Rabbi Zevi Saunders

Bringing Torah to Everyday Life

Parshas Devarim – Moshe’s autobiography

In this week’s Sidra Moshe Rabbeinu starts rebuking the Jews prior to his death. As he is about to depart this world, he takes the opportunity to remind them of all the sins that were committed in the desert.
He affords great details to his account.
He tells us the size of Og’s bed! It was nine cubits long and 4 wide. We are told it was made of iron. ( ch 3 vs 11) We are informed of all the previous names of the cities the Jews conquered.
We are made aware of peoples nicknames (ch 2 vs 20)

Why do we need to know all these details? It appears if one can say so that Moshe is ‘waffling’ on a bit.

It would appear to me after learning this weeks Sidra that when it comes to thanking Hashem for miracles, one must strive to remember every single detail. This increases the praise and honour that we afford Hashem. To People like Moshe Rabbeinu to whom every moment of their lives are precious and sacred, no detail is insignificant. Every thing that is brought to their attention was done so for a reason. That’s why Moshe Rabbeinu saw fit to mention it.

Parshas Mattos Massie – Don’t get jealous

In this week’s Sedra, we learn about the laws of vows. We are also told the mitzoh of taking metal vessels purchased from non Jews and immersing them in a Mikvah (a body of rain water or the sea). The tribe of Gad, Reuven and half of the tribe of Menassheh ask Moshe for the land on the east of the river Jordan to be given to then instead of inheriting the land in Israel. Moshe initially gets annoyed at their lack of love for the land of Israel but makes a deal that if they fight with the Jews and help conquer Israel they can have the land on the east of the river Jordan.

In Parshas Massie, the Torah details all the 42 places the Jews camped while traveling through to desert. We also learn about the borders of Israel. This has significance as only within these borders to the mitzvot pertaining to the Land of Israel apply. Some examples are observing the laws of the Sabbatical and Jubilee year and taking challah. We are also told the laws about murder and manslaughter.

The Torah describes creating a “green belt” area of approximately 2000 feet radius around each of the cities. This area was used for farming that would be dedicated to the tribe of Levi and for communal use. This goes to prove that the Torah has forced us to take care of each other and the environment long before it was fashionable to do so.

If we are not careful and let our grievances build; it can eventually lead to murder. This is clear from this Parsha. 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, verse 22 states:
“But if with suddenness WITHOUT EMNITY or without ambush…” It is clear from the Torah the reason why someone commits murder: because he has hatred towards him.

This is a freighting thought. If we just look at those people currently in prison for murder today,
how many of them would fit our typical “murderer” perception?

There must be many who seem to be “good people” that no one would could have dreamed they would ever be capable of such a crime. They stooped so low because they allowed their little grievance to slowly turn into hatred. Once hatred and jealousy take hold, then we become slaves to that feeling and if we are not careful it can even lead to murder.

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

Parshas Balack – It’s my way or the highway

This week we read of how Balack, the king of Moav, hired Billam to curse the Jews. Billam tried to curse the Jews but Hashem put blessings into his mouth instead. Not wishing to be totally defeated, he suggested the Moabite women should entice the Jews to serve Idols. This they did and Hashem killed 24000 Jews.
Then a man called Zimri came in-front of Moshe with Cosbi a Moabite woman as if to taunt and tease Moshe as Moshe had also married a non Jewish woman. Pinchos saw his chance to be zealos in the name of Hashem and killed Zimri and the woman he had taken. He was rewarded with becoming a Cohen,Priest.

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.

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