motzei Shabbos: Emor 5782

parasha Emor 5782 – 7th aliyah

“He shall order the lamps upon the pure candlestick before the L-RD continually.”

– Leviticus 24:4, JPS 1917 Tanach

The menorah and the showbread table, respectively represent “spiritual growth” and “material prosperity.”  Both of these provisions rest upon the incense mizbeach (altar), so to speak, inasmuch that the smoke of the incense is symbolic of prayer; thus, through our avodah, namely, service of the heart (prayer), we may acquire both spiritual and material blessings.

Additionally, according to the Steinsaltz edition of the Chumash, the menorah represents “purity and radiance” (Steinsaltz commentary on Leviticus 24:4). This makes perfect sense, in consideration of the pure olive oil that was used for the menorah; and, the light emitting from the wicks of the menorah. Thus, an added dimension is brought to the above-mentioned insight, namely, that our spiritual growth is also dependent upon leading a pure life, focused on righteousness.

parasha Emor 5782 – The Moadim

weekly Torah reading: parasha Emor 5782

“The appointed seasons of the L-RD, which ye shall proclaim to be holy convocations, even these are My appointed seasons.” – Leviticus 23:1-2, JPS 1917 Tanach

On “the fourteenth day of the first month,” the Pesach offering was made (Leviticus 23:5).  A seven-day observance begins on the fifteenth of Nissan, when we refrain from eating chometz, during “the Feast of Unleavened Bread” (Leviticus 23:6). “Ye shall bring the sheaf of the first-fruits of your harvest” (Leviticus 23:10, JPS 1917 Tanach). This was brought to the kohein [priest], on the day after the first rest day of Pesach. The offering is referred to in Torah as the waving of the Omer; it was only enacted after B’nei Yisrael entered the Promised Land.

“Even unto the morrow after the seventh week shall ye number fifty days; and ye shall present a new meal-offering unto the L-RD” (Leviticus 23:16, JPS). That is, fifty days were counted from the second day of Passover, onward until on the fiftieth day, the first wheat offering of the harvest was brought “unto the L-RD.” (The offering that was made prior to this – the Omer – on the second day of Passover, was the first of the barley harvest). Today, we refer to the fiftieth day after Passover as Shavuot, in commemoration of Matan Torah (the giving of the Torah).

In Autumn, we celebrate Rosh HaShannah, the Jewish New Year, and Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Sukkot, which follows Yom Kippur, is considered a Festival, like Passover, and Shavuot; so, it is the third of the Festivals: “Ye shall dwell in booths seven days” (Leviticus 23:42, JPS). We build sukkot (booths) to commemorate the protection we received from the Clouds of Glory, while dwelling in booths, during our forty-day sojourn in the desert. On the eighth day, we celebrate Shemini Atzeret, symbolizing Olam Haba (the World-to-Come).

parasha Kedoshim 5782

parasha Kedoshim (Leviticus 19:1 – 20:27) 5782

 “Sanctify yourselves therefore, and be ye holy; for I am the L-RD your G-d.”

– Leviticus 20:7, JPS 1917 Tanach

The parashas begins with a reckoning of terms, in regard to “holiness.” The word, kadosh, translated as holy, is from the shoresh (root word), KDSh, meaning “to be separate.” Therefore, to be holy is to be separated from all that is unholy. The parashas delineates how our kedushah (holiness) is dependent upon separating ourselves from the practices of the nations that are steeped in immorality. Rashi associates the commandment to be holy as to refrain from idolatry.

“I the L-RD am holy, and have set you apart from the peoples, that ye should be Mine” (Leviticus 20:26, JPS). In like manner as the Children of Israel were betrothed to H’Shem at Sinai, we are to remove our worn-out garments of slavery, and put on clothes of righteousness. No longer living in bondage to aveiros (sin); rather, aspiring to righteousness through the commandments. This includes separating ourselves from what ever may be conveyed by the zeitgeist (literally, spirit of the time) as the new normal. Although the norms of society shift over the decades, the commandments of G-d are unchanging across the generations.

 In abstaining from sin (sur meira), separating ourselves from unholiness, we prepare ourselves to be renewed through doing good (asei tov). First, to leave our own personal Mitzraim (Egypt) behind us; then, to accept the covenant anew as our heritage to guide us to the Promised Land, encapsulated by all of the blessings that we will receive for following the ways of H’Shem.

motzei Shabbos: Acharei 5782

The Death of the Righteous Serves as Atonement

At the beginning of parashas Acharei, the Torah briefly mentions the deaths of two of Aaron’s sons, Nadav and Avihu, whose lives were taken by the L-RD, when they approached near to Him (Leviticus 16:1). Immediately afterwards, the H’Shem commands, in regard to Aaron, “that he not come at all times into the the holy place within the veil, before the ark-cover which is upon the ark; that he die not; for I appear in the cloud upon the ark-cover” (Leviticus 16:2, JPS).

The juxtaposition of this admonition alongside the mentioning of the deaths of Nadav and Avihu hints to one reason why they were consumed by fire: H’Shem’s warning to Aaron, not to enter at all times, implies that Nadav and Avihu made an unbidden entry into the Holy of Holies, for which their lives were taken. “The L-RD thy G-d is a devouring fire” (Deuteronomy 4:24, JPS).

Next, the Torah begins to relate the various details of the Yom Kippur service: “Aaron shall come into the holy place” (Leviticus 16:3). Only the Kohein Gadol could enter the Kadosh Kadoshim (Holy of Holies), and only on one day of the year, the Day of Atonement. The Sages ask, why are the deaths of Nadav and Avihu are juxtaposed with the Yom Kippur service: In like manner that the Yom Kippur brings atonement, so does the death of the righteous also bring atonement” (Yerushalmi Yoma 1:1). Even though Nadav and Avihu were consumed, the Torah credits them as righteous (Leviticus 10:3), because of their intentions to draw close to H’Shem. So, the juxtaposition of their deaths with the Yom Kippur service points toward the understanding that the death of the righteous atones for sin.

The nature of atonement may be better understood in light of the following commentary: “For the life [nefesh, soul] of the flesh [basar, body] is in the blood; and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that maketh atonement by reason of the life” (Leviticus 17:11, JPS 1917 Tanach). Rashi comments on ci nefesh habasar, “for the life of the flesh” of every creature, “not only of animals brought as sacrifices, is dependent on its blood (badahm hiy), and it is for this reason that I have placed it [on the altar] to make expiation for the life of man: Let life come and expiate for life” (Rashi, commentary on Leviticus 17:11, sefaria.org).

Acharei 5782 – Only Once a Year

There are various reasons given by the Sages, according to what is recorded in Torah, as to the nature of the transgression of Nadav and Avihu, two of Aaron’s four sons, and their subsequent demise, inasmuch that they were consumed by eish (fire) sent by H’Shem from Shomayim (Heaven). However we learn of a previously unmentioned one, at the beginning of Acharei:

And H’Shem spoke unto Moses, after the death of the two sons of Aaron, when they drew near before H’Shem, and died; and H’Shem said unto Moses: “’Speak unto Aaron thy brother, that he come not at all times into the holy place within the veil, before the ark-cover which is upon the ark; that he die not; for I appear in the cloud upon the ark-cover’” (Leviticus 16:1-2, JPS 1917 Tanach). Here the Torah infers another reason for the deaths of Nadav and Avihu.

Whereas previously, in parashas Shemini, it is written that they approached the Mishkan (Sanctuary). The Torah infers that they approached H’Shem’s presence that appears between the two golden cherubim on the kapores – the cover of the Ark. When Aaron is cautioned in this passage, not to enter the Kadosh Kadoshim at all times (only once-a-year on Yom Kippur) this implies that Nadav and Avihu entered the Kadosh Kadoshim, behind the paroches, the veil or curtain that separated the inner sanctuary where the ark of the covenant was kept, from the rest of the Mishkan. This teaches us of the significance of yiras H’Shem – proper awe, reverence and respect towards H’Shem Elokim (The L-rd our G-d).

“Sanctify yourselves therefore, and be ye holy; for I am H’Shem your G-d.”

– Leviticus 20:7, JPS 1917 Tanach

parashas Metzora 5782

“Then the kohen is to command that two clean living birds, cedar wood, scarlet and hyssop be brought for the one being cleansed.” – Leviticus 14:4

The cleansing of the metzora, a person who has contracted tzaras, a skin condition similar to leprosy, is done by means of a unique procedure. “He who is to be cleansed” (Targum Yonaton) is cleansed through a unique procedure, using “two clean living birds, cedar wood, scarlet and hyssop” (see above). The “ingredients” that contribute to the purification of the metzora, are carefully chosen in recognition that tzarras (leprosy) is primarily a “spiritual malaise,” that results from lashon hara (gossip; literally, “evil tongue), as well as other transgressions that indicate a lack of empathy towards others. So, the metzora is quarantined, living in isolation until his purification, so that he may contemplate his insensitivity towards others.

The cedar wood is chosen as part of the remedy, because this is a high and lofty kind of tree, that reminds the metzora of his haughtiness. For, the aggrandizement of himself over others, led towards a callous disregard of the reputation of those he slandered. This is typically understood today as placing ourselves above others, for the sake of a false sense of esteem, as if we are better than those that we put down with ill-chosen words, whether implicitly or explicitly. For,

“Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.” – Psalm 51:9, JPS 1917 Tanach

parasha Tazria 5782

weekly Torah reading: parasha Tazria 5782

The skin diseases falling under the category or tzarras (often translated as “leprosy”) needed to be determined by a kohein (Leviticus 13:1-2). Yet, the so-called “plague of leprosy,” as mentioned in the Tanach, is not exactly the leprosy of more modern times.  Rather, it is a category of various skin diseases that need to be determined by the Kohein: for only the Kohein has the authority to make the pronouncement.  “And the [kohein] priest shall look on him and pronounce him unclean” (Leviticus 13:3, JPS). 

The leprosy of biblical times was the result of spiritual malaise, commonly, the result of lashon harah (literally, evil tongue – a type of gossip).  “The word, metzorah (someone, who has tzaaras – leprosy) is a contraction of motzi ra, meaning, “one who spreads slander” (Arachin 15b).  The very visible chastisement is meant to show that the metzorah must mend his ways.  In other words, the outward sign is meant to compel him to do teshuvah (repentance).

Sin may be manifest in our lives, living below the surface of our awareness.  For this reason, one must make an attempt to examine one’s life.  There are visible signs, at times, that we need to understand as wake-up calls. Also, when the children of Israel entered the land, sometimes they found mold in the walls; so, they would have to dig out the mold. On the one hand, the nega (plague) in the form of mold should serve for them to search their conscience, on the other hand, they often found hidden treasures in the walls, hidden by the previous occupants, the Canaanites, who hoped to return. By way of an analogy, there is always a reward for rectifying our faults.

Sanctity of Life

parasha Tazria 5782 -The Sanctity of Life
“Speak unto the children of Israel, saying: if a woman be delivered, and bear a man child.”

– Leviticus 12:1, JPS 1917 Tanach

According to Torah, the miracle of life, from the beginning, is addressed within the framework of sanctification. That is, both the mother and the child are taken into consideration, in terms of their purification. Both the mother as well as child are given a means to commemorate the birth. This is a life cycle tradition. When a male is born, the mother’s temporary state of impurity is only for seven days; this permits her to be present on the eighth day for her son’s circumcision.

The parashas continues with the laws, in regard to tzarras, a skin affliction, often mistranslated as leprosy. The metzorah (person who contracts tzarras) is diagnosed and quarantined. Because the metzorah has contracted tzarras as a result of lashon hara (literally, “evil speech”), isolation outside of the camp provides time for reflection upon the harm done to the recipient of the gossip. H’Shem willing, the metzorah will be able to return to society, as a result of a tikkun (rectification).

The concept appears within the overall framework of the sanctity required to approach H’Shem. Since H’Shem’s presence dwells within the mishkan (tabernacle) at the center of the camp, the metzorah is separated by way of not being permitted to be in the vicinity of the mishkan. Thus, the sanctity of the camp is preserved; and the metzorah is given the opportunity to do teshuvah (repentance), turning the heart back to Elokim (G-d).

Shabbat Parah Adumah

The parumah adumah (red heifer) offering is slaughtered outside of the camp; it is completely burned in fire. Hyssop, cedar wood, and crimson thread are thrown into the fire with the red heifer. The ashes are used in a specific manner – only sparingly mixed with mayim chayim (living water; i.e. from a water source like a river). The purpose of this water with the mixture of ashes is to purify people who have come into contact with a dead body, and, therefore tamei (unclean). The water is sprinkled upon them on the third and the seventh day of their purification.

Paradoxically, the kohein who is tahor (clean) becomes tamei (unclean) when he performs the offering of the parumah adumah. This is the paradox: the very ashes of the red cow that cause an unclean person to become clean, also cause the pure person, who prepares the ashes, to become impure. “Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean?” (Job 14:4, JPS 1917 Tanach). Only G-d. We also learn that the account of the passing of Miriam occurs right after the description of the chukat of the parumah adumah. The Sages infer that this exemplifies, how like an offering brings atonement, so does the death of a tzaddik (righteous person) bring atonement.