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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.

פרשת ויצא

Sorry this is last week’s Dvar Torah. My internet wasn’t working last week so I couldn’t put it up then and I didn’t have the time to work on one this week. I’m sorry. 

After years of hiding from the wrath of his twin brother, Jacob finally feels safe to begin his journey home. Interestingly enough, this idea is juxtaposed with the birth of his first son from his favourite wife Rachel, Joseph.

ויהי כאשר ילדה רחל את יוסף ויאמר יעקב אל לבן שלחני ואלכה אל מקומי ולארצי

After Rachel had borne Joseph, Jacob said to Laban, “Give me leave to go back to my own homeland”

(Genesis 30:25)

Rashi comments on this verse and explains

משנולד שטנו של עשו שנאמר והיה בית יעקב אש ובית יוסף להבה ובית  עשו  לקש אש בלא להבה אינו שולט למרחוק משנולד יוסף בטח יעקב בהקב’ה ורצה לשוב

Quoting the Midrash (Bereishit Rabbah 73:7) Rashi explains that Joseph is the inherent rival of Esau and it was only after his birth, that Jacob felt secure enough to return to his homeland. Furthermore, the House of Jacob is compared to a fire, the House of Joseph to a flame and the House of Esau to straw.

והיה בית יעקב אש ובית יוסף להבה ובית עשו לקש ודלקו בהם ואכלום ולא יהיה שריד לבית עשו כי ה’ דבר

The House of Jacob shall be fire, and the House of Joseph flame, and the House of Esau shall be straw; they shall burn it and devour it and so survivor shall be left of the House of Esau – for the Lord has spoken

(Obadiah 1:18)

 Malbim discusses the difference between a flame and a fire.

ואז יהיה בית יעקב לאש הבוער מקרוב ובית יוסף יהיה כלהבה הבוער מרחוק יותר מן האש

The House of Jacob will be like a fire that burns close and the House of Joseph will be like a flame that burns from afar even more than fire

(Malbim on Obadiah 1:18)

Fire without a flame has no effect when it’s far away; implying fire needs a flame in order to destroy. The flame is the concentrated essence of the fire. The flame can focus on specific targets while the fire cannot. Radak expands on this idea and contends the House of Jacob is dependent on the House of Joseph to destroy the House of Esau.

ורז’ל דרשו כל זכר יוסף לפי שאין זרעו של עשו נופל אלא ביד יוסף או ביד זרעו של יוסף

The Rabbis (OB’M) teach that Joseph is mentioned because Esau will only fall through Joseph or through Joseph’s descendants

(Radak on Obadiah 1:18)

The Da’at Mikra on Obadiah defines the House of Jacob as Judah and the House of Joseph as Joseph.  Judah and Joseph are emblematic of two opposing worldviews; Judah represents a path of insulation and isolation in order to protect his own way of life, while Joseph symbolizes integration into surrounding society in order to influence society for the better.

Judah’s isolation is illustrated in the aftermath of Joseph’s Sale, when he removes himself from his brothers’ community and decides to live by himself.

ויהי בעת ההיא וירד יהודה מאת אחיו ויט עד איש עדלמי ושמו חירה

About that time Judah left his brothers and camped near a certain Adullamite whose name was Hirah

(Genesis 38:1)

This is also seen when Judah breaks his promise and refuses to give his youngest son to Tamar as a husband. He follows his worldview of isolation, rather than keeping his word.

ותסר בגדי אלמנותה מעליה ותכס בצעיף ותתעלף ותשב פתח עינים אשר על דרך תמנתה כי ראתה כי גדל שלה והוא לו נתנה לו לאשה

So she took off her widow’s garb, covered her face with a veil, and, wrapping herself up, sat down at the entrance to Einaim which on the road to Timnah for she saw that Shelah was  grown up, yet she had not been given to him as wife

(Genesis 38:14)

In contrast to this Joseph integrates into Egyptian society and even becomes the ruler of the entire country under Pharaoh’s supervision. Despite his success in a foreign society amongst pagan ideals completely opposed to Judaism, Joseph maintains his relationship with God. Joseph’s worldview is demonstrated in a number of sources in Genesis.

ויהי ה’ את יוסף ויהי איש מצליח ויהי בבית אדוניו המצרי

The Lord was with Joseph, and he was a successful man; and he stayed in the house of his Egyptian master

(Genesis 39:2)

ויאמר פרעה אל יוסף ראה נתתי אתך על כל ארץ מצרים

Pharaoh further said to Joseph, “See, I put you in charge of all the land of Egypt”

(Genesis 41:41)

It is this difference between Judah and Joseph that explains why only a descendant of Joseph could destroy the House of Esau. In my opinion, when Obadiah refers to completely obliterating the House of Esau it can be understood metaphorically; destroying all ideologies and beliefs that contradict God and His Torah. Judah cannot destroy Esau alone as he does not interact with him at all, he lives in his own isolated Torah bubble. However, Joseph who does not cut himself off completely from Esau’s society can be a ‘light unto the nations’ and destroy Esau’s heretical beliefs by being a positive influence.

The contrast between fire and a flame is also seen in the Book of Isaiah.

והיה אור ישראל לאש וקדושו ללהבה

The Light of Israel will be a fire and its Holy One a flame

(Isaiah 10:17)

Midrashei Chazal explain

דבר אחר והיה אור ישראל לאש זה מרדכי וקדושו ללהבה זו אסתר

Alternatively, the Light of Israel will be a fire refers to Mordechai and its Holy One a flame refers to Esther

(Midrashei Chazal on Isaiah 10:17)

Mordechai and Esther follow the same pattern in the comparison between fire and flame. Morderchai , like the fire and Judah, remained outside the palace for the most of Purim narrative, fasting and focusing on the Jewish community. In contrast to this, Esther was married to Ahasuereus and tried to change the decree against the Jews from the inside. She was part of the upper echelons of Persian society, Morderchai was outside of it.

These sources demonstrate the need for the flame to exist. Without the flame, the fire is useless. Esau will not be defeated by fire alone. Ahasuereus’ and Haman’s decree weren’t nullified by Mordechai, Esther is the heroine of the Purim story. Joseph’s weapon, the flame – God and His Torah will eradicate all theological falsehoods in this world. Joseph, unlike Judah has the ability to spread the word of God, the flame of Torah throughout the world. Joseph will be a light unto the nations and destroy the House of Esau.

We like Joseph and Esther should have the strength to withstand the values that our superficial society bombards us with on a daily basis. We should strive to emulate Joseph and be a light unto the nations, a positive influence, and through the flame of Torah influence society for the better. We should reveal more Godliness into the world, help people discover the Ultimate Truth and hasten the arrival of Mashiach.

Amen.

Ready to soak up some wisdom from the ex-chief!

Rashi on this weeks parsha

בן ישראל שדר בחוצה לארץ דומה כמי שאין לו אלוה
A Jew that lives outside of Israel is like a person that doesn’t have a God