weekly reading: the Census

B”H

Shiur for parashas Vayakhel-Pekudei 5779

When thou takest the sum of the children of Israel, according to their number, then shall they give every man a ransom for his soul unto the L-Rd.”

– Exodus 30:12, JPS 1917 Tanach

A unique perspective on the census taken of B’nei Yisrael involves the consideration of how the silver from the census – a half shekel from every man – was actually used in the construction of the Mishkan (Tabernacle). First of all, let us consider the amount of silver that was taken: “And the silver of them that were numbered of the congregation was a hundred talents, and a thousand seven hundred and three-score and fifteen shekels, after the shekel of the sanctuary” (Exodus 38:25, JPS 1917 Tanach).

The one hundred talents of silver was used for ninety-six sockets at the base of the planks that served to make the walls of the Mishkan, plus four sockets for the partition screen (see scripture). The remaining silver amounted to less than a talent; this was also used to build the mishkan. The exact amount needed was the exact amount collected from B’nei Yisrael when the census had previously been taken. Ohr HaChaim comments that this was a miracle.

Additionally, the census is referred to as an atonement for the souls of B’nei Yisrael. Commentary explains that the half shekels that were taken from each indvidual served as atonement for their souls, specifically for the sin of the golden calf.

Sforno draws another insight, noting that the nature of a census itself requires an atonement for the souls of the individuals counted. He explains, that the mentioning of a head count of people is an oblique reminder of mans sin, his guilt (commentary on 30:12, sefaria.org). In his estimation, humans change from day to day, in regard to their moral status. Therefore, they are not the same when counted each time.

It is as if they are scrutinized by the Almighty at the time of a census, and may fall short of His standard, namely, the commandments, at the time of counting. Therefore, the half shekel served as an atonement for their moral deficiencies at the time of scrutiny.

Inasmuch that these half shekels were used to build the mishkan, another insight can be drawn, in regard to the importance of atonement. The Mishkan served as a dwelling place for H’Shem; yet, its purpose emphasized a central structure where offerings for atonement would be made on behalf of B’nei Yisrael.

May it be H’Shem’s will that when we are scrutinized, we will be judged favorably. May His attribute of mercy override His attribute of judgment.

weekly portion: Terumah 5780

B”H

Shiur for parashas Terumah 5780

“Let them make me a sanctuary [mikdash] that I may dwell among them.”

– Exodus 25:8, JPS 1917 Tanach

The purpose of the building of the Mishkan (portable tabernacle in the desert) was to provide a sanctuary (mikdash) for the L-RD to dwell amongst the B’nei Yisrael. H’Shem’s presence rested between the golden cherubim, on top of the cover of the Ark.

Or HaChayim notes, about the pasuk (verse), “That I may dwell among (within) them,” that “It does not say ‘within it,’ which means that the place that G-d will sanctify to dwell there is within the children of Israel.” (commentary to Exodus 25:8, sefaria.org).

The ultimate purpose of the sanctuary (mikdash) is to serve as a place of residence, so to speak, for the Shechinah. Yet, G-d’s Divine Presence may also dwell within the clay vessels that He created.

“Know ye that the L-RD He is G-d; it is He that hath made us, and we our His, His people, and the flock of His pasture.”

– Tehillim 100:3, JPS 1917 Tanach

the Spirit of Chanukah

B”H

27 Kislev 5780

by Tzvi Schnee

“Not by might, nor by power, but by My spirit, saith the L-RD of hosts.”

– Zechariah 4:6, JPS 1917 Tanach

The miracle of the oil that lasted eight days, giving light to the Menorah inside of the Temple, not the military victory of the Maccabees (a small group of pious Jewish fighters) over the Syrians is emphasized, as per the ruling of the Sages. We celebrate Chanukah in recognition of G-d’s Spirit enabling us to defeat our enemies, not by our own strength or strategical prowess in battle.

Likewise, in recognition of G-d’s hand in our lives, we may bravely face the day, with Him on our side; yet, at the same time, humbling ourselves before Him, inclusive of accepting His plans for us, replete with an acknowledgment of His guidance. He will not lead us astray; rather, he will lead us into victory time and time again. May we be able to conquer our inner battles, with a little help from Above.

erev Chanukah (1st night)

B”H

Historically, Chanukah commemorates the victory of the Macabbees, a small group of pious Jews, who defeated the invading Syrian army. Yet, the Sages deliberately emphasized the miracle of the oil, instead of the military might of the Macabbees. Apropos of reframing the emphasis of the holiday, the Sages brought forth this pasuk (verse) as a reminder of the help the Jewish people received from G-d, when defending themselves against an army much greater than them: “Not by might, nor by power, but by My spirit, saith the L-RD of hosts” (Zechariah 4:6, JPS 1917 Tanach).

The miracle of the oil, has to do with the pure olive oil that was used in the Temple to light the seven-candled menorah that rested in the sanctuary. After cleaning up the Temple, that had been ransacked by the Syrian army, only one cruze of this pure oil was found. Regular olive oil could not be used for such a holy purpose as lighting this menorah inside of the sanctuary. Because the cruze of oil was only enough for one day, there would not have been enough time to prepare more oil, to keep the menorah burning on successive days. Yet, a miracle occurred: the single cruze of oil lasted for eight days. That is the reason we light candles for eight days on Chanukah.

the Three Wells

parashas Toledos 3rd aliyah

(Genesis 26:13-22)

by Tzvi Schnee

November 26, 2019

28 Chesvan 5780

Isaac relocates from the land of the Philistines, after being subjected to their envy of him, for Isaac “had possessions of flocks, and possessions of herds, and a great household; and the Philistines envied him” (Genesis 26:14, JPS 1917 Tanach). Then, “Abimelech said unto Isaac: ‘Go from us; for thou art much mightier than we'” (Genesis 26:16, JPS).

So, Isaac travelled to the valley of Gerar. While there his servants found a “well of living water” while digging in the valley (Genesis 26:19, JPS). However, the local herdmen contended with the herdmen of Isaac. They claimed that the water was theirs; so, Isaac named the well Esek, meaning “contention” (26:20).

The second well dug by Isaac’s herdmen also garnered strife with the locals; so, that well was named Sitnah, meaning “enmity” (Genesis 26:22). A third well was found, wherein there were no complaints. This well was named Rehoboth, meaning “room” (Genesis 26:22), seemingly denoting the area of land where Isaac settled, free of previous complications. A place with room to breathe, and space to grow (spiritually).

According to commentary, the three wells represent the three Temples. The first Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonians, who razed it to the ground (2 Chronicles 36:19). The second Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 C.E. The Third Beis HaMikdash (Temple), will be built in Yerushalayim (Jerusalem; Ezekiel 40-48), when there will be peace (Ramban).

“And many peoples shall go and say: ‘Come ye, let us go up to the mountain of the L-RD, to the house of the G-d of Jacob; and He will teach us of His ways, and we will walk in His path.’ For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the L-RD from Jerusalem.” – Isaiah 2:3, JPS 1917 Tanach