The metzora (leper) is one of the main features of this week's parasha. The most famous reason why one became a leper was for the sin of lashon hara, speaking disparagingly about others. The Zohar comments that when the verse tells us that the atonement for this is to bring two birds as sacrifices, one bird is for not speaking nicely, and one is for not saying proper speech. What is being referred to by " not saying proper speech" and how is this on the same level as evil speech?
The Shemen HaTov explains that by not using good speech, it can be just as damaging as evil speech. Rabbi Frand shlit"a points out that at the core, they are the same issue: one can push himself up by putting down others or by not seeing the good in them and not complimenting them when appropriate.
All it takes is one wrong word said or not said to cause great hurt, but in contrast, saying one positive word or refraining from a hurtful word can build someone up so much!
Have a great Shabbos!
I hope that everyone had a wonderful Pesach!
Aharon HaKohen (Aaron) gets inaugurated in this week's parasha. He is at first very hesitant, and he needs the courage of his brother Moshe (Moses) to in fact assume his role, because he feels unworthy of such a lofty position as high priest.
The Vilna Gaon offers a fascinating thought related to this, which teaches an important lesson as well.
The Talmud says that a person should have an eighth of an eighth of gaavah, pride. The Gaon asks, what does this mean? For example, why not just say 1/64th?
To answer this, he directs us to our parasha, which is named Shmini - eighth. The eighth verse in this parasha (the eighth of the eighth!) is the verse where Aharon is told not to be so humble!
A person needs to know who he is, and when others (or even he himself) needs him, that is not the time to be unassuming. Aharon was truly humble, but when he was needed, he was able to step up and do what he had to. May we all have the clarity of thought to know when we must be humble and when we need to use the gifts we have been given.
Have a wonderful Shabbos!
Parshas Tzav/ Shabbos Hagadol / Pesach
There is so much to say as we head toward Pesach. I'd like to share with you an idea I saw from Rav Dessler which gave me a new appreciation for the Haggadah. Rav Dessler points out the number of ways in which the author of the Haggadah structured the Haggadah to reach all types of personalities. For example:
Q and A- “Ma nishtana”
Motivation - we do things differently so children will ask
Concrete Illustrations- matzo, maror, seder plate
Imaginative Suggestions “ imagine as if you yourself went out”
Breaking things down to small components: “dayeinu”
Putting things together: "al achas kama vkama", where we add up the pieces of dayeinu.
It is so important that every Jew, no matter what his background or personality feel that he belongs. He/She does belong, and our Torah and its rich heritage is accessible.
I wish everyone an enjoyable and uplifting Pesach!
Have a wonderful Shabbos!
As we close in on Pesach, I figure it would be appropriate to share a thought on the holiday.
In less than two weeks we'll be drinking 4 cups of wine, corresponding to the 4 expressions of redemption God used when freeing the Jewish people from Egypt.
The Sforno explains that one of the expressions is referring to the Jewish people seeing their "masters" dead outside the Red Sea and their no longer being slaves.
RabbI Henoch Lebowitz asks, why is this the case? Weren't they free when they were taken out of Egypt?. The Sforno seems to be implying that they were not really freed by their exodus.
The answer is that, although they were freed by leaving, they were not yet able to act as free men. They kept the slave mentality until they witnessed the reversal of events and only then did they realize their true situation.
We can apply this to our own lives. We also remain "slaves" to situations, thoughts and feelings, waiting to witness changes. Perhaps the greatest reason for personal failure in any area, especially in our spiritual growth, is lack of true appreciation for who we are. We may think, "I am just an average person, I can't do much", and thereby validate lack of success or growth. We must realize who we really are: we are all royalty, children of God.
This is one of the fundamental ideas the Pesach night can bring home to us. As we "witness" our leaving Egypt, we must internalize that we are special and capable of living a life filled with the privileges and responsibilities of a princely nation.
Have a wonderful Shabbos
Purim is finally here! This year we get to be in the swing of things even earlier, because Shabbos goes straight into Purim. Enjoy!
One of my teachers, Rabbi Yosef Lipson of the New England Rabbinical College, shared a thought about Purim which I found very helpful as I prepare myself for this holiday. Purim begs the question, Why? Why are the activities, while enjoyable, considered sacred? What is the goal that we are striving for? In fact, some of the activities of Purim seem contrary to values often taught.
Rabbi Lipson shared that what we are striving for is to get in touch with the essence of who we are and what we stand for. Yes, outer trappings and behavior are important and profoundly influence us, but in reality what we believe in is what truly defines us. There are so many activities and events where the sole difference between what is good and what is not is simply our motivation.
This is what we are striving to show on Purim. Once a year, we are trying to demonstrate that regardless of the outer trappings, we remain the same inside - someone trying to do good and be close to his Creator. This is something to think about as Purim is almost upon us.
Enjoy, celebrate, get inspired and may we all have a very happy and joyous Purim!
This week's Torah Portion deals with Business law, and through it we see how far reaching the Torah's teachings are. If we follow the Torah, there is a guiding light for everything.
One particular scenario discussed is a case where one sees an animal collapsing from the load on its back, and this animal belongs to your enemy. The Torah says that you must put aside your feelings and help him.
Commentators explain that even if after helping this animal and person, one will go back to hating the person, one must still offer help.
We learn from this the tremendous ability we have to sometimes "turn the switch" and rise to the occasion when we need to and not use negative feelings as an excuse not to.
Have a wonderful Shabbos!
If last week's Torah portion was one of the most exciting episodes in history, this week's parsha contains the ultimate event in world history: G-d's revelation to the Jewish people at the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. Amidst the description of this cataclysmal event, G-d says, "And you shall be my treasure among the nations, for the entire world is Mine." Rashi comments on these seemingly superfluous words; we know there are many nations in the world and all belong to G-d!
Rabbi Henoch Leibowitz understands that Rashi is explaining that the Jewish people already had a relationship with G-d, and on some level, they may not have fully realized and appreciated what was happening. So, G-d is making a point to state the obvious.
This may seem surprising, but it brings out a very common human phenomenon. We often take situations, and especially people, for granted. With a spouse, a person can forget that there was a world from which to choose and the spouse chose that person. Or with a job that a person has held for years, the boss chose that person and continues to supply him with a job.
G-d never wants us to forget the deep love He has for us; this is something to cherish and to live up to as we again experience becoming "the chosen nation."
Have a great Shabbos!
This week, the Torah portion describes one of the most incredible episodes in world history: the splitting of the Red Sea and the many miracles that took place there. We also read about the beginning of the Jewish people's 40-year trek in the desert. When the Torah describes a particular segment of the journey, the verse reads, "v'lo nacham Elokim...," which literally means, "and G-d did not lead them..." However, in the Midrash, an alternative reading is given: "and God was not comforted." The Midrash explains that although the Jewish people were free and their enemies were punished, G-d still felt the pain that the Jewish people had experienced. G-d loves us so much that He was not "getting over it."
G-d demonstrates His love for us by remembering our good deeds for many years after we perform them. For instance, Jeremiah tells us that G-d says that He will save the Jewish people because of their devotion to Him in the desert 1500 years earlier.
We may often find it hard to conjure up feelings of love for G-d. Rabbi Akiva Eiger points out that there is a prayer that we say daily right before the Shema which declares how much G-d loves us. When we contemplate how much G-d cares about us, it is then much easier to have those same feelings for Him.
G-d really does love us more than we love ourselves!
Have a great Shabbos and and Tu B'shvat!
The story of the slavery of the Jewish people climaxes this week as they leave Egypt. Rabbeinu Bachya (mid-13th century - 1340; noted for his kabbalah, Jewish mysticism, into the study of the Torah) points out that there seems to have been an emphasis on Pharaoh and his palace. Why?
He explains that it is clear from the story that Pharaoh was most arrogant. When in his palace, he was at his "best." He needed to keep this attitude to maintain his position of preventing the Jewish people from leaving.
Rabbi Henoch Leibowitz points out that we see from this that when a person surrounds himself with external things that are too showy and frivolous, it can affect him, and it can even turn catastrophic, as was the case with Pharaoh.
This is a very timely message, as today in society so much is judged and based on material acquisitions. Nice and comfortable possessions are great, but we need to keep in mind not to let things go too far.
Have an enjoyable Shabbos!