Connecting to Heritage

by Tzvi Fievel Schnee

B”H

Shiur for Ki Savo 5780

“That thou shalt take of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which thou shalt bring in from thy land that the L-RD thy G-d giveth thee; and thou shalt put it in a basket and shalt go unto the place which the L-RD thy G-d shall choose to cause His name to dwell there.”

– Deuteronomy 26:2, JPS 1917 Tanach

The first fruits (bikurim) from each person’s harvest, were to be brought to “the place that H’Shem your G-d will choose” after B’nei Yisrael entered the Land. Upon giving the bikurim to a Kohein, one of G-d’s representatives, a proclamation was made, by the giver, declaring a brief historical background, encapsulating the identity of the Children of Israel from humble origins:

“And thou shalt speak and say before the L-RD thy G-d: ‘A wandering Aramean was my father, and he went down into Egypt, and sojourned there, few in number; and he became there a nation, great, mighty, and populous.”

– Deuteronomy 26:5 , JPS 1917 Tanach

“My father, i.e. Yaakov, who was for a while a wandering lost person without a home of his own, was not at the time able to establish a nation deserving or fit to inherit this land.” – Sforno

Jacob, the father of the twelve tribes of Israel, began his endeavors to establish a family, and vocation, as a wandering Aramean, having left home to find a wife. Yet, he went out into the world without anything of value, nor even any gifts for his wife-to-be. After twenty years of working for Laban, he set out to his home country. From there, he and the seventy members of his family were called to go down to Egypt. The Children of Israel were enslaved, eventually freed, and received the Torah at Mount Sinai. Entering the Promised Land would be the culmination of the Exodus.

Upon entering the land, the show of gratitude, a deep appreciation of H’Shem, and the origins of a national identity were acknowleged. Today, we need to reconnect with our origins as children of H’Shem. Once we are able to acknowledge our heritage, so that we may identify with our past as a people, we may also become aware of the Inheritance that awaits us. “Men have not heard, nor perceived by the ear, neither hath the eye seen” (Isaiah 64:3). Regarding this verse, Rashi explains that while the sages note that the prophets only spoke in regard to the Messianic era, they were not able to speak of Olam Haba (Berachos 34a). What awaits us in Olam Haba is beyond description, imagination, or our greatest expectations.

Counting Sheep

B”H

Shiur for parashas Bamidbar (Numbers 1:1 – 4:20) 5780

“Take ye the sum of all the congregation of the children of Israel.”

– Numbers 1:2, JPS 1917 Tanach

“The literal translation of the above mentioned verse would be, ‘Lift up the head of the entire assembly.” This rendering has two potential meanings: that the people would be lifted up to a higher spiritual status or brought down by their own unworthiness. The phrase suggests either upliftment, if B’nei Yisrael were worthy in G-d’s eyes, or chastisement, if they were not acting in accordance with His expectations of them (Ramban).

The sages note that there were nine times recorded in the Tanach, whereupon a census was taken. According to their rendering of scripture, there will be a tenth census taken in the days of Moshiach. “The flocks again pass under the hands of him that counteth them, saith the L-RD” (Jeremiah 33:13, JPS 1917 Tanach). According to the rendering of this verse by the Targum Yonaton, the verse reads, “by the hand of Moshiach.”

The world is judged four times a year; the sages envision the judgment that occurs on Rosh HaShannah, as a census being taken, likened to counting sheep: “On Rosh HaShana all creatures pass before Him like sheep [benei maron], as it is stated: ‘He Who fashions their hearts alike, Who considers all their deeds’ (Psalms 33:15)” (Talmud, tractate Rosh HaShannah 16a, sefaria.org).

The mashal (parable) of counting the sheep also points towards the final judgment, when all of mankind will be judged. “For I [know] their works and their thoughts; [the time] cometh, that I will gather all nations and tongues; and they shall come, and shall see My glory” (Isaiah 66:18).

“Therefore will I save My flock, and they shall no more be a prey; and I will judge between cattle and cattle. And I will set up one shepherd over them, and he shall feed them, even My servant David; he shall feed them, and he shall be their shepherd. And I the L-RD will be their G-d, and My servant David prince among them” (Ezekiel 34:22-24, JPS 1917 Tanach).

parashas Bamidbar

Imatatio Dei

B”H

7 Iyar 5780

1 May 2020

Shiur for parashas Acharei-Mos – Kedoshim 5780

“Ye shall be holy, for I the L-RD your G-d am holy.”

  • Leviticus 19:2, JPS 1917 Tanach

We are created b’tzelem Elokim – in the image of G-d – as is written, “And God created man in His own image, in the image of God created He him; male and female created He them” (Genesis 1:27, JPS). We are to imitate G-d, in a sincere effort to live up to that image. In specific, we should focus our efforts on an attempt to approach His level of holiness, even if this may not be within our own power to do so.

Consider, Nadav and Abihu, who raised themselves up above their status as kohanim, sons of Aaron (see Leviticus 10:1-2). They did not recognize the boundaries placed before themselves and H’Shem. Therefore, they served as a negative example to maintain a high level of respect, awe, and reverence towards H’Shem, regardless of our calling to be like unto Him.

In parashas Kedoshim, H’Shem tells Moshe, “Speak unto all the congregation of the children of Israel, and say unto them: Ye shall be holy; for I the L-RD your G-d am holy” (Leviticus 19:2, JPS). A question may be asked, relevant to the theme of kedushah (holiness): how are we able to even approach the level of G-d’s holiness? Again, this is an ideal standard, that we are to simply set as our goal. Yet, it’s attainment is by no means simple, nor even possible without H’Shem at the helm of our ship, guiding our way upon the ocean of life.

Torah Highlight Vayishlach 5780

B”H

by Tzvi Schnee

“For he will give His angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways.”

– Psalm 91:11, JPS 1917 Tanach

G-d is faithful; he keeps his promises. “And, behold, I am with thee, and I will keep thee whithsoever thou goest, and will bring thee back into this land; for I will not leave thee, until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of” (Genesis 28:15, JPS). Jacob was given G-d’s reassurance, at the beginning of his journey to Charan, where his Uncle Laban lived. Now, Jacob is returning with his family to the land of Canaan; however, he will encounter his brother, Esau on the final approach home.

Imediately, upon entering the land, he is met by a camp of angels sent by H’Shem to escort him: “And Jacob went on his way, and the angels of G-d met him” (Genesis 32:1, JPS). This exemplifies the continual protection that was promised to him by G-d. The company of angels sets the background for the encounter with Esau. It is only after the angels are mentioned, that the narrative concerning the apparently resentful Esau begins. For, Jacob’s messengers that he sent ahead to greet Esau report Esau is on his way with four hundred men” (32:6).

Jacob prays to H’Shem, rather than taking for granted the protection given to him. He divides the camp into two, so that if the first camp is attacked, the second will escape. Thirdly, Jacob sends gifts – droves of his herds and flocks – ahead of him to appease Esau. Even before Jacob meets and greets Esau, Jacob has an encounter with an angel, while he is alone. And the angel blesses him, after a struggle, wherein they wrestled with each other. “Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel; {That is, He who striveth with G-d.} for thou hast striven with G-d and with men, and hast prevailed” (Genesis 32:28, JPS 1917 Tanach).

The blessing that he receives, in the form of his new name that denotes uprightness is a vindication of his deceitfulness of the past, when he reappropriared Esau’s blessing that was due to him as the first born. Yet, the tides are turned, for Jacob now offers Esau a lavish gift taken from his livelihood: many sheep, goats, cows, bulls, and donkeys. The first Hebrew word that Jacob uses to refer to this gift is minchah, meaning gift or tribute. Yet, Jacob makes his intent even more clear to Esau in the same gesture, saying a second time, “take, I pray thee, my gift (berachah) that is brought to thee” (Genesis 33:11, JPS). Here, the word that he uses is berachah, meaning “blessing.” In this manner, Jacob, in effect, restores the blessing to Esau, therein bringing upon himself and Esau the means for reconciliation.

Eliezer’s Gratitude

B”H

Chayei Sarah 4th aliyah (Genesis 24:27-52)

November 20, 2019 (22 Chesvan 5780)

by Tzvi Schnee

“And the man bowed his head, and prostrated himself before the L-RD. And he said: ‘Blessed be the L-RD, the G-d of my master Abraham, who hath not forsaken His mercy and His truth toward my master; as for me, the L-RD hath led me in the way to the house of my master’s brethren.’”

– Genesis 24:27, JPS 1917 Tanach

Eliezer, Abraham’s servant attributes the success of his mission – to find a wife for Isaac – to the providence of H’Shem. His guidance led Eliezer to the well, at the moment when Rebekah was going there with her pitcher for drawing water. This is in accord with Abraham’s original words to Eliezar, before sending him on the mission:

“The L-RD, the G-d of heaven, who took me from my father’s house, and from the land of my nativity, and who spoke unto me, and who swore unto me, saying: Unto thy seed will I give this land; He will send His angel before thee, and thou shalt take a wife for my son from thence.”

– Genesis 24:7, JPS 1917 Tanach

The nature of the mission was of the greatest importance, and in the forefront of Abraham’s mind, after his wife, Sarah passed away. The opportunity to find a wife for Isaac, a wife who would become the next matriarch, needed divine intervention. Abraham entrusted Eliezer with the practical concerns that would ensue on the journey; yet, the success of the mission was entrusted to H’Shem.

(reposted from Clear Horizons)

Eliezer’s Prayer

Chayei Sarah 3rd aliyah (Genesis 24:10-26)

November 19, 2019 (21 Chesvan 5780)

by Tzvi Schnee

“And the servant took ten camels, of the camels of his master, and departed; having all goodly things of his master’s in his hand.”

– Genesis 24:10, JPS 1917 Tanach

Eliezar, Abraham’s servant set off with ten camels, laden with the dowry that would be shown to the family of the woman who would marry Abraham’s son, Isaac. As of yet, who that woman would be was only known to G-d. It was Abraham’s will to find a wife for Isaac from amongst his own relatives, so that she would exemplify the character traits worthy of the next matriarch.

“And he made the camels to kneel down without the city by the well of the water at the time of evening, the time that women go out to draw water.”

– Genesis 24:11, JPS 1917 Tanach

Eliezar prayed, a prayer to H’Shem, designed to test the character of the woman who would respond: “Let it come to pass, that the damsel to whom I shall say: Let down thy pitcher, I pray thee, that I may drink; and she shall say: Drink, and I will give thy camels drink also; let the same be she that Thou hast appointed for thy servant, even for Isaac; and thereby shall I know that Thou hast shown kindness unto thy master” (Genesis 24:24:14).

It should be emphasized that Eliezar was not requesting a sign from G-d; rather, he wanted proof that Isaac’s wife-to-be would demonstrate kindness, consideration, and selflessness; in effect, that her character be one imbued with chesed. Thus requested, thus done; before he was finished with his request to H’Shem, his prayer had already been answered: “Rebekah came out, who was born to Bethuel the son of Milcah, the wife of Nachor, Abraham’s brother, with her pitcher upon her shoulder” (Genesis 24:15).

(reposted from Clear Horizons)