Month: April 2020

A Taste Of Torah – Parshas Acharei Mos

Written by: Rabbi Mordechai Raizman

Live By Them

In the end of this week’s parsha, Acharei Mos, we find the phrase Vochai Bohem, a commandment to keep the laws of Hashem and “LIVE BY THEM.” Rashi comments that to live by them is not referring to living by them in this world, but rather in the world to come.  His explanation, however, requires further exploration. What mitzvos are we doing in the world to come? We are taught by Chazal that we do mitzvos in this world to enable us to enjoy the next world. The world to come is the world where we reap the benefits from what we did here in this world; the world to come is not a place of doing.

Furthermore, the Talmud uses this very same verse to teach us that we need to LIVE BY THEM (the mitvos), meaning not to die by them. Therefore, we are not supposed to give up our lives in this world in fulfilling a mitzvah (except for the three exceptions of murder, idol worshipping, and immoral relationships). Hence, this verse is speaking about this world and not the world to come. So how do we reconcile these two different interpretations of the same phrase, Rashi’s explanation with the understanding of the Talmud?

The Slonimer Rebbe z”l (20th c) resolves this difference in opinion with a simple thought.  According to him, both interpretations are correct. The verse is referring to both worlds.  Rashi is telling us that the reward we earn in the world to come is based on how we kept the mitzvos in this world. If we are inspired and we are truly living the mitzvos with enthusiasm and passion, in the world to come we will feel a greater connection to Hashem. However, if we are just going through the motions while doing the mitvos, we may not feel as connected in the world to come. In other words, what we put in here (in this world), carries over to the next world (the world to come).

The following short story epitomizes this thought. A student once proudly stated to his Rabbi with excitement that he just went through a tractate of Talmud and completed it. The Rabbi commented, “That is nice that you went through it, but did the words you learn go through you; did they touch you?” We need to take the inspiration of how we do our mitzvos with us.

Recently, we concluded the holiday of Passover providing us with many opportunities to fulfill many mitzvos. These mitzvos are ones that we generally celebrate with much enthusiasm and inspiration. Let’s take that inspiration as a model to LIVE BY THEM throughout the year so in the world to come we will have that stronger connection with Hashem. 

A Taste Of Torah – Parshas Tazria-Metzora

Written by: Rabbi Avrohom S. Moller

The Midrash Rabbah quotes Rav Simlai who explains the sequence of the laws of ritual impurity as they are presented in this week’s parshiyos, Tazria and Metzora.  He explains that the laws of human birth follow the rules of impurity of lowly creatures such as animals and insects to convey that if man is unworthy, he is told that even a gnat has preceded him. He attaches this idea to the passuk in Tehillim 139:5: “You formed me prior and after.” Hashem contemplated the creation of the human being before everything else because he is the central purpose of the universe. However, in actuality, he was created physically at the tail end of the creation to indicate the possibility that he can sink beneath the level of animals.

This dichotomy of greatness and lowliness was understood by the thinkers of all times. Judaism sees this dilemma as a charge. Man must elevate himself and know that he can rise above all else, but that without work and vigilance, he will be drawn down to the basest level of existence. The charge is to be holy, to refine one’s personality and character, to overcome base temptations, but to continue rising much higher than that.

A Jew must understand that his charge is even greater than other humans. Hashem expects him to become a righteous person, both religiously and socially. It is not good enough to be honest, good and kind. He must be learned in Torah, scrupulous in his observance and refined in his thoughts, speech and interactions. This is a very tall order and it takes a lifetime to accomplish. A lifetime will suffice if one is engaged in the process. If man is distracted, then he will miss his mark and be a disappointment to his Maker.

Tazria and Metzora contain the main body of the laws of tzaraas, often translated as leprosy. This is because it is described as a discoloration and lesions of the skin and translators felt that it matched the known affliction of leprosy which was considered highly contagious and often led to lepers being segregated and quarantined. Some anti-Semites even used these laws to “prove” the old Greek canard that Jews were driven from Egypt by the Egyptians because they had contracted leprosy from swine and that is reflected in the ritual impurity which Jews attached to both pigs and leprosy.

In reality, tzaraas has nothing to do with leprosy or contagion of any sort; it is a supernatural phenomenon that existed in ancient times only and manifested itself as impurity only in the Jewish people. It served as a “spiritual report card” notifying a person when he fell short of his mission. This happened only in the period when Hashem’s presence was more apparent in the world. In our time when Hashem does not reveal His involvement in an apparent way, tzaraas is no longer found. The laws are in the Torah to remind us of a time when people received clearer Divine direction.

In our time, we must examine ourselves and see if we are falling short of Hashem’s expectations. The current crisis that we are experiencing has stripped away a lot of material things which we take for granted as absolutes. We can use the opportunity to examine our lives and our priorities and realign them with Hashem’s expectations. In this way, our actions will reveal that we have gotten the message.