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Posted July 14, 2017 - 7:32am

The Price of Peace

In last week’s portion we learned about the prophet Balaam and how he was not able to curse Israel in a direct manner. Every time he opened his mouth to curse Israel, it would be filled with blessings instead. Nevertheless, at the end of last week’s Torah portion we learned that Moab was somehow able to have a destructive impact on the Children of Israel:

While Israel lived in Shittim, the people began to whore with the daughters of Moab. These invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods. So Israel yoked himself to Baal of Peor. And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel. (Numbers 25:1–3)

The result was devastating. Thousands of Israelites died in a plague because of their infidelity to the One who brought them out of Egypt. Fortunately, this plague was brought to an end, but only through the seemingly vigilante style execution of an Israelite and his Moabite escort at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting. Pinchas (Phinehas), the son of Eleazar the Kohen, took a spear and ran it through both the Israelite and his lover. After this act, the Torah tells us, “Thus the plague on the people of Israel was stopped. Nevertheless, those who died by the plague were twenty-four thousand” (25:8–9).

Many people have questioned this act of Pinchas throughout the centuries. Was this act a vigilante one and could the plague have been stopped through another means? This question becomes even more pronounced when we look at the following verses:

Posted July 7, 2017 - 8:22am

What Is Your Super Power?

Parashat Balak introduces us to one of the most enigmatic figures of the entire Bible—the prophet Balaam. What can we learn from him? Let’s revisit his story and then draw some practical application from it.

Fearing being overrun by the Israelites leaving Egypt, Balak, the king of Moab, attempts to recruit Balaam to call down calamity upon the Israelites. As we know, his first attempt fails. The LORD appears to Balaam in the night and tells him, “You shall not go with them. You shall not curse the people, for they are blessed” (Numbers 22:12). Balak’s messengers return to him empty-handed. Undeterred, Balak sends a second, more influential delegation to Balaam in hopes of successfully bribing him into changing his mind. But Balaam seems to immediately tell them they are wasting their time. He says, “Though Balak were to give me his house full of silver and gold, I could not go beyond the command of the LORD my God to do less or more” (22:18). However, he tells them to spend the night and he will try and get permission again. This time, Hashem gives him permission to accompany the delegation, but to only say what He instructs him.

Posted June 30, 2017 - 5:04am

Unreasonable Reason

This week’s Torah portion is called Chukat, because it opens by describing the chok (statute or ordinance) of the parah adumah (the red heifer), a critical element used to cleanse a person from corpse contamination. Our parashah begins:

Now the LORD spoke to Moses and to Aaron, saying, “This is the statute of the law that the LORD has commanded: Tell the people of Israel to bring you a red heifer without defect.” (Numbers 19:1–2)

Generally, chukim (statutes) are a classification of laws within the Torah that are given with no real clear understanding as to why they exist. They are laws without reason. For instance, in this week’s parashah we have the ritual of the red heifer. How does mixing the ashes of a red heifer, some cedar wood, hyssop, a string of crimson wool, and water create a concoction that can remove even the highest level of ritual impurity? Specifically, how does this mixture, when sprinkled on someone who has been contaminated by death, make him ritually pure again? The reason this procedure works is beyond human comprehension.

Another example of a chok is the prohibition against mixing wool and linen (Deuteronomy 22:11). Why does the Torah prohibit this mixture to be worn? Is there something inherently evil about the combination of these two fibers? Does it drain the energy from a person? Many times we try to make sense out of the various chukim given to the Children of Israel. We try to apply human logic to something that is not of human origin, and explain a particular law in ways that help us make sense of it. However, if we examine our reasonings, they really have no Scriptural support.

Posted June 26, 2017 - 5:34am

Rabbi Chalafta ben Dosa of Kefar Chanania used to say: If ten men sit together and occupy themselves with the Torah, the Divine Presence rests among them as it is written (Psalm 82:1) “God has taken his place in the divine council.” And from where do we learn that this applies even to five? Because it is written (Amos 9:6) “And founds his vault upon the earth.” And how do we learn that this applies even to three? Because it is written (Psalm 82:1) “In the midst of the gods he holds judgment.” And from where can it be shown that the same applies even to two? Because it is written (Malachi 3:16) “Then those who revered the LORD spoke with one another. The LORD took note and listened.” And from where even of one? Because it is written (Exodus 20:24) “In every place where I cause my name to be remembered I will come to you and bless you.” (m.Avot 3:7)

If you’ve been keeping up with the various mishnayot of Pirkei Avot, you know that there have been many others that have emphasized the importance of Torah study and being engaged in the Holy Text. Rabbi Chalafta ben Dosa’s mishnah is another reinforcement on this concept. Why is this concept so important? Because the more we are engaged in the Scriptures, the more they will be on the forefront of our minds. And the more we think about them, the more likely we will be able to let them guide our decisions at any given moment.

Think about the temptation of our Master Yeshua. At three different points he was tempted by the Adversary. The Satan even quoted the Torah to lure Yeshua into his schemes. However, Yeshua used the very same Torah to rebuke the Satan, because he knew it inside and out. How many temptations could we have avoided if we had abided in the Scriptures as Yeshua and our sages?

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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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