Parsha Thoughts: Rabbi Jay Kelman

Shoftim: Enabling Evil

Evil does not exist in a vacuum. A culture is needed for evil to be nurtured, in which it can grow and develop. And when that happens, aveirah gorreret aveirah; one misdeed leads to another, greater sin. Perpetrators of corporate wrongdoing do not begin by defrauding shareholders of billions of dollars. Rather, they might begin with a little plagiarism in college, and some padding of a resume. They may then move on to borrow office supplies for personal use, to fail to declare some income, and then on to some misleading advertising.

Devarim: Where is the Temple?

Each one of the five books of the Chumash has a unique central theme, be it the choosing of the Jewish nation, redemption, Torat kohanim or missed opportunities. A perusal of Sefer Devarim, both its law and narrative, will quickly reveal that the main message of this last book of Chumash is Moshe Rabbeinu preparing his beloved people for entry into the land of Israel - finally. 

Pinchas: Not Fit for Leadership

“Pinchas, the son of Elazar, the son of Aaron the priest was the one who so zealously took up My cause among the Israelites, and turned My anger away from them” (Bamidbar 25:10). Whereas normally, the Torah identifies a person with their father’s name, in this instance, the Torah emphasizes the fact that Pinchas was the grandson not just of Aaron, but of Aaron the priest.

Balak: Reality Test

In a world in which image and marketing play such a crucial role, perception is often more important than reality. In fact, perception often creates reality—beginning with our perception of what is happening around us. “And Balak, the son of Tzippor, saw all the Israel had done to the Amorites”. Balak became nervous and joined forces with his traditional archenemy, Midian (see Rashi 22:4), in order to try and stop the march of the Jewish people.

Chukat: Time to Talk

Parshat Chukat marks the transition from the generation that left Egypt to the one that would enter the Land of Israel. This was a transition marked by death and thus, the Torah’s description of the laws of purity and impurity stemming from contact with death form the opening unit of the parsha. The leaders of the nation—Miriam, Aharon and Moshe—would not be spared the fate of the people and would also have to die in the desert. They would not see the fruits of their labour. Zot chukat haTorah, this is the decree of the Torah.

Korach: Holy and More Holy

The Torah was "edited" with great precision. Narrative and law are often intertwined; one sheds light on the other. While our tradition teaches that the entire corpus of Biblical Law was given at Sinai, many, if not most, of the laws are recorded in multiple places in the Torah, each instance of repetition adding nuances and shadings of meaning. The principle of ein mukdam umeuchar baTorah, events in the Torah are not necessarily chronological, reflects this notion.

Shelach Lecha: An Old Name

Of the twelve men sent to bring back a report about the land of Israel, only one of them—Yehoshua—has previously been mentioned in the Torah. During the war against Amalek, Yehoshua served as the commanding officer leading them into battle. This military experience would serve him well for his mission forty years later when he would lead the Jewish people in their conquest of the land of Israel. 

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