Rabbi Zevi Saunders

Bringing Torah to Everyday Life

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.

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.

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