Does Judaism Make People Better or Worse?

Written by Michael Brodsky on . Posted in Torah

The very question seems out of place. The notion that the Torah, which was given to refine humanity, would be unsuccessful at that and have the potential to ruin men seems preposterous. Yet that is the message we are taught at the very end of the Torah’s narrative (Devarim 32:2): ״יערףכמטרלקחיתזלכטלאמרתיכשעירםעלידשאוכרביביםעליעשב״ — “May my doctrine drip as the rain, may my speech flow as the dew; like storm winds upon vegetation and like raindrops upon tender grass.” The Torah’s teachings are visibly equated with rain and dew, but in what sense?

G-d’s Cosmic Joke

Written by Rabbi Stephen Baars on . Posted in Torah

Despite what you might hear on National Public Radio, the gap between the rich and the poor is not getting bigger.

Dvar Torah: Acharei Mot/Kedoshim

Written by Alan A. Fisher on . Posted in Torah

At the dedication of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) in the double parsha of Tazria/Metzora, Aharon’s sons, Nadav and Avihu, bring a “strange fire” that Hashem did not command, and a fire from the alter kills them immediately. The Torah interrupts the story of the dedication and its aftermath for five chapters that discuss various aspects of who is tahor (ritually pure) and who is tamei (ritually impure and unable to participate in the korbanot [sacrifices] at the Mishkan). With no obvious transition, we return to the chronology in Parshat Acharei Mot (ch. 16) with the laws of the Kohen Gadol’s (High Priest) atonement service on Yom Kippur. The Torah adds a prohibition on bringing korbanot any place outside the Mishkan, followed by the well-known section on forbidden marriages and sexual relationships. We read these chapters every year on Yom Kippur. (Many Conservative synagogues substitute chapter 19, from Parshat Kedoshim, for chapter 18 at mincha [afternoon prayer service] on Yom Kippur.)

Tzav: Finding Passion

Written by Rabbi Stephen Baars on . Posted in Torah

When Rose Blumkin left Belarus to came to America in the 1920s, she did not speak a word of English and had no formal education. But with the $500 she borrowed from her brother, she started a very modest furniture store in Omaha Nebraska. Very modest.

Principles From the Parsha: ‘Command Aaron’

Written by Joshua Z. Rokach on . Posted in Torah

This week’s parsha instructs the priests how to prepare and burn sacrifices and dispose of the remainder. In verse 2, G-d told Moshe to, “Command Aaron and his sons.” Commentators note the unusual formulation. At other times, G-d tells Moshe to “tell” Aaron. Rashi explains: “‘Command’ can only mean ‘motivate,’ now and for future generations.” Quoting the Midrash, he continues, “Especially, the Torah must motivate [Aaron and his sons] in a situation which entails a monetary loss.”

Principles From the Parsha: Do Not Enter

Written by Joshua Z. Rokach on . Posted in Torah

The parsha Acharei Mot opens with an admonition for Aaron. After the death of Nadab and Abihu, the High Priest’s two elder sons, G-d commands Moses, “Speak with Aaron, your brother, [and tell him] that he should not enter the Holy [of Holies] at any time. . .” (Leviticus 16:2). Rather, “With this Aaron should enter the Holy [of Holies] a young bull for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering.” (Leviticus 16:3). The Torah then describes the Yom Kippur service the High Priest conducted every year. It details the rituals and the vestments he should wear as he fulfills his duties on that day

The Two Faces of Sefirat Ha’omer

Written by Rabbi Yitzchak Breitowitz on . Posted in Torah

This issue of Kol HaBirah is dedicated to wellness and health, certainly important factors in our service to Hashem. A healthy body enables the performance of mitzvot and empowers us to accomplish our mission in the world, but I would like to focus on an aspect of psychological health — our perception of ourselves and others — and share an insight that can help us become more loving, giving, and generous people, which in turn will contribute to greater happiness and less stress. And, most importantly, we will be giving great nachas to the Almighty.

Mirror, Mirror

Written by Miriam Gross on . Posted in Torah

The water laver (kiyor) in the Mishkan was formed from the copper mirrors of the women in Egypt. In grade school, this midrash (Rashi, Exodus 38:8) is taught simplistically and translated with heavy commentary. The women would beautify themselves and thereby remain attractive to their husbands so that procreation could occur amidst the backbreaking labor that the Egyptians imposed up the Jews. This virtuous beautification merited to become an integral part of the making of the Mishkan.

The Haggadah: Elucidated, Illustrated, Annotated — What is it Good For?

Written by Stan Lebovic on . Posted in Torah

Tradition posits that there are 613 commandments written in the Five Books of Moses. After 612 of them, the Torah gives us one final task: pass it on. “Write for yourselves this song [the Torah], and teach it to the Children of Israel,” it says (Deuteronomy 31:19).

Teach it, how? Write it!

Though we may inherit a perfectly good Torah from our forefathers, it remains our responsibility to write one for ourselves. At the heart of this directive is the requirement for every individual to be personally involved with the preservation and transmission of the Torah. The existence of the Torah, by itself, does not guarantee its survival, it must be written in our own handwriting and read with our own lips.

Principles From the Parsha: ‘When the Ruler Sins’

Written by Joshua Z. Rokach on . Posted in Torah

This week we begin reading the Book of Leviticus, the third book of the Torah. It discusses the laws of animal and meal sacrifices in the Tabernacle and the Temple. Chapter 4 teaches the laws of sin offerings, the atonement sacrifice for negligent violations of Biblical prohibitions. The chapter covers details of those offerings and lists the categories of people who must bring the sacrifices.

Chapter 4 mentions, as one class, the highest officials of the Jewish people. Verse 3 cites “the anointed priest.” This refers to the High Priest, whose investiture (until the last decades of the First Temple) included anointment. Verse 13 lists “the Nation” collectively sinning negligently. Rashi interprets the passage to refer to a Sanhedrin (High Court) that, through negligent ignorance of the law, issued an erroneous ruling. The court led the people astray.