Behar 5771

by Josh Seed, 2010-11 ECRUSY Religion/Education Vice President and 2011 Religion/Education International General Board member

In today’s world of routine, we can sometimes forget the one responsible for the everyday miracles in our lives. The concept of bitachon, or trust in God, plays a critical role in Jewish thought. Just as a person should strive to observe the mitzvot, they should also try to develop a consciousness that God is actively involved in everything that we do.

This idea can be seen in this week’s parashah of Behar. The beginning of the portion reads, “The Lord spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai: Speak to the Israelite people and say to them: When you enter the land that I assign to you, the land shall observe a sabbath of the Lord. Six years you may sow your field and six years you may prune your vineyard and gather in the yield. But in the seventh year the land shall have a sabbath of complete rest, a sabbath of the Lord: you shall not sow your field or prune you vineyard.” (Vayikra 25:1-4)

Much of the parashah is devoted to a description of laws concerning shmita, or the sabbatical year, which takes place in the Land of Israel every seventh year. During shmita, the land is left to lie fallow and all agricultural activity is forbidden. In Biblical times, debts were also cancelled on the shmita year, and servants were set free.
The mitzvah of Shmita begs a very important question: What food will we eat during this seventh year of rest? God, however, assures us not to worry. “And you should ask, “What are we to eat in the seventh year if we may neither sow nor gather in our crops?” I will ordain My blessing for you in the sixth year, so that it shall yield a crop sufficient for three years.” (Vayikra: 25:20-21)

The promise that God makes is very much like the double portion of manna that would fall before Shabbat or a holiday. In this sense, the shmita years mirrors Shabbat whose major function is to remind us that it is God who created the world and continues to maintain it. Although we all live very busy lives, we must always take a moment to stop and appreciate the miracles that we are blessed with every single day.

Emor 5771

by Nathan Dinitz, 2010-11 New Frontier USY Religion/Education Vice President

As I was reading parashat Emor, one pasuk stood out from the rest. It isn’t about the kohanim, nor the holidays, nor the man who blasphemes. It was about two mitzvot that are easily overlooked.
“When you reap the harvest of your land, do not to finish off the corners of your field when you harvest it, and do not gather up the gleaning of your harvest; for the poor and for the convert you must leave them; I am HaShem, your God.” (L. 23:22)

This verse is about two mitzvot: peah, leaving the corners of your field unpicked; and leket, not picking up the crops that drop when you harvest. We don’t get to keep it all. Instead, God commands us to leavepeah and leket for the poor to collect. This verse seems out of place because it interrupts the description of the yearly cycle of holidays. Shabbat, Pesach, waving the Omer, counting the Omer, Shavuot — next should come Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot — but before those holidays we get these harvest rules — leave the corners, and anything that drops, for the poor. What is this verse doing here?

Of course, I am not the only one who has noticed that this verse stands out. Even though this pasukmight look misplaced, several commentators say it belongs here for a reason.

Ibn Ezra (Rav Avraham ben Meir ibn Ezra; 1089-1164 Spain) suggests that this pasuk belongs here, between the descriptions of the spring holidays and the fall holidays, because you need to remember about peah and leket — these harvest laws — during the summer. The summer is when you will need to observe them. We learn them here to help us actually remember to leave the corners and the dropped produce when we harvest — and not forget these mitzvot. If you don’t remember that this is the time to do these mitzvot, you might not do them.

Rashi (Rav Shlomo Yitzchaki 1040-1105; France) quotes the Tanna, Avardimas ben Yossi, who says that observing the harvest mitzvot of peah and leket is equivalent to building the Bet HaMikdash, and then offering all the korbanot of all the holidays of the whole year inside it. So, by leaving this food for the poor, one is serving God as if one had brought offerings to the Temple. We serve God by serving other people. According to Avardimas, these mitzvot are here — among the Korbanot of the holidays — to show that peah and leket are just as valuable as the whole community bringing all the holiday Korbanot.

Finally, the Meshech Chochma (Meir Simcha haKohen of Dvinsk 1843–1926; Latvia) connects Avardimas’ comment to a pasuk from Mishlei — the book of Proverbs:

“One who gives graciously to the poor makes a loan to God, and God will repay him (Proverbs 19:17).”

Building on Avardimas and Meshech Chochma, I think that the pasuk is here to remind us that because peah and leket have no shiur — no maximum amount — we should be generous in leaving the corners and dropped produce for the poor, because the poor who are going to take it might not have anything — not even enough to eat. This verse comes after the section about Shavuot — on which we read about how Boaz told his reapers to deliberately drop extra leket for Ruth to collect — and before Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur — when one is judged by HaShem. As the Meshech Chochmah reminds us, our generosity is a loan to God, and God will repay.

How can we in USY apply peah and leket? How do we share the benefits we reap from our work with those less fortunate around us? As we give to the poor, how can we remember that we’re making a loan to God? Can we be extra generous with this mitzva?

An Example: Giving to tzedakah before lighting shabbos candles each week.
Another Example: Bringing SA/TO funds to conventions with more intention and generosity.

Kedoshim 5771

by Max Bartell, 2011 USY Religion/Edducation International General Board

P.J. O’Rourke is famous for saying, “Because of their size, parents may be difficult to discipline properly.” Now, regardless of the fact that O’Rourke is not a member of the tribe, this type of view and opinion is exactly what this week’s Parsha, Parshat Kedoshim seeks to change and get rid of. In Parshat Kedoshim, there are a rather unusually large amount of Mitzvot. There are 13 positive commandments, and 38 negative commandments, totaling 51 commandments. The first commandment in the Parsha is “Every man should revere his mother and father,” followed by “You shall keep my Shabbatot for I am Hashem your God.” There are a number of interesting things in these first two commandments, ranging from the wording used in them, to the reasoning behind the order that they are placed in. From the first commandment, “Every man should revere his mother and father,” we learn a number of things. We learn that by using the word revere, the Torah is implying that a person should not disagree with his parents in public, and should always treat them with the utmost respect. This can range from not taking their seat at a table, to correcting them in front of their friends, no matter how egregious their error may be. Just as a side-note, this pasuk is often used as proof and reasoning behind caring for your parents, even unto their old age.

Another interesting point that the commentators make with regard to this Parsha, has to do with the fact that the commandment to keep Shabbat directly follows the commandment to respect parents. According to Rashi, the importance of the order is that eventually this verse comes to teach us that a child should refuse his parent’s request that he or she desecrate the Shabbat, because ultimately Hashem and his Torah take precedence. This pasuk does not give a child the right to disregard the orders of his parents unless of course, the parent directs the child to break another one of God’s commandments. Only then is disregard of the parent’s orders acceptable. In terms of order that the commandments in this Parsha should be observed in, think of it this way: “1. Respecting your parents” and “1A. Keeping Shabbat.”

It seems that the commandments here really come back to one main theme of Judaism. The idea of the unwritten “Golden Rule.” The Golden Rule is essentially “V’ahavta L’Recha Camocha” or “Love your neighbor as you would yourself.” The commandments in this Parsha are really centered around the concept of respect. From the idea of not embarrassing your parents, all the way to not correcting an error that they make in front of their friends. While respecting our parents may appear to be a tall task, it is really quite simple. What it all boils down to is treating your parents the same way that you would like them to treat you. I highly doubt that one might want his parents to correct him or tell him that he iswrong in front of his friends. And even sometimes, when it may seem that his parents don’t understand your situation, he must still respect them because, in the words of Dr. Suess: “A Person’s a Person, no matter how small.”

Metzora 5771

by Josh Seed, 2010-11 ECRUSY Religion/Education Vice President and 2011 Religion/Education International General Board member

This Shabbat we read Parashat Metzora. Like much of the book of Vayikra, Parshat Meztora deals largely with the laws pertaining to ritual purity. This was an important topic for the time with the Tabernacle in use and the eventual building of the Temple in Jerusalem. The fourth aliyah reads, “The Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying: When you enter the land of Canaan that I give you as a possession, and I inflict an eruptive plague upon a house in the land you possess, the owner of the house shall come and tell the priest, saying, ‘something like a plague has appeared upon my house.’” (Vayikra 14:33-35)

The previous passage speaks about a skin disease known as Tzara’at, sometimes translated as leprosy. The Talmud and many commentators see Tzara’at as a punishment for the most serious of sins, Lashon Hara or malicious gossip. Just like gossip, the Torah tells us that the plague could spread beyond the individual, to his clothing, home and beyond. Anyone suffering from Tzara’at would be required to separate themselves from the community. This begs the question, why is this part of the treatment process? Why must one reside away from other people in order to be deemed pure once more?

Lashon Hara can spread quickly and affect many people. Perhaps the individual was sent away to prevent their gossip from damaging the community. The disease of Tzara’at does not exist today but that does not mean that we no longer see Lashon Hara. Gossip is just as much of a problem today as it was in biblical times.

Judaism exists within a community and a principle of acceptance can help to make everyone feel welcome. It is this idea that makes our organization so special. USY provides a place for all Jews to come together and express themselves in a fun and safe environment. Everyone has a place and the stereotypes that may exist at school do not carry the same meaning. When we meet for a convention, we put all of our differences aside and become a single community. To quote one Kadimanik, “USY is the place I can always be myself.  Everyone accepts me for who I am.”

The mitzvah for this week is appropriately Lashon Hara or the prohibition against telling gossip. Judaism forbids causing any deception or embarrassment through speech, even if the statement is true. According to the majority of Torah scholars Lashon Hara is considered to be a most serious of sins because of the harm that it can cause.

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Ha’azinu 5758

by Joey Shapiro

Ha’azinu, the second to last parsha in the Torah read throughout the course of the year, is a very glorious one. The sedra is contained in two columns of the the torah which are divided into yet smaller columns. The words make up a song praising the glory of G-d and recalling his miraculous wonders which he did to aid Bene Yisrael in their years in the wilderness of Sinai.

On the surface this is a very happy, joyous, and festive sedra, one filled with spoken triumph, glory, and miracles. Yet, it contains a very sad, melancholy undertone. This is the final time that Moshe addresses the people. He is here reminding them orally of what G-d did for them so that they will continue to worship G-d throughout the ages, but Moshe is also, without saying it outwardly, trying to remind them what he has been through with him. He knows that this is his final day at the helm of the nation and wants not to be forgotten. He is sad; he knows he will now go off to die and does not want his people, his brethren to forget what he has tried to teach.

So, Ha’azinu is one last hurrah before the end, but it is overshadowed with the upcoming death of Moshe Rabenu.

Ha’azinu 5762

by Aron Cohen

This Shabbat is known as Shabbat Shuvah, and we read from Parshat Haazinu. Shabbat Shuvah is the Shabbat that falls between Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur. Shuvah comes from the root shav, literally meaning to return or to repent (to God, to the straight path).

The entire book of Devarim is Moshe’s final speech, delivered to the Children of Israel, summarizing the laws in the Torah. Moshe knows that he won’t be around much longer-the Israelites will enter the land of Israel, but he won’t be allowed to enter it with them. Devarim can be looked at as Moshe’s last chance to give the Children of Israel advice, just as a teacher will try to remind of all they’ve taught you before you leave him/her for the summer holiday.

If Devarim is Moshe’s last words of advice, Haazinu is Moshe’s last call to the Children of Israel with his most important thoughts, as your mother might call out to you as you are walking out the door to remind you to take a sweater. Moshe tells the people to remember Judaism, to remember Hashem, and to remember their roots. Moshe doesn’t know where the people will end up, but he knows he won’t be around to look after them and that they tend to get into trouble.

Haazinu consists of Moshe’s reminders to the Children of Israel for when they enter the land of Israel. As important as we believe first impressions to be, it is our last impressions of our friends that will remain embedded in our memories. Thinking back over my summer, I have memories of the first few weeks, but the last week of Wheels really determined how I remember people. Although God can easily recall the whole year, the way we act over the next few days reflects how we will be remembered for the entire year.

We are taught “On Rosh Hashannah it is written, and on Yom Kippur, it is sealed”-it being God’s decision to either inscribe you in the book of life or not. We are constantly given chances to repent. Even after our fate is written, we still have the chance to go back and change it.

We should take every opportunity to repent, to make things right. We won’t always be so lucky to have a second chance. Take a moment to call up that friend you haven’t gotten along with for a few weeks, or sit down with your parents if you’ve been arguing lately. While these people will most likely be around after Yom Kippur, it’s better to start out the year with a clean slate¼ on good terms with everyone, and especially, on good terms with God and with yourself.

May everyone’s year be one of blessing, and may you all have a meaningful fast on Yom Kippur. Shabbat Shalom and Shanna Tova!

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