Tzav 5769

by David B. Helfand

This week we read from two different sedrot. We read the weekly parasha of Parashat Tzav, the second parasha from the book of Vayikra. We also read the special maftir reading for Shabbat HaGadol, the special parasha before Pesach. Both Parashat Tzav and Shabbat HaGadol have very important messages for us as readers.

Parashat Tzav addresses the sons of Aharon, Nadav and Avihu, about the sacrificial work that they do. The ashes of the Korban Olah – the burnt offering on the altar throughout the night – are to be removed from the area by the Kohen after he takes off his special linen clothing. The Olah offering is brought by someone who forgot to perform a positive commandment of the Torah. The Kohen retains the skin. The fire on the altar must be constantly blazing. The Korban Minchah is a meal offering that is made from flour, oil and spices. A handful of it is burned on the altar, and a Kohen eats the remainder before it becomes leaven. The parasha describes the special korbanot offered by the Kohen Gadol each day and by Aharon’s sons and future descendants on the day of their inauguration.

The Chatat, the korban brought after an accidental transgression, is described, as are the laws for the slaughtering and sprinkling the blood of the Asham, the “guilt-korban” for certain transgressions. The details for the Shlamim, various types of peace korbanot, are described, including the prohibition against leaving the remains of the Todah, the thanksgiving korban, uneaten until the morning. All sacrifices must be burned after they may no longer be eaten. No sacrifice may be eaten if it was slaughtered with the intention of eating it too late.

Once they have become tame (ritually impure) korbanot may not be eaten and they should be burned. One may not eat a korban when he is ritually impure. Blood and Chelev, forbidden fats of animals, are prohibited to eat. Aharon and his sons are granted the breast and shank of every Korban Shlamim. The inauguration ceremony for Aharon, his sons, the mishkan and all of its vessels is detailed.

This week we also celebrate Shabbat HaGadol, which literally means the Great Shabbat. Shabbat HaGadol is always the Shabbat that immediately precedes Pesach. The Mishnah Beruah, a work of Halacha complied by Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan/Chofetz Chaim in the late 1800s, states “the Shabbat before Pesach is called Shabbat HaGadol because of the miracles that happened.” The miracles that they refer to are both the Korban Pesach and Yetziat Mitzrayim, the Pesach offering and the Exodus from Egypt. The statement goes on and explains that you should prepare your self for Pesach and for the sedarim by saying excerpts from the Haggadah.

Another reason for the name of Shabbat HaGadol because during this week’s haftarah, that comes from Mishlei/Proverbs, that Hashem reveals that he will one day send the prophet Eliyahu to the Jewish people in preparation for the Mashiach and redemption. Every year on Passover during the Seder, we as Jews open our doors in hope of Eliyahu’s return and the fulfillment of the prophecy. The term “Great” or “HaGadol” is because of the importance of Pesach among the Jewish people.

Chag Kasher Sameach and Shabbat Shalom.

Tzav 5770

by Charlene Thrope

This Shabbat is Shabbat HaGadol, the Shabbat before Pesach. Traditionally, rabbis would give only two sermons a year – one on Shabbat Shuva, the Shabbat between Rosh Hashanah, and one on Shabbat HaGadol, this Shabbat. This week’s sermon would describe all of the complicated laws surrounding Pesach.

While it is unclear where exactly its name comes from, Rashi says that Shabbat HaGadol (the Great Shabbat) is named for a miracle that occurred on the Shabbat before the original Pesach. On the 10th of Nisan, the Israelites tied up the lambs they would sacrifice on the 14th of Nisan for the Pesach sacrifice. The Egyptians worshiped sheep, it was likely the Egyptians would kill the Israelites, but luckily they did not. This miracle makes this Shabbat gadol, great.

Shabbat HaGadol is our last reminder that Pesach is coming. Pesach stills seems weeks away during the four other Shabbatot leading up to PesachShabbat Shekalim, Shabbat Zachor, Shabbat Parah, and Shabbat HaChodesh. This week, however, we know that Pesach begins not in a few weeks, but in a few days. Now is the time to clean our houses and buy our matzah – there’s not much time left.

Tzav 5771

by Max Bartell

Even though I have been a student at a Jewish day school since kindergarten, I still occasionally find it difficult to relate to a particular Parsha. When I first read through Parshat Tzav, nothing really jumped out at me. However, upon reading the Parsha a second time, this time at a deeper level, a number of interesting nuances jumped out at me. First of all, this Shabbat is also Shabbat Zachor. After their liberation from the land of Egypt, the Jewish people faced a long and treacherous path through the Sinai desert to reach Israel. As was customary, all of the men who were able-bodied and strong enough, traveled in the front to repel attackers while those unable to fight rounded out the nation. While the front of the nation was prepared to ward off any potential attackers, the latter portion was not in as advantageous of a position. When the nation of Amalek (one of B’nai Yisrael’s biggest enemies) decided to attack the passing people, they did not attack from the front. Instead, they attacked from the rear, where they massacred the defenseless Israelites. After this battle, the Torah tells us that we must “Remember what Amalek did to you upon your departure form Egypt. You shall erase the memory of Amalek from beneath the heavens, you shall not forget.” Here the message is clear: do not forget what the nation of Amalek has done to our people. Upon reading this a second time, I realized something interesting and mildly disturbing. This is one of, if not the, only times that we, as Jews are expressly commanded to do something against the Ten Commandments. On the two tablets that Moshe brought down from Sinai, it expressly says, “Thou shalt not murder.” However, we are expressly told that we must “erase the memory of Amalek from beneath the heavens.” Upon further research I realized that this textual discrepancy is not a new one by any means. In fact, historians have come to a consensus with regard to the interpretation that best fits the situation. In the quoted verses, the “memory of Amalek” is actually the hatred and violence that Amalek spread everywhere they went. Subsequently, the Torah is not telling us to take the life of another person, but instead to perpetuate tolerance, respect and remembrance in the place of the hatred and violence.

This parsha also has an interesting relationship to Purim, the holiday it directly precedes. It is widely believed that Haman, the villain in the Purim story, is a descendant of the nation of Amalek. Not only are we commanded to remember what Amalek was able to accomplish, but also to rejoice in the fact that Haman failed in his attempt to murder the Jews of Shushan. Furthermore, Shabbat Zachor is not only a time to remember the atrocities committed by Amalek, but also a time to remember the atrocities such as the Holocaust and the Spanish Inquisition. This past summer, with Eastern Europe/Israel Pilgrimage Group 9, I was privileged enough to visit the concentration and death camps in Poland and the Czech Republic. Throughout the entire two weeks in Eastern Europe, I wore an Israeli flag. Not only was this a source of comfort for me, but it was my way of remembering what Amalek, the Spanish, and the Nazis did to our people, and our extraordinary survival.

The final connection that Shabbat Zachor has to Parshat Tzav is the establishment of the Ner Tamid, or “everlasting light.” There is much more to the Ner Tamid than just a light. It was the duty of the Kohanim to vigilantly keep watch and ensure that the light didn’t go out. Today the Ner Tamid symbolizes much more than just a source of light, it represents the Neshamah, or spirit of the Jewish people. The light also represents the Jewish people as a whole. Like this small light, the Jewish people are resilient and, despite numerous attempts to eradicate us, we have remained strong and vibrant. It is extremely important that now, when the Conservative movement is in a precarious position, we continue to stay strong and devoted to Judaism.

As this Shabbat is Shabbat Zachor, it is only fitting that we remember with love and cherish the memories of Ehud, Ruth, Yoav, Elad, and Hadas Fogel. The Fogel family was viciously stabbed to death in their West Bank home this past Shabbat, when one or more Palestinians broke into their home. May they be remembered by all the Jewish people and may their memory be for a blessing.

Vayikra 5761

by Joshua Rabin

The third book of the Torah, Vayikra, opens with a simple yet powerful line; “And God called to Moshe…” (Vayikra 1:1). When one looks at a copy of the Hebrew they can see that the “aleph” in the word “vayikra” is smaller than the other letters. Rashi in his commentary on the Torah tells us that the aleph is so small because it is intended to reflect the humility of Moshe. While a reference to the humility of Moshe would seem appropriate, the question is why does this occur at the beginning of a book that is focused on sacrifices and specifically acts of “avodah”, of worship.

Consider the following: You are at synagogue on Shabbat morning and you are beginning to approach the Amidah. While you have gone through all the preparations to say the prayer appropriately, through the introductory prayers leading up to it, your mind is on other things. The paper you have due Monday, the girl that you want to ask to the school dance, or the countless other things that are on your mind seem to take precedence over the Amidah. Are you ready to give your thanks to God? Probably not. Jewish law requires us to have an appropriate amount of kavvanah (intent) prior to embarking on certain acts of avodah at designated times. From this we see that it is clear that Moshe’s has the small aleph present in the Torah to show that whenever you a ready to embark on acts of avodah, no matter what they, you must keep your humility and remain focused.

In the Gemara in Berachot 7(a) we are told that Hashem does pray for us. While this seems like an almost monumental ideal, the commentator Rashbah explains that this is for the purpose of Hashem bringing spiritual healing and prosperity to people. Thus, when we pray, we are supposed to “t’nu oz la’Elokim,” give power to Hashem. The only way that this can be done is through coming in with an appropriate mental state.

For someone that davens every day, I can tell you that sometimes it is hard to really get a good humble and submissive feel before every time that I daven. I would say it would be nearly impossible for anyone to do so every single time. However, we learn that our prayer serves as method of activating the powers of Hashem, as taught by our sages. Tefillah (prayer) is the sparks that results in the rewards, yet these rewards must be earned. We earn these things through Torah study, worship and acts of loving-kindess. It makes us worthy of the success for which we all hope to achieve. Moshe, in turn, has the same situation. He is but a man and must take the mythic responsibility of learning and teaching the countless new that are presented in Vayikra. Therefore, he must be go in with a humble mind and in thus given his small aleph to remind not only himself, but us as well. Shabbat Shalom

Vayikra 5762

by Jacob Levine-Berkowitz

Parashat Vayekra is the first parasha in the book of Leviticus (the third book of the bible). This parasha along with a majority of the book of Vayekra deals with laws for the Jewish people specifically sacrifices. In the time of the temple sacrifices were the way for Jewish people to get closer to G-D and also to atone for one’s wrong doings. In parashat Vayekra there are five different types of sacrifices mentioned. The first sacrifice is the “burnt offering” – “olah” which is translated to “that which goes up”. This offering needed to be a male animal in which the entire animal (except for the hide) was burnt upon the alter. The second sacrifice discussed is the “meal offering – “minchah”. This offering consisted of flour put into shapes of cakes, where half was burnt on the alter and the other given to the Priest Aaron and his sons. The third sacrifice is the “sacrifice of well being” – “zevach shelamim”. This sacrifice could either be a male or a female cow, sheep or goat in which half of the animal would be burned on the alter, some given to Aaron and his sons and the rest used as a feast for the person who brought the sacrifice. All three of the previous sacrifices were done by the individual voluntarily. The next two types of sacrifices deal with an individual or community who knowingly have sinned, and who are obligated to sacrifice to atone for that sin. The first sacrifice is the “sin offering” – “chatat”. This sacrifice deals with an individual or community who knowingly sinned against one of the commandments. The offering which the person had to bring to the alter depended on the status he/she held in the community. The second offering dealt with, is the “guilt offering” – “asham”. This sacrifice deals with an individual who committed either robbery or fraud, this individual along with having to give back the stolen items plus one-fifth of their value, also had to bring an offering to the altar (again in which the offering depended on the person’s status in society). After the Second Temple was destroyed the sacrifices ended and prayer and the doing of good deeds took their place and are still in effect till the present.

It seems as though one of the large questions amongst Jewish teenagers is, “how can I become closer with God”. It seems as though it would have been much easier to be teenager in the time of the temple since there was such an easy and direct way of becoming closer to God, by doing sacrifices. One reason that the idea of sacrifices seems so much more of a connection between one and God is because of the physical aspect of actually performing a sacrifice because it was so physical and real that it seemed as though you were connecting to God right there. In the present, one has the option to pray and perform “mitzvoth”, but one is never quite sure if God heard you or saw that good deed you did, and then one thinks to themselves was it really worth it I believe that we don’t know if those good deeds one performs or all the praying one does are answered because we don’t always receive a direct answer from God, which in return adds to the idea that Judaism is a religion that isn’t based on the idea of instant gratification and that is why if one continues to do good deeds and pray to God it will become noticed and even if it continues to go unnoticed you will feel spiritually and emotionally uplifted.

Another thing that sacrifices dealt with was the atonement for one’s sins. All one had to do for one’s sins was to either perform the “chatat” sacrifice or the “asham” sacrifice, which both absolve one of one’s sins. This is very different from the present Judaic views of how one should or should not repent. In today’s culture a person after committing a sin needs to give a direct apology to the person and going through all the steps of repentance (compiled by Maimonides). The one time of the year in which one is granted atonement from all one’s sins between them and God is Yom Kippur, this is different though from a sin which one person did to another and that person is never granted atonement until they atone to the person which one hurt.

Finally, when comparing the days of the Temple to the present it seems as though it would have been much easier to feel emotionally and spiritually cleansed because you were in and out and could perform a sacrifice as often as one wished. This idea of quickness to one’s repentances and one’s closeness to God seems as though an absurd idea, since we were brought up with the notion of the long length it took to repent and how whenever you pray to God you would hardly ever receive an answer from God. Although it seems much easier to live in the days of sacrifices I believe one gains much more knowledge and spiritual growth and awareness in the present, due to the fact of the difficulty involved in living a true and meaningful life.

Vayikra 5763

by Aron Cohen, 2003 USY Rel/Ed VP, 5763

Perhaps the most conspicuous absence of God in the entire Bible is the lack of God’s name in the Megillah. Such an absence must not be an accident, but rather an important lesson for all of its readers.

The story of Purim, from a historical perspective, is almost completely secular. All of the action in the Purim story is between men and men-there is no direct interaction with God.

Not only does the story itself not explicitly include God; the mitzvot associated with Purim also focus on our relationships with those around us.

We are commanded to send Mishloach Manot-literally, “The sending of delicacies”-to those around us to create unity among the Jewish people, and as a simple act to reach out to those around us.

We are commanded on Purim to give gifts to the poor-while we send gifts to our friends and neighbors to build strength in the community, we also help to build the communities of those around us.

We are commanded to participate in the reading of the Megillah-an act that also brings together our community for an evening of festivities.

All of these actions stress our relations with those around us, stress building a strong community. Perhaps we can learn from this that while God’s presence in our lives is important-just as important are the people that surround us daily.

Abraham Joshua Heschel lends some insight on the matter in his book “God in Search of Man.” Heschel wrote:

“Religious thinking is in perpetual danger of giving primacy to concepts and dogmas and to forfeit the immediacy of insights, to forget that the known is but a reminder of God, that the dogma is a token of His will, the expression of the inexpressible at its minimum. Concepts, words must not become screens; they must be regarded as windows.”

Heschel teaches that although it is God’s presence in Jewish life that has sustained the Jewish people for so long, that has kept us going, the Torah cannot carry our actions. Rather, we must realize that the Torah is here to guide our actions, not to explicitly determine them. Heschel recognized that as many Jewish laws as there are, there are more possible situations that can arise in life.

In the story of Purim, Ester acts in a way that carries out God’s will. In today’s world, we are constantly being put into situations that require us to use our own judgment. While our Jewish values and morals guide us, our discretion is usually the overriding factor in our decision-making process. Although God can guide us, God can’t make all of our decisions for us.

Despite God’s name being absent from the Megillah, and God having no explicit actions in the Purim story, God still has a presence in the Megillah. In this way, the words of the Megillah do not hide God, rather, they enlighten us to the wonders of God’s less explicit actions.

However, the Torah reading this morning tells a slightly different story. This Shabbat, we began the book of Vayikra-a book in the Torah that contains nearly half the laws in the entire Torah, many of which are focused on a sacrificial system that has since been replaced by prayer.

This morning’s reading contains painstaking detail outlining every last nook and cranny of the sacrificial system. Unlike the Purim story, we are given every detail imaginable directly from God, and with so much detail, it is hard to imagine that there is any room for interpretation.

So we have two sides of the same coin. The Megillah teaches us that we can function without God’s direct presence, and that we don’t need God to dictate each step we take. But parshat Vayikra outlines an incredibly intricate system that explicitly dictates our actions in every way. The two are, outwardly, opposites.

However, the two seemingly contradictory messages together reveal a deeper understanding of these two alternating ideas.

Heschel taught, “A religious man is a person who holds God and man in one thought at one time, at all times.” We must understand that our relationship with God is intimately connected to our relationship with other people, and that our relationships with other people are intimately connected to our relationship with God.

,Heschel taught, “A religious man is a person who holds God and man in one thought at one time, at all times.” We must understand that our relationship with God is intimately connected to our relationship with other people, and that our relationships with other people are intimately connected to our relationship with God.

While it seems sometimes that ritual mitzvot are far removed from our relationships with people, they are really a lot closer than we think. So many ritual mitzvot are in place with the purpose of creating a foundation of holiness our lives, which can then transfer over to our interactions with people.

In two weeks, we read from Parshat Shemini, which outlines many specific requirements of Kashrut-which can be seen as the quintessential ritual mitzvah. Aside from teaching us to have reverence for the lives of the animals that we kill, kashrut takes something completely mundane, completely ordinary and makes it holy. Through a simple act, we are elevating an earthly act to a holy one.

It is this basis of holiness off of which we can base all of our actions, so that when we interact with other people, we have a basis to make all of our actions holy. This foundation of holiness is, in fact, what allows to act with our own discretion. By building our lives around actions specifically sanctioned by God, we are better equipped to handle daily situations as they arise in our lives, and our personal discretion is more likely to be in line with that of God’s will.

As Heschel wrote, “Concepts, words must not become screens; they must be regarded as windows.” Through ritual observances, God can help guide us in the decisions for which there are no laws. God can lead us in he right direction, but it’s up to us to make sure that all of our actions are actions that we can be proud of.

Shabbat Shalom!

Vayikra 5764

by Rachel Weislow, SWUSY, 5764

We are being watched. Everything that we do daily is seen by G-d. It is only human to be imperfect, and that is why were are taught how to correct our mistakes made in front of G-d and perhaps other people.

This weeks parsha, Vayikra, teaches us how to right the wrongs and be aware of the fact that our actions can cause effects. In most cases, when we are finally able to realize the consequences of what we do, we try to make less errors and better our wrong-doings. For example, say you are at a friends house and you are meeting their parents, you are on your best behavior. However, if you were at that same friends house and their parents weren’t home you would act differently, because you know you are not being watched, and you know that you don’t have to make a good impression on anyone. It is the same with G-d, except he is always watching us, and the torah portion teaches us that this is a good incentive to try to be on our best behavior no matter who we are with or what example we are setting.

So how do we better ourselves? Just remember, saying sorry doesn’t mean anything unless it comes from the heart. True repenting for our sins does not necessarily mean “pray to G-d for forgiveness,” but maybe it means “spread the charity and good-doings of the world.” A real way to say your sorry, is to mean it, and make-up for it by doing some mitzvot. Visit an edlerly home, read to young children, take a few minutes to put a smile on someone else’s face, and truly show some selflessness. When we make an error we can’t just erase it. We must prove ourselves worthy of forgiveness, and display our desires to do good in life.

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