Saturday, March 22, 2014

Tazria & HaChodesh 5774

The Torah Portion of Tazria 5774

Rav Chaim of Volozhin says: why does the declaration of impurity and purification from plagues need to be done specifically by the Kohen who will say "You are pure" or "You are impure"? The reason is that generally the habitual speakers of Lashon Hara (evil speech) speak about the chosen ones of the people and about great Rabbis, and the Kohanim are the chosen ones.

Mussar (ethical teachings) for guarding one's tongue:  

Rabban Gamliel said to his servant Tavi to bring him the most precious meat and he brought him an animal's tongue.  Another time he told him to bring the most simple meat, and he brought him an animal's tongue again.  Rabban Gamliel asked him, if a tongue is the most precious meat and also the most simple meat, isn't that a contradiction?  He answered him, the tongue is able to be used for the good and also for the opposite, and that is why it is written that "Life and death are in the hand of the tongue".

The Tongue doesn't have bones

It's said that the tongue doesn't have within it bones, so that it is possible to turn it in any direction that one wants, and one needs to be concerned and guard it so that it will go in a good direction.

Parnassah (Livelihood)

Parnassah (a livelihood) in Hebrew has the same letters as Peh Resen (reining in the tongue). Someone who want a livelihood should rein in (control) his tongue.

"This shall be the Torah of the Metzora on the day of his purification" (Vayikra 14:2)

It is written in the Chovot Halevavot (the Gate of Submission, chapter 7): Someone who speaks Lashon Hara (evil speech) about his fellowman, all of his Mitzvot (good deeds) go to his fellowman and he receives all of his fellowman's sins.  The Chatam Sofer (on the Torah portion of Tetzaveh) writes that if he repents, they (his Mitzvot) return to him.  And that is what is meant by "This shall be the Torah of the Metzora on the day of his purification" (Vayikra 14:2), that the Torah that he learned will return to him of the day of his purification, that is to say when he repents.

"This shall be the Torah of the Metzora on the day of his purification, he shall be brought to the Kohen" (Vayikra 14:2)  

The Chafetz Chaim wrote books on the topic of Lashon Hara (evil speech), and there is a hint here:  one who wants to do Teshuva (repent) for the sin of Lashon Hara, "he shall be brought to the Kohen", he should learn the books of Rabbi Yisrael Meir HaKohen (i.e. the Chafetz Chaim), and he will be healed.

Parshat HaChodesh (The Torah Portion of HaChodesh):

The reason for this reading is to sanctify and declare the month of Nissan, because of the importance of this month, for so it is written in the Torah: "This month will be to you the head of the months; it is the first for you of the months of the year". (Shemot 12:2) It is the head of the months and of the festivals. (Practically speaking, this is not the actual sanctification of the month but rather just an addition of holiness.)

Another reason for the reading of Parshat HaChodesh: 

to announce to the people that Passover iscoming soon, so that they should prepare themselves to come up to Jerusalem for the festival. The Mitzvah of coming up to Jerusalem for Passover is more
stringent than for the the other festivals, because of the "Korban Pesach" (Passover offering), which is a positive commandment that has the punishment of Korait (cutting off) if not fulfilled

10 Crowns that were taken by Rosh Chodesh Nissan:

1) The first for the act of creation
2) The first for the princes; the princes began to bring sacrificial offerings
3) The first for the priests (the Cohanim); the priests began to do their service
4) The first for the service; the sacrifices of the community began to be offered
5) The first for the coming down of fire upon the sacrificial altar
6) The first for eating of the holy offerings, according to their statutory laws
7) The first for the indwelling of the Divine Presence
8) The first time for the Cohanim to bless the people of Israel
9) The first time when it became forbidden to offer sacrifices on Bamot, so that they would be offered only in the Mishkan
10) The first of the months of the year

On Rosh Chodesh Nissan, Moshe blessed Israel, May it be His will that the Divine Presence will dwell in the acts of your hands. It is customary from Rosh Chodesh Nissan until the 13th of the month to say each day the Torah verses about one of the princes from the dedication of the sacrificial altar. On the the first day, we begin with "Vayihi Biyom Kalot Moshe"; on the 12th day we complete the Torah portion of Naso; and on the 13th day we say the Torah portion of Baaloticha until "Et Hamenorah". (A Kohen or a Levi should not say the Yehi Ratzon.) (from Mishna Berura, Siman 429)

The Torah Portion of Tazria has 67 verses, 5 positive commandments, and 5 negative commandments.  TwoTorah Scrolls are taken out: 1) for the weekly Torah portion.2) for the Torah Portion of "Bo", from "Vyomar Hashem... HaChodesh Hazeh Lachem" until "Tochlu Matzot". The Haftorah is "Kol HaAm HaAretz" (Yechezkel 45).

This is Shabbat Mevorchim for Nissan.  Rosh Chodesh Nissan is on Yom Shlishi (Tuesday).  
The Molad is Lail Sheini, at the hour 3:45, with 9 Chalakim.  

 We say Borchi Nafshi.

Shabbat Shalom.
May you all have a light-filled and happy Shabbat.
In Nissan we were redeemed, and in Nissan we are to be redeemed in the future.

L'ilui Neshamat HaGaon HaTzaddik R' Gershon Avigdor Ben R' Chaim ztz"l, Nilkach
L'Bait Olamo Yud Gimmel Tishrei 5772

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Sh'mini & Para 5774

The Torah Portion of Sh'mini 

"...Come near to the sacrificial altar..." (Vayikra 9:7)

The Satan showed Aharon the likeness of a calf, in order to interfere with his performance of the Divine service, so Moshe said to him, "Come near to the sacrificial altar" (Vayikra 9:7), don't be afraid. (from the Da'at Z'kainim) From this we learn that when the Satan comes to prevent us from serving Hashem, we need to strengthen ourselves. (from Masters of Mussar, i.e. ethical teachings)

"And Moshe said to Aharon: Of this did Hashem speak, saying: 'I will besanctified through those who are close to Me'." (Vayikra 10:3)

The death of Nadav and Avihu was by burning of the soul with the physical body remaining intact. Moshe said, that they were greater Tzadikim (more righteous) than himself and Aharon.

"And Hashem spoke to Moshe and to Aharon, TO SAY TO THEM: Speak to the childrenof Israel, saying, these are the living animals..." (Vayikra 11:1-2)

It is written in Trei Eser, "And your sons and daughters will prophesy", that in the future to come Hashem will speak with all of Israel. The Sages say that Moshe Rabeinu did not want to nurse from the Egyptian women because in the future he would speak with the Shechina, and that is what is emphasized in this verse (Vayikra 11:1) by the words "TO SAY TO THEM"; that in the future the Holy One Blessed Be He will speak with all of Israel, and therefore we need to be very careful in the matter of food and to eat only that which is Kosher, so that we will be worthy to have Hashem speak with us.

Mussar (Ethical Teachings) from the Chafetz Chaim

The Chafetz Chaim says: just as we are careful not to put into our mouths forbidden foods, so one also needs to be careful about what he puts out of his mouth, that is to say, forbidden words.


The reason for the reading of the Torah Portion of Para (the Red Heifer) is that at the time when the Temple existed and they could sacrifice the Passover offering, someone who was impure because of contact with a dead person was not able to bring the offering unless he became purified beforehand by means of the ashes of the red heifer.  It was necessary to remind and announce to everyone who had become impure from contact with a dead person to purify himself from that impurity, so that he could bring the Passover offering at the right time. 

Therefore  they began early to encourage people about it before the month of Nissan, so that those who lived far away from Jerusalem would already start to leave their cities on Rosh Chodesh Nissan in order to go up to Jerusalem, and while the people were still at home in their cities, they would remind them that if someone had become impure from contact with a dead person, he first needed to purify himself.  And even though, in our many sins, the Temple has been destroyed and we don't have the bringing of the Passover offering and don't have impurity from a dead person which we need to be purified from beforehand, in any event we learn about these commandments and laws and pray before Hashem, may His name be blessed, that also upon us will be cast the purifying waters, in the near future.  And by means of learning these laws may it be considered as if we have purified ourselves from our impurity.

There are those that say that also the reading of the Torah Portion of Para is a Mitzvah D'Oraita (a commandment from the Torah), but the opinion of most of the Halachic authorities is that this reading is a Mitzvah D'Rabanan (a commandment from the Rabbis).  In the Sefer Aruch HaShulchan, and in the Sefer Dovev Meisharim, there are sources brought about this.  And it is written in the Mishna Brura (Section 685, small section 15) that even for a Mitzvah D'Rabanan (a commandment from the Rabbis), it is also necessary to have intention to fulfill the Mitzvah.

"...And they shall take to you..." (Bamidbar 19:2)

The Holy One Blessed Be He said to Moshe that only "to you" I am revealing the reason for the Para Adumah (Red Heifer), and not to anyone else.  And even Shlomo HaMelech that Scriptures says about him that he was wiser than all the people, and he was expert in all kinds of wisdom, did not grasp the secret of the Para Adumah, and that is why he said: "I said that I would become wise, but it is distant from me" (Kohelet Chapter 7).  That is to say, I though in my heart that I would become wise and succeed to understand the secret of the Para Adumah, and behold, it is distant from me.  The words "it is distant" in Hebrew have the same Gematria (numerical value) as "Para Adumah".

The Torah Portion of Sh'mini has 91 verses, 6 positive commandments, and 11negative commandments.Two Torah Scrolls are taken out: 1) for the weekly Torah portion and 2) for the Torah portion of Para, from the beginning of the Torah Portion of Chukat until the words "ad haerev" (in English: until the evening).

The Haftorah is "Vayehi Devar Hashem" (Yechezkel 36)

We say Borchi Nafshi

Shabbat Shalom.
May you all have a light-filled and happy Shabbat.

L'ilui Neshamat HaGaon HaTzaddik R' Gershon Avigdor Ben R' Chaim ztz"l, Nilkach
L'Bait Olamo Yud Gimmel Tishrei 5772

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Purim 5774

Purim - Megillat Esther 

The entire story of the miracle of Megillat Esther took place over a period of nine years.  It began in the third year of the reign of King Achashveirosh, at the time  when they killed Vashti.  In the seventh year of the reign of King Achashveirosh he took Esther as a wife, and in the twelfth year of his reign was the decree of Haman.  And at the time when they killed Vashti, not a single Jew foresaw that there would be a connection between that event and the salvation of Israel.  It was only afterwards when Achashveirosh took Esther that they began to understand a little bit that there might be a connection.  And it was only after nine years when the decree of Haman occurred, and by means of Esther the decree was cancelled, that they understood the preceding events. They saw that all those events had been connected together in order to save them from the decree of being destroyed and killed.  And so it will be in the future to come when the Holy One Blessed Be He reveals Himself in His great Compassion and Kindness, at that time all of us will understand that all the events that occurred throughout all the years have been connected together for the purpose of the future redemption, may it occur speedily in our days, Amen.

"And he raised (in Hebrew: "Omen") Hadassah..." (Megillat Esther 2:7)

The Hebrew word "Omen" has the same root as the Hebrew word "Emunah" (in English: Faith).  The meaning of this is that Mordechai the Tzaddik trained Esther to have faith that everything that happens to her is all  a result of Divine Providence.

Why is the name of the holiday called Purim?

There are those who ask why the name of the holiday is called "Purim" (based on the Hebrew word "Pur", meaning "lottery"), shouldn't it have been called "Yom HaHatzala", the day of salvation?  The explanation is that when Achashveirosh said to Haman "..and the people to do with it as is good in your eyes" (Megillat Esther 3:11), he should have immediately gone to battle to kill Israel, but it came up in his mind that it would be better to do a lottery and not to begin immediately.  Therefore there was more time to pray and within four days of the decree they hanged Haman on the tree.  The decree was on the 13th of Nisan and they hanged him on the 16th of Nissan.  From this we see the power of prayer.

"...and fast for me, and don't eat and don't drink for three days.." (Megillat Esther 4:16)

There is a difficulty in this verse, for there seems to be an unnecessary repetition; since it said "fast for me", isn't it obvious that they aren't eating and drinking?  And the explanation is, that during those three days was also the first day of Passover, and there is a requirement from the Torah to eat Matzah and drink the four cups of wine.  And that is what Esther was saying, "fast for me", and even though the Yom Tov of Passover comes out during those days, in any event don't eat Matzah.  And don't drink the four cups of wine.  And Esther's intention in this was that if they didn't fulfill the Mitzvot of the holiday of Passover, this would show the Heavens how the world would look without the people of Israel.  Just as now they are not fulfilling the Mitzvot of the night of the Seder, so it would be if G-d forbid there would be a decree of destruction, and by means of this Mercy would be aroused in the Heavens to cancel the decree.

"For the Jews there was Light and Happiness and Rejoicing and Honor." (Megillat Esther 8:16) 

In the Gemara "Megillah", it says that Light means Torah, Happiness means Yom Tov, Rejoicing means Mila (Circumcision) and Honor means Tefillin (Phylacteries).  The question is, why are these written only as a hint, it could have been written explicitly "Torah, Yom Tov, Mila, and Tefillin"?  But the explanation is that Israel rose at that time to such a great level that they felt that the Torah was their light, that Yom Tov was their happiness, that Mila was their rejoicing, and that Tefillin was their most precious, honored object. (from the Sefat Emet)

Purim Sameach!  (Happy Purim!)

L'ilui Neshamat HaGaon HaTzaddik R' Gershon Avigdor Ben R' Chaim ztz"l, Nilkach L'Bait Olamo Yud Gimmel Tishrei 5772

Tzav & Zachor

The Torah Portion of "Tzav"

"And he shall remove his garments and he shall put on other garments" (Vayikra 6:4) 

Rashi explains, garments in which he was dressed when he cooked a pot of food for his master, he should not pour while dressed in them, a cup of wine for his master.  The Maharsha brings from this a proof, that a person should change his clothes in the honor of Shabbat to garments which are appropriate and clean, just as the Cohen would change his clothes at the time of his service, and would not use the same clothes that he wore when he was removing the ashes from the altar.  Thus it is necessary to change clothes for Shabbat, and not use the same clothes that one wore on Erev Shabbat while preparing for Shabbat.

"Matzot shall be eaten in a holy place" (Vayikra 6:9)  

This is a hint to the Matzot that are eaten on the night of Passover, that they should be in a holy place.  That is to say, that one should sanctify his mouth, for that is the place of eating the Matzot.  This is also hinted at by the word "Pharoah", which in Hebrew has the same letters as Peh-Ra (an evil mouth), and the rectification for this is Pesach, which in Hebrew is similar to the Hebrew words Peh-Sach (a mouth which speaks).  One should speak only words which are good and holy, for everyone who increases speaking about them (i.e., the miracles of Passover) is praiseworthy.  And the opposite is also the case; someone who doesn't speak good words, G-d forbid, is not praiseworthy.

The Mitzvah of Reading "Zachor"

The Rambam writes in the Sefer HaMitzvot, that we were commanded to remember what the Amalek did to us, that he hurried up to do evil to us, and that this will be stated year after year, so that we arouse our souls by means of the words in these passages to fight him and the people are encouraged to hate him until the Mitzvah will not ever be forgotten and and the hatred of Amalek will not be removed from the souls of the people with the passage of time...Behold, you see that Shmuel HaNavi, when he began to do this Mitzvah, how he did it.  First he remembered Amalek's evil deeds, and then he commanded to kill them.  And thus, it is brought that the Chafetz Chaim, ztzk"l would fill himself with hatred and anger against Amalek at the time when he heard the reading of "Zachor".

The Fast of Esther, Purim, and the Remembrance of the Half Shekel

On Thursday, the 11th of Adar Sheini, is the Fast of Esther.  After Mincha, the unwalled cities give a remembrance for the half shekel.  On Sunday, the 14th of Adar Sheini, is Purim in the unwalled cities, and the walled cities give a remembrance for the half shekel after Mincha. Monday the 15th of Adar Sheini is Purim in the walled cities. One needs to be careful, at the time when he gives the remembrance for the half shekel, that he shouldn't say "this is for the half a shekel", because it is not appropriate at this time (since we don't have the Temple).   Rather, he should say it's a "Zacher l'mechatzit hashekel" (remembrance for the half shekel). 

The Torah Portion of "Tzav" has 97 verses.  There are 9 positive commandments and 9 negative commandments.We take our two Torah Scrolls.  In the first we read the weekly Torah Portion, and in the second we read for the Maftir in the Torah Portion of Ki Teitze, "Zachor".  The Haftorah is: "Ko Amar Hashem Pakaditi" (Sh'muel Aleph 15)

We say Borchi Nafshi

"M'shenichnas Adar Marbim B'Simcha"
"When Adar begins Happiness Increases"

May you all have a  light-filled and happy Shabbat.
Shabbat Shalom.

L'ilui Neshamat HaGaon HaTzaddik R' Gershon Avigdor Ben R' Chaim ztz"l, Nilkach L'Bait Olamo Yud Gimmel Tishrei 5772

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Vayikra 5774

The Torah Portion of Vayikra 

"And He called to Moshe..." (Vayikra 1:1)

Rashi says that this (the use of the term "calling") is a language of love, the language which the angels of service use, as it is said "And one (angel) will call  to the other and say" (Yeshayahu 6:3).  It can be asked, what kind of a proof is this, that since the angels of service use the term "calling" that this is a language of love?  But the explanation is, as the Chatam Sofer says: behold the verse "And one (angel) will call to the other" is translated (to Aramaic) in the Tirgum Yonatan by "And they receive one from another".  And on the face of things, what is the connection between a language of "receiving" to a language of "calling"?  But we see that by means of the angel calling to the angel who is smaller than he is, the smaller angel is given additional strength so that he can sanctify Hashem and say "Holy holy holy..."  (Yeshayahu 6:3).   And we thus find that the "calling" of the angels causes "receiving".  And that is why the Torah specifies also regarding the speech of Hashem to Moshe the language of "calling", to teach us that by means of this "calling", Moshe was given additional strength to receive the flow of prophesy and holiness,  and if so, it's simple that this is a language of love.  

"A man if he offers from you an offering to Hashem" (Vayikra 1:2) 

The Holy books write that there is a hint here, that if a man wants to bring himself close to the Divine service of Hashem, he needs to negate all of his identity, to submit himself to Hashem entirely, and to negate his "I", his ego. And that is the intention of saying "A man if he offers 'from you'"; that is to say, if he is prepared to sacrifice "from you", his identity, then he is worthy to be an offering to Hashem.

"A man if he offers from you an offering to Hashem, from the cattle" (Vayikra 1:2) 

The Holy Alshich wrote, that the main point of the service of bringing an offering to Hashem is, that he should think in his heart, that according strict justice, it would be appropriate to have done to himself that which is done to the cattle, to burn his limbs and dash his blood on the altar, G-d forbid, because of the sins which he has committed. And it is only because of the great mercy and kindness of Hashem, that the animal has exchanged places with the man.
And this is the intention of saying "A man if he offers from you", that is, the man needs to offer himself, but the sacrifice to Hashem is from the cattle, since the animal is in place of him.

"...from the animals -- from the cattle and from the flocks..."  (Vayikra 1:2)

Rashi says, one might be able to think wild animals are also included; to teach otherwise  the Torah says "cattle and flocks".  In the book "Eidut B'yosef" it is brought in the name of the Gaon Rav Ziskind M'Rotenberg z"l that behold, the early scholars found three reasons why we don't bring sacrifices from wild animals: 1) The Holy One Blessed Be He said not to bother you to go out to forests.  The explanation of this is that domestic animals are found amongst people but wild animals are found only in forests and places which are distant so that the hand of man cannot easily obtain them.  2) Hashem requests the pursued and the domestic animals are always pursued by the wild animals that want to tear them apart.  3) The wild animal has pride and a conceited spirit, but the domestic animal is humble and its spirit is as low as the earth, and the Holy One Blessed Be He hates pride and a conceited spirit.  According to this, in the future to come, when it will be as it is written (Yeshayahu 11:7) "A lion like cattle will eat straw together in one trough and a small lad will lead them", it will be found then that wild animals will be easy to obtain, and also there will be peace between the domestic animal and the wild animal so the domestic animal will no longer be pursued.  Thus, it will only because of the third reason, a conceited spirit (that we would bring only domestic animals for an offering).  And this is the explanation of the verse in Tehillim (51:19), "The offerings to G-d are a broken spirit", that the sacrifices are only from domestic animals who have a broken spirit.  And it is thereby demonstrated that "a broken and humble heart, G-d, You will not despise" (Tehillim 51:19).  But if you will say that this is not important but rather the first two reasons given above, on this the verse says "Do good as You see fit to Tzion...Then You will desire the sacrifices of righteousness" (Tehillim 51:20-21).  That is to say, that then in the future to come, there will not be domestic animals who are pursued and also wild animals will be easily obtained, but even so, only "bulls will then be offered  on Your altar" (Tehillim 51:21).  And it is thereby demonstrated that the main reason is because "a broken heart You will not despise".  (Tehillim 51:21).

" the entrance of the Tent of Meeting he shall bring it, in accordance with his will..." (Vayikra 1:3)

The Torah hints to us, that when a person brings a sacrificial offering to Hashem, it's possible that he might have a thought that he has already reached perfection and rectified everything, and has arrived at very highly elevated state.  Therefore the Torah says "to the entrance of the tent of meeting..." -- he needs to know that he is still standing at the entrance, at the beginning of serving Hashem, and is still far from perfection.  And also it is brought in the Gemara,  someone who has a broken heart, is regarded in the holy texts as if he has brought all of the sacrificial offerings, as it says "the sacrifices to G-d are a broken spirit..." (Tehillim 51:19). The main point of bringing a sacrificial offering is that one's heart should be broken within him, as he thinks to himself about far away he is from serving the Creator.  In addition, the continuation of the verse  states "in accordance with his will" (Vayikra 1:3); this shows us that the most important aspect of bringing a sacrificial offering is that one should bring his will closer to the true service of Hashem.

"...and he shall perform Melika (in English: pinching off its head) ..." (Vayikra 1:15)

It is written in the Sefer HaChinuch, what is the reason that when an "olah" (burnt-offering) of a bird is brought, they perform Melika (pinching off its head), and not like the rest of the sacrificial offerings which require Shechita (ritual slaughtering)?  The reason is that the children of Israel are compared to a dove, and the children of Israel are referred to in the Torah as a stiff-necked (i.e. stubborn) people.  Therefore they perform Melika (pinching off the bird's head), which entails cutting at the neck, to hint that it is necessary to remove the stiff-necked stubbornness from the  children of Israel (who are symbolized by the dove).  In addition, there are those who explain that the reason that an "olah" (burnt-offering) of a bird is Kosher even if it has a defect, is because it is written about the children of Israel "He perceived no iniquity in Yaakov" (Bamidbar 23:21) -- the Holy One Blessed Be He disregards the lacks and defects of the children of Israel.  And therefore, also the dove whom the children of Israel are compared to, is Kosher even if it has a defect.  Only if it has a great defect, such as if it is lacking a limb, is it considered invalid.

"...for any leaven, nor any honey, you shall not burn of it an offering made by fire to Hashem" (Vayikra  2:11)

The Baal HaTurim  says the reason for this is that leaven is symbolic of the Evil Inclination, and therefore the verse also warns about honey to hint to us that the Evil Inclination seems as sweet to a person as honey. 

Why are the Chatat (sin offering), the Asham (guilt offering), and also the Minchah (meal offering) considered to be Kodshei Kodashim (the most holy kinds of offerings)?

The Abarbanel wrote that the reason that the Chatat (sin offering) and Asham (guilt offering) are considered to be the most holy kinds of offerings, is that they come from a man who wants to repent and return to Hashem.   And that is very dear to Hashem, and therefore they are entirely holy to Hashem. And also, the Minchah (meal offering) is an offering made by a poor person, who has a lowly soul, and also he is very dear to Hashem, and therefore his offering is considered to be one of the most holy kinds of offerings.

The Torah Portion of "Vayikra" has 111 verses. There are 11 positive commandments and 5 negative commandments.The Haftorah is "Am Zu Yatzarti" (Yeshayahu 43:21-44:23)

Note: This week is a "break" in the middle of the "4 Parshiot" (Shekalim - Zachor - Para - Hachodesh)

We say Borchi Nafshi.

May you all have a  light-filled and happy Shabbat.  
Shabbat Shalom.

L'ilui Neshamat HaGaon HaTzaddik R' Gershon Avigdor Ben R' Chaim ztz"l, Nilkach L'Bait Olamo Yud Gimmel Tishrei 5772