Meshech Chochmah

More Room to Fit Than We Realize

by R. Gidon Rothstein Priestly Clothing We Can Wash The Torah at the beginning of Hukkat says the person who burns the heifer (to create ashes to be mixed with water, used as part of removing tum’at met, the ritual purity incurred by contact with the deceased) will wash his clothes in water, Bamidbar 19;8. Meshech Hochmah notices the uniqueness of the phrase: the Torah several times ...

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Sometimes Privilege Needs to Be Checked

by R. Gidon Rothstein Checking the Levi’im’s Privilege Hard to believe, but it’s almost ten years since “check your privilege” was thrown around as a way—you can’t be apolitical about the rest of this sentence—either to remind people they are being insensitive to the struggles of others who did not have their advantages, or as a rhetorical trick to deny people ...

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A Plethora of Ways to See the World

by R. Gidon Rothstein Self-Defeating Behavior Is one of my bugaboos, bothers me much more than most people with whom I share stories of it. I hope it’s not because I sense I do it often myself, but we can never be sure. When Moshe sends the spies, Meshech Hochmah sees an instance of Moshe doing his best to help the Jewish ...

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Dedication Sacrifices, for Levi’im, Regular Jews, and Converts

by R. Gidon Rothstein Parshat Be-Ha’alotecha describes the inauguration ceremony for the Levi’im, including two bull sacrifices, a hatat and an olah, a sin-offering and a burnt offering. Bamidbar 8;12 says they should perform semichah—place their hands on the head of the bull, lean their body weight on it, a sort of symbolic investiture of the animal as a replacement for the Levi’im themselves. When people join together to offer a sacrifice, Menachot 84a ...

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The Costs and Benefits of Being a Nazir

by R. Gidon Rothstein Nezirut Is Soul Deep Meshech Hochmah’s comment to Bamidbar 6;8 (Parshat Naso) comes in two parts; I have qualms about the first, but find the second creative/interesting enough to be worth the journey. The verse speaks of a nazir, a status requiring abstinence from any grape product, refraining from contact with the deceased (not to become tamei met, ritually impure by ...

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The Levi’im and Their Role in the Jewish People

by R. Gidon Rothstein Parashat Bamidbar counts the Jewish people twice, once by tribe, then by tribe in their four camps around the Mishkan, the movable Temple.  The Levi’im had a separate, internal, camp, between the ordinary Jews and the Mishkan, we see in Bamidbar 1;50-53. Meshech Hochmah raises a remarkably simple problem, in that the Torah elsewhere requires a ba’al keri, a man who has engaged in marital relations, to ...

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The Workings of Jewish Life, How to Earn the Good and Avoid the Bad

by R. Gidon Rothstein Natural or Supernatural Protection and Support Parshat Behukkotai has a set of blessings, should the Jews act wisely and follow the Torah, and punishments/curses, should they do the reverse. In the blessing part, 26;6, Hashem promises to remove (ve-hishbati, more literally, I will give the land respite from, the same root as Shabbat) hayyah ra’ah, vicious beasts, from ...

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Shemittah and Yovel, Shabbat and Holidays

by R. Gidon Rothstein Giving a Gift Generously When the Torah lays out the requirement to refrain from working the land of Israel every seventh (shemittah) year and to leave its produce free for all to take, it phrases the obligation as ki tavo’u el ha-aretz, when you arrive in the Land, asher ani noten, that I am giving you, ve-shaveta ha-aretz, the Land shall ...

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People We Treat Differently and Why

by R. Gidon Rothstein Former and Almost Wives A kohen may not marry are a gerushah, a divorced woman, 21;7, among others. Torat Kohanim 1;9 extends the prohibition to a halutzah, a woman whose husband passed away without offspring. Such a widow might marry one of her husband’s brothers, yibum, or have halitzah, an unshoeing ceremony the Torah prescribed. If she or her brother in law opt for the latter, ...

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The Reciprocity of Human Sanctity

by R. Gidon Rothstein The verse that gives the parsha its name tells us to make ourselves kadosh (a word we will get around to translating as we go along) because Gd is. Torat Kohanim Kedoshim 1;1 tells us working on our keshushah is as if we enhance Gd’s kedushah. Of course, Gd is infinite in all ways, was perfect before the world was created, so has no need of ...

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