Sometimes the most obscure of arguments can teach the greatest of lessons. That Rabbi Eliezer’s “proofs” from heaven were rejected because “Torah is not in heaven” is relatively well known (Bava Metzia 59b). Less well known is that this powerful story is the result of a dispute regarding the purity of an oven, “the oven of Achnai”, that was broken and put back together. This debate took place years after the Temple had been destroyed, rendering the entire debate totally irrelevant—at least from a practical point of view.
Rabbi Jay Kelman's blog
The major theme of sefer Vayikra is, arguably, that of tumah and taharah, purity and impurity. When one reads the Torah, one senses what seems almost an obsession with this topic. If one happens to violate the special sanctity of the Temple, or of sacrifices, or even of the camp of Israel, the penalties are severe and harsh.
It is not uncommon to hear people define a mitzvah as a “good deed”. And there is little doubt that many mitzvot are, in fact, very good deeds. Yet as the Hebrew word indicates, a mitzvah means “a command”. Yet like all translations, the word “command” does not quite capture the definition of a mitzvah. Whereas a command implies something we must do, there are many mitzvot that are obligatory only if we find ourselves in a given situation.
Commenting on the Torah's charge "to be holy, since I the Lord your G-d am holy" (Vayikra, 19:2) the Ramban explains that it is not enough to keep the laws of the Torah. One can do so meticulously and still be a "scoundrel with the permission of the Torah". Torah law gives us a framework for life, but one who so desires can technically stay within that framework while nonetheless violating the basic goals of the Torah. What we often call the spirit of the law—observing the intent of the law and not just its letter—is the mark of holiness.
The period of sefirat haomer has undergone great transformation over the ages. In the Torah itself, it links the korban haomer brought on the second day of Pesach with the korban shtei halechem brought on Shavuot, thereby connecting the barley and wheat harvests. Each day of the grain harvest season was an opportunity to express gratitude to our Creator.
For those who write divrei Torah, the next few months will be a bit challenging and will demonstrate our geographical frame of reference. That is because for the next three months, until parshiot Mattot and Massei are read in the Diaspora on the 9th of Av, 5779—or, if you prefer, August 10, 2019—we Jews who live outside of Israel will be one parsha behind our Israeli brethren.
“Speak to the people of Israel, and say to them, ‘I am the Lord your G-d: Do not follow the ways of Egypt where you once lived, nor of Canaan where I will be bringing you’” (Vayikra 18:1-2). With this verse, the Torah introduces what we might call Jewish sexual ethics. The parameters of incest, the laws of family purity, the prohibitions of adultery, homosexuality, and bestiality are all mentioned here. What does all this have to do with Egypt and Canaan?
Amongst the many wonderful opportunities and challenges wrought by the return of the Jewish people to the land of Israel is that of running our own State. No longer need Judaism be truncated, focusing on the ritual and individualist aspects of religion. Rather, for the first time in close to 2,000 years issues with which every other nation must deal with have suddenly become issues that the Jewish people can and must grapple with.
The privileges and obligations of the firstborn are a major theme of Pesach. Most famously, the proximate cause of the Exodus was makat bechorot, the death of the firstborn Egyptians. Pesach gets its name because G-d pasach, passed over, our homes as He smote the Egyptians. It is in appreciation and recognition of being saved from the fate of their Egyptian counterparts that the custom of ta’anit bechorim, the fast of the firstborn, developed.
As we all know too well, there is often a gap between the ideal and reality. In trying to implement our goals, we all too often fall prey to conflict, apathy, inertia and reality. The Jewish people faced this same problem as they approached the sea. Behind them was the advancing Egyptian army with its mighty chariots; in front of them was a foreboding sea. Yet their miraculous escape from the most powerful country on earth seemed to have finally convinced them that G-d surely would protect them.