Sunday, February 28, 2010

Parshah Ki Tisa ( Exodus 30:11-34:35)

Aharon said unto them; take off the golden earrings which are in
your wives’ ears…” (Shemot 32:2). Rashi explains that Aharon had in mind to postpone making the Golden Calf, since he knew that women would not easily part with their jewelry. He hoped that Moshe would arrive in the meantime.
Women Refused to Make the Golden Calf
Since the women did not want to donate their jewelry to the Golden Calf, the men took off their own golden earrings instead. This is understood from the following verse: “All the people pulled off the golden pendants that were in their ears, and brought them to Aharon” (Shemot 32:3). The word ozneihem (their ears) is written in the masculine form suggesting the fact that the men pulled off their own earrings, without any reference to the pendants belonging to the women. Minchah Belulah is of the opinion that the men pulled off their wives’ earrings by force. In either case, the women refused to participate in making the Golden Calf.
To Be Renewed Like the Moon
When the wives refused to hand over earrings to their husbands, they told them, “We will not listen to you and make a disgusting thing, which has no power.” For this, G-d rewarded them in this world by giving them the primary responsibility to celebrate Rosh Chodesh (the
Women Festival of the New Moon) over the men. Hashem also gave them the reward in the World to Come, to be renewed like the moon (Pirkei d’Rabbi Eliezer 44). The Tur explains why celebrating Rosh Chodesh was a suitable reward for the women for not participating in the Golden Calf. The three pilgrim festivals correspond to Avraham, Yitzchak and Ya’acov, whereas, Rosh Chodesh corresponded to the twelve tribes. When the tribes sinned by making the Golden Calf, Rosh Chodesh was taken away from them and given to their wives. There are different opinions as to the extent that women should refrain from work to celebrate Rosh Chodesh, and as to whether this is an optional custom or a halachic obligation. The Beur Halachah concludes that it is the general consensus that women must refrain from some kind of work, in particular heavy work, in order to make the day special and different.

Friday, February 26, 2010


On Purim, we read the Scroll of Esther (מְגִלַּת אֶסְתֵּר), the fascinating biblical story describing the miraculous salvation of the Jewish people.
• Achashverosh (אֲחַשְׁוֵרוֹשׁ) - the king of 127 countries, who held a six-month-long feast to “celebrate” the destruction of the Jewish Temple.
• Vashti (וַשְתִּי), the queen who disobeyed Achashverosh and refused to attend the feast wearing “only her crown” (a crime for which she was executed).
• Haman (הָמָן), the villain advisor of King Achashverosh, who made a “Pur” (פּוּר, lottery) to choose the day to kill the Jews. The chosen date was the 13th day of the month of Adar (י"ג אֲדָר).
• Mordechai (), an esteemed member of the Sanhedrin (Jewish high court) who lived in Shushan after being expelled from Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon. Mordechai overheard the king's servants plotting to kill him; the servants were hanged and Mordechai’s name was recorded in the king's private diary.
• Esther (אֶסְתֵּר), an orphan Jewish girl, raised by her cousin Mordechai, also known by her Hebrew name, Hadassah (הֲדַסָּה). She became the queen, and risked her life to convince the king to save the Jewish people.
As the key turning point of the story unfolds: Haman enters the palace to ask the King's permission to hang Mordechai. At that moment, Achashverosh was pondering how to reward Mordechai for uncovering the guards’ assassination plot. Haman, thinking that the King wants to reward him, suggests that one of the King's highest officers should dress the man with royal robes and lead him on horseback through the city, calling out: "This is what is done for the man whom the King wants to honor" - כָּכָה יֵעָשֶׂה לָאִישׁ אֲשֶׁר הַמֶּלֶךְ חָפֵץ בִּיקָרוֹ. Much to Haman’s surprise, the king orders Haman to dress Mordechai in royal robes and lead him on a horse through the city. The following day, at Esther's (second) party, Esther reveals her Jewish identity and points to Haman as engineering the plan to destroy her people. The furious king orders Haman hung on the gallows that he’d prepared for Mordechai. The Jews are permitted to defend themselves, and on the day that the Jews were to be destroyed, they instead celebrate a victory over their enemies. Mordechai sets the next day – the 14th of Adar – as a holiday called "Purim" (from the word פּוּר) to be celebrated every year. (In Jerusalem, Purim is celebrated on the 15th of Adar.) Today, we celebrate with costumes, noisemakers, and a feast that includes wine and Hamantashen, special filled cookies that resemble Haman's ears. We give gifts of food to our friends, and money to the poor. We read the Megillat Esther twice (once in the evening, and once in the morning) and use a special noisemaker () every time Haman’s name is mentioned.
Many people start celebrating even before Purim, with the beginning of the Hebrew month of Adar. As the expression goes, - “When Adar arrives, we increase our joy.”

12 Adar, 5770 ( Friday, February 26, 2010 )

Today in Jewish History

Dedication of Herod's Renovated Temple (11 BCE)

After 334 years, the 2nd Holy Temple in Jerusalem (Adar 3) was in disrepair. In the year 19 BCE, King Herod I floated the idea of rebuilding and renovating the Temple. Though many Jews were wary of Herod’s motives, the renovation was completed eight years later. The new structure was magnificent, causing the Talmud to state: "He who has not seen Herod's edifice has not seen a magnificent edifice

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Parshah Tetzaveh (Exodus 27:20-30:10)

This week’s parashah gives a detailed description of the Kohanim’s garments. Each garment with its deep symbolic significance must also be exquisite and splendid in appearance. “You shall make garments of holiness for Aharon your brother for glory and for splendor” (Shemot 28:2). Rabbi S.R. Hirsch explains that whereas the word glory expresses the spiritual and ethical virtue of the Kehunah, the word splendor adds the element of beauty. Thus, it is clear that according to the Torah a dignified outward appearance goes hand in hand with inner spiritual attainment.
Must We Be Well Dressed?
In his description of the Woman of Valor, King Shlomo, likewise, highlights the importance of being well dressed: “Luxurious bedspreads she made herself, fine linen (shes) and purple (argaman) are her clothing” (Mishlei 31:22). It is interesting to note that fine linen and purple (shes v’argaman) are the same materials used for the garments of the Kohanim: “They shall take the gold, and the blue purple, and the red purple, (argaman) and the crimson, and the fine linen (shes)” (Shemot 28:5). Thus, our comparison between the Woman of Valor and the Kohen Gadol from Parashat Terumah (on page 69) can be extended to comprise not only her home and work, but her clothing as well. This is, moreover, alluded to in the verse which reads, “She seeks wool and linen” (Mishlei 31:13), since only the Kohen Gadol is permitted to wear a mixture of these materials. (The garments of the Kohen Gadol are excempted from the prohibition to wear a mixture of wool and linen called shatnes). Just as the Kohanim are commanded to dress “for glory and for splendor,” it is not becoming for a woman to neglect herself like a self-sacrificing shemata (doormat) dressed in shapeless hand-me-downs. The woman of valor understands the importance of dressing in a dignified manner.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Parshah Terumah (Exodus 25:1-27:19)

Personal Sanctuary
Rabbi Ya’acov Yosef from Polnoye answers that since every person is a small world, each of us can build a sanctuary within our heart for the Divine Presence to dwell. In this way the continuation of the verse can be fulfilled, “that I may dwell within them.” If our heart can become the dwelling place for the Divine Presence, certainly the Jewish home can be compared to the Temple, as it is known that a Jewish home is called a mikdash me’at (a miniature sanctuary).
The Jewish Home – A Miniature Sanctuary
Being the chief of her home, the woman is compared to the Kohen Gadol (High Priest) and her housework to his Divine service. Just as the Kohen Gadol kindles the menorah (candelabra) in Beit HaMikdash (the Temple), the woman lights the Shabbat candles in her home. The bread she bakes is like the showbread in the Temple. The food she cooks is like a korban (sacrifice), and the table she sets is a mizbeach (altar). Her goal is to imbue her home with spirituality and fear of G-d. In the same manner that the Kohen Gadol causes the Shechinah to dwell in the world, the woman invites the Shechinah to enter her home. Just like the Kohen Gadol is not inferior to the king, so is the wife not inferior to her husband. They complete one another, each performing their vital function.
Let them make me a sanctuary that I may dwell within them”
(Shemot 25:8). Since the six hundred and thirteen mitzvot are eternal, there has to be a way to keep them at any given time. How is it then possible to fulfill the mitzvah of building the Temple in our time?

Monday, February 8, 2010

Parshah Mishpatim (Exodus 21:1-24:18)

If a man sells his daughter to be a maidservant…” (Shemot 21:7). The laws of Jewish slaves are difficult to deal with, especially for women. We wonder how it can be fair that a father has the right to sell his daughter to become a maidservant. Which transgression made her deserve such a degrading position? It is, however, an unfortunate fact of life, that the social position of parents often affects their children.
The Hebrew Maidservant
Ralbag explains that a man is not allowed to sell his daughter unless he has absolutely no other way to support himself. Rambam concurs that the father may only sell his daughter, in case he becomes so destitute that he loses all his possessions including the shirt off his back. Although he sold her because of destitution, the father should be forced to redeem her, and avoid a blemish on the family. According to Rashi, the father dealt deceitfully with her by selling her to a man who was unwilling to marry her when she reached maturity. Her father would, therefore, not be permitted to sell her again. This is alluded to in the end of the following verse, “…seeing that he has dealt deceitfully with her” (Shemot 21:8), which according to the simple meaning refers to the master who neglected his moral obligation to marry his maidservant. Rashi adds that “he” could also refer to the father. Me’Am Lo’ez agrees and explains that the father behaved in an extremely cruel way. He should rather have become a stone carrier to avoid selling his own daughter. The Minchah Belulah notes that our verse calls the father “a man” because he does not deserve the title “father,” since he had no mercy on his daughter. He treated her as a stranger, contrary to what is expected of a father.