Sedra Shorts

Ideas and commentaries on the weekly Torah readings.

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Location: Bet Shemesh, Israel

I taught Tanach in Immanuel College, London and in Hartman, Jerusalem. I was also an ATID fellow for 2 years. At present, I work for the Lookstein Center for Jewish Education in the Diaspora, in Bar-Ilan University, Israel. The purpose of this blog is to provide "sedra-shorts", short interesting ideas on the weekly Torah reading. Please feel free to use them and to send me your comments.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Parshat Achrei-Kedoshim

Molech Worship

In both this week's parshiyot, the Torah warns us about Molech worship:

"You shall not allow any of your offspring to pass through for Molech. You shall not profane the Name of your God. I am the Lord" (VaYikra 18:21).

"Any man of the children of Israel or of the strangers who sojourn among Israel, who gives any of his offspring to Molech…" (ibid 20:2).

How and why would a person want to "pass through" their children to Molec.

It is not clear, but the concept of "passing through" occurs again after the war with Midian. Israel captured much bounty, but it was impure. The bounty needed purification. The purification process is explained: "whatever is used in fire you shall pass through fire and then it will be clean" (Bemidbar 31:23).

It seems that the "passing through" was passing through fire, as is confirmed in Devarim: "There shall not be found among you anyone who passes his son or daughter through fire" (Devarim 18:10).

From the example in Bemidbar it appears that passing through fire is as purification process, as the process purified the metal tools allowing them to be used.

It seems that people believed that they could also purify themselves by putting their children through fire, as the prophet Yechezkel decries: "Their sons…they have also set apart unto them to be devoured…For when they had slain their children to their idols" (Yechezkel 23:37-39).

In extreme cases, such as that brought in Yechezkel above, people would actually slaughter their own children, while in others, they would simply pass their children over burning coals in a similar manner and purpose as the Hindu firewalkers.

However, the Torah teaches that rather than purifying themselves this behaviour defiles the name of the Lord God and they desecrate His sanctuary.

Last years' Sedra Short on Parshat Acharei-Kedoshim, entitled: "The Gathering" appears at

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Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Parshat Tazria – Metzora

Seven Followed by Eight

In this week's parshiyot we have the concept of the number seven being surpassed by the number eight.

When a woman gives birth to a son we are told that: "she shall be unclean for seven days…and on the eighth day, the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised" (VaYikra 12:2-3).

Later on we are told that the person afflicted with tsaraat: "that on the seventh day, he shall shave off all his hair... He shall then immerse his garments and immerse his flesh in water, thus becoming clean. On the eighth day, he shall take two unblemished [male] lambs…(ibid 14:9-10).

The same concept applies to both men and women who have a discharge that renders them unclean: "He shall count seven days for himself for his purification, and then immerse his garments and immerse his flesh in spring water, and he shall be clean. On the eighth day, he shall take for himself two turtle doves or two young doves, and come before the Lord" (ibid 15:13-14) and "she shall count for herself seven days, and after this, she may be cleansed. on the eighth day, she shall take for herself two turtle doves or two young doves, and bring them to the kohen, to the entrance of the Tent of Meeting" (ibid 28-29).

This concept also appears in the previous parshiyot. Moshe taught Aharon and his sons how to perform the service of the Mishkan for seven days. On the eighth day, Aharon performed the service and only then did the spirit of the Lord rest on the Mishkan (See ibid Ch. 8-9).

The concept appears again in chapter 23 concerning Sukkot and Shemini Atzeret: "a seven day period, you shall bring a fire offering to the Lord. On the eighth day, it shall be a holy occasion for you, and you shall bring a fire offering to the Lord" (ibid 36).

And again concerning the Jubilee year: "You shall count for yourself seven sabbatical years, seven years seven times…and you shall sanctify the fiftieth year" (ibid 25:8:10) - the fiftieth year being the next year after the seven cycles. Finally the concept also appears with concept of the counting of the Omer, with Shavuot, the festival that falls after the seven weeks of counting that began in Pesach, implying that Shavuot is the "eight" day after Pesach, in the same way that Shemini Atzeret is the eight day after Sukkot. Indeed both festivals have same name: "Shmini Atzeret" and "Chag HaAtzeret" – both being festivals of "closing".

In order to understand this concept we need to examine the first seven and eight that appear in the Torah.

Firstly we have the seven days of creation (Bereshit Ch. 1) and then the Brit Milla, the circumcision of the eighth day (ibid 17:12).

God created the world and it continues in its natural state. However, in order to approach and have a relationship with God we need to find a spiritual dimension that goes beyond the natural. At the circumcision God promises Avraham that he "will be for you a God" (ibid 7). It represents a new beginning for humanity.

So too, the impure. During their state of impurity they cannot approach the Mishakan. However on the eight day, they are required to bring a sacrifice and approach Him. This represents a new dimension or a renewal of their relationship with God.

The holidays are natural harvest festivals; however, a proper celebration of them allows us to strengthen our relationship with God. While the Jubilee year is sanctified with all slaves becoming free and all land returning to their previous owners, once again allowing for re-birth.

The days of the omer are there part of the process of re-building our relationship with God and we should take that time to prepare for the festival of Shavuot.

Perhaps it is also appropriate the Yom Haatzmaut falls in this period as it is acts as the preparation for the final redemption.

Last years' Sedra Short on Parshat Tazria-Metzora, entitled: "The Sin-Offering of the Mother" appears at

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Friday, April 13, 2007

Parshat Shemini

Aharon's Four Sons

Aharon had two sets of sons: The older two, Nadav and Avihu; and the younger two, Elazar and Itamar.

Both sets do something wrong in this week's parsha. In the first instance, Nadav and Avihu die and Aharon is silent, in the second, Aharon rersponds to Moshe's rebuke, ans the sons go unpunished.

Let us examine the two cases.

In the first case Nadav and Avihu take coals and incense which: "which He had not commanded them. Fire went out from before the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord" (VaYikra 10: 1-2). Moshe confronts Aharon with a somewhat cryptic statement "and Aharon was silent" (ibid 3).

In the second instance, Moshe had previously warned the priests not make the same mistake as Nadav and Avihu. They were to to be very careful in the service of God, "to distinguish between holy and profane and between unclean and clean" (ibid 10). They were to stick rigidly to the letter of the law so that they would not die, when working in the Mishkan, a very dangerous place. Moshe told them that the "whole house of Israel would mourn" their loss, but that they were not to mourn and to continue with the worship (ibid 6).

Moshe is therefore furious (notice the use of the root קצפ to describe Moshe's anger) when he "investigated concerning the sin offering he goat", i.e. the sin offering of the people, that "it had been burnt" as opposed to being eaten (ibid 16).

Moshe is concerned that as a result of not doing Israel's sins offering properly, the people had not attained atonement for previous sins. With the spirit of God now resting on the Mishkan and residing amongst the people, there was a real danger that the anger of the Lord would burn (notice again the root קצפ in passuk 6) and literally, burn the people as he had burnt Nadav and Avihu.

In this instance however, Aharon is not silent, defending them from Moshe's anger. Aharon explains that he (and his sons) had previously sacrificed his own personal sin offering (the calf – see ibid 9:2 and 8-11) and tragic "events such as these happened to me. Is it then fitting in the eyes of the Lord for me to eat the sin offering today?!" (ibid 10:19).

It is not easy to understand Aharon's defence, but examining it will perhaps help us explain why the first set of sons did wrong and were punished and in the second case the other set did wrong and were not punished?

Suffice it to say that Elazar and Itamar's concern seems to be that of the people, unlike Nadav and Avihu who seem to operated totally on their own initiative. Elazar and Itamar and Aharon seem to be concerned that their sin offering was not accepted, for how then could have Nadav and Avihu died. Their deaths occurred despite the fact that they had just offered their own personal sin offering. How was it therefore possible for them to eat the sin offering of the people and be the vehicle for Israel's forgiveness, when it seems that their own sin offering went unanswered? Surely it was therefore, better for them to burn the whole sin offering. Let God partake of the people sin's offering, for they, Elazar and Itamar, were unworthy.

Last years' Sedra Short on Parshat Shemini, entitled: "How They Died" appears at

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