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Posted October 14, 2016 - 8:00am

This week’s Torah portion is only a single chapter long. The Ha’azinu, the Song of Moses, spans all fifty-two verses of our Torah portion. When reading this parashah, there are several questions that come up. We will only have time to answer a few at this time. 

First, in a Torah scroll the Song of Moses is written in two columns, rather than one. Why does this passage merit this unique rendering? The song opens with the words:

Give ear, O heavens, and I will speak, and let the earth hear the words of my mouth. (Deuteronomy 32:1)

Moses introduces this song by calling upon two witnesses: the heavens and the earth. The Torah sets a precedent that a matter is only established by the testimony of two witnesses (Deuteronomy 19:15). By calling on both the heavens and the earth, Moses establishes his two witnesses against the Children of Israel to hold them accountable for their actions. The two columns of the Torah scroll are a reminder of this fact: two witness are being called to the stand; two witnesses are watching the Children of the Most High at all times.

Second, why does Moses ask both the heavens and the earth to listen to him? Why are the heavens and the earth called to be witnesses against humans? Just before giving us the details of the creation of man in Genesis 2, the Torah tells us that man is the combined product of both heaven and earth:

These are the generations [toldot] of the heavens and the earth. (Genesis 2:4)

The word toldot can mean generations, offspring, genealogy, etc. Man was made as a combination of both heaven and earth when the Creator breathed a small portion of Himself into the dust of the earth. Heaven and earth, therefore, are partially responsible to oversee the actions of mankind.

Posted October 10, 2016 - 8:27am

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people's bones and all uncleanness. (Matthew 23:27)

What did Yeshua mean when he criticized the scribes and Pharisees saying they were “like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people's bones and all uncleanness”? Why did he use the imagery of whitewashed tombs? How would his listeners have understood this?

In Temple times, ritual impurity was extremely important, especially in and around Jerusalem. The Torah warns that a person who is ritually contaminated “and does not cleanse himself, defiles the tabernacle of the LORD, and that person shall be cut off from Israel” (Numbers 19:13). Therefore, it became critical that a person know if there was a potential of becoming ritually contaminated or not, so that he could take steps to avoid it. 

But can ritual impurity actually be contracted through merely walking on or too near a grave? Or is this just a Pharisaic invention? The book of Numbers makes it clear, ritual impurity is not just transmitted through the touching of a corpse, but can even be transmitted through contact with a grave as well:

Whoever in the open field touches someone who was killed with a sword or who died naturally, or touches a human bone or a grave, shall be unclean seven days. (Numbers 19:16)

A grave has the potential to transmit the highest level of ritual impurity, the same as if a person touched the corpse itself. The steps involved in the “decontamination” process were lengthy. It was a seven day process that involved the sprinkling of the water that contained the ashes of the red heifer:

Posted October 7, 2016 - 8:36am

How To Become Rebellious And Love it

For I know how rebellious and stubborn you are. Behold, even today while I am yet alive with you, you have been rebellious against the LORD. How much more after my death! (Deuteronomy 31:27)

This passage is written as a kal vachomer, an argument going from the light to the heavy: If A is true, then how much more so is B also true. Moses recognized that if the Children of Israel rebelled and strayed against the Torah’s instruction while he was with them to take them by the hand and guide them in its requirements, how much more would they stray from it after his death. But who rebels against God’s commands and why?

There are generally two types of rebels. The first is the one who simply denies the truth and the authority of the Scripture and walks in outright rebellion against it. There’s nothing spectacular about this. There will be those in every generation who follow this path. The second type, however, is one who claims that Scripture is still authoritative, yet rationalizes his behavior based on his own interpretations, rather than following the mesorah, the accepted interpretations and traditions. This is the more deceptive road to a wayward life. Let’s explore the implications of this.

Posted October 5, 2016 - 8:54am

Then the Lord rained on Sodom and Gomorrah sulfur and fire from the Lord out of heaven. And he overthrew those cities, and all the valley, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and what grew on the ground. But Lot's wife, behind him, looked back, and she became a pillar of salt. (Genesis 19:24–26)

Have you ever wondered why Lot’s wife was turned into a pillar of salt? Why not a pillar of limestone, basalt or even ash? Why salt? When most people think of the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah, they think of sexual perversion. Although this was definitely a factor that contributed to its destruction, sexual misconduct was only a symptom of the greater problem. There was a root issue that led to this and other perverted indulgences. The prophet Ezekiel tell us the root was self-indulgence and inhospitality:

Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. (Ezekiel 16:49)

The people of Sodom were prideful and had an excess of everything, yet refused to share with those who genuinely needed it. Their self-focus led to the sins that ultimately caused their destruction. As we know, Lot and his family were right in the middle of this wickedness, and the LORD sent angels to deliver Lot and his family from the region of Sodom before it was destroyed.

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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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