Parsha Noach

Parsha Noach

As a result of Mankind’s evil, G-d brings a flood to destroy every living creature. Only Noah, his family, and at least one pair of every animal species were spared. Trivia question: Do you know the name of Noah’s wife? (hint — it is NOT ‘Joan of Ark’) When the flood waters begin to recede after a lengthy deluge, Noah sends forth from the ark a raven and dove to determine whether the land has dried sufficiently so that they can leave the ark to once again resettle the earth. G-d promises that He will never again destroy all of Mankind by means of a flood, and He designates the rainbow as a sign for that eternal covenant. Noah plants a vineyard, drinks from its produce and becomes drunk. In his intoxicated state, he shamefully uncovers himself. While his son Ham dealt with his father inappropriately, Noah’s other two sons, Shem and Japeth, cover their father in a respectful manner. Generations pass and the world is repopulated. The people attempt to wage war against G-d by building the Tower of Babel. G-d responds by mixing up their languages into a ‘babble’, and dispersing them across the planet.

Parshas: Ha’Azinu

Parshas: Ha’Azinu

Ha’Azinu is comprised primarily of Moses’ “song” about the horrible tragedies and supreme joy which will make up the Jewish people’s future history. While not a song in the familiar sense, Moses’ song is a blend of otherwise disparate ideas into a beautiful symphony of thought. It expresses the idea that everything that G-d does — past, present and future — somehow fits into a perfect harmony, although our limited human understanding prevents fully recognizing the wisdom of G-d.

Ha’Azinu contains the mitzvah for each Jew to write a Sefer Torah (Torah scroll). Many suggest that this mitzvah can be fulfilled by the purchase of books containing Torah content. Does your home contain any books of Torah? Today there are an abundance of excellent Torah books written in English. Let me suggest two: The Stone Chumash (5 Books of Moses), and Living Each Week by Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski. Ha’azinu concludes with G-d’s command to Moses to ascend Mount Nebo, where he will view the land of Israel and then pass away.

Moses

Parshas: Vayeilech/Shabbos Shuva

Parshas: Vayeilech

Vayelech opens with Moses walking through the Jewish camp on the final day of his life to say goodbye to his beloved people. He teaches them the mitzvah of Hakel, the once-in-seven-years gathering of the entire nation to hear the king read certain passages from the Torah. G-d commands that a special Torah, written by Moses, be placed by the Levites at the side of the Holy Ark to bear witness against Israel if they were to ever deviate from its teachings.

Shabbos Shuva

The Shabbos between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is called Shabbos Shuvah, Shabbos of Return because its special haftarah reading begins with the words Shuvah Yisrael “Return O Israel,” from the prophecy of Hoshea. It is also referred to as Shabbos Teshuvah because it falls during the Ten Days of Repentance. The prayer service on this Shabbos is the same as on an ordinary Shabbos with the exception of the additions that are made to the Amidah throughout the Ten Days of Repentance. Avinu Malkenu is not recited. In the blessing at the end of the Magen Avot prayer following evening services on Friday night, the words ha-Melech ha-Kadosh are substituted for ha-El ha-Kadosh. It is customary for the rabbi to expound on matters related to teshuvah.

Parshas Nitzavim

Nitzavim begins with Moses gathering every member of the Jewish people for the final time. He initiates them into a Covenant with G-d as the Almighty’s ‘Chosen People’. This Covenant applied not only to those present on that day, but to all future Jewish generations. A question for your consideration- how could someone not present be bound to a commitment made by their ancestors? What is the binding force today that obligates all Jews to keep a Torah accepted over 3,000 years ago?

Moses tells the people that although eventually they will sin, in time they will repent and return to the Torah, and G-d will usher in the messianic era when we all return to the land of Israel. Furthermore, he assures them that the commandments are neither distant nor inaccessible (‘it is not in heaven’). This means that a committed Jewish life is well within everyone’s reach.

Mt. Gerizim

Parshas: Ki Savo

Parshas: Ki Savo

The parsha begins by describing the annual mitzvah for farmers in Israel to bring their bikurim, or first fruits, to the Kohen in the Temple. The donor was then to recite a prayer of thanksgiving, recalling how G-d had delivered his ancestors from Egypt and brought the new generation into a land flowing with milk and honey. Moses then teaches two special mitzvos, which the Jewish people are to perform upon entering the land of Israel. First, they are to inscribe the entire Torah on twelve large stones. Second, the twelve tribes are to ratify their acceptance of the Torah in the following manner; six tribes were to stand on Mt. Gerizim, representing the blessings, while the remaining six tribes were to stand on Mt. Eival, signifying the curses. The Levites were to stand in the valley between, reciting blessings and curses which will apply respectively to those who observe and defy the Torah. The parsha concludes with a recounting of the wonderful blessings G-d will bestow upon the Jewish people for remaining faithful, and a chilling prophecy of what might happen if the Jewish people do not follow the Torah.

Parshas: Ki Seitzei

Parshas: Ki Seitzei

This week’s Torah portion contains 74 mitzvos (commandments) — more than 10% of the 613 mitzvos of the Torah. Among the highlights:

  • Guidelines for treatment of captured female prisoners of war.
  • Treatment of the ‘stubborn and rebellious son’.
  • Prohibition of wearing shatnez — a mixture of wool and linen in the same garment.
  • The case of the defamation of a married woman.
  • Men are forbidden from wearing women’s clothing and vice versa.
  • Taking interest for lending to a Jew is forbidden.
  • The requirement of a get (bill of divorce) when divorce takes place.
  • The obligation to pay workers in a timely fashion (handymen, babysitters, etc.)
  • Special consideration must be given to a widow and orphan.

This power-packed Torah portion concludes with the command to remember the atrocities which the nation of Amalek (from whom Haman came) committed against us upon our exodus from Egypt.

 

 

Parshas: Re’eh

Moses informs the Jewish people that we each face a choice; choose to observe G-d’s directions for living (i.e. the Torah) and receive blessings, or choose to ignore G-d and experience estrangement and its consequences. Moses then turns to describing a number of religious, civil and social laws relevant once the Jewish people enter the Promised Land. Included in this listing are:

  • Don’t imitate the ways of the nations surrounding you.
  • A false prophet who attempts to entice you to idolatry should be put to death.
  • Since the Torah is complete and perfect, nothing may be added to or subtracted from it.
  • Self infliction of wounds on the body as a sign of mourning is prohibited.
  • As a holy people, refrain from eating non-kosher food.
  • Be particularly warm-hearted and charitable. Many laws and guidelines concerning tzedaka (righteous giving) are found in this week’s portion.
  • The three pilgrimage festivals (Passover, Shavous and Sukkos) are opportunities to ascend (make aliyah) to Jerusalem and the Temple to celebrate our blessings.

 

Parshas: Eikev

Parshas: Eikev

Moses continues to encourage the Children of Israel to trust in G-d and in the prosperity and health which will follow if they keep the Torah. If they are careful to observe even those ‘minor’ mitzvos that are usually ‘trampled’ underfoot, he promises that they will be the most blessed of the nations of the Earth. Moses reminds them of their numerous transgressions in the desert, including the mystifying sin of the Golden Calf. Moses describes the bountiful Land of Israel filled with wheat, barley, grapes, figs and pomegranates, a land of oil-yielding olives and date-honey. He teaches the people the second paragraph of the Shema which stresses the fundamental doctrine of reward for keeping the mitzvos and the consequences of non-compliance. All that G-d requires of us, Moses says, is to love G-d, revere Him, and to observe His Torah. Easier said than done! Parshas Eikev concludes with the promise that G-d will provide the Jewish people with protection if they observe the laws of the Torah. Many are familiar with the famous phrase (found in this week’s portion), “Man does not live by bread alone.” The less-familiar second half of the verse says, “. . . but by all that comes from the mouth of G-d.” This important idea teaches that physical nourishment and external pleasures aren’t sufficient for a satisfied life. Every human being has spiritual needs that must also be met.

Please Note: Rabbi Smason will not have his Wednesday class on August 8th

Parshas: Va’eschanan

Moses continues his final speech to the Children of Israel. He tells them how he entreated G-d to allow him to enter the land of Israel, but his request was denied. Moses was allowed, however, to see the Promised Land from the peak of Mount Pisgah. Moses appeals to the people to keep the Torah, telling them to neither add to nor subtract from its mitzvos. They are told to always remember the Revelation at Mt. Sinai where every man, woman and child heard the presentation of the Ten Commandments. Moses repeats the Ten Commandments, with subtle differences between this version and that of the Book of Exodus. The Shema, found in this week’s Torah portion, expresses our belief that G-d is One and states our commitment to love and serve Him. It exhorts us to transmit Torah to the next generation, and its laws should be remembered by a ‘sign’ upon one’s hand and forehead (tefillin) and written on the doorposts of one’s home (mezuzah). Finally, Moses encourages the people to trust in G-d and remain faithful to the Torah. Intermarriage is prohibited, and the source that Jewish identity is transmitted through the mother is stated.

Parshas: Matos — Masei

Parshas: Matos — Masei

In the first of this week’s two action-packed portions, Moses teaches the rules and restrictions governing oaths and vows. Promises are serious business. When we say that we plan to do something — even something as simple as, ‘I’ll call you later’ — we’re bound by our words. Anticipating entrance into the land of Israel, the tribes of Gad and Reuben petition Moses to remain on the eastern side of the Jordan River because that land is particularly suitable for grazing their cattle. Moses, not wanting to ‘steer’ Gad and Reuben wrong, grants their request on the condition that they first help the rest of the nation in conquering the entire land of Israel before returning to settle their inheritance.

Masei (a word that means ‘journeys’) begins with a listing of the 42 encampments of the Jewish people’s 40 year journey from the Exodus until the crossing of the Jordan River into the Land of Israel. The boundaries of the Land of Israel are defined. Since the Levites would not be receiving a regular portion of the land, 48 cities are set aside for them. Cities of refuge are established; one who unintentionally murders can flee there. So ends the book of Numbers, the fourth of the Books of the Torah. Next week — on to Deuteronomy!

The 9 Days

Rosh Chodesh Av occurred on Friday, July 13. This began a period of time known as the ‘9
Days.’ The first nine days of the month of Av, and also the morning of the tenth, are days of acute mourning for the destruction of the first and second Holy Temples. In addition to the restrictions that apply to the entire three-week period, during this time we refrain from the following additional joyous activities: Eating meat and drinking wine (except for Shabbos), laundering clothing, swimming or bathing for pleasure and remodeling or expanding a home. For questions or further details, please contact Rabbi Smason.