Sunday, September 1, 2013

New Blog - Orach Chayim!

B"H! New post at our new blog, come see!  

Orach Chayim 
Way of Life - Jewish Life - Torah Insights - Current Events

Friday, June 4, 2010

Flotilla Choir presents: We Con the World

If only this were really funny rather than so accurately real...

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Mishkan Paralleled 6 Days of Creation

Parashat VaYakhel-Pekudei Shabbat HaChodesh

Meaning of the Mishkan (Tabernacle)

Everything in the Mishkan paralleled what G-d had made during the six days of creation.

  • The curtains of goats' wool paralleled the heaven and the earth.
  • The washstand and its base represented the seas and rivers.
  • The altar and its sacrifices paralleled the animals.
  • The incense altar paralleled all spices and remedies.
  • The menorah paralleled the sun and the moon. Its seven lamps paralleled the seven heavenly bodies: Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Sun, Venus, Mercury, Moon.
All this comes to teach that making the Mishkan paralleled the creation of heaven and earth and the entire universe.

We thus see that G-d used the same expression in creation as He did when making the Mishkan. When G-d made the universe, He said, "He spread out the heaven like a curtain." (Tehillim 104:2) Regarding the Mishkan G-d also spoke of "curtains of goats' wool."

On the second day G-d said, "Let there be an expanse in the middle of the water and let it divide between water and water." (Bereishit 1:6)  G-d wanted there to be a division between the upper water and the lower water. In the Mishkan G-d said, "The cloth barrier shall be a separation for you." (Shemot 26:33)  This hanging was a barrier between the sanctuary and the Holy of Holies.

On the third day G-d said, "Let the waters be gathered." (Bereishit 1:9) With regard to the Mishkan G-d said, "You shall make a copper washstand and its base out of copper, and you shall place water there." (Shemot 30:18)

On the fourth day G-d said, "Let there be luminaries in the expanse of the sky." (Bereishit 1:14) With regard to the Mishkan He said, "You shall make its lamps." (Shemot 25:37)

On the fifth day G-d said, "Let the waters teem with living creatures and let birds fly." (Bereishit 1:20) In making the Mishkan, G-d commanded to bring sacrifices of animals and birds.

On the sixth day the Torah says, "G-d created man in His image." (Bereishit 1:27) This indicates that G-d created man for His Glory so that man could serve Him. In the Mishkan G-d commanded to anoint the High Priest to serve Him.

On the Shabbat it says, "G-d finished on the seventh day." (Bereishit 2:2) Regarding the Mishkan it says, "All the work of the Communion Tent Mishkan was completed." (Shemot 39:32)

When the world was created the Torah says, "G-d blessed the seventh day." (Bereishit 2:3) Regarding the Mishkan it says, "Moshe blessed them." (Shemot 39:43)

When the world was created the Torah says, "G-d blessed it." (Bereishit 2:3) Regarding the Mishkan it also says, "He anointed it and sanctified it." (BaMidbar 7:1)

G-d made heaven and earth His witnesses as He said, "I have made heaven and earth as witnesses for you." (Devarim 4:26) Therefore, if the Yisraelim rebel against G-d by not studying His Torah and not keeping His commandments, heaven and earth will be the first ones to take revenge against them and punish them. It is thus written, "The hand of the witnesses shall be against him first to kill him." (Devarim 17:7) Here too, the heaven would punish them; rain would not fall and the earth would not produce its crops.

The Mishkan was similarly a witness for the Yisraelim. As it is written, "These are the accounts of the Mishkan, the Mishkan of Testimony." (Shemot 38:21) The Mishkan and the Temple that followed it stood as witnesses for the Yisraelim. If the Yisraelim rebelled against G-d and did not keep His commandments, the Temple would be taken away as security, twice. This denotes the first and the second Temples, which were destroyed because the Yisraelim rebelled against G-d. Just as the Mishkan parallels the creation of heaven and earth and alludes to everything in the world, it also includes the entire Torah.

We thus see that expressions involving "making" occur 248 times with regard to the Mishkan. This includes such expressions such as "you shall make," "he made," or "they made." The first time such an expression occurs is, "They shall make Me a sanctuary." (Shemot 25:8)

The only expressions that are not counted are those that involve evil such as the making of the Golden Calf, where people said, "Come on, let us make for ourselves gods." (Shemot 32:1) Every expression from here until "And I will know what to do to you" (Shemot 33:5) is not counted.

With these exceptions, the expression "make" or "made" occurs 248 times from the above verse (Shemot 25:8) to the end of the Book of Shemot. This parallels the 248 positive commandments in the Torah. A human being also has 248 limbs. This teaches that if a person keeps the Torah, the world and the Mishkan are sustained. If not, he destroys the world and causes the Holy Temple to be taken as security.

There is another allusion in the 248 expressions denoting "making." When the Yisraelim accepted the Torah they said, "We will do and we will listen." (Shemot 24:7) The expression "we will do" referred to the positive commandments while "we will listen" referred to the negative commandments. The Yisraelim violated the portion of the commandments to which they said, "we will do." G-d therefore commanded them to make the Mishkan, which contained the expression "do" or "make" 248 times. This paralleled the 248 positive commandments that were violated when the Golden Calf was made.

Commentary source:
Yalkut MeAm Lo'ez, vol. 10

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Glenn Beck Makes a Good Case for Aliya

When Things Go Bad, The Jews Become Scapegoats

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Ki Tissa - The Oral Law

Shemot 34:27: G-d said to Moshe, "Write these words down for yourself because it is through these words that I have made a covenant with you and Yisrael." 

Now G-d said to Moshe, "With the giving of the first Tablets you wrote a book of the covenant. This book contained the entire account from creation until the giving of the Torah. It was read so that all the people could hear it. The people responded to it, 'We will do and we will listen.' (Exodus 24:7) Do the same thing with these second Tablets, repeating everything that you did." This is the meaning of G-d's commandment, "Make for yourself these words." 

Some say that after the Yisraelim made the Golden Calf and violated the original covenant that G-d had made with them, they were required to make a new covenant. Moshe had to write a sort of receipt for the new conditions and obligations, indicating that they had been forgiven for their wrong-doings. They were forgiven on condition that from now on they would be obligated to keep all G-d's commandments and laws. 

G-d thus said, "Write for yourself these things for it is through these words that I have made a covenant with you and Yisrael." G-d commanded Moshe to write a contract stating a condition that the Yisraelim would keep all these words. 

G-d said, "I forgave them for the past and made a new covenant with them only because of your merit. For their own sake I would never have forgiven them at all." Go- therefore told Moshe, "I have made a covenant with you and with Yisrael." When G-d said, "with you," He meant, "through your merit." 

Another thing we learn from this verse is that "Things that are written in the Torah may not be recited orally, and things that are meant to be transmitted orally may not be written." 

The Torah consists of two parts, the Written Torah, (Torah Sheh-bichtav) and the Oral Law, (Torah Sheh-be'al Peh). This verse teaches us that the Written Torah may not be recited orally, and the Oral Torah may not be written, but must be transmitted by mouth from person to person. 

When G-d taught Moshe the Written Torah and the Oral Torah He told him, "Teach these to the Yisraelim." 

"L-rd of the universe," said Moshe, "Should I write down the Oral Torah and teach it to the Yisraelim from a script?" 

G-d said to him, "You may not do this. Write down these words, but it is by their oral tradition that I am making a covenant with the Yisraelim. The words that I am teaching you orally may not be written; rather you must teach them to the people orally." 

The reason that it is forbidden to write down the Oral Torah, that it must be taught orally, is because G-d knew that the Yisraelim were destined to be exiled and to be under the power of other nations. If the Oral Torah were written, the gentiles would translate it and include it in their religion, saying that G-d had chosen them in place of Yisrael and had given them the Torah. They would then be able to draw others to follow their false religion. 

However, since the Oral Torah may not be written, there is no reason to fear this. The only thing in writing is the Written Torah through which they cannot influence other people. The Written Torah cannot be fully understood or interpreted without the oral tradition. 

Some say that the Written Torah may not be transmitted orally because in the Torah many things are learned from extra or missing letters. Sometimes a word has a missing letter; in other cases an extra letter is added to a word. There are also places where tradition dictates that the word be read in a different manner than it is written. These things teach us lessons. 

If the Written Torah were taught orally, all these concepts would be lost. 

Similarly, the Oral Torah must be transmitted only orally and may not be written. Then each person learns it from his master and if he has any questions he can ask and no doubts will remain in his mind. However, if it were written down, a word might be ambiguous and the student would not have any way to interpret it. The ambiguity would therefore remain. 

This situation remained until the time of the Great Assembly (Kenesset Ha-Gedolah). The Oral Torah was transmitted by word of mouth and not written at all. However, after the time of the Great Assembly, the sages saw that the situation was deteriorating and they were concerned that the Torah would be forgotten. They therefore permitted parts of the Oral Torah to be written. 

However they only permitted the Oral Torah to be written. The prohibition against reciting the Written Torah aloud from memory still remains in force. 

It is forbidden to recite any portion of the Written Torah from memory. Therefore a person should be careful not to recite any part of the Written Torah without actually reading it. 

If one recites part of the Written Torah orally he is violating G-d's command, "Write down these words," as we explained earlier. He is also not rewarded for what he has learned. Although he is not involved in trivial matters, he is still working for nothing. The portion regarding the daily sacrifice (tamid) is recited every day as part of the Morning Service. Many people recite this orally. They also recite the priestly blessing, the morning psalms and the Shema. Most people know these portions by heart. We are therefore permitted to recite them orally, by heart. 

However, portions that most people do not know by heart may not be recited from memory. This is true even though an individual might have memorized them. 

Some say that if the reader (chazan)wants to fulfill the obligations of others, even though he knows the Shema or the like by heart, he should read it from a Siddur. If there is no prayer book available or if he is an old man who cannot concentrate on the prayer book, he should say the Shema silently and have the congregation read it aloud. In such a case it is not considered as if he is saying it for the sake of the people. Since he is saying it quietly, it is permissible for him to recite it from memory. 

Some people have the custom of reciting the Torah portion aloud along with the reader without looking in a text. This is not proper. Rather, one should take a text and read along out of the book. If he cannot do this, he should listen and remain silent. 

It is permissible for a blind person to recite portions of doe Torah by heart even though they are portions that are not usually memorized. This is not forbidden because he has no choice. 

The Written Torah was given in the merit of Yaakov while the Oral Torah was given in the merit of Avraham. 

Just as we have an obligation to believe in the Written Torah and to keep it, we also have an obligation to believe in the Oral Torah. The Oral Torah includes all the words of our sages in the Midrash and Talmud. If these teachings are sometimes surprising, it is only because of our own limited understanding. 

We see that the Oral Torah is more beloved to G-d than even the Written Torah. G-d therefore told Moshe that by the oral tradition of these words, "I am making a covenant with you and with Yisrael. I am only making this covenant because of the Oral Torah. I have made a covenant with you to be your G-d, to watch over you and that you not be under an angel like the other nations. All of this was only done because of the Oral Law." 

If a person laughs at the words of our sages or any other commandment legislated by them, his sin is very great. He is worthy of death, and in the next world he will be punished with boiling excrement. 

The Talmud relates that Rabbi Yochanan taught his academy that in the Messianic Age G-d would bring precious stones and jewels. Each jewel would be thirty cubits (45 feet) square. He would carve out of the stones pieces twenty cubits by ten cubits, like the gates of Yerushalayim, and stand them up at the entrance of Yerushalayim. 

One of the students heard Rabbi Yochanan's words and began to laugh to himself. "How can there be such large precious stones?" he asked. "Today one cannot find a precious stone even as large as a dove's egg. Where will there be precious stones that are thirty square?" 

Some time passed and this student was traveling by ship. He came to a far-off island where he saw the people quarrying precious stones that were thirty cubits square. The people were engraving them and trimming them down to ten by twenty cubits. 

"What is the purpose of these stones?" asked the student. 

They replied to him, "G-d will stand them up in the gates of Yerushalayim." 

When the student returned to the city he found Rabbi Yochanan and told him, "What you have taught is true. With my own eyes I saw what you described." 

"You foolish man!" said Rabbi Yochanan. "If you had not seen it with your eyes, you would not have believed!" 

With that Rabbi Yochanan fixed his gaze on this student and he was reduced to a pile of bones. 

The Talmud relates a story about Onkelos, son of Clonicus. This is the Onkelos who wrote the standard (Aramaic) translation (Targum) on the Torah. He was a gentile and wanted to become a proselyte. He wanted to know what the Jews were and what their destiny would be in the next world. This Onkelos was the nephew of Titus. 

Using the occult arts, Onkelos communicated with his uncle Titus, who was already dead. He asked him, "What nation is greatest in the World to Come?" 

"The greatest nation in the next world," replied the shade, "is the Jewish nation." 

"I wish to join them as a proselyte," said Onkelos. "What advice can you give me?" 

"It is very hard to observe the Jewish religion. They have many commandments that they must keep." 

"How are you judged in the next world?" 

"I am judged with the same fate that I decreed for myself. Everyday I am burned and my ashes are ground and scattered to the wind. Every day these ashes are gathered and re-formed into my body. Then I am burned again, and my ashes are again scattered over the seven seas." 

[Titus had commanded that his followers do this so that G-d would not be able to find him and punish him for his deeds.] 

After Onkelos heard this from Titus, he wanted to hear Balaam's advice. He communicated with him from beyond the grave in the same way. 

"What nation is the most important in the next world?" 

"The Yisraelim are the most important." 

"What is your advice? Should I become a proselyte and join them?" 

"Do not seek their peace or good as long as the world exists." 

"How are you punished in the world to come?" 

"I am immersed in boiling semen." 

[Balaam was punished in this manner for causing the Yisraelim to behave lasciviously with the Midianite girls.] 

Onkelos then communicated with the founder of Christianity. 

"Who is most important in the next world? 


"Give me advice: I wish to join them as a proselyte." 

"Seek their good but do not seek their bad points. Whoever touches them is like one who touches the 'pupil' of G-d's eye." 

"And what is your destiny in the next world?" 

"I am immersed in boiling excrement." 

"Why is this?" 

"It is taught, 'Whoever laughs at the words of the Jewish sages is punished in boiling excrement." 

All the prophets and sages in every generation received their portions on Mount Sinai. Moshe thus said to the Yisraelim that he was making the covenant "with those who are standing here with us today and with those who are not here with us today." (Devar 29:14) All the generations that would exist until the end of the world were standing at the revelation at Sinai. Every soul received its portion. Each prophet received the prophecy that he would declare in his generation; each sage received the mysteries of the Torah that he would teach to the people of his era. 

Moshe thus told the Yisraelim, "G-d spoke these words to your entire congregation. It was a Great Voice that did not end." (Devar 5:19) Moshe was saying that the voice on Mount Sinai would be heard by the souls of all the prophets and sages. After this G-d would not have to speak to each person individually; each person would have the portion that he received on Mount Sinai. It is therefore called a "Great Voice." From this voice, each one received his portion in the Torah, according to his level. 

There is no Jew who did not receive his portion on Mount Sinai. Some received a little and some more, each one according to the level of his soul. Even the lowliest Jew received at least one verse of the Torah and its explanation. 

When an infant is in its mother's womb, G-d gives it intelligence so that it can understand the portion it received on Mount Sinai. The individual is therefore not prevented from understanding it because of a lack of intelligence. The portion that he received must be revealed to the world by him and not by any other rabbi. 

However, the portion that each person received on Mount Sinai is not given to him so easily. He must be G-d-fearing and attach himself to G-d. He must work very hard to study Torah in order to understand his portion. Through his work, he purifies his physical being and then is able to reveal the portion that his soul received. 

If any one of these conditions is not met, the person is not able to realize the portion he received on Sinai. As a result of this, a person does not have any excuse on the great day of judgment when he is asked, "Why did you not study Torah? Why did you not at least understand the portion that you received at Mount Sinai? You might have worked hard, but you did not have enough fear of G-d; or you might have studied in order to win arguments with your friends or to show off your knowledge." 

The person will not be able to say, "I worked and this is all I could understand." If he were truly G-d-fearing he would know the portion that he received on Mount Sinai. 

If the person was G-d-fearing but did not work hard and only studied a little when he was in the mood, here too, he cannot excuse himself and say, "I was G-d-fearing but I studied and could not find anything." 

G-d will then tell him, "If you had worked hard enough you would have found the portion that you received on Mount Sinai." 

This is the meaning of the verse, "If you seek it like silver and like hidden treasures, you will understand the fear of G-d and you will find knowledge of the L-rd. For G-d gives wisdom from His Mouth, knowledge and understanding." (Mishle 2:4-6) The verse is saying, "If you were to seek the portion of the Torah that you received on Mount Sinai as you would run after or as you would search out a treasure about which you were told, you would find it. If you knew about a treasure you would make every effort to seek it out. Similarly, if you work hard on the Torah you can know G-d's knowledge. This is the portion that G-d gave you on Mount Sinai. But you must have fear of G-d; only then can you understand it. If any one of these conditions is lacking you will not be able to achieve anything. This is because 'G-d gives wisdom from His Mouth, knowledge and understanding.' The only thing that G-d does for you is to grant intelligence when you are in your mother's womb so that you can gain the portion that your soul received on Sinai. After this, G-d is no longer responsible. It is your choice whether to use this knowledge and intellect for the Torah or for worldly matters."

- MeAm Lo'ez

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Parashat Terumah - The Menorah

The Menorah

Shemot 25:31 You shall make a Menorah of pure gold, hammered out shall the Menorah be made, its base, its shaft, its cups, its knobs, and its blossoms shall be [hammered] from it. 

The menorah (candelabrum, lampstand) had to be beaten out of a single piece of gold. It could not be made of separate pieces joined together.

Normally when candelabra are made, the base is made separately, the branches separately, and the lamps separately, and then they are all joined together. The menorah in the Mishkan could not be made in such a manner. Rather, it had to be beaten out of a single piece of gold. The workers began with a single ingot of gold. They then beat it out flat and separated it into branches. These were beaten into the proper shape. In this manner, the entire menorah was made of a single piece of gold.

32 Six branches shall emerge from its sides, three branches of the Menorah from its one side and three branches of the Menorah from its second side;  33 three cups engraved like almonds on the one branch, a knob and a flower; and three cups engraved like almonds on the next branch, a knob and a flower - so for the six branches that emerge from the Menorah.  34 And on the Menorah shall be four cups, engraved like almonds, its knobs and its flowers.  35 A knob shall be under two of the branches from it, a knob under two of the branches from it, and knob under two of the branches from it - for the six branches emerging from the Menorah. 36 Their knobs and branches shall be of it; all of it a single hammered piece of pure gold.

The cups were decorations beaten out of the metal of the branches. They were decorated. Besides the cups, there were also spheres and flower blossoms beaten out of the branches.

The central shaft or stem of the menorah also had spheres and blossoms as well as four cups. Of these, one cup was at the bottom of the menorah below the branches while the other three were on top above the branches.

37 You shall make its lamps seven; he shall kindle its lamps so as to give light toward its face. 

The openings of the lamps were made facing the center lamp. When the other six were lit, they would shine primarily toward the stem which was called "the menorah's face."

38 Its tongs and its spoons shall be of pure gold. 

The wick tongs were tweezers that were used to draw the wicks out of the oil so that they could be adjusted in the lamp. The ash snips were like scissors that were used to remove the ashes in the lamps each morning when the lamps would be cleansed of the ashes of the wicks that had burned all night and then had gone out.

39 Of a talent of pure gold shall he make it, with all these vessels. 

The menorah and all its utensils were made out of one talent (kikar) of pure gold, no more and no less. A talent is 32 libras, where each libra is 25 sela'im. A talent is about 150 pounds of gold.

40 See and make, according to their form that you are shown on the mountain.

We can now describe the entire menorah.

Regarding the menorah's shaft, the Torah says, "The menorah shall have four embossed cups along with its spheres and blossoms." (Shemot 25:34) This indicates that the central shaft of the menorah contained four cups. These cups had the form of Alexandrian cups, with wide mouths gradually tapering off. There were two such cups on the shaft.

The "spheres" had the form of apples that grow in the city of Kerot. They are ovoid in shape, round and long on both sides like an egg. There were two such spheres on the shaft.

The blossoms are like the blossoms that are made on marble columns. They were thus like forms cut with a stonecutter's hammer. Their edge was bent outward.

There were two such flowers on the menorah's stem. Besides these, there was also a third blossom near the menorah's base.

The base of the menorah had three feet.

There were also another three spheres on the menorah's shaft in the area where the branches extended from it.

The menorah had six branches, three to the right, and three to the left. These branches extended upward diagonally from the stem toward the top of the menorah. The lowest branch was the longest of them all, the next a bit shorter, and the highest the shortest of them all. Thus, the tops of all the branches were at exactly the same height. The lamps on all six branches were thus at the same level as the lamp on the menorah's stem.

The center shaft was known as "the menorah's face" (p'ney hamenorah).

Each branch also had three cups, one sphere and one blossom.

All of them were "almond-decorated." That is, they were decorated with the forms of almonds. The verse can thus be interpreted, "The menorah shall have four almond-decorated (me-shukadim) cups along with its spheres and flowers." There is a question as to whether "almond-decorated" relates only to the "cups" or whether it also relates to the "spheres and flowers." Therefore, all were almond-decorated. Even if it is not required on the spheres and flowers, it is of no harm if it is done. Conversely, however, if they all required such decoration and it was not done, the menorah would not be made properly.

It thus comes out that the menorah had a total of 22 cups. There were 18 on the six branches, three on each branch, and an additional four on the stem of the menorah.

The menorah also had 11 spheres, six on the six branches, three on the shaft where the branches extend, one near the bottom, and one in the upper three handbreadths of the shaft. The last sphere was together with the three upper cups.

The menorah also had 9 flowers. There were six, one on each of the six branches, and three on the shaft.

All these were absolutely necessary if the menorah was to be valid. If one of the above 42 cups, spheres or flowers were missing, the menorah was invalid. The same is true if any of the 7 branches or 7 lamps were missing.

The menorah was 18 handbreadths (54 inches) high. It was made in this manner:

From the base to the lower flower was 3 handbreadths.

There were then 2 handbreadths smooth, and then within one handbreadth, there was a cup, sphere and flower.

There were then two handbreadths smooth, and then a sphere taking up one handbreadth from which two of the branches extended.

There was then one handbreadth smooth and another sphere taking up a handbreadth, from which the next two branches extended. There was then another two handbreadths smooth, and then a third sphere taking up one handbreadth, from which the third set of branches extended.

Above this there was another two handbreadths smooth.

Thus what we have already counted is a total of 15 handbreadths.

There was then an additional three handbreadths remaining until the top of the menorah. In these three handbreadths there were three cups, one sphere and one flower.

The Torah therefore says, "And this (ve-zeh) is the structure of the menorah." (BaMidbar 8:4) The numerical value of ve-zeh is 18, denoting the height of the menorah.

There was a large stone in front of the menorah. This stone had three steps, and the priest would stand on it in order to light the menorah and clean out the lamps. On this stone also stood the wick tongs and ash snips which were used for the menorah.

This stone was made of the finest, most beautiful marble which was more precious than gold. It was 8 1/2 handbreadths (25 1/2 inches) high and 9 handbreadths (27 inches) wide.

The menorah stood to the south of the Mishkan while the showbread table stood to the north. They were both in the inner sanctuary directly outside the Holy of Holies. When a person would enter the sanctuary, the menorah would be to his right and the table to his left.

Although the Torah specifies that the menorah must be made of pure gold, this was merely a preference and not an absolute requirement. Therefore, if the community was poor and had to replace the menorah, they could make it out of any type of metal, whether silver, copper or the like. However, it could not be made of wood, bone, ivory, or glass, and if it is made of anything other than metal, it is invalid.

All the embellishments, such as the cups, spheres and blossoms, that the Torah requires for a menorah, are required only when it is made of gold. However, if it is made of silver or any other metal, it is made without the cups, spheres and blossoms.

Similarly, the Torah requires that the menorah be made of a talent (kikar) of metal only when it is made of gold. Moreover, the requirement that it be hammered out of a single piece of metal only applies when it is made of gold. If the menorah is made of other metals, neither of these conditions must be met. Nevertheless, even if it is made of other metals, the menorah cannot be made of small parts.

The Torah literally says, "Make it out of a talent of pure gold, and all these utensils." (Shemot 25:39) In the Talmud there is a dispute regarding the meaning of this verse.

Rabbi Yehudah maintained that the menorah and its lamps were made of a talent of gold. This was the mass of gold out of which the menorah was to be made. The tongs and snips, however, were made separately, and were therefore not included in the talent. The "utensils" mentioned in the verse do not include the tongs and snips, but do include the lamps. These also had to be made of the original mass of gold and are referred to as "utensils" (kelim) only because they are usually separate from a candelabrum.

Rabbi Nechemiah, on the other hand, maintained that the talent only included the menorah itself and not the lamps, tongs or snips. He maintained that the lamps were attached and not an integral part of the menorah. When the Torah says, "and all these utensils," it does not mean that they are included in the talent of metal, but only that they also had to be made of pure gold.

The accepted opinion is that the menorah and its lamps were made out of a single piece of gold weighing one talent. The snips and tongs, however, were not included in the talent.

Each of the lamps had a gold cover that could be opened and closed. These covers protected the oil so that it was not left uncovered. They also prevented dust and ashes from the wicks from falling into the oil. According to one opinion, these were the milkachaim on the menorah. [This opinion disputes the opinion cited earlier that the milkachaim were tongs.]

According to this opinion, the machtot on the menorah [were not snips or scoops. Rather, they] were protrusions under the lamps to catch any ashes or sparks from the wicks. All these were made of the same mass of gold as the rest of the menorah.

The seven branches of the menorah were solid, not hollow.

The Torah moreover specifies that the spheres and branches should be made of "pure gold." (Shemot 25:36) One should not think that the insides of the spheres and branches which cannot be seen may be made of alloyed gold. The Torah therefore specifies that even the unseen internal portions of the menorah must be made of pure gold.

Although the description of the menorah appears fairly straightforward, it was not a simple thing to communicate. All the people found it very difficult to conceptualize the menorah.

Moshe also found it very difficult to picture the menorah. G-d therefore showed him a fiery menorah in the heaven. Regarding this, G-d said, "This is the form of the menorah." (BaMidbar 8:4) The word "this" indicates that G-d was actually pointing to something that He was showing Moshe.

G-d here told Moshe, "Carefully observe the Pattern that you will be shown on the mountain." (Shemot 25:40) G-d was speaking of the form of the menorah that he would show Moshe.

The Torah literally says, "make [the menorah) with the form (be-tavnit) that you will be shown." It does not say, "like the form" (ke-tavnit). This was because it was impossible for Moshe to make the menorah exactly like the one he saw in heaven. The heavenly menorah was a spiritual object made of red, white and green fire. The difference between something spiritual and something physical is very great indeed.

Moreover, the word be-tavnit is not the object of the word "make" but of the word "see." The verse is actually saying, "Look at the form that you will be shown on the mountain, and make [the menorah]." G-d was telling Moshe to look carefully at the pattern of the spiritual menorah so as to have the wisdom to make the menorah out of gold.

The Torah thus says, "This is the form of the menorah: miksha of gold." (BaMidbar 8:4) [Although miksha is usually translated as "a single piece of beaten work,"] it can also be translated as "difficult." This indicates that Moshe found it too difficult to make the menorah. G-d therefore told Moshe, "Take a talent of gold and throw it into the fire. When you take it out, the menorah will be made, with all its cups, spheres and flowers."

The Torah therefore says, "it shall be made of a single piece of metal" (Shemot 25:31), using the passive rather than the active voice. This alludes to the fact that the menorah was made by itself.

According to Rabbi Yose son of Rabbi Yehudah, G-d showed Moshe three things: the Aron (Ark), the Shulchan (Table), and the Menorah (Lampstand). G-d showed Moshe a form of each of these objects made of fire that descended from heaven. Moshe saw them and was then able to make them.

One should not think that this contradicts what we have said above. Rather, what happened was this:

At first when G-d told Moshe to make the menorah, it was very difficult for him to understand. He could not comprehend it, and he asked, "How can something like this be made?" G-d then showed him a fiery menorah in the sky, and he understood.

However, when Moshe descended from Mount Sinai, he forgot how to make it. He said, "Master of the Universe, I forgot the form of the menorah."

G-d then showed it to him again. But now Moshe found it very difficult to understand. G-d took a mass of fire and showed Moshe how it could be made into a menorah, but Moshe still could not understand.

Finally, G-d said to him, "Go to Betzalel, and he will make it." G-d was actually telling Moshe to take a talent of gold, bring it to Betzalel so that he could throw it into the fire, and allow the menorah to be made on its own. G-d , however, did not want to say this explicitly to Moshe, so He merely told him to go to Betzalel.

Moshe went to Betzalel and gave him the gold, and Betzalel was able to make the menorah immediately. When Moshe saw this, he said to Betzalel, "G-d showed me the menorah twice, but I still could not fathom how to make it. You, however, made it without ever seeing it. Maybe you were there when G-d showed me the menorah." 

The form of the menorah symbolized the Torah. The seven branches parallel the seven words in the first verse in Bereishit. The 11 spheres on the menorah parallel the 11 words in the first verse of Shemot. The 9 blossoms parallel the 9 words in the first verse in VaYikra. The height of the menorah was 18 handbreadths, as we said. One handbreadth, however, was not complete, so the actual height of the menorah was 17 handbreadths and a bit extra. These paralleled the 17 words in the first verse in BaMidbar. The 22 cups on the menorah parallel the 22 words in the first verse of Devarim.

It therefore comes out that the first verses of all five books of the Torah are alluded to in the menorah. The total number is forty-nine.

We are forbidden to duplicate any of the Mishkan's furniture. Therefore, we are forbidden to make a seven-branched candelabrum even if it is not made of gold. It is forbidden even if the candelabrum does not have the cups, knobs and blossoms that the one menorah had and even if it is not 18 handbreadths tall. Although it is not exactly like the menorah, it is still forbidden since as we explained earlier, these decorations are merely preferable but not absolutely required.

The main thing that the Torah requires of the menorah is that it have seven branches. Therefore, there is no prohibition against making a candelabrum having five, six or eight branches.

It is forbidden to make a seven-branched candelabrum even if it is made in pieces made to be attached or screwed together. The dictum that the menorah be made of a single piece of gold was only a preference. However if it was made of attached pieces, the menorah was still valid as long as it was not made of gold.

There are large candelabra made with seven branches. It is important to realize that if the branches extend from a central shaft, this is absolutely forbidden. However if it does not have branches, then it is permitted even if it has seven lamps.


- MeAm Lo'ez Commentaries [Torah Anthology]

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Parashat Terumah - Symbolism of the Mishkan (Tabernacle)

The Symbolism of the Mishkan

The Mishkan had 48 beams, 100 sets of loops, and 100 hooks, no more and no less.  This is not an arbitrary figure, but is meant to allude to the 248 positive commandments in the Torah and the 248 parts of the human body.

This explains G-d's statement to Moshe, "According to all that I show you, the pattern of the Mishkan and the pattern of all its furniture, so shall they do" (25:9).  G-d was saying, "Just as I showed you the parts of the body, where I formed you with 248 limbs, so shall you make the Mishkan, with exactly the same number.  'So shall they do,' keeping all the 248 commandments that I will be giving you." |1|

This also teaches that one should not think that the Divine Presence rests on the wood and stone of the Mishkan. Rather, the Divine rests primarily on the 248 parts of the human body, which parallel the 248 positive commandments.  Therefore, a person must be careful to sanctify and purify his 248 limbs, so that the Holy should be able to rest upon them.

This may be alluded to in the verse, "[G-d] forsook the Mishkan at Shiloh, the tent which dwelt in man" (Tehillim 78:60).  [This is speaking of a time when people sin, but conversely,] it indicates that when people are good, the Divine dwells in the human being. |2|

One may find this entire account very puzzling.  Today we live in exile, and have no Mishkan, no Holy Temple, no High Priest, and no sacrifice.  What good then does it do us to read about how the Mishkan was made?  Why do we have to know how the beams and pillars were made, what their dimensions were, and how the priestly vestments were made?  Of what use is it to us to know how the sacrifices were offered?  This is of no practical use to us today, and when the Mashiach comes with G-d's help, we can learn all these things and know how to keep them. |3|

Actually, however, the prophet Yechezk'el asked this very question of G-d, as we see in the 43rd chapter of Yechezk'el, which is the Haftarah of the Portion of Tetzaveh.  G-d said to Yechezk'el, "son of man, show the Temple to the house of Yisra'el, so that they will be ashamed of their sins, let them measure accurately.  If they are ashamed of all that they have done, explain to them the form of the Temple, its pattern, its comings and it goings, all its forms and their ordinances, and write it down before their eyes, so that they make keep its entire form, and all its ordinances, and do them" (Yechezk'el 43:10, 11).

G-d was saying to Yechezk'el, "Son of man.  Inform the Yisra'elim of the form of the Holy Temple that will be built in the Messianic age, and tell them how it shall look.  If they are embarrassed by all the sins they have committed, which caused the Temple to be destroyed, they will be able to measure the Temple, and contemplate the form in which it will be built.  If they are ashamed and repent, I will show them the form of the Temple, and they will remember all its forms, and the laws that must be kept in it." |4|

Yechezk'el was puzzled, and replied to G-d, "Hashem of the Universe, what benefit will Yisra'el have from all these things?  Of what use is it to them to know the form of the Temple that is destined to be built in the Messianic Age?  Today we are in exile, and it will be a long time before the Mashiach comes.  What will come of my explaining all these things that they cannot keep now.  Let me just tell them that they must believe in perfect faith that the Mashiach will come and the Temple will be rebuilt.  But what will come of my explaining to them the precise form of this third Temple?"

G-d responded, "What I am telling you is a great gift for them.  As long as they are in exile and they read the portion explaining how the Temple must be built, and look at its ultimate form, I will count it as if they had built the Temple.

The same is true when a person reads the sections describing how the Mishkan and priestly vestments were made delving into it and understanding it well.  It is then counted as if he himself had made all those items.  The same is true when a person studies the laws of sacrifices and mediates on them; G-d then counts it as if he had actually offered the sacrifices. |5|

It is for this reason that when speaking of sacrifices, the Scripture often uses the expression, "This is the Torah."  We thus find expressions such as, "This is the Torah of the all-burnt offering" (VaYikra 6:2), "This is the Torah of the sin offering" (VaYikra 6:18), "This is the Torah of the crime offering" (VaYikra 7;1), "This is the Torah of the meal offering" (VaYikra 6:7), and "This is the Torah of the peace offering" (VaYikra 7:11).  This teaches that if a person studies the portions of the Torah dealing with these sacrifices, it is counted as if he actually had offered them. |6|

There is also another great spiritual benefit from learning the laws pertaining to the Mishkan and sacrifices.  We can see this by looking carefully at the order in which these laws are presented.  At first sight, it appears as if the account is not written in the correct order.  The Torah should have presented the Mishkan in the order that it was set up, with the beams, bases, hangings and hooks, and then described the pillars, their bases, and the crossbars.

Only then should the Torah have told us what is inside the Holy of Holies, namely the Ark, the ark-cover, and the cherubs.  Then the Torah should have told us about the cloth barrier that set apart the Holy of Holies.  Then the Torah should have explained and discussed the items that were outside the Holy of Holies, in the sanctuary, such as the table, the menorah, the oil for the menorah, and the incense altar.  All these things were in the sanctuary, just outside the Holy of Holies.

The Torah should have then described the veil over the entrance of the Mishkan.  Only then should the Torah have gone on to speak about the enclosure, describing the sacrificial altar, the sacrifices themselves, and the washstand, since both the altar and washstand were in the outer enclosure.

After that, the Torah should have described the priestly vestments.

Actually, this is the order in which the Torah presents these items in Parashat VaYachel, where it describes how all these items were made (36:8-39:30).  This is also the order that we find in the Parashat Pekudei, where it describes how these items were brought to Moshe (39:33-41).  The same order is also used when the Torah describes how the Mishkan was erected (40:17-33).  This is because this is the proper order, as we shall see in those sections.  Therefore the question arises, why in this and the next portion, are the items listed in an entirely different order?

The Torah is actually teaching a lesson and giving good spiritual advice, telling us how to be worthy in both this world and the next.  G-d taught us this by giving the commandments for the Mishkan in an apparently illogical order.

When G-d began to give orders for the Mishkan, He said, "Let them make me a sanctuary..." (25:8).  But then, before explaining how to make the Mishkan, He immediately began speaking about the Holy Ark.  This teaches that the only reason a person comes to this world is to immerse himself in the Torah and to keep its commandments.  This is alluded to by the Ark, which held the Torah.

If G-d grants a person money in this world, it is only so that he should be able to study Torah.  If he does not know how to learn, he should spend his money keeping the commandments and doing good deeds.  He can spend money to support torah scholars, since the principle of this will remain with him in the Future world.

A person should not think that he was born into this world to enjoy himself and to have pleasure from worldly things.  Rather, the main thing is to struggle day and night to understand the Torah.  He will then be worthy of the shulchan, which alludes to worldly good, and the menorah, which alludes to the spiritual good of the future world.  Therefore, immediately after discussing the Ark, the Torah discussed the shulchan and the menorah.

The Torah then speaks about the Mishkan, which alludes to worldly good.  This teaches that if a person leaves the Torah so as to gain worldly goods, his punishment is that he will be separated from the Holy of Holies, which alludes to the Torah and commandments.  He will have a barrier, like the cloth barrier that separated the Holy Ark from the outside.

It is for this reason that after giving the command for the Mishkan, G-d gave the command for the cloth partition between the Holy of Holies and the sanctuary.  G-d then gave the command for the veil that separated the table and the menorah from the outside.  This teaches that the person who pursues the worldly will not only be separated from the menorah, the Torah and the commandments, he will also be separated from the table, which alludes to worldly good.  He will lose his wealth and his wisdom will decrease.

The Torah then speaks of the sacrificial altar.  This teaches that if a person goes though all this, and still is attracted to worldly pleasures, he will have a bad end.  His body and soul will be annihilated, and he will be outside the realm of the holy souls.  Rather, he will be in the place of sacrificial altar, which was the lowest part of the Mishkan, a place without any roof, open to the sun and rain.

After the sacrificial altar, the Torah speaks of the outer enclosure, which alludes to human life.  The 100 cubit length alludes to the human lifespan which is hardly ever more than 100 years.  The breadth of the courtyard was 50 cubits, alluding to the 50 years during which a person is in full strength.  After this he begins to lose his strength and grow weak.

The 20 pillars to the width of the enclosure allude to man's twentieth year, when he comes to his full strength, standing on his feet like a pillar.  And because a person has the same desire in old age as in youth to work and to make money, thinking that he will remain in this world, the Torah says, "Their hooks and hoops shall be made of silver" (27:10).  The Hebrew word for hoops is chashuk, alluding to a person's desire (cheshek).  This is of silver, kesef in Hebrew, which also denotes money. |7|

Since this world is only temporary, a person must concentrate on the true world, the World to Come, which is eternal.  He should not place all his thoughts and efforts into the material world.  Rather, he should strive to follow for G-d-fearing Sages, and to learn from their ways.  Their merchandise is the merchandise of the Future World.  One should therefore engage at least in some of this "business."

It is for this reason that, after discussing the outer enclosure, the Torah speaks of the oil for the menorah.  The oil in the lamp alludes to things that affect the soul, as it is written, "A lamp of G-d is the soul of man" (Mishle 20:27).

The people who are destined to learn the ways of the World to Come must be on the level of Aharon as far as reverence and deeds are concerned.  The person will then be worthy of the priestly vestments, which are the precious, enlightened vestments of the Future World.  The commandments that a person keeps and the good deeds that he does in this physical world, become his precious garments in the World to Come.  Therefore, after speaking of the oil for the lamp, the Torah speaks of the priestly vestments.  This alludes to the "vestments" that a person will wear in the Future World. |8|

Three of the four furnishings in the Mishkan were topped by zer zahav saviv, "a gold crown all around.:" the Aron [Ark]; the Shulchan [Table]; and the Mizbe'ach [Atlar].

The Talmud (Yoma 72b) identifies these three crowns with the three crowns mentioned in the Mishnah (Avot 4:13):

1) the crown on the Aron, which in addition to the Tablets, held a Torah scroll written by Moshe, represents the crown of the Torah scholar
2) the crown of the Shulchan, G-d's royal Table, symbolizes the crown of royalty
3) the crown of the Mizbe'ach alludes to the crown of Kehunah (priesthood), for only a Kohen may serve at the Mizbe'ach (Rashi)

1. Yalkut Reuveni
2. Original
3. Abarbanel
4. Original
5. Yalkut Shimoni, Yechezk'el
6. Menachoth, Chapter 13
7. Abarbanel
8. Original

Commentary source:

-Yalkut MeAm Lo'ez
-Kestenbaum Tikkun

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Parashat Shemot - The Faith of Yocheved

Shemot 2:1-10 A man went from the house of Levi and he took a daughter of Levi.  The women conceived and gave birth to a son. She saw that he was good and she hid him for three months. She could not hide him any longer, so she took for him a wicker basket and smeared it with clay and pitch; she placed the child into it and placed it among the reeds at the bank of the River.  His sister stationed herself at a distance to know what would be done with him.  Pharaoh's daughter went down to bathe by the River and her maidens walked along the River. She saw the basket among the reeds and she sent her maidservant and she took it.  She opened it and saw him, the child, and behold! a youth was crying. She took pity on him and said, "This is one of the Hebrew boys."  His sister said to Pharaoh's daughter, "Shall I go and summon for you a wet nurse from the Hebrew women, who will nurse the boy for you?"  The daughter of Pharaoh said, "Go." The girl went and summoned the boy's mother.  Pharaoh's daughter said to her, "Take this boy and nurse him for me, and I will give you pay." So the woman took the boy and nursed him.  The boy grew up and she brought him to the daughter of Pharaoh and he was a son to her. She called his name Moshe, as she said, "For I drew him from the water."

Secrets kept, your baby is in hiding
You try to keep by your side
One day you are warned your child is in danger
Find a way to keep him alive.

(your beautiful baby)
(Yocheved, your heart must be breaking)
So you take your tiny babe and you place him in a basket on the waves
How great is your faith.

With trembling hands you weave a tiny basket
and place your son inside
Through your tears you sadly wonder
Will I ever see my little boy alive?

(Yocheved, he's sailing away now)
(Yocheved, your heart must be breaking)
And as he sails away, your heart breaks with pain.
How great is your faith,
And if I had been in your place
Would I have done the same,
Do I have the faith of Yocheved?

And the pain we feel today can be the joy we know tomorrow.
And through our faith we can see beyond our blinding sorrow.

(Yocheved, he's sailing away now)
(Yocheved, your heart must be breaking)
And as he sails away, your heart breaks with pain.
How great is your faith.

(My beautiful baby)
And if I had been in your place
Would I have done the same?
Do I have the faith of Yocheved?


- words by Dana Mase from the CD "Diary" 
Click to listen