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This week's parsha
Unless otherwise noted, "This week's Parsha" comprises articles taken from contributors to the website.  We show the original author's name here, so that proper attribution is given.  For the sake of brevity, footnotes cited in the original author's writings are omitted from this website.  If you need to see the citations, please refer to the original articles on the website.

The Right Time for a Census PDF Print E-mail
Written by Zalman Posner   
Monday, 19 May 2014 00:00

One of the early expressions of the dignity of the individual is in this week's Torah reading. The greatness of giants is a commonplace: Adam, Noah, the Patriarchs, Moses -- these are all noteworthy names. But the anonymous, the scores of thousands who were not leaders and chiefs, the masses -- they too are endowed with worth by the simple theme of this week's Torah reading, the census. Counting implies value, for worthless things are not counted, certainly not as individual units but in the mass at best. The Torah counts Israel to the last man, because each one, insignificant though he may seem, is priceless.

We are quite prepared to accept this idea, that even the little man is not so little that he may be ignored. But the biblical commentator Rashi makes a noteworthy observation. He cites several occasions when Israel is counted, specifically the count following the Golden Calf and the count following the dedication of the Sanctuary. These examples are in striking contrast. One depicts Israel in the depths of idolatry, at its spiritual nadir; the other represents Israel in a moment of dedication (of self no less than Sanctuary) to G‑d's service.

Perhaps Rashi means to indicate that the worth of man is intrinsic, that his soul has an innate purity beyond sullying. We cannot establish standards for "worthy" people and proceed to deny to the deficient the prerogatives of all men. Each individual is unique and priceless, and not only at moments of consecration, but even when fallible and fallen, is worthy of being counted as one of Israel.

The Engraved Letters PDF Print E-mail
Written by Yitschak Meir Kagan   
Monday, 12 May 2014 00:00

The Torah writes, "If you will walk in my statutes (chukotai) ..." (Leviticus 26:3). Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi explains that the word chok (statute) is derived from the root chakikah, engraving, hewing or carving: one's study of Torah should be as letters that are hewn out of stone, not as letters of ink that are written on paper.

What does this mean?

The letters and words of ink, through the process of writing, become inseparably connected and united with the paper or parchment. This symbolizes the basic level of Torah learning, in which the student does not give mere lip-service to the Torah's teachings, but becomes joined and united with Torah; his actions reflect his learning.

On a deeper level, though, it is evident that the word written in ink is an entity distinct from that of the paper—although bound together with it. But the letter engraved in stone has no separate existence from the stone whatsoever. The stone itself bends inwards here, protrudes outwards there ... and a letter is formed; the letter is the stone and the stone is the letter.

The carved letter simply does not exist as a distinct entity independent of the stone. In the same way, one's study of Torah should ultimately reach the level of "the engraved letter," where the "self" of the student ceases to exist; his being, his essence, becomes simply Torah.

Such a level of self-effacement was achieved by Moses. He became one with G-d; his "self" ceased to exist. When transmitting G‑d's words of blessing to Israel he used the first person, declaring, "... I will give grass in your fields," for G‑d's Presence (the Shechinah) was speaking through Moses' throat.

Because It Is There PDF Print E-mail
Written by Yanki Tauber   
Monday, 05 May 2014 00:00

According to Encyclopaedia Britannica, the sport of mountain-climbing was born in 1760, when a young Genevan scientist, Horace-Bénédict de Saussure, offered prize money for the first person or persons to reach the summit of Mount Blanc, Europe's tallest peak at 15,777 feet.

I suspect that it's been going on for much longer than that. Something tells me that for as long as there have been humans and mountains, humans have been climbing mountains. Not just for some "useful" purpose, but also for sport, for the challenge it poses, for no other reason—as one famous mountaineer put it -- than "because it is there." Or rather, because we are here, down below, and we want to be someplace higher than here.

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