Category Archives: Sefer Shemot

Be’Ahava U’Ve’Ratzon

Drasha given in Kinor David on Shabbat VaYakhel-Pekudei / Parah, 23 Adar 5778.

Today is the Yahrtzeit of my father, Peter Rozenberg, Pinchas ben Natan Nota, z”l; who was a member of Kinor David for ten years. It’s been five years since his passing. This Drasha is in his memory.

Moshe gathers the Jewish People to tell them about the commandment to build the Mishkan, to fulfill the ambition of “I shall dwell among you” – G-d’s Presence within the Jewish People, serving G-d through sacrifices, the Holy of Holies.

This is how he starts:

“Moshe gathered the entire Jewish People; he said to them: This is what Hashem commanded you to do:

Six days, you should do work, and on the seventh day, you shall have holiness, Shabbat-Shabbaton to Hashem… (Shemot 35)”

And only then does he continue:

“Moshe said to the entire Jewish People, saying: This is what Hashem commanded you: take donations from among you for Hashem…”

Before the building of the Mishkan could begin, they had to be told to keep Shabbat.

So, first of all, on a practical level, this is how we learn what is considered “work” for the purposes of the Laws of Shabbat: anything that is necessary for the building of the Mishkan is forbidden on Shabbat. That is the source of the 39 Melachot of Shabbat.

But taking a step back, there is a bigger picture. The two commandments are two related ways to serve G-d, two forms of sacrifice: keeping Shabbat, and the sacrificial service of the Mishkan.

In our Siddur, there are phrases that we add on Shabbat. They begin with the word “Retzei” (accept). We say, “Retzei ve’Hachlitzenu”, “Retzei be’Menuchateinu”. This term is normally used in the context of serving G-d through sacrifices (and the prayers that substitute for them). For instance, the blessing in the Amida, “Retzei”, is labeled by the Koren Siddur as “Avodah” (Service). It says, “Accept the Jewish People and their prayers and bring back the Service …. May their Service be accepted by You”. “Retzei”, “accept”, refers to the Service of G-d, Avodah.

What, then, is “Retzei be’Menuchateinu”, “accept our rest”?

Our rest is, in itself, our Avodah, our Service. Shabbat, too, is sacrifice.

Those of us who grew up keeping Shabbat do not always appreciate how much of a sacrifice it really is – a sacrifice of our time, our money, of opportunities; in our career, our businesses, our lives in general. This is true even living here in Israel, where it’s relatively easy to keep Shabbat; not to mention other times in our not-too-distant history when people would be told “If you don’t come in on Saturday, don’t come in on Monday.”

And even so – for those of us in hi-tech, which needs to run 24/7, for university students who might have a test on Thursday and a project due on Sunday, for family that lives out of town that you don’t get to see, for friends that go out on Friday night that you can’t join – this is sacrifice, this is serving G-d. We pray that our sacrifice, our rest, will be accepted: “Retzei be’Menuchateinu.”

I read an article recently, about the sociology of Modern Orthodox people, in particular, of women, which suggested that we have three shifts. Work is one shift, family is the second. The third shift is Shabbat. It’s not one day of seven, it’s an entire “shift”.

When I read that, I thought, yes, well, till I finish clearing up after Shabbat, it’s around … Tuesday… and by then I’m already inviting guests for the next Shabbat. So yes, it’s a whole shift.

But that same article pointed out how that third shift, Shabbat, gives balance to the other two, and meaning to the rest of our lives. It is an opportunity to be with the family, with ourselves, to get dressed up, to enjoy good food, to see friends, to come to shul, to sing and to pray. It is not a punishment, it is a gift.

There is another phrase that we add to our prayers for Shabbat – in fact, we will do so this Pesach, which is approaching all too soon. In the Kiddush of the Seder, we will add “Be’Ahava”. And during the Amida, we will add “BeAhava u’ve’Ratzon”. Not just Ratzon, but also Ahava. Because Shabbat is a gift of love from the Ribono shel Olam, His love for us, and our love for Him.

My father, as you might know, did not grow up with Shabbat. It was not possible to observe Shabbat in the Soviet Union, to say the least. So when we came to America and were reunited with a Torah observant Jewish community, it was very difficult for him to understand Shabbat. Why are some things considered Melacha, and forbidden, and other things, which require more effort, are permitted? We were invited for many Shabbat meals by families in our community in Far Rockaway, week after week for years at a time, but it was Shabbat from the outside.

Then we all went to Israel for a 3 week trip, and there, my father experienced Shabbat from the inside, the whole thing. When we got back, he said, “I understand that He wants me to go to Shul on Shabbos.” So he did. And clearly, when one comes home from Shul, one makes Kiddush, and if one makes Kiddush, one has to have a bite of something, yes? And so it was.

He had Shabbat, with friends in shul, with singing, and davening, with an ironed shirt, and brandy for Kiddush. Be’Ahava u’ve’Ratzon.

And on his last Shabbat, he came to Kinor David, in a Shabbat shirt, to be with us all, and enjoy Shabbat, be’Ahava u’ve’Ratzon.

Shabbat Shalom

Source of “third shift”

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Filed under Shabbat Parah, Special Shabbatot, VaYakhel, Yahrtzeit

Rav Chessed ve’Emmet

Drasha given in Kinor David on Shabbat Ki Tisa / Parah, 20 Adar 5777, in memory of my father, whose Yahrzeit is 23 Adar

The Sin of the Golden Calf made it clear that despite all the miracles of the Exodus, of the Splitting of the Sea, and of the Revelation at Sinai, the Jewish People really did not understand G-d. They were too bound up in the pagan mindset of Egyptian culture, where every god had his own set of characteristics.

Therefore, Moshe asked G-d to describe Himself to him in terms of His characteristics, and G-d responded:

ה’, ה’, אל רחום וחנון, ארך אפיים רב חסד ואמת
Hashem, Hashem, G-d Who is merciful and gracious, patient, and has “great kindness and truth” (Shemot 34:6)

This expression, Rav Chessed ve’Emmet, which is usually translated as “great kindness and truth,” is actually quite hard to interpret. Rashi says that “Chessed” is when one is given more than one deserves, and “Emmet” is when one is given precisely what one deserves. He sees the two words as antonyms – Chessed vs Emmet.

As you know, I do a fair amount of translation, having translated all the Haftarot, and I must say that this interpretation does not work for most of the times that these words are used together in Tanach. For instance, the verse made famous by Yonatan Razael’s beautiful song:

קטונתי מכל החסדים ומכל האמת שעשית את עבדיך
“I am unworthy of all the kindnesses and all the truth that You have done for Your servant” (Bereishit 32:11)

It makes sense to say, “I am unworthy of all that you have given me beyond what I deserved,” but how does it make sense to say, “I am unworthy of all that you have given me that is precisely what I deserve?”

Moreover, what does it mean to have “great truth”? Truth is binary; something is either true, or not. But here we have “Rav Emmet,” a lot of truth. So there’s such a thing as only some truth, and a lot of truth? And sometimes, we can also have all the truth?

Dr. Amos Chacham, who wrote the Da’at Mikra commentary of Yeshayahu and Tehillim, points out that the word “Chessed” is not only used together with “Emmet,” it is also used together with “Brit” (covenant). For example:

לְעוֹלָם אֶשְׁמָר לוֹ חַסְדִּי וּבְרִיתִי נֶאֱמֶנֶת לוֹ
I will always keep for him My “Chessed”, and My “Brit” is faithful to him. (Tehillim 89)

It is very clear that the two parts of the verse are parallel; the words “Chessed” and “Brit” are synonyms, not antonyms. “Chessed” here is the fulfillment of promises. The three words, “Chessed,” “Emmet,” and “Brit” are variations on the same theme – the idea of keeping one’s word.

In English, we would translate “Chessed” as “loyalty,” “constancy,” “devotion.”

I’m not saying that “Chessed” isn’t kindness; the actions that result from it are indeed kind. However, Chessed does not come from feelings of compassion or benevolence; it comes from commitment.

And what, then, is “Rav Chessed?”

To help us understand the distinction between plain “Chessed,” and “Rav Chessed,” I will tell you a story about my father, z”l.

When my sister and I were growing up in America, we were a small family. Just parents and two children (although two children is already a big family for Russians 😉 ). With the exception of some very dear friends who were distantly related to us, all of our extended family was behind the Iron Curtain, and we were able to be in touch, with great difficulty, with only a handful of them.

Then our parents came to live in Israel, and it turned out that we had a whole bunch of second and third cousins, many times removed, who lived here. One of them was Aunt Donya, my father’s mother’s youngest first cousin, who was at the time in her early eighties, living in Ashdod. Needless to say, my father made an effort to make contact and visit her. That is “Chessed,” devotion – remembering connections and commitments, and strengthening them, despite the passage of time.
But my father did not stop there. He called Aunt Donya every single week, every Tuesday, for ten years. In fact, she was one of the first people to find out that he had passed away, because it was Tuesday, and he hadn’t called.

That is “Rav Chessed” – great devotion; unfailing commitment.

Emmet must also be understood from that perspective. It is not binary truth, true or false; it is truth over time, that is, keeping one’s word. The blessings of the Haftarah are phrased in those terms:

הָאֵל הַנֶּאֱמָן, הָאוֹמֵר וְעוֹשֶׂה, הַמְדַבֵּר וּמְקַיֵּם,שֶׁכָּל דְּבָרָיו אֱמֶת וָצֶדֶק
“The faithful G-d, Who says and then does, Who speaks and then fulfills, all of Whose words are truth and justice. “

How do we know if prophecy is true? When it is fulfilled. So when the prophet Yechezkel says in the Haftarah:

וְלָקַחְתִּי אֶתְכֶם מִן הַגּוֹיִם וְקִבַּצְתִּי אֶתְכֶם מִכָּל הָאֲרָצוֹת וְהֵבֵאתִי אֶתְכֶם אֶל אַדְמַתְכֶם
I will take you from the nations, and I will gather you from all the lands, and I will bring you to your land. (Yechezkel 36:24)

We look around us, and we see that these words have been fulfilled. How lucky are we, our generation, to be able to say that?

So now we know that “Rav Chessed ve’Emmet” means that G-d keeps His word despite the passage of time, with great commitment and devotion.

This is important because in the pagan mindset, this is not at all obvious. In the pantheons of many cultures around the world, there is a god who is described as a “trickster” – Loki – a god whose main characteristic is his unpredictability; not only can he not be trusted, he goes out of his way to wreak havoc. There is something in the human psyche that makes us want a god like that, perhaps to explain the chaos in the world around us.

This has even affected Jewish culture: there is an expression in Yiddish: “Der mensch trakht un gott lacht,” “man plans and G-d laughs.” But for us, it is not coming from the same place. It is not that we think that G-d enjoys it when our plans go awry, and that He’s doing it out of some perverse pleasure in our pain. It is that we realize that His plans are greater than ours, and that we are limited human beings who can only do so much.
As we say on Yom Kippur:

מה אנו מה חיינו מה חסדנו מה כוחנו
“What are we? What are our lives? What are our commitments? What is our strength?”

But Hashem, our G-d, He is Rav Chessed ve’Emmet – He speaks and He fulfills His word.

Now, to explain “Rav Emmet.” The Haftarah helps us here as well:

וְהוֹשַׁבְתִּי אֶת הֶעָרִים וְנִבְנוּ הֶחֳרָבוֹת
I will cause the cities to be settled, the ruins rebuilt (Yechezkel 36:33)

G-d words of Emmet would have been fulfilled if Yerushalayim had been rebuilt within its original boundaries. But that is not what we see. We see hill after hill covered in buildings, miles of them. Hundreds of thousands of people.
G-d promised:

וְהָאָרֶץ הַנְּשַׁמָּה תֵּעָבֵד
This abandoned land will be tilled (36:34)

His words of Emmet would have been fulfilled if the land were simply supporting its population. But we export cut flowers to Holland, and tropical fruit to Italy.

This is what Yaakov Avinu meant when he said, “I am not deserving of all the Emmet that You have done for Your servant – for I crossed the Jordan River with just my walking stick, and now I have grown to two full camps.”

G-d had promised him that He would take care of him. And He did, through very trying times. That promise would have been fulfilled if he had just gotten back safely. When Yaakov looks around at what he was given, he is overwhelmed by the quantity of Emmet, of fulfillment.

We also look around, and we are also overwhelmed by the quantity of Emmet.
Because that is our G-d, Hashem, Who says and then does, Who speaks and then fulfils. G-d Whose characteristics are Rav Chessed ve’Emmet.

Unfailing devotion, and eternal, overwhelming commitment.

Copyright © Kira Sirote
In memory of my parents, Peter & Nella Rozenberg, z”l
לעילוי נשמת אבי מורי פנחס בן נתן נטע ואמי מורתי חנה בת זעליג ז”ל

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Filed under Ki Tisa, Sefer Shemot, Shabbat Parah, Yahrtzeit


Pekudei is read only during leap years, and then only when it’s not one of the special Parshiyot. It describes the completion of the building of the Beit HaMikdash, the Temple, by Shlomo.

Linear annotated translation of the Haftarah of Pekudei

There are several connections, most prominently the use of words from the story of Creation: Partners with G-d

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Pekudei – Partners with G-d

The Haftarah of Pekudei describes the completion of the building of the Beit HaMikdash (Temple), just as the Parsha of Pekudei describes the completion of the building of the Mishkan (Tabernacle). It is not surprising to find that there are parallels in the descriptions.

Parshat Pekudei says the following:

וַתֵּכֶל כָּל עֲבֹדַת מִשְׁכַּן אֹהֶל מוֹעֵד וַיַּעֲשׂוּ בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל כְּכֹל אֲשֶׁר צִוָּה ה’ אֶת מֹשֶׁה כֵּן עָשׂוּ. וַיַּרְא מֹשֶׁה אֶת כָּל הַמְּלָאכָה וְהִנֵּה עָשׂוּ אֹתָהּ כַּאֲשֶׁר צִוָּה ה’ כֵּן עָשׂוּ וַיְבָרֶךְ אֹתָם מֹשֶׁה
All the work of the Mishkan was concluded; Bnei-Yisrael had made exactly what Hashem commanded Moshe, so they made. Moshe saw all the construction; and behold, it had been made as Hashem had commanded, so it was made. Moshe blessed them. (Shemot 39:32,43)

and in the Haftarah:

וַתִּשְׁלַם כָּל הַמְּלָאכָה אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה הַמֶּלֶךְ שְׁלֹמֹה בֵּית ה’… וַיַּסֵּב הַמֶּלֶךְ אֶת פָּנָיו וַיְבָרֶךְ אֵת כָּל קְהַל יִשְׂרָאֵל
All the construction was completed that King Shlomo had made for Beit-Hashem…The king turned his face and blessed all the assembly of Yisrael. (Melachim I 7:51, 8:14)

The description focuses on the completion of the work and the blessing that was given by the maker. If that sounds familiar, it is because these are the same words that are used in the Creation of the World itself:

וַיְכַל אֱ-לֹהִים בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי מְלַאכְתּוֹ אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה וַיִּשְׁבֹּת בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי מִכָּל מְלַאכְתּוֹ אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה. וַיְבָרֶךְ אֱ-לֹהִים אֶת יוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי וַיְקַדֵּשׁ אֹתוֹ כִּי בוֹ שָׁבַת מִכָּל מְלַאכְתּוֹ אֲשֶׁר בָּרָא אֱ-לֹהִים לַעֲשׂוֹת
G-d concluded on the seventh day the construction that He had made. He rested on the seventh day from all the construction that He had made. G-d blessed the seventh day and made it holy, for on it He stopped all the construction that G-d had created to make. (Bereishit 2:2-3)

The wording used to describe the completion of Creation is the same as the wording used to describe the completion of the Mishkan and, later, of the Beit HaMikdash. That means that building the Mishkan is analogous to creating the world. Indeed, that is how the Midrash describes it, going through the Creation of the world day by day and showing the parallels to the Mishkan:

את המשכן שהוא שקול כנגד העולם שקרוי אוהל כשם שמשכן קרוי אוהל כיצד כתיב בראשית ברא אלהים וגו’ וכתיב נוטה שמים כיריעה ובמשכן כתיב ועשית יריעות עזים לאוהל על המשכן וגו’ כתיב בשני יהי רקיע ויהי מבדיל וגו’ ובמשכן כתיב והבדילה הפרוכת לכם … בששי נברא אדם ובמשכן ואתה הקרב אליך את אהרן אחיך בשביעי כתיב ויכולו השמים וגו’ ובמשכן ותכל כל עבודת משכן וגו’ בבריאת עולם כתיב ויברך אלהים ובמשכן ויברך אותם
The Mishkan is analogous to the world, which is called a tent, just as the Mishkan is called a tent. How so? It says: “He spreads out the sky like a curtain,” and by the Mishkan it says, “Make goatskin curtains for the tent of the Mishkan.” On the second day it says: “Let the sky be a separation,” and by the Mishkan it says, “the curtain will be a separation,” etc … On the sixth day: mankind was created, and by the Mishkan it says, “Bring close to you Aharon, your brother.” On the seventh day: “The heavens were concluded,” and by the Mishkan, “All the work was concluded.” At Creation it says, “G-d blessed,” and by the Mishkan, “He blessed them.”
(Midrash Bamidbar Rabba 12:13)

If the Mishkan is the world in miniature and its building is Creation in miniature, then the Jewish People are, in a manner of speaking, G-d in miniature. G-d concludes the Creation of the World as its Maker and blesses it; Moshe concludes the building of the Mishkan as its maker and blesses the Jewish People; Shlomo concludes the building of the Beit HaMikdash as its maker and blesses the Jewish People.

How is such a thing possible? What is it that turns a man-made construction into a microcosm of the world and its makers into Makers, capable of bestowing blessing?

In the case of the Mishkan, we can answer that it was made according to G-d’s specific, explicit instructions: “and behold, it had been made as Hashem had commanded, so it was made.” Thus, the Jewish People were simply G-d’s construction crew; because they represent Him in carrying out His commands, they represent Him in their ability to bestow blessing.

But what about the Beit HaMikdash? As the Haftarah points out, the idea to build it did not come from G-d, but rather from David HaMelech. G-d approved it, but that is not the same as commanding it. Nor does it say in the Haftarah that it was made according to G-d’s command. The parallels to the Mishkan include the words “completion,” “construction,” “made,” and “blessed,” but is missing the phrase, “as Hashem commanded.”

How, then, was it possible for the Beit HaMikdash to reach the level of the Mishkan, emulating the Creation of the World, and for Shlomo to reach the level of Moshe, emulating the Maker with the ability to bless?

Shlomo provides the answer himself when he talks about what has been accomplished in the building of the Beit HaMikdash:

וָאֶבְנֶה הַבַּיִת לְשֵׁם ה’ אֱ-לֹהֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל . וָאָשִׂם שָׁם מָקוֹם לָאָרוֹן אֲשֶׁר שָׁם בְּרִית ה’ אֲשֶׁר כָּרַת עִם אֲבֹתֵינוּ בְּהוֹצִיאוֹ אֹתָם מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם.
I have built the House to the Name of Hashem, the G-d of Yisrael. And I made there a place for the Ark in which lies the Covenant of Hashem that He had made with our fathers when He took them out of Egypt. (Melachim I 8:20-21)

What makes this particular set of wood and stone into a House for Hashem is the Ark, in which lie the Tablets that represent the Covenant between G-d and the Jewish People at Sinai. It is when the Ark is placed inside the Beit HaMikdash that G-d’s Presence makes itself felt in the House. Only after that is Shlomo able to turn to the Jewish People and say, “I did it. I made this into a House for Hashem.” Only then is he able to bless them.

However, it was not the Ark that breathed life and meaning into wood and stone; it is also only wood and stone itself. Rather, it was the Covenant that it contained, that G-d had made with the Jewish People when He took us out of Egypt, the Covenant of “we will do and we will listen.” It was for the sake of our keeping this Covenant that G-d allowed Shlomo to build a House in His Name and to show His Presence within it. It is this Covenant that makes us G-d’s messengers in this world and His partners in Creation.

The building of the Mishkan, with its multitude of detailed commandments that were carried out “as He has commanded, so it was done,” was the first grand-scale exercise of our role as G-d’s partners. The faithful fulfilment of these commandments made it possible to create a microcosm of the world and made it possible for Moshe to bless the Jewish People in the way that G-d blessed His Creation. However, building the Mishkan was a one-time event; we do not make a Mishkan every day or every year.

In contrast, G-d’s Presence in the Beit HaMikdash was not due to the fulfilment of a set of specific commandments, but rather on the sum total of the commandments in the Covenant. Commandments such as “Honor your father and mother,” “Do not covet,” and the six hundred and eleven others, make us G-d’s representatives and His partners on a daily basis. By leading our entire lives in the form of “as He has commanded, so it was done,” we cause His Presence to dwell in this world, and become capable of bestowing blessing upon His Creation.

Copyright © Kira Sirote
In memory of my father, Peter Rozenberg, z”l
לעילוי נשמת אבי מורי פנחס בן נתן נטע ז”ל

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In His Ways

(Translation of the D’var Torah that I gave in our shul on 18 Adar 5776, 27 Feb 2016. It was written as a speech, not an essay, and is not actually about the Haftarah.)

This Dvar Torah is in memory my father, Peter Rozenberg, Pinchas ben Natan Nota, z”l, whose yahrtzeit is this Thursday.

There is a Mitzvah in the Torah – “והלכת בדרכיו” – “you should act in His ways”. Chazal explain, “Just as He is merciful, you should be merciful; just as He is gracious, so you should be gracious.” The list of these qualities is found in our Parsha, after the Sin of the Golden Calf, when Moshe is in the cleft of the rock, and G-d passes in front of Him and calls out:

” ה’ ה’ אל רחום וחנון, ארך אפיים, רב חסד ואמת, נוצר חסד לאלפים, וכו’…”
Hashem, Hashem, G-d Who is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, with great kindness and truth, remembering kindnesses for thousands of generations, …” (Shemot 34:6-7)

A person who acts in these ways of Hashem, what is he like?

“Just as He is merciful, you should be merciful” – this is understanding that the person before you is not perfect. He doesn’t know everything, he doesn’t control everything, he does not succeed at everything. He wants to do well, to do the right thing, but it doesn’t always work out for him. Because he’s not perfect, and that’s fine. This is mercy.
What is “gracious”(חנון)? Chazal say that this is when one gives free (“חינם”). My father used to say that when someone asks you for help, of course you have to help. But real giving is to help without being asked – to understand what is missing and to find ways to give it. This is “gracious.”

“Slow to anger” is when you understand that because nobody is perfect, and nobody succeeds 100%, then it is possible that if a person fails today, he might succeed tomorrow. Or sometime in the future. (And this is particularly important when dealing with children, and even more so, with teenagers. In the end, they’ll be perfect, don’t worry) – this is “slow to anger”.

“Great kindness” – there are people who are very happy to give to others, but only within their own community, to people who are like them. When it comes to others, who are different … not so much. “Great kindness” is giving to all, regardless of who they are.

“Remembering kindness for thousands of generations” – when my father came to live in Israel, it turned out that we have family all over the country. He would send me regards from, the grandchildren of the cousins of my grandmother… someone whom he had known as a child, and was kind to him then, and now he is in contact with their great-grandchildren.

And so on.

But why is this list of G-d’s qualities, which is the basis of the commandment, “act in His ways”, why is it not in mentioned at Matan Torah at Sinai? Why does G-d only tell Moshe about these qualities after the Sin of the Golden Calf, as if it was “Plan B”? What was “Plan A”?

In the Ten Commandments, it says, ”

“אנכי ה’ אלוקיך…פוקד עון אבות על בנים… לשונאי.. ועושה חסד לאלפים לאוהבי”
“I am Hashem, your G-d.. keeps in mind the sins of the father … for those who hate Me; do kindness for thousands of generations for those who love Me” (Shemot 20:5)

At Matan Torah, at Sinai, we returned to the state of before the Sin of Adam – there was no death, there was no illness, all was clear. And so G-d spoke in black and white – “those who love Me, those who hate Me.” 100%. This was a state like in the Garden of Eden, of perfection. But it did not last. Apparently, it could not last.

When Moshe did not come back on time, the Jewish People said, “this man, Moshe, we do not know what became of him.” They didn’t know! Aharon, also – it’s clear that he really just did not know what to do; he tried to delay them, he told them, “tomorrow”, because he didn’t know.

We are not perfect. We do not know everything. We only see what is in front of us, and no more. We cannot make decisions based on perfect knowledge about what will be tomorrow. We only know what we have today – “one day at a time.”
So, we make mistakes, we are not perfect. And the truth is, that this is sad. It says that when the Jewish People understood this, that they would not be able to survive with G-d treating them as either “those who love Me” or “those who hate Me”, expecting success of 100%, they mourned. They took off the “jewels”, the crowns, as it were, that they received at Matan Torah, that were symbols of their existence in the state of Eden, because it is impossible to live like that. And this is very sad.

So then, G-d showed them that He can be with them without the 100%. That He understands that they do not know everything, do not control everything, do not succeed at everything, and that sometimes, they don’t even know to ask for help.

Just as He is merciful, so you should be merciful. Just as He is gracious, so you should be gracious.

Copyright © Kira Sirote
In memory of my father, Peter Rozenberg, z”l
לעילוי נשמת אבי מורי פנחס בן נתן נטע ז”ל

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Terumah – A House for G-d

Parshat Terumah contains the instructions for building the portable sanctuary which we call the Mishkan. The purpose of this sanctuary is stated at the beginning of the Parsha:

וְעָשׂוּ לִי מִקְדָּשׁ וְשָׁכַנְתִּי בְּתוֹכָם
They will make Me a sanctuary, and I will dwell among them. (Shemot 25:3)

Even though the word Mishkan means “place of dwelling,” G-d makes it clear that His intention is not to have a place to live, but rather to allow His Presence to be felt by the Jewish People. He will not dwelling in “it,” He will be dwelling “among them.”

The same phrase is used in the Haftarah, which describes the construction of the first permanent sanctuary, the Beit HaMikdash, built by Shlomo in Yerushalayim. After the description of the massive effort and architectural marvels, the Haftarah tells us that G-d has a message for Shlomo:

הַבַּיִת הַזֶּה אֲשֶׁר אַתָּה בֹנֶה אִם תֵּלֵךְ בְּחֻקֹּתַי וְאֶת מִשְׁפָּטַי תַּעֲשֶׂה וְשָׁמַרְתָּ אֶת כָּל מִצְוֹתַי לָלֶכֶת בָּהֶם וַהֲקִמֹתִי אֶת דְּבָרִי אִתָּךְ אֲשֶׁר דִּבַּרְתִּי אֶל דָּוִד אָבִיךָ: וְשָׁכַנְתִּי בְּתוֹךְ בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וְלֹא אֶעֱזֹב אֶת עַמִּי יִשְׂרָאֵל:
About this House that you are building: if you follow My statutes and carry out My laws, and keep all My commandments, to walk in their ways, then I shall keep My word to you as I spoke to your father, David. And I will dwell among the children of Israel, and I will not forsake My people, Israel. (Melachim I 6:12-13)

Here too, G-d stresses that the purpose of this building is for Him to dwell among the Jewish People, and refers to an earlier conversation that He had with Shlomo’s father, David. In order for us to understand the full import of what G-d was telling Shlomo, we need to go back to the context of that earlier conversation.

Soon after David established his kingdom and built his own palace in Yerushalayim, he decided that he felt uncomfortable living in such grandeur, while the Sanctuary that contained the Ark of the Covenant, also in Yerushalayim, was housed in a simple goatskin tent. He mentioned to his court prophet, Natan, that the right thing to do would be to build a permanent structure for the Sanctuary. At first, Natan was enthusiastic about the idea and told him to go right ahead and implement this plan. However, that very night, G-d appeared to Natan with the following message for David HaMelech:

בְּכֹל אֲשֶׁר הִתְהַלַּכְתִּי בְּכָל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל הֲדָבָר דִּבַּרְתִּי אֶת אַחַד שִׁבְטֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל אֲשֶׁר צִוִּיתִי לִרְעוֹת אֶת עַמִּי אֶת יִשְׂרָאֵל לֵאמֹר לָמָּה לֹא בְנִיתֶם לִי בֵּית אֲרָזִים .. וְהִגִּיד לְךָ ה’ כִּי בַיִת יַעֲשֶׂה לְּךָ ה’
For all that I walked with all of children of Israel, did I ever say to one of the tribes of Israel, that I had appointed to herd My people Israel, saying, why haven’t you built Me a house of cedar? … Hashem said to you that Hashem will make you a house (Shmuel II 7:7)

In a prime example of prophetic sarcasm, G-d points out that in the four hundred years since the Exodus, He had never once asked them to build Him a house. He assures David that if He had had a problem with the tent where the Sanctuary was placed, He would have let them know. The house that David needs to worry about is his own “house”, his dynasty, that G-d is building for him. Only after this dynasty is firmly established, would his son be permitted to build a permanent structure for the Sanctuary.

After hearing this message, David put aside his dream of building a House for G-d, and focused on building his kingdom and raising Shlomo to be the first ever hereditary ruler of the Jewish People.

In the Haftarah, we are at the point where Shlomo has fulfilled David’s dream. And now that Shlomo has built this architectural wonder of a Beit Hashem, a House for G-d, G-d reminds him that He doesn’t particularly need or want it.

What, then, does He want? On this point, G-d is very clear, both in the Parsha and in the Haftarah. The purpose of the beautiful impressive House is the same as the purpose of the simple goatskin tent: “to dwell among the Jewish People.”

This phrase, “dwelling among us” refers to the prophetic experience of G-d by the entire nation. Part of the purpose of the Revelation at Sinai was the profound sense of the “Glory of Hashem” which was manifest by a “cloud” that “dwelled” on the mountain:

וַיִּשְׁכֹּן כְּבוֹד ה’ עַל הַר סִינַי וַיְכַסֵּהוּ הֶעָנָן שֵׁשֶׁת יָמִים וַיִּקְרָא אֶל מֹשֶׁה בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי מִתּוֹךְ הֶעָנָן
The Glory of Hashem dwelled on Har Sinai; the cloud covered it for six days; He called to Moshe on the seventh day from the cloud. (Shmot 24:17)

When the Mishkan that is first described in Parshat Terumah was finally completed, its dedication was accompanied by a similar description:

וַיְכַס הֶעָנָן אֶת אֹהֶל מוֹעֵד וּכְבוֹד ה’ מָלֵא אֶת הַמִּשְׁכָּן
The cloud covered the Tent of Assembly, and the Glory of Hashem filled the Mishkan. (Shemot 40:34)

The Mishkan provided ongoing access to the experience of G-d’s Presence that they had known at Har Sinai. This is the meaning of “and I will dwell among them.”

But this is not something that happens automatically. In the pagan world. people believed that “if you build it, they will come.” If the deity gets a temple, the deity can be found in the temple. This is not the case for the Jewish People. The purpose of the Revelation at Har Sinai was to receive the Torah. The prerequisite for a direct relationship with G-d has always been fulfilling the commandments that the Jewish People committed to at Sinai. It is impossible to conceive of G-d allowing them access to His Presence while they ignore His laws.

Therefore, when Shlomo builds a House of G-d to rival any temple in the known world, G-d makes a point to tell him that building it is not enough. If the Jewish People keep the Torah, He is present among them, and He is happy to use this House as the focal point for His Presence, cloud and all, as indeed happened at its dedication:

וַיְהִי בְּצֵאת הַכֹּהֲנִים מִן הַקֹּדֶשׁ וְהֶעָנָן מָלֵא אֶת בֵּית ה’
As the Cohanim left the Sanctuary, the cloud filled the House of Hashem
(Melachim II 8)

But if not? If the Jewish People renege on their commitment at Sinai, then it’s just wood and stone. G-d dwells among the Jewish People, not in some grandiose building.

Copyright © Kira Sirote
In memory of my father, Peter Rozenberg, z”l
לעילוי נשמת אבי מורי פנחס בן נתן נטע ז”ל

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The Haftarah of VaYakhel is from Melachim, a description of the making of the Temple, which parallels nicely the Parsha of VaYakhel, which describes the making of the Mishkan (Tabernacle).

Linear annotated translation of the Haftarah of VaYayakhel

The Haftarah is very short (to make up for last week, Ki Tisa, which was very long), and on the years that Chanukah starts on Friday night and has two Shabbats, it is also read on the second Shabbat Chanukah. But for a completely different reason than we read it for VaYakhel.

The reason we read it for VaYakhel, since you asked, is here: Labor of Love

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VaYakhel – Labor of Love

The Parsha of VaYakhel could have been much, much shorter. It could have just said,

“And Moshe told the Jewish People all the things that G-d had commanded them regarding building the Mishkan (tabernacle). The Jewish People did all the things that G-d commanded.”

End of Parsha.

If it wanted to be a little more descriptive, it might have included chapter 25, the first chapter of Parshat VaYakhel. In it, Moshe first warns them about keeping Shabbat, then he tells them about all the things that need to be made, and asks for donations. We hear about how all the people donated everything that was necessary, after which it could have ended with, “And the Jewish People made all the things that G-d commanded.”

End of Parsha.

Instead, we have chapters 26, 27, and 28, which are in the format of:

“He made fifty golden hooks…”
“He made goatskin curtains …”
“He made wooden boards…”
“He made a woven hanging for the entrance…”

and so on,  thirty-odd times[1].

The Haftarah has a similar format. The chapter of Melachim that is read for the Haftarah describes the making of the objects needed in the Temple. Here too, the list is very detailed, including objects like pots, shovels, nets, and basins. Here too, this chapter (of which the Sefardim read one subset of verses and Ashkenazim another) repeats the word “he made”, ויעש, many times[2]. The Haftarah that we read is even known by its first few words, “ויעש חירם”, “Hiram made”, referring to the chief craftsman of the project.

Hence we see that both in the Parsha and the Haftarah, there is an emphasis on the detailed craftwork that was required for the various objects needed in the Temple, with a specific emphasis on the craftsman.

Why is this important?

Pulpit rabbis and Bar Mitzvah boys who find themselves having to give a speech about this Parsha tend to find refuge in its first few verses. Moshe gathers the people, and the first thing he does, as we mentioned earlier, is tell them that they must keep Shabbat.

(א) וַיַּקְהֵל מֹשֶׁה אֶת כָּל עֲדַת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וַיֹּאמֶר אֲלֵהֶם אֵלֶּה הַדְּבָרִים אֲשֶׁר צִוָּה ה’ לַעֲשֹׂת אֹתָם:
(ב) שֵׁשֶׁת יָמִים תֵּעָשֶׂה מְלָאכָה וּבַיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי יִהְיֶה לָכֶם קֹדֶשׁ שַׁבַּת שַׁבָּתוֹן לַה’ כָּל הָעֹשֶׂה בוֹ מְלָאכָה יוּמָת:

1) Moshe gathered the entire congregation of Bnei Israel; he said to them, these are the things that Hashem has commanded you to do:
2) Six days you will do melacha[3], and the seventh day will be holy, Shabbat-Shabbaton to Hashem; whoever does melacha will be put to death. (Shemot 35)

Keeping Shabbat means that you do melacha for six days, and during the seventh day, you do not do any melacha. What is melacha? It’s something that one does, a form of labor or work. But what kind, exactly?

A bit later in the same chapter, when the chief craftsman of the Mishkan, Betzalel, is introduced, we hear more about what it entails:

ל) וַיֹּאמֶר מֹשֶׁה אֶל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל רְאוּ קָרָא ה’ בְּשֵׁם בְּצַלְאֵל בֶּן אוּרִי בֶן חוּר לְמַטֵּה יְהוּדָה:
לא) וַיְמַלֵּא אֹתוֹ רוּחַ אֱ-לֹהִים בְּחָכְמָה בִּתְבוּנָה וּבְדַעַת וּבְכָל מְלָאכָה:

30) Moshe said to Bnei Israel: Look, Hashem has called the name of Betzalel ben Uri ben Chur of the tribe of Yehudah.
31) He has filled him with the Spirit of G-d: with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge, and with all melacha.

Similarly, when chief craftsman of the Temple, Hiram, is introduced (a few verses before he appears in our Haftarah[4]), it says:

יג) וַיִּשְׁלַח הַמֶּלֶךְ שְׁלֹמֹה וַיִּקַּח אֶת חִירָם מִצֹּר:
יד)….וַיִּמָּלֵא אֶת הַחָכְמָה וְאֶת הַתְּבוּנָה וְאֶת הַדַּעַת לַעֲשׂוֹת כָּל מְלָאכָה בַּנְּחֹשֶׁת וַיָּבוֹא אֶל הַמֶּלֶךְ שְׁלֹמֹה וַיַּעַשׂ אֶת כָּל מְלַאכְתּוֹ:

13) King Shlomo sent for and got Hiram of Tzor.
14) … He was filled with the wisdom, the understanding, and the knowledge to do all forms of melacha in bronze. He came to King Shlomo and he made all of his melacha.

From the juxtaposition of melacha with “wisdom, understanding, and knowledge”, we can infer that melacha refers to skilled labor, or craftsmanship. In fact, the Laws of Shabbat define melacha as the set of activities that were needed to build the Mishkan and its contents, activities that require a certain amount of skill or competence. Moreover, actions that are not done in a skillful manner do not count as melacha. Examples of this are: doing something unintentionally, having two people do a task meant for one individual, or doing something for a particular purpose and accomplishing something else as a result. In other words: if it’s done without “wisdom, understanding, and knowledge”, it is not truly melacha.

Now one might think that the fact that G-d does not want us to do melacha on the day that He made holy, on Shabbat, it means that G-d does not think very highly of this type of work, or even work in general. Perhaps the ideal for human beings is to be spiritual beings who spend their time in contemplation, rather than in activity.

But that is not the message that we get from Parshat VaYakhel. Shabbat is meant to remind us of Creation. When G-d created the world, He did not rest for seven days. Rather, He acted for six days and rested on the seventh. Human beings were created “be’tzelem Elokim”, in the image of G-d. We are His partners in Creation; He has given us power over nature, the ability to work with wood and metal to create things that nature cannot bring forth on its own. Just as He created for six days, we, too, are expected to act, to be “filled with wisdom, understanding, and knowledge”, and to create things for six days. We are then commanded to also emulate Him by holding back, by refraining from melacha, from craftwork, on the seventh day, on Shabbat. Not because melacha is not important, but because it is an expression of our godliness, of our “Tzelem Elokim”, as is Shabbat itself.

Having given us the ability to create, a portion of Himself, as it were, G-d is delighted in seeing us do so. So much so that He lists every one of the actions of craftsmanship involved in implementing the joint G-d / human project, the Mishkan.

The Ramban, in attempting to answer the question posed above, regarding the purpose of Parshat VaYakhel’s detailed repetition of the work of the Mishkan, says the following:

ועל הכלל כל זה דרך חבה ודרך מעלה, לומר כי חפץ השם במלאכה ומזכיר אותה בתורתו פעמים רבות

In general, all of this shows affection and regard, that is, that Hashem desires this melacha and mentions it in His Torah several times (Ramban, Shemot 36:8)

The reason that the Torah repeats each and every act of melacha, of creation, thirty-odd times, is that Hashem gets nachas from seeing His children act in “tzelem Elokim”, in wisdom, understanding, and knowledge.

It is precious to Him, and it should be precious to us, also.

Dedicated to the memory of Rose Alster, z”l, my grandmother (in-law), Elta Bubby to thirty-odd great-grandchildren, whose yahrtzeit was this past week, 19th Adar. She got nachas from hearing every detail of each and every one of their actions, as they were each precious to her. She is still precious to us all.

Copyright © Kira Sirote
In memory of my father, Peter Rozenberg, z”l
לעילוי נשמת אבי מורי פנחס בן נתן נטע ז”ל


[1] According to the search results of Bar-Ilan’s Morashti CD, 37 times.

[2] Seven times in the entire chapter, 2 of them in the Haftarah that we read.

[3] The word melacha was deliberately left un-translated, as it does not have a direct parallel in English. The rest of this essay attempts to pin down its precise meaning.

[4] This is the section of the chapter read by Sefardi shuls for VaYakhel. They read our section next week, for Pekudei, while we read the section after that.

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Ki Tisa – Life and Death

It is a D’var Torah that was given on the occasion of the yahrtzeit of my father, z”l, and of the fathers of two other members of our shul. It was written to be a speech, not an article. The sources are paraphrased as needed. It is not strictly related to the Haftarah.

Shabbat Shalom. This D’var Torah is dedicated to the memory of my father, Peter Rozenberg, Pinchas ben Natan Nota, the memory of Shaul’s Galek’s father, Chaim ben Shaul and Zelda, and the memory of Ziva Feigenbaum’s father, Dov Ber ben Zorach Yaakov.

I’ll start with a truly depressing verse from Kohelet:

כִּי הַחַיִּים יוֹדְעִים שֶׁיָּמֻתוּ וְהַמֵּתִים אֵינָם יוֹדְעִים מְאוּמָה וְאֵין עוֹד לָהֶם שָׂכָר כִּי נִשְׁכַּח זִכְרָם:
“For the living know that they will die, the dead know nothing, and there is no reward for them, for their memory has been forgotten” (Kohelet 9:5)

There is a Midrash in Kohelet Rabbah (9) on this verse:

R’ Chiya and R’ Yonatan were at a funeral. R’ Chiya saw that R’ Yonatan had his tzitzis out, and told him to cover them as it is rude to the denizens of the cemetery, it hurts their feelings. (In fact, that is the Halacha, not to wear tzitzis out in a cemetery). R’ Yonatan said to him, “Rebbe, but doesn’t it say, ‘the dead know nothing?” R’ Chiya answered, “You might know Mikra, text, but you don’t know Midrash! (and apparently, Kohelet must be studied with Midrash…)  ‘For the living know that they will die: those are the righteous, that even in their death are called ‘living’; ‘the dead know nothing’: those are the evildoers,  that even in their lives are called ‘dead’. How do we know that the righteous are called living, even in their death? As it says, in Parshat Ki Tisa – at that difficult time after the Sin of the Golden Calf, but before G-d actually forgave them:

G-d said to Moshe, “Go, go up from here, you and the people that I brought up from Egypt, to the land about which I swore to Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov, to tell them, to their descendants I will give it.” (Shemot 33:1)

G-d said to Moshe regarding the promise, “to tell them”, as if he is supposed to go now to the Avot and tell them that G-d is now fulfilling the promise. As if they’re still alive and he could talk to them.  From this, R’ Chiya derives that tzaddikim, the righteous, are considered living even when they’re dead.

But in what sense are the considered living? In reality, they are dead, they are gone. Moshe cannot actually go talk to the Avot…

Another Midrash: (Taanit 5b)

R’ Yochanan said: “Yaakov Avinu is not dead.”. They said to him, “What do you mean, not dead? They had a funeral, they eulogized him, they buried him?!” He said, “I derive this from the Mikra, the text, from a verse in Yirmeyahu that says: “Do not fear, Yaakov … I will rescue you from afar and your descendants from captivity” (Yirmiyahu 30)  – it identifies his descendants with him: just as the descendants are living, so too, he is living.”

We have already determined what “living” is: the righteous are called living even in their death. “His descendants are living” equals “his descendants are righteous”, that is, his descendants follow his ways, and continue in his path.

So Avraham Avinu is not dead, because each one of his descendants that does Chessed and welcomes people into their home continues the path of Avraham Avinu; thus Avraham Avinu is not dead.

Yitzchak Avinu is not dead, because each one of us that plants something here in the Land of Israel continues the path of Yitzchak Avinu.

Yaakov Avinu is not dead because each one of us that has a dream and a destiny, and is willing to struggle to achieve it, continues the path of Yaakov Avinu. Thus, Yaakov Avinu is not dead.

As long as his descendants are living, he, too is living.

In Parshat Ki Tisa, when Moshe is told about the Sin of the Golden Calf, and G-d says to him, “Leave Me alone, and I will wipe them out”, Moshe tries to convince G-d not to destroy the Jewish People. He says: “Remember what You promised to Avraham, to Yitzchak, and to Yaakov, Your servants, that You swore to them” (Shemot 32:13).

Now, this argument, that if G-d destroys the Jewish People, He will not be able to fulfill His promise, what kind of argument is it? What information does it add? G-d couldn’t think of this on His own? He was like, “Oh, yeah, right, I promised…”  ?!

What G-d meant was as follows: If the Jewish People do not continue in the path of the Avot, then they are not living, they are dead. And like it says in Kohelet, “the dead know nothing”. The promise does not apply to them. It is over. To this, Moshe argues, “No, that is not so!”

The Midrash (Shemot Rabbah 44) on this verse compares Israel to a grapevine. In the winter, the grapevine looks utterly dead. Dry pieces of wood, with no signs of life. But then the spring comes, and the grapevine begins to bud and to blossom with new branches. They draw their strength from what had appeared dead but was actually the source of life.

Moshe Rabbeinu said to G-d: “It is true, at this moment everything looks dead and lost. But the strength of the Avot is found within us – they are not dead, they are living! That is, unless G-d destroys the Jewish People, in which case there really will not be any continuation for Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov, and then the promise is indeed void. But as long as the Jewish People exist, there is hope!”  And G-d accepted his argument …

As long as there are descendants who continue the path of their fathers, they are not dead, they are called, “living”.

Shabbat Shalom.

Copyright © Kira Sirote
In memory of my father, Peter Rozenberg, z”l
לעילוי נשמת אבי מורי פנחס בן נתן נטע ז”ל

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Filed under Ki Tisa, Sefer Shemot, Yahrtzeit

Ki Tisa

The Haftarah of Ki Tisa is on the long side, but one of the best stories in all of Tanach, Eliyahu on Har HaCarmel:
Linear annotated translation of the Haftarah of Ki Tisa

Why is this the Haftarah of Ki Tisa? Something to do with the sin of the Golden Calf, but not the way one might have thought. See Who’s to blame?

Speaking of which: the 1972 Israeli song “Izevel”, about Jezebel, the queen.

Har HaCarmel, what it might have looked like after several years of drought

Har HaCarmel, what it might have looked like after several years of drought

Achav was worried about his horses dying in the drought. Here is Tel Megiddo, where some of them were stabled

Achav was worried about his horses dying in the drought. Here is Tel Megiddo, where some of them were stabled

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Filed under Ki Tisa, Sefer Shemot