Musings of an Orthodox Jew

Thoughts on Torah and the Jewish world today.

Acharei Mot Kedoshim 5769- More on our Holiness?

Acharei Mot continues straight on after the giving of the laws of kashrut and the injunction that we must be holy because Hashem is holy.  So how doe sit continue?  Acharei Mot contains three main sections:  The Yom Kippur avodah, the prohibition against offering sacrifices in the fields away from the Mizbeach and the Kohanim and then the sexual prohibitions.  Kedoshim contains a whole slew of laws- from not stealing and bserving the Shabbos  to repeating the sexual imoralities and their punishments, laws against lashon hara and perverting justice.  IN all, there are 69 laws either brought for the first time or repeated in this parshah- and what do we find in the middle of it “34. The stranger who sojourns with you shall be as a native from among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. I am the Lord, your God.”

What can we learn from all of this?  This mix of laws that relate to our behaviour towards G-d as well as our behaviour towards our fellow man- and the dictum quoted as Hillel as being the essence of the Torah “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  Perhaps we cvan relate it back to the last two posts I made- the reason for Korbanot and the Torah teaching us how to be holy.

Think about this way- these two parshiot follow on from the teaching that we must be holy because G-d is holy.  the ews are there to enable the purpose of the world to be fulfilled- for the Torah to be rbought out and studied.  But this world is both physical and spiritual- the laws of how we relate to g-d are just as important as how we relate to our fellow man.  So G-d tells us how not to be- not to follow the practices of Egypt and the residents of Canaan when it comes to sexual immorality- that such behaviour is a debasement of the person, bringing them down to an animal level just as unrestricted diet brings us down to the physical level of animals in just eating what is there instead of moderating it- this point reinforced when the two sets fo laws are discussed together at the end of prashas Kedoshim.  But at the same time we see the laws being given as to how we must offer sacrifices, how a sacrifce offered away from the mizbeach is a grave sin- one punishable by kares (spiritual excission) and we are also given the laws of Yom Kippur- the ultimate day of atonement and of the nation as a whole seeking forgiveness.  And what do we juxtapose against all fo this- Hillel’s statement: “Love your neighbor as yourself”- along with the prohibition against Lashon hara which is brought by our sages to be even worse than murder in various curcumstances!

These two parshiot reinforce the relationship between us and G-d- the governing of our conduct so that we will be holy, like G-d- but they also emphasise an essential part of that relationship- that how we act towarfds our fellow man is just as much a part of how we act towards G-d!  If every man has that element of divinity in them from G-d, then every man is essentially representaive of G-d and should be treated with the respect and dignity due to him as such.  what their station is, how much money they have, whether they are great sages or an Am Ha’aretz is not material- every man needs to be treated with dignity, respect and deference.  No one can say what soul inhaboits any body.  This si the point Hillel was making when he stood on one leg and said “The whole Torah is “Love your neighbor as yourself”, the rest is commentary.  Now go study.”  The Torah teaches us that to grasp for that holiness that G-d wants us to achieve cannot be done by being ascetics, cutting ourselves off from the world and isolating ourselves from our fellow man.  To be holy interacting with our fellow man is just as important as interacting with G-d- loving our fellow man, recognising that essential divine spark driving towards holiness in our fellow man is to recognise the Torah and G-d in thew world- to realise that relating to holiness is not merely to elevate ourselves, but everyone around us, the world as whole!  We talk about the sacrifices repairing the relationship between us and Hashem with the Korban chatas or Asham- or cementing the relationship with the others- but taking the “Love youre neighbor” dictum into account we can understand why on Sukkot seventy bulls were sacrificed on the mizbeach- not for us, but for the nations of the world.  Thus in Masechta Sukkot is states that if the nations of the world had realised how much they benefited form the Temple, they would have worked to defend it and never to harm it.

And what happens when we forget this dictum?  When this essential element of the Torah- “Love your neighbor as yourself is forgotten?”  Well, we are told that the first Temple was destroyed because of idoltary, the breakdown in the relationship between us and G-d; but the second temple was destroyed because of Sinat Chinam, baseless hatred, a breakdown in the relationship between man and man- and which has resulted in the worse ecile, the greatest suffering?

April 30, 2009 Posted by | Parshah, Torah | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Parshas Tetzaveh 5769 – Pomegranates, bells and speech…

This weeks parshah reviews some of the kelim and then the begadim of the Kohanim- prior to telling Moshe how he was going to inaugurate Aharon and his sons.   One of the garments that the Kohen Gadol wore was the “Robe of the Ephod”.  This was a blue robe- made entirely of techeiles with woven pomegranates alternating with golden bells (the opinion of Rashi- Ramban states that the bells were inside the pomegrantes).

Now theres an interesting concept brought here- that the bells served to announce the Kohen Gadol as he entered the Kodesh haKodashim- as a herald announces those who apear before a king- that the announcement of these bells caused the angels that attended G-d to remove themselves, and that without these bells, they would have slain the Kohen gadol for coming into the Kodesh HaKodashim.  Simlarly, as he left, the bells announced that fact and the attendant angels returned to their place before G-d.  Thus these bells served to preserve the life of the Kohen Gadol

In the Midrash d’Rabbi Alshich, he remarks on the sins that each of the various garments atoned for.  What sin did the Robe of the Ehopd atone for?  That of Lashon HaRa.  He remarks that the souns of the bells as the Kohen gadol moved, their “sounding off”, is as the “sounding off” of people engaged in gossip.  Rambam sees the misuse of speech as a major issue, the Chofetz Chaim in his work Shmiras halashon goes into the seriousness of lashon ha’ra and how it should be avoided at all costs.  Think of it- it is said thtat when two people talk Torah together, the angels come and listen- yet when speech is misused it can cause a person “to go white”- to be as if they had died from embarresment, or destroy reputations and livelihoods.  Speech can be the most constructive and educational of forces- but at the other extreme the most destructive of forces.  The ephod was an outer garment, all in the techeiles which represents Oland haBa, and the holiness connected to it, a reminder to the person enveloped within.

How can we combine these ideas?  Perhaps in the holiness of speech we can see the protection of the Kohen Gadol- just as holy speech elevates us, brings the angels to hear us, thus the reminder of that holy speechthat elevates and protects us from the virtues attached to it.  The clappers within the bells are reminders of the tongue- but here the clappers are made of gold, the shell is made of gold.  The sound is not the oudest or hardest of bells- but is softer.  Thus the sound, while reminders of speech- are reminders of holy speech- the blue of the robe a reminder to elevate out speech- that our tongues should be like the clappers; gold and producing words of value.

March 4, 2009 Posted by | Parshah, Torah | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Parshat Korach

Korach, a name that is infamous for rebellion, a name from the Torah that we view with distaste due to his actions. This week’s parsha mainly centers around the actions of Korach and his followersand that is what I am going to concentrate on (so, I’m like everyone else, choosing the easy part to comment on!) As always, please note that I am not a Rabbi and if you find any issues, corrections or adjustements needed, let me know!

So, lets first look at Korach. At first glance, the actions of Korach seem to be nowhere near as serious as the punishment that they get from it. So what is the seriousness of his actions? There seem to be two main issues with his actions- the mocking of Torah (and Moses) and that of Lashon HaRa.

Korach comes to Moses, challenging his leadership and the Torah he is teaching. The midrash states that he and his follows donned four cornered garments completely dyed with techeilat and without tzitzit and came to Moses to ask if they needed tzitzit. Moses replied yes. Next they asked if a house is filled with Torah’s, does it still require Mezuzot. Once again Moses replied yes. At this, Korach started mocking Moses stating that how could two threads of techeilet validate a garment but an entire garment was unkosher? How could a small section of the Torah validate the house by the mitzvah but rooms full of Torah did not? Essentially, he claimed Moses was making up the Torah and that it was illogical.

More than that, he claimed that Moses was grabbing power for his family and abusing power. At this, the Torah states “Moses fell upon the ground”. Now, compared to the attacks on the Torah and Moses family, why this extreme reaction to claims of abuse of power? The Baal HaTurim states that Moses heard rumours that he was supposedly abusing power to commit adultery with the women of Bnei Yisrael. He now understood the source of the rumours and the extent to which Korach and his followers had fallen!

The subsequent happenings are for the purpose of showing Bnei Yisrael that Moses was correct, that what he taught came from God and the depths to which Korach and his followers had sunk- using lashon hara to try and achieve political ends, regardless of the damage it would inflict on the nation if Moses and the Torah were discredited! This is also the reason for the punishment- it had to be extreme to emphasise the heinous nature of trying to discredit the Torah and of speaking lashon hara. By it including all the followers of Korach, it also taught that lashon hara is like a disease that spreads, contaminating those that indulge in it and poisoning them forever. However, the fact that the plague was stopped also shows that we can repent even from such a heinous deed, though that repentance is difficult.

June 25, 2008 Posted by | Parshah, Torah | , , , | Leave a comment