Rabbi Zevi Saunders

Bringing Torah to Everyday Life

Parshas Chukas – let’s drink.

This week we read of the laws concerning the purification of ritually impure people. I understand Tumah (ritual impurity) like radiation. Radiation cannot be seen with the naked eye and cannot be felt. However, the effects can be devastating. The same is true with Tumah. It cannot be seen or felt but on a spiritual level it is attached to a person.
After the laws of the Red Hefer we read of the Jews attempt to reach Israel by crossing through the lands of Moab, Sichon and Og. Their requests were refused and the latter two entered into war with the Jews. The Jewish people defeated them and inherited their lands.
The Sedra is tempered with the passing of Ahaon the High Priest, brother of Moshe. He warranted death prior to the entry into the land of Israel on account of his siding with his brother Moshe in hitting the rock instead of speaking to it in regards to it turning into a well of water. The miracle of talking to the rock and it turning into a well would have been a far greater display of Hashems power than hitting it.

Parshas Beh’alotcha- Yum yum that that tastes good

In this week’s Sedra, We are told to light the Menorah in the temple every day.
The Jews were told to observe Passover in the desert. There were numerous people who were ‘Tammei’ ritually unclean who could not partake of the Pascal Lamb. They complained, so Hashem granted them another opportunity a month later on the 14 of Iyar. This was not a festival and ‘chometz’ could be eaten.

We are also told the trumpet call for the journeying of the Jews.
We then see this in action as the Jews moved from Mount Sinai.

The Jews complain about their lack of good food while traveling in the desert. They recall all the delicacies they ate in Egypt and long specifically for meat.
Hashem eventually gives them meat. Deliciously cooked fowl falls from heaven. However, the people that complained died immediately or a month later depending on their level of sin.

How could the Jews be so ungrateful as to complain and ask for meat? After all, they had everything they needed literally falling from heaven directly into their hands. Also, why does the Torah use the expression, “The people were LIKE complainers” (11:1). Surely, they were complainers!!


The Rabbis tell us that there are 13 expressions of prayer (Midrash Shimonei beginning of Parshat Vo’etchanan). Each expression denotes a different aspect to prayer and all of them can be used. The midrash recounts all the instances these expressions were used in the Bible. Here are there English equivalents: talking, asking, supplicating, begging, screaming, demanding, praising, pleading, arguing, persuading, reasoning, extolling, and crying.
Moshe used many of these expressions to intercede to Hashem on behalf of the Jews. After the Jews made the golden calf, Moshe reasoned with Hashem that if He destroyed the Jews, the other nations would think G-d was too weak to bring the Jews to the land of Israel as He promised.
This is what I believe the Jews were doing in this instance. They tried to reason with Hashem that if in the slavery of Egypt they had meat then how much more so in the utopia situation of the desert they should enjoy the same delicacies.
This is why the Torah uses the expression ‘like complainers’ because they were not really complaining. However, they still sinned on their exulted level because they should have been contented with their lot.
This is how we can understand all the other instances that the Jews complained. On many occasions when faced with either no water or with on rushing enemies they reasoned
‘What was the point of leaving Egypt to die in the desert, we might as well return’ This was not a statement of ungrateful people, rather a plea to get what they wanted.
The Rabbis have advised that people not attempt this method nowadays, as it is very easy to cross the line to be ungrateful and disrespectful.

Shavuot – Let’s learn some Torah

This Saturday night is the festival of Shavuot. In Israel it is one day and in the diaspora it is two days. It is observed on the 50th day after the second day of Passover. People have a custom to eat dairy foods as the Jews didn’t have time to learn and practice the laws of slaughtering and koshering meat so they just ate dairy. The Torah and Israel is also compared to milk. However, as with any festival one should also eat meat to commemorate the animals the Jews offered when making the pilgrimage to the Temple.

Shavuot commemorates the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai 3327 years ago. However, the Torah does not specify the actual date it was given. We only know that it was 50 days after the second night of Passover. Why doesn’t Shavuot have its own specified date? Why is it dependent on the occurrence of Passover? Surely, the giving of the Torah, the climax of our travels in the desert, the contract that defines our existence and destiny should be as important if not more so than the Exodus from Egypt. This is to teach us that the Torah should always be incorporated into our lives new and fresh everyday. While the Torah was given on one specific day in history it is not explicitly defined because the acceptance of the Torah occurs every day when we consciously decide to continue living as Jews. The laws of the Torah exist as a conduit through which we may renew and strengthen ourselves. We may do this by setting aside time to study. Today there are so many commentaries and analyses in English; surely we can all find a topic that perks our interest.

Parshas Bhar Bechukotai – Just relax

This week we learn about the laws of Shmittah, the sabbatical year. Every seven years a person must leave his field fallow for a year. At the end of the 49th year (i.e the 50th year) it is Yovel, the Jubilee year. All Jewish slaves go free. In addition all the fields and inheritance that were sold in the previous 50 years reverts back to its original owner.
We are also told that somebody who sells his inherited land in Israel or a house he has the ability to buy it back whenever he has the money to do so.
I think this weeks Sedra teaches us a valuable lesson about hope. No matter how dire one’s financial situation, even if one has to send himself into slavery, he can still redeem himself and buy himself back.
Even if all else fails and he cannot redeem himself, the redemption will come on its own during the Jubilee year.
I think we can all take big heart from this. No matter how difficult one’s own situation is, there is always hope. Even if you cannot see a way out yourself, G-d will bring about the salvation on his own. If G-d cares so much about slaves, how much more so does he care about regular people.

We are told (25:55) ‘’The Jews are my servants’’. This is a very inspiring verse. We must remember that we work for the ‘’boss’’. We have the best job and are sure to get the best wages in the world to come. This alone should consume us with Joy and alacrity to fulfill the Torah.

Parshas Emor – Sorry that’s not perfect !

This week we learn of the laws pertaining to the Cohanim. A Cohen cannot marry a divorce or convert. They cannot get close to dead bodies except for their close relatives. They had to remain pure to eat from the special gift given to them.

We also read of the various blemishes that disqualify animals and Cohanim for serving in the Temple. The following blemishes are enumerated as making priests unfit for service in the Temple (Lev. 21:18–20)
A blind man,
one injured in the thigh from birth or as the result of an accident ,
A man whose nose is sunk between his eyes,
One with hands or feet of unequal length,
A man who has a broken leg or broken arm,
A Cohen with a cataract,
skin diseases,
And one with a crushed testicle.

We also read of the festivals and the special sacrifices offered on them.

The Sedra concludes with the story of the blasphemer and his punishment of death.
May the Temple be built speedily in our days so that we may continue the temple service as quickly as possible.

Parshas Acharey Mos Kedoshim

Parshas Acharey Mos deals primarily with the Yom Kippur ritual temple service. It concludes with the 15 women one is forbidden to marry. Sandwiched in the middle is the commandment to cover up a little bit of blood after slaughtering a wild animal or bird.

Parshas kedoshim contains 51 mitzvos. 13 Posivive commandments and 38 negative commandments.
These include;-
Loving your neighbour as yourself,
Not to wear wool and linen garments,
Not to take revenge,
Not to have incorrect weights,
Don’t tell lies
Don’t cut off your sideburns
And the prohibitions against marrying your immediate family.

In chapter 19 v 17 it says as follows;-
‘You should not hate your brother in your heart; you should reprove your friend and do not bear a sin because of him.’

What is the connection between these apparent random statements that appear in the same verse?

So I am basing my explanation based on what I saw on the Tisha Bov event by R’ Y Frand.

The Torah tells us of the sin of hating your fellow Jew. We know how terrible this sin is. The Talmud gives this sin as the reason for this exile. Therefore, The Torah is giving us a helping hand.
You want to know how not to commit the sin of hating your fellow Jew; then air your grievances with him. Don’t let things fester under the surface. We all know that when we feel we are wronged we get angry. If we deal with it and tell the person, we can then move on. If we choose to keep it quiet then it can gnaw away at us and lead to hatred.
If we are not careful and let our grievances build; it can eventually lead to murder. This is clear from Parshat Massie. In Numbers chapter 35, we learn about the laws of murder and one who murders accidentally. In verse 20 it says
‘If he pushed him out of HATRED, or hurled upon him from ambush or in EMNITY struck him…. He should be put to death, Later on while discussing an accidental murder it states verse 22
‘But if with suddenness WITHOUT EMNITY or without ambush…….’ So it is clear from the Torah why someone commits murder; because he has hatred towards him.

We should all learn from this about the power of hated and try and settle our disputes in a calm way and air our grievances respectfully before it turns into something nasty.

My website was down for a week due to my domain name expiring it is now up and running.

Parshas Tazria Metzorah – uhhh that looks nasty!

Spiritual “uncleanliness” is a difficult concept to grasp in this modern era. This week we learn about the spiritual disease Tzaras and what it means to be afflicted with it. This teaches us a powerful lesson about G-d’s involvement in the minutiae of our everyday lives.

Parshas Shmini- Watch out for the flames!!

This year due to Pesach being a Shabbos and therefore having 2 weeks on the same Sedra, we read ‘Shmini’ 8 times. This is ironic as ‘Shmini’ means 8 and refers to the 8th day of the inauguration of the Mishkan(tabernacle) in the desert.
On the 1st of Nissan 2449 in the Sinai desert tragedy struck. On what was supposed to be one of the happiest days in Jewish history with the residing of Hashem’s Shechina on earth, Nodov and Avihu were consumed by fire in the Mishkan(tabernacle). They decided to mark this momentous day by offering up their own pan of Ketores (frankincense). The Talmud in Eruvin 63a says they derived this from the verse in Vayikro (1:7): “And the children of Aaron should place fire on the Mizbaiach (altar).” Nevertheless, they incurred the death penalty for deciding a halachik point in front of their teachers, Moshe and Aaron.

It is interesting to note that the Midrash offers a slightly different explanation. The Midrash Tohras Cohanim says that the fire did not descend at first. Nodov and Avihu exclaimed, ‘‘How can one cook without a flame?” Then, they kindled the fire themselves. At that point the heavenly fire descended and consumed the Mizbaiach (altar) together with Nodov and Avihu. Their souls burned, but their bodies remained whole.

There are several other reasons why Nodov and Avihu received the death penalty. These include:

1) Not honoring their father by consulting him before offering up the Ketores,

2) Drinking wine which renders a priest unfit for duty,

3) Entering the Holy of Holies, which is only permitted by the Cohen Gadol and even then only on Yom Kippur,

4) Failing to pour water over their hands and feet prior to entering the Mishkan, and

5) Not wearing the special Priestley clothes.

However, let’s not forget that Nodov and Avihu were great tzadikim. The Talmud says they had it in themselves to become great leaders of the Jewish people. Their names depict this. Nadav comes from the word “nedivus,” which means nobility. Avihu can be read as ‘‘av-hu,’’ meaning he was a father and could have been a father to the whole nation. The passuk (10:3) later describes them as “bekroivay,” meaning friends of Hashem. This is fitting as they were the sons of Aaron Hacohen and nephew to Moshe, the leader of the Jewish people.

Therefore, how could such great tzadikim commit this sinful act and incur the death penalty?

They were holy men yearning for Kedusha at every moment, similar to metal drawn to a magnet. Once Hashem’s Shechina descended they could not help themselves. Their souls were pulled towards the Shechina. They felt the need to offer Ketores as a way of serving Hashem, the life source of the world.

Nevertheless, this is not what Hashem desires from us. It is not fitting that everyone has access to serve a king. Only the select few have the privilege of serving him. This is especially true when serving Hashem, the King of Kings. Only those people appointed can enter into his Holy Service. Perhaps we can now offer a different understanding in the verse, “bekroivay ekodeish” (10:3). This is usually understood as a consolation to Aaron on the death of his beloved sons. Moshe tells him that Hashem had previously told him that His name would be sanctified through his close ones. Moshe always thought it would be himself or his brother Aaron. When he saw Nodov and Avihu were sacrificed, he realised that they were even closer to Hashem than himself and Aaron. Now we can say it means, ‘‘With my called ones.” Moshe explained to Aaron that only people that Hashem called to serve Him were permitted to do so, regardless of how great they were.

This is why when Hashem wanted to speak to Moshe by the burning bush it first says, “Vayikra” (Shemos 3:4) “And he called to Moshe,” and afterwards He spoke to Moshe. One has to first be called by Hashem before He interacts with a person and appoints him or her as His messenger. The word ‘Vayikra’ is also repeated at the start of Sefer Vayikra. That is perhaps why people refer to the job of a rabbi as a calling. They are called by Hashem to do his special work.

We find another similar circumstance by Matan Torah. Hashem told Moshe to warn the people not to ascend Mt. Sinai. He later tells Moshe to surround the mountain with gates and barriers to stop the people from ascending the mountain. The passuk says, “Go warn the people lest they surge forward past the barriers to see: many of them will fall” (Shemos 19:21). The usual way of understanding this passuk is that people might surge forward past the barriers to get a look and will ultimately be liable for death as Hashem told them not to ascend.

Rabbi Ezriel Tauber shlita offers a different explanation. He says that Hashem told Moshe that the reason for the ban on ascending is to prevent others from spiritual demise. It is normal to expect that whilst seeing the divine revelation and yearning for that Kedusha, people may want to surge forward. The soul would then break past all bodily barriers that hold it down and try to connect itself to the Shechina. However, they will subsequently fall. People cannot sustain a heightened spiritual level for very long. Indeed, the Jewish people as a whole were unable to maintain it. Just a few short weeks later they erred by making the golden calf. It’s like the old cartoons where a character runs at hyper speed off of a roof top. He keeps running on thin air for a few steps. Then, when he sees he is walking on air, he drops rapidly to the ground. What goes up must come down. Artificial highs never last, no matter what the high is, even in spirituality. The only way to properly rise to a higher spiritual level is on solid foundations. Every sky scraper is built from the bottom up with a strong foundation. The crane is only jumped and moved on to the higher floor when the lower floor is completed, checked, double checked and inspected. The Mesillias Yeshorim quotes the Talmud (Avodoh Zoroh 20b) and lists 12 levels of spirituality that a person needs to ascend. Each level has to be understood and mastered before the next level can be attempted.

Returning to Nodov and Avihu, they should have withheld their urges. Infact, the connection to Matan Torah goes a bit deeper. The Midrash says that although Nodov and Avihu enjoyed the Shechinah by Matan Torah, they received the death penalty because they displayed levity. Hashem did not want to dampen the spirits of the Jewish people so he waited till a later time to exact punishment. The passuk in Devarim (4:24) says, “Hashem is a consuming fire.” Only those properly trained can deal with fire.

In conclusion, we see from this week’s sedra the importance of remaining calm and consistent on one’s spiritual journey. One must not get despondent that he is growing too slowly. One must slowly master all levels before he can truly rise safely into the spiritual spheres. There are no quick fixes. It is a slow process that takes a lifetime. As long as steps are made towards reaching this goal – even tiny steps – and progress continues, then that is satisfactory enough.

Parshas Tzav- Let’s get dressed

This week we continue reading about the korbanos and how long one has to eat them. It is interesting that a ‘peace offering’ can be eaten for 2 days. However, a thanks giving offering could only be eaten for 1 day. Our Rabbis explain that every day we need to be thankful for Hashem’s miracles so we need to eat the korban today as tomorrow we will have more to be thankful for.
We also read of the dedication of the Tabernacle which took place at the end of the Jewish month of Adar. This included spraying all the artifacts with blood of the korbanos and oil. Moshe also dressed Ahron and his 4 sons in the priestly clothes and applied blood to their right ear, right thumb and big toe. I presume they washed it off afterwards.

Please read my Passover Seder Guide to aide you in your preparations.

Page 1 of 12

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén