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.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Pekudei - In Unity There is G-d

In Parshat Vayakhel the Jewish people rushed to give their valuables for the sake of building the Tabernacle. They were so enthusiastic, they had to be told to stop. Have you ever heard of any Jewish organization tell its supporters, "Please don't donate."?
The Jewish people gave super-generously, and the craftsmen worked on each item whole-heartedly.
In Parshat Pekudei we read again and again that everything was made exactly as G-d detailed. Each item was made with enthusiasm and love with materials given with enthusiasm and love. 
In response, the Torah Treasury states, "G-d showed the Jews an intense love that embraced every element of the Tabernacle, filling it with His Presence." The parsha says, "and the glory of Hashem filled the Tabernacle." (Shemot 38:35)
Hashem wants to fill our homes, our synagogues, our yeshivot and our hearts with His Presence. All He needs is a feeling of love toward Him, and our true desire to follow in His Path. All He hopes for is for the Jewish people to unify for a good positive reason. If they can do this one day, IY"H, they will find the great benefit that in unity, there is G-d.

Vayakhel - Where There's a Will, There's a Way

Having learned in the past few parshiyot about what the clothing of the Kohanim (High Priests) had to look like, and how the different vessels and altars of the Tabernacle/Holy Temple had to be made, this week in Parshat Vayakhel, the process actually begins.
Guiding their fellow Jews are the dynamic duo of Betzalel ben Uri ben Hur of the tribe of Yehudah and Ohaliav ben Achisamach of the tribe of Dan. Today young people who are artistically inclined can attend the Betzalel School (named after the Betzalel, above), but there were no art schools for the Jewish slaves in Egypt. There were no crafts' shops in the desert. So, how did Betzalel, Ohaliav and all those who worked on the weaving and the carpentry and the gold/silver/copper know what to do? Where did Betzalel find so many artisans in a desert full of former slaves?
The Artscroll Torah Treasury asked the same question. The answer can be found in Shemot 35:21, "Every man whose heart inspired him came."
The Torah Treasury states, "The Jews had never been trained as artisans in the fine arts necessary to manufacture the various items for the Tabernacle. Nevertheless, their hearts lifted them, i.e., they had the courage to step forward and volunteer, confident that G-d would help them use their natural, raw talent to successfully produce the vessels He desired."
The men and women who volunteered to create the items needed for the Mishkan (Tabernacle) wanted so whole-heartedly to participate and succeed that they forged ahead, and Hashem helped them.
There are so many things in life that each of us wishes we could achieve. Sometimes a task or goal seems too daunting. We don't even know where to begin. Well, there's a secret to success. If your purpose is true, if your heart is in the right place, if your goal is a positive one, go forward. Hashem will help you. He'll either help "expand your natural abilities" or he'll send you friends/advisors who can help you on your path.
Nothing should ever stand in the way of your doing a good deed or working toward a sincere goal. Where there's a will, there's a way.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Ki Tisa - Again Clothes Make the Man

My son HaRav Moshe Eliahu Katz spoke at the Shabbat table about the conversation between Moshe Rabbeinu and his brother Aharon the High Priest, after Moshe discovered that Aharon had created a golden calf.
In Parshat Ki Tisa, Moshe asked Aharon, "What did this people do to you that you brought a grievous sin upon it [by creating the golden calf]?" (Shemot 32:21)
What was Aharon's response? "You know that the people is disposed toward evil...So I said to them, 'Who has gold?'" That's an odd kind of response. The people are disposed toward evil, so I asked them to remove their gold.
Moshe Eliahu explained that the Jewish nation had been entrenched for so many generations in the evil of Egypt, in Egyptian idolatry and "disgraceful behavior" (as Artscroll puts it). One of the negatives of Egypt was the physical pleasures and excesses of gold and vain finery. When the Jews called on Aharon to fashion an idol, when they began renewing their bad old habits, the first thing he thought was, "If I could have them remove the outward look of Egypt with all its gold and jewelry, perhaps they will snap back to their senses."
Unfortunately they were too far gone to bounce back without something more drastic, but Aharon knew something we learned in Parshat Tetzaveh (when we learned about the clothing of the Kohanim), "Clothes make the man."

(Just to remind anyone reading my blogs are written on Motzei Shabbat in Israel.)

Ki Tisa - Masks after Purim

Parshat Ki Tisa is usually read around Purim. This year, it follows directly after the holiday of Purim.  And how appropriate, because both Purim and this week's Parsha involve masks.
On the holiday of Purim, young and old wear costumes and very often masks of all sorts as part of their celebrations. Masks of evil and masks of good. Masks that hide the true person and masks that represent someone's hopes and dreams. Jews masquerade as anything and everything, and turn regular folks into Esther and Mordechai, Achashverosh and Haman, nurses and policemen, strawberries and bananas, presidents and prisoners, and all sorts of characters. They let their imaginations run wild as they party to celebrate the salvation of the Jewish people, after a threat of annihilation by the wicked Haman.
In this week's parsha there were two major masquerades. The first occurred when the Jewish people turned a mound of gold into a molten calf (egel masecha - masked cow), and pretended it was a god. "This is your god, O Israel, which brought you up from the land of Egypt." (Shemot 32:8) 
Then they celebrated and reveled around the calf, drinking and partying for all the wrong reasons.
Rav Avraham Trugman in his fascinating sefer, Orchard of Delights, noted that both Purim and Ki Tisa talk about using gold for the wrong reasons - the Jews in Shushan attended Achashverosh's wild party, danced the night away, and drank from the captured golden vessels of the Holy Temple. The Jews of the desert created the golden calf, and made their own wild party (engaging in the three cardinal sins of idolatry, licentiousness and murder).
After the Jews of Shushan attended Achashverosh's party and watched silently as the holy vessels were dishonored, Hashem sent Haman, who was bent on destroying the Jewish people.
After the episode of the golden calf, Hashem told Moshe that He had decided that He would destroy this stiff-necked nation and begin again with a nation descended from Moshe alone.
In both instances only prayer and repentance saved the Jewish people.
In the end of the parsha, when Moshe descended from Har Sinai with the newly created Tablets of Testimony, the "skin of his face had become radiant" (Shemot 34:29).
He would teach the Jewish people what Hashem told him, and then the parsha continues, "Moshe finished speaking with them and placed a mask on his face." (ibid. 34:33)
When Moshe spoke to Hashem, he removed the mask and showed his true self. When he taught the people Torah he would not wear a mask, but then when he was done, he put on the mask, according to Be'er Moshe (Artscroll Chumash), "to spare the people the embarrassment of seeing how they had so deprived themselves of closeness to G-d that they could not even look at his prophet."
In our lives we sometimes feel it is necessary to "wear a mask". Sometimes we wear a mask of courage, when something, chas v'shalom, bad happens and we don't want others to see how frightened or sad we are. 
There are no end to the types of masks we may wear. But ultimately we become like the mask. The Jewish people became debased through the "masked cow." Moshe became even more humble through his masveh (mask).
Throughout the years in the future, your children will want to dress up as all kinds of things on Purim. Guide them toward positive images. You might think it's silly not to allow your child to "express himself". So what if he wants to be a punk rocker, a bad guy, a negative-whatever. There is something wrong with it. A person is influenced by his Purim costume, by his mask.
I want to leave you with a mask story that I heard from Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis. There was once a British Lord who fell in love with a beautiful young lady. He was the most evil, the most horrible looking and the most wicked man in England, but he was very wealthy. He had a mask made for himself that portrayed him as handsome and good.
To fool the lass even more, whenever he was with her, he'd give charity to the poor and do all sorts of good deeds. The young lady fell for the ruse, and married the evil masked lord.
One day years later, the lord's enemy found out about the trick, and came to the palace to expose the terrible lord for what he was. He entered the palace, and ripped the mask off the lord's face to reveal what was underneath.
And what was it?
It was the same handsome and good face as the mask. He had worn the mask for so long and acted with kindness (to impress his young wife) for so long, that he actually became what the mask said he was.
We are (or we become) our masks.
This dvar Torah is in honor of Noam Ariel Dobuler's birthday.


coming soon - on my phone


coming soon - on my phone


coming soon - on my phone