In the Haftarah from next week's Torah portion, we find the following verse from Micha 6: "He has told you, man, what is good, and what G-d seeks of you: only the performance of justice, the love of kindness, and walking humbly with your G-d." One could incorrectly interpret this verse and think that all G-d wants is that we do kindness and justice according to what we may feel is right.
The irony of this is that this week's Torah portion discusses the red heifer, the cow whose ashes were used for purification. The commentators explain that this mitzvah is the epitome of a "chok," a mitzvah we don't understand. A chok teaches us, among other ideas, that whether or not we understand a mitzvah should not dictate whether we perform the mitzvah.
Yes, we must certainly act kindly and use justice in our actions, but that is not where it stops and that is not our definition of doing mitzvos. We must do justice and kindness according to what G-d thinks is right, even if we don't understand it.
Have a wonderful Shabbos!
This week's Torah Portion continues the drama of the Jewish People in the desert. Korach stages an uprising against Moshe, and causes a rift resulting in the earth opening up and enveloping Korach (Moshe's cousin) and his entire entourage. The Torah tells us, "Do not be like Korach and his assembly." This is the source for prohibition against quarreling.
Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz ztz"l has a quite witty yet profound take on this verse. Not that WE should not be like Korach, but that there will never be an argument for the rest of history that is completely one-sided. All other fights after Korach's will, even in a small way, be two-sided.
G-d is teaching us that even if we are correct, it is wrong to fight. Whatever it takes to avoid it - swallowing one's pride or even spending time or money - it is worthwhile. It's part of the cost that we pay for doing what's right!
Have a wonderful Shabbos!
This week's parasha contains the infamous episode of the twelve spies who were sent to look at the land of Israel. This ended in catastrophe as ten of the twelve came back with a negative report. This episode can be examined on many levels, but I'd like to bring out one point here. Moshe's prize student Yehoshua (Joshua) was one of the twelve sent. Moshe was concerned, as he understood that on some level, there was something incorrect going on with the spies. Moshe changed Yehoshua's name, adding the letter yud, one of the letters of G-d's name, so that Yehoshua would have the strength to stand up to the pressure of what was about to happen.
The Targum Yonasan translation and commentary adds that when Moshe made this name change, it was because he saw Yehoshua's humility. What does this mean?
Moshe was concerned that precisely because of Yehoshua's humble and peace-loving nature, he might not be able to or deem it appropriate to stand up for what is right. There are times when one needs to stand up for what's right and let things fall as they may, and Moshe wanted Yehoshua to have this strength.
Have a wonderful Shabbos and stay cool!
This week's parasha begins with the Jews being instructed to light the menorah in the mishkan (tabernacle). The Midrash says that G-d told the Jewish people that the lighting was not for His sake but rather to elevate them in the eyes of the other nations.
The Midrash continues with a parable. There was once a blind man and a sighted man who were traveling together. Throughout the trip, the sighted man assisted the blind man in every way possible. When they reached their destination, the sighted man requested that the blind man help him light a candle. The sighted man said that he did not want the blind man to be indebted to him; he wanted him to feel helpful as well. .
The Midrash continues that G-d took care of everything in the desert, and the menorah was His chance to 'allow' the Jewish people to do something. The question is, would one really feel better if he knows he's not really helping?
Rav Leibowitz explains with a very deep insight into human behavior. There are two types of kindness. One is kindness out of compassion: We feel bad for someone and we help him. The other is kindness out of love. When we receive this type of kindness, we don't feel bad. We feel that someone loves us. The sighted man in the Midrash was showing that what he did was out of love, and with the Menorah, G-d is showing us this as well.
May we all nurture good feelings towards one another so that we may be able to truly give!
Have a great Shabbos!
Wow! What a Shavuos we had here in Providence! I feel like I am in a cloud. There was so much learning and communal rejoicing; it was very special to be a part of it. I was inspired by so many ideas that I heard and read, and I'd like to share one of them with you now.
I have been intrigued for a while as to why Shavuos seems to not be as well-known a holiday as others. I had thought that perhaps it was because there is no tangible object associated with Shavuos, as the shofar is to Rosh Hashanah or the menorah is to Chanukah. Perhaps this makes the holiday more difficult to "market"?
I saw a beautiful idea which helped me get a great perspective on this. Shavuos is known in the commentaries as the wedding of the Jewish people with G-d. It is about our relationship with G-d. An object wouldn't do it justice, as we are celebrating the giving of the Torah, which defines this relationship. Relationships do not come from epiphanies but rather from hard work and time put into them. Hence the name Shavuot, weeks. This is a holiday which is the culmination of developing ourselves to strengthen our relationship with G-d and the Torah.
May we all take the energies which this time of year affords us and use them to foster our most cherished relationship with our loving G-d.
Have a wonderful Shabbos!
Parashas Naso ~ Shavuos
Shavuos is right around the corner! We relive and rejoice in our receiving the Torah at Mt. Sinai over 33 centuries ago. One of the famous parts of the "Mt. Sinai experience" was the Jewish people's saying 'We will listen and we will do" (Naaseh V'Nishma). They trusted in G-d and accepted everything even before they'd heard all of the details!
The Talmud relates a story concerning the great sage Rava, who once was challenged with the criticism that the Jewish people were rash in not hearing out God and continue to be that way. Rava responded that they were sincere and trusted that G-d wouldn't give us something we could not do.
Rav Leibowitz understand this response in the following deep manner. When one is sincere and truthful, he is able to trust the sincerity of others. When one is not, he projects himself onto others and suspects insincerity and lack of truth in them.
As we experience this special time of year again, when we received our beautiful most precious gift, may we work on ourselves to be more sincere and truthful in order to strengthen our relationships in general and specifically with our beloved Father in Heaven.
Have a beautiful Shabbos and an uplifting Shavuos!
During the days between the beginning of Pesach (Passover) and
Shavuos, we count the omer each evening. On Shavuos, we celebrate
having received the Torah at Mt. Sinai. We are therefore counting the
days until we receive the Torah. The sefer haChinuch, a classical
commentator, asks what has become a well-known question. We know
that often, if one is looking forward to an event, he counts down
towards that event. For example, we often see that young children
count down to an event happening using language like "only 3 days left
until ___! Only 2 days left! Only one day left!". However, here, when
we count the omer, we increase our count each night. We are certainly
looking forward to receiving the Torah on Shavuos, so why don't we
count down towards that event? Why do we count up?
Rabbi Gibber offers the following answer. In the days leading up to
Shavuos, we are supposed to work on ourselves, so that we will merit
receiving the Torah. If we start off our counting with 49, it will be
very daunting because we see the 48 days ahead of us in their
entirety, and each day requires our working on ourselves in a
Therefore, we count upwards. We add a number each day, and each day we
can reflect on what we have accomplished the previous day. This is in
general the way we should approach mitzvos. We should try to
accomplish what we can each day, and instead of looking at the large
task before us, we should take one day at a time and try to achieve as
much as we can in that day.
Have a wonderful Shabbos and an enjoyable Shavuos!
Parashas Behar- Bechukosai
We have a double header parasha again! The second Torah portion we read this week starts off with the verse, "If you walk in my laws." The Midrash on this quotes King David as saying, I contemplated my path, and my feet returned me to Your testimony. The Midrash explains that every day, King David had an agenda, but he ultimately headed back to study the sacred Torah.
Rav Henoch Leibowitz ztz"l analyzes this Midrash. Certainly King David did not plan to do wasteful things during his day! As King, he had very important things to do! Rav Leibowitz concludes that certainly he fulfilled his responsibilities as king; the challenge he faced daily was what had to be done and how to do it. He was ultimately guided by his desire to be close to G-d, which helped him stay focused and make the correct decisions on what had to be done in what ways.
We all face this dilemma daily; we have so many things to do and so many places to be! Often, we are able to find time for things that we really want to do. The trick is to work on ourselves and have our priorities and interests where we want them to be, so that automatically we make prudent decisions, enabling us to get as much done as possible yet still have time for things that are important to us.
Have a great Shabbos - the countdown to receiving the Torah is almost finished!
I heard an interesting idea this week while I was in Chicago. This idea was shared after mid-day prayer services in an office building!
The 15th of Iyar, this past Thursday, is an auspicious time to ask God for help with our parnussa, livelihood. It was the day in history when the Jewish people ran out of matza in the desert and asked God for food. He responded by sending manna, which provided for them for 40 years. An incredible response!
The speaker encouraged us to trust in God , and to remember to ask Him for His help in all areas, including our need for parnussa, ample livelihood.
A suggestion was given to further increase our merit, to "deserve" a generous livelihood. Our sages tell us that if we look away and "give in" when others slight us, then God will also "look the other way" and give us what we need even if we don't totally "deserve" it.
May we always take comfort in our loving God in Heaven who wants to, and always will, bestow good upon us.
Have a great Shabbos!
Parshas Acharei Mos- Kdoshim
This week, a double header (double portion), is filled to the brim with fascinating topics.
One episode of interest, is when the two oldest son's of Aaron the kohen gadol (high priest) were punished for not following the instructions for the temple service. it is clear from all commentaries that they were well meaning people with sincere intentions. So what was so wrong with what they did?
Last week at Partners in Torah, Rabbi Lapin gave the following analogy. Every year, a devoted husband gave his wife chocolates on their anniversary. Finally after ten years of marriage his wife, musters up her courage and says, "Thanks for all the presents, all these years, but I really don't like chocolate". So the next year for their anniversary the husband, remembering how much HE liked chocolate, again bought his wife chocolates.
As silly as this sounds, we all know that when we give to someone we need to think and take into account what THEY would want. We need to do this in our relationship with God as well. We need to be sincere and we need to be interested in what HE wants of us, the same way we should in any other relationship. To not do so shows a lack of care and concern, just as it would in any other relationship.
Have a great Shabbos!
Rabbi Naftali Karp
Every week Rabbi Karp sends out thoughts about the weekly Torah portion. Enjoy!