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Laughing at Foxes - the End (of Massechet Makkot)

The end of Massechet Makkot, the end of larger single Massechet of old, a 14-chapter Sandhedrin which incorporated Makkot. So much focus on punishment, pain,  death and excision, despite the Messianic outburst of Perek Chelek, that Chazal in the final Mishnah feel it necessary to express the other side: mere lashings can remove the punishment of excision for eternity; if Hashem rewards those who merely abide by their natural abhorrence of ingesting blood, how much more will Hashem reward those who stay their natural urges; Hashem wanted to give us manifold opportunities to gain spiritual merit, THAT’S why He gave us so many mitzvot, not in order to make punishment and failure unavoidable, G-d forbid.
And yet.. the Sages walk in the heart of Hashem’s land, His covenanted people broken and scattered, the city of eternity in ruins… do they hear their own encouragements, do they steer clear of anguish and despair?
For a moment, it seems not: they see a fox emerge from the wreckage of the…
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Grow with the Flow

Is a blessing a curse? What happens to people who are showered with goodness? Are we hard-wired to take things for granted and act out of a finally realized state of entitlement?
In this last week’s parashah (Vayelech), Hashem has Moshe tell the people to write down this song (Ha’azinu, this next week’s parashah) to serve as a warning and testimony regarding the anticipating turning away from G-d which will follow upon Moshe’s passing.  “For I will bring them to the land which I have sworn to their forebears, flowing with milk and honey, and they will eat and become satiated and grow fat and they will turn to other gods and serve them and scorn Me and abrogate My covenant.”
It is tempting to fit this verse into the time-worn theme, expressed at length in the second paragraph of the Shema, and encapsulated by three words from the upcoming parashah: “Jeshurun grew fat and kicked” (Devarim 32:15). Growing fat, satiated, complacent is inextricably bound up with corruption, indulgence, se…

Death De-feeted

Rav Kook speaks of transcending death in a number of places. Several of his teachings are gathered in Orot Hakodesh (pp. 381-384), vol. 2. One piece in particular, also published in Shmoneh Kevatzim (1:486), is an extended treatment, which focuses on freeing oneself from the fear of death. It's an exhiliarating piece, laying out the course of the transition to a point where the scholarly question, "Did Rav Kook believe that death will be defeated, or was he saying that it won't concern us" is left far behind.

Toward the end of this piece, he discusses how humanity will reach that point. He says the necessary preparation cannot be achieved by an individual, but only by a holy people, chosen long ago for this priestly role, so devoted to the transcendent G-d in the entirety of their beings that they are commanded to leave no trace of death on their lived lives, and to remove its terror and psychic impact entirely, opening the path for the founding of a culture which ra…

The Emergence of Hillel

A thought, may it be a merit for the memory of R. Sholom Brodt, z"l: A pair of parallel famous stories regarding Hillel the Elder are related in Vayikra Rabba (Parashat Behar), the first of which is much better known than the second. “A lovingkind man benefits his life/soul …” (Mishlei 11:17) - this refers to Hillel the Elder, for when he took leave of his students, he would walk along with them. They asked him, “our master, to where are you going?”. “To do a mitzvah”, he responded. “What mitzvah might that be?”, they asked. “To bathe in the bathhouse”, he replied. “Is that a mitzvah?”, they challenged. “If regarding the (idolatrous) statue of the king which they place in theatres and circuses – the one who is appointed to care for them washes them and scrubs them and they pay him a salary and, further, his status is elevated amongst those close to the king, then I, who was created in the image and likeness, as it is written, “for in the image of G-d did He create man” (Bereshit…

The Standing of Stand-out and Stand-in

There has been much written about why the particular sets of tribes are stationed on Mt. Gerizim and Mt. Eival for the blessings and curses. None of the approaches suggested have been generally accepted. Here's my take. I assume that the selection must be fairly straightforward and comprehensible based only on the preceding narrative in the Torah. What we find here is that all the tribes assigned to the blessing are "l'chatchila" sons (exception noted and explained below). That is, they are not sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, who were born only due to attempts to manipulate "fate" on the part of Rachel and Leah. They also are not sons of the second round of Leah's childbearing, initiated by the mandrakes. Shim'on, Levi, Yehudah, Yosef and Binyamin are all conceived in accordance with Hashem's will (and thus, blessing), without any manipulation. Believing that you can tamper with Hashem's will borders on idolatry (we won't get into the questio…

Breath the Air

Bava Batra 158b A house falls upon a mother and son, rachmana litzlan, the woman’s heirs claim, “he died first, then she died, so we inherit her property”; the man/boy’s heirs claim, “she died first, then he died, so we inherit her property”. Although in previous similar cases (a man and his son, a husband and wife) Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel disagreed as to who gets the property, with Beit Shammai ruling that the groups of heirs split it, and Beit Hillel ruling that the property remains in the presumptive possession of whoever's hands it was in previously – HERE, the anonymous first opinion of the Mishnah claims that Beit Hillel concedes to Beit Shammai’s position. Rabbi Akiva, however, says that, no, also here, Beit Hillel disputed with Beit Shammai and maintained their position. Ben Azzai observes to Rabbi Akiva “we are dismayed over the previous disputes, and you come to foment dispute where there is (a report of) agreement? The Gemara then takes up Rabbi Akiva’s position and …

The Mechitza on the Mizbeach

Usually, the division of the aliyot in a parashah, while driven by a number of factors, is decided by where it ends. There is a fairly iron-clad principle to end an Aliyah on a positive note, and not on a negative note. This week’s parashah gives us plenty of opportunities to do so, since many of the sub-sections end on a positive note.
That being the case, one would think that the fifth aliyah would encompass all of the sin-offerings (Chatat), covered in Vaykra, chapter 4, while the sixth aliyah would open with the beginning chapter 5, which deals with the guilt-offerings (Asham). But, instead, the fifth aliyah ends with 4:26, leaving two last Chattat offerings to be read with the Asham offerings. Why? Here’s an idea: all the animals offered in the fifth aliyah as it stands are males, and all the animals offered in the sixth aliyah are females.
On the fifth and sixth days of creation, animals and humans - male and female - were created. When they sinned so egregiously that a flood w…