Rabbi Zevi Saunders

Bringing Torah to Everyday Life

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 Guidelines to aide you in your preparations.

Parshas Vayikra- The Karbonos

In this week’s Sedra we learn about the ‘’korbonos.’’
There is so much that can be said regarding the ‘’korbonos’’.

The English word used for ‘’korbonos’’ is sacrifice. This is not really what the ‘’korbonos’’ are all about. You are not really sacrificing anything. Rather the word ‘’korbonos’’ comes from the word ‘’Korev’’ which means draw close. The idea of offering a ‘’Korbon’’ is to draw close to G-d.

The Sedra starts off by saying;-
‘’When a man brings from himself an offering’’. Our Rabbis learn from this strange phrase ‘’from himself’’ that when one brings an offering one must imagine he is offering himself to Hashem. It just so happens that we use an animal instead. That is why one must lean ones full body weight on the animal and confesses ones sins prior to slaughtering.

Whenever the ‘’korbonos’’ are mentioned in the Torah the name ‘’Hashem’’ is used and never the name ‘’Elo-kim’’ The name ‘’Hashem’’ always means G-d of mercy and the name ‘’Elo-kim’’ means G-D of justice and harsh judgement. Our Rabbis infer from this that the ‘’korbonos’’ are nothing to do with appeasing a harsh blood thirsty vengeful G-D, rather a merciful way of atoning for our sins and coming closer to him.

The first offering discussed is the ‘’Olah’’ which is loosely translated as a ‘’burnt offering’’, because it is totally consumed on the altar, but actually the word means to ‘’elevate’’ by totally dedicating an animal to Hashem we’re elevating ourselves in the process.

It is interesting that the ‘’Olah,, only comes from male animals, a ‘’Chattos ‘’(sin offering) only female animals and ‘’Shlomim’’ (peace offering) male or female animals.

There are many ideas behind this.
The Kli Yakar explains that since an ’Olah’’ symbolizes dedication we want it to be perfect. That is symbolised by the stronger more powerful male animal, without trying to be too sexist.
A ‘’Chattos ‘’ is offered when one commits a sin. We want to show our power and might have been weakened by the act of sinning. . This is symbolized by offering a weaker female animal.

A ‘’Shlomim’’ which is a thanksgiving offering or an outpouring of gratitude to Hashem.. Anyone, no matter how rich, poor, strong or weak can be equal in the eyes of Hashem. This is symbolised by offering either a male or female animal.

When the kohen Gadol (high priest) sins he brings a bull and when all the Jews sin they also bring a bull but when a private person sins or indeed the King they bring a ram.
This is to symbolise that when the Kohen Gadol or all the Jews sin, it causes great embarrassment and uproar and needs a big bull to atone for it.
However, when individuals or the king sin they don’t make such a huge negative impression with their sin and therefore only need a smaller ram to atone.

There is also a lot of symbolism in the various limbs of the sacrifices that were offered on the altar
An ‘olah’ is totally burnt on the altar and not eaten even by the priests by way of saying we want to totally elevate ourselves to G-d and not let any of our human faults, as symbolized by eating, hold us back or draw us to sin.
Of the animals that can be eaten, the kidneys, fats around the stomach, a portion of the liver, the diaphragm, and the juicy body fats were to be burnt on the altar.
The kidneys symbolise the thought making process. The juicy fats around the stomach, the good fats of the body and a small section of the liver represent the heightened passions of a person that caused him to sin. These need to be burnt and offered to Hashem by way of saying these are the organs that brought us to commit sins and we are making up for it by offering it up to Hashem.

Blood represents the very essence of a human being. Without blood circulating the body one cannot live. Therefore, we sprinkle the blood on the holy altar by way of saying we wish we could totally dedicate our whole life essence to Hashem.
Also if a person has committed murder and the family are running after him to kill him, he may hold on to the altar and spare himself from death. It is like a so called ‘den’ when playing hide and seek when nobody can tag you. Therefore by spraying the blood, our life force, on the altar we are saying we want to be attached to the altar. We are attaching our whole lives to the altar; therefore, our lives cannot be taken in recompense for our sins.

For common sins it is sufficient to sprinkle the blood on the outer altar.
However when the high priests sins or all the majority of the Jewish nation or indeed on Yom Kippur we must seek a higher form of dedication to Hashem and sprinkle the blood inside the temple on the inner altar and actual curtain to the holy of hollies.

This week is also the final week of the 4 extra Parshiot. It is Parshat ‘Hachodesh’ where we read of the laws of the Pascal lamb and seder night rituals. As it is also Rosh Chodesh we take out 3 Torahs from the Ark. We read Vayikra first followed by Rosh Chodesh concluding with the extra portion of Parshas Hachodesh.

Parshas Vayakhel and Pkudai- Don’t forget how to make all the artifacts!!!

This week’s sedra is very close to my heart. 11 years ago it was the first sedra I leined professionally, 7 years ago I was asked to be a scholar in residence for this weeks sedra, 4 years ago was the first week I was the rabbi of Southport Hebrew congregation and 3 years ago it was my Aufruf week (Shabbat preceding ones marriage- yes it is my anniversary this week)

On the face of it this weeks sedra seems a little boring. We read of Betzalel making all the artifacts for the Tabernacle and priestly vestments exactly as outlined over the previous two weeks. We then read of how they placed everything in the Tabernacle. However, I think we can take a great lesson from this. We see from the fact the Torah records all these actions how important helping out and doing preparations for Mitzvot really are. All the hours spent cleaning and scrubbing for pesach are all treasured by Hashem. Every second is a mitzvah and one is richly rewarded. Don’t despair about having to spend a couple of hours taking your kids to Jewish schools or making dinner for Shabbat. Every second is a mitzvah.

This week is the third of the 4 special weeks where we read a special extra portion from a second scroll. It is called Parshat ‘Parah’ and deals with the purification rituals with the red cow prior to being allowed into the Temple. We read it this week in readiness for the coming of Moshiach and our offering of the pascal lamb on Pesach eve afternoon. May we merit to fulfill that this year.

Purim, the Book of Esther – Hidden Miracles

This week is Purim. It commemorates 2,400 years ago when the Jews were saved from Haman’s evil decree in Persia, as described in The Book of Esther or Megillat Esther. People get dressed up, to hide and mask their identities in the same way that G-d’s identity is masked in the Purim story. He hid behind seemingly natural events such as the appointing of a Jewish queen, the inviting of the Queen and Haman to a feast, which ultimately led to Haman’s downfall on the gallows that he so wanted Mordecai to be hung on.

This is what happens in every day life. G-d is behind everything we do. He is the director of our lives. We are the actors and he is the director. Without the director, the actors have nothing to do they have no lines to say. They don’t know what’s going on. The director is all-important but he is behind the scenes. We cannot see him and the same is with G-d. He directs our lives. He writes the scripts we just act in the way he wants.

It is interesting that the Talmud tells us that on Purim that one should become so inebriated that one does not know the difference between ”blessed is Mordechai and accursed is Haman”. Very strange thing to say. Why should Jews become so inebriated so that we don’t know the difference between the ”blessed Mordechai” and the ”cursed Haman”? Or was that the blessed Haman and the cursed Mordecai? Something like that. I’m not sure. The question is, “What is it all about?” So I heard an answer like this:

That what the Talmud is trying to tell us is that we need to come to a realization that good and evil can both achieve the same result. The Talmud tells us that when Achashverosh removed his ring to Haman to kill all the Jews, that did more to improve the religious status of the Jews than any of the prophets did in their lifetimes. So, we need to realize that bad things are also part of G-D’s plan. Hopefully if we live good Jewish lives we wont need the wake up calls that are sometimes sent our way.

I wish everyone a happy delightful Purim. Don’t forget the 4 special Mitzvos on Purim,
1) To hear the Megillah twice, once at night and once by day,
2) To give 2 ready to eat foods to one person,
3) To give an amount of money to 2 poor people,
4) To have a feast and be merry

Parshas Tetzaveh- Let’s get dressed up.

This week we learn about the special uniform the kohanim had to wear whilst performing the temple rituals. Ordinary Kohanim wore 4 garments, trousers (pants), tunic, belt and hat. The high priest wore an extra 4, an overcoat, an apron a breastplate and a golden head-plate (tzitz).
The Sedra concludes with the inauguration rituals for the Kohanim. They had to be separated from their families for 7 days. Various sacrifices were offered. Blood was sprinkled on the Kohanim and pieces of the sacrifices were waved up and down. During this inauguration, Moshe served as the high priest. He wore special white garments as he could not wear the special priestly vestments.
This week is also Parshas ‘ZACHOR’. We take out 2 scrolls from the ark. The first we read the sedra and the second we read about the commandment to remember how Amalek tried to kill us when we left Egypt and the commandment to wipe out Aamlek and his descendants (Deuteronomy 25:17-20). However, as all the nations in the world have been mixed up we cannot fulfill this commandment at the moment, so please don’t try this at home!!!

This coming Wednesday night and Thursday is Purim. Purim is the day we celebrate our victory over the Persians (423 BCE) who were instructed by Haman to kill us. Haman had been killed 11 months earlier when Esther had ratted him out to the king.
There are 4 main mitzvos of the day all of which were instituted by Mordechai and Esther and are detailed in chapter 9 of the scroll of Esther. They are,
To hear the Megillah being read both at night and by day,
To give 2 ready to eat foods to one person,
To give money to at least 2 poor people,
To have a joyous feast with wine. The wine aspect helps remember the various parts of the story that occurred at wine feasts.
There is also a custom for children to dress up to allude to the fact that Hashem was hidden behind the scenes directing things just how he liked them. We should take solace from the fact that Hashem did not make an open miracle but chose to conceal it behind seemingly natural events. Purim teaches us that no matter what is going on in our lives Hashem is there pulling the strings and writing the next episodes of our lives.

Parshas Terumah – Get me an architect.

This week I had the privilege of performing a rare mitzvah. It’s rare because it is difficult to get all the variables together at once. As I was feeding the ducks at the river behind my apartment on the reclaimed Florida Everglades, I noticed a duck sitting on a nest. After investigating I realized she was sitting on eggs. I raced home to check the laws of ”Shiluach Hakan” lit sending away the nest,and found that all one needs to do is distract the bird to move a few feet away from the nest and lift the eggs 12 inches in the air. One need not keep the eggs. A video of my performance of this mitzvah is available on my facebook page. I dangled a piece of bread in front of the bird and she moved to get it, then I shooed her away while I took the eggs and replaced them. After a short while the duck returned and sat on the eggs once again.

Here are the basic laws of ”Shiluach Hakan”,
Must be a Kosher bird,
Must be a female,
The nest can be on ground or in tree,
Must be a wild bird on public property.

I must admit, it was quite difficult to extrapolate an inspirational message from this week’s parsha, Terumah. It mainly discusses details and instructions on building the Mishkan (Tabernacle).

The golden Ark (Aron) that held the tablets of the 10 Commandments inside. On top were two cherubs with eagle wings and faces of children. The table (Shulchan) which held the 12 loaves of bread. The 7 branched Menorah and two altars. A small golden one inside the Tabernacle and a big copper one for offering sacrifices outside in the courtyard.

The entire Torah is a manual for life. However, there are certain areas where the instructions are overtly, well, instructional. Often, there are examples with allegory or a motif attached. However, this week simply comes across as “connect A to B, C to D, and E to F.” It’s hard to find or even see any inspiration in that. However, we can be sure that the materials G-d instructed the Jews to build the Tabernacle with were not chosen at random. They had very specific purposes and specific correlations to our everyday lives.

In this video I discuss the materials used and how they correlate to various sins Jews committed through the ages. These materials correspond to the atonement for those sins. This teaches us that there’s always hope for atonement and teshuva (repentance). G-d constantly presents us with opportunities to turn everything around; to change the err of our ways. It is up to us to make those changes and put the “raw materials” He gives us to good use. The Tabernacle represents a physical amalgamation of these opportunities.

Enjoy the video! Please leave a response below. If you’re enjoying these videos or if you’re just tuning in for the first time, please feel free to pass the message along and share with a friend. Thanks for visiting.

Parshas Mishpatim – You break you pay.

This weeks Sedra contains 53 commandments. 29 negative things to avoid and 24 positive things to do. These include,
Treating slaves with honour (honor)and dignity,
Observing the 3 pilgrimage festivals,
Laws pertaining to assaults on animals and people by other animals
And not lending money with interest.

At the end of the Sedra (24:7) the Jewish people utter the famous ” naaseh v nishma” we will do and then listen.
These words were uttered prior to the giving of the 10 commandments or statements in last weeks Sedra. Please watch my video for further explanation on this topic.

Please enjoy a throwback video to my previous New York days where I encountered winter.

Parshas Yisro – Hear the commandments don’t break them!

This week we read of the giving of the 10 ‘statements. I call them that because that is the translation of the Hebrew word ‘Dibros’. There are also a total of 613 commandments. These however, are the fundamental basics of Judaism. They are,

You should believe that I am Hashem your G-D,
Do not make idols,
Do not Say the name of Hashem in vain,
Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy,
Honor your father and your mother,
Do not murder,
Do not commit adultery,
Do not not kidnap people, (the usual translation of stealing refers to stealing people which is a capital offence)
Do not not bear false witness against your neighbor,
Do not covet other peoples property.

These were written on 2 tablets of stone which were given to Moshe.

Please watch my video to hear a valuable lesson from this weeks sedra. Feel free (or expensive) to leave any comments on the website.

Parshas Beshalach – Anyone got a ship to rent?

This week we read of the Jews crossing the sea of reeds. The Egyptians charged into the seas after the Jews and were swept off to their deaths. On seeing their tormentors lying dead on the banks of the sea, the Jews burst forth in praise to Hashem. Hashem then decided this would be a great time to bestow upon us the gift of keeping shabbos.

On the 15th of Iyar the Jews finished the food they brought out with them and begged Moshe to ask Hashem for some food. They did this by reasoning with Hashem that if they were going to die of hunger they might as well have died in Egypt on a full stomach. Hashem agreed and send them Manna from heaven.

Why did Hashem not give them food before they asked for it? He knew they needed it.
This teaches us that Hashem wants us to reach out to him and make the first move. Even though He knows we need basic essentials he wants us to ask for it. It is not to dissimilar to a parent waiting for a child to ask nicely before he gives the child his food. May we all merit to see our prayers answered immediately.

My radio appearance talking about elderly parents


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