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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 Torah Student's Fins and Scales PDF Print E-mail
Written by Rabbi Moshe Bogomilsky   
Monday, 17 March 2014 00:00

"This you may eat from everything that is in the water, everything that has fins and scales... those you may eat" (Leviticus 11:9).

The Talmud (Niddah 51b) says that a fish that has scales also has fins and there is no need to examine for them. However, there are fish that only have fins and they are unclean.

What is the lesson we can derive from the signs of the kosher and non-kosher fish?

The Poor Man's Offering PDF Print E-mail
Written by Zalman Posner   
Thursday, 13 March 2014 20:45

The various types of offerings brought on the altar in the Sanctuary and in Jerusalem were classified as Major Sanctity and Lesser Sanctity. The Mincha (meal) offering of the poor is called Kodesh Kodoshim (Major Sanctity) "like the sin-offering" of the repentant.

Abarbanel, the great Spanish commentator, observes that while other offerings may be of relatively minor sacredness, those of the poor, who give with sacrifice and self-denial, are of major holiness. Similarly, the expression of contrition by the erstwhile sinner, his remorse for evildoing, is cherished by his merciful Creator.

The significance of the offering lies less in its quantitative measure than in the degree that the donor is involved, how much of himself he offers. The wealthy with their more lavish philanthropies need not patronize their less grandly endowed brothers. At the same time, the measure for G-d being the heart, it ill becomes the modest contributor to charity to deprecate the wealthy or to boast of his own relative generosity ("if I can give five dollars he can give ten thousand..."). While the negotiable value of the large gifts of the wealthy is not diminished by pride, small charities given arrogantly have little material or spiritual significance.

Just by Existing PDF Print E-mail
Written by Rochel Holzkenner   
Tuesday, 04 March 2014 23:05

The kids had gone to bed, and my husband and I sneaked out for dinner. With them tucked away in bed, I always seem to develop a particularly dreamy view of my children. "We are blessed with such wonderful children," I gently said to him, "thank G‑d!"

He laughed. "Rochel, they're ages one and three. Let's wait until they get a little older before we evaluate how good they are."

Now I laughed. He was right. But still -- I couldn't resist thinking that they were exceptionally good. I'm pathetically biased, but I embrace my bias. I feel sated with pride, although they haven't done anything uniquely successful or unusually brilliant -- not yet ...

I wonder: is this the way G‑d feels towards us?

Listening carefully to G‑d's communication with Moses, you'll hear a lot of love, the unconditional love typical of a parent. Yes, Moses was wonderful and talented and a faithful servant, but that wasn't why G‑d loved him.

In the smallest of dialogues, Rashi, the foremost commentator on the Torah, picks up the overtures of love. "He called to Moses, and G‑d spoke to him," begins the Book of Leviticus. Aha! "An expression of love," Rashi immediately points out. After all, if the verse continues with "G‑d spoke to him," why mention G‑d calling to Moses at all? Evidently G‑d would first greet Moses with "Moses, Moses," and Moses would answer, "Here I am!" and then G‑d would begin His instructions.

Some affectionate words of endearment before getting down to business ...

Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi adds another insight into the underlying dynamics of G‑d's conversation with Moses, noting that G‑d's name is not explicitly noted in this dialogue; rather, the verse says, "He called to Moses." Any name that would be used, explains Rabbi Schneur Zalman, would limit G‑d's expression of love. For the divine names are expressions of G‑d; His essence defies any name or title. "He called" implies a love emanating from G‑d's essence -- and this type of love is unconditional, like the love of a parent to a child.

Unconditional love is not limited to the intimate relationship between G‑d and Moses, explains Rabbi Schneur Zalman. Every one of our souls is imbued with a spark of Moses' soul. This loving communication between G‑d and Moses is the way G‑d relates to every Jew, regardless of his or her talents and accomplishments.

We learn from an early age to put a value score on our lives. We measure up our assets and our inadequacies, judging ourselves largely by how we measure up to our friends, and then we determine our self-worth. After becoming expert critics, we move on to critique everyone around us as well.

We'd assume that G‑d would be the harshest critic of all; being the paradigm of perfection, He'd look at us and value us based on what we've accomplished with our lives. I'm sure G‑d does appreciate our accomplishments (and is disappointed by our mistakes); but His love for us is not related to what we have to show for ourselves -- it's an essential love, adoring us just for being. G‑d is proud of us just for existing. Kind of like a parent.

This is especially true in light of the fact that, historically, our survival as a nation has been so precarious. As such, our very existence is proof of G‑d's existence and a testament to His greatness, for without Him we would have long since disappeared.

Over 300 years ago, King Louis XIV of France asked Blaise Pascal, the great French philosopher, to give him proof of the supernatural. Pascal answered: "Why, the Jews, Your Majesty -- the Jews."

In Pascal's mind, the fact that the Jews had survived up until the seventeenth century was miraculous. What would he say if he were here to see the Jewish nation having survived the twentieth century?

Mark Twain, the great American writer, wrote this in Harper's Magazine in 1898:

The Egyptian, the Babylonian, and the Persian rose, filled the planet with sound and splendor, then faded to dream-stuff and passed away; the Greek and Roman followed, made a vast noise, and they are gone; other peoples have sprung up, and held their torch high for a time, but it burned out and they sit in twilight now or have vanished.

The Jew saw them all, beat them all, and is now what he always was, exhibiting no decadence, no infirmities of age, no weakening of his parts, no slowing of his energies, no dulling of his alert and aggressive mind. All things are mortal, but the Jew; all other forces pass, but he remains. What is the secret of his immortality?

The book of Leviticus speaks of G‑d's love. It begins with an expression of G‑d's essential love and pride towards Moses, and in turn, to every Jew.

The haftorah (the weekly reading from the Prophets) always reflects the themes of the Torah portion to which it is joined. In the first verse of the haftorah for the first portion of Leviticus, Isaiah transmits the following message from G‑d: "This people I formed for Myself, they recite My praise" (Isaiah 43:21).

"This people I formed for Myself" -- G‑d formed them for Himself, for His own pleasure and enjoyment. His words drip with unconditional love. In context of this affection, the prophet relays, "they recite My praise." We praise and acclaim G‑d not only through our achievements, impressive as they may be, but through our mere existence. Our survival proclaims G‑d's glory and gives Him reason to be proud.

It becomes hard, or perhaps impossible, to judge our fellow harshly when we consider how much pleasure G‑d derives from his or her mere existence. Even if we see them as rotten, selfish and sacrilegious -- they recite G‑d's praise just through existing.

Taking G‑d's love seriously breeds a more compassionate approach in self-judging, and, of course, in the way we judge others too.
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