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Posted March 27, 2017 - 10:31am

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.’ ” (m.Avot 3:4)

In our previous mishnah, we learned a lesson from Rabbi Chananiah ben Teradion regarding the necessity to speak words of Torah when two people are conversing. In this mishnah, Rabbi Shimon uses the teaching of Rabbi Chananiah as a springboard to lead into his teaching. He said that “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.” As we brought out in our previous mishnah, for some this statement will be immediately written off as extreme. However, if we peer deeper into it we will see the wisdom waiting for us under the surface.

First, why does Rabbi Shimon increase the number of people from two to three? To begin answering this question, we need to think about the difference between a random event and an intentional one. Sometimes two people may eat together simply because they are in public and either happen to run into one another or happen to sit at the same table. Three people, on the other hand, is usually the result of a more intentional act. When three people sit to eat together, it is usually because they have something in common. Therefore, Torah should be a common, uniting factor between them. Also, with three people (versus only two) there is a higher possibility that one of them will be learned and able to bring a word of Torah with them to the table.

Posted March 17, 2017 - 9:12am

Your Rules or Mine?

For the last few Torah portions we have been reading and learning about the construction of the Tabernacle and everything that needed to be done for it to function properly. Over the last several chapters Hashem has been dictating to Moses the exact instructions for the Tabernacle and its furnishings, as well as the garments for the kohanim (priests). This week’s parashah concludes these instructions. However, immediately upon giving the last instruction regarding who was to be in charge of all of the craftsmanship, Hashem gives the Children of Israel a stern and detailed warning that none of these things were to be done on Shabbat:

Speak to the Israelite people and say: Nevertheless, you must keep My sabbaths, for this is a sign between Me and you throughout the ages, that you may know that I the LORD have consecrated you. You shall keep the sabbath, for it is holy for you. He who profanes it shall be put to death: whoever does work on it, that person shall be cut off from among his kin. Six days may work be done, but on the seventh day there shall be a sabbath of complete rest, holy to the LORD; whoever does work on the sabbath day shall be put to death. The Israelite people shall keep the sabbath, observing the sabbath throughout the ages as a covenant for all time: it shall be a sign for all time between Me and the people of Israel. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day He ceased from work and was refreshed. (Exodus 31:12–17)

This admonition is the first time we learn of the severe consequences of breaking the Sabbath. Willful transgression of the Sabbath day while living within a theocratic, Torah-based community results in the death penalty.

Posted March 16, 2017 - 6:53am

I was recently listening to a lecture on "The Origins of Jewish Prayer" by Rabbi Adam Mintz, and it was amazing to hear him work to piece together multiple rabbinic texts such as the Mishnah, Talmud, and even Ben Sira in an attempt to build a case that corporate Jewish prayer (particularly liturgical prayer) existed prior to the Middle Ages when the first siddurim were made available. He does an excellent job sifting through the various texts and building his case to show that communal prayer goes back to at least the middle to late Second Temple period, but as he rightly states, there is no absolute proof of this from Jewish sources. All we can do is infer from these sources that things functioned similarly to how they do today. However, if we include the Apostolic Scriptures (the New Testament) in the corpus of early Jewish literature, then we have de facto evidence that at least by the first century C.E., corporate Jewish prayer existed and had considerable participation. In the Gospel of Luke we learn of the events that transpired when Zachariah, the father of John the Immerser, was performing his duties of burning incense in the Holy Temple. We read:

And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside. (Luke 1:10)

In this one verse, we have concrete evidence that communal prayer was connected with the Temple service. And if we include a secondary text from Luke found in the Acts of the Apostles, then we also see that liturgy was also a component of communal prayer:

 And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. (Acts 2:42)

Posted March 10, 2017 - 2:12pm

After giving instructions for making the oil for the Temple menorah, parashat Tetzave is primarily focused on the consecration of the kohanim (priests). This consecration includes how the priestly garments, particularly those of the Kohen Gadol (high priest), are to be tailored. The garments of the Kohan Gadol were to be unique in every way. One garment in particular, the ephod, was to be made of a special combination of various materials:

And they shall make the ephod of gold, of blue and purple and scarlet yarns, and of fine twined linen, skillfully worked. (Exodus 28:6)

These components—gold (thread), blue (yarn), purple (yarn), scarlet yarn, and fine linen—were all to be woven together by an expert craftsman to create something beautiful and unique for the man who would serve in the most holy position on earth. Since the gold was to be used as in the fabric itself, creating this gold thread would have been a challenging endeavor. The blue, purple, and scarlet yarn would have been made from the wool of sheep or goats that had been dyed to a rich and vibrant color. The linen (made from the fibers of flax stalks), however, would have been either left in its natural color or bleached to appear a pure white. Once all of these materials were woven together, the ephod would have taken on a color, texture, and pattern that would set the Kohen Gadol apart from all of the other kohanim (priests) designated to serve Hashem. 

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Latest Book Review

The Magerman Edition

Author: Daniel Rose & Jay Goldmintz
Publisher: Koren Publishers
Year: 2014

The Koren Ani Tefilla Siddur is one of the latest in Koren’s growing collection of siddurim (prayer books) geared towards a specific demographic. Koren describes Ani Tefilla as “an engaging and thought-provoking siddur for the inquiring high school student and thoughtful adult.” Koren says that Ani Tefillah has been developed in order “to help the user create their own meaning and connection during the Tefilla [prayer] experience.” The name of the siddur is connected with its objective. Ani Tefilla means “I pray.” 

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