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Posted May 25, 2018 - 10:47am

The Power of Blessing

In this week’s parashah, we continue learning about the responsibilities of the Levitical tribes to transport the Tabernacle and its components. In the previous portion we learned about the responsibilities of the Kohathite family, and in our current portion we learn about the responsibilities of the tribes of Gershon and Merari. However, the Torah then transitions into the test for the sotah, the wayward wife, and the laws of the Nazarite. Our parashah concludes by recounting the various offerings brought by the tribal heads for the inauguration service of the Tabernacle. The topic we are going to explore now, however, is six short verses wedged in between the laws of the Nazarite and the dedication offerings. Numbers 6:22–27 records for us what is commonly called the Birchat Kohanim, the Priestly Blessing, also known as the Aaronic Benediction:

The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the people of Israel: you shall say to them,

The LORD bless you and keep you;

the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;

the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.

So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them.”

The LORD instructed Aaron and his sons, the Kohanim (the priests), to bless the Children of Israel with this liturgical formulation. Every day across the world, this tripartite blessing is bestowed upon the Jewish people. When it is recited in the synagogue, the congregation turns their eyes away from the Kohen or the one reciting it in the absence of a Kohen. This is to remind us that blessings, particularly this blessing, do not come from the Kohen, but they are something that comes directly from Hashem, as we read, “and I will bless them.” The Kohen is merely the conduit through which this blessing is imparted.

Posted May 18, 2018 - 8:04am

Disciples of Moses

Parashat Bamidbar begins our study of the book of Numbers. Chapter one starts off with the LORD’s command to take a census of the males among the Children of Israel who are of the age to go into battle. Every male twenty years old and older was to be counted. The Torah then lists out the census results according to each tribe. In chapter two, after giving the results of the census, the LORD gives Moses instructions for how the Children of Israel would both encamp and how they would travel. The Tabernacle and the Levites would be surrounded by the entire army of Israel. The tribal legions would be a buffer of protection for both the priestly tribe and also the holy house in the event of a military engagement. Chapter three, however, begins entirely different:

These are the generations of Aaron and Moses at the time when the LORD spoke with Moses on Mount Sinai. These are the names of the sons of Aaron: Nadab the firstborn, and Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar. These are the names of the sons of Aaron, the anointed priests, whom he ordained to serve as priests. (Numbers 3:1–3)

Chapters three and four of the book of Numbers cover the responsibilities of the Levites for packing up and transporting the Tabernacle and its furnishings when traveling. However, the Torah introduces this topic in a unique manner. It begins by saying, “These are the generations of Aaron and Moses.” In the original Hebrew, the word for generations is toldot. As we have discussed previously, the primary meaning of the word toldot is offspring. But if this is the case, why does the Torah only discuss the sons of Aaron and is completely silent regarding the offspring of Moses?

Posted May 11, 2018 - 11:12am

The Rejection of Israel

The double portion of Behar-Bechukotai is the last reading in the book of Leviticus. And although the bulk of the book of Leviticus deals with laws of the sacrificial system and the inauguration of the levitical duties, it ends on quite a different tone. Parashat Bechukotai begins with a reminder that if the Children of Israel heed Hashem’s instructions and obey His commandments, they will be blessed. It begins, “If you walk in my statutes and observe my commandments and do them,” and is followed by a list of things that will happen as a result of their obedience. 

However, immediately following is a stern warning of what will happen if they refuse to obey his Torah and walk in His ways. This list of curses is nearly three times as long as the blessings for obedience. When reading this list of afflictions that will come upon the Israelites, it seems that God will be angry enough to wipe them off the face of the earth entirely. He tells them:

And you shall perish among the nations, and the land of your enemies shall eat you up. And those of you who are left shall rot away in your enemies' lands because of their iniquity, and also because of the iniquities of their fathers they shall rot away like them. (Leviticus 26:38–39)

This seems to confirm what many within the church believe has happened: God has rejected Israel just as He promised. Because of a misunderstanding of Paul’s language in Romans 11, there are entire denominations within Christianity that believe and teach that the Jewish people have been forsaken by God due to their rejection of Yeshua as Messiah. They believe that the Jewish people are no longer the true people of God, and that they have been displaced by a “truer” people of God, namely Christians. But is this really what Paul meant? If so, this would contradict what the LORD had already promised in the Torah:

Posted May 4, 2018 - 7:11am

The Relative Nearest Him

Parashat Emor begins with a problematic passage. Through Moses, God gives instructions to the priesthood prohibiting them from becoming ritually impure through corpse contamination. There are exceptions to this rule, however, and the Torah gives a list of close relatives by which a priest may allow himself to become ritually impure. This could be through either attending to the body of the deceased or merely attending their funeral, either of which would bring with it ritual contamination:

And the LORD said to Moses, “Speak to the priests, the sons of Aaron, and say to them, No one shall make himself unclean for the dead among his people, except for his closest relatives, his mother, his father, his son, his daughter, his brother, or his virgin sister (who is near to him because she has had no husband; for her he may make himself unclean).” (Leviticus 21:1–3)

In this passage we learn that a priest may attend to the body of six different family members: his mother, his father, his son, his daughter, his brother, or his unmarried sister. However, this list seems incomplete. What about his wife? Is the Torah so insensitive that it does not allow a priest to attend the funeral of his own wife? Even though she is not literally related to him as the others in this list are, shouldn’t the Torah make an exception for his beloved wife?

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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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