Monday, May 7, 2012

Tazria Metzora - A Curse Becomes a Blessing

This week we read a double parsha, Tazria Metzora. Folks, I can learn any dvar Torah about these parshiyot (weekly portions) and hear any inspirational word, but for my entire life, IY"H, there is one memory of these parshiyot that will stand out above any other.
For many years my youngest two children (sometimes with the aid of their older siblings) used to put on a skit for us about the parsha every Friday night. They split the sea. They climbed an angel's ladder. They saved Lot. They were heroes and villains and even inanimate objects.
When the Friday night of Tazria Metzora came about, my little girl was a leper who was brought to the Kohen (the priest) in order to look at the affliction on her skin. He took one look at her arm, and said with great joy, "Mazel tov, you have tzaraat." (Congratulations, you have leprousy!!) 
Never before or after has our family burst into such spontaneous and hysterical laughter.
That said, I'd like to repeat part of a dvar Torah given at the table this week by my son HaRav Moshe Eliahu Katz.Any mistakes or omissions are totally mine. So excuse me in advance.
Moshe Eliahu explained that one of the reasons that a person's house becomes afflicted with  leprosy is because the homeowner was a selfish miserly person. If someone had asked him to borrow anything, he would have said, "No." He might have said that he did not have the item, or couldn't find it.
As a punishment, his home was afflicted and he was forced to take everything out of it. All the neighbors who were denied anything from him would soon see that he indeed had all those items, but wouldn't share them.
Moshe Eliahu also noted that sometimes when afflicted homes were torn down, the owners found gold (hidden by the previous Canaanite inhabitants) in the walls or underneath the foundations.
Moshe Eliahu asked, "Why would G-d grant such a treasure to a person who had been stingy and selfish?"
He explained that the stingy man is punished, sent out of his house (if he reenters, he becomes impure and must be separated from others and purified), his home is scraped or taken apart brick by brick. The man has suffered humiliation and isolation for his selfishness. He has learned a powerful lesson. Moshe Eliahu asked, "Now, what man would be more worthy or do better deeds with new-found gold?!" 
Of course, he told it better. But he was totally right.
Sometimes in life, bad things happen. But if we learn our lessons from those bad things, sometimes if we are very determined to understand our errors and right our wrongs, a bad thing can become a blessing.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Parshat Shemini - Learning and Teaching

This parsha brought a very exciting moment to the Jewish world. In the middle of Parshat Shemini in pasuk 10:16, we find the expression, "Moshe inquired insistently about the he-goat of the sin-offering..." In Hebrew the wording is "V'et s'ir ha'chatat darosh darash..." The words darosh and darash are spelled the same. They are also the exact center of the Torah, the half-way point.
We have now officially completed more than half of the Torah.
On the side of the first half is the word darosh, which means to ask or investigate. In other words, to delve and learn Torah. On the other side is the second word darash, which means to give over (a sermon) or to teach.
Just as the center of the Torah is darosh and then darash - learning the Torah and then teaching it - so the center of our lives as well must be learning and studying and understanding the Torah, and then giving it over to others.

Parshat Shemini - Just Do It

Pesach is over, sniff. We went right from our last day of Pesach to Shabbat. Today was Abba's birthday, ad 120. So this blog is dedicated to Abba - Yisrael ben Meir Chaim HaKohen.

"Moshe said, 'This is the thing that Hashem commanded you to do; then the glory of Hashem will appear to you." (Vayikra, 9:6)
The Torah is talking about all the different offerings that the Kohen must bring to Hashem. The book of Vayikra (Leviticus) carefully discusses all the kinds of sacrifices and offerings. If we follow Hashem's instructions carefully His glory will appear to us, BE"H.
The Torah Treasury suggests yet another interpretation, if you change the punctuation of the sentence in Hebrew. "Vayomer Moshe (and Moshe said), zeh hadvar asher tziva Hashem (this is the thing that Hashem commanded), t'asu (Do!!), v'yeira aleichem Kavod Hashem (and the glory will appear to you)."
If we want to see G-d's glory, we must do! We must live a life of action, of making good things happen, of doing something to try to make a difference, of doing and engaging in positive pursuits. It is incumbent on each person to try to make the world better than when he found it. A person must do/act to help others. If we do (even if we don't complete the task, even if we don't succeed), then we have the potential of seeing Hashem's glory.
Any act done with good motivations behind it (whether it succeeds or not) is worthy. In this case, Nike is right. "Just do it."


Monday, April 2, 2012

Parshat Tzav - There are No Small Parts, Only Small Actors

Through "show business", we learn many lessons in life. One of them is, as the title of this post says, "There are no small parts, only small actors." An actor can be assigned a small role, and yet, he can make it something special and memorable through a wholehearted stand out performance.
We learned in this week's Parshat Tzav that the Kohanim in Bet HaMikdash have many different roles. One of them was even taking out the ashes.
That doesn't sound like such a glamorous task. It's not as exciting as sacrificing a bull or a goat. It's not as moving as bringing the ketoret spices.
So, why does the kohen have to do these "menial" tasks? 
This reminds me of a parable I heard long ago. A king told his gardeners that he wanted each to create the most special garden possible, and he would pay them according to the flowers he liked best.
Each created beautiful different types of gardens filled with every type of flower. Those gardens were awash with color, symphonies of flowers. At the end, the king paid more for the roses. "Why didn't you tell us the roses would bring the most money?" the gardeners asked. "I didn't want gardens only filled with roses."
Hashem has given us 613 commandments, and He wants us to immerse ourselves with dedicated to each one of them big and small. Just as the kohen who might shecht (sacrifice) a bull and also clear out the ashes does each with full dedication, so must we do each mitzvah in our lives with dedication and devotion.
We don't know the value of mitzvot. I guess Hashem will tell us that after 120, IY"H. But I know that just as Hashem wants us to learn Torah, keep Shabbat, eat kosher, He also wants us to stand up for the elderly, speak with courtesy, refrain from saying lashon hara, and be kind to others.
None of those are small mitzvot. Only if we look down upon one instead of another, we, G-d forbid, are showing ourselves to be small people

Tzav - Come Home, There's Room

This post in dedicated to our chattan Mati (Matityahu Ehud) and his dear kallah Shaindel (Shaindel Perela) upon their engagement this week.

Shaindel joined our family for Shabbat - Shabbat HaGadol - and it really was a big Shabbat!! B"H, I looked around the Shabbat table, and it was full, bli ayin hara, with our children and grandchildren. In fact, the entire house was overflowing with Katzes. B"H!!! Thank you, G-d. Bli ayin hara!! 
You'd think we couldn't fit one more person around the table, or have room for one more person to sleep. But B"H we can and IY"H we will.
In this week's Parshat Tzav, Hashem tells Moshe, "Gather the entire assembly to the entrance of the Tent of the Meeting." (Vayikra, 8:3) But how is that possible?? There were millions of Jews at that time, B"H. Even if there were only 600,000 men, can you imagine putting 600,000 men at the entrance to the Tent of the Meeting. That would be totally impossible.
But from here we learn a magnificent lesson. Rabbis Yisrael and Osher Jungreis in Table Torah tells us that where there is love and unity among the Jewish people, there is no space too small. Unfortunately where there is dissension and bad feelings among Jews, there is no place big enough. But when there is love and unity and good feelings, where there is brotherhood and caring about one another, no place is too small.
I mentioned this to Rabbi Sholom Eisman, Mashgiach for Meshech Chochma, and Shaindel's Rabbi. He agreed and told me a beautiful story from the gemara. There was a story in the gemara of six people covering themselves with one tallit. That might seem impossible, but where the six care for one another, and they care enough to make sure the other is covered with the tallit, then all six will surely be covered.
I told my children, "Never be hesitant about coming home for Shabbat, a holiday or for any reason. Never feel that there's no room. BE"H no matter how many you are (and you're welcome to be more and more and more, IY"H :) ), when there is love a brotherhood (sisterhood), there will always be room.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Shabbat Parshat Vayikra - Rosh Chodesh Nissan

Three sifrei Torah were brought out today in Shul - one for Parshat Vayikra, one for Rosh Chodesh, and one for Parshat HaChodesh. We read in the third sefer Torah from Parshat Bo, "Hashem said to Moshe and Aharon in the land of Egypt, saying, 'This month shall be for you the beginning of the months, it shall be for you the first of the months of the year.'" (Shemot 12:1)
My granddaughter Shir Tehilla and I learned in Horim v'Yeladim (this week with Rabbi Reuven Rosenstark) on Thursday night that there are two first months. Rosh Chodesh Tishrei is the first month of the creation of the world. Rosh Chodesh Nissan is the first months of the creation of the Jewish people. And since we know that the world was created for the Jewish people, the two months are very intertwined.
Rabbi Avraham Arieh Trugman, Orchard of Delights, says that when G-d created the world (Tishrei), He did so with ten utterances. When ten rituals were performed on the first day when the Tabernacle was erected (Nissan), they corresponded to the ten utterances at the start of the world. And that Hashem had promised the Jewish nation that He would make them "a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation. (Shemot 19:6) Well, in Vayikra/Nissan it was finally happening!!
I wanted to mention something very beautiful that I read in the Artscroll's explanation of Parshat HaChodesh. It is long, but I know you will be moved by it. Please read:
"The first day of Nissan was and always remains a historic day for the Jewish nation. It was the day when the people received their first commandment as a nation: Sanctify the New Moon. This ritual has a profound spiritual and historic significance. It is noteworthy that it was one of three commandments that the Syrian-Greeks, in the time before the Chanukah miracle, attempted to nullify by force. The other two were Shabbat observance and circumcision. Clearly, therefore, Israel's enemies understood that the sanctification of the New Moon was basic to the existence of Israel as a nation of Torah."
"Commentators explain that, by virtue of this commandment, G-d gave the Jewish people mastery over time. From that moment onward, the calendar with its cycle of festivals could exist only when the Sages of Israel declared the new month. This signifies more than control over the reckoning of time, the dating of legal documents, and all the banalities to which man is subject in his everyday life. It represents the potential for renewal. The Jewish people is symbolized by the moon because, although the moon wanes, it waxes as well. It stands for hope, for the confidence that there is a future as well as a past. This vibrancy assures that any conquest of the Jewish people can never be more than temporary. Israel may seem to disappear from the panorama of history - but so does the moon. The moon returns - and Israel, by means of the power vested in it by the Torah, sanctifies the new month. So too, the nation constantly renews its vigor, constantly defies the laws of history that insist it should have long since become extinct, constantly demonstrates its ability to make itself the vehicle for the prophecies of redemption and a great spiritual world."
I wanted to add to this something that I have heard many times from Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis. If anyone looked at the Jewish people on the day the Holy Temple was destroyed, and he saw the Temple in flames, Jews lying dead all over Jerusalem, others screaming in fear, etc., they would have thought the Jewish people were at their end. But then like the moon, they reappeared.
If people had seen the Jews hung on the cross in Spain during the Inquisition,  they would have thought the Jewish people were at their end. But then like the moon, they reappeared.
If people had seen Chelminicki ride into a Jewish shtetl and murder every Jew in site,  they would have thought the Jewish people were at their end. But then like the moon, they reappeared.
If people would have witnessed the Jews murdered in concentration camp, or at the edge of a mass grave, or on a death march,  they would have thought the Jewish people were at their end. But then like the moon, they reappeared.
G-d created the Jewish people to be like the moon. Our strength may fade and our very existence may seem to vanish, but B"H, like the moon we rise again. B"H. Am Yisrael chai.

Vayikra - Gearing Up for the Big Moment

At the end of the book of Shemot, we learned how to build the Mishkan, what clothing to sew for the Kohanim, how to create the vessels needed in the Tabernacle. After all the instruction, all the wise-hearted of the nation followed Hashem's instructions, and Moshe actually put all the pieces together to create a place worthy within which Hashem's Schechina could rest.
Now in Parshat Vayikra, we're ready to learn about the korbanot (sacrifices) that are to be brought to the Mishkan. 
Hashem tells Moshe to explain the laws of sacrifices to the Jewish people, "When a man among you brings an offering to Hashem: from animals..." (Vayikra: 1:2)
Here G-d calls man, an "Adam", just like Adam, the first human being. The Artscroll Chumash quotes Rashi, who tell us that this is to "imply that just as Adam did not bring stolen animals as offerings, since the whole world was his, so too no one may serve G-d with anything acquired dishonestly."
I read, I think in Rav Tzvi Leshem's sefer, Remptions, that there was a disagreement between the Rambam and the Ramban on the reason for the korbanot. (I hope I didn't make a mistake about this - I'll check, or you check. :) )
I think Rambam felt that Hashem gave the Jewish people the korbanot as a way to wean them away from idol worship and sacrifices to false gods. But the Ramban disagreed. He felt that Hashem truly "enjoyed" the sacrifices of the Jewish people. And he cited Adam, who lived in a world without idol worship, without bad influences, without ulterior motives, and he brought a sacrifice to Hashem.
Yes, Adam had the entire world to himself. He can command over all the animals. He had a direct connection to Hashem, his Father in Heaven. And he brought a korban, inspired by pure love, devotion and gratitude to Hashem.
We read in different places in Tanach where Hashem is angry at the Jewish people, and chastises them. "I don't want your empty sacrifices. I want your obedience."
For Hashem, the purpose of the sacrifices in the Tabernacle and later in the Holy Temple is not so that a sheep or goat or bull can be slaughtered. It is that the Jewish people should follow Hashem's ways and truly become closer to Him. Korban has the same root as the word karov or lekarev, come closer. Hashem wants us to come closer to Him, and He wants us to bring korbanot with pure intentions, just like Adam.
Today, as of this writing, we still do not have the Temple, and the korbanot have not been restored. Instead we have our prayers to temporarily take the place of the korbanot. Just as G-d wants us to bring the sacrifices with a pure heart and pure intentions, so He wants us to lekarev (come closer) to Him in our prayer as well.
When you pick up your siddur (prayer book), approach G-d with a pure heart. Don't just shzzsh  shzzhsh through your tefillah. Pray with your heart, and Hashem will listen.