Month: April 2021

A Taste of Torah – Parshas Emor

Written by: Rabbi Avrohom S. Moller

This week we read about the mitzvah of Sefiras HaOmer, the counting of the Omer. Reb Yaakov Kamenetzky (Rov and Rosh Yeshiva of Torah Vodaas, 1891-1986) quotes a midrash which attributes this mitzvah to the fact that the Jewish people expected that the Torah would be given immediately upon leaving Mitzrayim. When this did not happen, they asked Moshe Rabeinu for an explanation. Moshe told them that Hashem expects a 50-day preparatory period before the Torah would be given. The Jews began counting the days until Matan Torah as they prepared their minds and souls for their encounter with G-D and the receiving of the Torah. To remember this special anticipatory period, the Torah made a mitzvah to remember and capture the excitement we had when we prepared to receive the Torah.

Reb Yaakov z”l connects this idea to another theme of the sefira days, the death of Rabbi Akiva’s students. The Gemara (Yevamos 62b) tells us that Rabbi Akiva had 24,000 students and they all passed away during the weeks between Pesach and Shavuos because they “did not give honor to each other.” Why was this failure visited upon Rabbi Akiva’s students during this time in particular?

Reb Yaakov explains that the sefira period is supposed to take us back to the freshness and excitement we had regarding the gift of Torah. When someone really cherishes an idea and an ideal, they cannot get enough of it. If the students of Rabbi Akiva, who no doubt were very learned, would have been sufficiently excited about learning Torah, they would have given each other respect and gotten along so that they could have gained insight or Torah thought from each other. Once there was competitiveness and disrespect, it showed that they were not relating to Torah learning as the greatest opportunity and exhilarating experience; it was content to be mastered. This was a failure for them and a desecration of the Torah ideal.

In the weeks leading up to Shavuos, we should reflect not only on our commitment to Torah learning and volume of Torah that we learn. We should also reflect on our relationship with Torah, our Ahavas HaTorah. Do we find it exciting? Is it a high priority for us to develop ourselves as people of Torah? These questions are very important because that is what Hashem wants us to develop as a ממלכת כהנים וגוי קדוש – a nation of priests and a holy nation.

A Taste of Torah – Parshas Achrei Mos-Kedoshim

Written by: Rabbi Mordechai Raizman

Walking with You

In the beginning of the second Torah portion of this week, we are commanded to walk in the ways of Hashem. Rashi explains this commandment does not refer to doing the mitzvos, but rather, the effort that goes into the action of doing them. The reward for this effort as stated in the ensuing verses includes peace, prosperity, and that G-d will rest His presence with you and walk with you. How do we understand the meaning of this last blessing? How does G-d walk with you?

The Seforno (a 16th century commentator on the Chumash) explains that walking with you means that G-d is ready to interact with us wherever we may be. We should not limit our interactions with G-d to only designated places for Torah and tefillah. Yes, our synagogues and Batei Medrash are places where the presence of Hashem is felt. However, we have to understand that they do not have to be the only places.

If we do as the Torah commands us, to walk in the ways of Hashem, applying ourselves as much as we can in the effort of doing the mitzvos, we will have the ability to feel His presence wherever we are. It is not about how much we do, but rather about the effort we put forth in doing. This effort leads us and keeps us focused on strengthening our connection with G-d in our synagogues, in our homes, and wherever we may be. The more effort we put in, the more we are thinking about doing His will, which will subsequently lead to feeling His presence in all aspects of our lives.

A Taste of Torah – Parshas Tazria-Metzora

Written by: Rabbi Avrhom S. Moller

“And the man with the leprous curse shall have tattered clothes, his hair should be wildly grown, he shall hood his face to his lips and call out, ‘I am impure, I am impure.’ ” (Vayikra 13:45)

This chilling description of the metzorah, leper, who is cast out of society is quite depressing. If we were to encounter such an unfortunate on the outskirts of our city, we would probably give him wide berth. However, when we analyze this description more carefully with the help of our sages we see that the Torah is teaching us some important lessons for those who are suffering and those who are aware of their suffering.

The metzorah is suffering through this ordeal because of his anti-social behavior. The Gemara in Erchin 16a tells us that tzoraas is caused by defamation of others. The offender is now receiving a very public and humiliating divine punishment from which he cannot escape. It is his role to accept it with humility and contrition by acting as a mourner (there are many parallels between the metzorah’s behavior and that of the aveil, mourner). This invokes Divine mercy since the purpose of this punishment is to get the person to reflect on his bad ways and to repent. A person who is accustomed to negate others will have difficulty accepting his own shortcomings and will need to work hard to attain real contrition.

What can we do to help this person who has been cast out? We understand that he has been punished in a very harsh way but that being judgmental is the wrong thing to do. When we see a person suffering, it is wrong to suggest that we know the reason or to tell the person to repent. He needs our empathy and support, not our judgment. When he cries out that he is impure, it is so that we have pity on him and we pray for him. (See Shabbos 67a.)

When Iyov is visited with terrible suffering and his friends try to explain Hashem’s reasons for his suffering, he is very hurt. Hashem tells them that they have sinned in doing so. Friends are there to empathize, to be helpful and sometimes to be silent and pray that this person’s suffering comes to a happy ending. It is not one’s place to explain or to suggest to the sufferer what he could or should do differently.

There is a story told about a young widow in Yerushalayim who lost her husband suddenly and was devastated. The Tzaddik of Yerushalyim, Reb Aryeh Levine Z’L, came to pay his condolences. He was so devastated that he could not utter a word. He simply sat and cried. This unfortunate woman later related that his visit brought her more comfort than all of the well-intended words of comfort and reassurance that she heard during the Shiva.

As adults we need to model this empathy in word and deed. If our children see us as non-judgmental people with the ability to empathize and support people who have made poor choices but are ready to change, they will emulate that behavior and make this a world in which people can redeem themselves.