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April 20, 2014 / 20 Nisan, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘Beit Hamikdash’

Parshat Mishpatim: Location! Location! Location!

Friday, February 17th, 2012

The Inauguration of the President of the United States has become both a complicated and expensive process. It begins with a meeting at the White House between the incoming and outgoing First Families, followed by a joint drive to the Capitol for the actual ceremony. Weather permitting, the inauguration is followed by a parade down Pennsylvania Avenue. At the conclusion of the parade the new First Couple must quickly change attire in order to attend the many galas and balls being held in their honor that evening.

Interestingly enough, much of what transpires is dictated by tradition. The Constitution itself dedicates a very limited amount of space to the inauguration. The current date is set as January 20th, as per the 20th Amendment, ratified in 1933. The text of the oath of office is presented in Article 2 Section 1 of the Constitution. It is a mere 35 words. Yet this almost matter-of-fact item in the Constitution has become one of the hallmarks of our democracy.

Congressional historian Donald Kennon explained: “It’s probably safe to say that the presidential inauguration is the transcendent ritual associated with the rise to power of a representative government. Unlike the coronation of a monarch or any ritual associated with the rise to power of a dictator or autocrat, the inauguration of the American President is a cyclical, regularly scheduled event held every four years. The regularity of presidential inaugurations lends a sense of reassuring stability, continuity and permanence to a political system that permits turnover in office holders and change in policy agendas. Moreover it is a peaceful change in government, unlike the violence that so often has accompanied a change in head of state elsewhere” (www.fpc.state.gov).

Among the many customs that have developed with respect to the inauguration is its location. Aside from extenuating circumstances, it has almost always taken place at the location of the legislative branch of government. Weather permitting, the President is escorted by a Congressional delegation from within the Capitol confines outside to take the oath in front of the American people. It is this fact, that the president takes the oath at the Capitol which interested me in this topic. My research question was, why?

A Google search found quite a non-scholarly suggestion (who knows? Perhaps it contains a kernel of truth). A person suggested that due to the previous president moving out of the White House and the new president and his staff moving in, the White House would be way too busy of a place to have the ceremony there. Therefore a different venue needed to be chosen – so why not the Capitol. However, Dr. Kennon offers the following possibilities.

The first reason he suggested is precedent. When George Washington took his oath of office, he went to Federal Hall in New York City where Congress was meeting at the time. A second reason Kennon suggested has to do, “with the fact that Congress is the first branch of American government. The first Article of the Constitution created Congress. It was the Continental Congress, after all, which led to the American Revolution. It was a legislative revolution, if you will.” It is held outside, in front of the people, to declare to the world that ultimately the president is answerable to the American people.

This idea, that when it comes to people in power the symbolism of location matters, is highlighted by the commentators at the beginning of this week’s parsha. The Torah begins the parsha with a discussion of the laws that Moshe needs to teach Bnei Yisrael. Rashi, in his commentary on the first pasuk, addresses why the discussion of societal and judicial laws is placed immediately following the Torah’s discussion of the mizbayach at the end of the previous parsha. Rashi explains that with this juxtaposition, the Torah is instructing us that the seat of the Sanhedrin must be established within the confines of the Beit Hamikdash. The anthology Iturei Torah relates the following explanation in the name of the Shlah Hakadosh’s son. Rav Horowitz explains that a major function of the Sanhedrin was to ensure the genetic purity of the Kohanim who served in the Beit Hamikdash. To effectively carry out this responsibility, the Sanhedrin needed to be located in close proximity to the Temple.

The Mei’ana Shel Torah quotes the following explanation from the work Avnei Eizel (which was actually an unpublished manuscript of the compiler of this anthology, Rav Zusha Friedman). For most of the nations of the world, the laws governing interactions between people are conventions set up by citizens to enable their society to function. They are bereft of any Divine influence. However, such laws within a Jewish society are very much religious laws as well. To demonstrate this point the Sanhedrin, which was ultimately responsible for all legal aspects of society, was housed in the Temple. By being there it was made clear to all that, for Jewish society, the interpersonal societal laws were Divine in origin, just as the ritual laws were.

Q & A: Biblical Blue Fringe: Will the Real Chilazon Please Stand Up!

Wednesday, January 18th, 2012

In February we conducted a thorough discussion of the mitzvah of techeilet. The following guest piece by Baruch Sterman, marking 20 years since the establishment of the Ptil Tekhelet Foundation (www.tekhelet.com), is a follow up to that discussion.

For the last 20 years, the Ptil Tekhelet Foundation, under the leadership of Rabbi Eliyahu Tevger, has worked to spread awareness of all areas of study relating to techeilet, as well as to make techeilet strings available to the public. Techeilet is the sky-blue wool that was worn by the Kohen Gadol, whose garments included a robe (me’il) that was completely techeilet and a band worn on his forehead from which the golden tzitz with the name of G-d hung. The regular priests also wore a sash embroidered with the precious blue wool.

Each Jew is commanded to tie a thread of techeilet to the corners of his garment to remind him of all the commandments. Tzitzit, the emblem and uniform of the Jew, is his everyday priestly garb that signifies his bond to the Almighty and his membership in a “kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”

Techeilet was fantastically expensive and one of the most sought after treasures in the ancient world. Often worth as much as twenty times its weight in gold, the blue dye was a driving economic commodity in the Mediterranean domain. The source of the dye was a sea creature called the chilazon by the Talmud, porphyros by the Greeks and murex by the Romans and has been identified as the species of mollusk named Murex trunculus.

Shellfish dyeing dates back 5,000 years; the first mention of “takhiltu” predates the written Torah and is found in the Tel el Amarna tablets in Egypt from the times of Abraham. The murex snail is depicted on coins from Tyre (the capital city of the Phoenicans, who were expert dyers, located in what is now Lebanon) .The Tanach records that Hiram, king of Tyre, sent his best craftsmen and dyers to help Shlomo build the Beit Hamikdash.

The demand for techeilet, and its sister dye argamman (knows as Tyrian Purple), and the status associated with those who could afford to wear them, led to state monopolies in the dye production, and severe restrictions were placed on their use. In Roman times, only the emperor and the governing elite were permitted to own and wear shellfish dyed robes and to disobey this regulation was “an offense similar to high treason.”

Though Jews tried their best to produce and wear techeilet on their tzitzit, the expense, difficulty, and danger associated with obtaining it prevented most of them from fulfilling the commandment. In the turmoil and tragedy of the seventh century in Israel, when the holy land was conquered by Persians, Christians, and finally Arabs, the secrets of dyeing techeilet were lost, and the Midrash (in approximately the year 720) laments, “and now we have only white, for the techeilet has been hidden.”

For the next 1,300 years techeilet would remain lost, not only to the Jews but to the secular world as well. The exact details regarding the identity of the chilazon faded into obscurity, and only a few vague descriptions or other clues remained scattered throughout the Talmud. In the mid-nineteenth century the first attempts were made to renew the mitzvah of techeilet. Within the secular world it was generally accepted that the source of the ancient blue and purple dyes was some sea snail, although the exact species was unclear. The Tiferet Yisrael, Rav Yisrael Lipschitz, considered that option, but rejected it since the color produced by those snails was purple-blue or violet. Techeilet, according to halachic tradition, had to be sky blue.

Influenced by the Tiferet Yisrael, the great hasidic Rebbe of Radzyn, Gershon Henokh Leiner, devoted his life to searching for an alternative candidate, and after a trek across Europe to the newly opened aquarium in Naples, he settled upon the cuttlefish, Sepia officinalis, as the true chilazon. Using a bit of chemical magic to turn the black sepia ink into blue, the Radzyner began to produce techeilet, and within a year tens of thousands of his followers wore the blue strings on their tallitot. Most contemporary rabbinic authorities, however, rejected the Radzyner techeilet.

The final blow to the identification of the cuttlefish as the chilazon would come in 1914, more than 20 years after Rabbi Leiner’s death. That year, Rabbi Yitzchak Halevi Herzog, later to become the first chief rabbi of the State of Israel, wrote his doctoral dissertation for the University of London on the topic of Hebrew Porphyrology (the study of purple – a word Rav Herzog invented). He requested samples of the dyed strings from the Radzyn dye masters and sent them for chemical analysis in laboratories across Europe. The conclusion was that Radzyn techeilet was a synthetic dye known as Prussian Blue, and that the color in fact came from the chemicals added to the mixture as part of the process, and was not based on the ink obtained from the cuttlefish. It was inconceivable, argued Rav Herzog, that the Talmud would insist on the dye coming from the chilazon, if that creature did not provide any essential ingredient to the color forming process.

The Joy Of Torah

Tuesday, October 18th, 2011

                  One of the most popular of our chaggim is Simchat Torah, which falls on the last day of Sukkot. As its name suggests, Simchat Torah celebrates the joy of the Torah. There is no record of this holiday before the 11th century, and its origin may have been in Spain. 
 
                  The highlight of the chag is when all the sifrei Torah are removed from the Ark and there is a joyful procession with them around the shul.  This circling is called hakafot, and it is necessary to make seven circuits.  It is a mystical imitation of a chuppah, symbolizing the marriage of Bnei Yisrael to the Law.  There is even a Chatan Torah and then a Chatan Bereishis who buys the privilege of reading the first portion of sefer.  
 
                  As the hakafot progress, different members of the congregation are given the opportunity to hold the sifrei Torah and dance with them.  The procession resembles the custom of a kallah, at the beginning of a chuppah, walking around her chatan seven times to form a closed circle.   
 
                  A special feature of the day is when all the boys under bar mitzvah age are called up for a special aliyah.  The final verses of the Torah are read while the children stand under a large tallit spread above them like a canopy.  The children are blessed with the words Yaakov used to bless Ephraim and Menashe (Genesis 48:16) “Hamalach hagoel osee me kol rah, yevarech es hanearim – The angel who redeemed me from all evil, bless these children.”
 
                  There is a lovely Simchat Torah custom in Jerusalem’s Beit Hakerem, where I live.  At a certain designated time, all the local shuls meet (there are four) with their sifrei Torah in Kikar Denya, the square in front of the supermarket.  There, with singing and dancing, they invite all the passers-by – secular and religious alike, and particularly the children – to join in the merriment.  For me, this is the highlight of the day, with toddlers being carried on their fathers’ shoulders, and many people, possibly for the first time ever, joining in to dance with the Torah, before eventually all return to their own shuls to continue with the service.
 
                  The prayer for rain in Israel is an important part of Simchat Torah liturgy.   “When do Jews and Gentiles rejoice together?  Only when it rains!”  No this is not a recent quotation in response to our current water shortage and the dangerously low level of Lake Kinneret.  It was written by Rabi Yehoshua ben Levi in Bereshis Rabbah (13.6)  “For drought is the scourge of the earth, and rain its greatest blessing.”
 
                  Tishrei, the seventh month, is linked to the start of Israel’s winter rains, and crops will fail without it.  We plead for rain in the merit of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaacov, Moshe, Aharon and the 12 shevatim … “For a blessing and not a curse; for life and not for death; for plenty and not for famine.”
 
                  The Mishna tells us “the world is judged through water.” To this day we recite a prayer for rain on the last day of Sukkot, as rain is Israel’s life-blood.  Good rains mean prosperity, drought means ruin for the country’s kibbutzim, moshavim and agricultural settlements.
 
                  Linked to the prayer for rain is another Sukkot ceremony emphasizing the value of water.  It is known as Simchat Beit Hashoeva, the Joy of the Drawing of the Waters. When the Beit Hamikdash stood it was practiced with great enthusiasm and zest.  It is first mentioned in Sefer Yeshayahu.  It began on the second night of Sukkot and continued for six nights.  Jerusalemites and pilgrims flocked to the outer court of the Beit Hamikdash.  An enormous golden menorah was fed with vessels of oil by kohanim until flames leapt towards the sky.
 
                  The most pious men led a torch dance, and the Leviim led the people in chanting hymns and psalms to the music of flutes, harps and cymbals.  They danced and sang until dawn, when the long procession wended its way to the pool of Shiloah.  This pool was formed by the overflow of water in Chezekiah’s tunnel which led from the Gihon spring into the city.
 
                  At the pool, a golden ewer was filled with water and brought back to the Beit Hamikdash, where the Kohen Gadol poured it over the mizbayach.  Today there is no Beit Hamikdash, no mizbayach and no water in the pool at Shiloah, but the “Drawing of the Waters” is symbolically recaptured every year with singing, dancing and rejoicing in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City, near the pool of Shiloah at the base of the City of David.
 
                  And today, on Simchat Torah, Jews all over the world remember Israel’s need for rain on the last day of chag.  It is a long prayer which begins with the words: “You cause the wind to blow and the rain to descend.  From the heavenly source He sends down rains softening the earth with their crystal drops.  Water You have called the symbol of Your power. It refreshes with its drops all breathing creatures and it will someday quicken those who exalt the power of rain.”
 
                  After six more verses, the prayer for rain concludes with the reader chanting, and the congregation responding: “For You are the Lord our G-d who causes the wind to blow and the rain to fall.  For a blessing and not for a curse. Amen. For life and not for death. Amen. For plenty and not for famine.”
 

                  It is a fitting bracha with which to end Simchat Torah and Sukkot, in which three times we are commanded to rejoice.  After the solemness of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, this gives us its blessings:  “May you  have nothing but joy!”

Appreciating ‘Non-Events’

Wednesday, July 29th, 2009

           Maybe because Tisha B’av was on our minds, as were recent dismaying events both in Israel and closer to home, but what had started as a relaxed, light-hearted lunch with friends took a dark turn when someone mentioned a recent tragedy involving a young child. Another friend shared an equally horrible story. We acknowledged that lately we all had heard of so many “umglicks” – horrific events afflicting members of the community.

 

In the ensuing silence, I am sure some of us felt a flash of icy fear; a horrific thought that from time to time insidiously seeps through our shield of faith – that G-d had stopped watching over us.

 

No doubt that since the destruction of the first and then second Beit Hamikdash and our subsequent exile, Jews have at times succumbed to this chilling doubt.  I know those touched by the Holocaust have grappled with the question, “Where was G-d?”

 

The answer is obvious. He’s here – everywhere, 24/7.

 

 The fact that billions of men, women and children are alive, day after day, is undisputable proof that Hashem indeed watches over each and every one of us. Every human being’s life – since conception – is a miracle of survival. I often wonder why we aren’t required to bench Gomel on a daily basis.

 

So many things can go wrong that we are not aware of. A cell that does not divide properly, a germ that enters the bloodstream, a blood vessel that can burst. It is amazing to me that people are fine and are able to go about their daily business.

 

 We are truly oblivious to the miracles that are bestowed upon us. Only when we have had obvious close calls – surviving a near drowning, a car crash, or a severe illness – do we become aware of Hashem’s involvement, which we then address by benching Gomel.

 

We are not aware of what I call the “non-calls,” where we have no inkling that Hashem was watching over us precisely because nothing untoward happened.

 

Recently, I experienced a non-call, but was fortunate to see it. I had taken my grandson out for a ride on his tricycle. We went to the next street over, a small cul-de-sac, a half-circle shaped dead end street with perhaps 12 houses along the curve. The only people who turn onto the street are those who live there, and they drive very slowly knowing that children are likely outside playing.

 

   After about 15 minutes I decided to return to the main road and its sidewalk.   Being in no hurry, I stood at the corner looking at some pretty landscaping while my grandson gleefully watched several squirrels scampering about.

 

 Normally we would have been way down the main street, the cul-de-sac behind us, however my idling allowed me to see the speeding car that suddenly turned left onto the cul-de-sac. I thought it odd that someone living on the street would go so fast. However it became obvious that the driver did not belong there for he zoomed out seconds later. I am still puzzled as to why he turned onto an obvious dead-end street.

 

            A heart-stopping awareness exploded throughout me. Ten minutes earlier, my grandson had been happily riding his little bike up and down this quiet street with its non-existent, mid-day traffic. This speeding car had come from nowhere, entered the street for no apparent reason, did a screeching about-face and roared out of there. Had we still been there, it is very likely he would have hit us.

 

But it was a non-event – not even a close call. We had left many minutes earlier, and had I not lingered but continued on our walk, I wouldn’t have even been aware of it.

 

We exist because of Hashem’s Will. And when sadly someone no longer exists, it too is because of His Will. G-d has His plan either way, whether we understand it or not, whether we like it or not.

 

            Our “job” is to accept that what is meant to be will be, instead of tormenting ourselves with endless thoughts of “if only.” To blame yourself for a mishap with tragic consequences is the epitome of arrogance. You are not the Supreme Controller of the universe. You were merely G-d’s tool.

 

 Ironically, “blaming” G-d is an act of supreme faith. You are acknowledging that He is the Master of all things. Every bracha you make is an act of hakarat hatov – you attribute everything good in your life to Hashem. Likewise everything that you, as a limited human being, consider bad alsocomes from Him.

 

             We are exhorted to believe “gam zoh le’tova” – that what we consider a disaster or tragedy is actually a good thing. And though it might be very, very difficult to absorb that notion, we must have the bitachon that one day it will be obvious to us too.

 

             There is the story of a rabbi who asked a beloved student who was dying to present some troubling questions to G-d. Three days after his passing, the student came to his rabbiin a dream. The rabbiasked the boy if he had gotten any answers to his questions. The student told him that the questions were too ridiculous to ask.

 

             No doubt Mosiach will bring a similar awareness. Until then, have faith.

Q & A: Sinat Chinam Destroyed Our House

Wednesday, September 3rd, 2003

QUESTION: Our Sages strongly condemned sinat chinam – yet at times, good resulted from it. For example, when the sons of Yaakov went down to Egypt many years after selling their brother, they were treated royally.

Shlomo Feivelson
Coconut Creek, FL

ANSWER: Your point is indeed well taken, for would it not have been for sinat chinam - the unwarranted hatred – that the tribes felt and translated into deed, the events that followed would not have unfolded. Indeed as we mourn the destruction of our Beit Hamikdash it is relevant that we cull from an earlier discussion.Sinat chinam has as its source the verse in Parashat Kedoshim (Leviticus 19:18) that contains the commandment starting with the injunction, “Lo tikom velo titor et bnei amecha – You shall not take revenge and you shall not bear a grudge against the members of your people.” We are not only told not to take revenge, i.e., not to retaliate in deed for the bad that was done to us, but we are admonished not to bear a grudge, whether expressed in words or as thoughts, even as we are engaged in doing good. The verse then continues with the phrase, “You shall love your fellow as yourself,” and concludes with the words, “Ani Hashem,” “I am the L-rd.”

Thus we see that the Torah itself places the concept of love of one’s fellowman on par with the fear of G-d. Rashi (ibid.) cites Rabbi Akiva’s comment: Amar Rabbi Akiva, Zeh kelal gadol baTorah. Rabbi Akiva says that this – loving your fellow as yourself ? is a fundamental principle in the Torah. This saying of R. Akiva is also quoted in the Babylonian Talmud (Nedarim 9:4) as well as in the Midrash (Bereishit Rabbah 24,7). The Midrash refers to R. Akiva’s saying in connection with the creation of Adam, who was made in the image of G-d.

The Talmud (Shabbat 31a) relates the incident of a heathen who wished to convert. He first approached the sage Shammai and said to him: Make me a proselyte, on condition that you teach me the whole Torah while I stand on one foot. Shammai rejected him. The heathen then approached the sage Hillel with the same request, and Hillel told him, “De’alach snei, lechav’rach la ta’aveid; zohi kol haTorah kulah, ve’idach peirushah hu; zil gemor – What is hateful to you do not do to your fellowman: that is the whole Torah, while the rest is the commentary thereof; go and learn it.” We have to learn from this principle and apply it to the entire Torah. We infer from this episode that Hillel met with great success in regard to this proselyte as well as other proselytes, especially in light of the complete text of the Gemara (ibid.), which praises Hillel’s infinite patience.

A related concept in the Talmud is the statement (Shevu’ot 39a), “Kol Yisrael areivin zeh bazeh,” all Jews are guarantors one for another. This statement is preceded by a debate concerning the seriousness of the sin of taking G-d’s name in vain, i.e., swearing falsely, which is weighed as equivalent to all the other transgressions in the Torah, and the question whether the person committing the sin is punished alone or the whole world [of Israel] is punished along with him. The Gemara concludes that for any transgression – not only taking G-d’s name in vain – the sinner and all the other members of the nation of Israel are punished because Jews are responsible for one another, “Kol Yisrael areivin zeh bazeh.” They should therefore have done everything possible to prevent the wrongdoing.

My uncle Harav Sholom Klass, zt”l, explains that Yaakov’s sons not only should have been punished, but they should have been rebuked as well.

Yet when the brothers encounter Yosef (Genesis 45:3-15), their meeting ends in heartwarming tears and embraces and the brothers are given the very treatment that normally would have been reserved for royalty in Egypt.

Indeed, what the brothers did was wrong and they should have been punished, but it was the reaction of Yosef - ahavat chinam – that replaced punishment with reward. My uncle explains that ahavat chinam far outweighs sinat chinam.

Thus we see that no man is an island unto himself, but we are part of one entity. We must love one another just as we love our own limbs and organs, for we are indeed connected like the various limbs of one body. In retrospect, we realize that it was sinat chinam, unfounded hatred, that brought about the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash in Jerusalem. The antidote, ahavat chinam (gratuitous love) or better yet, ahavat Yisrael, love of all of Israel, will deliver us from our long exile and prepare the arrival of Melech HaMashiach, who will rebuild our Holy Temple speedily, in our days.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/judaism/ask-the-rabbi/q-a-sinat-chinam-destroyed-our-house/2003/09/03/

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