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TORAH, SOCIETY, AND GOVERNMENT: The Place where the Red Heifer was Burned

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TORAH, SOCIETY, AND GOVERNMENT: The Place where the Red Heifer was Burned

Rabbi Uri Dasberg

"At Mara, they were given some of the passages of the Torah, so that they would become involved with them" [Rashi, Shemot 15:25]. There is no better example of a "chok," a law without an obvious reason, than the laws of the Red Heifer. There was a special place set aside on the Mount of Olives where the Red Heifer was burned. At the site, there was a depression - a square carved into the rock where the heifer stood - and a mikveh where the Kohen could immerse himself after he burned the heifer. This area was constructed over an underground cavity to avoid any ritual impurity due to undiscovered dead bodies. At the site, some of the ashes of the Red Heifer were stored. (All of these items are described in Chapter 3 of the tractate of Parah.)

After the heifer was burned, the Kohen would sprinkle its blood in the direction of the Holy of Holies, and from the place where he stood he could see the lower part of the gate which opened into the Temple itself. In order for this to be possible, all the gates on the eastern side of the Temple Mount had to be perfectly aligned (including the gate to the Women's courtyard, the Nikanor Gate, the gate to the entrance hall, and the gate to the Temple). In addition, the walls and the crossbeams of the openings were constructed so that nothing would obstruct the direct line of sight of the Kohen. Since the external Altar ("Altar of the Olah") was between the Kohen and the opening of the Temple, it is possible to estimate the position of the site of burning the Red Heifer. Calculations show that the possible site is in a specific area no bigger than 40x40 meters.

The same reasoning can be turned around. If we knew the exact site of the burning, it would help us determine the exact position on the Temple Mount of the Holy of Holies, which to this day is the subject of a dispute. The author of the article reviewed here suggests that the site of burning the heifer was in the courtyard of a Catholic Church on the Mount of Olives, "Dominus Flavit." Before the nuns chased him away from the site, he found a water cistern 8 meters deep in the yard. According to the author, the entire courtyard has been erected on top of this cistern, and he identifies it with the carved square in the rock mentioned above. He feels that this explains why the Catholics picked this site to build a church.

It is true that this site is not at the top of the Mount of Olives but rather partway down the slope. But this is the only height from which the Kohen would be able to see the floor of the Temple without it being necessary to lower the eastern wall of the Temple, in order not to block his view.

Reference: Rabbi Y. Adler, "Techumin," volume 22, pages 537-542



MACHON MEIR - http://www.virtual.co.il/education/machon-meir/parasha.htm

Message for Today : “I have rebuilt the ruined places and planted that which was desolate.”

On Tu Bishvat we customarily increase our consumption of the fruits of Eretz Yisrael. On that day, the strength of the soil of Eretz Yisrael is renewed to yield its crops and to produce its fruits and to display its praise. And the praise of Eretz Yisrael is through its fruits, as it says:

“The L-rd your G-d is bringing you to a good land…. It is a land of wheat, barley, grapes, figs and pomegranates, a land of oil-olives and honey-dates…. When you eat and are satisfied, you must therefore bless the L-rd your G-d for the good land that He has given you.” (Deuteronomy 8:7-10)

“It is the day on which the soil of Eretz Israel renews its strength to produce its oil and honey. It is a day of joy for Israel who inherit it, love it and place their hopes in it.” (Sefer HaToda’ah)

Our sages, in seeking to single out a phenomenon that will signify the end of the exile, mention the fruits of the Land, saying, “You have no more open sign than that, as it says, ‘But you, O mountains of Israel, shall shoot forth your branches and yield your fruit to My people Israel; for they shall soon come’ (Ezekiel 36:8)” (Sanhedrin 98a). Rashi comments, “When Eretz Yisrael bears its fruits in abundance, the end of days will be near. We have no more open sign of it than this.”

Today, how fortunate we are that we have been privileged to see the open sign of redemption with our own eyes. Eretz Yisrael is bearing its sweet fruits, not just of the seven types, but almost all the fruits on earth, as it says, “You will not lack anything there” (Deuteronomy 8:9). And all of this is occurring because “they shall soon come.” Not just the fruits on the trees bear witness to the end of the exile, but the millions of Jews who are returning home after two thousand years of exile and are building a modern, glorious state, with a strong economy that markets its produce throughout the whole world. All of this is preparation for the revelation of the spiritual fruits of Eretz Yisrael, which are the essence and goal of Eretz Yisrael, the State of Israel and the Jewish People.

As the prophets of Israel prophesied, “Then the nations left round you shall know that I, the L-rd, have rebuilt the ruined places and planted that which was desolate. I the L-rd have spoken it and I will do it” (Ezekiel 36:36).

Looking forward to complete salvation,

Harav Dov Bigon

Guarding One’s Tongue (Part I)

Rabbi Shlomo Aviner

Many things must be improved, many deeds, numerous character traits. We all need to make amends. We all need to repent, every single day. “Repent one day before you die!” (Avot). Does someone know when he is going to die? Rather, one must repent every day.

Yet the most important area for repentance is in guarding one’s tongue.

Some people who have sinned for many years finally decide to return to the good path, and they look for ways to make amends: fasting, recitation of psalms, oaths. Rabbi Elijah of Vilna says that under such circumstances one must do two things: study Torah and guard one’s tongue (Tosafot Ma’aseh Rav). Torah learning is an overall cure and brings a person great light – and together with that, guarding one’s tongue.

Lashon Hara [evil speech] is the sin most harmful to society, most destructive to the nation. It slanders and sows strife. Its effect is indescribable! The Second Temple was destroyed due to Lashon Hara. The Talmud uses the expression “sin’at chinam” [groundless hatred] [Yoma 9b], but it is all the same. Rabbi Yisrael Meir HaKohen, the “Chafetz Chaim,” proves as much in the preface to his work by that name. Groundless hatred finds expression through Lashon Hara.

Josephus describes how the Jews would slander one another personally and on the national level. There are people who will not speak Lashon Hara on a personal level, but in matters of public concern, they allow themselves to defame groups, parties and streams. By such means, they contaminate the nation. As the Chafetz Chaim says in his preface, they “arouse divine accusations against the Jewish People.” Forces of destruction, spiritual blights destroy Israel.

For this reason, guarding one’s tongue is the most important thing. In the Mercaz Harav Yeshiva, our master Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook was in favor of freedom. Every student could study what he wanted, however he wanted, with whomever he wanted, whenever he wanted. Obviously, there was instruction about how one learns in yeshiva, but there was no coercion, barring one exception: from 12:45 until 1:15 P.M., we all had to study texts about guarding one’s tongue. At one point participation in that half hour session began to fall off. Rabbi Kook ceased giving all of his Torah lectures and began to fast. His sister asked him to explain himself, and he said, “If someone is G-d-fearing, his words are heeded. If his words go unheeded, that is a sign that he is not G-d-fearing. I am thus unworthy to give Torah lectures, and I must repent and fast.” Rabbi Kook viewed study of guarding one’s tongue as more important than the study of any other Mussar [morality] tract.

Rabbi Yisrael Meir HaKohen’s two most well-known works on guarding the tongue are “Chafetz Chaim” and “Shemirat HaLashon,” and both are essential. The first covers the laws, regarding what is permissible and what is forbidden. The second is mussar, increasing our inner appetite to follow the laws. Whoever learns “Shemirat HaLashon” will not only know that speaking Lashon Hara is forbidden, but will be disgusted by it and will be psychologically unable to speak evil.

As for the prohibitions recorded in the book “Chafetz Chaim,” some argue that they are just strictures for the saintly, and are really permissible. Yet the author proves in this learned work that they are not mere strictures, but outright law. It is puzzling that people who are scrupulous about the laws of kashruth, and who even are strict regarding Kashruth certificates, are not strict about Lashon Hara. It is puzzling that serious people should be so. After all, these laws are no less serious. Quite the contrary, they are more so. The Rabbis said that speaking Lashon Hara is as serious an offense as bloodshed, idolatry and sexual sin combined (Arachin 15b). Who needs more proof than that? Surely these are the three gravest sins there are.

Moreover, some people are chronic speakers of Lashon Hara, and they are called “Ba’alei Lashon Hara” [lit., “Lashon Hara Masters”] (Rambam, Hilchot De’ot, Ch. 7). Every single day they take an interest in Lashon Hara – on the radio, on television and in the newspaper. These offer an infinite quantity of Lashon Hara, as though newsmen are allowed to speak it. Licentiousness! They say, “It is the public’s right to know.” Why? It is the public’s right to have food, a livelihood, work, a certain living standard, to study Torah; but it is not their right to know what is happening with their fellow man. If a newsman were speaking evil about you and others were listening, would you be pleased with that? Therefore, that which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow man. That is the whole Torah on one foot (Shabbat 31).

Until one completes study of the whole book “Chafetz Chaim,” one should remember this one rule: That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow man. Obviously, that does not suffice. There is much more to learn as well. And so the Talmud concludes, “Go learn the rest” (Ibid.). Yet whoever conducts himself according to this rule already knows a lot. Whenever one wishes to say or to do something – Halt! Password! Wouldn’t you be happy if others treated you this way?

Lashon Hara is a serious disease, a harsh form of mental illness. In ancient times, if someone spoke Lashon Hara, his flesh would rot. The message was that he himself was a rotten type, rotten to the core, and that his corruption was spreading outward, even to his clothing and to the walls of his house. It was as if all these were saying, “Get out of the city, before you contaminate our entire society!” The Torah said, “His place shall be outside the camp” (Leviticus 13:46). Society said, “We are not abandoning you – you’re a Jew. The kohen will treat you. If you are really so good at criticism, we have an idea for you: Use this talent on yourself. Sit alone outside the camp. There you will have no one to talk about. You will be able to speak Lashon Hara about yourself and to repent.”

Many of the ideas found in the Mussar works are not meant to help us point our fingers at our fellow man, but to use on ourselves.

If a person speaks Lashon Hara, something is rotten within him. That is why he expresses himself as he does. Our sages expounded that the Metzora [Biblical leper] is a “motzi shem ra” [a slanderer]. If the evil is not within him, how does it come out? Rather, his sin indicates inner rot bursting outward.

How then can a person rectify his inner self? It is possible but not easy. It can be accomplished if he learns to control his tongue. This will have a ripple effect, improving and purifying him on the inside.

One might ask: Why is guarding one’s tongue the most important thing? Surely there are other grave sins and other bad character traits to rectify. Yet this one leads the list. When a person learns to guard his tongue, this has a positive effect on his whole personality.

In ancient Rome, there were severe laws against those who libeled their fellow – heavy fines, prison sentences, exile and hard labor. The Romans were corrupt, yet they well understood that just as one who smites his fellowman must be charged in court, so must one who smites his fellowman verbally. Roman society was not ideal, yet the principle of social revenge bore its imprint on their laws. If one spoke Lashon Hara, he had to pay a heavy price. Even those heathens understood the severity of the matter.

(continued next week)

There is no negotiating with wickedness.

Rabbi Zeev Karov

The Exodus was carried out by G-d Himself. It was He who smote Egypt, drowning Pharaoh and his chariots in the sea. Moses told Israel, “G-d will fight for you, but you must remain silent” (Exodus 14:14), and that is what actually occurred.

By contrast, in the battle against Amalek G-d gave orders to fight. “Moses said to Joshua, ‘Choose men for us, and prepare for battle against Amalek’” (Exodus 17:9). Here, no one said, “G-d will fight for you, but you must remain silent,” but rather, “Prepare for battle.” What led to this difference? Why, precisely in the war against Amalek was there such a clear command to “prepare for battle”?

It is all the more puzzling when at the end of the section we read G-d’s words to Moses: “Write this as a reminder in the Book and repeat it carefully to Joshua. I will totally obliterate the memory of Amalek from under the heavens” (17:14). G-d seems to be saying that it is He who will obliterate Amalek’s memory. Why then does He command Joshua to “prepare for battle”?

Amalek is the foundation of wickedness in the world. “Amalek arrived and attacked Israel” (17:8). Why did Amalek come to attack? Were Israel disturbing them or passing through their land? Amalek “caught a whiff” of the moral tidings that Israel was going to bring to the world, and it bothered them. Amalek was an expression of the desire to pollute the world and to turn it into a cold, hostile place. Wickedness desires to darken the world at any price.

This explains the sweeping, all-important command both to fight Amalek and to obliterate them, as well as to remember and not forget their deeds. As long as wickedness has a place on earth, the world’s condition will be darker and more polluted. It is impossible to concede to wickedness and it is impossible to negotiate with it. Every concession to it and every consideration shown to it provides it with a foothold in this world, and that automatically does the world harm. Saul learned this when he showed compassion to Amalek. The mitzvah to remember and not to forget derives from the constant desire to purify the world and to remain alert lest wickedness raise its head.

This command does not contradict one of the fundamental traits of Israel, namely, that they are “compassionate and the children of the compassionate.”

On the one hand, Israel are taught mercy and kindness. This education derives from the desire to emulate G-d, whose “mercies are over all His works” (Psalm 145:9). Our sages long ago instructed us: “Just as He is merciful, so must you be merciful.”

This trait was stamped deep in the Jewish nature, going back to the Father of our people, Abraham, of whom it said, “You granted kindness to Abraham” (Michah 7:20).

At the same time, we are commanded not to show Amalek mercy. It is not an issue of two commands that contradict each other, but of two instructions that complement each other. Whoever wishes to do good in the world and to make the world a better place must do his utmost to fight wickedness. The prayer that “all wickedness should go up in smoke” must find practical expression through our deeds, in accordance with the Torah’s instructions.

Even when we do not know who Amalek is and we cannot fulfill the command to annihilate their descendants, we are still commanded to fight wickedness. Any weakness we show an evildoer is a moral crime that darkens the world. Negotiating with wickedness, conceding to it, even in order to gain something, or out of mercy, gives the wicked of the world the feeling that the righteousness of their path is recognized, and grants them victory over those who conceded to them. Besides the very fact of wickedness rearing its head, the moral purity of the conceders and negotiators is tarnished. “Whoever shows mercy to the cruel shall ultimately show cruelty to the merciful.” Relating to cruel evildoers as human beings surely has an influence on those who do so. Whoever gives wickedness a foothold will himself become wicked.

The uncompromising battle against wickedness in the world is an ongoing battle that has known ups and downs. We are commanded to obliterate Amalek, yet the nature of the world is such that we will not succeed in wiping it out totally. Final victory over Amalek can be achieved only by G-d. “I will totally obliterate the memory of Amalek from under the heavens.”


3 - NYCI (Block)

NCYI Weekly Divrei Torah, From:Kenneth Block (kenblock@dorsai.org)




Rabbi Shlomo Riskin: http://www.ohrtorah.org.il/index.htm#top

Efrat, Israel - At the very opening of this week's Torah portion, just as we've reached the climax of the ten plagues and the Israelites have been sent forth out of their Egyptian bondage, we find a fascinating throwback to a former heroic personality from the Book of Genesis: "And Moses brought the bones of Joseph with him, since (Joseph) had adjured the children of Israel to take an oath; (Joseph) had said, G-d will surely remember you; bring up my bones with you from this (place)" (Exodus 13:19).

Why interrupt the drama of the exodus with the detail of concern over Joseph's remains? From a certain narrative perspective, Joseph's name even evokes a jarring note at this moment of Israel's freedom. After all, Joseph may well be seen as the very antithesis of Moses: Joseph begins within the Family of Jacob-Israel, and moves outside of it as he rises to great heights in Egypt, whereas Moses begins as a Prince of Egypt and moves into the Family of Israel when he smites the Egyptians; Joseph is the one who brings the children of Jacob into Egypt whereas Moses takes them out; Joseph gives all of his wisdom and energy to Egypt whereas Moses gives all of his wisdom and energy to the Israelites. It can even be argued that the very enslavement of the Israelites by the Egyptians was a punishment for Joseph's having enslaved the Egyptians to Pharoah as part of the economic policy he implements. (Genesis 47:19-23) So why bring up the remains of Joseph at this point in the story?

The fact is that Joseph is a most complex and amazing personality, who very much stands at the crossroads of and makes a vital connection between the Books of Genesis and Exodus, Bereishit and Shemot. We have previously pointed out that the jealous enmity of the brothers towards Joseph was in no small way rooted in the grandiose ambition expressed in his dreams: sheaves of grain evoke Egyptian agriculture rather than Israeli shepherdry, and the bowing sun, moon and stars smack of cosmic domination. While yet in the Land of Israel, Joseph had apparently set his sights on the then super-power Egypt and the second dream suggests that Egypt is only a stepping stone for universal majesty.

But then, does not the Torah picture the Almighty as the Creator and Master of the entire world, and is it not Israel's mission to be a Kingdom of priest-teachers and a holy nation with the mandate of perfecting the world in the Kingship of the Divine? And with his very last breaths, in the closing lines of the Book of Genesis, does not Joseph profess absolute faith in G-d's eventual return of the Israelites to their homeland, at which time he makes his brothers swear that his remains will be taken home to Israel as well? The full picture of Joseph seems to depict a great-grandson of Abraham, who fully grasps the importance of the Land of Israel for his nation, but also recognizes the eventual necessity of their being a source of blessing for all the families of the earth, their mission of peace not just for the family but for the world!

The midrash (Rabba and Mechilta ad loc) describes a fascinating scene. At the exact time when all of the Jews were occupied in gathering the booty of Egypt, Moses was occupied in gathering the bones of Joseph. Who informed Moses as to where Joseph was buried? Serah, the daughter of Asher, who was still living in that generation (of the exodus). She went and told Moses that Joseph had been buried in the River Nile, Moses said, "Joseph, Joseph, the time of redemption has come, but the Divine Presence is holding it back. If you will show yourself, good. If not, I shall be freed of the oath which you made me swear. Immediately the coffin of Joseph rose to the surface of the Nile River... When (the Israelites) went forth from Egypt, there were two casks (aronot) which accompanied them for forty years in the desert: the cask of the Life of all worlds (the Divine Torah which they had up until that time) and the cask (casket) of Joseph. The nations of the world would ask, What is the nature of these two casks? Is it necessary for the cask of the dead to go together with the cask of eternal life? But in truth the one who is buried in this (cask) fulfilled whatever is written in that (cask)."

Generally the midrash is understood to be saying that Joseph fulfilled the moral commandments already expressed in the Torah from the story of Creation up until and including the exodus. After all, Joseph was moral and upright even to the extent of rebuffing the enticements of the beautiful Mrs. Potiphar, thereby earning the appellation of the righteous. However, I would suggest an alternate interpretation: The Torah of the Book of Exodus encased in one-cask fulfilled the dreams, expectations and prophecies of Joseph buried in the other casket. Joseph foresaw an eventual exodus from Egypt and return to Israel. Joseph also foresaw a cosmic obeisance of the sun, moon and stars to the universal G-d of Justice and peace whom he represented. This too was fulfilled when the world was paralyzed at the force of the plagues, when the nations trembled at the destruction of Egypt and victory of the Israelites when the Red Sea split apart: "Nations heard and shuddered, Terror gripped those who dwell in Philistia. Edom's chiefs then panicked, Moab's heroes were seized with trembling, Canaan's residents melted away... G-d will reign supreme forever and ever" (Exodus 5:14,15,18).

Yes, at the supreme triumphant moment of the Exodus, Moses stops to fulfil a vow and take the bones of Joseph ('etzem' is bone and 'etzem', 'atzmiyut', is essence), the essence of Joseph, out of Egypt and into Israel with the Israelites. Moses wanted the faith of Joseph, the universality of Joseph, the majesty of Joseph, the grandeur of Joseph, to accompany the Israelites throughout their sojourn in the desert. After all, the casket of Joseph imparted a crucial lesson: G-d's rule of justice, compassion and peace must capture the entire world, all despots must be seized with fear and trembling, all human beings must be free. May Joseph's eternal grave-site in Shekhem be salvaged and re-sanctified as a beacon to Jewish faith in a world redeemed.



Copyright 1999 United Synagogue Publications Ltd.

Sidra Lite

* Hashem leads the Israelites through a longer route to avoid the Philistines.

* Pharaoh pursues the Israelites who are caught between the Egyptian "devil and the deep blue sea".

* The Red Sea splits. The Israelites are saved.

* Moses and the people rejoice and sing the Shira.

* Manna falls from Heaven. Water is produced from a rock.

* The Amalekites attack.

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