Aharey Mot 5763

by Jennifer Krueger

Shalom USY. Acharei Mot is an interesting Parsha filled with many mitzvot. First we learn of laws regarding confession and Yom Kippur and then there is the prohibition against eating blood. The parsha ends with the laws of forbidden relationships. In the middle of all of these laws, we find the verses: “Carry out my laws and safeguard my decrees to follow them: I am Hashem, your G-d. You shall observe my decrees and my laws, which man shall carry out and by which he shall live-I am Hashem.” (Vayikra 18:4-5) It is asked what it means that we should “live by” Hashem’s decrees?

Ramban writes that this refers particularly to the “social commandments” between man and his fellow man. He says that society will only be able to live together peacefully if man can treat others fairly and morally, according to Hashem’s commandments. The Sages explain that to “live by” Hashem’s decrees means that the commandments were given for the sake of life and not death. So, if there is a situation where a commandment could endanger one’s life, such as a person who needs to drive to the hospital on Shabbat, then one should save their life instead of keeping the commandment.

The only exceptions to this are for idolatry, forbidden sexual relationships, and murder. One is supposed to give up their life in order to keep these commandments. The Chiddushei HaRim has a different understanding of what it means to “live by” Hashem’s decrees. He says that this means that we should be enthusiastic about keeping the mitzvot and that the commandments should be our primary source of joy.

I would like to offer my own interpretation of what it means to “live by” Hashem’s commandments. Judaism has many aspects to it. It is a religion, a nation, a culture, and a people.

Some Jews appreciate the fact that they are a part of a close-knit community. Other Jews enjoy keeping Shabbat or davenning three times a day. Other Jews like learning Torah and discussing Jewish ideas. Regardless of what it is, there is some part of Judaism that is appealing to each and every Jew. To “live by” Hashem’s commandments means that we should figure out what part of Judaism brings us the most joy and make this a part of our life. If you enjoy the community aspect, then be sure to invite Jewish people over your house or to attend events in the community. If you enjoy the spiritual aspect of Judaism, then be sure to sing zmirot on Shabbat and to spend a good deal of time davenning.

If we “live by” Hashem’s commandments, then we make Judaism the central core to who we are. We allow the Torah to guide every aspect of our life. Whether it is how we deal with other people or how we personally relate to the World, we should use the mitzvot as a basis for all of our actions and for our lifestyle. We should make Judaism the central core of who we are.

Aharey Mot 5769

by Bekah Hakimian

May 2nd, 2009/8 Iyar 5769

This Shabbat we read another combined parsha, Parashat Achrei Mot-Kedoshim. We begin with Achrei Mot, which means “After death,” which is referring to Nadav and Abihu’s death, who are the sons of Aaron. God tells Moshe to instruct Aaron not to come freely into the Holy of Holies. Only once a year, on the tenth day of the seventh month, is the High Priest to enter the shrine behind the curtain. This is the day on which atonement is to be made for all of the sins of the Israelites. No work is to be done on this day and on it the Israelites are to practice self-denial. Is this sounding at all familiar? Achrei Mot details the coming together of the holiest person among the Israelites, the High Priest; the holiest place, the Holy of Holies; and the holiest day of the calendar year, Yom Kippur. On the Day of Atonement, or the original Yom Kippur, the High Priest enters the Holy of Holies and he is to wear plain linen robes and he is to make expiation for himself and for his household and then for all of the Israelites.

Then the High Priest is to take two male goats and, by lot, mark one for God and one for Azazel. He is to slaughter the goat marked for God as a sin offering and use its blood to cleanse the Tent of Meeting, the altar and the Holy of Holies of the sins of the Israelites over the goat for Azazel and the goat is to be set free in the wilderness. Later on this Parsha, Moshe is told further to instruct the Israelites that all meat is to be slaughtered in a ritual way before the Tent of Meeting. The people are reminded not to consume blood, for blood represents life itself, and not to eat of an animal that has died or been torn by wild beasts.

A wide variety of meanings have been applied to the goat marked for Azazel. The name Azazel may drive from a rebellious angel. Or perhaps Azazel took on a demonic personification as a result of the associations of the word in this portion. Some scholars believe that Azazel is not a name at all, but a compound or contracted noun meaning “the goal that goes,” a “wild goat,” “dismissal,” or perhaps the name of the mountain over which, in later times, the goat was thrown. As the biblical text explains, the goat would “bear” the sins of the Israelites symbolized by red wool tied between its horns. The goat would be given to a specially chosen man who would lead it into a desolate area. The goat was allowed to escape into the wilderness. From this idea of the escaping goat, who bears other’s sins came the term “scapegoat.”

The second part of this double parsha, Kedoshim, contains the bulk of the “Holiness Code,” characterized by the commandment You shall be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy. The many mitzvot found here call for striving for holiness in all areas of life – ritual (You shall keep My Sabbaths and venerate My sanctuary, 19:30), civil (You shall not falsify measures of length, weight, or capacity, 19:35), and ethical (You shall rise before the aged and show deference to the old, 19:32). Its best-known commandment is Love your fellow as yourself and don’t insult the deaf or place a stumbling block before the blind. Israel is told to observe all of God’s laws and rules. God tells Moses to warn the people against child sacrifice and witchcraft and divination. The laws of forbidden sexual relationships are repeated. Similarly, God warns Israel not to follow the practices of the Canaanite nations and to remember that God has set them apart to be a holy people.

Kedoshim is the plural form of the word kadosh, holy. Holiness is the key that unifies the diverse laws detailed in this portion. It is through the observance of these laws that the Israelites are to be holy as God is holy. Holy can mean many things – sacred, unique, divine, complete, etc. In one sense, holy can also mean to be separate from. The word Holy can also be defined as “perfect in a moral sense; pure at heart: religious: set apart to sacred use.” From the Torah, we learn that holiness is not to be achieved by withdrawal from daily life, but rather by active participation in it.

How can we personalize this parsha? According to Kedoshim, how does the Torah want us to treat the disadvantage? The handicapped? The elderly? Strangers? What are the implications of these laws for today? USY, my challenge to you is: Every day, try to do at least one mitzvah that can have an impact on someone around you. Holiness is easily attainable in the sense that one little act of loving-kindness can bring us closer to that goal of holiness. Whether it is being nice to a sibling or simply holding the door for a stranger, small things can go a long way. Shabbat Shalom!

Metzora 5763

by Alison Silverman

In this week’s Parsha we are delved into the topic of the mysterious tzara’at, an apparent skin disease that was both a sign of ritual impurity as well as a sign that coule be helpful at the same time. The common understanding of tzara’at is any visible skin disease which produces white flaking skin, leporosy, or other eruption. These types of diseases were greatly feared in antiquity. People who were afflicted were removed from the community so as to not infect others and could only return when the symptoms had left.

Not only could an individual come down with tazara’at, but also the text informs us that even a house could be infected. The Rabbis considered these types of diseases to be a punishment for lashon hara, speaking with an evil tounge or gossip. The Rabbis explain that during the time of Moshe, one who spoke lashon hara would suffer by getting the disease and was forced to live outside of the camp. This punishment was appropriate because just as by saying lashon hara about someone separates them from the community, so to shall someone who is inflicted for their speech be separated from the community.

Lashon hara is such an evil transgression that if one says it in a building, then the building itself can be afflicted. Every brick in that house must be removed until there are no bricks left that have the tazara’at on it. However this symbol of an evil impiety could also prove helpful. It is said that when the Canaanites owned their houses they hid their valuables in the walls of the house. Hashem would show the Israelites the location of the treasure by giving the bricks tazara’at on them.

In USY, we have all experienced lashon hara and should all know how dangerous it can be. Rumors are spread like wild fire and eventually end up hurting someone. The effects of lashon hara do not heal as quickly as a skin disease, and can not be fixed as easily as rebuilding bricks.

Shabbat Shalom.

Tazria 5762

by Kenny Gold

This week’s portion, Tazria/Metzorah is a double Parashah that begins with the laws and the effects of childbirth. Even though the miracle of life is wonderful and we are fulfilling God’s request of being fruitful and multiplying, the Torah suggests that childbirth makes the mother impure. When a woman conceives and gives birth to a male, she shall be contaminated for a seven-day period. The quote continues by saying that on the fifth day the child shall be circumcised. For thirty-three days following she must stay away from the sanctuary and must not touch anything pure, for she is impure.If she gives birth to a female, she shall stay away for 6 days and must be away from holy objects and the sanctuary for sixty-six days. Since we don’t sacrifice anymore and we do not alienate new mothers post-childbirth, it is a ritual that new mothers listen to the kedushah or any part of the kedushah as their way of purifying themselves.

Tzaraat is the Hebrew word for the biblically chosen skin disease, leprosy. Such famous Jewish figures as Moses and Miriam were said to have contracted this disease, which was normally a clear cut sign that God was annoyed about something or that they did something wrong. So the double portion discusses the Metzorah, the sick person, and the Tazria the person who has leprosy. These two portions are a guide for how to be pure and not suffer from these diseases and how to take care of the disease or problem when it occurs.

Even though in modern times we have medicine for leprosy, these medicines only cure the physical symptons of tzaraat. The Torah provides the guidelines on how to cure oneself spiritually. It also teaches people that new mothers too, after this life-changing event, must reenter the spiritual community with her newborn child. Thanks Torah!

Tazria 5763

by Sylvie Grossbard with Avra Heller

Falling right in the middle of Torat HaKohanim (the book of Vayikra), Tazria and its partner, Metzora, deal with the responsibilities of the kohanim pertaining to impurity in people due to disease and bodily emission. Tazria begins with a description of a woman’s offering after giving birth, and later delves into the biblical diseases, the most famous of which is tzara’at (Metzora continues this theme).

We are all familiar with the Torah’s frequent descriptions of tzara’at, a disease many people now know as leprosy, which is not an accurate translation, as we cannot really identify what the disease is. It is characterized by swelling, scabs, whiteness, or bright spots, which are all symptoms of diseases that have been recognized and diagnosed in the twentieth century. Additionally, the treatment is quarantine until a kohen deems the infected person pure again. Yet tzara’at cannot possibly be a “normal” infection, because its contamination may spread to clothing, linens, and even one’s house.

Many commentators, both ancient and modern, have tried to find explanations for this phenomenon. However, in the words of Abravanel (translated), “Far be it from us to consider the Torah as a medical manual.” Thus, it is not our job to try and identify the symptoms of the disease as scientific evidence. Instead, the Torah has chosen to associate tzara’at with lashon hara, for which it is a known punishment. According to Rambam, “tzara’at comes as a punishment for the evil tongue, for its owner is isolated and can no longer harm people with his loose talk.” The affliction of tzara’at is not natural; rather, it is God’s way of informing people of their transgressions, and prompting them to do teshuvah and return to God, because of its supernatural aspects.

In our own time, we find cause for disease in miniscule organisms that scientists identify under microscopes or through other tests, and we treat these diseases with advanced medicines. We no longer look at disease as a punishment from God for our sins. Nevertheless, it is important to remember the lesson we learn from the concept of tzara’at. Although we may not find patches of infected skin on our bodies, we can find evidence of our wrongdoings in people’s reactions to our behavior and its repercussions. The message of this affliction is therefore to be aware of your actions and to understand their effects. That way, we will always know what we have done, and will always know how we can change it for the better.

Shabbat Shalom.

Tazria 5769

by Judah Kerbel

April 25, 2009/1 Iyar 5769

This Shabbat, we read a combined parasha, Parashat Tazria-Metzora, of which the main focus is a skin disease called tzara’at. While the disease has often been identified as leprosy, scholars believe that tzara’at is actually a different disease.

If a person sees a scaly affection on his skin, it is to be reported to the priests, the kohanim. In certain cases, he is merely declared impure, in other cases, he is isolated from the community, and the Torah goes on to describe the numerous scenarios which a person affected with leprous may experience. After the affected person purifies himself in the mikveh, he must offer sacrifices, for that person is called mechusar kaparah, one who lacks atonement, until he does so.

Of course, we are puzzled by the significance of this disease, why it requires such intense ritual, what is it about this particular skin disease that inspires such detailed discussion in the Torah. Linguistically, metzora, Hebrew for “leper,” is similar to motzi sheim ra, one who defames, and our Sages defined tzara’at as the punishment for maligning. This idea is furthered by the juxtaposition of Miriam’s contraction of tzara’at with her gossiping about Moshe later in the Torah. Essentially, tzara’at is the outer reflection of an inner flaw: when one sees the tzara’at, he or she is directly reminded of the imperfection that exists in his or her inclination to do what is not so good in the eyes of God. Seifer Ha-Hinnukh, a medieval work explaining the root of each mitzvah in the Torah, notes that in regard to the mitzvah of sacrificing an offering after recovering from tzara’at, the sacrifice, which provides atonement for the leper, bears the symbolism of diminishing the sinful inclination and increasing the value of the soul because tzara’at represents the human pursuit of lust through speech and through action. When one offers the sacrifice after recovery from tzara’at, that person in turn acknowledges that his disease represents an impurity within his soul and that impurity must be rectified by means of a reciprocal spiritual action. Only after that acknowledgment has been made may that person have achieved atonement.

If we look at this issue from a larger scope of the world, we can see that the way our planet may look reflects the way in which we take care of the earth, or the way in which we don’t take care of the earth for that matter. Just like tzara’at is the physical reflection of an inner impurity, global warming and pollution are two examples of “diseases” in the earth that reflect the choice of people to not be careful in preserving the purity of this planet. When polar caps melt and coastlines flood, when our air is too polluted to breathe in good health, when our water is too dirty to drink, that is all a reflection of human beings pursuing grandeur and accomplishment at the price of debasing the quality of the earth that in turns hurts the human race. While the actions taken that caused some of these problems have helped us thrive as a civilization, an excessive amount of industrialization and failure to conserve can backfire on us. Impure desires and intentions in respect to maltreatment of the earth can reflect the physical flaws we begin to see in our planet, just like one may think that maligning will reap self-benefit until that person receives tzara’at.

On a different note, we commemorated Yom Ha-Sho’ah U-g’vurah this past Tuesday. It is on this day we remember the six million Jewish souls that were lost to sinat chinam, baseless hatred, and to the desire of human beings to annihilate a whole sect of the world that was created b’tzelem Elohim, in God’s image. We ask why God allowed this stuff to happen – the only way I can answer that question is that God created human beings with free will, with choice, and in that package comes the choice, unfortunately, to do bad. The loss of so many innocent souls to such an abhorrent cause is in and of itself a physical reflection of the evil that might exist in a human soul; mourning the disappearance of a freakishly large number of the Jewish population is the tzara’at of the irresponsible choices that human beings made with their free will. But this day is in fact called Yom Ha-Sho’ah U-g’vurahg’vurah is heroism. While we may not have had enough heroes during the Holocaust, we do not forget that there were many people who resisted Hitler’s scheme, who actively fought the tzara’at prevalent throughout Europe in the 1930s and 40s. The Righteous Gentiles and all those who participated in the resistance knew and let the world know that they would not tolerate action inspired on account of impure and inhumane desires to fill the world with an unhealthy dogma of hatred and brutality.

So at this point, we are about to count the omer. From the 2nd night of Pesach all the way through Shavuot, we count the days in ascending order in accordance to the law in the Torah. One symbol inherent in counting the omer is the anticipation of receiving the Torah, a major theme of Shavuot. As we count the omer, we prepare ourselves to receive the Torah in the purest state of being possible, in terms of our traits. In light of what we have discussed about tzara’at, I hope that as we prepare ourselves to accept the Torah on Shavuot, that we think about our thoughts and actions and how they reflect on us in the long run, and more importantly, that we think about the world in which we live and how we will fix it to reflect peace, wholeness, and prosperity.

Tazria 5770

by Alex Krule

This week, we read the double portion Tazria-Metzora. These parshiot are linked in a very clear way; they both thoroughly and completely deal with matters of spiritual impurity and how the Kohanim are to deal to the various impurities brought upon the people of Israel. In fact, Metzora begins as a continuation of the case the “metzora,” or one who has an ancient disease called “tzara’at.” Many translate this disease as leprosy based on its symptoms, but, in actuality, the name of this disease cannot be translated, for it has a much more significant meaning behind it.

The disease called tzara’at is a very prominent condition within the bible. Two of the most well-know times when this condition appears is at the burning bush when God proves His power to Moshe and when Miryam and Aharon speak badly of their brother, but this portion deals mainly with diagnosis and treatment of and for tzara’at. At a pshat, or simple, level, it would appear as though the kohanim of the Tabernacle doubled as doctors as well. After all, there is plenty of detail about what parts of the body are afflicted by this condition (examples include hair becoming white in certain areas, snow-like scales falling off of the body, and other white inflammations of the skin). However, as Professor Arnold M. Eisen observes in this week’s JTS Weekly Torah Commentary, the kohanim are not doctors; “Medicine is not the art he [the kohen] practices.” Instead, says Professor Eisen, we learn that one of the jobs of the kohen includes diagnosing Israelites of spiritual purity or impurity. The reason why tzara’at cannot be merely translated at leprosy is because tzara’at is a spiritual disease that manifests itself through symptoms such as discoloration of skin and hair. The disease is not caught through germs or a virus, rather, according to Masechet Arichin 15b, it is a result of being spiritually impure for not being emphatic of others or speaking lashon harah, or evil tongue/gossip, about others, as seen in the situation of Miryam and Aharaon.

The details of the diagnosis of tzara’at is mainly found in parashat Tazria while the treatment is primarily found in parashat Metzora. I encourage you to look at how the Torah describes how certain individuals must do certain sacrifices and other actions in order to aleve the condition of tzara’at. It is interesting to see how certain individuals’ actions, such as a poor man’s, differs from that of a regular man, regardless of original sin or offense. Can you think of something that happens in the world around you that is deserving of this tzara’at? Do you think that there is a way that you can prevent these things from happening?

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