Friday, March 28, 2008

Creepy Crawlies

"It was taught in the Beis Medrash of Rabbi Yishmael, if the only action that stood in Bnei Yisrael's merit was the fact that they do not defile themselves by eating those beings that crawl, this would have been sufficient to merit the redemption from Mitzrayim" [Bava Metzia 61b as quoted in Rashi Vayikra 11:45]

What's so significant about avoiding a particular cuisine ?

The pesukim immediately preceding give us a clue.

"... And you shall sanctify yourselves and you shall be sanctified ..." [11:44]
" not defile yourselves through them and you will be defiled" [11:43]

All of our actions invariably affect our holiness. Who we are is defined to a large extent by what we do, or avoid doing. When we sanctify ourselves - we are sanctified. And when we defile ourselves, chas veshalom, we become defiled.

This attitude of "holiness responsibility" forms the foundation for our approach to spirituality. It is also patently evident why it presented sufficient cause for the Holy One to redeem us from Mitzrayim.

Just like this realization ( and the subsequent actions and inactions it engendered ) were the cornerstone of redemption in the past - may they serve us in the same capacity to hasten the final redemption, speedily and in our days, amen.

Hatzlacha !!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

On The Cusp Of Indecision

Whenever we see the longest trup in the Torah, the shalsheles, there is a message to be learnt.

The Torah was given on Har Sinai with the specific notes that we read it with. These aren't just for emphasis - they actually teach us proper punctuation and meaning of the words.

The longest note - the shalsheles - consists of complete scales, rising to a high note and then plunging back down, three times.

What is the message of the shalsheles ?

Whenever we see it it represents a great moment of indecision. The musical embodiment of the back and forth turmoil of the undecided mind. We see it with Lot when he must leave Sodom and we see it with Yosef when he is contemplating succumbing to the wiles of Potifar's wife.

What then, is it doing in the parasha of the inauguration of the kohanim [ see Vayikra 8:23 ] ? What indecision applies here ?

The slaughtering of the last of the inaugural sacrifices and the ritual that followed - the dipping of the right earlobe, thumb and toe of the kohanim - was the final confirmation of their status. When this was complete they would no longer be like other men. The kohanim would be allowed access to a greater holiness - but in exchange they would be commeasurably seperate from the rest of the world. A positive spiritual exile - afforded the view from the peak, with the lonliness that attends it. Their indecision is reflected in the shalsheles.

And what of us ? The Chofetz Chaim is quoted as having said that the reason that his "zayde" was a kohen was that his "zayde" answered Moshe Rabbeinu's call of "מי לד אלי""Who is for Hashem - to me !" - and that there would come a time that that call would once again echo.

We learn from the shalsheles that's it's ok to waver in indecision - and we also learn that the choice to be sanctified lies within us. Will we shy away from holiness and the 'pleasures' that a holy life denies us ? Or will we step up to the challenge - and answer "I am for Hashem !"

Hatzlacha !!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

A Quick Buck, Anyone ?

When Esther decides to invite Achashverosh and Haman to her little soiree she has several reasons running through her head [ see megilla 15b]. One of the reasons was to appear to her fellow Jews that she had defected to the dark side and taken up with Haman and his ilk. This was done to spur the Jews to daven for divine mercy with increased fervor because they could no longer count on their "inside (wo)man".

So we see that the Jewish nation was well aware of the Queen's secret nationality. Yet, Achashverosh spends much effort and money to (unsuccessfully) determine Esther's true identity. He even made whole banquets dedicated to this purpose [ see megilla 13a ].

Why then, did no enterprising Jew sell out the Queen ? Was there no one amongst the people who could have used a quick buck ? Achashverosh had already proved that he was willing to shell out the dough for the information.

We see here an incredible and perhaps unprecedented level of achdus amongst klal yisrael. They might have bitter disagreements amongst themselves ( blaming each other for their current predicament - megilla 12b-13a ) but when it comes to uniting for a common cause - they are truly the (re)incarnation of "איש אחד בלב אחד" - perhaps this is why, of all generations, this one was the one to reaffirm the kabbalas haTorah. [ see shabbos 88b ]

And what of our mission this Purim ? To turn up our ahavas yisrael a notch or three - and to the extent we manage this - we will be rewarded with a new level of kabbalas haTorah - "בימים ההם" but "בזמן הזה".

Hatzalcha !!

Friday, March 14, 2008

Korbanos - An Expression of Closeness

The Mishkan was perhaps the first time that korbanos were commanded unto Bnei Yisrael. It was not, by any stretch, the first time we see them, however.

When Noach left the ark he brought korbanos from the stock of kosher animals ( seven pairs as opposed to one pair of the non kosher ones ). Before him, Hevel had brought korbanos, and the Avos regularly made mizbachos themselves.

Are we, when we bring korbanos recreating the relationships that these august forbearers had with Hashem ? Is that the purpose - to come as close to Hashem as these holy predecessors of ours ?

The Torah teaches us that we are, in fact, recreating a holier relationship, the ideal relationship between man and G-d – the one that the world was created to contain - that of Adam Harishon.

"...אדם כי יקריב מכם קרבן לד..."

"... When a man brings a korban to Hashem ... "[Vayikra 1:2]

Just like Adam was charged with the proper utilization of his domain ( gan eden ) so too must we utilize all the assets that we have for the lofty and sincere purpose - service of the One Above.

Hatzlacha !!

Friday, March 07, 2008

The Power Hidden Within

The term Mishkan is generated from the word 'shachan' or dwell. This was because the Mishkan was the dwelling place for Hashem's presence.

Rashi, however, alludes to a different meaning. Mishkan as related to 'mashkon' or collateral. The Mishkan, he says, was thusly named because it stood collateral for the mortgage of Bnei Yisrael. Twice it was removed instead of an even greater debt.

Rav Yaakov Kaminetsky, zatza"l, in the Emes Le'Yaakov, points out that when you suffer a financial fall from grace two things occur. Luxuries are sold off to cushion the fall and neccesities are mortgaged against a later recuperation. The fact that the mishkan was named a mortgage collateral teaches us that its function ( of having the divine presence dwelling amongst us ) is a neccesity, not a luxury.

And how do we accomplish this now, with the temple mount sitting barren of holiness ( and filled with quite a bit of the opposite ) ?

Enter the words of the Sefas Emes.

The Mishkan was also called the Mishkan HaEidus - Dwelling place of Testimony. Testimony to what ? To Hashem's presence.

A witness is only called in to testify to a questionable fact or bolster a shaky story - why would the Jewish people need such testimony that Hashem's presence was amongst them ? Because after the sin of the golden calf it wasn't such a sure thing.

But from this the Sefas Emes lears a powerful message - that before the sin Hashem's presence dwelled, not in the Mishkan, but within every Jew. And when the Mishkan has been mortgaged away for our sins, perhaps Hashem's presence is trying to find it's way back to it's original host - will we let it ?

Hatzlacha !