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The Matchmakers (Vayakhel)

The following is an expanded write-up of remarks originally delivered this past Shabbos at Cong. Ahavas Achim in Highland Park, New Jersey.

Good Shabbos everyone. This morning, I’d like to discuss one of the most pressing issues in the Jewish world today: matchmaking.

I know what you’re thinking–but hold that thought. Because it’s not dating and marriage that I’m talking about. No, when I say “matchmaking,” what I’ve got in mind are matching campaigns. You know–like, fundraising. (more…)

Loose Strands (Pekudei)

1. Today we’re going to try to uncover the underlying connections between a whole host of passages, strewn across the Torah, which seem, at first glance, entirely unrelated to each other. Most of these passages are familiar to us; in fact, we recite some of them on a daily basis. But our wide-ranging theory actually begins in one of this week’s two parshahs, with an unlikely starting point: the head plate worn by the Kohen Gadol. In Hebrew, this head plate is called a “tzitz (Hebrew: ציץ). Many of us don’t know much about this head plate. However, the tzitz does bear striking similarities to a ritual garment which is far more well-known: the tzitzis (ציצית), i.e., the tassels worn at the edges of a four cornered garment. To that end: Both the tzitz and the tzitzis bear blue-ish threads, which are referred to by the Torah as “pesil techeles” (Exod. 39:31; Num. 15:38). Both must be placed before one’s eyes: the tzitz is placed “on the forehead” (Exod. 28:38–reference is from parshas Tetzaveh, where the tzitz is originally introduced), while, of the tzitzis, the Torah states, “and you shall see them” (Num. 15:39). Both serve to protect against sin (Exod. 28:38; Num. 15:39). And, both remind those who wear them that they are “holy to God:” “and you shall engrave upon it: ‘Holy to the Lord’” (Exod. 28:36); “and you shall see them… and you shall be holy to your God” (Num. 15:39-40). (more…)

Seeing Stars (Ki Tissa)

In this week’s parshah, Bnei Yisrael worship the golden calf. Given the events of the past few parshas—the exodus from Egypt, the splitting of the sea, the miracles of food, water and shelter, the revelation at Sinai—few might have seen this coming. But, Rashi claims, at least one person did: Pharaoh. That’s right: according to Rashi, Pharaoh predicted, all the way back during the ten plagues, that Bnei Yisrael would succumb to idolatry upon leaving his country. (more…)

The Coin Flip (Purim)

Ever wonder: Is the “half shekel,” which we donate on the fast-day of Esther, related to the “half kingdom” which Achashverosh offered to give Esther following her fast? It sure is! To learn more, please click here for a source sheet exploring the fascinating connection between them; below is a short d’var Torah based on some of these sources.

Throughout the Purim megillah, Achashverosh repeatedly promises to grant Esther up to “half” of his kingdom. Ever wonder: why “half,” specifically? Well, there is one other place in Tanach where the ratio of one “half” carries extra special significance: in the law of the “half-shekel,” which b’nei Yisrael are commanded to collect before the construction of the mishkan. Could there be a connection here?

There most certainly is.  (more…)

If the Shoe Fits (Purim)

In the middle of the Purim megillah, Achashverosh, king of Persia, is suddenly reminded that Mordechai had once saved him from an assassination plot. In reward, Achashverosh commands Haman to dress Mordechai in royal raiment and parade him through Shushan on the king’s steed, all the while announcing: “So shall be done to the man whom the king desires to honor” (Es. 6:11). (more…)