One of the most emotionally draining aspects of each Chag is the Ashkenazic practice to recite Yizkor, asking HaKadosh Baruch Hu to remember our dearly loved ones. The need to ask someone to remember is predicated upon the fact that one assumes that the individual to whom the request is made would have forgotten had the request never been presented to him. With regard to God this is obviously meaningless, for He remembers everything. This concept is evident from Rosh Hashanah, when we declare during Tefilat Zichronot, "Ki Ein Shikcha Meneged Einecha“, “nothing is ever forgotten by You [HaKadosh Baruch Hu].” How, then, are we to understand the thrust of the Yizkor service?
At the conclusion of Parshat Yitro, which is read on the first day of Shavuot (20:15), we encounter Am Yisrael, petrified from hearing God’s voice during Matan Torah, begging Moshe to speak to God directly and then forward His message to them. Moshe denies their request; he explains that it is of utmost importance to hear the word of God directly, "LeVaavur Teheyeh Yirato Al Peneichem Lebilti Techeta’u," “so that the fear of God will be present to discourage you [Bnei Yisrael] from transgression” (ibid.17). When a person experiences a moment of weakness, the very thought of having heard God’s voice will hopefully serve as deterrent. Today, it is difficult to create that image in our minds. Although the Midrash believes that every Jewish soul ever to be born was actually at Har Sinai, in a material world it is hard to recognize and appreciate that idea. However, we fondly utilize another mechanism: we provide titles and descriptions to many of our Biblical heroes and try to imitate their unique characteristics. These include Moshe Rabbeinu, Avraham Avinu, and Eliyahu HaNavi. Yet only one has earned the title of Tzaddik, the righteous one, Yosef HaTzaddik. Why was Yosef given this extraordinarily special title? Yosef was able to resist temptation with Potifar’s wife. It is taught that he was able to resist her since he perceived “Diyukno Shel Aviv,” the image of his father, which reminded him of the proper way to conduct himself.
As we recite the Yizkor, we, too, summon before us the image of a parent, a sibling, a Rebbe, who serve as wonderful spiritual role models. It is our challenge to emulate their noble example. The Yizkor is more for us than it is for God. If we choose to remember and learn from them, then HaKadosh Baruch Hu will certainly remember and reward. The challenge of Yizkor is daunting but can also be extremely satisfying, especially because fits into the framework of Simchat Yom Tov, the essence of which is to become closer to God.
by Jeremy Jaffe
One of the many topics in Parshat Naso is the Nazir, the person who tries to become closer to Hashem by abstaining from certain activities and items. In 6:8, the Torah says about a Nazir, “All the days of his separation, he is Kodesh to Hashem” (6:8). The Torah proceeds to discuss what the Nazir must do if he accidentally comes in contact with a dead body, including bringing a Korban Asham and a Korban Chatat. The Torah specifically connects the Nazir’s Asham to the fact that “his abstinence was impurified” (6:12), but regarding the Chatat the Torah just says, “VeChiper…MeiAsher Chata Al HaNefesh,” “he shall atone for…that which he sinned regarding the soul” (6:11), which is not as clear a reference to the Nazir’s contact with an impure dead body. Some opinions, such as Chizkuni and Rav Saadia Gaon, do claim that “the soul” refers to the soul of the dead body that the Nazir touched. Rashi, however, cites a Tanna who argues that the Pasuk refers to the Nazir’s own soul, regarding which he sinned by depriving himself of wine for even more time, as the Nazir’s contact with dead body requires him to restart the Nezirut process. A problem with this opinion is that if it is a sin to extend the period for which a Nazir must abstain from wine, then it should be a sin to abstain wine in the first place, and people should be discouraged from becoming Nazirim. If this is so, why does the Torah state in Pasuk 8 that a Nazir is “Kodesh to Hashem?”
This apparent contradiction between the Pesukim (according to Rashi’s reading) also reflects a disagreement between the Rambam and Rabbeinu Bachya regarding the merit of abstinence in general. The Rambam in his Mishnah Torah (Hilchot Dei’ot Chapter 3) states that people should only abstain from that which the Torah already forbids us from doing, such as eating non-kosher foods and engaging in forbidden relations. He claims that the Nazir’s Chatat is brought for the sin of abstention from wine and adds that if it a sin to abstain from wine, all the more so we may not abstain from other things in addition to wine.
Rabbeinu Bachya in Duties of the Heart (the Gate of Abstinence, chapter 6) takes the opposite approach. He quotes Bemidbar 6:8 (“All the days of his separation, [the Nazir] is kodesh to Hashem”), and points out that if a Nazir, who only lets his hair grow long and refrains from drinking wine, is holy, all the more so one who does not desire any extra pleasure at all will be rewarded.
A possible resolution between these two opinions might be discovered in the approach of Rabbeinu Chaim Luzzato in chapter 13 of Mesilat Yesharim,. He states that people should abstain from things that might lead them to sin – for example, men should avoid all seminal emissions because they lead to lust and sin – but they should not abstain from things that are necessary for survival, such as food. This fits well with the Rambam’s explanation because he also says that people should engage in worldly pleasures with heavenly intent. For example, one may take a nap for the sake of having the energy to learn Torah (see Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 231). Clearly, however, the Rambam would not allow the engaging in such pleasurable acts if it will lead to sin. Rav Luzzato’s approach also fits well with Rabbeinu Bachya, because he mentions that people should not totally remove themselves from the pleasures of this world to an unreasonable extent. In fact, it is arguable that the only difference between the Rambam and Rabbeinu Bachya is not their philosophies, but the focus of their explanations. Although they both agree that people should abstain from that which leads to evil and practice that which leads to good, Rabbeinu Bachya focuses on the need for abstinence, while the Rambam focuses on the error of abstaining too much.
In summation, abstinence can be good or bad depending on the situation. For example, Rabbeinu Bachya in Duties of the Heart (ad. loc) discusses abstaining from worldly pleasures merely for the sake of being praised for their holiness, which is clearly not at all praiseworthy. This double nature of abstinence also reflects the double nature of Nizerut. One might become a Nazir for the sake of keeping himself from sinning, in which case he would be holy to Hashem, or he could have became a Nazir for the sake of other less holy reasons, in which case he would have sinned regarding his own soul by unnecessarily depriving himself of wine.
by Gavriel Metzger
In a seemingly puzzling statement in Parshat Naso, the Torah relates that all people who were afflicted with Tzaraat had leave the camp of Bnei Yisrael because “Ani Shochen Betocham,” “I [Hashem] am resting amongst them” (5:3). Rashi comments on the surrounding Pesukim that these edicts were decreed on the day of the inauguration of the Mishkan. An obvious question arises: what does building the Mishkan have to do with sending out Tzaraat-afflicted people from the camp?
The Alshich notes that Bnei Yisrael encamped in three separate rings while in the desert. The Mishkan with the Shechinah rested in the center, Shevet Levi surrounded the Mishkan, and all of Bnei Yisrael were split up into a ring of four sections that encircled the inner two camps. Due to this fact, one might assume that Hashem was only present within His temporary home, the Mishkan, and perhaps also the Leviim, who worked in the Mishkan. One would not logically think that the Shechinah rested elsewhere; why would there be three separate divisions otherwise? The juxtaposition of Tzaraat and the building the Mishkan teaches us otherwise. Hashem told Moshe to send the Tzaraat-stricken group completely outside of the camp in order to display the Kedushah of the entire encampment of Am Yisrael. Even the outermost section of the camp had the Shechinah resting amid it, and therefore the Tumah of the Tzaraat had to be completely removed.
A powerful lesson about the Kedushah of every member of Bnei Yisrael can be derived from these Pesukim. No matter how big or small, “ultra-Orthodox” or “Reform,” every member of Am Yisrael has Hashem’s presence around him. Although there might be a higher concentration of Hashem’s presence among some, such as the Leviim in the Midbar, all members of Klal Yisrael have a certain level of Kedushah. We must be cognizant of this fact in all that we do and treat everyone with the respect that he or she rightly deserves. -Adapted from a Dvar Torah in Talelei Oros
Torah Times Two
by Shmuel Reece
The Torah says in a number of places that the Jews received the Torah directly from Hashem. According to Rashi, Hashem told us the Asseret Hadibrot, the Decalogue, in one breath as only Hashem can do, and then He proceeded to explain it. On another Pasuk, Rashi comments that the people only heard the first two commandments directly and clearly from Hashem; since we were overwhelmed by Hashem’s voice, Hashem spoke and Moshe repeated the commandments to us. According to tradition, this is a large part of what we celebrate on Shavuot. But what exactly was it that we heard at Matan Torah?
Between Pesach and Shavuot, many follow the custom to study one Perek of Pirkei Avot each Shabbat afternoon. Rav Pinchas Kehati explains that the first of these Mishnayot, which states that Moshe “received the Torah from [Har] Sinai,” means that the entire Torah was received at Sinai, the written and the oral Torahs as one. This is based on a Pasuk in Parshat Bechukotai (Vayikra 26:46) that refers to the “statues, ordinances, and teachings that Hashem established between Himself and the children of Israel on Har Sinai by the hand of Moshe.” Rav Kehati explains the statutes are the Midrashim, the ordinances are the laws, and the teachings (“Torot”), which are named in the plural, are the two Torahs that were given to Bnei Yisrael, one written and one oral. R’ Kehati quotes Torat Kohanim that states that this demonstrates that the entire Torah, include its fine details, were given to Moshe at Har Sinai. The Mishna continues that Moshe passed it onto Yehoshua (Note: At Matan Torah, Yehoshua waited at Har Sinai waiting for Moshe to return); Yehoshua transmitted it to the elders, etc.
We all know that when Moshe Rabbeinu came down from Har Sinai: he witnessed the golden calf and immediately broke the Luchot. Moshe then returned to Har Sinai and received a second set, only this time, Moshe wrote the Luchot as Hashem dictated to him what to write. Rashi comments that Moshe was not allowed, however, to write the Oral Torah, which was to remain completely oral.
Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi taught (Shabba 88b) that when Moshe went up to accept the Torah, the angels were upset that the Torah was being given to man and not to the angels. Moshe then proved to them that the contents were more fitting for humans than angels, and they agreed. The Beit HaLevi (D’rasha 18) comments that this discussion refers to the Oral Torah.
The Sefer Hatoda’ah, Book of our Heritage, points out that we need to learn both the Torah SheBichtav (Written Torah) and Torah Shebe’al Peh (Oral Torah) together. The example it cites is the story of Ruth, the Moabite, who was permitted to marry a Jew, and as a result, her descendant, David Hamelech, was anointed King for all generations. Although the Written Law states that a Moabite may not marry a Jew even after he converts, the Oral Law teaches that a female Moabite convert (such as Rut) may marry a Jew and that the prohibition presented in the Written Law applies only to a male Moabite.
On Shavuot, we celebrate both Torot, the Written and the Oral – both of which we received as completely integral parts of the Torah at Sinai.
A Celebration of the Obvious
by Chaim Strauss
In just a few days, when Sefirat HaOmer is completed, we will celebrate Shavuot. The Meshech Chochmah comments that this Chag commemorates the giving of not only the Halachic aspect of the Torah (particularly Chukim), for which we would never have felt a need had the Torah not established it, but also of the Halachot which make sense to the human mind (Mishpatim). These Halachot include such laws as compassion for the unfortunate and Tzedakah for the poor. We celebrate Chag HaShavuot as a statement that without following Hashem and His set laws, people would become like Chayot, wild beasts, which have no compassion and are thus capable of committing terrible crimes to satisfy their desires. The giving of the Torah was thus critical even for basic laws of human morals. For example, the Torah commands us to observe Leket and Pe’ah, Halachot that require us to leave a portion of our harvest for the poor. Only through the Torah’s Mitzvot would we think to show such sensitivity. Only if we abide by such Halachot may we declare the Chag of Shavuot as a holy time – we must give thanks to Hashem even for such understandable and seemingly obvious commandments of Tzedakah and compassion on fellow Jews because, had the Torah not been given, we may never have observed them.
Respecting our Gedolim
by Yonatan Apfel
Megillat Rut begins with the Pasuk, “Vayhi Bimei Shefot Hashofetim,” “And it was in the days that the judges judged.” The Chachamim translate this to mean “And it was in the days that the judges were judged.” In other words, the words of the Gedolim were analyzed by the people – what they liked they kept, and they mocked everything else. The nation, including many unfortunately unlearned people, judged the great Gedolim of their days and decided whether what they said was intelligent. If they did not like what they said, they did not follow it – “Each man would do what was right in his own eyes” (Shoftim 21:25). In Parshat Naso, which we read this year right before Shavuos, the opposite happens. Moshe tells Bnei Yisrael that anyone who has Tzaraat or becomes Tamei must leave the camp. After that it says “As Hashem had spoken to Moshe, so did Bnei Yisrael do.” They did not question or laugh at Moshe's words; they recognized that everything Moshe said came from Hashem. They may not have completely understood everything he said, but they followed along willingly. This is not to say that they had completely blind faith; Jews are encouraged to ask, but they understood that Moshe knew what he was talking about.
The first Pasuk in Rut continues that there was a great famine. The Yalkut Shimoni says that this was a punishment for violating the Torah, which is an inevitable result of “judging the judges.” In contrast, a later section in Naso talks about Birchat Kohanim, which includes, among other things, a Bracha for peace, general happiness and contentedness. Peace can only come when we follow and trust our leaders, our Gedolim. They know far more than just a random person with a website or a newspaper or a crowd of people listening. While we can ask questions, we cannot ridicule or spread Lashon Hara about our Gedolim, or do the opposite of what they say. Without respect and acceptance of leaders, there cannot be national peace and happiness.
Parshat Naso fell right at the end of the counting of the Omer, a time when we mourn the deaths of Rabi Akiva's students. According to the Gemara, they died because they showed insufficient respect to one another. Whatever disrespect occurred between them must have been minimal – and yet they were all punished, because when people disrespect Talmidei Chachamim, they disrespect the Torah. When people consider themselves smarter and better than them and laugh at what they say, as Korach and the generation of the Shoftim did, they are mocking and destroying all sense of leadership and guidance. Such people come dangerously close to mocking and questioning the authority of the Torah itself (see Rashi to Vayikra 26:15). When people denigrate authority and consider themselves superior to everyone else, then there is anarchy and misfortune. However, when people recognize authority and follow those who are wiser and more learned and experienced than themselves, then there can be unity and Shalom.
A Day of Dairy
by Dov Rossman
After the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash, the Rabbis wanted to forbid eating meat. If meat is something that the Rabbis felt could not be eaten due to the fact that we were separated from Hashem, we would think that Shavuot, our “wedding day” with Hashem, would be the holiday of eating fancy meat to celebrate the Torah. However, as we all know, Shavuot is known as “the dairy holiday.” Although some of the meals on Shavuot may consist of meat, we make sure to eat dairy foods as well.
Eliyahu Kitov brings down several opinions in his book Sefer HaToda’ah as to why we eat dairy on Shavuot. One is the explanation of Rama (Orach Chaim 494) that Shavuot is a conclusion of Pesach. Just as we commemorate the Korban Chagigah on Pesach by eating two different roasted items, so too on Shavuot we eat two different dishes to commemorate the bringing of the Shtei HaLechem, a dairy meal and a meat meal.
The Sefer Mat’amim points out that by eating dairy on Shavuot, we remember that Moshe was taken from the Nile on 6 Sivan (the day of Shavuot) and that he would only drink the milk of a Jewish woman.
Ta’amei HaMinhagim states that Bnei Yisrael did not eat dairy products before Matan Torah, as they were scared that it would be a violation of Eiver Min HaChai, the prohibition to eat the limb of a living animal, which is one of the Sheva Mitzvot Bnei Noach. Once they got the Torah, however, they realized that they were allowed to eat milk and other dairy products. We therefore we eat dairy products on Shavuot to remember this.
R’ Shimshon of Ostropol points out that the Gematria of the word Chalav, milk, is forty, which is the same number of days that Moshe Rabbeinu spent on Har Sinai. The Geulat Yisrael explains that before Bnei Yisrael got the Torah, they were permitted to eat animals that were not slaughtered according to Halachah, and even meat from non-kosher animals. Once the laws of Kashrut were given to them, however, all of their utensils had to be kashered, so until this was done, they had to eat dairy. We eat dairy foods of Shavuot to commemorate this.
Food for Thought
by Ariel Caplan
1) Parshat Naso begins with a command to count Bnei Gershon and Bnei Merari and instruct them regarding their Avodah. Why is this not placed in Bemidbar, where the command about Bnei Kehat is given?
2) Why must the Nesi’im offer both a joint Korban (7:3) and individual Korbanot (7:12-88)?
3) Why do we recite Yetziv Pitgam in the middle of the Haftarah? Why is it not an interruption between the Birchot HaHaftarah? (This is especially strange because when it comes to Akdamut on the first day of Shavuot, we specifically recite it before Keriat HaTorah!)
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This week's issue has been sponsored by the following parents of Torah Academy’s Class of 2005:
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Mr. and Mrs. Friedman in honor of Noah
Mr. and Mrs. Glassberg in honor of David
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Mr. and Mrs. Weinberger in honor of Levi
Rabbi and Mrs. Winkler in honor of Ely
Rav Daniel Feldman (Rosh Yeshiva at Yeshiva University and Maggid Shiur at Torah Academy of Bergen County) has issued a revised edition of his Sefer "The Right and the Good", published by Yashar books. It is available at all Sefarim stores.
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