Blog - Torah Insights

Chametz on (the Second) Passover?! - בהעלותך


Chametz on (the Second) Passover?!

During the holiday of Passover, all leavened bread is off-limits. Not only are we not allowed to eat it, it is also a biblical violation to see one's Chametz (leavened bread) or even to own Chametz.

In this week's Torah portion, we read about the second Passover. In response to the demand of individuals who could not offer the Passover offering because they were ritually impure, G-d introduced the second Passover, exactly one month later, offering the opportunity to remedy the missed opportunity. As the verse states: 

In the second month, on the fourteenth day, in the afternoon, they shall make it; they shall eat it with unleavened cakes and bitter herbs. They shall not leave over anything from it until the next morning, and they shall not break any of its bones. They shall make it in accordance with all the statutes connected with the Passover sacrifice. (Numbers 9:11-12)

Virtually all of the laws of the first Passover apply to the second Passover. Still, there are two important differences: (1) On the first Passover we are obligated to rid the Chametz from our home, and we are even prohibited from owning Chametz. On the second Passover, by contrast, we are permitted to have Chametz in the home even while eating the Passover offering. [As Rashi quotes from the Talmud:" On the second Passover, one may keep both leavened bread and unleavened food in the home.... the consumption of leaven is not forbidden except while he eats it (the sacrifice)]. (2) While the first Passover lasts for seven days (in Israel, and eight days outside of Israel), the second Passover is only one day. These two distinctions are interconnected and stem from the inner meaning and energy of the second Passover. 

The first Passover represents the "path of the righteous", the path which we should strive to follow. We rid our home of Chametz, which represents freeing ourselves from negative influences and phenomenon. We seek to celebrate our relationship with G-d without the distractions of negativity and challenge. This experience lasts for seven days because our service of G-d, and commitment to holiness and personal growth is a process that takes time (represented by seven days, a complete week) to achieve.  

Despite aiming for the righteous path, we sometimes find ourselves on the second path, the path of challenge, pain, and hardship. We sometimes succumb to negativity and cannot celebrate the holiday of freedom, as we are enslaved to our negative traits. The Torah introduced the second Passover, which is not only a second chance to achieve what we have missed, but rather it is a far deeper and more profound experience. Granted, While on the first path, we avoid the challenge of negative experiences (symbolized by banning the Chametz from our home), yet on the second Passover, by contrast, we transform the pain of the negative experience into fuel which deepens our commitment to holiness, positivity, and spiritual growth. The experiences that are a distraction from the first path can, through the process of return, be transformed to bring us to a deeper connection with G-d, in the second Passover.   

The second Passover, the process of transformation and return, takes place on only one day which symbolizes that transformation can happen instantaneously. All a person has to do is turn around and face a new direction, and the transformation has occurred. Because where we are is not the important consideration. What is important is where we are heading. 

Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe, Likkutei Sichos Behaaloscha vol. 18 Sicha 3. 

When Logic is Ineffective - נשא

When Logic is Ineffective 

The relationship between the Jewish people and G-d is likened to the marriage between man and woman. Therefore the Torah laws regarding marriage also inform us about our relationship with G-d.


In this week's Parsha we read about the Sotah, the married woman who was secluded with another man after being warned not to do so. The Torah outlines the process by which the relationship between the Sotah and her husband can be restored. 


The word Sotah is derived from the word to go astray (Tisteh), which introduces the law of the Sotah: 


The Lord spoke to Moses, saying:

Speak to the children of Israel and say to them: Should any man's wife go astray and deal treacherously with him (Numbers 5:11-12)


The Talmud remarks that the word for going astray (Tisteh) is related to the word for folly (shtut), that is because: "A man commits a transgression only if a spirit of folly [shetut] enters him." The implications of this are far-reaching. The Talmud is saying that essentially the inherent goodness within every person would naturally lead them to choose the correct moral path. The reason we often stray from what we know is the correct path is because of the spirit of folly which blurs our rational thinking and distorts our true desire. Therefore, no matter how far we stray, the Talmud is telling us, we must remember that our mistakes don't define us, as they don't reflect our true self, and we can therefore always return to our true self, which is inherently good. 


While this message is uplifting, the question still remains: how do we deal with the spirit of folly which leads us to stray from our true selves? How do we deal with the spirit of folly which, by definition, being folly, is not moved by logic?  


This solution is alluded to in the word Tisteh (which, as mentioned, means both to go astray and folly). There are two ways to go astray, to deviate from the path of reason: one way can be irrational and foolish, the other way can be unreasonable by committing to the right path even more than reason dictates. 


The Talmud tells the story of a sage whose commitment to the Mitzvah of dancing at a wedding,  bringing joy to the bride and groom, was beyond the limitations of logic: 


Rav Shmuel bar Rav Yitzḥak would base his dance on three myrtle branches that he would juggle. Rabbi Zeira said: The old man is humiliating us, as through his conduct he is demeaning the Torah and the Torah scholars. It is further related: When Rav Shmuel bar Rav Yitzḥak died, a pillar of fire demarcated between him and everyone else, and we learn through tradition that a pillar of fire demarcates only for either one person in a generation or for two people in a generation.  

Rabbi Zeira said: His branch [shotitei] was effective for the old man, due to this Mitzva that he fulfilled so enthusiastically he was privileged to receive this great reward. And some say that Rabbi Zeira said: His nonsense [shetutei] was effective for the old man. (Talmud Ketubot 17a)


Chasidic philosophy explains that the spirit of folly, which seeks to pull the person in the direction of negativity, cannot be managed through intellectual reasoning since folly is utterly uninterested in reason. The only way one can counter straying toward the direction of negativity is not by trying to follow the standard path but rather by straying toward the direction of increased positivity. The only way to combat negative folly is by countering it with positive folly. When logic does not work, one must respond with a commitment to goodness that supersedes the demands of logic: one’s actions must be kinder, more patient, more loving, more giving, and more empathetic than reason demands. 

Adapted from Basi Ligani 5710 


The Spiritual Significance of the Flags - במדבר

The Spiritual Significance of the Flags 

The fourth book of the Torah begins by detailing the precise order of how the tribes of Israel camped around the Mishkan (the sanctuary) in the desert. The verse tells how each tribe camped with their specific flag: 

G-d spoke to Moses and Aaron saying: The children of Israel shall encamp each man by his division with the flagstaffs of their fathers' house; some distance from the Tent of Meeting they shall encamp. (Numbers 2:2)

Rashi elaborates: 

with the flagstaffs: Every division shall have its own flag staff, with a colored flag hanging on it; the color of one being different from the color of any other. The color of each one was like the hue of its stone, set in the choshen [worn by the Kohen Gadol], and in this way, everyone could recognize his division.

The Midrash attributes great significance to the flags. The Midrash describes how, at Sinai, the Jewish people saw the angels divided into camps, each with their unique flag. Observing the scene, the Jewish people desired flags. And, indeed, in this week's Parsha, Hashem tells Moses and Aaron that each tribe would camp with their own flag. 

The memory of the flags is, according to the Midrash, what kept the Jewish people loyal to G-d throughout the persecution and pressures of exile. The Song of Songs, the Biblical book that describes the love between the Jewish people and G-d, depicts a scene where the girls ask the protagonist why she cleaves to her beloved, despite the challenges in the relationship. Why doesn't she return to them?

Return, return, O Shulammite; return, return, and let us gaze upon you." 

Rashi explains that the verse is a metaphor for the nations of the world who ask the Jewish people to abandon G-d, and they, the nations of the world, will, in return, appoint them to positions of greatness. The Jewish people respond: 

"What will you see for the Shulammite, as in the dance of the camps?

The Midrash explains: 

"What will you see for the Shulammite?" What greatness can you allot me, that will be equal to the greatness which G-d gave me in the desert, the flag of the camp of Judah, the flag of the camp of Reuben… can you replicate that for us? 

What is the meaning and significance of the flags? 

A flag creates unity. It is a symbol around which people gather, it reminds them of their shared identity and common purpose and allows them to regroup after being dispersed. The angels are divided into camps and flags. They are constantly aware of the purpose of their creation and their inner identity, that awareness permeates all aspects of their personality. When the Jewish people saw the angels at Sinai, they too desired this awareness, the sense of clarity of purpose and direction. They, too, wanted to experience the unity of G-d in every part of their life. G-d responded that, yes, indeed, in the desert, when they would build the tabernacle and camp around it, they too would experience the awareness of the flags. They would be able to unite every aspect of their lives, every detail of their day, with their purpose, namely to infuse every aspect of reality with holiness. 

Through the long exile, the nations tried to persuade us to abandon our relationship with G-d in return for material comfort and prestige. We have not accepted the tradeoff because, as the Song of Songs explains, we would not give up the "dance of the camps". Nothing the material world can give is as powerful as the flags of the desert; no physical pleasure can compare with the sense of spiritual fulfillment that comes from the clarity of understanding the meaning and purpose of one's life. 

We, too, travel through a figurative wilderness, with our banner, the Torah, that teaches us how to unify every aspect of our lives with our purpose and mission. We are in the "dance of the camps," referring to the camp of the Jewish people as well as the camp of angels. We are in a dance with the angels: while they pronounce the glory of G-d in heaven, we have a far more challenging task, we reveal G-d's holiness right here on earth. 

(Adapted from the Shem Mishmuel) 


Should You Parent Like "Tiger Mom"? - בהר בחוקותי

Should You Parent Like "Tiger Mom"?

The Hebrew language, the "holy tongue" with which G-d created the world, captures the inner essence of reality. Often, words that seem unrelated share a common root because, upon deeper exploration, there is an intrinsic connection between them. 

One example is the word Bechukotai (my statutes), the first word of the final portion of the book of Leviticus, which is derived from the root word of "engraving". What is the connection between a statute and engraving? 

[Interestingly, the English words statue and statute derive from the same Latin root, "sta", which means to stand. The statue stands tall in the literal sense, while the law is established and stands in the figurative sense.]

The Hebrew word Bechukotai, commonly translated as statutes, refers specifically to the laws that don't have a rational reason; we perform them only because they are the will of G-d. This category of law is therefore associated with engraving, in contrast to writing. Engraving differs from writing in two respects: engraving requires far more effort than writing, and engraving penetrates the stone to the extent that the engraved letter is one entity with the stone, unlike writing in which the ink does not become one entity with the parchment. 

It is relatively easy to fulfill the commandments that we understand and relate to; therefore, fulfilling them is likened to writing.  By contrast, the commandments that are beyond our understanding require far more effort on our part. Since we have to "push ourselves" to fulfill them, they are likened to engraving. Yet, precisely because of the effort required to fulfill the supra-rational commandments, they have a more profound impact on our personality; they are engraved in our psyche in a far more profound way than the rational commandments. 

The idea that effort equals engraving also explains Rashi's commentary on Bechukotai. Rashi points out that in this case, Bechukotai cannot possibly be referring to fulfilling the statutes because the following clause refers to fulfilling all the commandments (including the supra-rational statutes). Rashi, therefore, offers a surprising interpretation: in this case, the word Bechukotai refers to toiling in the study of Torah:

if you follow My statutes: I might think that this refers to the fulfillment of the commandments. However, when Scripture says, "and observe My commandments," the fulfillment of the commandments is [already] stated. So what is the meaning of "If you follow My statutes"? It means that you must toil in the study of Torah.

The connection between toil in Torah and the word Bechukotai, is the effort-engraving equation. When one studies Torah, he or she is metaphorically writing the words of Torah into their consciousness, yet when one toils and invests effort in the study of Torah, then the words of Torah are engraved within their soul. 

What is true about our own Torah study can perhaps be applied to education as well. We should not necessarily "tiger parent" by pushing every child to achieve straight A's. We should, however, teach our children to work harder each day. More important than achieving a good grade, we should value the child who tries harder today than he did yesterday. Because the effort invested is what leads to the true definition of success: engraving the divine words of the Torah on our heart and mind. 

(Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe, Lekutei Sichos vol. 17 Bechukosai 1)


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