Sedra Shorts

Ideas and commentaries on the weekly Torah readings.

My Photo
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.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Parshat Shmini

Aharon's Shame

It's the eighth day of the consecration of the Mishkan. There have been seven days of practice runs, with Moshe setting it up and performing the service (See VaYikra Ch. 8). However, this eighth day is to be its official opening, with Aharon running the proceedings. Moshe tells the expectant people who have all gathered: "The glory of the Lord will appear to you" (VaYikra 9:6).

However, Aharon seems a little hesitant. "Moses said to Aaron, "Approach the altar…So Aaron approached the altar" (ibid 7-8).

Rashi explains that "Aharon was ashamed and was scared to go forward" (Rashi on ibid) so Moshe needed to reassure and encourage him. The Ramban says that when Aharon saw the altar he actually saw the image of a bull (Ramban on ibid).

What is Aharon so unsure about?

In order to answer this question, we must first appreciate the day's tension. Israel has been building the Mishkan for six months. The whole purpose of the Miskan was so that God will "dwell amongst them" (Shemot 25:8). This is the day on which they will discover whether their hard work and sacrifice will come to fruition. Will God's presence actually rest on the Mishkan, or will it be an empty shell, signifying that God is not with them.

The man they all look towards is the high priest, Aharon. Yet Aharon has good reason to doubt himself. The previous time he acted as the people's mediator to God ended in disaster as he built the Golden Calf (ibid 32:5).

And now everywhere he goes, he is having flashbacks. Moshe tells Aharon that as his first act as high priest on that eight day is to "take for yourself a bull calf as a sin offering" (VaYikra 9:2).

While sin offerings are normally female sheep or goats, in this instance, Aharon must take a young calf. Rashi explains that is to show that he has been forgiven for the golden calf. However, for Aharon it is a reminder of his sin and rather than seeing that the positive, he sees the altar as an image of a calf. He asks himself whether he really is forgiven. Perhaps the gold on his clothing is another reminder.

However, Moshe reassures him: "Approach the altar and perform your sin offering and your burnt offering, atoning for yourself and for the people, and perform the people's sacrifice, atoning for them, as the Lord has commanded" (ibid 7).

Note how Moshe says: "atoning for yourself and for the people" and then just "perform the people's sacrifice, atoning for them". Moshe tells Aharon to bring the sin offering for you and the people, for the sin of the Golden Calf, but in reality, it is only the people that need atoning, his actions needed no atoning.

Indeed Aharon was vindicated: "fire went forth from before the Lord and consumed the burnt offering and the fats upon the altar, and all the people saw, sang praises, and fell upon their faces" (ibid 24).

Last year's Sedra Short on Parshat Shemini, entitled: "Aharon's Four Sons" appears at

Another Sedra Short on Parshat Shemini, entitled: "How They Died" appears at

Labels: , , , , ,

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Parshat Tzav

More on Sacrifices and Offerings

This week's parsha is pretty similar to last week's. Not only do they discuss how the sacrifices, they discuss exactly the same sacrifices! Whether they be burnt offerings, sin offerings or peace offerings, all are repeated in this week's parsha.


The answer lies in the second passuk of each parsha.

VaYikra begins with: "When a man from [among] you brings a sacrifice to the Lord…" (VaYikra 1:2).

While Tzav begins with: "Command Aaron and his sons, saying, This is the law of the burnt offering…" (ibid 6:2).

The essential difference between these two parshiyot are the words "when" and "command".

Parshat VaYikra begins with the word "When". Essentially, no obligation is placed on the individual to bring a sacrifice. Yet, when a person feels the urge to bring a korban, he has a list of alternatives to choose from.

However, Tzav begins with "command". If no one feels the urge to bring korbanot to God, the priests still have an obligation to bring them.

Once again, we are faced with the need to worship God from inner desire and the ritual obligations of worship that are incumbent on all Jews.

That is the way the world is. There are moments when we eel the inner motive to do what is right. However, often we neglect our duties and obligations, necessitating rules and ceremonies to regulate us to ensure that we do what is right.

The challenge for the Jew is to take the extremes of these two parshiyot and to synthesize our essence to make our duties and obligations into inner felt desires.

Last year's Sedra Short on Parshat VaYikra, entitled: "The Korban Todah and Chametz" appears at

Another Sedra Short on Tzav entitled Understanding Karet" appears at

Labels: , , ,

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Parshat VaYikra,

Sacrifice and Offering

The Rabbis call Sefer Vayikra the Laws of Priests. Indeed, most of Sefer VaYikra is a priestly book, dealing with the subject attaining holiness, purifying impurities and the cleansing of sin. To be sure, Sefer VaYikra lists ritual upon ritual, which are mostly animal sacrifices, on how Israel can attain this level of holiness.

The modern world, including myself, finds it difficult to understand how the sacrificing of animals, the sprinkling of their blood and the smoldering of their ashes could possibly accomplish these goals.

We will try to understand this another time.

For now, let's try to understand the concept of the korbannot. Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch explains that we normally use two words to translate korban: Sacrifice and Offering.

These words are antonyms.

A sacrifice is done unwillingly, when one has no choice, while an offering is given willingly, with an open heart. There actually two types of sacrifices, some are requirements, sacrifices; while others are voluntary, offerings.

Both types of kobanot, nevertheless, have the same purpose, that is, to bring the sacrificer / offerer, closer to God.

Indeed, as Rabbi Hirsch explains that is the actual meaning of the words: korban. It comes from the Hebrew root, krv (קרב), which means: to come close.

We aim to come closer to God. Judaism is an organized religion that can help us to achieve that goal. Its rituals are considered practices to help us achieve that. The problem is that the rituals become routine and we therefore, sometime miss the point.

Our challenge is to turn our obligations into offerings.

Through uniting our sacrifices and our offerings we create a korban and turn our rituals into meaningful ceremonies that can bring us closer to God.

Last year's Sedra Short on Parshat VaYikra, entitled: "Korbanot, Honey and Chametz" appears at

Another Sedra Short on Parshat VaYikra, entitled: "Moshe's Calling" appears at

Labels: , ,

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Parshat Pekudei

The Cost of the Mishkan

"All the gold that had been used for the work in all the work of the Holy the gold of the waving was twenty nine talents, seven hundred and thirty shekels, according to the holy shekel" (Shemot 38:24).

In one of favorite all time comments, Chief Rabbi Hertz estimates that the Mishkan cost £170,000 – today one would have trouble finding accommodation in any western capital with that sum.

The Sephorno points out the beauty of the Mishkan was diminished in relation to the First Temple, which was even further diminished by Herod's Temple.

Indeed, we know that chef wood used to make the Mishkan was acacia wood, while Solomon's Temple was crafted with Lebanon's finest cedar wood. Those who have visited the Negev desert, will note that the acacia tree is not an exceptionally fine tree. Nevertheless, that is what ancient Israel had available, so that as what they used.

Nonetheless, what the Mishkan lacked in wealth in splendor, it had spirituality and God's presence in abundance.

"For the cloud of the Lord was upon the Mishkan by day, and there was fire within it at night" (ibid 40:38). God's presence never left the Mishkan; His glory filled the Mishkan throughout.

This is in contradistinction to Solomon's Temple that fell into disrepair in Hezekiah's day and needed to be repaired and Herod's Temple that lacked the Aron HaKodesh (Holy Ark) and other important vessels.

Furthermore, while the Temples were both destroyed, the Mishkan never was.

What was it that made the Mishkan unique?

The answer lies in this week's parsha:

"These are the numbers of the Mishkan, the Mishkan of the Testimony, which were counted at Moses' command (ibid 38:21)

"they made … the Lord had commanded Moshe" (ibid 39:1 + a further 9 times).

"Now they brought the Mishkan to Moshe…Moses saw the entire work, and lo! they had done it-as the Lord had commanded, so had they done. So Moses blessed them" (ibid 33-43).

There was complete transparency in everything that Moshe did. All the gold, silver, metals and other items were accounted for. All the work was inspected and checked to see that it was done correctly and lo and behold, everything was done to the letter according to the word of God.
Moshe did not hide any of riches that were collected nor did he feel that he did not need to account to the people for all the resources they spent.

Moshe understood that he was dealing with public money. Therefore, he had a duty to ensure that all of it was used correctly, and that the workers had abused their position. He therefore, made an inventory of every item used.
Moshe understood that the Mishkan was not for his aggrandizement for his glory. Moshe recognized that the Mishkan wa for the glory of God. Abusing the glory it

Labels: , ,