Korach

Parshas: Korach

Parshas: Korach

This week’s Torah portion begins with the infamous rebellion led by Korach against his cousins, Moses and Aaron, claiming that the two of them had usurped power from the rest of the Jewish people. Korach, motivated by jealousy and a desire for honor, rejected Moses’ authority and claimed that the appointment of Aaron as Kohen Gadol (Head Kohen) was motivated by nepotism. Korach cleverly persuaded 250 judges and others from disaffected groups to become his followers in the rebellion. A frequent theme in the Torah is: Sooner or later G-d always gets the last word. In Korach’s case, it was sooner. What was the result of the rebellion? G-d made the earth open up to swallow Korach, the ringleaders of the rebellion, and their families. Fire consumed the remainder of the 250 rebels. The story of Korach’s rebellion concludes with an act of reconciliation — and surprisingly, a U.S. Presidential reference. The staffs of the leaders of the 12 tribes were placed near the Ark of the Covenant. To prove that the tribe of Levi and Aaron was Divinely chosen, Aaron’s staff sprouted leaves, almond blossoms and even almonds. I suppose you could say that this miracle made Aaron ….Chief of Staff!

Parsha Shelach

Parsha Shelach

Torah Portion: Shelach Numbers 13:1 – 15:41 Chumash pages 798 – 819
Maftir: Joshua 2: 1-24 Chumash pages 1184-1185

Moses is pressed by the Jewish people to send twelve spies to the Land of Canaan (later to be called the Land of Israel). Forty days later they return carrying a gigantic cluster of grapes and two other large fruits. Ten of the spies warn that the inhabitants of the land are enormous in size and that the land ‘consumes its inhabitants’. They convince the people that the land can’t be conquered. Caleb and Joshua retain their faith in G-d, insisting that the Jewish people can, indeed, conquer the land. The people weep and proclaim that they’d rather return to Egypt. This tenth expression of a profound lack of faith in G-d prompts a Divine decree that entry into the Land should be delayed forty years. This decree was made on the ninth of the Hebrew month of Av — known as Tisha B’Av. Numerous other tragedies occurred on Tisha B’Av, including the destruction of the first and second Temples and the expulsion of Spanish Jewry in 1492.

Parshas: Beha’aloscha

Beha’aloscha – בְּהַעֲלֹתְךָ

Beha’aloscha (Hebrew for “when you step up”) is thematically diverse, beginning with the daily lighting of the golden menorah in the Mishkan. The Levites are initiated into the Tabernacle service. The Torah then describes the celebration of Passover in the second year in the desert, complete with the bringing of the Korban Pesach (Passover offering).  Some men could not bring the offering due to ritual impurity, and were thus commanded to celebrate Pesach Sheni, a ‘make-up Passover’ a month later. Lesson: Second chances are available.  Additionally, the standard procedure by which the Jewish people would break camp to travel in the desert is described. Soon after leaving Mt. Sinai, the people begin to kvetch. Spurred by the mixed multitude of insincere converts who joined the Jewish people upon leaving Egypt, the complaining is directed toward the manna, their daily miraculous portion of heavenly bread. G-d sends a massive flock of quail which the people gather to eat; those who had complained about the lack of food overstuff themselves and die during this supernatural event.  The portion concludes with Miriam speaking loshon hara (defamatory words) to Aaron about their brother Moses.  She is punished by G-d with tzaraas (a skin condition indicating a spiritual deficiency) and is quarantined outside the camp for seven days.

Parshas: Naso

Parshas: Naso

Among the topics appearing in Naso is the mitzvah of the ‘Sotah’. When compelling circumstantial evidence suggests an act of marital infidelity may have taken place, the Torah provides a means to clarify the hoped-for innocence of the suspect parties. Contained in this mitzvah is dissolving G-d’s name that was written on a parchment. We learn from this the supreme importance of shalom bayis — peace in the home. If G-d allows His Holy Name to be erased for the sake of peace between husband and wife, certainly each of us should seek shalom bayis with our spouses and other family members. What can each of us do to increase shalom bayis with those whom we love?

Parshas Naso also describes the nazir — an individual who takes a vow to refrain from drinking wine, cutting his hair, and other restrictions. Remember the story of Samson? Samson — who was a nazir — was the great Jewish judge and hero who ‘brought down the house.’

torah

Parshas: Bamidbar

Parshas: Bamidbar

This week we begin reading Sefer Bamidbar — known in English as ‘The Book of Numbers’. Bamidbar (‘in the wilderness’) begins with G-d telling Moses to take a census of all men over the age of 20. If you like names and numbers, you’ll love this week’s portion. The count reveals just over 600,000, excluding the Levites who weren’t included in the census. We also find described the manner in which the Jewish People camped around the Mishkan (Tabernacle), and the order in which they traveled during the 40 years in the desert. The Jewish People were arranged in four sections around the Mishkan; east, south, west and north. The Levites are singled out for special responsibilities. A formal transfer is made between the first-born and the Levites, whereby the Levites take over the role the first-born would have served. The sons of Levi are divided into three main families; Gershon, Kehas and Merari. Each is given a special task in transporting the Mishkan.

Parshas Emor

Parshas Emor

Following the command in last week’s portion to be sanctified and holy, Parshas Emor begins by discussing various laws directed specifically to the Kohanim and the Kohen Gadol (High Priest). Included is the command for the Kohen to refrain from becoming ritually impure through contact with a dead body (except for close relatives) and increased restrictions on whom they may marry. G-d requires those with greater spiritual responsibilities to maintain a higher standard of spiritual purity. Parshas Emor contains two of the most significant mitzvos in the entire Torah; to always be mindful of not desecrating G-d’s name, and on the contrary, to sanctify Him at all costs.

The Torah goes on to discuss the festivals of the year — Pesach, Shavous, Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, Succos and Shemini Atzeres. The festivals, including Shabbos, are referred to as moadim, appointed times; they are special days when Jews ‘meet’, as it were, with G-d.

 

The festivals interrupt our ordinary weekday activities and inspire us to rededicate ourselves to those ideals that life is really about. Later, two mitzvos in the Mishkan are stated: The daily lighting of the menorah and the display of the lechem hapanim (showbread). The portion concludes with the horrible incident of a man who
cursed G-d’s name.

Parshas Tazria – Metzora

Parshas Tazria

Parshas Tazria describes in great detail the varying manifestations of the disease called tzara’as. Although it has commonly been mistranslated as leprosy, this skin disease bears little resemblance to any bodily ailment transmitted through normal exposure. Rather, tzara’as is the physical manifestation of a spiritual malaise, a punishment from G-d primarily for the sin of speaking loshon hara. Loshon hara, meaning literally ‘the evil tongue’, is often translated as ‘gossip’. However, loshon hara is the Hebrew term for derogatory speech that is true. Motzei shem rah refers to derogatory speech about others that is false and slanderous.

The metzora (one diagnosed with tzara’as) was to be sent into isolation, tear his garments, and to call out ‘contaminated, contaminated!’ Since he abused his power of speech, sowing strife and distancing people from one another, it was fitting that he too should suffer the effects of isolation. Parshas Metzora continues the discussion of tzara’as, detailing the purification process of the metzorah. Tzara’as could afflict one’s clothing and home, and necessitate the burning of one’s clothes and demolishing of one’s home if the disease spread. The various punishments recorded in the Torah are not intended to serve as revenge for the sin; they are measures that will hopefully restore the person to the correct path.

Parshas Shemini

This week’s Torah portion begins by discussing the events which occurred on the eighth and final day of the inauguration service of the Mishkan. After months of preparation, Aaron and his sons are finally installed as Kohanim in an elaborate service. Aaron blesses the people, and the entire nation rejoices as G-d’s presence rests upon them. However, the excitement comes to an abrupt halt as Aaron’s two eldest sons, Nadav and Avihu, are consumed by a heavenly fire in the Mishkan while innovating an offering of incense on the altar. This incident stresses the need to perform the commandments only as G-d directed. Later, Moses consoles Aaron, who grieves in silence.

Have you ever wondered where the laws of kosher food come from? Parshas Shemini concludes with a listing of the kosher and non-kosher animals. The identifying signs of a kosher animal are that it has split hooves and chews, regurgitates and re-chews its food. A kosher fish is one that has both fins and scales. All birds not included in the list of forbidden fowl are permitted. However, today the identity of these non-kosher birds is doubtful. Therefore, we’re forbidden to eat any species of bird unless there is a well-established tradition that it is kosher. The Torah forbids all types of insects except for four species of locusts. Chocolate-covered grasshoppers, anyone? The laws of kashrut help us to be distinct and holy — like G-d, Himself.

Parshas: Vayikra/HaChodesh

Parshas: Vayikra

This Shabbos marks the beginning of our reading the third book of the Torah, Sefer Vayikra which deals primarily with the services and responsibilities of the Kohanim. This week’s portion focuses on many of the korbanos (offerings) to be brought in the newly-constructed Mishkan. Parshas Vayikra begins with G-d calling Moses into the Mishkan where he will receive many relevant mitzvos to be ultimately passed on to the Jewish people. The first half of the Torah portion describes the various optional korbanos brought by individuals. They can be classified into three general categories, each one comprised of several gradations in size and expense; the korban olah (elevation offering) which is completely consumed on the altar; the korban mincha (meal offering) which, because of its inexpensive contents is usually brought by someone of modest means; and the korban shelamim (peace offering) partially burned on the altar, with the remainder divided between the owners and the Kohanim. The second half of the portion (beginning with chapter four) discusses the required chatos (sin) and asham (guilt) offerings to be brought as atonement for unintentional transgressions.

Parshas: HaChodesh

Shabbos HaChodesh (“Sabbath [of the] month” החודש שבת (precedes the first of the Hebrew month of Nisan during which Pesach is celebrated. Exodus 12:1-20 and the laws of Pesach are read as the maftir aliyah, along with a special haftorah. On the first day of Nisan, Hashem presented the first commandment of how to “sanctify the new moon” (kiddush hachodesh) for the onset of Rosh Chodesh and thus Nisan becomes the first month of the Jewish year (counting by months). This special reading helps to prepare us for Pesach.

Parshas: Vayakhel—Pekudei

This week we read the final portion of Exodus, a book which began with the Jewish people enslaved to Pharaoh in Egypt and now ends with the completion of the construction of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) in the desert. Exodus is known as ‘the Book of Redemption’; redemption was achieved not only through our escape from slavery, but also through receiving the Torah on Mt. Sinai which gave purpose to that freedom. The climax of that salvation was when G-d rested His presence amongst the Jewish nation when the Mishkan was completed.

Parshas Vayakhel (Exodus 35:1 –38:20) begins with Moses assembling the entire nation of Israel to transmit the details of the construction and fabrication of the Mishkan as described in the three previous Torah portions. However, Moses first cautions them about the fundamental mitzvah to observe Shabbat. The nation is reminded that although the construction of the Mishkan is of transcendent importance, it does not take precedence over the weekly observance of Shabbat. The portion describes that the Jewish people came forward with their generous contributions for the Mishkan’s construction, producing a surplus of supplies. The craftsmen are selected and the building begins.

Parshas Pekudei (Exodus 38:21 –40:38) begins with a complete accounting of the gold, silver and copper contributed by the people for use in the Mishkan. Following Moses’ inspection and approval of the many utensils and unassembled parts, Moses sets up the Mishkan on Rosh Chodesh Nissan as each part is anointed and arranged in its proper location. And as G-d promised, His glory fills the Mishkan.
Torah Portion: Vayakhel–Pekudei Exodus 35:1-40:38 Chumash pages 516-541
Maftir Parsha Parah: Numbers 19:1-22 Chumash pages 838-842
Haftorah: Ezekiel 36:18-36 Chumash pages 1216-1217