Rabbi’s Message

Vayikra

A thought on this week’s Parsha…

Parshas Vayikra opens with the laws of the Korban Olah, a volunteered offering with a variety of options, depending on one’s financial status. The wealthier individual could bring cattle, a less wealthy person, sheep, an even poorer individual could bring a turtledove. For the most destitute individual who would like to offer something but has no money for even a turtledove, the Torah commands: “When a nefesh, a soul, offers a meal-offering to Hashem, his offering shall be of fine flour; he shall pour oil upon it and place frankincense upon it” (Leviticus 2:1). Rashi adds a comment: “Nowhere is the word nefesh used in connection with free-will offerings except in connection with the meal-offering. For who is it that usually brings a meal-offering? The poor man! The Holy One, blessed be He, says, as it were, I will regard it for him as though he brought his very soul as an offering” (Menachos,104b).

The Chasam Sofer asks both a poignant and practical question. The price of fine flour is more expensive than that of a turtledove! So why is the fine flour offering the option meted for the poorest person, and why isn’t the one who brings the turtledove considered as if he gave his soul?

It was only a few days before Passover when a man entered the home of Rabbi Yosef Dov HaLevi Soloveitchik of Brisk, known as the Bais Halevi. The man had a look of constant nation on his face.

“Rabbi he pleaded. I have a very difficult question. Is one allowed to fulfill his obligation of the four cups of wine with another liquid? Would one be able to fulfill his obligation with four cups of milk?” The Bais Halevi looked up at the man and began to think.

“My son,” he said, “that is a very difficult question. I will look into the matter. But until then I have an idea. I would like to give you some money in order for you to purchase four cups of wine for you and your family.”

The Bais Halevi, then took out a large sum of money, far more than necessary for a few bottles of wine, and handed it to the man who took it with extreme gratitude and relief. One of the attendants who helped Rabbi Soloveitchik with his chores was quite shocked at the exorbitant amount of money that his rebbe gave the man.

He gathered the nerve to ask. “I, too, understood from the man’s question that he needed to buy wine for the seder and could not afford more than the milk he was able to get from his cow. But why did you give him so much money? You gave him not only enough for wine but for an entire meal with meat!”

Rabbi Soloveitchik smiled. “That, my dear student is exactly the point! If a man asks if he can fulfill his obligation of the four cups of wine with milk, then obviously he cannot have meat at the seder. That, in turn, means that not only can he not afford wine, but he also cannot afford meat or fowl! So not only did I gave him money for wine, I gave him money for meat as well!”

The Chasam Sofer tells us that we have to ponder the circumstances and put the episode in perspective. The poorest man he who cannot even afford a lowly bird — has a form of Torah welfare. It is called leket, shikcha, and peah — the poorest and most destitute are entitle to grain left behind in field. And from that grain, which was not even bought, the man can make a fine flour. When that individual decides to remove the grain from his very own table and offer that grain to the Almighty, he is considered giving his soul. True, a bird may cost less, but to the poorest man, even the bird costs more than the grain he received gratis. However, when he takes those kernels and gives from them, he is offering his very soul!

Often we try to assess contributions and commitments based on monetary value. It is an inaccurate evaluation, for a wealthy man may give time which is harder for him to give than his money. A musician may give of his skill, despite aching fingers or a splitting headache. The Torah tells us that when we assess the needs of a poor man or anyone who gives, don’t look at the wallet. Look at the whole person. And the way to do that is to look at the soul person.

Wishing you all a Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Avi and Miriam Mammon & family


Parsha Summary for Parshat Vayikra by Rabbi Tendler

1st & 2nd & 3rd Aliyot: The instructions for offering an “Oleh” – burnt offering (fully consumed on the Alter) is detailed. This offering could be brought from a bull, or male sheep or goat. The less expensive “Oleh”, using a Turtle Dove or common dove, is described. The Mincha, an offering made from baked, fried, or deep-fried matzoh type crackers is detailed.

4th Aliya: The Korban Shlomim – the peace offering, brought from male or female cattle, sheep, and goats is described.

5th Aliya: This aliya describes this Korban Chatas – the sin offering. Three unique sin offerings are described:

1. When the High Priest sinned
2. If the King sinned
3. If the entire nation sinned because of a wrong ruling by the Sanhedrin – High Court.

Note: A Korban Chatas could only be offered if the sin was unintentional.

6th & 7th Aliyot: The Korban Chatas of a commoner is detailed, as well as the specifics of the Korban Asham – the guilt offering. This Korban was offered in instances where intentional wrongdoing was implicated; such as not fulfilling an assumed oath, or doing something questionable without first ascertaining the law. Additionally, a type of Asham was offered in instances of dishonesty and swearing falsely.

Pekudei: A World of Blessing

A thought on this week’s Parsha

“A hundred sockets for a hundred kikar…” (38:27)

There’s an elderly lady who sits in a nursing home in New York. Every day, this is what she says, “Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift of G-d. That’s why we call it the present.”

How does a person sensitize himself to the present that is the here-and-now? Our Sages mandated that we recite at least one hundred blessings every day. Making blessings helps to remind us constantly of all the blessings that surround us: The ability to see, to think, to enjoy the smell of fruit and flowers, the sight of the sea or great mountains, the sight of royalty, eating a new season fruit, or seeing an old friend for the first time in years. We have blessings when a baby is born, when a loved one dies. When we surround ourselves with blessings we surround ourselves with a blessing. The Hebrew word beracha (blessing) is linked to the word bereicha which means a pool of water. G-d is like an Infinite Pool of blessing, flowing goodness and enrichment into our life.

Among other things, a beracha must include is the Hebrew word which means “L-rd”, which comes from the root adon. In the construction of the Mishkan (the portable Temple on which G-d caused His Presence to dwell) there were exactly 100 “sockets.” These sockets were called adanim. What is the connection between the 100 adanim and the hundred times that we call G-d by the name “Adon” in our daily blessings?

Just as the adanim were the foundation of the Mishkan through which G-d bestowed his Holy Presence on the Jewish People, so too are our daily blessings the foundation of holiness in our lives.

  • Source: Chidushei HaRim

Wishing you all a Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Avi and Miriam Mammon & family


Parsha Summary for Parshat Vayakhel-Pekudai by Rabbi Tendler

1st Aliya: The Parsha begins with the Mitzvah of Shabbat and the penalty for her transgression. Note that Pasuk 35:5 is classic proof of the Oral Law. Those who deny the Oral Law must explain the literal translation of this verse to prohibit having any burning flame on Shabbos. This would forbid the use of lights, heat, and even Shabbos candles! It is the Oral Law which teaches us that the G-d’s prohibition was directed at lighting a fire, not having a fire. Moshe asked the Bnai Yisroel to donate the time, talents, and materials for the construction of the Mishkan. The Bnai Yisroel responded with unbridled enthusiasm.

2nd Aliya: Talents and materials were donated and Betzallel and Oholiav were appointed as chief architects and artists. The response to Moshe’s appeal was so great that Moshe had to command the people to stop their donations! (see, miracles do happen!) The outer coverings of the Mishkan and the inner tapestries are detailed. The beams of the Mishkan, the Aron Hakodesh, and the Shulchan – Table are described.

3rd & 4th Aliyot: The Menorah and the inner Golden Altar are described. The outer ramped Altar, the Washstand, and the Mishkan’s surrounding enclosure are detailed. Pekudei begins with an accounting of the materials used in the construction of the Mishkan. (gold = 4,386.5 lb./ silver = 15,088.75 lb./ copper = 10,620 lb.)

5th & 6th Aliyot: The Kohein Gadol’s breastplate and vest are described. The remaining garments of the Kohein Gadol and the other Kohanim are detailed, and Moshe inspects the completed Mishkan. Moshe certifies that the entire project followed the exact details of Hashem’s instructions. Moshe blesses the workers.

7th Aliya: On the 1st day of Nissan, 2449, the Mishkan was assembled. After every vessel was properly in place, the presence of Hashem, the Shechina, descended in a cloud and filled the Mishkan.

Tu B’Shvat

We celebrate the fruit and trees on the 15th of Shvat, at a time when there are no fruit or flowers to be seen. Frost (and often snow) is covering the trees, the days are short, nights are long, darkness and despair reign. And yet, with insight, seeing beyond the surface, we know that deep within the tree the sap is rising, preparing the tree for the blooming and blossoming that will occur in the springtime.

Cherry Blossom

It is through realizing that there is going to be growth in the future, that potential will eventually come to fruition, that we celebrate the holiday for the trees. This is the trait of “binah” – the insight that Jewish women are known to have. We need to see beyond the facts and surface reality; we need to see potential and hope for a brighter future. Taking a leadership role means acting upon this vision, affecting change in our communities and in our society, by influencing the people around us to have that same hope and optimism, and help to bring to fruition the dormant potential within each and every one of us.

The first mitzvah the Jewish people ever received as a nation is a mitzvah to celebrate and sanctify the new moon. “This month is the first of the months for you, the first among the months of the year” (Exodus, 12:2). This mitzvah also expresses the need to see beyond the here and now to a brighter tomorrow. When we actually celebrate the first of the month, Rosh Chodesh, the moon itself is barely visible!

“The reason why the Jews count according to the lunar calendar is that the moon is at times completely dark and you don’t see in it any light at all, and yet even at its darkest, we always know that it will soon be light again. And that is specifically when we celebrate Rosh Chodesh.” (Slonimer Rebbe, Netivot Shalom, Parshat Bo)

Interestingly enough, women have a special connection to Rosh Chodesh. They have the custom to avoid certain types of work and celebrate a mini-holiday every Rosh Chodesh, more than men do, as a reward for having refused to contribute their jewelry for the infamous Golden Calf project. (Midrash Pirkei d’Rabbi Eliezer, 45).

When the men lost hope, as Moshe delayed in coming down from the Mt. Sinai after 40 days, they immediately scrambled to create an alternative intermediary between God and themselves. The women, however, were able to stay focused on the bigger picture and see beyond the despair of the moment.

Let us utilize this power of seeing beyond the surface and focusing on potential and through that build towards a brighter and better future.

Chanukah

History of Chanukah

The Hebrew word Chanukah means “dedication.” In the 2nd century BCE, during the time of the Second Holy Temple, the Syrian-Greek regime of Antiochus sought to pull Jews away from Judaism, with the hopes of assimilating them into Greek culture. Antiochus outlawed Jewish observance ― including circumcision, Shabbat, and Torah study ― under penalty of death. As well, many Jews ― called Hellenists ― began to assimilate into Greek culture. This began to decay the foundation of Jewish life and practice.

When the Greeks challenged the Jews to sacrifice a pig to a Greek god, a few courageous Jews took to the hills of Judea in open revolt against this threat to Jewish life. Led by Matitiyahu, and later his son Judah the Maccabee, this small band of pious Jews led guerrilla warfare against the Syrian-Greek army.

Antiochus sent thousands of well-armed troops to crush the rebellion, but after three years the Maccabees beat incredible odds and miraculously succeeded in driving the foreigners from their land. The victory was on the scale of Israel defeating the combined super-powers of today. Jewish fighters entered Jerusalem and found the Holy Temple in shambles and desecrated with idols. The Maccabees cleansed the Temple and re-dedicated it on the 25th of Kislev. When it came time to re-light the Menorah, they searched the entire Temple, but found only one jar of pure oil bearing the seal of the High Priest. The group of believers lit the Menorah anyway and was rewarded with a miracle: That small jar of oil burned for eight days, until a new supply of oil could be brought.

From then on, Jews have observed a holiday for eight days, in honor of this historic victory and the miracle of the oil. To publicize the Chanukah miracle, Jews add the special Hallel praises to the Shacharit service, and light a menorah during the eight nights of Chanukah.

Laws & Customs

Menorah Lighting

To publicize which night of Chanukah it is, all eight candles on the menorah should be at the same height ― and preferably in a straight line. Otherwise, the candles may not be easily distin- guishable and may appear like a big torch.

In addition to the eight main lights, the menorah has an extra helper candle called the “Shamash.” As we are forbidden to use the Chanukah lights for any purpose other than “viewing,” any benefit is as if it’s coming from the Shamash.

Since the Shamash does not count as one of the eight regular lights, your menorah should have the Shamash set apart in some way ― either placed higher than the other candles, or off to the side.

What Candles to Light

The most important thing is that that your candles must burn for at least 30 minutes after night- fall. Actually, it is even better to use olive oil, since the miracle of the Maccabees occurred with olive oil. Glass cups containing oil can be placed in the candle holders of any standard menorah.

Where to Light

To best publicize the miracle, the menorah is ideally lit outside the doorway of your house, on the left side when entering. (The mezuzah is on the right side; in this way you are “surrounded by mitzvot.”) In Israel, many people light outside in special glass boxes built for a menorah. The conventional practice today, is to light indoors by a window that faces the public domain. Since the mitzvah occurs at the actual moment of lighting, moving the menorah to a proper place after lighting does not fulfill the mitzvah.

When to Light

The preferable time to light the menorah is at nightfall. It is best to light in the presence of many people, which maximizes the mitzvah of “publicizing the miracle” and adds to the family atmosphere. The menorah can still be lit (with the blessings) late into the night, as long as people are still awake.

At the end of his life, Moshe, having given the Jewish people 612 mitzvot since leaving Egypt, the revelation at Har Sinai and throughout the 40 years in the desert, now gave to them the final mitzvah: “Now therefore write down for yourselves this song and teach it to the people of Israel. Put it in their mouths, that this song may be My witness against the people of Israel” (Deut. 31:19).

Rabbah said: “Even though our ancestors have left us a scroll of the Torah, it is our religious duty to write one for ourselves.”

Moshes’ final message to us was: “It is not enough that you have received the Torah from me. You must make it new again in every generation.”

The 613th Mitzvah is not simply about writing a Torah, but about the duty to make the Torah new in each generation. To make the living Torah anew. It is not enough to hand it on cognitively – as mere history and law. It must speak to us effectively, emotionally and guide us through every step of our lives.

This Mitzvah symbolizes the fact that though the Torah was given once at Mount Sinai, it must be received many times, as each of us, through our study and practice, strives to recapture the pristine voice heard at Mount Sinai.

Elul

Elul – the month preceding Rosh Hashanah – begins a period of intensive introspection, of clarifying life’s goals, and of coming closer to God. It is a time for realizing purpose in life – rather than perfunctorily going through the motions of living by amassing money and seeking gratification. It is a time when we step back and look at ourselves critically and honestly, as Jews have from time immemorial, with the intention of improving.

The four Hebrew letters of the word Elul (aleph-lamed-vav-lamed) are the first letters of the four words Ani l’dodi v’dodi lee – “I am to my Beloved and my Beloved is to me” (Song of Songs 6:3). These words sum up the relationship between God and His people. In other words, the month preceding Rosh Hashanah is a time when God reaches out to us, in an effort to create a more spiritually – inspiring atmosphere, one that stimulates teshuva.

The most important aspect of Elul is to make a plan for your life. Because when the Big Day comes, and each individual stands before the Almighty to ask for another year, we’ll want to know what we’re asking for!

Rewind 3,000 years to the Sinai Desert. God has spoken the Ten Commandments, and the Jews have built the Golden Calf. Moses desperately pleads with God to spare the nation.
On the first day of Elul, Moses ascends Mount Sinai, and 40 days later – on the seminal Yom Kippur – he returned to the people, with a new, second set of stone tablets in hand.

For us as well, the month of Elul begins a 40-day period that culminates in the year’s holiest day, Yom Kippur.

Why 40? Forty is a number of cleansing and purification. Noah’s Flood rains lasted 40 days, and the mikveh – the ritual purification bath – contains 40 measures of water.

Elul is an enormous opportunity. During this time, many people increase their study of Torah and performance of good deeds. And many also do a daily cheshbon – an accounting of spiritual profit and loss.

Over 3,300 years ago, on the morning G-d gave the Jewish People the Torah,
the entire Creation was silent. All life forms were mute. The sea was completely still. Nothing moved. Not a sound. Pure silence.


And it was from this silence the Torah was given.


Imagine. Each Jew was forced to look into his heart and come to terms with himself without the aid of anything external. No palm pilots, no mobile phones, not even a beeper. Just an old-fashioned heart. Because it is from the heart that a person defines what kind of relationship he wants with his Creator. The Midrash teaches that on Shavuot, the day that G-d gave us the Torah, His voice reverberated with an intensity and a strength that had never before been revealed. That voice was so powerful that it penetrated into the heart of every single person standing at Sinai – and yet not a sound was heard. G-d spoke to each heart in the most personal way. Each person was chosen by G-d to become the recipient of the Torah, the greatest treasure in the world.


During the British Mandate, Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook was forced to appear at a Royal Commission. The commission was convened to discuss why the Jews insisted on praying at the site of the destroyed Temple. Rabbi Kook was asked why the Jewish People make such a fuss over the Western Wall. “After all,” said an English officer. “It is just a bunch of rocks one on top of the other.” Rabbi Kook replied that “Just as there are hearts which are made of stone, so too there are stones which are made of heart.”

Shavuot, the day the Torah was given, is the day when we can choose the nature of our hearts. Whether they will remain impervious and unresponsive to the silence. Dormant and rocklike. Or if our hearts will serve as the spiritual center of our being. Shavuot is the day that we decide if our hearts are going to listen to the silence and unite together with G-d in genuine celebration. The dictionary defines silence as being the absence of noise. Not so the Torah. The Torah defines silence as being the key to a positive and healthy relationship with G-d and oneself. Shavuot is the gateway to an existence above and beyond sound.

On the 15th of the Hebrew month of Shevat, which this year falls out on the 21st of January, a new year will begin. There will be little or no television coverage of this event. No one will be jumping into fountains. No one will be waiting for midnight so they can drunkenly wend their way through some ancient Scottish ballad with obscure lyrics. No one will be setting off firecrackers. The 21st of January will be the quietest New Year’s Day in the world, and yet, Tu B’Shevat – the New Year for Trees – is one of the most significant days in the calendar.

I can hear you saying: “What do the trees need a New Year for?”

Apart from its halachic ramifications, why should trees need a New Year? Are they going to make resolutions? What does it mean that the trees have a new year? And why is it specifically on the 15th of Shevat?

Tu B’Shevat takes place in the middle of winter. Everything outside seems frozen and lifeless. However, hidden from sight, something is happening deep inside the trees. Under the frozen bark, at the very core, the sap is beginning to rise. Everything looks the same as yesterday, everything seems unchanged – but inexorably, new life is starting to burgeon. It may not be the end of Winter, but it is the beginning of the end.

You can look at Winter two ways: You can look at it as the end and at its deathly chill. Or you can look at it as the silent birthday of life and see it as the beginning.

The same is true of life itself. You can look at the winter years of life as the end. Or you see those same years looking forward to a life just about to be born on another plane.

The Torah likens Man to the tree of the field. “For Man is the tree of the field.” (Devarim 20:19) Just like the tree contains an unseen vigor which rises in the depths of winter and death, so too man has an unseen vigor planted inside him – an eternal existence which springs to life when we leave this winter- world of suffering and pain.

When we celebrate Tu B’Shevat, we are not just celebrating the New Year for Trees. In a way, we are celebrating our own renaissance. We are reminding ourselves that this is just a winter-world.

Winter brings us the shortest days of the year. Night seems to dominate the day. Winter is a paradigm of this world. In this world, darkness seems to rule. It’s easy to think that this is a brief walk in darkness between two greater darknesses. But to the Jew, this world of darkness is no more than a prelude to a great light. The Jew sees this Winter-world as the harbinger of Spring, not the executioner of Summer.

At the very beginning of Creation, the Torah repeats the following phrase many times: “And it was evening and it was morning…” Evening precedes morning. Night precedes day. Why does the day start with the evening? If you were creating the world, wouldn’t it be more logical to start with the morning, with the light? For if the first thing that G-d called into creation was light, shouldn’t we view the day as morning first and only then evening?

Right at the beginning of the Creation, there is a hint. A hint that this is an evening world. A world of winter and darkness. And it is only after this evening- world that we will finally enter the Morning-world to live on an eternal plane.
That’s the secret message of Tu B’Shevat, the day when we celebrate new life rising in the tree. Tu B’Shvat is a New Year which proclaims that “It was evening,” but soon it will be morning.

R’ Bachya ben Yosef ibn Pekuda z”l (Spain; 11th century) lists 30 types of cheshbon ha’nefesh / accounting with one’s soul that a person must perform, the twenty-fourth of which is the following: “Reconsider everything you have known since your youth and the beginning of your education about G-d and His Torah, about the words of the earlier generations, about the riddles of the Sages, and about the prayers, for these subtle matters are not the same to one whose understanding is immature [i.e., a youth] as they are to one whose un- derstanding is mature.

“Therefore, do not be content with the images you have in your mind from the beginning of your studies. Rather, when your mind has matured you should begin again to study the Torah of Elokim and the books of the Prophets. [Learn them with a fresh perspective] like someone who is first learning to read, and accustom yourself to explain them, to elaborate upon their allusions, and to look carefully at their wording and phraseology. Also, recognize which state- ments are meant to be understood straightforwardly (peshat), and which are not meant to be understood that way… If you do this, you will see the secrets of the Torah and the secrets of the Prophets and Sages in way that is impossi- ble if you continue to learn the way you learned as a child.” (Chovot Ha’le- vavot: Sha’ar Cheshbon Ha’nefesh ch.3)

R’ Isaac Sher z”l (1875-1952; Rosh Yeshiva of the Slobodka Yeshiva in Lithuania and Bnei Brak) applies these words studying the Book of Bereishit. He writes: A person learns Sefer Bereishit as a child and grasps what he learned on a child- ish level. This forms his understanding of the Patriarchs and their deeds. The typical person does not thereafter reexamine his understanding of these “stories” as the years pass.

He continues: As a result, we are unable with our limited perspective to under- stand the Torah’s stories and to learn about the deeds of the Patriarchs. We do not appreciate their depth. Worse yet, some of the deeds of the Patriarchs appear to us to have been sins, and we have the nerve to say, “After all, there is no tzaddik who is perfect.” This is wrong! Rather, we are obligated to say, “When will my deeds reach the level of the Patriarchs’ deeds?!”

When the Shofar is blown…

When the Shofar is blown on Rosh Hashanah, three different types of noises are sounded. The first is a “teki’ah.” This sound is one long continuous burst. The second sound is called a “shevarim.” It consists of three shorter blasts. The third sound is the “teruah.” The teruah is a set of nine short bursts of sound, a staccato blast. The Gemarah in Rosh HaShanah tells us that these later two sounds are meant to sound like crying: “. . . drawing a long sigh. . . uttering short piercing cries.” The Ben Ish Chai writes that these sounds are meant to contrast with the tekiah. The tekiah, he explains, is a sound of triumph and joy, while the shevarim and teruah are sounds of pain and suffering. Because of the opposing feelings they represent, when one blows the shofar, he is not to connect the tekiah with the others, by blowing the sounds with the same breath.

Why do we have both sounds of joy and sounds of sorrow emitted from the Shofar? The Ben Ish Chai explains by means of a story. A man had a ring specially made for him. Upon this ring, he had engraved the words “This, too, will pass.” If he were troubled and in pain, he would look at his ring and remember that the suffering would eventually end. This thought comforted him. During times of happiness and comfort, he would gaze at the ring as well. He would realize that his wealth and good fortune could change for the worst in an instant. Good times are not forever. He would recognize that there was no reason to become conceited and haughty over circumstances which were beyond his control and could turn adverse without any warning. This ring reminded the man that all in his life had to be put in perspective, and that one should live his life neither complacent nor despondent.

The tekiah, the first sound, is a sound of joy and happiness. Immediately after we hear the long exultant blast, we hear the shevarim and teruah. These are both sounds of sadness, pain and suffering. The stark contrast between these sounds is intentional. We are supposed to remember while listening to the shofar that we cannot forget G-d during times of contentment, and we cannot let our egos swell from our achievements. Success can quickly turn into failure. Only with G-d’s help did we prosper, and only with G-d’s help will we continue to do so. However, upon hearing the sorrowful sound of the Shofar, we should not think that in times of suffering G-d has forsaken us. We should not become depressed and despondent. Right after these blasts, we sound a tekiah again, to signify that G-d is there, and in His mercy will help us return to a state of jubilation again.

Miriam and I wish you a happy & healthy sweet new year,

Rabbi Avi Mammon

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