Parsha Tzav – 5777

Parshat Tzav In-Depth

“The expression tzav (“command”) implies an urging for now and for future generations. (Torat Kohanim; Rashi)

The king Moshiach will arise and restore the kingdom of David to its glory of old, to its original sovereignty. He will build the Holy Temple and gather the dispersed of Israel. In his times, all the laws of the Torah will be reinstated as before; the sacrifices will be offered, the Sabbatical year and the Jubilee year instituted as outlined in the Torah. (Maimonides)”

Torah Sparks: Tsav 5777

“The Torah instructs that the sin-offering (korban ḥatat), associated with misdeeds, be offered in the same place (the holy of holies) as the burnt offering (korban olah), a sacrifice expressing dedication. The Ma’agelei Tsedek says this is to encourage the sinner not to be depressed, that penitence for his sins can put him in the same place before God as the tsadik. R’ Yisrael Salanter (1809 – 1883, Lithuania/Germany, father of the Musar movement) said that the korban olah actually comes to atone for sinful thoughts, and where one repents for sinful actions one should repent for sinful thoughts, since they so often lead to misdeeds.”

It All Depends: Finding the Middle of the Torah

“Finding the midpoint in the Torah is also a matter of considerable debate. Logically, you might think you could simply unroll a Torah scroll, measure it, and divide that number in half. Basically, that should land you somewhere in the Book of Leviticus, the third of five books of the Torah, assuming that each book of the Torah is about the same length. In fact, they are not equal. Genesis is the longest book, Leviticus is the shortest, and Exodus is longer than Deuteronomy. With the Torah weighted toward the first two books, it makes sense that the midpoint should be somewhere toward the front of the middle book. But that is about all tradition can agree upon with respect to the Torah’s centroid. Once you drill down into the details of counting the problem becomes increasingly complicated and finding the middle of the Torah, both mathematically and theologically, is no easy task. It all depends on what you mean exactly by ‘the middle of the Torah!'”

The Ascending Heart

“Yitzhak Magriso begins by asking why the phrase for one particular kind of sacrifice – an olah (burnt offering; literally a “going upward”) – is often repeated twice when a single usage of the word olah would have sufficed syntactically. The answer Me’am Loez provides is to suggest that one olah is a physical description of the burnt animal’s smoky ascent to heaven. But a second “olah” is also happening within the heart of the person bringing the sacrifice.”

Haftarah Parshat Tzav

“Human beings have a tendency to compartmentalize their behavior. Religious people are no exception. For the prophets, this was a serious problem. How could a people so dedicated to ritual service to God neglect or even oppose ethical behavior? How could they offer sacrifices with one hand and brush aside the unfortunate with the other? These paradoxes disturbed God and his messenger, Malachi, railed against them: “But first, I (God) will step forward to contend with you, and I will act as a relentless accuser against those who have no fear of Me: who practice sorcery, who commit adultery, who swear falsely, who cheat laborers of their hire, who subvert [the cause of] the widow, orphan, and stranger, said the Lord of Hosts.” (3:5)”

Parsha Vayikra – 5777

Parshat Vayikra In-Depth

“Said Rav Assi: Why do young children begin [the study of Torah] with the book of Leviticus, and not with Genesis? Surely it is because young children are pure, and the korbanot are pure; so let the pure come and engage in the study of the pure. (Midrash Rabbah)

Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Lubavitch (who later became the third Rebbe of Chabad) entered cheder on the day after Yom Kippur of the year 1792, eleven days after his third birthday. The child’s grandfather, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, instructed Reb Avraham the melamed to begin the first lesson with the opening verses of Vayikra. …(From the talks of the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson)”

Torah Sparks: Vayikra 5777

“Parashat Vayikra begins the Torah’s discussion of sacrificial law. In introducing the various sacrifices, the Torah refers to what happens “when adam (any “person”) presents an offering of cattle to the Lord” (1:2). In contrast, one who brings a sin offering or a guilt offering is described as a nefesh, a “soul” (5:1). Why is a person who brings the sin or guilt offering not referred to also as an adam “person”? The midrash, picking up on this variation in language, offers a parable that sheds light on the nature of sin and the way we respond to our own acts of wrongdoing:

[It is like] a king who had an orchard with beautiful figs. He set two guards in it, one lame and one blind. He said to them: “Guard the figs,” and he left them there and went on his way. The lame man said to the blind man: “I see beautiful figs.” The blind man said: “Bring them here, and we’ll eat them.” The lame man said: “But I can’t walk.” The blind man said: “And I can’t see.” What did they do? The lame man rode astride the blind man and they took the figs and ate them…The king came and said: “Where are the figs?” The blind man said: “Do I see?” The lame man said: “Can I walk?” The wise king placed the lame man astride the blind one and judged them as one. (Leviticus Rabba 4:5)”

Between a Rock and a Hard Place: Navigating the Book of Leviticus

“If we were to compare the Book of Exodus to a “rock” (as in Mt. Sinai) and the Book of Numbers to a “hard place” (as in the “wilderness”), then the Book of Leviticus would be somewhere “between a rock and a hard place.” My sense is that for most Reform Jews, reading the third book of the Torah, Leviticus, is more a function of calendar than choice: a tough, unavoidable literary landscape with only a few rest stops or scenic overlooks. It’s just a territory we must traverse in order to get to the next major site on our annual pilgrimage through the Five Books of Moses.”

Where Does the Spirit of Sacrifice Take Us?

“As we now begin our study of the book of Vayikra (Leviticus), we start with two observations:

Even some fairly dedicated Torah learners find this the most difficult book of the Hamisha Humshei Torah (Five Books of Moses). As anyone who has worked with b’nai mitzvah students on writing divrei Torah (explanations of Torah) can attest, the focus of Vayikra on the sacrificial system leads to some quite canned and predictable b’nai mitzvah sermons in March and April. Typically they begin: “Our ancestors used to sacrifice their animals. We are not farmers or herdsman. Still everyone is called upon to sacrifice in their life…””

Haftarah Parshat Vayikra

“Most haftarot are linked to the Torah reading by some thematic idea. In the case of this week’s haftarah, the association reflects contrasting messages. The Torah reading catalogues the variety of possible sacrifices which could be offered in the Sanctuary and Temple. The haftarah points up God’s demand for religious loyalty over the offering of sacrifices. (See 43:22-28) Still, sometimes looking at the prophetic message of the haftarah in its original prophetic context might yield a message which by coincidence has relevance to the liturgical calendar.

The first verse of this week’s haftarah serves as the last verse of a prophecy whose message uses the exodus from Egypt as its theme to inspire the exiled nation that an even greater redemption is in the offing: “Thus said the Lord who made a road through the sea and a path through the mighty waters, who destroyed chariots and horses, and all the mighty host. They lay down to rise no more. They were extinguished, quenched like a wick. Do not recall what happened of old or ponder what happened of yore! I am about to do something new, even now it shall come to pass, suddenly you shall perceive it. I will make a road through the wilderan ness and rivers in the desert. The wild beasts shall honor Me, jackals and ostriches for I provide water in the wilderness and rivers in the desert to give drink to My chosen people. The people that I formed for Myself that they might declare My praise.” (44:16-21)”

Parsha Vayakhel-Pekudei – 5777

Parshat Vayakhel In-Depth and Parshat Pekudei In-Depth

“Moses assembled the entire congregation of the children of Israel (35:1)

This was on the morning after Yom Kippur, the day that Moses descended from the mountain [with the second tablets]. (Rashi)”

“These are the accounts of the Tabernacle . . . by the command of Moses . . . by the hand of Ithamar the son of Aaron (38:21)

The sages taught: Always appoint at least two people together as trustees over public funds. Even Moses, who enjoyed the full trust of G‑d—as it is written (Numbers 12:7), “In all My house he is trusted”—figured the accounts of the Sanctuary together with others, as it says, “By the hand of Ithamar the son of Aaron.”

Thus the sages taught: the one who withdrew [the monies donated to the Holy Temple] did not enter the chamber wearing either a hemmed cloak, shoes, sandals, tefillin or an amulet (i.e., nothing in which money can be hidden), lest if he became poor, people might say that he became poor because of an iniquity committed in the chamber, or if he became rich, people might say that he became rich from the withdrawal from the chamber. For it is a person’s duty to be free of blame before men as before G‑d, as it is said (Numbers 32:22): “And be guiltless towards G‑d and towards Israel.” (Midrash Tanchuma; Mishnah, Shekalim 3:2)”

Torah Sparks: Vayakhel & Pekudei 5777

“After a brief reminder to observe the Sabbath, the heart of this week’s parsha begins with Moses taking donations from all of Israel, from “everyone whose heart moves him (35:5)” for the purpose of building the Tabernacle. In the following paragraph he addresses “all among you who are skilled” to “come and make all that that the Lord has commanded.” The Israelites heed his call and “Everyone who excelled in ability and everyone whose spirit moved him came, bringing to the Lord his offering for the work of the Tent of Meeting (35:21).” Over and over, the Torah emphasizes that all of the Israelites participated in the building of the Tabernacle. While service in the Temple in Jerusalem will eventually be limited to the priests and Levites, the building of the Tabernacle was a communal affair, involving all of Israel.”

The Formation of a People

“I want to take a step back and reflect on Exodus as an entire book, with Parashat Vayak’heil/P’kudei as the penultimate culmination of a lot of action. Genesis ended long ago with the movement of Joseph’s family from Canaan to Egypt. It was the story of a single family, rapidly expanding, with many relatives and growing generations. This particular family was exceptional, because this was the family with whom God created a relationship. Abraham’s personal relationship with God is passed down to his son, grandson, and great-grandson. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph all encounter God in different ways, due to the varying trials and circumstances of their lives. But still, Genesis is the composite of stories of personal relationships between God and individual men.”

The Greatest Miracle

“The overall theme of the Book of Exodus is the physical and spiritual transformation of our ancestors from being slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt, the land of oppression, to being servants of God in the free and open wilderness. The book opens with our Israelite ancestors building fortresses and warehouses for the king of Egypt and closes with them erecting the Tabernacle, the Mishkan, the holy shrine for the Sovereign of All.”

Haftarah Parshat Vayah’kel-Pekudei

“Pesah is right around the corner and this Shabbat is the fourth and final Shabbat where we have a special additional Torah reading before Pesah. The Torah reading recounts the special preparations for the first Pesah in Egypt. The accompanying haftarah records Ezekiel’s vision of how Pesah will be conducted in the rebuilt Temple. Ezekiel who lived in Babylonia at the time of the destruction of the First Temple prescribed rituals for the Temple which differed from the those found in the Torah.”

Parsha Ki Tisa – 5777

Parshat Ki Tisa In-Depth

“This they shall give . . . half a shekel (30:13) The mitzvah of the half-shekel is that each should contribute a coin that [is valued at] half of the dominant coin of that time. If the prevailing coin is a takal, they should give a half-takal; if it is a sela, they should give a half-sela; if it is a darcon, they should give a half-darcon. (Midrash HaGadol)

Why not a complete coin? To teach us that no man is a complete entity unto himself. Only by joining with another can a person become a “whole thing.” (The Chassidic Masters)”

Torah Sparks: Ki Tissa 5777

“Parshat Ki Tissa or parts of it are read no less than nine times during the year. In addition to its place in the yearly cycle, we read parts of Ki Tissa on five fast days and on two Shabbatot of festivals (Pesach and Sukkot). The beginning of the portion is also read on Shabbat Shekalim.

The dramatic center of the portion is the story of the sin of the Golden Calf that takes place when Moses is on Mount Sinai with God. The dialogues between Moses and God at this moment become the basis of our Torah reading for fast days.”

A Concrete Relationship with God

“At this point in Exodus, in Parashat Ki Tisa, the Israelites have seen a lot of action: the great drama of the plagues, the earth-shattering Exodus itself, and the transcendent moment of Revelation at Sinai. But now, it is as if the rushing scenes have been paused in favor of, well, waiting. The Israelites are somewhere in the desert, they have had these communal, transcendent experiences, and now, … now they are killing time until Moses returns to them.”

The Promise of Forgiveness

“The great drama of our Torah revolves around the themes of sin and forgiveness – human error and Divine forbearance. The great teaching of our scripture is that forgiveness is available to those who seek it. The great hope of our tradition is that we all avail ourselves of this gift and turn in repentance from our errors and mistakes to live fuller lives. The great dream of our people is that we can use this insight to strengthen the spiritual bonds that unite us with each other and with our God.”

Haftarah Parshat Ki Tisa

“Shabbat Parah is the third of four special Shabbatot which precede Pesah. Its was intended as a reminder for people to purify themselves before Pesah so that they would be ritually pure in order to partake of the Pesah offering. The accompanying haftarah from the prophet Ezekiel takes the theme of purity and transforms it conceptually from being a physical condition into a spiritual condition. Sin and disloyalty to God make the people impure and worthy of exile. For Ezekiel, this explains the exile of the children of Israel following the destruction of the First Temple by the Babylonians.”

Parsha Tetzaveh – 5777

Parshat Tetzaveh In-Depth

“And you shall command . . . (27:20)

Tetzaveh is the only Parshah in the Torah since Moses’ birth in which Moses’ name does not appear (with the exception of the book of Deuteronomy, which consists mostly of a first-person narrative spoken by Moses). The reason for this is that [when the people of Israel sinned with the golden calf,] Moses said to G‑d: “If You do not [forgive them], erase me from the book that You have written” (Exodus 32:31). This was realized in the Parshah of Tetzaveh, since the censure of a righteous person, even if made conditional on an unfulfilled stipulation, always has some effect. (Baal HaTurim)”

Torah Sparks: Tetsaveh 5777

“This year Parashat Tetsaveh is read on Shabbat Zachor, and in fact Purim will begin when Shabbat goes out (except for Jerusalem and several other historically “walled cities”). Clothing is a theme common to both the parashah and the holiday. In Tetsaveh we read of the special clothing given to the kohanim (priests); in the evening we will dress up. When I studied in Israel many years ago, our daily minyan had a kohen, who, in accordance with the custom there, duḥaned each morning. His Purim costume was to dress as the kohen gadol, the High Priest.

In the parashah we are told that all the priests are to wear four garments – linen breeches, tunics, sashes and turbans.”

Each of Us Can Kindle the Light Within

“There’s something incredibly powerful about the ner tamid, usually translated as the “eternal light.” Most often, it hangs elegantly in a synagogue just before the ark, right at the front of the sanctuary. (As an interesting aside, the ner tamid was historically placed on the western wall of the synagogue as a reminder that the Holy of Holies was to its west.1) The constancy of the ner tamid was a source of great interest to me as a child. I don’t think I am unique in remembering sitting through services, gazing at the lamp, and wondering whether it really burned all the time, when was it lit for the first time, and who made sure it didn’t go out.”

Why Moses Did Not Become a Priest

“This week’s parashah, Tetzaveh, begins with God commanding Moses “And as for you, you shall instruct the Israelites to bring you pure olive oil of beaten olives for lighting, for kindling the Eternal Lamp (Exodus 27:20).” At first glance it does not appear that there is anything unusual or extraordinary about this verse. It is simply God giving Moses another instruction concerning the Mishkan (Tabernacle), just as God instructed him last week on how he was to build it. However, it is precisely because God’s instructions to Moses had been at the center of the preceding narrative that commentators have questioned why the verse begins “V’atah tetzaveh” (and as for you, you shall command) as opposed to simply tzav (command!) or tetzaveh (you shall command). After all, “and as for you ” would seem to imply that the previous verses had been addressed or referred to someone else.”

Haftarah Parshat Titzaveh

“The episode of King Saul’s war against the Amalekites was certainly provocative. It was part of the ongoing saga which we first encountered in the Torah where we learn that the Amalekites waged a particularly offensive war against the children of Israel. The memory of the acrimony from that battle reverberated throughout the generations. Generations later the story continued when the prophet Samuel commanded King Saul to obliterate the Amalekites and resurfaced again in the book of Esther when Mordechai a descendent of the tribe of Saul tangles with Haman, a descendent of the Amalekites.”

Parsha Terumah – 5777

Parshat Terumah In-Depth

“Speak to the children of Israel, that they should take to Me a terumah (“uplifting”) (Exodus 25:2)

Every created entity has a spark of G‑dliness within it, a pinpoint of divinity that constitutes its “soul,” its spiritual function and design. When we utilize something to serve the Creator, we penetrate its shell of mundanity, revealing and realizing its divine essence. Thus we elevate these “sparks,” reuniting them with their Source. (The Chassidic Masters)”

Torah Sparks: Terumah 5777

“In the last two Parshiot we were getting on beautifully with the revelation on Mount Sinai; we had the Ten Commandments in Parshat Yitro and some very sensible and practical ethical-legal instructions in Parshat Mishpatim. Now suddenly, in Parshat Terumah, we are thrown into the weird and wonderful world of ornate ritual objects. In this parashah we begin to be told about God’s detailed requirements for the building of a Mishkan (Tabernacle) so that God might dwell in the middle of the camp. God says that the Mishkan must be built – “V’Shachanti B’tocham” – “that I may dwell among them” (Exodus 25:8). The rules for the construction of this astonishingly complicated edifice fill chapters and chapters of the Torah up to the end of the book of Exodus.”

Giving Gifts of Free Will

“As the Torah continues the Israelites’ dramatic, people-building saga, Parashat T’rumah approaches the story from a new angle. Instead of developing the literary adventures of a no-longer-nascent people or focusing on the striking events at Mt. Sinai, this week’s Torah portion is about the details. And these details are not the specifics of community-building or daily life. Rather, they concern, in painstaking minutiae, the construction of the Tabernacle. This is a parashah about holiness, and in the case of Parashat T’rumah, the holiness is in the details.”

Blueprint for a Full Jewish Life

“Me’am Loez may provide some insight into the dynamic of such spiritual renewal by noting a subtle difference in the instructions given to Moshe for making the menorah, the tabernacle, and the sacrificial altar. Instructions for making the menorah and mishkan are given in the present tense, as if a reliable visual image given to Moshe at Sinai could serve as the design grid when the building actually began. Moshe, however, is given the instruction for designing the sacrificial altar in the past tense, ‘as you were shown on the mountain.'”

Haftarah Parshat Terumah

“King Solomon’s wisdom is a major anthem of the book of Kings. At every turn, we are reminded of his wisdom. He prayed to God for wisdom and it was granted to him. Solomon is most well-known for the famous court case where he decided the fate of a baby claimed by two prostitutes. This week’s haftarah also puts into play his wisdom in the building of the Temple: “The Lord had given Solomon wisdom, as He had promised him. And there was friendship between Hiram and Solomon, and the two of them made a treaty.” (verse 26)”

Parsha Mishpatim – 5777

Parshat Mishpatim In-Depth

“And these are the laws which you shall set before them (Exodus 21:1)

The phrase “and these” (ve’eileh) implies that they are a continuation of what is written before. This is to teach us that just as the laws written above (the Ten Commandments) are from Sinai, these too are from Sinai. (Mechilta; Rashi)

Since the majority of laws set forth in the Parshah of Mishpatim are logical laws, the Torah wishes to emphasize that these too are divinely ordained. (Commentaries)”

Torah Sparks: Mishpatim 5777

“The Rabbis disagreed over the meaning of the repetition: one said any mistreatment, even trivial, will trigger God’s anger; another said one is liable only if he/she repeats the offence. Thus we see that the repeated verb can minimize (e.g. “at all”) or it can intensify (“surely”). There are other examples of this in our parasha. Ex. 21:2 entitles the Hebrew slave to go free after six years, but if amor yomar, he says says ‘I love my master…I will not go free’ his ear is pierced and he is a slave for life (Ex 21:5). The rabbis say “he must say so twice.” A one-time remark, whether made casually or in jest, is not enough to commit him to servitude for life. On the other hand “one who strikes a parent mot yumat – shall surely be put to death” (Ex. 21:15).”

The Moral Imperative of the Stranger

“In Parashat Mishpatim, we find the Israelites in the midst of the Revelation at Sinai, experiencing the communal wonder and intensity of their encounter with God. Mishpatim, which means “laws,” dives into the details. The Revelations in Mishpatim are among the words Moses writes down on stone when he and Aaron ascend the mountain. Scholars call these laws the Book of the Covenant or Sefer HaB’rit. It’s the Torah’s first pass at the legal details that govern Jewish living.”

Jewish Tradition and Slavery

“The laws limiting the rights of a slave owner and expanding the rights of the slave (including the right to emancipation after seven years labor for Hebrew slaves, and automatic release for all slaves during a Jubilee year) are described in the parshat Mishpatim.

One would think that the life of a Jewish slave owner bent on maximizing the economic benefit of slave labor would be greatly impeded by such “humanitarian” restrictions. But in a gloss near the end of his commentary, Jacob Culi reminds us why this would not be the case even if the Jewish slave owner was concerned about halacha. For the laws regulating the relationship between the slave owner and the slave are talui b’aretz, dependent on the steady and complete habitation of Eretz Yisrael by a full complement of Jewish tribes. Lacking this sovereignty, this class of halachot are not binding.”

Haftarah Parshat Mishpatim

“This Shabbat begins the cycle of four special Shabbatot which precede Pesah. The first of these, Shabbat Shekalim, deals with the special Jewish half shekel tax which was collected for a variety of needs in the Temple. The special haftarah for this Shabbat records an episode in the Temple where the High Priest and the king worked to insure the proper use of the collected funds. The story related there also has some other twists and turns. The king, Jehoash was raised in the Temple from childhood by the High Priest, Jehoiada, in order to prevent his assassination by the queen mother, Athaliah. Jehoash assumed the kingship at age seven under the ward of the High Priest. His rule was described in the book of Kings this way: “And Jehoash did that which was right in the eyes of the Lord all his days all the while that he was instructed by Jehoiada the High Priest.” (12:3)”

Parsha Yitro – 5777

Parshat Yitro In-Depth

“Jethro, the priest of Midian, the father-in-law of Moses, heard of all that G‑d did for Moses and His people Israel, that G‑d had taken Israel out of Egypt (18:1)

Of what did he hear that he came? Of the splitting of the Red Sea and the war against Amalek.(Rashi)

Jethro heard . . . and Jethro came . . . (18:1)

This is the meaning of the verse (Proverbs 27:10) “Better a close neighbor than a distant brother.” “A close neighbor”—this is Jethro; “a distant brother” refers to Esau. (Midrash Rabbah)”

Torah Sparks: Yitro 5777

“Of the Ten Commandments, only four will land you in jail if you are convicted of violating them. The winners:

1. You shall not swear falsely by God’s name (assuming you are under oath).
2. You shall not murder.
3. You shall not steal.
4. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor (assuming, again, some court proceeding)

All this leaves us a lot of wiggle room to sin. If we want to create a sculptured image and worship it, no one will stop us. If we want to dishonor a parent, we may. If we want to spend the Sabbath day laboring away at some menial task, let’s shvitz to our heart’s delight. It’s a free world. The opportunities for sin abound, and ironically, it is in such an environment that the possibility for living the sacred life is greatest.”

Radical Inclusion at Sinai

“We have arrived. All of the stories; all the of the generations between Adam and Eve, and the matriarchs and patriarchs; and 400 years of slavery in Egypt now culminate in the Israelites’ triumphant redemption. They all lead to this singular moment: the Revelation at Sinai. In Parashat Yitro, Moses guides the Israelite people to Mt. Sinai where they encounter God, experiencing all the drama and glory of Revelation.”

Words of God

“The week’s parashah, Yitro, takes its name from the opening line which states “And Yitro (Jethro) father-in-law of Moses heard all that God had done to Moses and to Israel his people, that God had taken Israel out of Egypt.” The parashah then continues on with Yitro’s advice to Moses not to take on the duty of judging the people’s grievances alone, but to appoint judges to help him. Finally, the parashah reaches a climax with the central event of our religious mythology, the giving of the law/Torah at Sinai. It is at Sinai that the ragtag bunch of former slaves finally covenants themselves to God as a people. At Sinai the nation/people of Israel is born.”

Haftarah Parshat Yitro

“Isaiah was anything but eager to take on the role of prophet. God had to pull out all stops to convince him. And all for good reason. Isaiah would be asked to be the harbinger of the severest of messages, a message which would foresee the downfall of the nation on account of its sinfulness. After Isaiah accepted his charge, he delivered this message to his people: “Go say to the people: ‘Hear, indeed, but do not understand; See, indeed, but do not grasp.” (verse 9) It gets worse. The people’s obstinacy is then reinforced by God: “Dull that people’s mind, stop its ears; lest seeing with its eyes and hearing with its ears, it also grasp with its mind and repent and save (heal) itself.” (verse 10)”

Parsha Beshalach – 5777

Parshat Beshalach In-Depth

“G‑d did not lead them through the way of the land of the Philistines (13:17)

The tribe of Ephraim had erred and departed from Egypt 30 years before the destined time, with the result that three hundred thousand of them were slain by the Philistines . . . and their bones lay in heaps on the road. . . . G‑d therefore said: If Israel sees the bones of the sons of Ephraim strewn in the road, they will return to Egypt . . .

Thus the verse says, v’lo nacham Elokim (‘G‑d did not lead them,’ which can also be translated as ‘G‑d was not comforted’). This is comparable to a king whose sons were carried off as captives, and some of them died in captivity. The king afterwards came and saved those that were left. While he rejoiced over those who survived, he was never comforted for those who had died. (Midrash Rabbah)”

Torah Sparks: Beshallah 5777

“Nahshon ben Aminadov is a fairly familiar character in biblical lore. He was the prince from the tribe of Judah known for taking the initiative to jump into the sea when the children of Israel were trapped, in panic, between the pursuing Egyptian army and the sea (Exodus 14:9-12). It was his great faith in God which caused God to split the sea so that the nation could leave Egyptian bondage. One rabbinic tradition asserts that this as the reason that the tribe of Judah warranted the kingship, through the house of David (see Mechilta deRabbi Yishmael Beshallah 6).”

First Steps on the Path to the Promised Land

“Redemption! Parashat B’shalach is a Torah portion of glory — glory in the Song at the Sea, the poetic celebration of liberation from Egyptian bondage, and glory in the details of the Israelites’ first steps out of Egypt.

The parashah begins with the verse that sets the scene for the entire next thematic section of the Book of Exodus, the Israelites’ early adventures wandering in the desert. Exodus 13:17 reads, ‘Now when Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although it was nearer; for God said, ‘The people may have a change of heart when they see war, and return to Egypt.'”

Sinai and Mitzvot

“The parashah begins with Moses’ father-in-law, Yitro, showing Moses how to set up an administrative system to govern the newly-freed Israelites, and how to delegate minor tasks to others so that he can focus on major issues. Then the story moves to the theophany on Mount Sinai, the giving of the mitzvot (commandments) to Moses. Much of the rest of the biblical story consists of discussions of the rules and the way they are to be enforced. These two elements, the rules and the mechanism by which they are administered are essential parts of traditional halakhah.”

Haftarah Parshat Beshalah

“It is important to pay close attention to how a story is told. The message is in the details. The children of Israel had been subjugated by Jabin, king of the Philistines, for twenty years. When they cried out to God, expressing their troubles, God answered them and had them redeemed. There were three human protagonists in the story: Deborah, Barak and Yael. Deborah was the leader of the people and Barak, the general whom she assigned to do battle with this bitter enemy. For his part, Barak refused to lead the forces on his own and only agreed to do battle if Deborah accompanied him. Deborah acceded to his request but cautioned him that any victory against the enemy would not be achieved at his hands. The battle went well and the enemy general, Sisera, was forced to escape. He fled to the tent of Yael who promised to hide him from Barak. Neither Barak nor Deborah finalized the victory. That achievement was left for Yael who killed Sisera while he slept in her tent.”

Parsha Bo – 5777

Parshat Bo In-Depth

“G‑d said to Moses: ‘Come in to Pharaoh’ (10:1)

Rabbi Shimon [bar Yochai] continued: It is now fitting to reveal mysteries connected with that which is above and that which is below. Why is it written, ‘Come in to Pharaoh?’ Ought it not rather have said, ‘Go to Pharaoh?’ It is to indicate that G‑d brought Moses into a chamber within a chamber, into the abode of the supernal mighty serpent that is the soul of Egypt, from whom many lesser serpents emanate. Moses was afraid to approach him, because his roots are in supernal regions, and he approached only his subsidiary streams. When G‑d saw that Moses feared the serpent, He said, ‘Come in to Pharaoh.’ (Zohar)”

Torah Sparks: Bo 5777

“The Passover Sacrifice is central to Parshat Bo. It is the major feature of the Exodus and it will remain a central part of Israelite national existence for generations to come. In some sense the centrality of the Seder in our time is a continuation of this tradition that signified the birth of our nation. It is set out in Exodus chapter 12…

This sacrifice has several key features: it must be roasted, there should be one lamb per household, uncircumcised (men) cannot eat from it, and it must be consumed in its entirety in a concrete period of time (12:8-10).”

Why Firstborns Are Such a Big Deal in the Torah

“Birth order matters in Parashat Bo, too. Bo begins with the final four plagues, culminating in that infamous, horrifying last plague: makat b’chorot, the killing of the firstborn. God takes this concept to its extreme, condemning every single firstborn — whether human or animal — to perish. The Israelite firstborns were saved by placing lambs’ blood on their doors.

But the emphasis on the firstborn doesn’t end with the 10th plague. After the conclusion of the plagues, God commands Moses, “Consecrate to Me every first-born; human and beast, the first [male] issue of every womb among the Israelites is Mine” (Exodus 13:2). This statement lays the groundwork for a ritual called pidyon haben, in which parents must symbolically redeem their firstborn son from God’s ownership via an offering of coins on the 31st day after birth.”

The Sign of Courage

“As we read the story of the Exodus in the course of the annual cycle of Torah lessons and again in the spring during our Passover Seder, we hear very clearly Moses’ challenge to Pharaoh – “Let my people go!” We focus our attention on the clash between God and Pharaoh. We imagine Moses going time and time again to the hard-hearted Pharaoh and pleading with him to release our Israelite ancestors before God sends a plague even more dreadful than the one before. Then we hear Pharaoh’s firm refusal – “No, I will not let them go!” and we wait with fear and anticipation for the next horror that God will cast upon Egypt. The pattern repeats ten times until every Egyptian family has lost a loved one and Pharaoh finally relents and lets the Israelites go free.”

Haftarah Parshat Bo

“Metaphors can often express a message more powerfully than direct expression. This literary tool works, however, only when the audience understands the imagery. One verse, in particular, from this week’s haftarah bears out this idea: “Egypt is a handsome heifer (eglah yafefiah), a gadfly (keretz) from the north is coming” (verse 20)

The description of Egypt as an “eglah yefefiah” might seem a bit odd. Herodotus, the Greek historian clears up the confusion. For the Egyptians, Aphis, who was represented by a heifer, served as a deity. As such, the beautiful heifer was an apropos mascot for Egypt. (See Menahem Bula, Isaiah, Daat Mikra, p. 548, note 52) On the other hand, Babylonia is likened to a “keretz”. What is a “keretz”? Here, a debate in the Talmud chimes in: “‘Ulla said: It is a synonym for ‘slaying’ Rav Nahman bar Yitchak said: What is the scriptural evidence? Egypt is a very fair heifer. But the kerez [gadfly] out of the north is coming, it is coming. What is the intimation? As R. Joseph interpreted it: A fair kingdom is Egypt but murderous nations from the north will come upon it.” (Yoma 32b)”