Matos: Vows: Love

Parsha Matos begins with the laws of taking vows and oaths.  The Bal Haturim (13 century rabbi from Cologne) says “nedarim” is the gematria or numerical equivalent of murderer (rotzach)because one who vows and does not pay , the sin leads to dead children.  This is wild, heavy and where did Bal Haturim get this? He quotes  Talmud Shabbos page 32b

If one looks at Shabbos 32b  there is another opinion just before this stated idea of unpaid vows lead to dead children. The previous opinion says unpaid vows leads to ones wife dying.

The question is why did the Bal Haturim quote the dead children and not the dead wife in explaining that the gematria of Nedarim is murdere?  Why pick comparing failing to make good on vows to dead children and not spouse.  The SD would like to weigh.

Every parent will tell you that the thing they love most in the world is their children.  They love them unconditionally, without question.  We would do anything for a child.  A spouse… well… not so much. We are more likely to let down a spouse than a child.  Children are our first and last  love. We do anything and everything for our children. Nothing is ever enough for a  child.

The Bal Haturim is telling you that you should treat those charities or people that you promise assistance  with the same concern and sense of responsibility that you have for your children. Your charity  or gift should be as precious to you and as heavy on your soul as concern for your children.  The same way you would not let down your child or neglect your child is the same way you should view your commitments. The same commitment you have to your children is the same commitment to charity and giving.  We love our spouse, but we would do anything for our children.

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Parsha Pinchas- Sacrifices and closeness

This parsha lists all the sacrifices starting  with the daily ones, then Shabbos, Rosh Chodesh and the holiday.  When it comes to Shabbos the Ramban says something cryptic (at least it is vague to me). Ramban notes that the “musaf” or additional sacrifice on the shabbos is different than other musafs like Rosh chodesh that includes a “chatas” or sin offering.   He says no chatas in musaf offering. Ramban says that the “congregation of israel” is like the spouse  and all is Shalom.

The SD showed this Ramban to a friend who suggested that on Shabbos the relationship of Israel and hashem is so close that a Chatas-sin offering would “ruin the mood.”  The SD think this is correct.  The whole point of offerings is to get close to Hashem-like one would in any relationship. Sometimes relationships need correction and work. Sometimes, they just need love and closeness.

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Shabbos 118: Lesson of Life

Shabbos page 118 is the gastronomic guide to Shabbos.  Tucked into this daf on what to eat on Shabbos is a strange statement from R. Yose.  R. Yose says, I want to be among those who say a full Hallel every day. The Talmud questions this and says, Really, but that is for blasphemers.  the Talmud  corrects him and says  only a few verses we call p’seuka d’zimra are appropriate.  Rashi comments those people who do it every day, are just singing songs not in the appropriate time.

When the SD read this, he saw it slightly differently. We only says  full or big hallel on a few occasions, holidays, chanuka. It is rare.  It is like life. How often are we incredibly happy, so spiritually uplifted, so on such a spiritual high? Probably not that often. Hopefully we are usually in a state of quiet happiness, contentment, peace and tranquility. But not the high, high, high of winning the lottery, marrying the girl (or boy) of our dreams, etc.  So most days the p’seuka d’zimra is appropriate. It expresses our level of happiness and contentment. Once in a while we fly high.  The Talmud is telling us that life is alot of good things, nice things and once in a while, big things.  It is unrealistic to be flying high everyday.  It recognizes that we will have great days, good days and not such good days. Those who sing hallel, like rashi says, are just “singing” a song and not expressing a real sentiment.

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Korach The Jealous or Korach The Populist

Conventional wisdom is that Korach was motivated by the jealousy of Moses and Aron; that Korach was rebellious and looking to take power.  In Chapter 16 verse 19 we are told that “the congregation and korach  gathered in front of the opening of the Miskhan and the Cloud appeared in front of all the congregation.”

Rashi says on this, the night before korach made rounds to all the tribes  inciting them and telling them, it is not for me I am doing this, but for all of us,  the king and his brother the  Kohan” . This sounds like jealousy cloaked in populist rhetoric.

Ramban says something nuanced.  Ramban says originally the first born were to serve and even more so, originally all  or Israel was  allowed to build private altars for sacrifice, but then Aron was chosen to do the holy work in a mishkan and Korach argues on behalf of the first born. Furthermore,  it should be returned  to all of Israel because all  of the congregation of Israel  is holy.  This is the populist stance.  We are all holy and can worship and lead our own spiritual lives without the rabbinic leaders. We can be our own priests.

Hashem delivers the verdict and swallows up the korach and the congregation.   However, one must admit that Ramban’s interpretation  of Korach’s position is tempting. We are all holy, we can all serve hashem in our own way, without the centrality of the mishkan and  without the authority of the rabbis. It is tempting but not realistic.

A successful society requires Indian Chiefs and foot soldiers. An organized society requires wise and benevolent leadership- but it does require  leaders.  Korach’s populism was at best delusional and at worst evil.   As Rabbi Schwartz of OZ said. Korach’s populism leads to Venezuela, lawlessness and violence.


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Shabbat 92: The Heavenly Presence and the Jewish Carey Grant

On page 92, there is an esoteric as to carrying on shabbat  and comparing it to the Leveim carrying the mishkan and objects.  The Levim are said to be very tall because they carried the Tabernacle so it was not within 3 amos of the ground.  The Talmud alludes to Moshe’s height as 10 amos.  The Talmud then makes a startling and odd statement:  “The Divine Presence only rests on those who are  wise, strong, rich and tall.”

How strange! Since when does the Torah make such superficial distinctions. Wise one can understand but rich? Tall?  Tall is truly arbitrary.

The SD would like to weigh in. Obviously, someone who is short, lacking muscles and  of modest means can be spiritual and  can have a beautiful relationship with Hashem.

However, when a tall, well-proportioened, well presented person walks down the street wearing a kepah or tzitus or dressed in a manner which clearly indicates he is a Torah Jew, then heads turn.  The world notices these things.  When a Jew is physically presentable and beautiful yet modest and demonstrating “chein”, he stands out and can be a kiddush Hashem.    It is human nature to recognize physical traits of elegance, strength or a strikingly tall physique.  However, when the Jew who is blessed with these attributes can also be modest, sweet, kind and compassionate the greater masses more easily recognizes the Presence of God.  Gd resides in all of us.  It is up to us, to present the heavenly presence in the most beautiful manner possible. So after davening, learning and acts of chesed.. Hit the gym… and Barneys.

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Shabbos 91: Carrying…and Free Will?

We all know that carrying on Shabbat from one domain to another domain (public domain to private or vice versa) is prohibited.  The act of “carrying” requires a minimum measurement  or amount being carried. The measurement /amount differs from various substances, for example carrying food the measurement is a ripe fig, other items, utensils, vessels all have different minimal measurement amounts.  There is an exception. If one determines that the item is “important” or has value. The hebrew is “chashuv” or “chashivut”.  So, if an item is “chashuv” to an individual, he is liable for carrying even less than the normal minimum amount.

On page 91 an interesting question pops out. What if someone intends his items ( that are less than the amount to be liablie for “carrying”) to be “Chashuf.’   Then a second  person unknowingly carries them from one domain to” another domain. The second person sees that the amount is less than the minimum requirement to be held liable and thinks that the is acting permissively.   The second person does not know the original person intended the item to be “chashuv.”  According R. Shimon Ben Elazar, the second person is liable.

Huh?  How can the second person be liable.? The second guy did not know of the intentions of the first. He was in his right to carry the small amount. Why is he liable.

The SD has a thought.  There is an expression. Man plans and Gd laughs. The SD dosen’t really like that expression.  The better expression is: ” we don’t see the big picture.” We don’t have all the facts. We don’t see the whole universe, cosmos and vision of ultimate reality.  We think we are doing something which is innocent  or harmless and BOOM. We get slammed.  After being thrown we ask: How did I not see that? How did I miss that? Why is this happening to me?  I thought stepping on the  little green thing was ok. I did not know it was a landmine.

This is what Shimon Ben Elizur is teaching us.  We must go through life with a fear and reverence of Hashem, understanding and realizing that even small acts of picking up meaningless or small amounts of things can have significant consequences… And even then we do not always control our reality.  The ultimate lesson is that Hashem controls our reality.  It is a scary inroad into free will. It is difficult with our modern sensibility to accept this.  Hashem controls the world, even down to the smallest most insignificant items.

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Bamidbar: Chapter 4 sentence 17-20

At the end of the parsha, the Levi family of Kohath is charged with taking down and carrying the mishkan items.  The Torah says in chapter 4 sentence 17: Don’t cut off the family of kohath from the Levites. Rashi says: Don’t cause them to die.   Then there is cryptic and difficult sentence to translate in sentence 20: They will not come to see when wrapping the holies and die.   Rashi says: they will cover the vessels . The word “kebela” is difficult or vague .  As said, Rashi understands it to be “covering” or to cover.

Ramban takes a  different way.  Ramban quotes Rashi and then sends to you Talmud Sanhedrin 81b where it talks about taking law  into your own hands and killing someone when they are in them middle of doing something bad.  The Mishna in Sanhedrin says : someone steals a”kisva”. The Talmud tells us that the Kisva is a holy service vessel and quotes the pasuk from Bamidbar  20.  Ramban understands the word “kebala” as stealing?

Who would steal a holy vessel? Maybe the answer is that what starts as innocent looking becoming familiar ends up in stealing. Life is incremental.   Actions lead to other actions. As golfers say, ” You keep kicking the ball a little closer the green”.  The point of the Torah is learning to respect boundaries and values that are immutable. Laws maybe can be changed to reflect realities, but values do not change.  THe SD could use this mussar. As the SD  is always in life kicking the proverbial “ball closer to the green”.

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Slavery in the Talmud:Shabbos 72

The Shikkerdovid is reading the novel Homegoing. It is a brutal, violent, and most heart rending description of the 18th century slave trade in the Gold Coast.    The descriptions are gruesome.  The novel shows how without an ethical code, humanity can collapse into violence and cruelty.

In the ancient world, slavery was a tragic reality. The Torah attempted to regulate it.  On page 72, there is almost a comical yet tragic discussion. What if a man has relations 5 times with a slave women who is married to another slave. (Shifcha Charufa).   The debate how many penances must the man bring.   Clearly, this is almost a silly case. However, the timing of this daf and reading the novel struck a chord in the SD.

Slavery was a reality. Evil is a reality. Lack of fairness, justice and arbitrary outcomes in life are a reality.  The Torah and the point of a Jewish existence is to balance the injustices with mercy and kindness.  The goal of Torah living is to recognize  that injustice takes place, or evil is present.  As Jews we need to fight evil with law and cruelty with mercy.

In these difficult times of corona, lets be known as the people who do the random acts of kindness, mercy and promote justice.

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Emor:Mommy-Newborn and Lessons in Compassion

The Shikkerdovid has gotten been reading the old school “Hertz Chumash”. It was the staple synagogue chumash in pre Artscroll days.  Hertz was not only a major Torah scholar but a gentlement, educated and writes beautifully. His commentary is sparkling and beautiful.  (Like everyone else in teh ’70’s the SD got the Hertz as a bm present from his shul with his name embossed in gold- I wisth they had  used “Shikkerdovid” )

In Chapter 22, pasuk 27-28 the Torah tells us that bull, sheep or goat when it gives birth the baby stays with the mommy for seven days.  Then it says, you cannot slaughter “it” and the baby on the same day.  Hertz says the following: that the animal experieinces pain just as a human as animals have feelings  just as humans. He then elegantly does a scholarly move: “cf the same prohibition of the motherbird being taken with her young. ”  Once we take the eggs, we can wait for the mommy to come back and then eat it.

The Isbitzer Rebbe says that this mitzvah is given to teach Israel the way of kindness. Howevever he continues  in the Talmud Megila it says that if a man while praying states “just as you were merciful” we stop him because we are forbidden to ascribing of man’s limited understanding ”

What does this all mean?  Really it is asking how do we understand kindness and the applicatin of kindness in the world.   We learn about sensitivity to certain animals like cows and goats but the bird, not so much?  Is shewing the mother away enough chesed?

The SD would like to chime in.  There is really no end to chesed as long as it within the Torah’s mandate. For example, giveing charity. We can only give so much.   The Torah dictates our chesed, our morality, our world view of right and wrong.   The Torah is teaching us senstivity to animals and by extension hopefully greater sensitivity to people. But it is all within the framework of the Torah system.

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My Guardian Angel: Rashi in the Talmud: Shabbos Page 53B

On page 53a-b of Shabbos the Talmud is discussing items which an animal can wear or bear on Shabbat that would not violate carrying on Shabbat.  The Talmud discusses whether an animal wearing a feedbag can be worn so as to make eating easier for the animal The Talmud asks whether an amulet can be worn.  The question turns on whether it is an effective amulet.  The Talmud p0ints to another statement which asks the same question about  a person wearing an amiulet.   The difference boils down to “mazel”. A human has Mazel but an amimal does not have Mazel

Rashi explains the concept of Mazel in a beautiful way.  He says on 53B that a person has an angel who will interecede on his behalf. What is so beautiful about this Rashi? The SD would like to offer the following  Every person has a guardian angel. The angel  is there to  act as our defender and our advocate in the heavenly soheres. However to be a good advocate the angel needs good material.  It is up to us to give our advocate the material to intercede and argue on our behalf.  We need to do good deeds, thoughtful and caring acts of kindness. We need to extend ourselves so when forces gather against us, our guardian angel intercede and protect us.

Let us increase our acts of  loving kindness as a protection during these difficult tims.

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