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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?

Posted June 23, 2017 - 10:58am

Follow Your Heart?

“Korach took.” These are the opening words of our parashah. With these words, the lid to Pandora’s Box was lifted and the seeds of Korach’s uprising sprouted forth to begin bearing their twisted fruit. Korach took something that didn’t belong to him. But what did Korach actually take? 

In Hebrew, just like in English, these are two words, vayikach Korach. Hebrew, unlike English, has a special indicator to designate the direct object of a verb. The word, et (את), comes before the direct object in order to let the reader know which object is receiving the action. Since word order is not as critical in Hebrew as in English, this direct object pointer is necessary to distinguish the subject (the one doing the action) from the object (the one receiving the action). The problem with the opening verse of our Torah portion is that this critical word is missing. The Torah explicitly says that he took (from the Hebrew root lakach), but it doesn’t say what he took. Therefore, it is unclear as to what exactly Korach took.

Our sages wrestled with this problem as well. The midrash explores this question and proposes various answers to the problem. Midrash Tanchuma proposes that Korach “took” his heart in the wrong direction. This is proven by citing Job 15:12, which asks, “Why does your heart carry you away?” Since it uses this same Hebrew root word to express the idea of one’s heart “taking” a person away, the midrash uses this to explain the situation with Korach. This is similar to how the Bible describes the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart. It says that God strengthened Pharaoh’s heart. Pharaoh’s heart had already taken him down a destructive path and he had already made up his mind what he was going to do. God simply strengthened his resolve. 

Posted June 16, 2017 - 8:00am

As most people know, James Bond—agent 007—is the flamboyant hero created by Ian Fleming in the 1950’s. This parashah is not about him, but one might think so, given the introductory subject of this week’s Torah portion. This week’s reading begins with the story of the twelve spies who are sent into the land of Canaan ahead of the Children of Israel. When many people think of spies and espionage, they imagine someone in the likes of Fleming’s popular fictional character. But the leaders of the tribes of Israel sent out to Canaan were not spies in the same sense as this British secret agent. Were they really “spies” in the traditional sense of the word? As we will soon see, these men had another purpose for being sent out altogether.

As we know, spies are sent out by a top security administration in their government. Their mission is top secret and only a handful of people know what they are doing and why. Upon completion of their mission they report back directly to their superiors and not to the general public. These twelve spies, however, do not fit this mold. Not only were they commissioned by the entire nation, but they reported back to the general public as well. What’s going on here?

We can find the answer to our question by examining the commissioning of these twelve men and discerning their intended mission. First, let’s take a look at our current portion: 

The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Send men to spy out the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the people of Israel. From each tribe of their fathers you shall send a man, every one a chief among them.” (Numbers 13:1–2)


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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