Torah Thoughts for Today
Tuesday, August 27, 2013
Weekly Torah Portion of NITZAVIM – VAYEILECH

Constancy and Change: The Torah Remains Relevant

By Rabbi Yitschak Rudomin, Director www.jpi.org | Weekly Torah Portion of NITZAVIM – VAYEILECH.

This week’s double Torah portion Nitzavim – Vayeilech is in the Book of Deuteronomy (29:9 – 31:30).

The two names of this doubled-up parsha denote polar opposites: The word “nitzavim” means “standing” (“You are all standing before the Lord your God…”) with the nation assembled, while the word “vayeilech” means “[and (he)] went” (And Moses went and spoke the following words to all Israel…” — “Standing” means to stand still, literally like a “pillar” i.e. “netziv” which is the root Hebrew word of “nitzavim” the plural of “netziv” meaning “[many people] standing”, in this case all the Israelites “assembled” before Moses and God and it is a stationary state. While the word “vayeilech” translates as “he went” i.e. Moses “went about” the business of telling the Children of Israel the words of God as Moses nears the end of his life and the Torah nears its closure. The classical commentaries (as cited by Rabbi Aryeh Kapan in The Living Torah) say that Moses was in a mobile state as he literally “went” to each of the Twelve Tribes, to each individual tent, to the Israelite camp, to the study halls. Moses took the initiative and went to the Israelites instead of assembling them.

The root of the word “vayeilech” is “lech” meaning “to go” and is also the source for the word “Halacha” the name for “Jewish Law” but which translates literally as “the way to go” implying “the path to follow” for Jews who wish to “follow” in the “way” and “path” of the Torah.

This is one of the great paradoxes and mysteries of the Torah: That on the one hand it seems to be “rooted” and “stationary” while on the other hand it is also something that “moves” and even “changes” as long as it remains true to itself and its commandments are not violated. This is a notion that is hard to grasp and it often stumps people in BOTH directions. While some think or act like that the Torah is unchangeable (which it is, but one must understand how that works and why that is so), the Karaites only believed in the written Torah and refused to accept what the Oral Law taught, others act on the assumption that the Torah is an endless ongoing piece of putty and wet clay that never dries allowing anyone who comes along to “change” and “modify” it to suit the times or to support some sort of new set of beliefs. Thus Christianity and Islam, while on the one hand drawing from Judaism’s constancy, try to impose a new set of changes that runs counter to what the Torah wants JEWS to practice and believe. There are many more examples of this in modern times as well: Reactionaries justify their actions based on the Torah while extreme radicals will do the same, as if the polar opposites of radicals and reactionaries had the same source book but came out with opposite conclusions. This is something that has puzzled me as it may also have bothered you, and if you dwell on it, it may even induce a “shut-down” and you just walk away from this seeming intellectual confusion.

Yet the amazing thing is that by simply looking at the clear words in this week’s double parsha some of the above “mystery” of constancy versus change is “solved” if one is willing to accept that the Torah is meant for all generations, whether in the times of Moses or for any generations that follow until our own times, into the future. In fact this final part of the Torah is nothing but a “final prophecy” for the end of days, and each generation after that of Moses and the Children of Israel has had the potential of being the “final generation” of the “end of days” and it is only known to God just which generation will be the true final one.

The subject matter of the parsha speaks for itself and it is incredible to see in plain words that the Torah is somehow capable of speaking to a generation over 3,300 years ago yet still be addressed to us today, not to mention all the intervening generations that could have applied these words to themselves. (From Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan’s The Living Torah translation):

“(From NITZAVIM:) “…It is not with you alone that I am making this covenant…I am making it both with those who are standing here with us…and with those who are not [yet] here with us today…A future generation, consisting of your descendants, who rise up after you…shall see the punishment directed against that land…All the nations will ask, ‘Why did God do this…What was the reason for this great display of anger?’...They shall answer, ‘It is because they abandoned the covenant’…There among the nations where God will have banished you, you will reflect on the situation…God your Lord will once again gather you from among all the nations…God your lord will then bring you to the land that your ancestors occupied, and you too will occupy it. God will be good to you and make you flourish even more than your ancestors…This mandate {mitzvah) is not too mysterious or remote from you….It is something that is very close to you…(From VAYEILECH:) God your Lord will be the One who will go across before you. It is He who will destroy these nations before you…Be strong and brave. Do not be afraid…He will not fail you or forsake you…God said to Moses, ‘…this nation shall rise up and stray…They will abandon Me and violate the covenant…I will hide my face from them…they will say, It is because my God is no longer with me that these evils have befallen us.’...[God also] gave Joshua orders, saying, ‘Be strong and brave, since you will bring the Israelites to the land that I promised them, and I will be with you.’ Moses finished writing the words of this Torah in a scroll…Moses then gave orders…‘Even while I am here alive with you, you are rebelling against God. What will you do after I am dead?...I know that after I die, you will become corrupt…You will eventually be beset with evil, since you will have done evil in God’s eyes, angering Him with the work of your hands.’”

How bitter-sweet this all sounds! The yin and yang of present realities versus futuristic predictions and events is almost maddening. Yet with the words and predictions of “tough love” also come words, actually prophecies, of hope, triumph and redemption. No matter how many changes and challenges history will bring and no matter how many personal, sociological, cultural and even pseudo-spiritual changes and onslaughts will be attempted, for all sorts of reasons, yet nevertheless, there is one constant result that will always come through, that not just the words of the Torah but its commandments and God’s plans for all of Creation and God’s love for the Jewish People in particular will always remain and grow.

Shabbat Shalom! 

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Tuesday, August 20, 2013
Weekly Torah Portion of KI TAVO

Acquisition of Israel: The Land That Does Not Come Cheap

By Rabbi Yitschak Rudomin, Director www.jpi.org | Weekly Torah Portion of KI TAVO.

The Torah portion of Ki Tavo is in the Book of Deuteronomy (26:1 – 28:69).

Classical Judaism teaches that three things are acquired by suffering: Torah, Israel and the World to Come (olam haba). This week’s Torah portion is a good example of that with the Torah outlining many types of “curses” and “blessings” for following in its ways, too many to mention let alone analyze in one brief essay. 

But please allow me to take a stab at one angle here with reference to the way this Torah portion opens with the words (translation from Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan’s The Living Torah): “when you come (ki tavo in Hebrew) to the land [Israel] the God your Lord is giving you as a heritage, occupying and settling it…you shall make the following declaration…The Egyptians were cruel to us, making us suffer and imposing harsh slavery on us. We cried out to God…and God heard our voice, seeing our suffering, our harsh labor and our distress…God then brought us out of Egypt with a strong hand…He brought us to this area, giving us this land flowing with milk and honey…I am now bringing the first fruit of the land that God has given me…rejoice in all the good that God your Lord has granted you and your family…” with this being taught by Moses as the Children of Israel are battling their way to the Holy Land facing and fighting multiple enemies along the way determined to stop or better yet, annihilate them.

Seems not much has changed in the more than 3,300 years since those words were spoken for eternity. Now in our days after the Jews have been in a 2,000 year exile from their homeland in Israel, in the last century especially, they have been battling and surmounting the attacks against them as they pursue their inexorable goal of returning from the their exile on a national level now for the third time in history.

The beginning of the first time the Jews were on the road to Israel was as recorded in this week’s parsha, when they left Egypt and traveled to the “land of milk and honey”.

The second time was following the destruction of first of the Ten Tribes of the Kingdom of Israel by Assyria, and then after destruction of the Kingdom of Judah and the First Temple (Beit HaMikdash) by Babylonia over 2,500 years ago when the Jews began their return to the land having been exiled by Babylonia and then Persia which then granted them “permission” to return to rebuild the Second Temple.

And now in our days, after Greece and Rome undermined, attacked and then destroyed the Second Temple that has been in ruins for about 2,000 years, the Jews have commenced the third national return to their Promised Land that will result in the re-building of the Third [and final] Temple.

In each of the three returns there were enemies to overcome and lessons to be learned. While the Jews were forcibly thrust off of their homeland and kept out of it, the condition was called Galut (exile) and the process that begins when Jews return to the land is called “kibbutz galuyot” (the in-gathering of the [Jewish] exiles).

I had often wondered if there was an underlying or over-riding principle or Divine master plan that one could pinpoint as the key factor in this more than 3,300 year cycle of Jewish history saga. I am not sure if you have given this matter some thought. It is not easy trying to find some sort of “golden rule” that can be used as a yard-stick for “measuring” such vast and sweeping historical and spiritual currents or tsunamis.

But I came across one and here it is, make of it what you will:

Rabbi Isaac Hutner (1904-1980) one of America's leading yeshivah deans, was asked whether the term "Shoah" (literally, "Holocaust") was acceptable in describing the destruction of European Jewry. (Published as: Yitzchok Hutner, "'Holocaust' – A  Study of the Term, and the Epoch it is Meant to Describe," translated by Rabbi Dr. Chaim Feuerman and Rabbi Yaakov Feitman, The Jewish Observer, October 1977, pp. 1;8) His reply was: "CLEARLY NOT". The reason being, that the word shoah in Hebrew, like "Holocaust" in English, implies an "isolated catastrophe, unrelated to anything before or after it, such as an earthquake or tidal wave." This approach is "far from the Torah view of Jewish history" because "the churban [destruction] of European Jewry is an integral part of our history and we dare not isolate and deprive it of the monumental significance it has for us."

In the later stages of the article "'Holocaust' – A Study of the Term, and the Epoch it is Meant to Describe" (1977), Rabbi Hutner asserts that ironically, the "artificially contrived term [i.e. “The Holocaust”] . . . empties the churban of its profound meaning and significance." Those who coined the term "Holocaust", and who thereby appropriated a term which signifies isolation and detachment from history, "did not realize that, the significance of the 'Holocaust' is precisely in its intricate relationship with what will come after". Thus, the pattern of Jewish history throughout the ages is Churban – Golus – Geulah: Destruction – Exile – Redemption, and no event requires new categories or definitions.

The phenomenon of "Destruction – Exile – Redemption" should be the prism through which to view all of Jewish history. One aspect of this phenomenon cannot be isolated from the rest. For a unified perspective there must be a unified approach.

One should not minimize the dimensions of "Destruction". One should follow the course of "Exile". The final national objective is "Redemption" that brings the Jewish people to their Divinely promised Holy Land flowing with milk and honey.

Shabbat Shalom!

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Tuesday, August 13, 2013
Weekly Torah Portion of KI TEITZEI

Redressing the Balance: Restoration of Equilibrium in the Torah

By Rabbi Yitschak Rudomin, Director www.jpi.org | Weekly Torah Portion of KI  TEITZEI

Teitzei means “to go out” in Hebrew. It is in the book of Devarim (Deuteronomy 21:10 – 23:26).

What many do not realize or appreciate is that the Torah is based on connecting principles. Not just that, but that the world is based on connecting principles, and that ultimately God Himself, so to speak is consistent and runs the universe consistently based on connecting principles. Thus, is something at some point seems disconnected or dissonant at any given point in time, it will be redressed and reconnected and the final consequence will be such that not matter what seemed out of shape at one point, it will be straightened out or “reconnected” at the end.

Therefore when first reading many of the seemingly novel or inexplicable events that take place especially as the Torah commences, once must realize that “justice will be done” and “wrongs will be righted” and what was made crooked or even destroyed will be restored. That is true when it comes to the principles of justice, that when lines are crossed and crimes or sins are committed, it will not go unnoticed and forgotten. There is a kind of divine system of “NO returns for faulty items” which is after all what a system of justice is about, to rectify what has gone wrong.

There are so many examples of this in this week’s parsha that would fill volumes. Perhaps the most bizarre outlandish case of the so-called “Eishet Yefat Toar” literally the “beautiful female” captive who is a GENTILE, that in spite of the fact that the Torah warns not to marry or succumb to the whiles of gentile women and forbids marrying them, yet in this case the Torah says that if a front-line soldier comes across such a woman and is overcome with irresistible passion and a desire for her, then, he may take her as his wife. The rabbinic commentaries have various opinions on this. (Sources listed in Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan’s The Living Torah). The Talmud and Maimonides maintain that he can marry her immediately if she agrees to convert to Judaism. While others maintain that he must still wait three or up top twelve additional months before being intimate with her. The commentaries then vary greatly if this applies to a willing convert or if the gentile female is converted to Judaism even against her will, which is a very radical view.

Without getting into even more details, there is a huge question that bothers me and perhaps you as well. And that is, exactly what is the Torah trying to “redress” or “straighten out” what is mystically known as a “tikkun” or a “correction” or “rectification” here? I am not a mystic and I am not privy to that world. But I do know that when similar or even exact words are used in the Torah, especially in very similar contexts, then there is a connection there and it’s worth figuring out.

What struck me was that I recall that there is another famous case of a “teitzei” of a “going out” but it was by an Israelite female that resulted in a major catastrophe, as recorded in the beginning of the Torah in the Book of Genesis: The episode of the seduction and eventual rape of Dinah by the Canaanite prince Shechem Ben Chamor (Genesis 34) who then wanted to marry her, starts with the Hebrew words “VaTeitzei Dinah” she “went out” to visit some girls, but along the way she was seduced and raped (no, not by the big bad wolf like little red riding hood, which is probably what that story is based on as a cautionary tale) but a human “wolf” an overly zealous suitor who was smitten by her looks and could not resist himself, overpowering her and then as the Torah tells it, he was willing to be circumcised and CONVERT in order to legitimately marry her. There are many more details here, but it does sound a lot, almost exactly in fact that Jacob’s daughter Dinah was fated to become an “eishet yefat toar” of Shechem during the times when they were at a stage of still conquering the Land of Canaan. The story did not have a happy ending because when Shechem and his people agreed to be circumcised, Dinah’s brothers Shimon and Levi took up their swords and slaughtered all of them as “revenge” for the rape of their sister that they regarded as an abomination.

Now fast forward hundreds of years to when the Torah was given in the times of Moses and the Children of Israel after the Exodus, and even further millennia into the future when the Israelites would be conquering the Land of Canaan and confront such issues, and even in our own times in modern Israel when Jews are confronted with the challenges of how to deal with “beautiful” gentiles on the way to taking possession of the Promised Land, there is a challenge there.

The Torah clearly states that in the case of conquering the Land of Israel, there can be a possibility of an “eishet yefat toar” although no one really knows how many times it actually happened. But in our parsha it depicts a situation that is the polar opposite of the case of Dinah who was entrapped and overpowered by a Canaanite prince. Whereas Dinah was an Israelite woman the daughter of Jacob, the latter-day gentile eishet yefat toar female Canaanite captive is the one who is now faced with an arduous Israelite warrior who is overcome with a passionate desire for her that he cannot control and is granted permission by the Torah to “marry” her.

Notable too is what the additional commentaries say, that this is only a concession to the “yetzer hara” (evil inclination) and will not have good results. Likewise the attempted union between Shechem and Dinah did not have good results. But the important point to note is how the Torah sets up a kind of divine system of redressing balances. There are many other obvious and less obvious examples of how this can be learned. The fundamental principles of reverting to the equilibrium meant for the world expresses itself through many episodes and mechanisms.

VaTeitzei Dinah” in one direction looks like a mirror image in reverse of “Ki Teitzei a beautiful woman” that puts the shoe on the other foot, and seemingly, the balance, whatever it may be in the divine scheme of things, is somehow or other redressed.

Shabbat Shalom.

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Wednesday, August 07, 2013
Weekly Torah Portion of SHOFTIM

Balance of Power: It’s a Torah Concept

By Rabbi Yitschak Rudomin, Director www.jpi.org | Weekly Torah Portion of SHOFTIM

Shoftim means “judges” in Hebrew. It is in the book of Devarim (Deuteronomy 16:18 – 21:9).

People think that the modern constitutional and political concept of “the balance of power” between different branches of government is something that was created “ex nihilo” in modern times. Particularly in America, people would be hard-pressed to realize that the origins of this formulation for good government and governance was directly derived from the Hebrew Bible, the Tanach, by America’s Founding Fathers who were devout Christians who placed great emphasis not just on knowledge of the Hebrew Bible but who also drew not just inspiration from it, but when they got around to formulating a formal constitution for the newly formed United States of America after the American Revolution of 1776, they looked at, and directly derived from, the Hebrew Bible how a government should be set up.

Just reviewing the main topics makes this very clear. Commandments to appoint and/or accept legitimate; Judges, administrators, elders and police; a Supreme Court, a Monarchy; Priests; Prophets; Witnesses; War-time leaders. For all of these there is a role. The constitutional structure of the land where the Jews will live, in Israel, is to have all of these functioning in harmony simultaneously. There is no conflict between of them if all goes well and all are guided by the fact that it is God who has commended it and through the Torah teaches the Israelites how they are to govern themselves.

In the passage of time, more like the several millennia from the time that Moses received the Torah and taught it to the Children of Israel over 3,300 years ago, until two to three millennia later, through its acceptance by both other religions and secular cultures, the Torah’s system of government has become viewed as the “perfect system” even though it is noted more for the lapses it has suffered than for the perfect order and society it was meant to usher in.

Now one might say, wait a minute, the ancient Greeks and also to some extent the Romans had a form of government that had a “Democracy” or a “Senate” or some form devolution and sharing of power from the absolute tyrannies of ancient monarchies. And it is from those lessons of history that modern men such as the American Founding Fathers drew their inspiration.  However, it may be very partially true, probably mostly false, because Greece and Rome were the “new kids on the block” since ancient Greece and Rome arose and flourished about 1,000 to 1,500 years after the Torah was taught to the Children of Israel.

As the famous British Prime Minister of Jewish origins Benjamin Disraeli retorted to an anti-Semitic barb thrown at him in the British Parliament in the 1800s: “Yes, I am a Jew, and when the ancestors of the right honorable gentleman were brutal savages in an unknown island [Ireland], mine were priests in the temple of Solomon. (Reply to a taunt by Daniel O'Connell [an Irish political leader, per Wikipedia].)

And since it is Disraeli who refers to the ancient King Solomon, son of King David and Bathsheba, who lived about 3,000 years ago, it is worthwhile to note that the Torah warns with the utmost severity that appointing a king could lead to problems, with NOT  ENOUGH  BALANCE  OF  POWERS  AS  A  CAUSE  OF  DESTRUCTION, and many, many problems did eventually emanate from the Jewish kings of both the Kingdom of Israel and the subsequent King of Judah.

The very start of the Jewish monarchy was riddled with problems and infighting between two rival dynasties, that of King Saul (father of Jonathan and of Michal who became King David’s childless wife) and then that of King David who had the throne thrust upon him by the Prophet Samuel on account of the failings of King Saul. All this is recounted in great detail in the Books of Samuel and the Books of Kings in the Tanach, and it did not have a “happy ending” at all! Both Jewish kingdoms, of Israel and Judah, were eventually destroyed. Eventually the two Jewish Temples were destroyed as well. And the Jewish people went into two exiles, first a short seventy year exile, then a longer over 2,000 year exile still ongoing. Not to mention the utter destruction of the Kingdom of Israel when its people became the Ten Lost Tribes!

There were so many problems with the ancient Jewish monarchies that not just the accounts of how they arose and what happened to them during their existence are in the Tanach in the Books of Samuel and Kings, but there are even more significantly the great books of the Prophets in the Tanach that recount how prophets arose, and some at the risk of their own lives rebuked the kings and the people for having strayed from the Torah paths that God had required of them. The books and works of Isaiah and Jeremiah and all the other prophets in the Tanach all focus primarily on the consequences of a nation going astray.

The Jewish people have yet to accomplish, yet continue to pray for, a present of a future where the “balance of power” will be restored in Israel!

But there should have been no surprise really, because the Torah itself forewarned that all this could happen. It is as if the warnings were also missed by the Kings of France and the Czars of Russia and many others in modern times who lost their power and wealth, and some even paid with their lives, for mishandling the power and wealth they had selfishly forgotten was handed to them as a trust (even if they viewed themselves as having a “Divine Right of Kings” they should have used that “Right” the way the “Divine” had wanted them to do originally) and not as a private property “expense account” to be spent on self-gratification and nepotism alone.

Let us hope and pray that that whoever the leaders of the Jewish people are or will be, will be upstanding and righteous people.

Shabbat Shalom!

Here are the words of the Torah as forewarning what would happen with the wrong kinds of kings and leaders, translation from Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan edition:

“When you come to the land that God your Lord is giving you, so that you have occupied it and settled it, you will eventually say, 'We would like to appoint a king, just like all the nations around us.' You must then appoint the king whom God your Lord shall choose. You must appoint a king from among your brethren; you may not appoint a foreigner who is not one of your brethren. [The king,] however, must not accumulate many horses, so as not to bring the people back to Egypt to get more horses. God has told you that you must never again return on that path. He [also] must not have many wives, so that they not make his heart go astray. He shall likewise not accumulate very much silver and gold. When [the king] is established on his royal throne, he must write a copy of this Torah as a scroll edited by the Levitical priests. [This scroll] must always be with him, and he shall read from it all the days of his life. He will then learn to be in awe of God his Lord, and carefully keep every word of this Torah and these rules. He will then [also] not begin to feel superior to his brethren, and he will not stray from the mandate to the right or the left. He and his descendants will thus have a long reign in the midst of Israel.” (Deuteronomy, Chapter 17: 14-20).

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Wednesday, July 31, 2013
Weekly Torah Portion of REEH

Truth or Consequences: The Risks of Spiritual Leadership

By Rabbi Yitschak Rudomin, Director www.jpi.org | Weekly Torah Portion of RE’EH.

The Torah portion of Re’eh is in the Book of Deuteronomy.

History, religion and literature have many examples of good and bad leaders but it gets very murky when trying to figure out good or bad spiritual leaders. As in all domains, one man’s bread is another man’s poison. One person’s hero is another person’s villain. And in today’s age of the relativity of truth, where everything is relative, even the worst leaders can somehow be accepted as great by some people. Extreme left wingers who are personally atheists can accept religious leaders they find appealing and likewise fanatical right-wingers can ally themselves with religious despots. So be it and such is life.

But there is something that has been on my mind for a long time and no doubt on yours as well. As people who have lived in a Christian culture we know too well that Jesus is a hero to Christianity but not to Judaism. But the reasons are varied why that is so. No doubt you have your own views on this subject. But allow me to present some of my own, make of them what you will. It hit me again when I reviewed the content of this week’s Torah reading, the parshat hashavua (“weekly Torah portion”) of Re’eh (that aptly openly opens with the notion of every person’s God-given FREEDOM OF CHOICE) as the subject of the “false prophet” comes up, see a full quote below.

Christianity maintains many things about its founder, among which was that he was a prophet. But here is just one big problem that according to Judaism prophecy ended with the destruction of the First Temple 500 to 600 years before Jesus was even born. In Judaism, prophecy and prophets ends with the period surrounding the destruction of the Kingdom of Judah – the Babylonian Exile – Return to Zion. The title and functions of a prophet or Navi ends with the Biblical greats of Malachi, Daniel, Ezra and Nechemia. After them there are no more prophets in the BIBLICAL Tanach sense among the Jewish people. The era of what is called Prophecy (“Nevuah”) ends and a new era of Wisdom “Chochmah” commences with the onset of the era of the Men of the Great Assembly (“anshei knesset hagedolah”) that launches the era of the Oral Law as the main focus, they decide what shall and shall not be part of the Tanach, and once they “seal” it, the Hebrew Bible remains fixed forever. Obviously this is totally incompatible with Christianity and its “new” additions and editions and its claims about its founder that claims to “supersede” what came before it and displace Judaism for a new religion subsequently known to the world  as Christianity.

The problem gets more serious because according to what Christianity teaches, its founder suffered a terrible death for maintaining his views about himself and much else. At this juncture it is fascinating to learn that there are strong scholarly Jewish teachings that of the five books of the Chumash its fifth and last book of Devarim (Deuteronomy) is interpreted as one grand prophecy by Moses – regarded as the greatest of all prophets bar none in Judaism – about the “end” of time, meaning the days of the last millennia. The Talmud divides world history, the affairs of people, into three vast eras of 2000 years each, and we are now in the Hebrew year 5773. The times when Christianity began are at the start of the last and still ongoing final “2000 year” period. During that time Christianity and Judaism have never caved in to each other. They have remained in rival positions for 2000 years.

In this week’s parsha it states that a “false prophet” must be put to death (see full quote below) it warns that Jews must be very careful to be wary of “false missionaries” who want to entice people to worship a “new god” and to have other “spiritual experiences” and that such missionaries must be dealt with very harshly. This is a very tough view and obviously while it cannot and should not be put into actual practice because Jews live in Christian societies and do not have the old Sanhedrin to rule on capital cases in modern Israel, but to be forewarned is to be forearmed, and throughout all the generations this was common knowledge where Jews were aware of these teachings.

Thus, according to Judaism as based on the Torah and as explicitly stated in this week’s parsha, Jesus could not have been a “prophet” because the era of prophets ended over 500 years before he was born. Any person claiming to be a “prophet” or a false messiah as has happened so often, faces severe sanctions. Missionaries that seek to take Jews away from the worship of their God are in the same category of false prophets.

The Torah is so prescient and speaks to us directly as a relevant and fresh subject.

Shabbat Shalom!

Here is the full relevant passage, contemporary translation from Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, taken from Deuteronomy, Chapter 13: 2-12:    

“[This is what you must do] when a prophet or a person who has visions in a dream arises among you. He may present you with a sign or miracle, and on the basis of that sign or miracle, say to you, 'Let us try out a different god. Let us serve it and have a new spiritual experience.' Do not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer. God your Lord is testing you to see if you are truly able to love God your Lord with all your heart and all your soul. Follow God your Lord, remain in awe of Him, keep His commandments, obey Him and serve Him, and you will then be able to have a true spiritual experience through Him. That prophet or dreamer must be put to death for having spoken rebelliously against God your Lord, who brought you out of Egypt and liberated you from the place of slavery. He was trying to make you leave the path that God your Lord commanded you to walk, and you must destroy such evil from your midst. [This is what you must do] if your blood brother, your son, your daughter, your bosom wife, or your closest friend secretly tries to act as a missionary among you, and says, 'Let us go worship a new god. Let us have a spiritual experience previously unknown by you or your fathers.' [He may be enticing you with] the gods of the nations around you, far or near, or those that are found at one end of the world or another. Do not agree with him, and do not listen to him. Do not let your eyes pity him, do not show him any mercy, and do not try to cover up for him, since you must be the one to put him to death. Your hand must be the first against him to kill him, followed by the hands of the other people. Pelt him to death with stones, since he has tried to make you abandon God your Lord, who brought you out of the slave house that was Egypt. When all Israel hears about it, they will be afraid, and they will never again do such an evil thing among you.”

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Thursday, July 25, 2013
Weekly Torah Portion of EKEV

Stating it Twice: Why the Torah Repeats Some Main Events!

By Rabbi Yitschak Rudomin, Director www.jpi.org | Weekly Torah Portion of EKEV.

The Torah portion of Ekev is in the Book of Deuteronomy. Like all the Torah portions starting two weeks ago, and continuing for the next six weeks, all are in the Book of Devarim (Deuteronomy).

In this portion there is mention of the second set of Ten Commandments, or the “Second Tablets” that Moses says he was ordered to make by God after he had broken the first set when he saw the Israelites worshiping the Golden Calf (in Deuteronomy chapter 10). But, like many things mentioned in the Book of Deuteronomy, this is already stated in the Book of Exodus (chapter 34) following the description of the actual events that took place at that time.

There are some questions about the repetition of it all. In fact the Book of Deuteronomy itself is referred to as a “Second Torah” (“Mishneh Torah” in Hebrew) – one grand repetition of the Torah itself.

So what we have is a repetition of the Torah, a repetition of the Second Tablets, a repetition of the Ten Commandments, and numerous other repetitions and seeming duplicates of the commandments and much more all presented very obviously and deliberately, but the question is WHY?

So I will propose a solution and you decide if it makes sense and if you like it feel free to publicize it.

Every set of ideas and system of thought must start with given definitions and axioms. What are the “axioms” and “definitions” of the Torah and where are they to be found? The obvious place is always at the start. And at the literal very “beginning” of the Torah there is the account of Adam and Eve and how they were created by God and placed in the perfect world of the Garden of Eden. But as we know the Torah relates that because Eve ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and gave of its fruit to her husband Adam, all against the commandment of God, they were punished in various ways and expelled from the Garden of Eden.

But the Torah’s account at the very “beginning” does NOT end there! God gives them a SECOND chance. In fact the Torah itself has TWO accounts of what happened. In Genesis chapter 1, there is an account of a perfect Creation from Day One to Day Six culminating with the creation of Adam in the image of God and then on to Day Seven, the Shabbat a day of perfect rest. Then Genesis chapter 2 describes events that went wrong for Adam and Eve…and that God gave them a second chance, meaning He did not wipe them out entirely but allowed them to do teshuva (“repentance”).

This mechanism of a “second chance” is encapsulated and symbolized, and functions in the names that God chooses for himself. In Genesis 1 the name for God that is used is “Elohim” (denoting Lordship and Judge) while in Genesis 2 the name for God that the Torah uses is “YHVH” the unpronounceable Tetragrammaton that is said as “Adonai” (“Master”). The first name of God denotes strict JUDGMENT (“din”) while the second name denotes MERCIFULNESS (“chesed”). Thus the second name of God is all about “second chances” because that is the essence of mercy, forgiveness and re-acceptance.

Thus throughout the Torah, especially in those aspects that are the closest representations of its nature and of God’s essence, such as the Second Tablets, and the Ten Commandments and of the Torah itself, there are repetitive and even cyclical second events and repetitions that reflect the way that God has set up this world and allows it to continue functioning as imperfect as it may seem, it is based on perfection.

Shabbat Shalom!

Thursday, April 02, 2009
Liberation from Egypt - Liberation from the first concentration camp!
Past as Prologue in Passover.

The first time the Jewish people, the Children of Israel, were liberated from bondage was when they were liberated from the slavery of Ancient Egypt over 3,300 years ago.

A historian has said that "while it is true that some say history repeats itself, but it is never exactly" so that while, as in our case, the Children of Israel have suffered bondage at various times as a people, as when the Ten Tribes were taken into captivity -- and were lost -- by the ancient Assyrians, and the kingdom of Judah was taken captive by the ancient Babylonians about 2,500 years ago, and Judea exiled by the Romans 200 years ago, yet each phenomenon was unique, although it did hark back to an earlier blueprint.

The classical Jewish sages teach an important principle of "ma'aseh avot siman lebanim" that the "deeds of the forefathers serve a sign/plan for their descendants” so that while subsequent events take place in circumstances unique to themselves yet in all cases of national catastrophe and later liberation, the roots and precedents for those events were already pre-determined and pre-ordained and set in place in blueprint form connecting all later similar events with the master-plan event usually explicitly described in the Torah.

In the case of the miraculous liberation of the Children of Israel from the clutches of the Pharaoh and his minions, and the unheard of event of one nation breaking loose in the name of Freedom and Serving the One and Only True God, the events of the Exodus were historical groundbreaking events, a huge ma’aseh avot siman labanim.

Seventy years ago, in 1939 the Nazi Germans unleashed World War Two and the Holocaust against the Jews that came with that. The Nazis had already officially commenced persecuting, robbing and enslaving German Jews in the days following Kristallnacht in November, 1938 and a little under one year later they unleashed the same terror and worse across all of Europe.

It does not take much imagination to see and understand that the persecutions the Jews suffered during the Holocaust as a people is based on the same pattern that their ancestors suffered in ancient Egypt. There too Pharaoh as Hitler fretted and was paranoid about the growth and loyalty of the Jews accusing them of being a fifth column and ready to ally with Egypt’s enemies (all fabricated lies reflecting his megalomania, egomania, paranoia and xenophobia), he stripped the Jews of the high offices they had known, he used psychological warfare against them by ordering them to build bricks without straw, and he started a full infanticide genocide strategy by ordering that all Hebrew male infants be tossed into the Nile. He not only defied God but taunted Him and he was convinced that he was endowed with abnormal super-human powers that he could get away with crushing and annihilating a defenseless people under the yoke of his powerful slave state with its frightening chariot-powered army.

Yes, all that came to be "bayamim hahem bazman hazeh" -- "in those days at this time, meaning in this Hebrew calendar month of Nissan, but there is also the connection within connecting the thought that what happened then, in Ancient Egypt, also happened "now" in the Twentieth Century under the Nazi German Holocaust against the Jews, and each event was linked with and mirrored the other.

How is such a connection to be made real?

It occurred to me when thinking about the matzah we eat on Pesach that is called "lachma anya" "the bread of poverty/affliction" that the classical rabbis teach is literally “the bread of a poor man” as it’s ingredients consist of only water and wheat baked in a hot furnace in a big a rush and having a simple appearance and flavor.

Today, most Jewish people are VERY comfortable. Thank God, the Iron Curtain has fallen and the Jews of the former USSR are free. Likewise the Jews who lived in Muslim lands are almost all free. The vast majority of Jews all over live in open societies and in great democracies and have risen to the heights of political, economic and social influence (not always being the best personal examples of Judaism), the point being that Jews are currently riding the crest of a wave materially if not spiritually.

So how then can today’s high-flying and high-living Jews ever be "brought down to Earth" so to speak and made to "eat humble pie"?

The Yom Tov of Pesach has the answers from the Torah as prescribed by God. Jews are commanded to eat simple things at the Passover Seder: Matzah. A little bitter vegetable. A boiled potato. A hard boiled egg dipped in salt water as reminiscent of the tears shed. And so on.

So the thought occurred to me that when the survivors were liberated from the Nazi's concentration and death camps in Europe they were almost all gaunt as scarecrows. Those who gorged themselves on food died from their stomach's shrunken and weakened inability to digest food for so long. They had no choice but to eat SIMPLE foods until they could become healthy again. A few crumbs of this and that, a little to sip, and slowly they gained some weight.

On Pesach we healthy Jews REVERSE the above process. Our stomachs are thank God in good working order. Gastronomic Judaism is king. So what does the Torah instruct? In order to "feel liberated" you must subject yourself to a program of “re-enslavement” as it were, and in that vein you must eat the food of slaves, especially the matzah and when you do that with "kavanah" the "right intention" you will be transported, transposed and transformed into a veritable ancient Hebrew belonging to the Children of Israel who ate such food in Egyptian bondage and as they fled from that horrid place, then you too will begin to hopefully get that feeling (oh ever so minutely perhaps, hopefully) of what it means to be freed and liberated, be it from ancient Pharaonic slavery or from a 20th century concentration camp.

Ending on a humorous note, there is the famous parable about the starving gentile beggar who had heard about the great Passover Seder the Jews enjoyed on Passover night and only wanted to join one to eat some great food. So he posed as a Jew and got himself invited by a Jewish family. Expecting a great and luscious repast he found himself being frustrated. First they keep on going on and on and on and on in Hebrew reading and singing from a book called the Hagada which he could not read. Then they brought out some cold boiled potatoes and dipped that in salt water and they were all happy. This really made him more frustrated. Then they brought out matzah which was dry and tasteless and they munched and ingested volumes of that. He was fed up by now. Next they brought out bitter herbs and started feasting on that. At this point he lost his patience and fled the mad Seder he had joined. When he got back to his friends they asked him how he enjoyed the meal. He told them all that happened and that he lost his patience and had fled in frustration. They laughed at him and told him, "fool, had you waited a few more minutes you would have seen and enjoyed that they also serve a magnificent full course meal with all the trimmings."

The moral being that often people are too hasty and make judgments based on unfinished events. The Children of Israel themselves still had a slave mentality and were afraid to enter the Land of Israel, but they missed the point that the land would be a fruitful and bountiful land and good to them. Modern-day people get upset about the Holocaust and reject God and Judaism, but they also shut their eyes to the fact that after the bitterness of the Holocaust the Jews witnessed to see great success for themselves in the lands of the West and that they would soon live in freedom as in the ancient past in their own Land of Israel once again.

May we all merit to live in the Land of Israel soon in the spirit of the Hagada's closing words: "leshana haba'ah be'Yerushalayim" -- next year in Jerusalem!

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Friday, July 07, 2006
17th of Tammuz – The Day That Wasn’t
Probing a "minor" fast day of Judaism.

The half-day Jewish fast of the 17th of Tammuz is observed on Thursday July 13th, 2006.

But what EXACTLY is this day? In truth, this day should have been one of unimaginable rejoicing! Why? Because that day was to have been the day on which Moses finally brought down the first set of tablets with the divine Ten Commandments inscribed on them 3,318 years ago – a true Simchat Torah, rejoicing with the Torah on a global scale! That would have been forty days after God had spoken the Ten Commandments (the Decalogue) at Mount Sinai, celebrated on the holiday of Shavuot.

The Children of Israel were supposed to have waited patiently for Moses to descend from Mount Sinai but instead they lost their cool and their nerve at the last moment and were diverted from expecting Moses’ imminent arrival to worshipping a Golden Calf in place of God. The day Moses descended was the 17th of Tammuz and when he saw the scene before him, he was enraged and smashed the first tablets (in the Midrashim, God thanks Moses for doing this) destroying a literal God-given opportunity for the Children of Israel to turn Earth into Heaven. Instead, “all hell broke loose” on Earth and many of the Children of Israel died by Moses’ decree and a day that should have been only full of joy, became “a day that will live in infamy” on the Jewish calendar until today, with worse to follow. The evil of the Sin of the Golden Calf ultimately begot the evil of Tisha Be’Av (the worst day on the Jewish calendar)!

Could the tragedy have been avoided? Why does the Torah tell us about a generation in the wilderness that could witness God’s miracles at the time of the Exodus yet fall victim to such subsequent catastrophic miscalculation?

As is true about all events in the Torah, the lessons are many, but one classical lesson comes breaking through again and again: (1) The need for Faith and Trust and (2) There will always be Freedom of Choice in the world as we know it. Even a generation as great as the one that lived through the terror and highs of the Exodus, and one would imagine they would therefore be immune to any sort of challenge to their faith and beliefs, can and must be tested by God so that it can truly be known if that faith is derived from the outside (from having witnessed awesome events performed by God himself) or if the faith that anyone is supposed to have is something that is rooted deeply within what happens inside the hearts and minds of the believers regardless of what they may have or have not witnessed.

Even God’s chosen Children of Israel, standing as they were 3,318 years ago at the foot of Mount Sinai waiting for Moses to re-appear at the foot of the mountain, were tripped-up at the finishing line when they inexplicably reverted to idol worship of a golden statue of a Golden Calf. Admittedly how and why they failed is a deep mystery, but it is safe to say that according to the most basic tenets of Judaism, they were expected to keep cool heads and have brave hearts full of faith yet they simply failed to focus on what should have been emanating from WITHIN them: Strong faith and trust (Emunah and Bitachon in Hebrew) and discerning the illogic of worshiping an image of a “calf” (cow’s steaks are for eating and its milk for drinking – but here the Israelites literally “lower themselves” to worship an animal’s image in statue form.)
A comparison with Holocaust survivors might help to illustrate this point. Studies have shown that during the Holocaust of World War II, most of those Jews who had deep faith and trust in God as a well-imbedded mechanism deep inside their hearts, were able to retain their faith and if they were lucky enough to survive the Holocaust were able to rebuild healthy strong religious lives after the war. Not so for most who lacked strong faith before the Holocaust, they were usually the ones who lost all their faith and often rejected Judaism after the war.

The events that happened on that day so long ago, and 3,318 years is a long time ago, spun out of control and instead of it being a day of joy it wasn’t.

With more consistent faith that emanates from a deep inner sanctum hidden within each and every one of us, from the holy Neshama which is the Soul that God implants within us at birth, there are reservoirs of faith and trust in God that should enable us to pass whatever challenges may confront us. Simultaneously, Judaism teaches that there will always be Freedom of Choice, Bechira Chofshit, and that in addition to an awareness of the faith and trust in God that should radiate from within our innermost selves, there also needs to be an equally strong utilization of our brainpower to recognize and think-through the choices and challenges in front of us so that we make decisions that will leave us sitting on the right side of the fence and not leave us on the outs with God who is our spiritual source.

Sure, mistakes happen, but some mistakes can be like a little spilled milk over which we wouldn’t cry whereas others may cause us to shed bitter tears leaving us sorry for 3,318 years and still waiting for the 17th of Tammuz to become a happy day instead of a monstrous fiasco!

Shabbat Shalom!

Dedicated in Memory of my Parents.
Thursday, April 01, 2004
Passover: Festival of the Mouth
(A fun essay I wrote a number of years ago for Jewish college students, hope it tickles your intellectual pallet!)


Have you ever noticed how much of Passover revolves around the mouth?

Maybe you could even call this article, “The Mouth As Symbol of the Month (of Nisan)”...?

Ah, the mouth...that delectable vehicle of pleasure. It drinks, eats, kisses, and talks. It even serves as a lifeline when its partner, the nose, backs up.

But wait a minute. What could all of this have to do with Passover of all things?

Okay, I'll let you in on a bit of cumulative Torah wisdom that took me over ten years to piece together.

The Hebrew word for Passover is PESACH which literally means “PASSED OVER” or “skipped”. That was because according to the Book of Exodus, God acted like a “smart bomb” at “E’ (for Exodus) Hour on the night of the Israelites’ liberation. His precision-guided attack, on his predetermined targets of Egyptian firstborn, needed the safe targets to cooperate. In His low altitude pass over Egypt, He “PASSED OVER” Jewish homes with their signature protective shield of lambs’ blood (run off the Paschal lambs and smeared on all Jewish doorposts, as they were instructed to do).

Enemy targets eliminated. Friendly forces spared, PASSED OVER, that is.

And now for another way of looking at the word “PESACH”: try splitting it. See anything yet? How about a little bit of poetic imagination?

Well, you see, the “PE” (the first part of “SACH”) looks and sounds like “PEH”, the Hebrew word for MOUTH. And “SACH” means simply “to speak”. Get it? “PE” plus “SACH” equals “MOUTH SPEAKS”.

Now for the really serious stuff:

Isn’t it interesting to note how much of PESACH (PASSOVER) revolves around, into, within, and out of the mouth?

We eat matzah and bitter herbs.

We drink four cups of wine.

We read the Song of Songs (which says, “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth”).

And we recite the HAGGADAH (which means "SAYING" - because God commanded us to say it to our sons and daughters).

Somehow or other, we are expected to internalize and externalize the symbols of the festival - with our mouths. Why?

The answer is both simple and complex: Complex, because these ideas probably have a mystical origin; Simple, because it can be studied in the Bible.

Here is a four-step “crescendo”:

First step: God creates man. He blows into man's nostrils the “SOUL OF LIFE”, and lo and behold, “THE MAN BECAME A LIVING SOUL” (Genesis, chapter 2, verse 7). This is translated by Onkelus (c. 100 C.E.) as “The living soul became in Adam a TALKING SPIRIT”, meaning that the mouth as the vehicle of speech, reveals God’s divinely implanted SOUL. Furthermore, the famous commentator, Rashi (1040 -1105 C.E.), says that all living creatures have some form of soul, but only man, via Adam, was given INTELLECT and SPEECH. (Yes, animals communicate, but only man has a mouth that speaks).

Second step: God tells Adam that he can EAT from all of the trees of the Garden of Eden except the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Adam doesn’t listen to the advice with fatal consequences.

Third step: The failure of Adam necessitates a “tikun”, or “perfection”, and that is a role played by the Jews. At the time of the Exodus, the children of Israel recreate the goals of the first man, Adam. They must perfect the failings of the first mouth in history. They will be, and are, the ones to reconnect God with his creation. At the very point of exodus, it is as if Adam is reborn to both SPEAK the praises of his Maker, and to EAT the diet of health, life, and freedom: PASCHAL LAMB, MATZAH, AND BITTER HERBS. (Animal, vegetable, and mineral combine in our mouths for the greater glory of God!)

Fourth step: Not only are we commanded to eat the items outlined above, but we are also instructed to:

(a) Recite the HAGGADAH, which is written in a question and answer style in imitation of human conversation.

(b) Drink four cups of wine at the Seder eve, in remembrance of four expressions of how God redeemed us.

(c) Sing King Solomon’s Song of Songs on the Sabbath of Passover; some even say it at the conclusion of the Seder. In this song, the love relationship between God and the Jews is allegorized as a love relationship between two human lovers. Hence its talk of kisses, hugs, bosoms, necks, and all the tantalizing symbols of the most intense lovemaking - all as a symbol of God’s intense love for the Jewish people, and hopefully, vice-versa!

(Who would have thought that all of this could be packed into a Pesach package?!)

End of crescendo.

The lesson is that on Pesach, we were born as a nation. The ultimate sign of life is the capacity to speak, and the ability to eat and drink. Life is continued through love; hence, we unite, first via kisses with our spouse in the holiness of marriage. For all of these, a mouth is a must!

The matzah that we eat, the wine that we drink, the Haggadah that we read, the songs that we sing, all are a unique testimony to the bond of intimacy we have with our Maker on Passover - via our mouths!

Have a Wonderful Passover Holiday!
Wednesday, March 24, 2004
#24: Everlasting Sacrifices: Mystery and Purpose
Everlasting Sacrifices: Mystery and Purpose

(Hi, hope your preparations for Passover are going well. Related to the Torah portion for this week, starting Leviticus – “Vayikra”, chapter 1, verse 1 – chapter 5, verse 26. See English text and commentary of Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan at http://bible.ort.org/books/pentd2.asp?ACTION=displaypage&BOOK=3&CHAPTER=1
About the Hebrew month of Nisan closely tied to Passover, see http://www.ou.org/chagim/roshchodesh/nisan/default.htm Dedicated to my parents.)

Everlasting Sacrifices: Mystery and Purpose

This Parsha commences with what is probably the toughest book for modern Western people to comprehend, let alone accept: The book of Leviticus with its myriad laws and instructions concerning the sacrificial rituals and commands that needed to be performed in the Tabernacle – “MISHKAN” that God had commanded Moses and the Israelites to build in the wilderness after they escaped from ancient Egypt during the Exodus over 3,300 years ago. The sacrifices were continued when they reached the Promised Land and in the Two Jewish Temples, during a total time frame of about 1,300 years.

Most people do not give the subject a moment’s intelligent thought. In some people’s imagination, the animal sacrifices of the ancient Israelites is as archaic and irrelevant as the mystifying habits of the Aztecs and Incas or the obscure rituals of some primitive tribes in far away places. Yet smack-dab in the middle of the Torah is its third book, called LEVITICUS because it deals with the duties of the Tribe of LEVI in the Tabernacle and Temples, entailing many sorts of sacrificial laws of varieties of animals, foods, incense, for all sorts of reasons ranging from the daily and holiday offerings, sin offerings, purification laws and offerings, as well as many related commandments.

Amazingly close to 250 of the Torah 613 permanent commandments – ‘MITZVOT” are enumerated and described in the book of Leviticus. This means that in some sense ALMOST half of classical Judaism’s core commandments are to be found in a very strange primary source.

Now some have been tempted to just “chuck” the whole notion of animal and other related sacrificial offerings “overboard” and prefer, if at all, to look for Judaism’s eternal moral and spiritual teachings un-attached from any cumbersome and hard to explain ancient rituals. After all, the argument goes, for two thousand years the Jews have been in exile and have not had any temple to practice what the Torah preaches in Leviticus, so what counts are the humanistic and moralistic and even spiritual lessons of Judaism. This view is very shortsighted because it suffers from “historical myopia”. Anyone who would care to take a very close look at classical Judaism throughout time, will find that the Jewish People, as a self-described Torah Nation, NEVER DISCONNECTED or ABANDONED THEIR ATTACHMENT TO THE RITUALS OF THE SACRIFICIAL OFFERINGS.

The great mystic, philosopher, and Talmudic genius, Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook (Latvia, England, Israel, 1864 – 1935) the first official Chief Rabbi of then British Palestine now Israel, wrote about this subject in great depth.

For your enjoyment and enlightenment, here are some brief passages as translated and quoted by Chanan Morrison:

“The Purpose of Sacrifices”

“Why did God command Israel to serve Him through sacrifices?”

“ Maimonides [Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon, (Spain, North Africa, Egypt, 1135 –1204)] known as The ‘RAMBAM’ (with an ‘M’ at the end) gave a controversial explanation in his ‘Guide to the Perplexed’ (III: 32,46). He wrote that the purpose of sacrifices was to wean the Israelites away from idolatry. Having grown accustomed to this form of worship in Egypt, it was impossible to draw them away from idolatry without a service of sacrifices to God.”

“Other [rabbinical] authorities such as Nachmanides [Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman (Spain, North Africa, Israel, 1194 – 1270) known as The ‘RAMBAN’ (with an ‘N’ at the end)], and Rabbeinu Behayei [(Rabbi Bachya ben Joseph ibn Pakuda (Spain, c.1050 – c.1120)] categorically rejected this idea. Yet there appears to be a supporting source for Maimonides in the Midrash. After describing the unique Temple service of Yom Kippur, the Torah states, ‘Then the Israelites will stop sacrificing to the demons’ [Leviticus, chapter 17, verse 7). The Sages explained this unusual verse via the following parable: ‘This is like the case of an unrefined prince who would eat un-slaughtered meat. The king said: let him always eat at my table, and automatically he will become accustomed to avoid from such foods. So too, the people of Israel were enthralled with Egyptian idolatry. Therefore God said: let them always bring their offerings before Me.’ [Vayikra Rabba 22:8]”

“The Midrash indicates that God commanded the Jewish people to offer sacrifices in order to wean them from Egyptian idolatry - just like Maimonides! Yet if we examine this Midrash carefully, we will see that it does not truly correlate to Maimonides' explanation for sacrifices.”

“The king requested his son join in the royal meals in order to correct his unruly habits. Yet eating at the king's table is not just a method of discipline. Simply being present at the royal table is in itself a wonderful thing. The true thrust of the parable is this: the prince, due to his inappropriate behavior, did not deserve to eat at his father's table at all meals. The king requested his presence at all times in order to refine his eating habits. Above and beyond its educational value, however, participation in a royal meal is a great privilege.”

“Similarly, the service of God through sacrifices is a truly wonderful matter. Through this form of divine service one merits experiencing sublime holiness. It is like ‘eating at the table of the king’, where one benefits the illuminating favor of the King of life. This Midrash does not refer to the Temple service in general, but rather to a specific situation immediately following the Exodus from Egypt. During their 40-year sojourn in the desert, the Israelites were not allowed to eat meat unless it came from a sacrifice offered in the Tabernacle (see Deuteronomy, chapter 12, verse 20 allowing them to eat meat when they get to the Land of Israel). This was a temporary measure for that generation alone.”

“Why was non-sacrificial meat forbidden to them?”

“Having just left Egypt and its idolatrous culture, it was necessary to stop the Israelites from worshipping foreign gods. Therefore God commanded that generation to eat only meat from sacrifices offered in the Tabernacle, insuring that none would privately continue the idolatrous practices of Egypt. This is precisely the point of the Midrash. The requirement to eat only sacrificial meat was a special decree for the generation leaving Egypt, weaning them from idolatry. Yet the fundamental concept of offering sacrifices in the prescribed times and situations as set down by the Torah - this has its own sublime goal.”

“Perhaps this was also the intention of the prophet Jeremiah, who tried to discourage the people from offering unwanted sacrifices: ‘So said the Lord of Hosts, the God of Israel: Add your burnt offerings to your sacrifices, [it would be better that] you eat the meat. For I did not speak nor command your fathers concerning burnt-offerings and sacrifices when I took them out of Egypt. This is the thing I commanded them: Listen to My voice, and I will be your God and you will be My people.’ (Jeremiah, chapter 7, vs. 21-23)”

“How could the prophet say that God did not command sacrifices?”

“The people of Jeremiah’s day wanted to emulate the holy practices of the Israelites in the desert, only eating sacrificial meat. The prophet therefore explained to them that the special decree at that time was not for reasons of spiritual elevation, but in order that the newly freed Israelites would abandon idolatry and listen to God's voice. [(Translated from Rabbi Kook’s) ‘Midbar Shur’ pp. 158-9]. [1]

So what is “The Goal of Sacrifices?”

“Sacrifices are not an innovation of the Jewish people.”

“Noah also offered sacrifices to God. Yet not all offerings are of the same quality. As the Midrash illustrates: ‘There was once a king who had two cooks. The first cooked a meal that the king ate and enjoyed; and the second also cooked a meal that the king ate and enjoyed. How do we know which meal the king enjoyed more? When the king subsequently commanded the second cook, ‘Make for me again the dish you prepared’, we know the second was the king’s preferred dish.’ According to the Midrash, the very fact that the Torah commands the people of Israel to offer sacrifices indicates that God prefers their offerings to those which Noah initiated on his own accord.”

“How do we evaluate the relative worth of different sacrifices? What distinguishes the service of Israel from that of Noah?”

“We can assess offerings according to their ultimate goal. The more elevated the goal, the more acceptable the offering. Noah’s objective differed greatly from that of the people of Israel. Noah sought to preserve the physical world. He wanted to protect it from Divine retribution. ‘God smelled the sweet fragrance and said in His heart, ‘I will no longer curse the land because of man’. (Genesis, chapter 8, verse 21).”

“The offerings of Israel had a far more sublime goal. They sought to establish divine providence amongst mankind. Their goal was to uplift the individual to levels of divine inspiration and prophecy. ‘Make for Me a sanctuary, and I will dwell in their midst.’ (Exodus, chapter 25, verse 8). This distinction between the objective of Noah’s offerings and those of Israel is reflected in the unique phrases the Torah uses to describe them. Noah’s offerings had a ‘sweet fragrance’, while those of Israel are referred as ‘My bread’ (Numbers, chapter 28, verse 2).”

“What is the difference between a fragrance and bread?”

“When an animal eats vegetation, the plant life is absorbed and transformed into part of the animal. In this way the plant has achieved a higher state of being. When an animal is consumed by a human, the animal is similarly elevated as it becomes part of that human being. This transformation to a higher state through consumption corresponds to an offering which strives towards a higher state of existence. The offerings of Israel are appropriately called ‘My bread’, as the change to which they aspire - perfection as prophetic beings - is similar in magnitude to the transformations of plant to animal and animal to man.”

“The offerings of Noah, on the other hand, had only a ‘sweet fragrance'’. They gave off a wonderful smell and appealed to the natural senses, but did not attempt to effect a change in nature. Their purpose was to maintain the natural world, to perfect man within the framework of his normal intellectual capabilities. In fact, the offerings of the Jewish people encompass both of these goals. Therefore they are described both as ‘sweet fragrance’ and ‘My bread’, as we aspire to perfection in two areas: natural wisdom and divine prophecy. [(Translated from Rabbi Kook’s) ‘Midbar Shur’ pp. 155-158] [2]


Here is Rabbbi Kook’s fascinating, partial, reply: “[(Chanan Morrison says that) ‘Rabbi Kook’s views on the Temple service are sometimes misunderstood. A superficial reading of a passage in (Rabbi Kook’s work) ‘Olat Ri'iah’ (I, p. 292) indicates that only grain offerings (‘menachot’) will be found in the reinstated Temple service. To properly understand Rabbi Kook’s opinion on the matter, it is necessary to examine his essay on the sacrificial order in ‘Otzarot Hari'iah’, pp. 754-6.’]”

“In the future, the Cabalists teach, the entire world will be elevated. Even the animals in that future era will be different; they will be similar to people nowadays. [In the work: ‘Shaar Hamitzvot’ of the Ari, Rabbi Isaac Luria (Yitzhak ben Solomon Ashkenazi), (Egypt, Israel, 1534 – 1572)]. Obviously, no sacrifice could be offered from such a humanlike animal. It is about this period that the Midrash states, "All sacrifices will be annulled in the future" [Tanchuma Emor 19, Vayikra Rabbah (9:7)].”

“The prophet Malachi similarly predicted a lofty world in which the Temple service will only consist of grain offerings, replacing the animal sacrifices of old: ‘Then the grain-offering (‘MINCHAH’) of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to God as in the days of old, and as in ancient years’. (Malachi, chapter 3, verse 4).”

“In the current state of the world, however, when man is both physically and ethically weak, the time for dealing with animal rights has not yet arrived. We still need to slaughter animals for our physical needs. In addition, man needs moral boundaries to distinguish between the distinct sanctity of human and animal life. At this point, to advocate protection for animals in God’s service would be both wrong and dishonest. What sort of morality would permit man to be cruel to animals for his own physical needs, yet forbid their use for his spiritual service, in his sincere recognition and gratitude for God's kindnesses?”

“If, on the other hand, one’s moral stance against the slaughter of animals stems not from weakness of the spirit and cowardice of the heart, but rather from recognition of the issue’s fundamental divine justice - then the first step towards its fulfillment should be to stop animal slaughter for food. If we feel an emotional discomfort with the slaughter of animals, it is not because the time for full animal rights has already arrived. Rather, it comes from our anticipation of the future, already ingrained in our souls, like many other spiritual aspirations.” [3]


“Sacrifices vs. Fasting”

“When the Talmudic scholar Rav Sheshet fasted, he would add the following request to his Amida (Standing) prayer: ‘Master of the Universe! You know that when the Temple stood, a person who sinned would bring a sacrifice. The fat and blood would be offered on the altar, and the person would be forgiven. Now I have fasted, and my fat and my blood have shrunk. May it be Your Will that the lessening of my fat and my blood should be considered as if I offered them on the altar, and my sacrifice was accepted.’ [(Talmud, Tractate) Berachot, 17].”

“Rav Sheshet's prayer is inspiring, but it raises a few questions:”

“Why bother bringing sacrifices if we can achieve the same atonement through fasting?”

“Why were the fat and blood of the sacrifices the only parts offered on the altar (for sin and guilt offerings)?”

“Rabbi Kook writes that there are two major categories of transgressions. The first type are sins which are the result of excessive involvement in sensual pleasures, luxuries, etc. These sins are atoned via the fats of the offering. The second category of transgressions are motivated by actual need: hunger, poverty. Such physical or financial pressures can persuade one to lie, steal, even murder. The atonement for such sins is through the blood of the offering.”

“By fasting, we can imitate the sacrifice of fat and blood in the Temple. However, there is an important difference. An actual sacrifice served to humble the negative traits and desires. Fasting, on the other hand, weakens the entire body. Just as chemotherapy poisons other parts of the body as it fights the cancer, so too the fast serves to sap both positive and negative emotional energies. The desire to help others, to do ‘mitzvot’ – commandments, to study Torah, etc, are also reduced by the fast. Therefore Rav Sheshet used to pray that his fasting would achieve the redemptive value of an offering in the Temple, without the negative side-effect of sapping positive energies and desires. (Translated from Rabbi Kook’s) Ayn Aya I: 82].” [4]

The magnificent teachings of the great Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook cover some of the most important dimensions of the relevance of the subject of Sacrifices for our times!
May we merit to internalize and rejoice with his holy words!

Have a great Shabbat, and please let me know what you think!

[1] Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, as quoted and translated by Chanan Morrison, http://www.geocities.com/m_yericho/ravkook/AHAREI63.htm
[2] Ibid., http://www.geocities.com/m_yericho/ravkook/VAYIK62.htm
[3] Ibid., http://www.geocities.com/m_yericho/ravkook/VAYIKRA58.htm
[4] ibid., http://www.geocities.com/m_yericho/ravkook/VAYIKRA59.htm

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