Parsha Thoughts: Rabbi Jay Kelman
A Jew is commanded to recite one hundred blessings each and every day (Menachot 43b). We need constant reminders to ensure that we recognize the blessings of G-d and to remind ourselves that in all of our actions we are to reflect the Divine image. While most of the brachot we make consist of man acknowledging G-d as the master of the world, the priestly blessings are an exception to this pattern. In this particular blessing the Torah commands man to bless his fellow man.
Our attitude towards Torah is a most fickle one. On the one hand, we demonstrated great faith in following Moshe into a barren desert; it's a story we recount as we plead for G-d's mercy on Rosh Hashanah. On the other hand, we complained at every turn in that same desert. We jumped at the opportunity to accept the Torah, instinctively declaring "Na'aseh v'nishma," yet 40 days later, we were dancing around a golden calf.
Sefer Bamidbar opens with names and numbers, a theme that continues throughout the book; hence its name, Chumash Pekudim, the book of counting. Apparently, names are much more than mere identifiers. A name represents the essence of a person. "In the merit of not changing our names were we redeemed from Egypt", claims the Midrash.
Twice a year, before Shavuot and Rosh Hashana, we read the tochecha, the list of dire consequences that will, G-d forbid, befall the Jewish people if they do not follow the chukim and mitzvot of the Torah. Panic, economic ruin, cannibalism, death, destruction and exile are spelled out in vivid detail. While we are told that we must, in general, follow the chukim and mitzvot, surprisingly, the Torah tells us very little about exactly which horrible sins will cause such bloodcurdling consequences.
The Torah was wary of the employer-employee relationship. Almost by definition, an employee is not much different than a slave; both are told what to do, when to do it and how it is to be done. “For [all of] you are slaves unto Me”. As our Sages teach, we are not meant to be slaves of slaves.
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.
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.
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?