SPARKS OF TORAH
VOLUME 61 NUMBER 2
JUNE 1, 2012
SIVAN 11, 5772
Candle-lighting Time: 8:04 PM
This edition of Sparks of Torah is dedicated in honor of the ladies travelling to Israel with Eve Levy next week. Tzaischem l’shalom!
Mazel Tov to this year’s graduates of The Jewish University! In completion of three years of dedicated study, we give you… another three years! New classes start in this fall.
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Men’s trip to Israel this fall. Inquire for details.
by Rabbi Raphael Leban
I got a great blessing from a good friend the other day. It wasn’t quite the blessing I’ve been waiting for my whole life, “May you grow to be six feet tall and dunk.” But it was also good.
Truth is, every time there’s a Torah holiday like Shavuos we receive a special blessing, and if you live in Israel you get it every day. It’s the Blessing of the Kohanim that the Torah commands Ahron Hakohein and his descendants to give the Jewish People in this week’s parsha. I once heard the Vilna Gaon’s wonderful explanation of the three line blessing many years ago from Rabbi Ahron Feldman, shlit”a, and I promised a dear friend I would write it down for him. Here goes.
Based on a verse from Proverbs, the Vilna Gaon writes that there are right handed blessings and there are left handed blessings. Interestingly, he did not address the topic of backhanded insults or two handed backhands.
The idea of the right and left hands regarding blessings is best understood from the basketball court. When a person makes a jump shot, they use two hands. Not because both hands are necessary to push the ball up to the hoop. The right hand (for a right-handed adult) is enough to do that. The left hand guides the ball with accuracy. In effect, the right hand is the main hand at work and the left hand assists it and makes it effective.
In each of the three lines of the Blessing of the Kohanim, G-d’s name appears once, and there are two verbs of blessing, one on each side of G-d’s name. For example, “May [He] bless you, G-d, and guard you.” From that you get right handed blessings and left handed blessings. The right handed blessing is the main one, and the left handed blessing steers and guides it, on the right and left sides of G-d’s name in the verse.
For example, when the first line offers that G-d should bless you, it means with prosperity. That’s the main blessing, on the right hand side. However, without the left handed support blessing that G-d should guard you, the prosperity wouldn’t be so great. Imagine being left alone in Harlem at night with ten thousand dollars in cash. Hardly a blessing! Wealth needs to be protected. The blessing of being safe helps the main blessing of prosperity to be positive and beneficial.
In the second line, the right handed blessing is for illumination, as in wisdom and understanding. The left handed blessing is for something called chein, a rich Hebrew word that means charm or charisma. It is important for a person to have wisdom. However, if no one appreciates your wisdom or is willing to learn from you, your wisdom is not very effective. A talmid chacham needs chein in order to share the light of his wisdom with the world. That’s the left hand supporting the right.
In the third line, the right handed blessing is for G-d to lift His countenance towards us, meaning that He should pay attention to us. As any parent knows, children want the attention of their parents. But there are different kinds of attention. If a child out shopping with his mother in a department store feels like he’s not getting attention, he’ll make a scene. That earns him some attention, like a spanking or some other punishment, but in retrospect it probably wasn’t the kind of attention he wanted. That’s why the left handed blessing of the third line is for shalom. We want G-d’s attention, but we want it to come as peace and not the opposite, heaven forbid.
Now you know why the Kohanim give us this blessing every Yom Tov with both hands—a powerful right handed blessing with the assistance of the left handed blessing makes it a swish!
The Truth About Life
by Rabbi Dovid Nussbaum
In this week’s parsha we learn about a nazir. This is an individual who vows to abstain from wine, from cutting his hair and from coming near the dead for an entire month. Truthfully speaking, this doesn’t really appear to be such a difficult task. Most of us do not come in contact with the dead that often, we don’t get a haircut more than once a month and we don’t consume that much wine. Therefore, if we didn’t drink wine at all for an entire month, it would not be so strenuous. However, the Torah praises a nazir as though he had accomplished an amazing achievement; he is adorned with a Godly crown. What is so impressive about this person?
Ibn Ezra notes this difficulty. He explains that most people pursue their inner desires for pleasure and indulge themselves in whatever they choose. However, a nazir has chosen a different path and that is remarkable. Again, we must question this premise as well, because after all, the ‘different path’ that this person has chosen is only for a token thirty days. We don’t really expect him to continue this way for a longer period. Thus again, why is he so remarkable for an apparently effortless accomplishment?
Nachmonides penned a letter approximately nine hundred years ago. However, its message rings true today, perhaps especially today. The opening point of his message is that we need to seek humility in our lives. He continues to explain the importance of this characteristic. It is not only a noteworthy attribute that one should possess; it is rather the signature of a truly worthy person.
As we well know, a person is a composite of the physical and spiritual, rolled into one fused entity. Even though our physical proclivities are very strong and controlling, they can be constrained and harnessed for our benefit. However, this is only possible if we utilize our divine qualities to guide and direct our bestial inclinations in a constructive manner. This confrontation identifies every person’s daily clash between the good contained within him and the bad – our lifetime struggle for success.
We need a method that can lead us to a successful life, help us accomplish the goals that are vital and essential for us. Nachmonides addressed this as well and cites a famous statement from Pirkei Avos, the Ethics of our Fathers. The Mishnah exhorts us to consider our self-effacing beginnings. Furthermore, every day brings us one step closer to the grave, each person’s final destination. Finally, we all must face up to the eventual certainty that we will be judged by Hashem and we are ultimately held responsible for everything that we did during the entire span of our lives. If we inculcate these viewpoints into our daily conduct, then life assumes a distinctive character.
At this juncture, based upon the prior assertions, we no longer follow a path which is self-serving and focused on our personal needs; rather our perspective undergoes a radical modification. Yesterday’s priorities become today’s agenda and what we regarded as dispensable today is viewed as fundamentally important and of core value. Life’s mundane necessities are no longer of interest to us, rather the eternal values of Torah take center stage in our search for meaning and significance to replace the chaotic challenge that at one time confronted us. Humility replaces arrogance and self-effacement displaces vanity.
Byte For Shabbos
The three blessings that the Kohanim give us correspond to the three Patriarchs. Each blessing serves to elevate us one level higher and closer to G-d.
A Question for the Rabbis
By Rabbi Mordechai Becher
The Torah commands the kohanim (priests, descendants of Aaron) to bless the Jewish people (Numbers 6:22-27). Maimonides rules that this is a daily obligation (Mishneh Torah, Laws of Prayer, Introduction and Ch. 14), and this is indeed the practice in Israel and among most Sephardim (Middle Eastern and North African Jews). Rabbi Moses Isserles in his glosses to the Code of Jewish Law, (Orach Chaim 128:44) cites the ancient practice of the Ashkenazim (European Jews) that the kohanim only bless the congregation on festivals and not at other times. What is the justification for this leniency? Rabbi Isserles writes that since the kohanim must be in a state of joy when giving the blessing, and in the Diaspora people are preoccupied with issues of income and distracted by the difficulties of work, we can only be sure that the kohanim are in a state of joy appropriate to the blessing on festivals.
Reprinted with permission from Parsha Partner, a publication of Partners in Torah. Please add us to your weekly Parsha reading list. www.partnersintorah.org/parshapartner
Joke of the Week
A chicken crossing the road is poultry in motion.