Category Archives: Sefer Vayikra


Tazria is not read very often; it is either read together with Metzora, or it’s Parshat HaChodesh, but when we do read it, it’s a great story of one of Elisha’s miracles:

Linear Annotated Translation of the Haftarah of Tazria

What we learn from Na’aman’s Tzaraat: Catalyst for Change

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Tazria – Catalyst for Change

The Parsha of Tazria spends the bulk of its text on the diagnosis of the Biblical disease, Tzaraat, “leprosy.” In his summation of the Laws of the Impurity of Leprosy (16:10), the Rambam points out that the term “Tzaraat” covers so many unrelated symptoms that it cannot possibly refer to a natural malady, but is rather a supernatural phenomenon whose purpose was to cause people to reevaluate their behavior. The particular behavior that the Rambam singles out as the cause of Tzaraat is Lashon Hara, speaking in a derogatory manner about other people. A person who makes a habit of doing so will first see signs of Tzaraat on the walls of his house. If he stops his behavior, the house can be purified; if not, the house will need to be destroyed and it will affect the furniture, then the clothes, and ultimately his own skin, and he will be isolated so that he is unable to speak with anyone about anything. The purpose of all this is to shock a person into changing his behavior and the dismissive attitude that underlies it.

Whereas the Rambam focuses on Lashon Hara as the behavior that Tzaraat is meant to reverse, the Midrash lists several other behaviors and character traits that cause it. One of them is the subject of the Haftorah of Tazria.

מכאן א”ר יהודה הלוי ב”ר שלום על י”א דברים הצרעת באה על קללת השם ועל גילוי עריות ועל שפיכות דמים ועל האומר על חבירו דבר שאינו בו ועל גסות הרוח ועל הנכנס בתחום שאינו שלו ועל לשון שקר ועל הגניבות ועל שבועת שקר ועל המחלל שם שמים ועל עבודת כוכבים … ועל גסות הרוח זה נעמן שנאמר (מלכים ב ה) (ונעמן) [שר צבא מלך ארם] היה איש גדול מהו גדול שהיתה רוחו גסה מפני שהיה גבור חיל ועל ידי כך נצטרע

R’ Yehuda HaLevi bar Shalom said: Tzaraat comes for 11 things: cursing Hashem, sexual immorality, murder, speaking lies against a friend, haughtiness, entering an area that is not for you, lying, stealing, swearing falsely, desecrating the Name of Heaven, and idolatry…. “Haughtiness:” that’s Naaman, as it says: “Naaman was a great man.” What is “great?” He was haughty and full of himself because he was a strong warrior, and for that he got Tzaraat (Midrash Bamidbar Rabbba 7:5)

The Haftorah introduces Na’aman thus:

וְנַעֲמָן שַׂר צְבָא מֶלֶךְ אֲרָם הָיָה אִישׁ גָּדוֹל לִפְנֵי אֲדֹנָיו וּנְשֻׂא פָנִים כִּי בוֹ נָתַן ה’ תְּשׁוּעָה לַאֲרָם וְהָאִישׁ הָיָה גִּבּוֹר חַיִל מְצֹרָע:
Na’aman, the general of the king of Aram, was a great man at court, and highly esteemed, for through him, Hashem had given victory to Aram. The man was a great warrior, a leper.
(Melachim II 5:1)

The Haftorah then describes how this great, famous, highly esteemed general of the Aramean court visits the prophet Elisha because he had been told that Elisha can cure him of his leprosy. He appears, as befitting a person of his rank and wealth, with an entourage of carriages and servants, in front of the hovel where Elisha lives in great poverty. Yet Elisha does not show him the slightest deference. Not only does he not fawn upon Na’aman, he does not even bother to come out to greet him. He simply sends a servant with instructions to immerse seven times in the Jordan River. The Haftorah records Naaman’s reaction to this treatment:

וַיִּקְצֹף נַעֲמָן וַיֵּלַךְ וַיֹּאמֶר הִנֵּה אָמַרְתִּי אֵלַי יֵצֵא יָצוֹא וְעָמַד וְקָרָא בְּשֵׁם ה’ אֱ-לֹהָיו וְהֵנִיף יָדוֹ אֶל הַמָּקוֹם וְאָסַף הַמְּצֹרָע: הֲלֹא טוֹב אֲמָנָה וּפַרְפַּר נַהֲרוֹת דַּמֶּשֶׂק מִכֹּל מֵימֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל הֲלֹא אֶרְחַץ בָּהֶם וְטָהָרְתִּי וַיִּפֶן וַיֵּלֶךְ בְּחֵמָה:
Na’aman got angry and stormed off. He said, “I had said to myself, he’s going to come out, and stand, and call in the name of Hashem his God, wave his hand over the place and the leprosy would go away. Aren’t Amana and Pharpor, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Yisrael? Can’t I bathe in them and be pure?” He turned and walked off in fury.
(Melachim II 5:11-12)

Na’aman feels that he knows what the treatment for his leprosy should be like, and what will and will not work. As a “great and highly esteemed” personage, he is sure that he knows everything there is to know, and deserves every attention and consideration, and if someone who is so clearly beneath him violates his expectations, he loses his temper and storms off.
Fortunately for Na’aman, his servants convince him that he has nothing to lose in following the prophet’s prescription, and he does immerse in the Jordan River. This concession to the possibility that there is a Greater Power is enough for his Tzaraat to be cured. Na’aman goes back to Elisha to thank him and offers him a generous honorarium. Elisha categorically refuses to accept a penny from Na’aman. One might have thought that Na’aman would be insulted by this refusal and that it would be further provocation to anger, but instead we see a remarkable shift in Na’aman’s attitude:

וַיֹּאמֶר נַעֲמָן וָלֹא יֻתַּן נָא לְעַבְדְּךָ מַשָּׂא צֶמֶד פְּרָדִים אֲדָמָה כִּי לוֹא יַעֲשֶׂה עוֹד עַבְדְּךָ עֹלָה וָזֶבַח לֵאלֹהִים אֲחֵרִים כִּי אִם לַה’
Na’aman said, “If not, then let your servant be given some earth that a pair of mules could carry. For your servant will no longer make sacrifices to other gods, except to Hashem. (Melachim II 5:18)

Na’aman, who was introduced as a “great man at court, highly respected,” who sneered at the suggestion that the Jordan River would effect a cure when the rivers of his own country would not, ends up begging for some dirt from Eretz Yisrael.
The Haftorah shows us that Tzaraat is meant to serve as a catalyst for change. If someone as proud and prejudiced as Na’aman had been can learn to see past his ego, then so can we. When we look down at other people, or seek to raise ourselves in the eyes of our friends by taking down those around us, we are guilty of haughtiness as Na’aman had been. We might not even be aware that we are being led astray by our egos. Tzaraat is a supernatural wake-up call to examine ourselves, to alter our behavior and revise our attitude before things get even worse. Tzaraat is reversible, and so are our character flaws.

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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Shmini – Hazard, Beware!

Parshat Shmini and the Haftarah of Shmini both contain stories of tragic deaths. Parshat Shmini describes how, just at the culmination of the dedication of the Mishkan, Nadav and Avihu lit a fire for the incense, and were killed by the Divine Fire that appeared. The Haftarah of Shmini describes how, while bringing the Ark of the Covenant to Yerushalayim, Uzah, one of the people leading the procession, reached out to keep the Ark from falling, and was struck down by G-d. What did they do that was so terrible that caused them to lose their lives?

To understand Uzah’s story, we need some context. Several decades before the events described in this Haftarah, the Ark had been captured in a battle with the Plishtim. Its presence caused plagues to break out in the Plishti towns, and ultimately, the Ark was placed in the care of Avinadav from Kiryat Yearim, where it stayed without incident for many years. After David HaMelech made Yerushalayim his capital city, he arranged for the Ark to be brought there. The descendants of Avinadav placed it upon a cart and walked before it. Then the following happened:

…. וַיִּשְׁלַח עֻזָּא אֶל אֲרוֹן הָאֱ-לֹהִים וַיֹּאחֶז בּוֹ כִּי שָׁמְטוּ הַבָּקָר: וַיִּחַר אַף ה’ בְּעֻזָּה וַיַּכֵּהוּ שָׁם הָאֱ-לֹהִים עַל הַשַּׁל וַיָּמָת שָׁם עִם אֲרוֹן הָאֱ-לֹהִים:
…Uzah reached for the Ark of G-d and grabbed it, because the oxen had slipped. Hashem’s anger was kindled at Uzah, G-d struck him down due to the error. He died there, with the Ark of G-d. (Shmuel I 6:6-7)

Uzah reached out to keep the Ark from falling off the cart, and lost his life. The Midrash explains what his error was:

אמר לו הקדוש ברוך הוא הארון נושאיו נשא, עצמו לא כל שכן
G-d said to him, the Ark carries those who carry it — to carry itself, how much more so! (Bamidbar Rabbah 4:20)

The Midrash refers to the crossing of the Jordan River, when the Jewish People entered Eretz Yisrael. As soon as the Cohanim who were carrying it stepped into the water, the river stopped flowing, allowing the Jewish People to cross safely. Then:

וַיְהִי כַּאֲשֶׁר תַּם כָּל הָעָם לַעֲבוֹר וַיַּעֲבֹר אֲרוֹן ה’ וְהַכֹּהֲנִים לִפְנֵי הָעָם
When all the people finished passing, the Ark of Hashem, and the Cohanim, crossed before the people. (Yehoshua 4:11)

It does not say “the Cohanim with the Ark of Hashem crossed;” it says “the Ark of Hashem crossed.” The Ark made it possible for the Cohanim to cross the river, not the other way around.

The Midrash points out that Uzah should have known that the Ark was not an ordinary object that follows the laws of nature; it did not need him to keep it from falling.

Nadav and Avihu made a similar mistake for similar reasons.

וַיָּבֹא מֹשֶׁה וְאַהֲרֹן אֶל אֹהֶל מוֹעֵד וַיֵּצְאוּ וַיְבָרֲכוּ אֶת הָעָם וַיֵּרָא כְבוֹד ה’ אֶל כָּל הָעָם: וַתֵּצֵא אֵשׁ מִלִּפְנֵי ה’ וַתֹּאכַל עַל הַמִּזְבֵּחַ אֶת הָעֹלָה וְאֶת הַחֲלָבִים וַיַּרְא כָּל הָעָם וַיָּרֹנּוּ וַיִּפְּלוּ עַל פְּנֵיהֶם: וַיִּקְחוּ בְנֵי אַהֲרֹן נָדָב וַאֲבִיהוּא אִישׁ מַחְתָּתוֹ וַיִּתְּנוּ בָהֵן אֵשׁ וַיָּשִׂימוּ עָלֶיהָ קְטֹרֶת וַיַּקְרִיבוּ לִפְנֵי ה’ אֵשׁ זָרָה אֲשֶׁר לֹא צִוָּה אֹתָם:וַתֵּצֵא אֵשׁ מִלִּפְנֵי ה’ וַתֹּאכַל אוֹתָם וַיָּמֻתוּ לִפְנֵי ה’:

Moshe and Aharon came to the Tent of Assembly. They went out, and blessed the nation. The Glory of Hashem manifested itself to the entire nation. Fire went forth from before Hashem and ate what was on the Altar, the offerings and the fats; the entire nation saw; they sang out, they fell to the ground in worship. The sons of Aharon, Nadav and Avihu, each took a fire pan; they put in them fire, and on that they placed incense; they brought before Hashem an external fire that He had not commanded them. Fire went forth from before Hashem and ate them. They died before Hashem. (VaYikra 9:23-24, 10:1-2)

According to Rashbam, the “fire that went forth” in both verses is the same fire. The order of events then is as follows:

Everything had been laid out the final stage of the dedication of the Mishkan, and all that was missing for the fulfillment of its purpose of “I shall dwell among you” was the manifestation of the Presence of G-d. While waiting for it to appear, Moshe and Aharon left the Mishkan and went out to bless the nation. After their blessing, G-d’s Presence manifested itself, in two ways: the Cloud of Glory appeared on the Mishkan, and Divine Fire came down and consumed the offering.

The verses then shift to Nadav and Avihu, who had remained inside the Mishkan, and were waiting for G-d’s Presence to appear. For whatever reason – perhaps impatience, perhaps arrogance, perhaps a misplaced sense of devotion – instead of continuing to wait like they were supposed to, they decided to take matters into their own hands, and make their own fire. But the Divine Fire did come down, without their help. It started at the internal incense Altar, where they were standing, and went out to the external Altar where the sacrifices had been laid out. Nadav and Avihu, who were not supposed to be there, were caught in its path.

Nadav and Avihu must have thought that they were operating in the physical world, where fire is lit by human beings. But just as G-d did not need Uzah to keep the Ark from falling, He did not need Nadav and Avihu to make fire in the Mishkan.

Disobeying the laws of the Torah regarding objects that do not quite obey the laws of physics can be hazardous to one’s health.

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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The Haftarah of Tzav is only read on leap years, and only if it is not also Shabbat Zachor. Otherwise, Tzav usually falls out on Shabbat HaGadol

It is from Yirmeyahu, and it is not good news.

Linear annotated translation of the Haftarah of Tzav

For an explanation of the ironically straight-forward connection, and an additional connection to Purim, see Forms of Worship

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Tzav – Forms of Worship

Parshat Tzav contains many commandments that describe how, precisely, the Cohanim should go about bringing various kinds of sacrifices. For that reason, it is puzzling to see the following statement in the Haftarah:

כִּי לֹא דִבַּרְתִּי אֶת אֲבוֹתֵיכֶם וְלֹא צִוִּיתִים בְּיוֹם הוֹצִיאִי אוֹתָם מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם עַל דִּבְרֵי עוֹלָה וָזָבַח
For I did not speak to your ancestors and did not command them, on the day that I took them out of the land of Egypt, regarding sacrifices and offerings. (Yirmeyahu 7:22)

How can G-d say, “I did not command them about sacrifices and offerings, ” when the Parsha, which is even called “Tzav,” does exactly that?

The commentaries offer several explanations. First of all, they focus on the phrase, “on the day that I took them out of the land of Egypt,” and point out that, indeed, the commandments that the Jewish People received immediately after leaving Egypt did not include any mention of sacrifices. Nor are sacrifices mentioned in the Ten Commandments. It is only months later, after the Mishkan is built, that these laws were given, in VaYikra and Tzav.

Other commentaries point out that personal sacrifices are not mandatory. A person can choose to bring an offering, and if so, the Torah tells him how to do it. But the Torah does not command him to do it in the first place.

This is very different from the pagan mentality that was prevalent in the ancient world. They believed that a god is worshipped only and exclusively through sacrifices and offerings. If you have a god, you build him or her a temple, and if you want something from them, you go and bring them a nice jar of olives, or a fat little lamb.

This is not how our relationship with G-d works, and this is not how He expects to be worshipped. The Haftarah explains what He does want from us:

כִּי אִם אֶת הַדָּבָר הַזֶּה צִוִּיתִי אוֹתָם לֵאמֹר שִׁמְעוּ בְקוֹלִי וְהָיִיתִי לָכֶם לֵא-לֹהִים וְאַתֶּם תִּהְיוּ לִי לְעָם וַהֲלַכְתֶּם בְּכָל הַדֶּרֶךְ אֲשֶׁר אֲצַוֶּה אֶתְכֶם לְמַעַן יִיטַב לָכֶם:
Rather, it was this that I commanded them, saying: Listen to My voice! Then I will be your G-d, and you will be My nation, and you shall walk in every path that I command you, so that it would be to your benefit. (Yirmeyahu 7:23)

From the very beginning, G-d has said that the way for us to be His nation is to do what He tells us to, in all the different aspects of our lives. “On the day that we left Egypt,” at the first stop of the journey, even before Matan Torah at Sinai, G-d had already started telling us about the commandments of Shabbat and the laws of business dealings. That is how we serve G-d.

This does not mean that the Torah rejects sacrifices altogether. They are not the exclusive way to worship G-d, the way they are for the pagans, but they do serve a purpose. For instance, there are sacrifices that atone for national sins, when the entire nation fails to live up to G-d’s expectations. There are feast offerings, where family and friends get together for a celebration, but do so at the Altar, in the context of serving G-d. There are also meal offerings, which even a very poor person can afford, if he wishes to give something of himself; and those were shared with the Cohanim, who had no other income.

Unfortunately, even though the Torah restricted sacrificial worship to very specific forms, as delineated in the Parsha, we see in the Haftarah that by Yirmeyahu’s time, it had degenerated into the main form of worship, replacing the commandments and the rest of the Torah.

This is why G-d found it necessary to destroy the Beit HaMikdash, and make it impossible for the Jewish People to bring any sacrifices at all. Not for national sins, not for feasts, and not for giving gifts to G-d. If it kept them from “walking in every path that I command you,” then it is not worth having.

The Haftarah of Tzav is read around Purim time. The story of Purim takes place in one of the first generations who found themselves without this form of worship. Haman’s decree against the Jewish People is a sign that the nation has done something that requires atonement. Without sacrifices, how can that be achieved?

Fortunately, the prophets of the transitional generations had already put in place an alternative.

כאשר קימו על נפשם ועל זרעם דברי הצמות וזעקתם
…as they had already accepted upon themselves the subject of the fasts and crying out. (Esther 9:31)

Fasting and crying out to G-d in prayer on a national level had already been designated as a substitute for communal sacrifice, effecting forgiveness and atonement.

This is how Esther knew to tell Mordechai to gather the Jews to a communal fast. Esther understood this to be a way of worshipping G-d, and of doing public atonement for whatever sins the Jewish People had committed in order to deserve Haman’s decree.

But then Mordechai and Esther took it one step further. If the worship of the atonement sacrifice can be replaced by the worship of fasting and prayer, then the other forms of worship can be replaced, too. The Altar is gone, and the feast offerings with them. Friends and family cannot share portions of food of the offering, but they can still send each other portions of food and celebrate at a feast. They cannot make a meal offering to be eaten by Cohanim, but they can send gifts to others who have limited sources of income.

In this way, the observance of Purim substitutes for the worship of G-d at the Altar, which is no more. And we can be sure that these forms of worship that the Jewish People had accepted upon themselves are never going to get in the way of “walking in every path that I command you.”

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 Shmini is about King David getting the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem, and a tragedy that happened at that time that is similar to the tragedy of the death of Aharon’s sons described in Parshat Shimini.

Linear annotated text of the Haftarah of Shmini

The Haftarah of Shmini sometimes gets pre-empted by Shabbat Parah.

To read about what the tragedy in the Haftarah teaches us about the tragedy of the Parsha, see: Hazard, Beware!

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Bechukotai – Faith and Trust

The Parshot of Behar and Bechukotai form a contract between G-d and the Jewish People regarding the Land of Israel. Behar describes the commandments that form the conditions of the lease, and Parshat Bechukotai describes what happens if the contract is upheld, and then – at great length and in gory detail – what happens if the contract is broken. The latter section is called the “Tochacha”, the Rebuke, and it is so frightening that there is a tradition to read it quickly and quietly, and to give that Aliya to the rabbi because nobody else would want it.

We might have imagined that the Haftarah of Bechukotai would be an equally gory description of the calamities that befall the Jewish People. Instead, it talks about how G-d is the source of all power, and how pointless it is to place one’s hope and trust in anyone else:

כֹּה אָמַר ה’ אָרוּר הַגֶּבֶר אֲשֶׁר יִבְטַח בָּאָדָם וְשָׂם בָּשָׂר זְרֹעוֹ וּמִן ה’ יָסוּר לִבּוֹ: וְהָיָה כְּעַרְעָר בָּעֲרָבָה וְלֹא יִרְאֶה כִּי יָבוֹא טוֹב וְשָׁכַן חֲרֵרִים בַּמִּדְבָּר אֶרֶץ מְלֵחָה וְלֹא תֵשֵׁב:
So said Hashem: cursed is the man who trusts in human beings, and relies on the muscle of his arm, and from Hashem turns away his heart. He shall be like a weed in the Aravah, and he will not see when the good comes, he will live in the parched desert, a salt land that cannot be settled. (Yirmeyahu 17:5,6)

The objective of this Haftarah is not to provide additional examples of sin and its punishment, but rather to point out the kind of thinking that causes the sin in the first place.

In the Tochacha, when G-d talks about all the terrible things that will happen to the Jewish People if they reject Him and His Torah, He makes it clear that what really bothers Him is not so much the actions, but rather the attitude behind them:

וְאִם בְּזֹאת לֹא תִשְׁמְעוּ לִי וַהֲלַכְתֶּם עִמִּי בְּקֶרִי: (כח) וְהָלַכְתִּי עִמָּכֶם בַּחֲמַת קֶרִי וְיִסַּרְתִּי אֶתְכֶם אַף אָנִי שֶׁבַע עַל חַטֹּאתֵיכֶם:
And if even then you don’t listen to Me, and act toward Me as if you don’t care, I will treat you as if I don’t care, with a vengeance, and punish you Myself sevenfold for your sins. (VaYikra 26:27)

According to the Tochacha, what G-d cannot abide is when our relationship with Him is not one of commitment, but of convenience. We like to be thought of as G-d’s People, we like to dress the part and do the rituals. But there are situations – usually related to financial prosperity – when we act as if G-d is not part of the picture at all. When it comes to making a living, there is a tendency to pretend that it is all up to us, our connections, and our ingenuity. This is in direct conflict with the beliefs that we profess to have about G-d’s omnipotence, and makes it look like those beliefs are only lip service.

The Chazon Ish wrote a book called “Emunah ve’Bitachon”, where he explains the difference between Emunah (belief), and Bitachon (faith). Belief is theological and intellectual; it is the definition of G-d and His attributes. Faith is a state of mind that directly affects one’s actions. Ideally, Emunah and Bitachon are aligned. For instance, we believe that G-d runs the world and can provide us with all our needs – that is “Emunah”. As a result, we have “Bitachon”, faith, that G-d will in fact do that. We still make the necessary effort to provide for ourselves, but if we truly believe that G-d is the source of all blessing, then we will restrict our actions to those that He would approve of.
Conversely, when a person does not have Bitachon, if he does not trust G-d to provide for him, he will instead rely on human beings or on his own cleverness. As the Haftarah points out, this is not a strategy that is likely to succeed. People might be helpful, but they have their own agenda. And our own talents and efforts are necessary, but hardly sufficient.

What’s worse, the attitude that the source of one’s success is anywhere other than G-d can warp one’s moral judgment. When given a choice between doing something to please a patron, or pleasing G-d, one might choose the former. The Chazon Ish suggests that it is lack of Bitachon that causes otherwise religious Jews to get involved in fraudulent schemes.

The Haftarah has a description of this situation and its eventual outcome:

קֹרֵא דָגַר וְלֹא יָלָד עֹשֶׂה עֹשֶׁר וְלֹא בְמִשְׁפָּט בַּחֲצִי יָמָיו יַעַזְבֶנּוּ וּבְאַחֲרִיתוֹ יִהְיֶה נָבָל
Like a partridge that broods over young it did not hatch, he makes wealth but not by law;
in the midst of his days it will leave him, and in the end, he shall be despised.
(Yirmeyahu 17:11)

A person who “makes wealth but not by law” is not only committing fraud. He is revealing that he does not actually believe that G-d runs the world. He does not believe that G-d sees what he is doing, and he does not believe that there will be payback for his actions. In the words of the Tochacha, “he acts towards G-d as if he doesn’t care.” As both the Tochacha and the Haftarah tells us, G-d will not let him get away with this. His bank account might be temporarily padded, but ultimately, he will live to see it emptied and his family ashamed to bear his name.
In addition to giving examples of dismissal and dissonance, the Haftarah also gives an example of true commitment and Bitachon:

בָּרוּךְ הַגֶּבֶר אֲשֶׁר יִבְטַח בַּה’ וְהָיָה ה’ מִבְטַחוֹ: וְהָיָה כְּעֵץ שָׁתוּל עַל מַיִם וְעַל יוּבַל יְשַׁלַּח שָׁרָשָׁיו וְלֹא יִרְאֶה כִּי יָבֹא חֹם וְהָיָה עָלֵהוּ רַעֲנָן וּבִשְׁנַת בַּצֹּרֶת לֹא יִדְאָג וְלֹא יָמִישׁ מֵעֲשׂוֹת פֶּרִי:
Blessed is the man, who trusts in Hashem, and Hashem will be his shelter. He will be like a tree planted upon the water; toward the river, it sends its roots, and does not fear that the heat will come; its leaves will be verdant, in a drought year it will not worry, and will not stop yielding fruit. (Yirmeyahu 17:7,8)

If your actions are aligned with your beliefs, and if your relationship with G-d is one of faith and trust, then perhaps your bank account will not be the largest ever, but your life is guaranteed to be full of blessings.

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The song, Baruch Hagever

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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Linear annotated translation of the Haftarah of Bechukotai

As one might expect, the Haftarah of Bechukotai is taken from a chapter of Yirmeyahu that talks about how G-d will exile the Jewish People for their lack of loyalty to him.

Of course, this is the case for most of the book of Yirmeyahu, as well as many other prophets. What makes it specifically appropriate for Bechukotai is the point that G-d is the source of all prosperity.

Baruch HaGever – Faith and Trust

Chazak Chazak Ve’Nitchazek!

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The Haftarah of Behar is from Yirmeyahu, and takes place in the last few months before Jerusalem is destroyed.

Linear annotated translation of the Haftarah of Behar

The connection is obvious, as it describes Yirmeyahu fulfilling a commandment listed in Parshat Behar. But the basis for that commandment and the basis for the prophecy of comfort wind up being the same.

Behar – In the Darkest Hour

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Behar – In the Darkest Hour

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In Parshat Behar, the Torah severely limits certain types of real estate transactions. A person may only sell his ancestral lands if he really cannot support himself and has no other option. If this does happen, the person who buys the land cannot have too much invested in it; he might be asked to sell it back to the owner or to the family; if that happens, he may not refuse. Even if nobody from the family is able to come up with the money to redeem the land, the seller will anyway have to give it up at the next Yovel, 50th Jubilee, when all lands revert to their original families.
The Torah explains why G-d limits the rights to buy and sell land freely:

וְהָאָרֶץ לֹא תִמָּכֵר לִצְמִתֻת כִּי לִי הָאָרֶץ כִּי גֵרִים וְתוֹשָׁבִים אַתֶּם עִמָּדִי:
The land shall not be sold forever, for the land is Mine, for you are tenants and residents with Me. (VaYikra 35:23)

The land belongs to G-d, and He can legislate and regulate the market however He pleases.
In the Haftarah, Yirmeyahu is asked to redeem land about to be sold by his cousin. Yirmeyahu does so, and makes sure that the sale is performed in accordance with every detail of Torah law, and is fully documented. This would not be in any way remarkable or worth recording in the Tanach, except for the fact that it took place only months before the capture of Yehudah by the Babylonians and the destruction of the Temple, while Yirmeyahu was himself in jail for the treason of prophesying about this destruction. This sale is a prophetic act and comes with an explicit message:

כִּי כֹה אָמַר ה’ צְבָא-וֹת אֱ-לֹהֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל עוֹד יִקָּנוּ בָתִּים וְשָׂדוֹת וּכְרָמִים בָּאָרֶץ הַזֹּאת:
For so said Hashem Tzva-ot the G-d of Israel: “Houses, fields, and vineyards will yet be bought in this land.” (Yirmeyahu 32:15)

This is a beautiful message, full of hope. Yes, the destruction is imminent and in the short term, the deed to this land that Yirmeyahu just purchased is entirely worthless. But one day, there will again be people buying and selling land, and life will go back to normal.
While this is clearly meant to bring comfort and hope, Yirmeyahu gets upset. He turns to G-d and says, roughly, “G-d. You run the world. You took the Jewish People out of Egypt and chose them to be Your people. You gave them this land, and now, because they have been an utter failure at Your mission, You are about to throw them off this land. They are already dying of starvation under siege, more will die in the sacking of the city, and the survivors will be taken into slavery and exile. And you want me to get excited about a real estate deal?!”
It would be as if someone were to go into the Warsaw Ghetto, as people are dying in the streets and the transports to the concentration camps have begun, and tell them, “Don’t worry, I bought land in Tel Aviv, one day it will be worth a lot of money.”
Yirmeyahu does not feel that this is comforting. Yirmeyahu also does not feel that the current situation reflects well on G-d’s influence on history. If He is the owner of the land, and the land is about to be conquered, how will He remain the owner? And of what? A desert? Malaria swamps? So when Yirmeyahu addresses G-d, he says:

הָאֵל הַגָּדוֹל הַגִּבּוֹר G-d who is great, and mighty; (Yirmeyahu 32:18)

He does not say, as Moshe did, “G-d who is great and mighty and awe-inspiring”. The Midrash (Yoma 69b) comments on this omission:

אתא ירמיה ואמר: נכרים מקרקרין בהיכלו, איה נוראותיו? לא אמר נורא.
Yirmeyahu came and said, “Foreigners are about to be prancing about in His palace, where is His awe?” He would not say “awe-inspiring”.

Sitting in jail in Jerusalem under siege, Yirmeyahu could not bring himself to say that G-d is all that awe-inspiring. The Babylonians surely are not showing any awe.
It wasn’t only Yirmeyahu who couldn’t bring himself to say that full sentence. A generation later, Daniel says:

אָנָּא אֲ-דֹנָי הָאֵל הַגָּדוֹל וְהַנּוֹרָא –
Oh, Hashem, G-d who is great and awe-inspiring (Daniel 9:4)

The Midrash explains Daniel’s phrasing:

אתא דניאל, אמר: נכרים משתעבדים בבניו, איה גבורותיו? לא אמר גבור.
Daniel came and said, “Foreigners have enslaved His children, where is His might?” He did not say “mighty”.

The Midrash continues by asking an important question about Yirmeyahu and Daniel:

ורבנן היכי עבדי הכי ועקרי תקנתא דתקין משה!?
But how could they have come and uprooted Moshe’s formulation ?!

If Moshe said, “G-d who is great and mighty and awe-inspiring”, then that must be the way to address G-d. How could Yirmeyahu and Daniel have changed that formula?

אמר רבי אלעזר: מתוך שיודעין בהקדוש ברוך הוא שאמתי הוא, לפיכך לא כיזבו בו.
R’ Elazar said, because they knew about Hashem that He is truthful, and therefore, they did not lie about Him.

Yirmeyahu and Daniel could not use Moshe’s formulation because it contradicted their experience of G-d in this world, and you don’t lie about G-d.

Yirmeyahu did not have personal experience of Geulah, of redemption. He knew, as a prophet, that G-d said that this exile would last only seventy years. He knew, as a prophet, that G-d said that one day life would go back to normal and mundane things such as real estate transactions would take place again. But it is one thing to know it in theory, and a completely other thing to know it from experience. Yirmeyahu’s experience in this Haftarah is of deepening darkness and impending destruction. He could not see the light of redemption, even though he was told that it would come. He did not find it comforting to hear, “Fields will yet be bought in this land”, when he would not live to see the field he just bought.
So how is it that we now say in our prayers, “G-d who is great, and mighty, and awe-inspiring”? Are we lying about G-d?

The Men of the Great Assembly, the rabbis who gathered together during the time of the Second Temple, after prophecy ended, found a way to have this phrase reflect their experience of G-d:

אתו אינהו ואמרו: אדרבה, זו היא גבורת גבורתו שכובש את יצרו, שנותן ארך אפים לרשעים. ואלו הן נוראותיו שאלמלא מוראו של הקדוש ברוך הוא היאך אומה אחת יכולה להתקיים בין האומות?
They came and said, “On the contrary! This is His might, that He overcomes His own wishes, by having patience for the evildoers. This is His awe, for if not for the fear of G-d, how could one nation survive among all the nations?”

The Men of the Great Assembly, having lived through the exile and the redemption, and having been a part of the first Return to Zion, saw things differently than Yirmeyahu and Daniel. They redefined G-d’s power to include situations whose effects are not immediately visible. G-d has power over all the nations, even if you can’t see it just yet. He protects the Jewish People, even if it looks like He has forgotten us completely. He is still the owner of the land, and He will not let it be given over to strangers indefinitely.

The Haftarah of Behar has indeed brought comfort for the Jewish People throughout the centuries.

We have waited for a long time to see these words come to pass, and now that they have, we must not forget how incredible it is that there is a vibrant and flourishing real estate market in the Land of Israel.

הִנֵּה אֲנִי ה’ אֱ-לֹהֵי כָּל בָּשָׂר הֲמִמֶּנִּי יִפָּלֵא כָּל דָּבָר
I am Hashem, the G-d of all mankind.
Is anything too incredible for Me? (Yirmeyahu 32:27)

Real Estate prices in Petach Tikvah - a town whose name means: "The beginning of hope"

Real Estate prices in Petach Tikvah – a town whose name means: “The beginning of hope”

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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