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TorahAnytimes Newsletter Vayikra

Parshat Vayikra

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik


"The TorahAnyTimes" Newsletter    Print Version

Parashat Vayikra
1st of Nissan, 5778 | March 17, 2018

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik

Rabbi Mordechai Becher
Timeless Spiritual Energy

In Judaism, there is a great deal of emphasis on having the holidays fall out in their proper seasons. Sukkot, for example, is intended to occur during the fall season, when the natural proclivity is to begin moving indoors, yet we move outdoors and demonstrate our dedication to the mitzvot of Hashem. Pesach as well is intended to fall out during the Spring. Why in fact, though, is it so integral that the Yomim Tovim occur during their respective seasons, to the extent that we will manipulate the calendar (e.g. add an additional month of Adar) to allow for this?
As Jews, we believe that time has intrinsic spiritual energy. In this regard, perhaps contrary to intuition, springtime is the time of redemption not because the Exodus happened then. The truth is that it is exactly the opposite. The Exodus took place during the Spring precisely because it is a time of redemption then.

The proof for this lays in the verse in Shir HaShirim, “Get up my beloved, let us go, for the winter has passed, the rain has gone, the time of harvest has approached, and the voice of the turtle dove is heard in our land” (Shir HaShirim 2:10-11) The Midrash (ibid.) comments that G-d meant to tell the Jewish people, “My dove, My beloved, leave from the slavery of Egypt. Now is the time to leave because it is springtime.” As seen here, the fact that Spring is the time for redemption actually preceded the Exodus.

Why is this so?

When G-d created time, He implanted within every time a specific spiritual energy. During Pesach, there is an energy of redemption, renewal and rebirth. The physical manifestation of this is Spring, while the historical manifestation of it is the Exodus. When we therefore eat matzah and maror, we are not commemorating a holiday which once occurred. We are actually tapping into the spiritual energy which is present during this time of year which creates Spring and created the Exodus. The same spiritual revelation which the Jews experienced as they came out of Egypt can be recaptured today in our very day and age through eating matzah and partaking in the various aspects of the Yom Tov.

Rabbi Bentzion Shafier
When Seeing is Not Believing

Several years ago, as I sat down to learn with a not yet religious young man, he turned to me and said, “All of the miracles we have been studying about are very impressive. From the Ancient Egyptians being smitten with the plagues to the Splitting of the Sea, I am very taken by it all. The problem is that it happened so long ago. I don’t need all of that to happen today though; if only G-d would show me just one miracle, I would believe in Him.”

I asked him if he thought miracles make a person believe in G-d. “Of course, anyone would believe if they had seen the type of miracles mentioned in the Bible.” I paused and then went on to say, “I have one simple question. Why didn’t the Ancient Egyptians believe in G-d?” “What do you mean?” he piped up. “The Egyptians were wicked; they were the ones who wanted to kill the Jews!”

I continued to challenge the young man. “I understand, but they experienced the very same miracles that the Jewish nation did. They lived through the entire ten plagues. They saw the same manifestation of G-d ’s hand as the Jews did, yet the vast majority of them never came to any recognition of the dominion of G-d. Quite the opposite, until the bitter end, most of them denied G-d. If it’s true, as you say, that miracles make a person believe in G-d, how could a nation live through such obvious and clear miracles and not believe?”

Let’s travel back to Egypt and slowly, scene by scene, go through what it must have been like to be an Egyptian living at that time.

Let’s picture Anwar, a simple, reasonably honest, hardworking landowner, standing in the hot sun. Along comes his friend Nachmad.

“Hey Anwar, did you hear what’s going on?” “No, what?” “Well, this tall, majestic Hebrew named Moses came walking into the palace with his brother Aaron, and started threatening King Pharaoh.” “That’s not a smart idea,” responds Anwar. “I remember what happened to the last guy who tried that.” “But anyway, he says that G-d sent him to tell Pharaoh to let the Jewish people go.”

“Which G-d sent him?” Anwar asks. “Not one of our g-ds,” replies Nachmad. “Moses is talking about this super G-d, who he says created the heavens and earth and runs everything.” “Oh, come now Nachmad, everyone thinks that their g-d is the best.”

“No, no, you don’t understand. He started performing all sorts of miracles. First he threw his staff to the ground and it turned into a snake. Then he put his hand in his coat and it came out white with leprosy. Then finally, he threw water on the ground and it turned into blood. And lastly, he threatened that if Pharaoh doesn’t let the Jewish people go, this G-d of his is going to turn all of the water in all of Egypt into blood!”

“Nachmad, do you really believe that?” “Well, I may or may not. But I’ll tell you this much, Pharaoh sure took him seriously.”

Now, Anwar worshipped his fair share of idols in his day. Yet, not wishing to take any chances, he made sure to store away a couple extra barrels of water just in case.

On the appointed day at the appointed time, lo and behold, all of the water in Egypt turned into blood. It was not just the water in the Nile River. All the water in the sinks, the bathtubs, the barrels, the basements, and the fields turned into blood. It wasn’t merely red colored water either, but bona fide, smelly blood.

Anwar happens to have a few Jewish slaves, one of whom is working in the fields that day. While watching all of this, Anwar says to himself, “I may not be all too smart, but even I can tell that something unusual is going on here.” He calls over his Jewish slave, who is happily drinking a glass of cool fresh water.

“Hey Isaac, come here.” “Yes, Master.” “Let me have some of that water you are drinking!” The Jewish slave hands the cup of water over. But as the cup passes from his hand into the hand of his Egyptian master, it turns from water into blood. “Hey, take that back!” Anwar screams. Isaac takes back the cup, and it turns back from blood into water. “Now give me that!” Anwar yells. Again, no sooner does the cup leave Isaac’s hand that it turns back into blood. This goes on back and forth, water, blood, water, blood, water, blood.

Finally, Anwar thinks for a moment and says,“Now listen here, you and I are going to drink at the same time. As I put my lips to the cup, you are going to do the same. And remember, no tricks, understand?” They both stand there, lips pressed against the cup. “Ready. One, two, three...!” Anwar shrieks, spitting out blood, while Isaac drinks clear, fresh water.

This is a very impressive feat. It isn’t every day that all of the water in Egypt turns into blood. Everyone in Egypt clearly and directly saw that Hashem was the One who controls nature. How does water change from one state to another depending upon who holds it? This phenomenon was seen by every Egyptian man, woman and child. There was no room for doubt because of the clarity of that which they saw. And yet they didn’t come to believe in G-d.

What is even more perplexing is that Hashem specifically performed such dramatic miracles for the sole purpose of making it clear that there is a G-d who controls and runs the world. Hashem could have taken the Jewish nation out of Egypt in any manner He chose; yet he chose to use miracles to achieve this end. This was to be one time in history that Hashem would show His dominion over nature, so that all future generations should be able to refer back to that moment as a basis for their belief.

Yet, the Egyptians did not come to that belief. They lived through the many miracles and still refused to accept the compelling proof that it was all the hand of G-d. The question which thus begs is how could intelligent, reasonable people see such clear manifestations of G-d and not believe in Him?

The answer to this speaks to the very core of how emunah, belief in G-d, works. How in fact, asks Rav Elchanan Wasserman hy”d, can the Torah command us to believe in G-d? If I already believe in Him, then what need is there for a command? And if, to the contrary, I do not believe, how does giving a commandment help? It is a deep-seated feeling that one has within their heart. It wouldn’t help to say, “Heart, believe. I command you to believe!” What then are we required to do to bring about our emunah?

Rav Elchanan explains that the Torah isn’t simply commanding a person to believe in G-d. The mitzvah is rather straightforward in a different regard: be honest. We are commanded to look at the world, its beauty, its diversity, and its complexity, and honestly ask ourselves, “Do I really think this all just happened? Could it possibly have just occurred by itself?”

All too often, our personal agendas and biases get in the way of our thinking. We conclude that if we accept the fact that Hashem exists, we will be required to abide by a set code of laws and practices that will inhibit us from acting freely as we want and when we want. It is easier and more convenient to put G-d aside and live a life without any commandments.

The mitzvah of emunah it thus to put aside these agendas and, with an honest, open, and critical eye, focus on this one question: Is there a Creator of this world? Once this is established, one can begin to see the hand of G-d. Miracles by themselves will not change people, so long as they insist on staying firmly rooted in their old ways of thinking and feeling.

The Torah means to instruct us to put away all of our preconceived notions, and to approach this from an intellectual vantage point. If you have a discussion with someone, and they say, “Prove that G-d exists!” their real intention will determine whether you will be successful in talking to them. If what they mean is, “I am open; I have questions and honestly want to hear the answers,” then it is a simple matter to show such a person the hand of G-d in our infinitely complex and integrated world. But, if they are really saying, “I don’t want to believe in G-d! I find it hard to change my perspective on life, and I don’t want to hear what you are saying;” then there is little chance you will convince them. The most logically compelling arguments and the most irrefutable facts won’t move them. And that is because, deep down, what they are really saying is, “My mind is made up and I already know that I’m unwilling to believe.”

That is why the Ancient Egyptians didn’t believe in G-d. Despite having seen miracles that were undeniable, and in fact form the underpinnings of our emunah as a Jewish nation, they saw and didn’t believe. G-d grants us the ability to believe what we want to believe. And that is why, even if we were to witness miracles today, we wouldn’t necessarily change our position. In short, people believe what they want to believe. The choice is ours.

Rabbi Paysach Krohn
A Holiday of Compassion

As we are aware, the word Pesach speaks to the event of Hashem passing over the Jewish homes when carrying out the plague of the Firstborn. This derives from the Pasuk (Shemos 12:23) which clearly states that Hashem will pass over the entrance to the Jewish homes and no harm will befall those inside.

Yet Targum Onkeles and Rashi offer an alternate rendering of the word Pesach, one which is often not noted. Pesach also means to take pity and compassion. Targum Onkeles thus translates the verse, “And Hashem took pity on the homes…” When Hashem saw the blood from the Paschal offering on the lintel and doorposts of the Jewish homes, He was filled with compassion for His nation and did not allow any harm to occur.

This understanding of the word Pesach lends tremendous insight into what the entire holiday of Pesach centers around. It is about kindness, compassion, sensitivity and care. We must think to ourselves over Pesach, “What have I done to empathize with the pain and plight of others? What can I for my fellow Jews?” These are the questions which form the essence of Pesach.

It is therefore most apropos that the very first section in the Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law; see Rama, 429:1) relating to Pesach centers around ma’os chitim, the distribution of flour and funds to the poor for the purpose of purchasing matzah and other Yom Tov related needs. We begin preparing for the holiday of Pesach with compassion and thinking about others. If there is one simple lesson the very word of this holiday teaches, it is this. Care for others and treat them as your own kin. Because indeed, we are all family.

A Short Message From
Rebbetzin Yehudis Golshevsky

The Chovos HaLevavos teaches that we build our relationship with Hashem merely by recognizing Him. Imagine your wife makes you a delicious five-course meal. On the one hand, you can appreciate that which she did by giving her a simple “Thank you” and showing that you truly value the time and effort she spent. Alternatively, you can go throughout the various courses of the meal and detail the specifics which made the meal so tasty and special. Our relationship with Hashem works the same way. We can simply give Hashem a broad and general “Thank you,” appreciating everything that He does for us. At the same time, by articulating in great detail everything that He does for us, we immensely enhance our relationship. As we accomplish it with our own words and particularly through the framework of praying, our relationship deepens and develops with every nuanced praise. It certainly creates a wonderful ambiance in the home and between husband and wife, and surely in our connection to our Creator, Who provides us with so many pleasures in every area of life.

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