• Home
  • Parashah Insights
  • Ask the Rabbi
  • Festivals & Fasts
  • Articles
  • Books
  • About
  •  

    They are all important

    May 10th, 2020

    The double sidra for this Shabbat ends (Lev. 27:34) as it began (Lev. 25:1), with the words Har Sinai – Mount Sinai.

    Quoting the Sifra, Rashi says that it was not merely the Decalogue but all the laws of the Torah that were given at Mount Sinai, and they were highlighted as needed.

    Ibn Ezra disputes this and says the laws were given at various places during the sojourn in the Wilderness.

    The lesson we are meant to learn from Rashi is that the Torah makes no distinction between the status of its laws.

    When Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi says in Pir’kei Avot says (2:1) that there are lighter and heavier laws, this distinction is not real but a matter of perception. To prove the point, some translations insert the word “seemingly” before each category.

    The point is that to human beings some commandments seem rather trifling and others highly serious, but we are obliged to regard them all as God-given and important.

    The Pesikta Rabbati 121b gives us a parable.

    A king employed labourers to work in his orchard but did not tell them whether one category of plants would be better paid than the others because otherwise the workers would have neglected some plants and over-loved the others.


    Please Sir, may I have some more? – B’chukkotai

    May 10th, 2020

    A verse in the sidra reads, “You shall eat your bread until you have had enough, and you shall dwell in your land in safety” (Lev. 26:5).

    In line with a rabbinical comment that says this applies to the righteous, the Baal Shem Tov quoted from the Psalms the words, “Let the humble eat and be satisfied” (Psalm 22:27).

    Those who are not so humble, he suggested, should not eat too much. Otherwise their full stomachs will be accompanied by such a puffed-up sense of their own importance that they will be unable to live at peace with the world.

    This applies to other things as well as food. The more you have, the more you want. You can never be at home or feel safe in a world in which you always want more.

    When Oliver Twist said, “Please Sir, may I have some more?”, he was hungry – not greedy. Greed is the problem.


    Rationale or response

    May 10th, 2020

    The pandemic has shaken everyone in every nation. We are all affected and scared.

    When it is over – with God’s help! – we will all want the international community to find ways of sensing and if possible preventing such horrific things.

    In the meantime we all have questions about how it started and whether there were any warning signs.

    Asking questions is fair enough for the long term. At this stage, more important than answers about who, where, why and what, is to find a response.

    In connection with the Holocaust, great thinkers – Soloveitchik, Berkovits and Fackenheim – said it was not a time for answers but responses.

    For the present we cannot hug and kiss each other but we can obey instructions, honour the medical and auxiliary experts who work so hard to protect us, be in touch with each other in “virtual” ways, say T’hillim and pray for God’s mercy.

    #coronavirus #covid-19 #covid19


    The process of redemption – Emor

    May 3rd, 2020

    The Exodus from Egypt, Golden Haggadah, Catalonia, c.1300

    One of the Lubavitcher Rebbes gave a broad interpretation to the law of counting the Omer, which comes in this week’s reading (Lev. 23:15).

    Just as one must daily count the Omer and yearn for the coming of Shavu’ot, he said, so should a Jew count and work towards the coming of the Messiah.

    He quoted Micah 7:15, “As on the days of your coming out of Egypt, I will show him wonders…”

    The Rebbe wondered why the prophet speaks of days, when the Exodus was really only one day, 15 Nisan.

    He remarked that the redemption from Egypt actually never ceased.

    It was not just one day. It is still in process. Not in a physical, literal sense; we are not talking about a geographical migration but a metaphorical redemption, whereby day by day we liberate ourselves from thought systems which continue to affect the development of a messianic value system.

    Day by day a person must ask, “What have I done today to improve myself and the world?”


    Counting from “Shabbat” – Emor

    May 3rd, 2020

    The Pharisees and Sadducees had a bitter argument about the law of counting the Omer (Lev. 23:15).

    The Torah commands, “Count from the morrow of the day of rest (Shabbat)”.

    The Sadducees says Shabbat means Saturday; the Pharisees says it means “day of rest”, meaning the first day of Pesach.

    The Lubavitcher Rebbe asks why the Torah was not more explicit in its wording, and why it gave room for the ancient argument.

    He explains that the verse is a tribute to Pesach. The importance of the festival as the transformation of the human personality whereby we acknowledge that the power of handling something like chametz which can be either a force for good or a force for evil needs to be emphasised.

    By calling Pesach “Shabbat” gives the festival an exceptional status.