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.
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.
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.
You’re at the airport waiting impatiently for the most important person in the world. Standing above the escalator you can see the incoming passengers down below. They look like little distant images walking towards you. In your excitement, you want to reach out to this love of yours, this dot in the distance who is different from all the other dots. So strong is this feeling that everyone around you is forgotten. You raise your voice and call out to your loved one and then run towards this special person.
My children are at home, waiting for Mommy. “Where is Mommy?” they cry out. They see her in the distance, getting out of the car. As Mommy makes her way to our apartment building, the children run to the porch calling out from six floors up “Mommy, Mommy!” They are completely immersed in this act of connection. Nothing else matters.
Dedicated to Kol HaBirah Publisher Hillel Goldschein on the anniversary of his Bar Mitzvah.
Starting with Shemot 25, the Torah provides more than six chapters of extremely detailed instructions on constructing the Mishkan. After a brief interlude, largely focused on the episode of the Golden Calf, the Torah returns to its previous topic with six more chapters repeating the precise instructions for constructing the Mishkan. Every commentator asks why the Torah, which normally is very terse, presents the construction in such minute detail and then repeats the entire six chapters. Are we studying Torah or building trades?
When Moshe was a day later than the people expected in returning from meeting with G-d on Har Sinai, the Torah states that the people gathered around Aharon and asked him to find a replacement for Moshe to lead the people. The verb the Torah uses is “Vayakhel” (32:1). What resulted was the disaster of Egel Zahav (the Golden Calf). The Torah uses the same verb in 35:1, where Moshe gathered the entire assembly for a tikkun for the Egel Zahav, the actual construction of the Mishkan, which became the locus for G-d’s presence among Bnei Yisrael.
Parshas Ki Tisa begins with the instructions of how to conduct a census of the Jewish people. Hashem instructs Moshe not to count the Children of Israel directly, but rather to collect a half-shekel contribution from each individual, thereby allowing a census to be taken by tallying the coins collected. The Torah provides that by following the proper census procedure, a plague will not be visited upon the nation. Indeed, in the days of King David, this procedure was not followed, with tragic results. Therefore, everyone from the age of twenty must contribute a coin, and the coins will be counted.
The connection between counting the individual members of the Jewish people directly and the outbreak of a plague seems enigmatic. Why is a plague the consequence of not heeding the appropriate census methodology?
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.”
It’s your wife’s birthday. Orchids are her favorite flower. A bouquet is going to set you back about $150.
You have a series of choices:
The florist has some old orchids he’ll give you for $40.
Some Jews find Vayikra to be boring, even embarrassing, because it focuses largely on korbanot (sacrifices). Yeshivas, however, traditionally started teaching Torah to young children with Sefer Vayikra. What did the yeshivas find that some modern Jews seem to be missing?
One of the most common stylistic patterns in the Torah is a chiastic structure (of the form A-B-C-B’-A’). In this structure, A and A’ have the same or parallel focus, as do B and B’. This structure focuses attention on the central section, C. (A complex chiastic structure can have many more levels: D, E, F, G, etc.)
It is always a pleasure to read your letters. I absolutely agree with the point you made about humility. I think it’s interesting that Moses is declared to be the humblest man who ever lived and he is the man who spoke to G-d, face to face. Maybe that is the reason he was able to come so close to G-d?
In this week’s parsha, Ki Tisa, we read about the Golden Calf and Moshe’s advocacy to appease G-d on behalf of Bnei Yisrael. Moshe’s entreaties and G-d’s positive response, recorded in chapter 32, verses 11-14, resound through the ages.
11Moses pleaded (ויחל) before the Lord, his G-d, and said: “Why, O Lord, should Your anger be kindled against Your people whom You have brought up from the land of Egypt with great power and with a strong hand?
12 Why should the Egyptians say: “He brought them out with evil [intent] to kill them in the mountains and to annihilate them from upon the face of the earth”? Retreat from the heat of Your anger and reconsider the evil [intended] for Your people.
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