Musings of an Orthodox Jew

Thoughts on Torah and the Jewish world today.

Parshas Tzav 5770- Chavitei Kohen Gadol

Parshas Hashavuah Question: What lesson applicable to us all can be learnt from the Chavitei Kohen Gadol that?
was offered half in the morning and half in the afternoon?

Vayikra (Leviticus) Chapter 6 v13. This is the offering of Aaron and his sons, which they shall offer to the Lord, on the day when [one of them] is anointed: One tenth of an ephah of fine flour for a perpetual meal offering, half of it in the morning and half of it in the evening. יג. זֶה קָרְבַּן אַהֲרֹן וּבָנָיו אֲשֶׁר יַקְרִיבוּ לַי־הֹוָ־ה בְּיוֹם הִמָּשַׁח אֹתוֹ עֲשִׂירִת הָאֵפָה סֹלֶת מִנְחָה תָּמִיד מַחֲצִיתָהּ בַּבֹּקֶר וּמַחֲצִיתָהּ בָּעָרֶב:

15. And the kohen who is anointed instead of him from among his sons, shall prepare it; [this is] an eternal statute; it shall be completely burnt to the Lord. טו. וְהַכֹּהֵן הַמָּשִׁיחַ תַּחְתָּ יו מִבָּנָיו יַעֲשֶׂה אֹתָהּ חָק עוֹלָם לַי־הֹוָ־ה כָּלִיל תָּקְטָר:

This weeks Parsha Tzav: Vayikra (Leviticus) 6:1-8:36

The best explanaton of why the Chavitei Kohen Gadol was offered in two parts is one I read in Darash Moshe- a collection of some of Rav Moshe Feinstein zs”l lessons on the Torah. R’ Moshe points out that the lesson here is that spirituality is not something of the moment. We do not wake up in the morning, put on tefillin, daven shacharis, and then forget about it till later in the day. Instead, we are required to maintain that spirituality throughout the day- just as the Kohen Gadol had to be at an elevated spiritual level in the morning when he offered the first part of the sacrifice, he had to be at the same elevated level of spirituality later in the day when he offered the second part of the sacrifice.

In my mind, we can extend this even further. We all wake up in the morning, fresh, ready and filled with good intentions. After we haved davened, eaten breakfast and started working, all that excess energy dissipates and the good intentions do not always materialise. As it states at the start of Shulkhan Aruch Orach Hachaim in the very first halachah “One should strengthen himself like a lion to get up in the morning to serve his Creator, so that it is he who awakens the dawn.” However, the Chavitei Kohen Gadol emphasises that it is not enough to just get up and be this way in the morning, but we have to maintain this atitude throuhout the day! As the Rema says in his gloss to this halachah quotin the Tur “And when he lies on his bed he should know before Whom he lies, and as soon as he wakes up from sleep he should rise eagerly to the service of his Creator, May He Be Blessed and Exalted (Tur).” When we lie down at night, we should be as mindful of the presence of G-d as when we wake up in the morning. The Rema also quotes Tehilim 16:8 ‘”I have set the Lord before me constantly”- yet another emphasis that our striving for spirituality, our intention to stay at a physical high, is the same throughout the day-the Kohen Gadol had the Chavitei split into two to emphasise and to teach us this important lesson.

As always, comments, discussions, correction etc are welcomed

March 23, 2010 Posted by | Parshah, Torah | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Chanukkah and Teshuvah

When speaking about Channukah, people seldom talk about it and its relationship to Teshuvah (repentance) and Kiruv (outreach to bring Jews back to Judaism).  To me, these seem to be central themes.  Think about it his way:  Why do the Jews revolt? Over taxes?  Over land appropriation?  How about over not having self-rule and living in an “occupied territory”?  No- these matters all are insufficient to drive them to rebel and risk their lives.  The Greeks were a vastly superior power- their army was massive, they ruled a huge empire at the time and were THE world power!  What does drive the Jews to finally rebel?  The order to place an idol in the Temple and sacrifice a pig to it.

In itself, this would be bad- but we also know that many Jews had been attracted to the Greek philosophy and its grounding in this world.  It was attractive, logical, and easily studied- it provided concrete benefits in the here and now in that you then fitted into the ruling culture, became one of them and could move freely and enjoy a better lifestyle.  The Chanukkah story is not just about the miltiary victory, but about a spiritual one as well.  An interesting thing to note is that when we say the insert of Al Hanissim in Birkat HaMazon, the miracle of the oil is not mentioned, but it mentions the great military victory.  What does this teach?  That we won the war because Hashem created a miracle for us; the miracle of the oil was to emphasise that and to make sure it would be understood as such and not to see it as a purely physical victory.

But how does this relate to Tesahuvah and Kiruv?  The oil gives us the clue to this:  a small vial of pure oil is found.  This relates to the fact that a small amount of pure Jews remained while the majority had become Hellenised.  It also has a deeper message- it relates to the holy spark, the soul that is always there no matter how deeply buried it is beneath the trapings of having taken on another religion or committing great misdeeds.  With the correct behaviour, that spark can burn far more than its size would indicate.  It can transcend the physical and become something much greater that elevates us into the realm of the holy.  Mystically, the number 7 is seen as representing completeness in this world, a melding of the spiritual and the physical.  The Shabbos completeing the creation and making it whole- but the number 8 is seen as transcending that, bringing this world beyond the mundane, into the wholly spiritual.  Thus the eight candles of the Channukiah are a symbol of this. 

What is that small vial of oil teaching us?  That no matter how far we have fallen, how deeply we have buried our inherent holiness, we can always recover.  We can always repent and then that small element of holiness, that small vial of oil, brings us closer to Hashem- and once we approach Hashem, he takes over, he sustains us and we can reach beyond the limits we perceive to truly elevate ourselves spiritually.

Where do we see a message of Kiruv? The Hasmoneans fought against the Greeks and the Hellenised Jews- but afterwards they reached out, brought those estranged Jews back intot the fold, brought them back into the mainstream of Bnei Yisrael. Some remained Hellenised and lost to Judaism, but the majority of them returned to Judaism. It is seen in another way- we light the Chanukkah candles because of the dictum of the sages that we must publicise the miracle; this, too is a reaching out to the estranged and saying, “Come back, return, realise what it is that Hashem does for his people.” As I have frequently quoted from Pirkei Avot “Kol Yisrael arazim zeh lah zeh, v’yesh l’kol Yisrael chelek b’olam haba” “All of Isreal is responsible one for another, and for all of Israel there is a place in the world to come.” So this Chanukkah, lets watch these candles burning with a guest, with someone who would not light candles for themselves- and hope that this simple action will ignote the pach shemen (small vial of oil) within to a great flame of Teshuvah.

December 15, 2009 Posted by | Chagim, Torah | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Parshas Shemini 5769- And you will be Holy

IN this weeks parsha the laws relating to Kashrut are given.  The laws start out with the statement “Speak to Moses and to Aaron”  and then in the next verse goes on to say “Speak to the childrenof Israel to say”.  Rashi states that the first verse was to show the merit of Aaron and his sons who remained silent and did not blame G-d for the death of Ndab  and Abiayu- thet they all merited to teach these laws to Bnei Yisrael.  The next verse is to show that it is not just the Kohanim that need ot obey these laws- but all of Bnei Yisrael.

With the Kosher laws, the most common question is:  Why?  Why restrict ourselves in such a fashion?  Rashi gives an answer based on these first two verses.  HE compares it to a physician that visits two patients- one who is incurable and one who can get well.  To the incurable patient he forbids nothing; after all, what would be the point, he may as well enjoy what he can while he can.  To the patient that can get well, he forbids certain things- saying frink this, eat that.  The same applies to Kashrut- to the non-Jew with the seven Noachide laws, the aim of the laws of Kashrut would be meaningless- they are akin to the patient that cannot get well in the sense that they should enjoy the fruits of this world, as their place in the world to come will be limited.  To Bnei Yisrael, with their Holy mission, their future place in the world to come has far more potential- thus like the patient who can recover they are told how to limit themselves so they will “get better” and improve themselves.

This is further reinforced by the latter statement “כִּי אֲנִי יְ־הֹוָ־ה הַמַּעֲלֶה אֶתְכֶם מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם לִהְיֹת לָכֶם לֵאלֹהִים וִהְיִיתֶם קְדֹשִׁים כִּי קָדוֹשׁ אָנִי:” For I am the Lord Who has brought you up from the land of Egypt to be your God. Thus, you shall be holy, because I am holy.”  We keep kosher not because it is healthy for us physically- but for our spiritual health!  The sickness in this case is not physical, but the impurities of this world as it comes into our body.  Essentially G-d is telling us “You are what you eat.”   Eat as I told you, and you will be spiritually healthy; neglect to do so and you are the patient who refuses to follow the advice of their doctor and gets sicker.

As I write this, we are all preparing for Pesach.  The chometz is sold, the houses cleaned.  We are all ready to do the search for chametz tonight.  And, again, we see the link between spirituality and food.  If our normal diet is not restricted enough- along comes Pesach and restricts us even further!  Out with the chometz, all the leaven- and many tasty foods along the way.  Spiritualy we are told that chometz represents hubris, pride- the swelling of our egos that leads to sin.  As we are being redeemed from Egypt, this is not the time for pride, but to realise how much we owe to Hashem, how much we are reliant upon him.  Thus, once again we are told how to change our diet to let this awareness filter through to our souls.  And this commandment is backed up by the statement that failure to perform it will be punishable by kares- spiritual excission, the worst possible punishment that any soul can experience!  Overkill for having a slice of bread or cake?  Not when you look at the implications- we are what we eat.  The laws of Kashrut are to make us holy, the lack of chametz to teach us humility and service to G-d.  When we ignore thta, when we eat chametz on Pesach- we reject that Holiness, we bury ourselves in the mundane and profane- even more, we place ourselves alongside Hashem.  No longer are we saying that it is solely with the mighty hand and outstretched arm of Hashem that we were redeemed from slavery, but that we had some part in it!  We reject the message of that first Korban Pesach- the explicit negation of idoltary and worship of other gods by placing ourselves alongside Hashem.

A Chag Kosher v’Sameach to all reading this

Note:  As always I welcome criticisms, comments, corrections or additions.

April 7, 2009 Posted by | Chagim, Parshah, Torah | , , , , , , , , , , , | 22 Comments