Counting the Uncountable

Written by Rabbi Yonatan Zakem on . Posted in Torah

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?

Principles From The Parsha: You Provided Gold

Written by Joshua Z. Rokach on . Posted in Torah

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.

Dvar Torah: Terumah and Tetzaveh

Written by Alan A. Fisher on . Posted in Torah

Although the subject of Terumah and Tetzaveh is the building of the Mishkan (Tabernacle), as we know from all Jewish organizations, the building fund precedes any construction project. An underlying part of these Torah portions is the fundraising, and the methodology for Terumah and Tetzaveh is very different.

In this week’s Torah portion, תרומה, G-d starts giving Moshe instructions on building the Mishkan: “Take for Me a portion (תרומה); from every man whose heart motivates him you shall take My portion.” The word תרומה in this context is a voluntary donation–– but for a voluntary gift, “take,” clearly an active verb, is a strange word. The more common word for a donation is נדבה, which means a donation in response to urging. In contrast, a portion “from every man whose heart motivates him” is a donation whose virtue depends on the thought behind the donation. The person making the תרומה for the Mishkan must give it with his heart and soul and without any outside motivation. The collectors who take the תרומה must be Jews and must sit passively waiting for those wishing to do so to come and present their gifts.

Don’t Let Purim Be a Day of Waste

Written by Rabbi Jonathan Gross on . Posted in Torah

“What a waste.” That was how Haman convinced Achashverosh to destroy the Jews (Esther 3:8). Haman appealed to Achashveirosh’s sense of efficiency. What a waste to have a nation like the Jews that serves no beneficial purpose. The kingdom would be better off if we got rid of them.

Waste is a theme throughout the Megillah. The first chapter is about the lavish party that Achashverosh threw for his subjects. When he searched for a queen, thousands of women were rounded up and marinated in oil and spices for a year, all for a single night with the king. After their audition, they were sequestered and cared for in a harem for the rest of their lives, presumably at the tax payer’s expense, for the off-chance that one day the king might call for them again.

Mishpatim: The Freedom Imperative

Written by Rabbi Yitzhak Grossman on . Posted in Torah

In Parashas Mishpatim, the Torah declares that if a Hebrew servant declines to leave his life of servitude at the end of his term, “his master shall bore his ear through with an awl” (Shemos 21:5-6). Rashi explains that the ear is singled out for the performance of this ritual to underscore that the servant has forgotten what he has heard at Mt. Sinai–– one who sells himself as a servant (and then voluntarily extends his servitude) has forgotten Hashem’s asseveration that Jews are free, and servants to no one but Him: “For unto Me the children of Israel are servants; they are My servants whom I brought forth out of the land of Egypt: I am Hashem your G-d” (Vayikra 25:55).

Hashem’s declaration that Jews are “‘My servants–– and not servants to servants” has various applications throughout the halachah of employment.

Measure for Measure

Written by Rabbi Yonatan Zakem on . Posted in Torah

After the miraculous exodus from Egypt, Moshe is reunited with his family, who has been brought by his father-in-law Yitro. Moshe greets his father-in-law with honor, proceeds to relate everything that has befallen the people of Israel, and enumerates all the kindnesses that Hashem has performed for them. Rejoicing over the news of the rescue and salvation of the Jews, Yitro exclaims: “Now I know that Hashem is greater than all the gods, for in the very matter in which [the Egyptians] had conspired against them…” (Exodus 18:11). As Rashi explains, Yitro had experienced every manner of idolatry and therefore could definitively declare that Hashem is greater than all other gods. After seeing the manner in which the Egyptians were punished, Yitro recognized that our G-d is greater than all others.

Principles From The Parsha: “And You Shall Make The Altar”

Written by Joshua Z. Rokach on . Posted in Torah

In this parsha, G-d tells Moshe the details of the construction of the Tabernacle. The Tabernacle housed the Divine Presence as the Children of Israel traveled in the Wilderness. When the Jews eventually settled securely in Israel, the Temple replaced the Tabernacle as G-d’s abode among His chosen people.

The Tabernacle and the Temple bear some relationship to each other. For example, Ezor Eliyahu cites to verse 8 in chapter 25 states, “And they shall make for me a Sanctuary.” The text uses the word מקדש, which can mean Temple. He interprets the verse to connect the sanctity of the Tabernacle of the Wilderness with that of the future Temple in Jerusalem. In addition, this week’s haftarah (Kings 1 5:26-6:13), which we recite at the conclusion of the parsha, discusses the construction of Solomon’s Temple.

Can the Friends We Choose Elevate Us Spiritually?

Written by Deborah Scheinberg on . Posted in Torah

Each year at this time, as the holiday of Purim approaches, I begin to refer to my friend Esther as “Queen Esther” I have been very blessed to have found friends who have taught me about generosity, charity, and chesed (kindness). Sometimes I think that by the grace of G-d, they found me! These women have pointed me toward a path of living a noble and enriching life through the mitzvot they perform and the glee with which they do so. While I am a total work-in-progress, these women encourage my growth and my choices.

I came across excerpts from an essay called “Friends for Life” on the Aish.com website (March 2008) written by Rabbi Dan Roth. He writes about what the Mishnah says regarding the purpose of having a friend: “The purpose of making a friend is to have someone to learn from and grow spiritually, someone who will encourage you to keep the mitzvot properly and point out areas that need improvement should you fail.” Rabbi Roth says that we should look for friends who are at a level above ourselves. “A friend should be someone who will inspire us to grow and whose traits we wish to emulate,” he says. The Mishnah teaches us that we must “buy a friend in order to keep a friend for life.”

Torah Minute: Parshas Terumah

Written by Rabbi Menachem Winter on . Posted in Torah

Parshas Terumah relates the commandment and undertaking to build the Mishkan (Tabernacle). Through Moshe, G-d communicates the materials that are to be used as well as precise instructions for the construction. Upon its completion, the Mishkan would be a dwelling place for G-d’s presence. The nation would experience the intimacy of G-d residing in their midst and would be spiritually elevated by this sublime connection.

The most sacred of the vessels, and the focal point of the Mishkan, was the Aron (Ark of the Covenant). The Aron was to be housed in the Holy of Holies, and would contain the tablets of the Ten Commandments. The Aron’s cover was to be made of pure gold and feature two cherubim, one on each end of the cover. The verse instructs that the wings of the cherubim “shall spread upward,” and that their faces should be “toward one another.”

Lessons from Yitro: Priorities

Written by Stephan and Meera Miller on . Posted in Torah

There are so many lessons to take from this week’s parsha (Torah portion), it’s overwhelming. Some say this is possibly the most important parsha in the Torah; I find this claim interesting, since this week’s parsha is named after a very important yet not a very well-known character in the Torah. Yitro was Moshe’s father-in-law, and a Midianite priest. He had seven daughters, one of whom became Moshe’s wife Tzipporah. He gave Moshe some great leadership advice. According to a midrash on Tractate Sotah 11a, Yitro was also one of Pharaoh’s advisors during the time they were trying to figure out what to do with the Jews. One of the advisors suggested the “final solution,” the second said nothing, and Yitro advised them to live in peace with them. We all know which advisor Pharaoh listened to, and that is when Yitro fled to Midian.

Shabbat Shira and Hakarat HaTov

Written by Lisi Levisohn on . Posted in Torah

Last Shabbat was Shabbat Shirah, the Shabbat of Song. We read the Torah story of the Jewish people crossing the Red Sea when they were escaping from slavery. They must have been so scared to see Pharoh and his army chasing them! But a miracle happened, and the water split so that the Jewish people could walk through, to freedom. They were so happy and free, so they sang.

There is a special custom to feed the birds before Shabbat Shira, but why? One reason is that we want to thank them for teaching us how beautiful it is to sing. When we hear birds singing, we feel grateful for life and for creation. Doesn’t singing make you feel happy, grateful and free?