Parsha Thoughts: Rabbi Jay Kelman

Tetzaveh: Clothes Make the Man

The billions of dollars spent by the fashion industry, not to mention the celebrity status of fashion gurus, testify to the importance attached to proper dress by modern society. It may come as a surprise that Judaism also stresses the importance of clothing, well beyond aspects of modesty. The Rambam (Hilchot Deot 5:9) stresses the importance of wearing clean, even fashionable clothing, and warns against wearing dirty or unkempt clothing.

Yitro: Yes and No

Vayedaber Hashem el Moshe lei'mor is the most commonly occurring verse of the Bible. While it is usually translated as, “G-d spoke to Moshe, saying”, our rabbis saw additional meaning in the word lei'mor. If it only meant “saying”, then it would be superfluous; if the Torah tells us that G-d spoke to Moshe, then surely something was said.

Beshalach: Great Expectations

Throughout the Exodus story, the Jewish people are silent. We do not know what they were thinking or doing during the plagues. We hear them rejoicing when Moshe first arrives with the message of redemption (Shemot 4:31), and complaining when his initial meeting with Pharaoh ends with an even more onerous slavery. But that is all we hear of them until just before the 10th plague when, to be worthy of redemption, the people were commanded to slaughter a sheep and place its blood on the doorpost. Yet the actual voices of the Jewish people remain silent until they have left Egypt.

VaEra: The Sons of Korach

The initial meeting between Moshe and Pharaoh did not go well. The workload placed on the poor Jewish slaves was increased, and more importantly, the people's morale was shattered. Whereas initially, "the people believed, and they heard that G-d had remembered the people of Israel" (Shemot 4:31), as conditions worsened, "they did not listen to Moshe from shortness of breath and hard work" (Shemot 6:9).

Shemot: No Thank You

“And Moshe was frightened and he said, behold the incident is known. And Pharaoh heard about the affair and he sought to kill Moshe” (Shemot 2:14-15). How did Moshe's killing of an Egyptian become public knowledge? Did not Moshe “look this way and that way” and see “that there was no man” (Shemot 2:12)? While it is possible that Moshe simply failed to notice some passing Egyptian, such an interpretation seems highly unlikely. If the Torah tells us that he looked and saw no one, it is most likely that there was no one to see.

Vayechi: The Inconsistent Truth

"And they said, should they make our sister like a harlot?" (Breisheet 34:31). So ends round one of the debate between Yaakov on one side, and Shimon and Levi on the other, over the killing of the people of Shechem for the rape of Dinah. The Torah moves on to record Yaakov's return to Beit El as the family enters a new phase in their travels. It is on Yaakov's deathbed that we hear his response: "Shimon and Levi, the tools of violence are in their hands...in their anger they killed men" (Breisheet 49:5-6).

VaYigash: Looking Ahead

Since the time of Joseph, infighting has been the Achilles heel of the Jewish people, causing untold pain, suffering and national calamity. So much of our collective energies are wasted on disagreements with others; many of them are so trivial when viewed from the perspective of history. The schisms of the 19th century, caused to a large extent by such topics as sermons in the vernacular or the placement of the bimah in a shul, are being felt today in ways that many are not even aware of.

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