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I am pleased to bring you a brief summary of the Sedra from my father Rabbi Arnold Saunders who writes a column for the Manchester Jewish Telegraph.
This week’s Sedra is the one that is read from more than any other. This is because it contains the Parsha that discusses the Communal Sacrifices that were offered in the Temple. There were daily Sacrifices as well as special ones for Shabbat, Rosh Chodesh (New Moon) and Festivals. The relevant sections are used either as the Maftir on Festivals or as the sole Reading on Rosh Chodesh and Chol Hamoed Succot.(Interestingly, the Temple Service on Yom Kippur actually included a ritual in which the “score” was kept of the times the sacrificial blood was sprinkled downwards and upwards in the Holy of Holies . The final score was 7-1! We sing it on Yom Kippur- “achat vasheva”!)
The Sedra begins, however with a continuation of the story of Pinchas who had quelled the A-lmighty’s anger, following the debauchery with the Moabites. Pinchas is duly rewarded with elevation to the Priesthood. Despite being a grandson of Aaron, the High Priest, he was not initially made a priest – this was restricted to Aaron, his sons, and unborn future descendants. In fact, tradition has it that Pinchas became Elijah, the Prophet, who “attends” every circumcision and every Seder table and will herald the coming of the Messiah.
The 5 daughters of Zelophehad-who had recently passed away- complained to Moses that, as they had no brothers, their family would lose out on a portion in Israel. After consulting the A-lmighty, Moses instructs that they are, indeed, entitled to be granted their father’s portion.
Having discussed the topic of inheritance, Moses feels it is a good time to ask G-d about the succession to his own position as leader. The L-rd appoints Moses’ pupil and trusted liueutenant, Joshua as the heir apparent.
The Haphtarah –unusually- is actually the one for Pinchas itself. In most years, the following 2 Sidrot, Mattot and Massei are read together. When this occurs, the haphtarah of Mattot is brought forward to Pinchas- as it would thus invariably already be in the “3 Weeks of mourning”–and the latter is thus the appropriate one. However, this year those Sedrot are read separately. This will not occur again (outside Israel) till 2035!
Tuesday is the Fast of Tammuz- commemorating the beginning of the siege of Jerusalem- leading to the destruction of the Temple. It begins at dawn & ends at nightfall. This is also the beginning of the aforementioned “3 Weeks”. Marriages are not solemnised and joy is curtailed.
May we merit the restoration of the Temple and true peace on earth.
This week we learned that the 3 kidnapped Israeli boys were indeed murdered. Millions of Jews all over the world joined together to pray for their safe return. Jews came together from across the religious spectrum. We are now all joined together in mourning. Lets hope that the unity that the Jewish people have showed these last 3 weeks is what the Almighty was looking for in order to rectify the Sin of baseless hatred which led to the destruction of the second Temple. Let us keep the unity we have created and may we see the coming of Moshiach in the next few minutes.
May I also take this opportunity to wish the 3 families a long life free from further trouble and sorrow.
This week we learn about Ballam trying to curse the Jews. Even though Hashem warned him not to, he still thought he could outwit Him. Hashem showed him who’s boss by forcing him to bless the Jews instead. We should all take this as a lesson that we cannot outwit Hashem. We have to live our lives according to the Torah and pray as hard as we can.
Perhaps the the reason why Hashem let Ballam try to curse the Jews even though he would ultimately fail was to teach us that we do have a choice in this world. Hashem will allow do sin if we wish. However, ultimately the will of Hashem will prevail. It will only end in embarrasment like Ballam who was embarrassed infront of Balak.
This week we learn about the significance of the Red Heffer and Moses’ punishment for hitting the rock that would result in his punishment to never enter the land of Israel. However, Moses didn’t lose hope from this. We learn a valuable lesson about perseverance.
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This week we read of Korach’s uprising against Moshe. It is amazing to think after all Moshe had done for the Jews, his integrity was still called into question. Perhaps this is why he asked G-D to preform a special miracle where the earth grew a mouth which swallowed up Korach and his men. He needed to do something extraordinary to convince them.
The Sedra finishes off with the laws of tithes given to the Priest and the Levite.
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Shavuot commemorates the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai 3326 years ago. However, the Torah does not specify the actual date it was given. We only know that it was 50 days after the first 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.
May I take this opportunity to wish you all an illuminated and good Yomtov.
This is the longest sedra in the Torah. We learn about the laws regarding the adulterous woman and the nasarite. The sedra finishes off with the details of the 12 days of inauguration for the Miskon -tabernacle. Each day a different leader from one of the 12 tribes offered 21 animals, frankincense and a meal offering.
In this weeks sedra Hashem commands Moshe to count the Jewish people between the ages of 20 and 60. He is then told to assign each tribe a different area in which to camp around the Tabernacle.
He then commands Moshe to take account of the number of the levyim. The Levite were assigned special tasks in the carrying and moving of the artefacts for the Tabernacle, whenever the Jewish people were on the move. They were then told to count the male firstborns of the Jewish people. Their was 275 more firstborns then levyim. Therefore five pieces of silver were taken in exchange as the levyim took over from the firstborns in the serving of the Tabernacle.
It is interesting, that the Torah which doesn’t waste words, should spend an entire sedra detailing seemingly mundane countings and giving us seemingly trivia data.
I think this teaches us an important lesson. Sometimes we need to stop and take account of ourselves and reassess and evaluate where we’re going and where we’re heading in the spiritual sense. We need to evaluate where we need to place our strengths and how we can improve our weaknesses. As we are approaching the Festival of Shavuot I hope people can take this lesson on board and re- dedicate themselves to accepting, keeping and learning the torah for many more years to come.