SPARKS OF TORAH
VOLUME 61 NUMBER 3
JUNE 15, 2012
SIVAN 25, 5772
Candle-lighting Time: 8:12 PM
This edition of Sparks of Torah is dedicated to all the students graduating from Jewish schools over the last few weeks. May your Judaic studies enable you to confidently and passionately embrace your precious legacy.
Welcome back to Eve Levy and the ladies returning from our first Israel trip of the summer.
Join TJE at the Siyum Hashas at Metlife Stadium with 100,000 Jews from around the world this August. Fabulous trip to Jewish New York and historic event of the century, only $499. RSVP now.
Guys, go to Israel with TJE this fall, departing after Thanksgiving. Make plans now.
Life on the Fringe
by Rabbi Raphael Leban
Tying a piece of thread around your finger is the universal sign for trying to remember something. It’s a visual reminder that you’re not going to miss. What if you don’t have a piece of string? You take your watch and put it on your other wrist. If you have to remember something else, you put it back on the first wrist again.
In his preface to the Book of Numbers, Nachmonides, one of the greatest Torah commentators of our history, defines it as a book without any mitzvos l’doros (commandments that apply for all generations). There are a few commandments about the Tabernacle and traveling with it, and a few leftover laws from the Book of Leviticus regarding sacrificial offerings. Otherwise, there are really no new mitzvos.
One wonders how Nachmonides understood the verses in this week’s parsha that command us to wear tzitzis, the knotted strings that hang from the corners of our four-cornered garments. That’s a mitzvah that has applied for centuries. It’s not tied to the Tabernacle, and it’s not still stringing along from the subject of the sacrifices. What is the mitzvah of tzitzis doing in parshas Shelach in the Book of Numbers?
The parsha begins with the Sin of the Spies. As the Jewish People prepared to enter the Land of Israel, they sent spies to check out what it looked like, and how they should proceed to conquer it. Upon their return, ten out of twelve of the spies gave such a negative report that the Jewish People gave up on inheriting the Promised Land, deciding instead to pack up and head back to Egypt. It was for that grave error that the whole generation was punished with forty years in the desert. (Not Moshe’s poor sense of direction, as the comics suggest.)
How could they have made such a mistake? How did the people that G-d brought out of Egyptian slavery come to refuse the gift of the Promised Land?
On the simplest level, the answer is bad eyesight. They didn’t see clearly. When they should have seen the tremendous blessing of the Land, instead they saw a place with strange mutant fruits. When they should have seen a place that G-d would miraculously conquer for them, instead they saw an invincible enemy. When they should have seen the culmination of the Exodus and the national revelation at Mount Sinai – their inheritance of the Promised Land, instead they saw only defeat and tragedy. In short, it was a vision problem.
To fix the problem, G-d issued the first ever prescription for corrective eyesight – tzitzis. These little strings are visual reminders of our spiritual souls, our Creator and his mitzvos. On all four corners, i.e. whichever way we turn, there is a reminder to restore our proper vision. To see the good in whatever G-d has given us, to appreciate the value of everything and everyone around us, and to constantly remember to act in the elevated manner that our Father in Heaven desires of us.
For all generations, we tie these little reminder strings on our four-cornered garments, as an eternal version of the spiritual corrective lenses that were prescribed to the generation of the spies. And who knows, if you’re stuck without a string, maybe you could use your watch.
Why Isn’t Once Enough?
by Rabbi Dovid Nussbaum
Upon entering the Land of Israel, we are commanded to give a special tithe to the Kohen. In addition to ‘terumah,’ which we give to the Kohen at harvest time, ‘challah’ is given when the wheat is in flour form. When flour is mixed with water and we knead that mixture into dough, we give the Kohen a portion, known as ‘challah.’ It is unusual that we ‘double dip’ in this way. We already gave the Kohen a portion of the harvested grain, and yet we must honor him again with another portion later in the bread making process. Why is this so?
Chinuch explains as follows. A person must eat in order to live. Most people consume bread, the staff of life. Therefore, Hashem wanted to grant us a mitzvah that we would fulfill on a regular basis. Since we would have the opportunity to perform this mitzvah daily, not only will our food itself become the source of a mitzvah, but additionally our eating will become a meritorious act. Our very souls will be nourished through this mitzvah every time we sit down to a meal. Furthermore, we will support the Kohanim who support us through their service in the Beis Hamikdash. Although we tithe our grain at the time of the harvest, that grain then requires processing in order to make it ready to eat. When we give them a piece of dough, they can immediately bake it and benefit from the gift immediately.
There are many insights that we can glean from these words. Firstly, it is important to note that Hashem desires our physical acts to attain the status of a mitzvah. Eating is a bodily function that animals also perform to stay alive. It is insufficient that we simply eat as a means of survival. We must strive to accomplish more with our eating. When we use our main staple as a means of supporting those who maintain the service in the Beis Hamikdash, it elevates our food and subsequently our consumption to a higher level of reality.
Secondly, this mitzvah dispels the notion that we cannot utilize the physical for the spiritual. An earthy material, grain, becomes the catalyst for spiritual growth when used appropriately. Our very souls benefit from this substance when we simply direct its use in the correct fashion.
Additionally, we can express our gratitude to the Kohanim for their accomplishments and assistance in maintaining the ongoing functioning of the Beis Hamikdash when we provide for their sustenance in a meaningful manner.
Furthermore, from here we learn that when we try to help others, we should enable them to receive benefit in the most efficient manner. Although grain is of course useful, dough that is ready to go is much more appreciated by the recipient.
Perhaps the greatest lesson to be gained from this mitzvah is that we can never truly fathom the depth of the ‘mind’ of the Torah. Every facet of the Torah must be studied from every angle because there is so much to be gained from even a simple mitzvah like separating a portion of our dough for the Kohen.
We know that this mitzvah is primarily incumbent upon women. Every home needs food that will nourish the family and women are the ones who take care of that crucial need. However, as we see from the Chinuch, it is not simply that our wives and mothers handle our physical necessities; rather they imbue our homes with the prerequisite sanctity by the precious mitzvah of separating the Kohen’s portion from the dough.
Byte For Shabbos
The spies planned to persuade the nation not to go to the Land of Israel. They felt that if they left the desert, the place where they received the Torah and witnessed so many miracles on a daily basis, they would no longer retain their high level of recognition of G-d’s greatness.
A Question for the Rabbis
By Rabbi Mordechai Becher
The Torah obligates us to put tzitzis — fringes, on four-cornered garments. In general, wool and linen are the most common materials mentioned in the Torah. Do nylon and rayon garments require tzitzis? The Talmud (Menachos 40b) states that leather garments are exempt from tzitzis. Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, (Igros Moshe, Orach Chaim 2:1) maintains that since leather is not woven like classic fabrics, it is exempt even if one were to cut up the leather finely and weave it. Hence, nylon garments are exempt from tzitzis according to Rabbi Feinstein. Rabbi Zvi Pesach Frank (Har Zvi, Orach Chaim 1:9) rules that if threads were made of the nylon and it was woven into a fabric, then one is obligated to put tzitzis on that garment.
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
Sadie stopped by an usher at the entrance to the synagogue.
The usher asked, “Are you a friend of the bride?”
Sadie quickly relied, “No, of course not. I am the groom’s mother.”