afterthought: Challah

B”H

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shiur for motzei Shabbos parashas Shelach 5780

“Of the first of your dough ye shall give unto the L-RD a portion for a gift throughout your generations” (Numbers 15:21, JPS 1917 Tanach). The commandment, regarding the requirement to first take from the dough being used to make bread for personal consumption, and give a portion to the kohein is given. This is to be a commandment “throughout your generations.” Specifically, as mentioned elsewhere, “the first of your dough, to cause a blessing to rest on thy house” (Ezekiel 44:30). This portion is referred to as “challah.”

It is interesting to note that symbolically, the first portion of dough represents K’nesset Yisrael, “the world’s tithe” to H’Shem (commentary on Numbers 15:20, R. Bachya, sefaria.org). The descendants of Abraham are meant to be a blessing to the world. “In thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed” (Genesis 12:3, JPS). At current, much of the world fails to see, or appreciate the Jewish people as a blessing. Yet, the tides will turn for the good, in fulfillment of prophecy. “And it shall come to pass in the end of days, That the mountain of the L-RD’S house Shall be established as the top of the mountains, And shall be exalted above the hills; And all nations shall flow unto it” (Isaiah 2:2, JPS).

Incidentally, today, the entire loaf of bread made from the dough in the kitchen before Shabbos is referred to as challah. Pious Jewish women will separate a small portion, symbolically as terumah, a gift or offering; although, without the opportunity to bestow this gift upon a kohein, as in the times of the Beis HaMikdash (Temple), this small amount of dough is left in the oven to bake separately. Yet, the entire loaf retains the name of the original offering; it is as if to say, symbolically, like the challah, that we ourselves should make every aspect of our lives an offering to H’Shem, for the sake of good deeds, remaining wholehearted, rather than only offering up a small part of our lives to H’Shem.

Kindle the Lights

B”H

“You will kindle and prepare the lamps.” – Tanchuma Behalotecha 3

When Aaron grew concerned, that the leaders of the twelve tribes of Israel brought offerings to inaugarate the Mishkan, yet, he was not called to contribute in like manner, H’Shem told him that he would have a greater responsibility. He was placed in charge of lighting the menorah that rested in the Mishkan. This would be a detailed procedure that culminated in the light of the menorah being kept lit during the night, and foreshadow the role of his descendants, who rededicated the Temple, after its near destruction by the Hellenists; hence, the celebration of Chanukah every year, even unto this day and age.

According to the Talmud, ‘He is required to light the lamp until the flame rises by itself” (Shabbat 21a). Thus, he had to make sure that each wick was lit well enough, that the flame would continue to grow, until it remained steady on its own. A lesson is mentioned in commentary, concerning this commandment, that the same is true for ourselves, when we help others. We must make sure to properly guide others, in order for them to continue to grow spiritually on their own.

Aaron would also clean out the menorah, preparing it to be lit again each and every day. Another lesson, for ourselves, to keep in mind, is that everyday, we must clean out the “soot and ash,” figuratively speaking, in our own lives. This was one of the tasks of Aaron, necessary, before placing the new wicks in each lamp, and lighting the Menorah. To keep the light glowing in our lives, we must also prepare ourselves everyday to receive that light from H’Shem. We are each a light sent by G-d into this world, that we may also light up the lives of others.

Spiritual Elevation

B”H

Shiur for Motzei Shabbos parashas Nasso 5780

A few thoughts, as the Shabbos kedushah diminishes, with the onset of the yom rishon. “And the evening and the morning were the first day” of the week. In parashas Nasso, the passage concerning the nazir, speaks of the intention of a man or woman to separate oneself to a higher degree of kedushah (holiness), by primarily abstaining from wine and other intoxicants, as well as letting one’s hair grow. The minimum requirement for this endeavor is for thirty days; at the completion of the designated term, in addition to receiving a haircut, the nazir would bring several offerings (in Hebrew, “korban”), including a sin offering.

This is perplexing, in and of itself; although there are various differing commentaries on the reason for bringing a sin offering, this is the one that I prefer above all of the others. Ramban, Nachmanides, comments that the nazir would have best served his own intentions to live in a manner that would bring him closer to G-d, if he remained a nazir, rather than only becoming a nazir for a limited amount of time. For his decision to enter back into the world, where he will once again partake of worldly pleasures, he must needs bring a sin offering. This is the position of the Ramban, one of the most authorative Rabbinical voices in Judaism today; although, he lived about eight hundred years ago.

How much moreso, today, when egotistical desires, and the proliferation of worldly pleasures abound as normative in a modern society that typifies indulgence as the norm? We do not need to take a Nazirite vow, in order to abstain from the abnormal standards of the world; abnormal, because they are mostly antithetical to Torah. However, we can make an effort to diminish the impact of our yetzer hara (evil inclination) upon our soul; rather than tuning into the zeitgeist, I would recommend opening our eyes to the wondrous guidelines of the wisdom of H’Shem.

Torah Afterthought: parashas Nasso 5780

Wisdom Imparted from Above

B”H

Motzei Shabbos:

Acharei Mos – Kedoshim 5780

Like a spiritual blessing, that manifests in some unknown form, so is the quality, reward, and consequence of following the mitzvot (commandments). Kedushah (holiness) is the tonic of the soul, that may permeate our lives, when we remain committed to an observance of all that the Torah entails, for the sake of our benefit. Regarding the words of wisdom that are the essence of the mitzvos, they are the essential element of our lives. “Let them not depart from thine eyes; keep them in the midst of thy heart. For they are life unto those that find them, and health to all their flesh” (Proverbs 4:21-22, JPS 1917 Tanach).

Wisdom imparts truth, guiding us through the challenges of our lives. H’Shem is the Source of all life; therefore, He is like a flowing stream of crystal clear water that nourishes our souls. To turn anywhere else, in our misguided attempts to live life without the constraints that only serve to sanctify our lives, is to jeopardize receiving the kedushah available to us. Although intangible, kedushah may be felt, especially on Shabbos, and Yom Tov. To be aware of the state of kedushah upon ourselves, is to live above our lower nature, in a state of perpetual aliveness.

Renewal of the Soul

B”H

D’var for Motzei Shabbos

Tazria-Metzorah 5780

“This shall be the law of the leper in the day of his cleansing: he shall be brought unto the priest [kohein].” – Leviticus 14:2, JPS

In each case, whether a person’s home, clothing, or body is stricken with a nega (plague), he is brought to the kohein (priest). The kohein determines not only the status of the suspected negah; he also is qualified on a spiritual level to gain insight on the state of the person’s soul. This concept is in line with the understanding of tzarras as a spiritual malaise that manifests as a skin disease. Tzarras is one type of negah (plague), the other two in question, here, are those that show up on a person’s clothes or the walls of his home. In all cases, as already mentioned above, the kohein is the sole individual (no pun intended), who uses his discernment to ascertain the specific sin(s) that were the root cause of the blemish on a person’s soul, that manifested as a negah (literally, plague).

What can we learn from this connection? H’Shem is merciful; He is not interested in simply punishing us for our sins. Rather, He will send an early warning signal to serve as a “wake up call,” specifically designated for us, so that we may scrutinize our own selves, in search for our misdeeds, character defects, and deficiencies. At the current time, for the duration of the Corona Virus, we are very much like the metzorah, the Biblical leper who is sent outside of the camp, where he is in isolation, for the purpose of reviewing his thoughts, speech, and action, so that he may rectify his ways. Many of us have plenty of time to do the same, by searching our hearts, and carrying out what is referred to in Hebrew as heshbon hanefesh, literally, an accounting of the soul. H’Shem may very well be effecting a judgment upon the world for this very purpose. We should compel ourselves, in all sincerity, to use this time wisely.

The Tenth Plague

B”H
erev 11 Nissan 5780
Motzei Shabbos Shiur

The redemption of B’nei Yisrael (the Children of Israel) began on Shabbos, specifically, the tenth of Nissan. That Shabbos became known as Shabbat HaGadol. What was so special about the Tenth of Nissan? That day was when the Children of Israel were commanded to bring a lamb into each and every one of their homes. “Speak ye unto all the congregation of Israel, saying: In the tenth day of this month they shall take to them every man a lamb, according to their fathers’ houses, a lamb for a household” (Exodus 12:3, JPS 1917 Tanach).

Why was this the beginning of the Redemption for B’nei Yisrael (the Children of Israel)? Because the lamb was to be the first national offering, made by each and every family, for the sake of using the blood of the lamb as a sign, placed upon the doorposts and lintels of their homes. The blood would serve as a sign, whereby, “the L-RD will pass through to smite the Egyptians; and when He seeth the blood upon the lintel, and on the two side-posts, the L-RD will pass over the door, and will not suffer the destroyer to come in unto your houses to smite you” (Exodus 12:23).

And, so, the tenth plague, the slaying of the first born, was not enacted upon the Children of Israel. They were spared, because of their emunah (faith) in H’Shem, that compelled them to carry out the commandment, regarding the Pesach lamb. They had been further commanded, “none of you shall go out of the door of his house until the morning” (Exodus 12:23).

“Come, my people, enter thou into thy chambers, And shut thy doors about thee; Hide thyself for a little moment, Until the indignation be overpast.”

– Isaiah 26:20, JPS 1917 Tanach