Parshas Re’eh

August 27th, 2011
27 Av, 5771

This week’s edition of Sparks is dedicated in memory of Gloria Yoshido, mother of Helen Horowitz; and Alex Lipton, son of Vera Kark; who both passed away this week. May they be remembered for a blessing.

The Secret to Summer

By Rabbi Raphael Leban

As the school year begins or is about to begin, we can finally breathe easier knowing that the excruciating challenge of entertaining the kids is coming to an end. Whole industries have arisen to help (or to take advantage of) anxious parents who lay awake nights wondering how to keep the kids happy through the long summer vacation.

The last days of summer are reserved for doctors’ visits, dentists’ appointments and shopping for new clothes before school starts. Pure delight for the kiddos. Just hold your breath and try to keep smiles on their little faces until the Family Summer Concert with the Maccabeats this Sunday (shameless plug).

Isn’t happiness overrated anyway? Who says being happy is so important? I often wonder if a little misery isn’t a critical factor in healthy emotional growth. Unfortunately, the misery is usually only mine to enjoy, whenever I slack off from keeping the kids entertained.

Musing on all these ideas, I noticed that this week’s parsha promises help.

Towards the end of Parshas Re’eh, we are commanded to celebrate the pilgrimage holidays by journeying to Jerusalem with the family. You might not think that a Passover road-trip with all the relatives is a recipe for happiness, but just wait.

When we arrive at the Holy City and the Temple we are to bring offerings. Part of the offerings are to be eaten by the Kohanim in the Temple and part are for us to eat. Enjoying the holy barbecue is considered to be a cause for simcha, joy. Let’s face it having a salad is just not the same as having a steak (with all deference to our vegetarian readers).

The Torah also requires that you involve others in the celebration. In fact, the list is quite a lengthy one: your son, your daughter, your male servant and your female servant, the convert, the orphan, the widow and the Levite. Everyone should have simcha at festival time and you’re in charge. Sounds worse than summer.

But here, our Sages step in to help us out. They teach us that there is no joy like bringing joy to those in need. By taking care of the convert, orphan, widow and Levite, you yourself will experience the ultimate in true joy.

And furthermore, our Sages note a parallelism within the list of people that you are obligated to care for. Your son, daughter, male servant and female servant are mentioned opposite the convert, orphan, widow and Levite. It’s as if G-d’s telling us, you take care of ‘mine’ and I’ll take care of ‘yours’.

There you have it, the recipe for happiness for you and your family. Take care of those around you, make sure they have what they need to be happy, and let G-d worry about the simcha for you and the kids!

Location, Location, Location

By Rabbi Dovid Nussbaum

No, we are not discussing real estate or giving tips on where to buy. Rather, we are discussing where we may bring sacrifices. The Torah forbids offering a burnt sacrifice anywhere except the Beis Hamikdash in Jerusalem. Why would we think otherwise and why is this prohibition stated only concerning the burnt offering?

Netziv explains that the burnt offering or ‘olah’ symbolizes our total and complete connection to Hashem, since it is totally consumed on the altar. When the intellect is consumed with thoughts of Hashem and how to live our lives based upon the principles of Torah, we exemplify the olah. One might think that since the intellect functions under any condition or in any situation, the olah which denotes the intellectual aspect of our relationship with Hashem, could be offered anywhere, not just in the Beis Hamikdash. Therefore, the Torah forbids this.

Rashi points out an interesting exception to this rule. Although we are not allowed to do this by ourselves, if a prophet ordains its permissibility, we must follow his command. The example, of course, is the famous encounter between Elijah the prophet and the worshippers of the idol Ba’al. He challenged them to slaughter animals and call upon their ‘god’ to send fire to consume their sacrifices. They yelled and cried out to Ba’al an entire day and nothing happened. Then, Elijah placed an olah in a water filled ditch and Hashem consumed the sacrifice thereby vindicating Hashem’s existence and the falsehood of their idolatry.

The written Torah is impossible to decipher without the assistance of the Oral Torah, which was given at Mt. Sinai together with the written Torah. Interpretation of the Torah must be based upon our mesorah, our transmitted teachings which have been related to each generation by its predecessor. It is only within this framework that we have outlasted all other empires and civilizations, no matter how powerful and far reaching they were. The underlying factor of our success has been an undying and unyielding commitment to follow in the footsteps of our forebears.

This is what the Netziv is suggesting in his comment. We are not just a nation which thrives on academic pursuits. Our collective intellect is dedicated to understanding what earlier generations sacrificed so much for – our eternal teachings and laws in their most pristine and purest form. They literally gave their lives in order that we, their grandchildren, should respect and value our priceless legacy and heritage.

Perhaps this is the fundamental reason why we must bring the olah offering only on the altar in the Beis Hamikdash. Our intellectuality must be bound within the context of the Beis Hamikdash. It was not merely a physical structure which was used for sacred acts. Rather, it epitomized total subservience to Hashem’s will. All types of sacrifices were brought there for a variety of reasons, signifying that all concepts, thoughts and rationales must be viewed within the milieu of obedience to Hashem’s will. Although we no longer have the Beis Hamikdash to serve as our guide, the message imparted still remains with us. And we have the same obligation as those who preceded us to protect and defend the mores and principles that have safeguarded us from the caustic tempests of history that have obliterated so many empires before us.

Byte for Shabbos

The Torah prohibits us from splintering into factions, which weakens the community at large. This restriction is mentioned in the same verse that prohibits mutilation of the body to mourn the loss of a loved one. What is the connection? Nachmonides explains that we must not overly mourn one who has passed away, because the essence of man is the soul and not the body. After the body is gone, the soul lives forever in eternal repose. Similarly, the cause of friction between people is due to the mundane, physical matters that separate us. If we were to focus on the spiritual essence of life, we would be able to live in peace and harmony.



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