Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Torah Readings for Saturday, May 28, 2016 Behar

Torah Readings for Saturday, May 28, 2016

Behar (On mount)
25:1-26:2) Vayikra (Leviticus)

Behar is the ninth sedrah in Vayikra.  The sedrah takes its name from the opening sentence, “The Lord spoke to Moshe on Mount (“Behar”) Sinai.”  According to Etz Hayim, the sedrah divides into two parts.  All of chapter 25 deals with Principles of Land Tenure.  This is followed by a two verse postscript from chapter 26 containing three unconnected commands.  This is one of those times when such oversimplification hides the importance of the topic.  Chapter 25 contains a series of laws related to the Sabbatical Year, The Jubilee, Redemption and Servitude that were to become operative once the Children of Israel entered the Promised Land.  The material is a continuation of the Holiness Code that began with Chapter 19.  Having dealt with ways to keep the Israelites holy and then the Kohanim holy, the Torah now turns to making the land itself holy.  At one level the laws pertaining to the Sabbatical Year and the Jubilee may be seen as the ultimate example of the concept of elevation that we have been discussing.  For what can be more mundane than the land we walk on and what can be more inspiring than the rules presented here in how to treat it?  For those of you using different texts, please note that I have relied on the Stone Chumash for categorizing some of this material.

The Sabbatical Year, The Jubilee, Redemption of Property, Preventing Poverty and Servitude (25:1-55).

Sabbatical Year (25:1-7).  For six years the Israelites are to work the land.  During the seventh year or Sabbatical Year the land is to lie fallow.  Notice the similarity with the commandment about Shabbat.  There we are commanded to work for six days before resting.  Judaism recognizes the value of work as well as the need to rest.  We also read about the Sabbatical Year in Devarim (15:1-10) where the Sabbatical Year is described as the year in which debts were to be canceled.  The Hebrew term for the remission of debts is “Shmittah” and this is the name by which the Sabbatical Year is also known.

The Jubilee Year (25:8ff).  The Jubilee followed a series of seven Sabbatical Years.  In other words it was the fiftieth year.  Note the similarity in the counting method used here and the one used to count the Omer and arrive at Shavuot.  In Hebrew the Jubilee Year is called “Yovel” which according to Plaut may “have originally meant ‘ram’…”  This would have been in reference to the shofar or ram’s horn that was supposed to be sounded to announce the Jubilee.  The shofar was to be sounded with a “broken blast,” the same note pattern used on Rosh Hashanah.  It was also to be sounded on the tenth day of the seventh month, Yom Kippur.  One could easily make the connection that in performing the rituals of the Jubilee one was beginning anew (Rosh Hashanah) and atoning for past wrongs (Yom Kippur).  As Plaut points out, the Jubilee Year contains three main facets.  The land is to rest in the same manner as in the Sabbatical Year.  All land that has been sold is to be returned to its original owners as defined by the apportioning that took place at the time of Joshua.  All Israelite slaves are to be freed.  The great Rabbinic commentator Rashi finds a philosophic message in the sequencing of the verses following the introduction of the Sabbatical and Jubilee years.  If you do not observe the Shmittah and the Yovel and fail to repent you suffer as follows.  First you lose your money.  Then you have to sell your land.  Then you have to sell your house.  Then you have to borrow at interest.  Since you cannot repay the loan you become a bondsman to a Jew, then a slave to a non-Jew and finally the property of an idol worshipper which leads you to a life of idolatry.

Redemption of Property (25:23-34)

Redemption of Land and Houses in Walled Cities (25:23-31).  The important message here is that “The land shall not be sold in perpetuity” because the land really belongs to God and we are merely temporary residents.

Cities of the Levites (25:32-34).  As with everything else, there are special laws for the Levites at the time of the Jubilee.

Preventing Poverty (25:35-38).  The concepts of remitting debts and returning land that are part of the Sabbatical and Jubilee years may be seen as a way of preventing the creation of a permanent class of impoverished Israelites controlled by a small number of wealthy families.  The verses here are much more direct.  They command us to help our brethren rise out of poverty without waiting for these seminal years.  Maimonides contended that the highest form of charity was helping somebody to avoid poverty in the first place.  Give a man a fish and you give him a meal.  Teach a man to fish and you give him a livelihood.

Servitude (25:39-55).  This section begins with the words “If your brother becomes impoverished…and is sold….”  It covers the gambit of the levels of servitude and how bondsmen and slaves are to be treated and redeemed.  But in the end “…he shall go out in the Jubilee Year, he and his children with him.” (25:54).  And why do we obey these laws?  Because we are God’s servants and He took us out of the land of Egypt (25:55).  Verse 48 provides the foundation for redeeming Jews who are held captive.  For example, in the Middle Ages, it was incumbent on Jews to raise money to rescue co-religionists who were seized by pirates or other such brigands.  In modern times, we see this in the rescue of various Jewish communities such as Operation Joseph, which saved the Ethiopian community.  Verse 50 provides the underpinning for the Rabbinic rules about not stealing from non-Jews or dealing deceitfully with them.  It is bad enough for a Jew to steal from another Jew.  But when a Jew cheats a non-Jew, the non-Jew will then generalize that all Jews are thieves and this brings discredit on God and the whole House of Israel.

Postscript (26:1-2)
These two verses contain three commands - do not make or worship idols, observe Shabbat, and show reverence for the Sanctuary.  These are admonitions concerning private behavior that will keep us Jewish; that will keep us separate; that will keep us holy.  We can observe these only if we are free people in the truest sense of the term i.e., not only that we are not slaves but that we have the economic wherewithal not to have to compromise our Judaism.  By observing the commandments in Chapter 25, we will then be able to follow these three basic rules.

326.         The prohibition against working the earth during the seventh year (25:4).
327.         The prohibition against pruning one’s vineyard during the seventh year (25:4).
328.         The prohibition against harvesting one’s land during the seventh year (25:5).
329.         The prohibition against gathering grapes from one’s vines during the seventh year (25:5).
330.         The commandment to count seven sabbatical cycles, after which a Jubilee year is observed (25:8-10).
331.         The obligation to sound a shofar at the beginning of the Jubilee year (25:9).
332.         The commandment to sanctify the Jubilee year (25:10-11).
333.         The prohibition against farming the land during the Jubilee Year (25:10-11).
334.         The prohibition against harvesting wild growing produce during the Jubilee year (25:10-11).
335.         The prohibition against systematically gathering fruit from one’s trees during the Jubilee year (25:10-11).
336.         The obligation to affect justice between buyer and seller (25:14).
337.         The prohibition against wronging another in a business deal (25:14).
338.         The prohibition against wronging another with cruel words (25:17).
339.         The prohibition against selling land in Israel in perpetuity (25:23-24).
340.         The command to return such land to its original owner during the Jubilee year (25:23-24).
341.         The specification of special laws regarding the sale of a house within a walled city (25:29).
342.         The prohibition against selling land adjoining the cities designated for the Levites so as to assure them their property rights (25:34).
343.         The prohibition against charging interest to a fellow Israelite (25:37).
344.         The prohibition against imposing degrading work on an Israelite slave (25:42).
345.         The prohibition against selling a Hebrew slave at auction (25:42).
346.         The prohibition against imposing crushing burdens on a Hebrew slave (25:43).
347.         The right to hold non-Israelite slaves in perpetuity (25:46).
348.         The prohibition against tolerating a non-Israelite’s mistreatment of an Israelite slave (25:53).
349.         The prohibition against bowing down before a stone image (26:1).
Biblical Literacy by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin

Why does the sedrah begin by telling us that the commandments concerning the Sabbatical and Jubilee Years were given on Mount Sinai?  After all, other laws in Vayikra are not introduced in a manner tied to the Revelation at Sinai.  The laws given here run contrary to human nature and basic economics - get as much as you can while you can; he who makes the gold makes the rules; never give a sucker an even break.  Therefore, it is necessary to introduce these laws with the authoritative reassurance that they were given by God at Sinai.  Otherwise, it would have been too tempting to avoid them by dismissing them as some crazy do-gooder’s scheme to rob from the rich and give to the undeserving poor.

The Sabbatical and Jubilee Years
Were these ever observed or are they just some visionary concept of a utopian society?  Based on various sources including the Book of the Maccabees, Hillel’s creation of the Prosbul and the writings of Josephus, there is reason to believe that the Sabbatical Year was observed in some fashion.  In fact, failure to observe the Sabbatical Year is given by some as one of the reasons for the Exile.  There does not appear to be independent evidence of the observance of the Jubilee Year.  However, in modern times, we have seen the adoption of one its principles - the idea of the common holding of land.  The Jewish National Fund or “Keren Kayemet” was created by the early Zionists to buy land in what was Palestine and is now the state of Israel.  While individuals are allowed to use this land, it is not theirs to sell or misuse.

Shmittah is the Hebrew word for what we call the Sabbatical Year.  Shmittah actually means release.  In observing the Sabbatical Year, we release the land from working for us.   Shmittah reminds us that the land actually belongs to God.  Shmittah reminds us that we really do not have total control of our physical universe.  The laws of Shmittah only apply in Eretz Yisrael because when the Torah uses the term “My Land” it means the land of Israel.

Once again, we are reminded that the Jewish standard for business ethics is a lot higher than those practiced in Western societies.  “When you make a sale to your fellow or make a purchase from the hand of your fellow, do not aggrieve one another” (25:14) means that it is wrong to take advantage of people when doing business with them.  For example, if a person knows about a defect in a piece of merchandise he or she is selling, the seller must make full disclosure to buyer.  By the same token, a buyer may not return a piece of damaged merchandize that was damaged after the sale.

This sedrah offers us at least two ways to fulfill the commandment to perform tzedakah.  First, we should do what we can to help people from falling into the pit of poverty.  Second, we should help them escape the pit of poverty by helping them learn a trade or a skill, which will enable them to earn a living.  Judaism recognizes that some people are incapable of working due to age, physical infirmity or other such conditions.  Otherwise Judaism believes people should work so that they can provide for their needs, the needs of their family and the needs of the community.  There is nothing “righteous” about the able-bodied becoming professional beggars.  Not only does it diminish them as human beings, it takes away from the resources of those who are truly in need.

How do we know that the Sabbatical and Jubilee Years were commanded to the Israelites in the wilderness?  We know this because they were the ones who had experienced the double portion of manna on the sixth day that would provide food for Shabbat.  If God could provide a double portion in the Wilderness, He could surely bring about the miracle of a double portion in the sixth year to feed us during the Sabbatical year.

And you shall proclaim liberty throughout the land to all the inhabitants thereof

We know what’s on the Liberty Bell.  Now we know where it comes from (25:10).  One thing is for sure; the spin they put on this in Civics Class and what Vayikra says are not necessarily the same.

We are now into the month of Iyar.  Iyar is sandwiched between Nissan (Pesach) and Sivan (Shavuot).  While Iyar does not have a major festival, it includes three minor observances worth noting:  Israel Independence Day - Iyar 5, Pesach Sheni - Iyar 14 and Lag B’Omer - Iyar 18.

The Sabbatical Year and Pesach
There seems to be a contradiction between Pesach and the pronouncements about the Sabbatical year.  At Pesach we are told to remove Chametz (grain) that is in our possession.  Yet under the Sabbatical Year we are told that there will be enough of the harvest in the sixth year for us to be able to eat in the seventh year and even into the eighth year until the harvest begins.  Furthermore, if there is no harvest in the Sabbatical Year, did that mean that the Omer ceremony was suspended every seventh year as well?  I am sure there is an explanation for this but right now I must take refuge in the words of Rashi, “Of this I do not know.”

Jeremiah 32:6-27 (Ashkenazim)
Jeremiah 32:6-27 (Sephardim and Chabad Chassidim)

The Man:  Along with Isaiah and Ezekiel, Jeremiah is one of the three Major Prophets.  He began preaching about seventy years after the death of Isaiah.  He was a major figure at the time of the destruction of the First Temple (586 B.C.E.).  Jeremiah was not part of the group that went into exile in Babylonia.  Instead he remained behind but was forced to flee when a Jewish zealot assassinated Gedaliah, the Jewish governor installed by the Babylonians.  Jeremiah was taken to Egypt where he died feeling alone and miserable. We know quite a bit about Jeremiah’s life.  He came from a town called Anatoth.  He never married.  He was assisted by a scribe named Baruch, who was probably responsible for preserving Jeremiah’s writings for posterity.  Jeremiah was considered a traitor by many of his contemporaries since he counseled against fighting the Babylonians.  In fact, King Zedekiah put Jeremiah in jail because of his outspoken opposition to fighting the Babylonians. This week’s haftarah takes place during Jeremiah’s confinement.

The Message:  As predicted by a vision from God, Jeremiah’s cousin, Hanamel, came to Jeremiah and asked him to buy a plot of family land near his hometown of Anatoth.  Jeremiah fulfilled his familial obligation and bought the land.  The process is described in great detail (32:11-14) and it becomes the Talmudic standard for asserting ownership to property.  Jeremiah then uttered a prayer praising God for all that He has done for the Jews.  The Ashkenazim continue with five additional verses that explain why the Jews were being conquered by the Babylonians, why God wanted Jeremiah to buy the land at this time and asserting the ultimate power of the Lord.

Theme-Link: The sedrah tells of the method and importance of redeeming family holdings.  The haftarah begins with just such a transaction.  However, Jeremiah’s purchase of a plot of land seems to be ridiculous.  After all he is in prison and the Babylonians are about to conquer the kingdom.  But Jeremiah’s redemption of a plot land is more than just legal formality.  His redemption of his family’s land acts as a symbol of God’s future redemption of Eretz Yisrael for the Jewish people.

Tonto:  If Jeremiah was the Lone Ranger, than Baruch the son of Neriah was his faithful companion, his Tonto.  Baruch was not just a scribe.  He was Jeremiah’s friend and companion.  He shared in all the adversities of Jeremiah’s life.  He was also the one who re-created the text of Jeremiah’s writings after the King of Judah had burned the original scroll.  Baruch is the Hebrew word for blessed.  The relationship between Jeremiah and Baruch reminds us that we are truly blessed when we share in the steadfastness of true friends.

Pirke Avot
Chapter 4

4:3 He would say:  ‘Be not scornful of any person and be not dismissive of anything; for there is no person who does not have his hour and there is no thing that does not have its place.’”

This is a teaching in humility and modesty.  Since every person and everything is created by God, then there is nothing that is without value.  If we do not see its value, then we must look again and again and again until we do.  Of course, this is consistent with the motif for study - look at each text over and over again to make sure that you capture all of the meaning.  The “He” is Ben Azzai or more accurately, Shimon ben Azzai, who lived during the second century.  He was a younger contemporary of Rabbi Akiva and is variously reported to have been engaged to or married to Akiva’s daughter.  According to those who believe the former, Azzai was criticized for not marrying to which he responded that he was too overwhelmed by his love of Torah to seek a wife.  According to those who believe the latter, Akiva’s daughter sent her husband away so that he could increase his study.  Like mother like daughter.  Unlike some of his contemporaries, Azzai believed women should be taught Torah.  “A man is required to teach his daughter Torah.”  Ben Azzai met a tragic end when his studies in mysticism led to an untimely death.  According to some, he was scholar who ensured that Ecclesiastes and the Song of Songs would be included in the TaNaCh.  He is the one who said, “The reward of virtue is virtue and the wages of sin is sin.”  He also believed that the fifth chapter of Bereshit was “of fundamental importance” because it taught that all men were united because they were made in the image of God and that all men had value because they had a soul given to them by God.  The statement quoted above serves to reinforce his belief that every thing and every person has value and importance.  We have all heard the line about “For want of a nail, the shoe was lost.  For want of shoe the horse was lost.  For want of a horse, the kingdom was lost.”  And most of us know the story of the humble Jew whose recitation of the alphabet opened the gates of prayer for all the Jews on Yom Kippur. It is easy to be a snob.  The trick is to find the value in each person and to value each person just for his or her humanity.

4:11 Rabbi Jonathan said:  “Whoever fulfills the Torah despite poverty, will ultimately fulfill it in wealth; but whoever neglects the Torah because of wealth, will ultimately neglect it in poverty.”

Rabbi Jonathan or Yonatan in Hebrew is the epitome of the humble spirit mentioned by Rabbi Meir.  We have no reliable biographic information about Yonatan, yet his colleagues thought enough of him to include his teaching in this Mishnah.

4:12 Rabbi Meir said:  “Reduce your business activities and engage in Torah study.  Be of humble spirit before every person.  If you should neglect the study of Torah, you will come upon many excuses to neglect it; but if you labor in the Torah, God has ample reward to give you.”  Contrary to the popular stereotype, business is a means to an end, not an end in and of itself.  This pair of sayings serves as pithy reminders that study of Torah is the business of the Jew.  Rabbi Meir was a well-known sage, one of the most famous disciples of Rabbi Avika.  His compilations of Rabbi Avika’s teachings was a major step in the creation of the Mishnah and therefore of the Talmud.

4:14 Rabbi Yochanan ha-Sandelar said:  “Every assembly that is dedicated to the sake of Heaven will have an enduring effect, but one that is not for the sake of Heaven will not have an enduring effect.”  Yochanan ha-Sandelar was a student of Rabbi Akiva.  He lived during the Bar Kochba rebellion.  According to some, he was trying to encourage the Jewish people after the defeat by the Romans.  Since the rebellion was done in the name of God, ultimately the Jewish people would triumph.  The real reason for including this particular verse is because of the teacher to whom it is attributed, Yochanan ha-Sandelar, which translates at Yochanan the Sandal Maker.  In other words, he was a common shoe maker.  The sages were not paid clergy.  They were not cloistered in some Ivory Tower.  For the most part they worked for a living.  This helped make their wisdom both pithy and useful.  In addition to which, it should remind us that if men who labored from dawn to dusk at often menial jobs could find time to study maybe we could too.

Copyright, May, 2016; Mitchell A Levin



Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Torah Readings for Saturday, May 21, 2016 Emor Say or Speak

Torah Readings for Saturday, May 21, 2016

Emor (Say or Speak)
21:1-24:23 Vayikra (Leviticus)

Emor is the eighth sedrah in Vayikra (Leviticus).  The sedrah takes its name from the opening sentence “The Lord said unto Moshe:  Say (‘Emor’) unto the Kohanim, the sons of Aaron, and thou shalt say unto them.…”  The Hebrew word “Emor” maybe translated in English as “to say.”  The Hebrew root of the word “Emor” is composed of the letters Aleph, Mem, Raysh.  In its various forms, these letters mean, “to say.”  But they also can mean “to command,” “to promise,” “to think,” and “to intend.”  So when God tells Moshe “Emor,” He is telling him to “command” Aaron and his sons to follow certain laws.  But the sedrah also contains laws for all of the Israelites.  We are not to follow the laws blindly because we are commanded to obey them.  We should also “think” about them.  Even when we have not yet followed the law, we should “intend” to follow the law.  And we should always “promise” God and ourselves that we will strive to follow the law.

Emor should be read as a continuation of the Holiness Code that we started reading in the sedrah of Kedoshim.  Previously we have addressed the need for the Israelites to be holy, a concept that includes being separate.  Now the emphasis shifts to rules that make the Kohanim holy or separate.  If the Israelites are to be the exemplars of holiness for all the nations of the earth, then the Kohanim, their anointed leaders, need to be the exemplars of holiness for the Israelites.  As the editors of Etz Hayim point out, this sedrah reinforces the alternative name for Vayikra, which was Torat Kohanim or the Priestly Manual since much of it pertains to rules unique to the lives and ritual practices of the Kohanim.

The material covered in Emor may be divided into three parts:  Laws Directly Related to the Kohanim (21:1-22:33), The Holiday Calendar (23:1-44), and Daily Observance and Blasphemy (24:1-23).  Emor contains another sixty-three commandments.  Why not go through the list and see how many we can observe regardless of where you live?

Laws Directly Related to the Kohanim (21:1-22:33)
Chapter 21 includes a series of laws pertaining to the Kohanim in general and then to the Kohein Gadol in particular.  These laws address the need for ritual purity and the avoidance of contamination or the appearance of contamination.  Thus they include admonitions about staying away from corpses, definition of acceptable marriages and unacceptable physical characteristics for those offering sacrifices as well the sacrifices themselves.  Chapter 22 continues with the theme of the rights and responsibilities of the Kohanim and the need to safeguard the sanctity of the sacrificial system.  In addition to items that we have seen mentioned before, we read of the “Terumah” which the Stone Chumash defines as “the approximately one-fiftieth of a crop that is given to a Kohein.”  Previously we had read about rules concerning consumption of the sacrifices offered on the altar.  Now we read that these rules are extended to cover other offerings brought to the Kohanim.  While much of these two chapters may seem rather arcane, especially since the Sacrificial System stopped with the destruction of the Second Temple, the thirty-second Verse of chapter 22 provides one of the cornerstones of Judaism - Kiddush Ha-Shem or the Sanctification of the Name.  “And you shall not profane My holy name; but I shall be sanctified in the midst of the Children of Israel.”  (See Themes below for further commentary.)

The Holiday Calendar (23:1-44)
The holiday calendar appears four times in the Torah:  Shemot 34, Vayikra 23, Bamidbar 28-29 and Devarim 16.  Each rendering has a slightly different spin and may serve a slightly different purpose.  From an historic perspective, Shemot would be the first time the Israelites hear about all of the holidays.  The rendition in Vayikra might be a reminder to the Israelites and the Kohanim that observing the holidays is a key ingredient to being holy.  The rendering in Bamidbar includes a specific enumeration of the offerings brought for each holiday.  The re-statement in Devarim may be viewed as consistent with the summary nature of the fifth book of the Chumash.

Unlike the first two chapters of Emor where God tells Moshe to instruct Aaron and his sons, here God tells Moshe to speak to all of the Israelites.  In other words, the obligation to observe the holidays falls on each individual and not just on the priestly class.  By beginning with the statement “These are My fixed times…” God is letting us know that we are not to reschedule holiday observances to fit our convenience.  It is also sanctification for the calendar we follow today.  The list begins with Shabbat, which is the anchor of the Jewish people.  It then moves sequentially through the year beginning with Pesach, moving on to Shavuot, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkoth and Shemini Atzeres.  The commands surrounding the Omer fall between the description of the observance of Pesach and Shavuot.  Unlike other holidays, Shavuot is actually not assigned a date on the calendar.  Rather its observance is to come after counting the Omer for seven weeks.  Hence its name, the Festival of Weeks.  The holiday we call Rosh Hashanah (the New Year) is mentioned but not by that name.  Instead, the holiday that falls on the first day of the seventh month is described as a day of remembrance.  The description of Yom Kippur differs in tone from what we read previously in the sedrah of Acharay Mot.  In Emor, the emphasis is on the role of the individual in observing this day of affliction rather than the role of the Kohanim.  The calendar concludes with Sukkoth and Shemini Atzeres (the Eighth Day of Assembly).  Here we find the commands concerning the Lulav and the Etrog.  We also find the command to dwell in booths, but the real reason for doing this has been lost in the haze of history.

Daily Observance and Blasphemy (24:1-23)
Some commentators view this chapter as a pastiche of unconnected laws and events.  But consider this alternative interpretation.  The first part of the chapter deals with the Menorah (24:1-4) and the Showbread (24:9-5).  The Stone Chumash says that having dealt with special observances in the previous chapter, the Torah now turns to matters of daily spirituality - the on-going kindling of the lamp and the continuing preparation of the “lechem hapanim” or “bread of display.”  So what do these two commands have to do with the story of the blasphemer that follows (24:10-23)?  The act of blasphemy mentioned in Emor follows an ordinary daily event, a fight between men over some supposed but unmentioned insult (think of it as an ancient form of Road Rage).  This mundane event escalates into a level of anger where somebody improperly invokes God’s name, which is a crime punishable by death.  In other words, daily events can elevate us (proper observance of the commands about the Menorah and the Showbread) or they can degrade us (losing control of our emotions to such a degree that we end speaking the unspeakable).  Being holy is a daily event, not just behavior for a few red-letter days on the calendar.

263-264.           The prohibition against a Kohein (priest) making himself ritually unclean by coming into contact with a corpse, except upon the death of very close relatives, in which case he is commanded to defile himself (21:1-3).
265.                  The requirement that a priest who becomes defiled during the day and who undergoes ritual immersion not serve at the sanctuary until the evening (21:6).
266.                  The prohibition of a priest marrying a harlot (21:7).
267.                  The prohibition of a priest marrying the child of a priest whom entered into a forbidden marriage (21:7).
268.                  The prohibition against a priest marrying a divorcee (21:7).
269.                  The obligation of ordinary Jews to treat Kohanim as holy (21:8).
270.                  The prohibition against the Kohein Gadol (High Priest) entering a place containing a corpse (21:11).
271.                  The prohibition against the Kohein Gadol defiling himself for any corpse including those of his closest relatives (21:11).
272.                  The commandment that the High Priest marry only a virgin (21:13).
273.                  The prohibition against the High Priest marrying a widow (21:14).
274.                  The prohibition against the High Priest having relations with a widow (21:14).
275.                  The prohibition against a priest with a permanent physical blemish serving at the sanctuary (21:17-20).
276.                  The prohibition against a priest with a temporary physical blemish serving at the sanctuary (21:17-20).
277.                  The prohibition against a priest with a physical blemish entering those areas of the sanctuary restricted to priest (21:13).
278.                  The prohibition against a ritually unclean priest carrying out priestly functions (22:2).
279.                  The prohibition against a ritually unclean priest eating “trumah” (22:4).
280.                  The prohibition against a non-priest eating “trumah” (22:10).
281.                  The prohibition against a priest’s Hebrew servant eating “trumah” (22:10).
282.                  The prohibition against an uncircumcised person eating “trumah” (22:10).
283.                  The prohibition against a daughter of a priest who is married to a non-priest eating “trumah” (22:12).
284.                  The prohibition against Israelites eating “tevel” - produced from which the part to be given the priest has not been deducted (22:15).
285.                    The prohibition against a blemished animal being offered as a sacrifice (22:20-21).
286.                    The requirement that, to be sacrificed, an animal must be without disfigurement (22:20-21).
287.                    The prohibition against disfiguring an animal that has been consecrated to be sacrificed (22:21).
288.                    The prohibition against sprinkling the blood of blemished animals on the altar (22:22).
289.                    The prohibition against ritually slaughtering a defective animal for an offering (22:22).
290.                    The prohibition against burning the forbidden parts of blemished animals on the altar (22:22).
291.                    The prohibition against castrating an animal (22:24).
292.                    The prohibition against offering a defective animal brought by a non-Israelite to the sanctuary (22:25).
293.                    The requirement that a sacrificed animal be at least eight days old (22:27).
294.                    The prohibition against slaughtering an animal and its young on the same day (22:28).
295.                    The prohibition against profaning God’s name (22:32).
296.                    The commandment to sanctify God’s name (22:32).
297.                    The obligation to sanctify the first day of Pesach (23:7).
298.                    The prohibition against doing work on the first day of Pesach (23:7).
299.                    The commandment to bring a “Musaf” (additional) offering on each of the seven days of Pesach (23:8).
300.                    The obligation to sanctify the seventh day of Pesach (23:8).
301.                    The obligation against doing work on the seventh day of Pesach (23:8).
302.                    The commandment to bring the priest an omer from one’s new barley harvest on the second day of Pesach (23:10-11).
303-304-305.    The prohibitions against eating cereal grain, roasted grain, or fresh grain until they are brought as an offering (23:14).
306.                    The commandment to count the omer, here meaning the forty-nine days between Pesach and Shavuot (23:15).
307.                    The obligation to make a meal offering of two loaves of bread baked from new wheat on the holiday of Shavuot (23:15).
308.                    The commandment to observe Shavuot as a sacred day (23:21).
309.                    The prohibition against working on Shavuot (23:21).
310.                    The obligation to observe Rosh Hashanah as a day of solemn rest (23:24-25).
311.                    The prohibition against working on Rosh Hashanah (23:24-25).
312.                    The commandment to make a Musaf offering on Rosh Hashanah (23:25).
313.                    The obligation to fast on the tenth day of Tishrei, Yom Kippur (23:27).
314.                    The commandment to make a Musaf offering on Yom Kippur (23:27).
315.                    The prohibition against working on Yom Kippur (23:28-29).
316.                    The commandment to afflict oneself on Yom Kippur (23:28-29).
317.                    The commandment to make Yom Kippur a solemn day (23:28-29).
318.                    The commandment to sanctify the first day of Sukkoth (23:34-35).
319.                    The prohibition against working on the first day of Sukkoth (23:34-35).
320.                    The obligation to bring a Musaf offering on Sukkoth (23:36).
321.                    The commandment to rest from work on Shemini Atzeret (23:36).
322.                    The commandment to bring a Musaf offering on Shemini Atzeret (23:36).
323.                    The prohibition against working on Shemini Atzeret (23:36).
324.                    The specifications of the four species which are to be raised and blessed during Sukkoth (23:40).
325.                    The commandment to dwell in a “Sukkah” (booth) for seven days (23:42-43).
Biblical Literacy by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin (edits by the author of this guide)

Kiddush Ha-Shem (22:32)
Kiddush Ha-Shem means Sanctification of the Name.  The term “the Name” refers to God.  Kiddush Ha-Shem has come to be connected with martyrs - those Jews who accept death rather forsake the name of God.  But Kiddush Ha-Shem means much more than that.  It means living your life in such a way that observance of the commandments is seen as spiritually elevating.  Consider this in the context of the discussion we have been having about being holy.  At the same time, Vayikra (22:32) begins with the admonition “You shall not desecrate My holy Name.…”  Desecration of the Name is the opposite of the Sanctification of the Name.  As can be seen from Vayikra (22:31), at the least Desecration means failure to observe and perform the commandments.  But we can also Desecrate the Name if we appear to follow the commandments, but lead our lives in such a way that others turn away from God because of our poor example.  Why does the command to not desecrate come before the command to sanctify?  Could it be an acknowledgement that some people may not be able to get it right, but everybody should be able to avoid getting it wrong?

Omer (23:15)
The command reads, “You shall count for yourselves.…”  This gives rise to the custom in which you are now participating, the Counting of the Omer.  The practice is also referred to “s’firah” which is the Hebrew word for counting.  You do not need a Priest, Rabbi or other official.  You do not need a minyan.  Each Jew can count the Omer by following the simple formula in the prayer book.  See how easy it is to obey a commandment.  The Omer ceremony of ancient times is an example of how something is made holy.  Harvesting, especially when it was a totally manual operation, is one of the most mundane activities imaginable.  In creating the Daily Omer Offering, the Israelites turned a dirty, backbreaking necessity into an event infused with Godliness. There is a controversy as to when to begin counting the Omer.  The text says that the counting is to begin “on the day after the sabbath” (23:11).  In Hebrew the verse uses the term “Shabbat.”  It is only in the English translation that the word is spelled with a lower case “s” to distinguish the term from the Sabbath, the Day of Rest or the Seventh Day of the week.  Some Jews have taken the text literally and count the Omer from the Shabbat that falls during or at the end of Pesach (on Sunday in modern terms) and not on the evening of the second day of the festival.  The origins of this controversy are shrouded in the mists of history since we lack many of the writings of the proponents of the alternative observance.  For more on this and the meaning of the Omer in general you might want to read pages 199 through 205 of Torah Studies, a collection of commentaries by the late Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson.

Obviously we have added to the list - Simchat Torah, Chanukah and Purim being the three most obvious additions.  Rosh Hashanah is described as a Day of Remembrance, but what are we to remember?  On the first day of the seventh month we are to remember our behavior from the past year so that on the tenth day of the month you will know why you are atoning.  All of the holidays call for a cessation from labor but that does not mean the same thing on each holiday.  The rules for permitted work are less stringent on the Festivals than they are for Shabbat and Yom Kippur.  For example you may cook and carry on the Pilgrimage Festivals.  You may not perform these tasks on Yom Kippur or Shabbat.  It would appear that each holiday required a Musaf or additional sacrifice, which is the reason for the Musaf or Additional Service that is part of the Morning Shabbat and Festival Services in Orthodox and Conservative Synagogues.  Of course, we will continue to discuss each holiday in detail as it arises on the calendar.  In the meantime, you might want to read pages 919 through 926 of the Plaut Chumash for a well-written summary of the Jewish Festival Calendar described in this sedrah including a section on the controversy concerning the Counting of the Omer.

Social Justice
In the welter of laws about the holidays, we find a command to leave the corners of the field unharvested and not to pick up the “gleanings of your harvest” (23:22).  These are for the poor and the stranger.  Once again, we see that from the earliest days of the Torah, being holy was a combination of proper ritual combined with proper behavior.  The festivals were observed with sacrifices but with caring for the less fortunate as well.  (We will discuss the particular command in more detail when we study Shavuot in a couple of weeks).

Every Shabbat
In talking about the Sabbath observances the text says, “B’yom Ha-Shabbat, B’yom Ha-Shabbat…or in English, “On the Sabbath Day, On the Sabbath Day” (28:8).  Why not just “On the Sabbath” once?  By repeating the term, the Torah is telling us to observe the ritual, including the lighting of the candles, on each and every Sabbath.

The sedrah contains many references to the dead and dead bodies.  One of the highest levels of mitzvoth are those for which there is no reward.  In Hebrew, they are called “Chesed shel Emet.”  You might remember that “Chesed” (Kindness) and “Emet” (Truth) are two of the Thirteen Attributes of God you read about in Shemot 34:6-7.  (Do you see how all of this studying starts to get interconnected after a while?  Fun, isn’t it!?)  Any way, taking the dead to the cemetery is considered “Chesed shel Emet” since the dead cannot repay you.  Also, there is mitzvah called “Met Mitzvah.”  “Met” is translated as corpse or dead.  “Met Mitzvah” refers to taking care of the burial needs of a person who dies without family.  As part of the daily Shacharit service we recite a section of the Talmud that lists things that we are to “enjoy” doing while awaiting our portion in the “World to Come.”  The list includes obvious sources of pleasure including giving hospitality to guests, studying and providing for a bride.  But it also includes “escorting the dead.”  In God’s scheme, we each play a role.  The Kohanim are critical when it comes to the mitzvoth of the Temple.  But, under most circumstances, it is left to the ordinary Jew to perform “Met Mitzvah” and one of the ultimate forms of “Chesed shel Emet,” caring for the dead.

Disqualifying the Blemished
God forbids the bringing of a blemished animal as a sacrifice (22:17-25).  God also forbids a Kohein with a blemish from offering a sacrifice (21:16-24).  The same Hebrew word, “moom”, is used when speaking of the blemished sacrifice or the blemished one offering the sacrifice.  The reasons for forbidding the use of blemished animals for a sacrifice are almost self-evident.  But why the prohibition against the blemished priest, especially when you look at the description of the blemishes?  There are those who say the prohibition existed so that the people would not be distracted from the sanctity of the sacrifice by staring at the blemished priest.  I do not find this a very satisfactory answer and find the command inconsistent with what we have read in the Torah.  We know from the prohibition about putting a stumbling block in front of the blind, that God wants us to care for those with handicaps.  And Moshe’s speech impediment certainly did not disqualify him from leading us out of slavery or receiving the very law that disqualifies the blemished priest.  Unless you have a found a better explanation, this might just be a “Chukat” which Elijah or the Moshiach will be able to explain.

Contradictions and Confusion
In “Choice and Lineage,” Nessa Raporport’s D’var Torah on Emor we are reminded of just how contradictory and confusing the portion can be for many of us.  It begins with the harsh, strict rules for the Kohanim.  The reading then shifts to the joyful cadence of the holiday calendar.  And then, just as abruptly, the reading shifts again and ends with the stoning of the blasphemer.  The blasphemer who dies so violently has an Egyptian father and an Israelite mother.  The mother’s name is Shlomit, which is a form of the Hebrew for “wholeness” and “peace.”  What does all of this mean?  For once, I will take refuge in the words of Rashi, “of this I do not know.”

Priestly Purity
This week’s reading with its list of acceptable characteristics for the Kohanim including permissible marriages reminds again of the importance that God placed on the purity of the Priestly class.  The priests were entrusted with the performance of the sacrifices which for our ancestors was the key to making expiation for our sins so of course they would have to be pure in the truest sense of the word.  As uncomfortable as it may be for us to admit, the Jewish people lost the Temple long before the Romans sacked it in 70 AD.  For decades prior to that event, the Priestly class had been compromised by Jewish leaders more concerned with conquest and grandeur than following the words in Leviticus in which God not only describes the qualifications for priestly acceptability but also says that He wants us to be “a nation of Priests.”  This should serve as a reminder that there is more to being Jewish than holding on to territory or participating in ritual that is unacceptable because it lacks the underlying level of morality.

44:15-31 Ezekiel

The Man:  Ezekiel is one of the Three Major Literary Prophets; the other two being Isaiah and Jeremiah.  Ezekiel lived in the last days of the First Temple and was among those exiled to Babylonia.  He probably was sent to Babylonia with the first wave of exiles about ten years before the actual destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem.  He is a younger contemporary of Jeremiah, who also lived during the last days of the First Temple.  (I have not been able to find a record of the two of them ever having met.  Maybe one of you has come across such a mention in your studies.)  The Book of Ezekiel is comprised of forty-eight chapters, half of which were written before the destruction of the Temple and half of which were written after the destruction of the Temple.  You have already read several summaries about Ezekiel since his writings provide at least ten of the haftarot during the course of the year.

The Message:  This week’s haftarah comes from the second half of the book which means it was written once the prophet was living in Babylonia.  In an amazing act of specificity, the commentators for Etz Hayim report that this was written “in the beginning of year 572 B.C.E., fourteen years after the fall of Jerusalem.”  These sixteen verses are a small portion of Ezekiel’s grand design for the new Temple, which is to be built at some future date.  They describe the role of the Kohanim including matters of lineage, attire and ritual practices.  There are discrepancies between Ezekiel’s Temple and the practices described in the Torah concerning the First Temple.  Some of the sages did not want to include Ezekiel’s writings in the TaNaCh because they seemed to contradict the Torah.  At the same time, Ezekiel’s writings concerning a future Temple were not consistent with the reality of the Second Temple built after the Babylonian Exile.  This could have made him a “false prophet.”  The inconsistencies between Ezekiel’s writings about the Temple and the realities of the First and Second Temple led other commentators to conclude that Ezekiel was really writing about the Temple that would be built at the time of the coming of the Moshiach.  This interpretation kept Ezekiel in the TaNaCh because it explained away inconsistencies with the Torah and any claim that he was a false prophet since the future he described had not yet come to pass.

Theme-link:  The first part of the Sedrah deals with the rules pertaining to the Kohanim.  The haftarah contains a shortened version of rules pertaining to the roles and practices of the Kohanim.

Pirke Avot - (Sayings of the Fathers) is a collection of sayings, teachings, and ethical maxims.  A popular and eminently quotable work, it is one of the sixty-three tractates of the Mishnah.  The Mishnah, consisting of centuries of oral teachings passed down from one generation to the next, was finally codified by Rabbi Yehudah Ha-Nasi in 200 C.E.  Pirke Avot is unique among the tractates of the Mishnah in that it doesn't contain any halachah (law), only aggadah (stories or legends).  Its popularity is reflected in the fact that it is included in most prayer books (including, in part, in Gates of Prayer).

Rabbi W. Gunther Plaut one of the great teachers of the Reform Movement suggests that Pirke Avot "teaches us the essentials of what life might be at its best."  It deals with some of life's most basic and important questions:  What is our purpose and destiny?  What is sin, and how do we conquer it?  What is wisdom?  What is my relationship to God?  Pirke Avot is divided into chapters, and each chapter is further divided into individual statements, each called a Mishnah.  It is customary to study a chapter of Pirke Avot starting with the first Shabbat after the end of Pesach (Passover).  Since Pirke Avot consists of six chapters, the work may be completed by the start of Shavuot.  However, other groups of Jews follow a cycle where they study and re-study each of the chapters until the last Shabbat before Rosh Hashanah.  Regardless of the format you choose, each week the Torah page will include one verse from the chapter of the week with a few comments from a variety of sources.)

Excerpts from Chapter 3

3:2 Rabbi Chanina, an assistant of the high priest said:  Pray for the welfare of the government, since but for fear of it men would swallow each other alive.  Rabbi Chananyah ben Teradyon said:  If two sit together and no words of Torah are interchanged between them, theirs is the session of the scornful, as it is written (Psalm 1:1) "Nor sit in the seat of scoffers."  But when two sit together and words of Torah pass between them, the Divine Presence rests between them, as it is written (Malachi 3:16) "Then those who revered the Lord spoke with one another.  The Lord took note and listened, and a book of remembrance was written before him of those who revered the Lord and thought on his name."  Scripture speaks here of two.  Whence do we learn that if even one sits and occupies himself in the Torah, the Holy One blessed be he, appoints him a reward?  Because it is written (Lamentations 3:28) "to sit alone in silence when the Lord has imposed it."

Rabbi Chanina lived during the first and second centuries of the Common Era.  He is also referred to as Rabbi Chanina, Segan ha-Kohanim.  Segan is usually translated as deputy meaning he was the Deputy to the High Priest.  The Segan was the one who was authorized to take over from the High Priest on Yom Kippur “should the need arise.”  So once again we see that members of the priestly class played a key role in the creation of so-called Rabbinic Judaism.  In other words, the line between Sadducees and Pharisees was not necessarily as clear as people would have you believe.  When Chanina spoke of “the government” he was referring to Rome.  How do you think the reality of Roman Government shaped his views and helped create this statement?  Is this statement a precursor of Thomas Hobbes or is it a later day restatement of Jeremiah or is it a little of both?

Rabbi Chananyah ben Teradyon lived during the second century in the time preceding Bar Kochba’s Rebellion.  He is one of Ten Martyrs, Sages who were cruelly murdered by the Romans for teaching Torah.  Further proof of his belief that all should study Torah is the fact his younger daughter was the famous Beruryah, the quick witted and loving wife of the great Sage Me’ir who is mentioned over 3,000 times in the Talmud.  Ben Teradyon lived in a time when the spirits of the people were at a low ebb and that studying Torah was a capital crime.  How would this have caused him to deal first with the need for two to study Torah (think of the concept of “The Pairs”)?

Then how would this have caused him to deal with issue of one person studying alone?  Later, classic Talmudic study would always involve two studying together.  However, given the danger of his time, the ever practical sage also was supplying a justification based on the TaNaCh for a person to study alone since studying alone was preferable (and safer) than not studying at all.

3:3 Rabbi Shimon said:  If three have eaten at one table and have not spoken over it words of Torah, it is as though they had eaten of the sacrifices of the dead, for it is written (Isaiah 28:8) "All tables are covered with filthy vomit; no place is clean."  But if three have eaten at one table and have spoken over it words of Torah, it is as if they had eaten from the table of God, for it is written (Ezekiel 41:22) "He said to me, ‘This is the table that stands before the Lord.’"

Rabbi Shimon’s full name was Shimon bar Yochai.  He was so famous that he could be referred to without the patronymic and people knew who he was.  He was born at the beginning of the Second Century of the Common Era.  He studied with the great Rabbi Akiva.  Shimon and Me’ir (see reference above) were the only two Rabbis ordained by Akiva.  Do the math - does this have anything to do with the concept of “the threes” cited in this Mishnah?  “The threes” cited in this manner in the Mishnah has found its way into the customs surrounding the recitation of the Grace After Meals.  It also provides a clue as to the timing of the drinking of Third Cup of Wine at the Seder.  Finally, how did the political conditions create this Mishnah?  Shimon was an expert on Halakah as well as great teacher of ethics.  If you do not get to all of him when studying Chapter Three, relax, he appears again in Chapter Four.

Rabbi Chanina, the son of Chachinai, said, ‘He who keeps awake at night, and goes on his way alone, and turns his heart to idle thoughts, such a one sins against himself.’” (3:5).  Rabbi Chanina lived in the first half of the second century A.D.  He was a disciple of Rabbi Akiva.  Chanina is stressing the importance of studying Torah in the truest sense of that term.  Chanina sees the opposite as leading to folly which ultimately leads to sin.  The sedrah commands that “you shall speak of them (God’s laws) while you sit in your home, while you walk on the way…” (6:7).  Chanina warns not to walk on the “way alone.”  In other words, travel with somebody so you can talk with him about Torah.  If you travel alone your thoughts might wander to matters of frivolity that will ultimately lead you to behave in an unfit manner.

3:7 “Rabbi Elazar a man of Bartota says:  ‘Give Him what is His, because you and all that you have are His.  That was also expressed by (King) David who said:  All things that come from You and we have given you only what is Yours.’”

Rabbi Elazar was contemporary of Rabbi Akiva.  He lived in a town called Bartota, which is in a section of Israel known as the Galilee.  According to one commentator, Elazar was so generous that fundraisers did not stop at his home when looking for donations.  They were afraid “he would contribute more than his means permitted.”  So words about contributing to support the community and those in need are especially appropriate coming from a man who practiced what he preached.  Since all that we have is a gift from God, we should not be stingy in our giving because He is not stingy in His giving.  The quote from King David is found in First Chronicles (29:14).  It comes at the end of the book when King David is encouraging the people to make contributions for the Temple that will be built by his son, Solomon.

3:6 Rabbi Chalafta ben Dosa, a man of Kfar Chanina says:  “If ten (people) sit and engage in Torah study, the Divine Presence abides among them, as it is said, ‘God stands in the Divine Assembly’ (Psalms 82:1).  How do we know that it applies to five?  Because of the verse ‘He has found His bundle on the earth’ (Amos 9; 6).  How do we know it applies even to three?  Because of the verse ‘He will judge in the midst of judges’ (Psalms 82:2).  How do we know it applies even to two?  The verse teaches, ‘Then they who feared Adonai spoke on to the other and Adonai listened and heard’ (Malachi 3:16).  It applies even to one, since it is said, ‘In every place where I cause My name to be mentioned, I will come and bless you.’”

Rabbi Chalafta ben Dosa lived during the second century of the Common Era.  He was a younger contemporary of Rabbi Akiva and student of Rabbi Meir one of the great sages of the day.  This is an appropriate verse to study since it begins by talking about ten people just as the Torah portion talks about ten people.  In the case of the sedrah, it is ten spies.  In the case of the Mishnah it is ten people coming together for the study of Torah.  Rabbi Chalafta like to include texts from the TaNaCh in his sayings to enhance their credibility; hence the quote (and the Biblical source) for each of his offerings is found here.  “Rabbi Chalfta contends that God’s presence joins those who study Torah.  He works backward from the Minyan (ten) to the solitary student (one) since anybody who studies Torah is performing a Mitzvah.”  Why are we encouraged to study with others?  According to the sages, “The more people join in performing a good deed, the greater its cumulative value.”  Why was the number five acceptable of merit?  Because when Amos used the term bundle, he was referring to a handful and a hand is made up of five fingers.  Why was the number three of merit?  Because as David points out in the Psalm God is present where judges sit and a court was made up of three judges.  Hopefully study of this verse will help you to understand that references to certain numbers in Jewish ceremonies and practices is grounded in the basic text and not just the product of caprice or whim.

3:19 “All is foreseen, but freedom of choice is given; and world is judged by grace, yet all is according to the amount of work.”

Verses 17 through 20 of Chapter Three are all attributed to Rabbi Akiva.  Akiva is considered to be one of the greatest teachers in Jewish history.  He lived from 60 to 135.  In other words, he was born ten years before the destruction of the Temple and died a martyr’s death during the Bar Kochba Rebellion.  Akiva is living proof that even the wisest of men can make an error in judgment.  During the revolt against Rome in 135, Akiva erroneously declared that Bar Kochba was the Messiah.  The first part of the verse addresses the question of predestination versus free will.  As Rabbi Hertz says, “the verse lays down a fundamental doctrine” of Jewish belief.  “Despite the fact that God foresees the course which a man will adopt, when faced with the choice of two paths, man has free choice.”  God’s vision of time and the World is different than that of a man.  God sees the world as lighthouse keeper views the ships at sea.  He sees all of them at the same time.  He knows which ones are coming, which ones are leaving, which ones are in danger of sinking in the impending storm and which ones will make it safely to shore.  Man is like the captain of the ship.  His view is limited to what is at the horizon and he can only respond as the winds and currents change and shift.  The second half of the verse is a reminder that God is merciful in His judgment i.e., He gives us the benefit of the doubt.  But in the end, judgment is based on what we do here on earth.

Copyright, May, 2016; Mitchell A. Levin