of childbirth are even referred to as “bloods of purity”. 

וּשְׁלשִׁיםיוֹםוּשְׁלשֶׁתיָמִיםתֵּשֵׁבבִּדְמֵיטָהֳרָהבְּכָלקֹדֶשׁלֹאתִגָּעוְאֶלהַמִּקְדָּשׁלֹאתָבֹאעַדמְלֹאתיְמֵיטָהֳרָהּ:

4. And for thirty three days, she shall remain in the blood of purity; she shall not touch anything holy, nor may she enter the Sanctuary, until the days of her purification have been completed.

Rashi explains that a woman’s bleeding is accompanied by sickness.

ואה דם שלא תחלה ראשה ואבריה כבדין עליה 

flow: Heb. דְּוֹתָהּ This expression denotes a substance that flows from her body. Another explanation: It denotes illness (מַדְוֶה) and sickness, for there is not a woman who sees [menstrual] blood without feeling ill, [since] her head and limbs become heavy upon her.

(Rashi on Leviticus 12:1)

 

I believe that this does tie in to the idea of Tumah being unnatural. Our natural state of being is healthy, sickness is a deviation from that and therefore unnatural. 

Furthermore, just as we said that our natural state is purity and goodness, the pains of childbirth are related to sin which is unnatural. Chavah was cursed

בעצב תלדי בנים 

You will bear children with pain

A Yoledet is Tamei because the pain of childbirth is rooted in unnatural sin and unnatural sickness. 

But most of this week’s Parsha deals with Tzaraat which is a type of Tumah? How is Tzaraat considered Tumah? It doesn’t seem to be connected to death and some would even argue that gossiping is natural! 

We learn from the story of Yehuda and Tamar the importance of saving face. Rather than immediately reveal that Yehuda was the man that impregnated her, Tamar risked being burnt alive to prevent embarrassing Yehudah. The word Rashi uses for embarrass is להלבין which literally means to make white. When a person is humiliated and shocked, their blood drains from their face and they’re as white as a corpse. From here we learn that using words incorrectly is akin to murdering a person. 

Furthermore, the prohibition against gossip in the Torah is juxtaposed with the prohibition of allowing someone to be killed in front of you.

There shouldn’t be a gossiper in your nation and you shouldn’t stand by the blood of your brother 

(Parshat Kedoshim)

These two concepts in the same pasuk draw a clear relation between improper use of speech and murder. If Lashon Hara is so serious that it is like killing someone, it explains the punishment of  Tzaraat and Tumah. Like we said earlier, death is always the theme behind impurity and this remains relevant in relation to Tzaraat. 

What’s the most important thing we can learn from this week’s Parsha? From the themes of Tumah and Taharah, purity and impurity, natural and unnatural? 

Personally, I think it’s the idea that we are created pure. Being Tahor is our natural state - every wrong action we do is a deviation from our nature. R’ Kook explains that Teshuva which comes from the word return does not only mean returning to Hashem, but returning to our authentic selves, our Tahor, natural selves. 

May we all have an inspiring week and make sure our actions connect with who we REALLY are.

פרשת שמיני

This week’s Parsha discusses the untimely death of Nadav and Avihu.

א. וַיִּקְחוּ בְנֵי אַהֲרֹן נָדָב וַאֲבִיהוּא אִישׁ מַחְתָּתוֹ וַיִּתְּנוּ בָהֵן אֵשׁ וַיָּשִׂימוּ עָלֶיהָ קְטֹרֶת וַיַּקְרִיבוּ לִפְנֵי יְהֹוָה אֵשׁ זָרָה אֲשֶׁר לֹא צִוָּה אֹתָם:

ב. וַתֵּצֵא אֵשׁ מִלִּפְנֵי יְהֹוָה וַתֹּאכַל אוֹתָם וַיָּמֻתוּ לִפְנֵי יְהֹוָה:

1. And Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, each took his pan, put fire in them, and placed incense upon it, and they brought before the Lord foreign fire, which He had not commanded them,

2. And fire went forth from before the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord

(Leviticus 10:1-2)

Rashi quotes many opinions as to what Nadav and Avihu actually did wrong: they entered the Mishkan intoxicated, they brought a strange fire, they did not consult with Aharon or Moshe etc.

But what exactly was the motivation behind Nadav and Avihu’s actions? They were Kohanim, leaders of the nation and the sons and nephews of Aharon and Moshe. Surely their actions did not contain any malicious intent!

The following verse  describes the two Kohanim as “those who are near to Me” - people who are close to God. Or as Rashi explains, God’s chosen ones.

יֹּאמֶר משֶׁה אֶל אַהֲרֹן הוּא אֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר יְהֹוָה | לֵאמֹר בִּקְרֹבַי אֶקָּדֵשׁ וְעַל פְּנֵי כָל הָעָם אֶכָּבֵד וַיִּדֹּם אַהֲרֹן:Then Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the Lord spoke, [when He said], ‘I will be sanctified through those near to Me, and before all the people I will be glorified.’ ” And Aaron was silent.

(Leviticus 10:3)

This is a direct reference to Nadav and Avihu. In fact, it is how Moshe informs his brother of their death.

If in death Nadav and Avihu are described as close to God, what exactly was their aim when offering their “foreign fire”?

Torat Kohanim explains

כיון שראו אש חדשה עמדו להוסיף אהבה על אהבה

When they saw the new fire tried to add love to love

Nadav and Avihu’s intentions were pure. They were consumed by religious fervour and wanted to become as close to Hashem as possible. Their “אש זרה” was their way of expressing their love of Hashem.

However, the flaw was their zealousness was unrestrained. They crossed the boundaries and broke the rules in their efforts to release their feelings and passion. They excluded themselves from the nation by bringing a separate offering, even though they were supposed to represent the nation.


The story of Nadav and Avihu is parall to the story of Uzza the son of Avinadav in this week’s Haftarah. The Haftarah recounts how the Aron was moved from the house of Avinadav to Jerusalem - King David’s new capital. The Aron was transported on a carriage instead of being carried by Leviim - a mistake on King David’s part.

The ox that was pulling the carriage misstepped and Uzza touched the Aron to support it and was immediately killed.

(See Samuel II Chapter 6)

Rav Mosheh Lichtenstein asks if the fact that the Aron was transported by carriage was Kind David’s mistake, why was Uzza punished immediately for trying to support it? He explains there is a fundamental difference between Kind David and Uzza’s attitudes towards the Aron.

Both David and Uzza were insufficient in their Yirat Shamayim. David’s lack of Yirah is expressed in the perek

וַיִּרָא דָּוִד אֶת יְהֹוָה בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא וַיֹּאמֶר אֵיךְ יָבוֹא אֵלַי אֲרוֹן יְהֹוָה:

And David was afraid of the Lord that day; and he said: ‘How can the ark of the Lord come to me?’

(Samuel II 6:9)

This verse implies because David’s fear was only expressed after Uzza’s death, he was lacking in Yirat Shamayim earlier. But why wasn’t David punished? David still approached the Aron with some sort of emotion. The later half of the chapter describes his happiness and how he danced before the Aron with all his strength.

In contrast to this, Rav Mosheh Lichtenstein explains Uzza. The Aron had remained in Uzza’s house for a while of time and it seems like he was desensitized to its holiness. He treated the Aron as if it was some piece of furniture that had to be moved.

David respected the Aron but Uzza was apathetic, he had neither love nor fear and therefore he was punished.

These two scenarios describe two different ways we must approach God - with Ahavah, love and with Yirah - fear. Nadav and Avihu’s love was unconstrained and actually led to a transgression of Hashem’s commandments. On the other hand, Uzza and (to some extent David) had a lack of fear which also resulted in punishment.

So how are we supposed to approach God? What is our Ahavah and Yirah supposed to look like?  


Rambam gives an example of Ahavat Hashem that seems somewhat extreme.

ג. וכיצד היא האהבה הראויה הוא שיאהב את ה’ אהבה גדולה יתירה עזה מאוד עד שתהא נפשו קשורה באהבת ה’ ונמצא שוגה בה תמיד כאלו חולה חולי האהבה שאין דעתו פנויה מאהבת אותה אשה והוא שוגה בה תמיד בין בשבתו בין בקומו בין בשעה שהוא אוכל ושותה יתר מזה תהיה אהבת ה’ בלב אוהביו שוגים בה תמיד כמו שצונו בכל לבבך ובכל נפשך והוא ששלמה אמר דרך משל כי חולת אהבה אני וכל שיר השירים משל הוא לענין זה:

What is the proper [degree] of love? That a person should love God with a very great and exceeding love until his soul is bound up in the love of God. Thus, he will always be obsessed with this love as if he is lovesick.

[A lovesick person’s] thoughts are never diverted from the love of that woman. He is always obsessed with her; when he sits down, when he gets up, when he eats and drinks. With an even greater [love], the love for God should be [implanted] in the hearts of those who love Him and are obsessed with Him at all times as we are commanded [Deuteronomy 6:5: “Love God…] with all your heart and with all soul.

(Rambam Hilchot Teshuva 10:3)

This is where the Yirah comes in. I read a blog post discussing this exact issue - Ahavat Hashem and Yirat Hashem. The author claims that Yirah is the boundary for Ahavah. Our love for Hashem is our religious motivation and the reason we try to get closer to him - just like Nadav and Avihu.

Our Yirah makes sure we express our love within a Halachic framework and that we don’t get carried away. It seems that while Nadav and Avihu had an incredible amount of Ahavat Hashem they were lacking in the Yirah department.

We need to make sure we have both. Not lacking either one like Uzza or Nadav and Avihu. As always the answer is not found in fanaticism or extremism but the difficult yet simple middle road.

Like Rambam says,

. הדרך הישרה היא מדה בינונית שבכל דעה ודעה מכל הדעות שיש לו לאדם והיא הדעה שהיא רחוקה משתי הקצוות ריחוק שוה ואינה קרובה לא לזו ולא לזו לפיכך צוו חכמים הראשונים שיהא אדם שם דעותיו תמיד ומשער אותם ומכוין אותם בדרך האמצעית כדי שיהא שלם בגופ

The straight path: This [involves discovering] the midpoint temperament of each and every trait that man possesses [within his personality.] This refers to the trait which is equidistant from either of the extremes, without being close to either of them.

Therefore, the early Sages instructed a man to evaluate his traits, to calculate them and to direct them along the middle path, so that he will be sound {of body}.

(Rambam Hilchot Deot 1:4)

I’m giving a shiur

Tomorrow night about the Jewish perspective on capital punishment. Would anybody interested if I record it and upload it to tumblr?

"i really wanna start writing weekly parshas but i'm nervous to for some reason. do you have any tips?" by Anonymous

Start off by learning parshat hashavua. Usually, one thing will really stand out to me and I’ll research that as much as I can. I skim all the mefarshim in the mikraot hagdolot on that particular phrase and see if anything connects to me. 

Once you find out what you want to write about, try and find references to that topic in other places. Look at all the sources the mefarshim mention and go back to the original source: Gemara, Midrash etc. 

Once you’ve written out your Dvar Torah have a friend read it. I know when my chavruta reads my DT she often pushes me to research further and make more connections between ideas. This always results in a more nuanced and layered DT which is awesome :) 

Final step - publish it and know that you’ve done your job in making Torah more accessible to people in the word. 

Of course it’s nerve wracking to publish your work in an environment where the whole world can see it but what have you got to lose? In my experience everyone’s been really supportive :)

2014: The year of a new format

I don’t know if you’ve been able to tell but I’ve been doing a lot less reblogging lately. I’ve decided I want my blog to become a record of my own writings and essays, rather than unoriginal content. 

I have no interest in getting involved in Jumblr’s messy politics and opinions, so I won’t be getting involved in reblog wars. Rather, when someone posts something that I disagree with, I’ll write an essay about it. I think it will make my blog look neater and easier to read. 

The only problem with this approach is that it may limit my interactions with the Jewish and Zionist communities on Tumblr. To combat this I invite you all to my ask box where you can ask about my opinion on any topic under the sun. 

Blessing you all with a pleasant and prosperous 2014. 

zavatchalavudvash:

This week’s Parsha begins with G-d telling Moses that He has heard the cries of His people and He will redeem them. In addition to this, at this point, G-d tells Moses that He will give the Land of Israel to the Israelites as their “inheritance” (also translated as “heritage”).

וְהֵבֵאתִי…

+ A handmade silver menorah is the first thing you see after you check in at Ben Gurion airport and before you head through security. 

I think this is the perfect item to place in that spot. For thousands of years the menorah has been a symbol of jewish pride and integrity. 

Just as you’re about to leave the Jewish state, this menorah is standing there as a reminder of your identity. It whispers to you that even though you’re leaving Eretz Yisrael temporarily for the Diaspora, you’re Jewish. Don’t be seduced by the yavanim, you have your own culture and people that are waiting for you back at home.

A handmade silver menorah is the first thing you see after you check in at Ben Gurion airport and before you head through security.

I think this is the perfect item to place in that spot. For thousands of years the menorah has been a symbol of jewish pride and integrity. Just as you’re about to leave the Jewish state, this menorah is standing there as a reminder of your identity. It whispers to you that even though you’re leaving Eretz Yisrael temporarily for the Diaspora, you’re Jewish. Don’t be seduced by the yavanim, you have your own culture and people that are waiting for you back at home.