Behar-Behukotai: One More Double Parsha Before Shavu’ot

by R. Gidon Rothstein Behar opens with discussion of the laws of shemittah, referring to it as a Shabbat la-Shem, a phrase we might casually take to mean “a Sabbath to Gd.” Shemittah a Sabbath? To Gd? Onkelos 25;2 translates the Torah’s references to the year as a shabbat, both in its verb and noun forms (ve-shavetah ha-aretz, the Land shall shavat, or Shabbat la-Shem) with a version of shamot, ...

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Emor: A Break From the Double Parshas!

by R. Gidon Rothstein Parshat Emor returns our focus to the kohanim. We learn about their family dynamics, where their bodies can force them to step back from sacrificial service, and from there to service in the Mishkan and Mishkan issues generally. The Close Relatives We open with a warning to the males to avoid tum’at met, ritual impurity associated with contact with the deceased, then carves ...

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Aharei Mot-Kedoshim: Essential Steps in Becoming Better People

by R. Gidon Rothstein Superficially, Aharei Mot and Kedoshim share only their both containing a list of arayot, prohibited marital relationships. A closer look yields a basic primer on how to live the life Gd wants. Concrete Messages Are Better The first words of Aharei Mot get us started, because the Torah times Gd’s speech to Moshe as having happened aharei mot shenei benei Aharon, after the death ...

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Tazria-Metzora: Mostly Tzara’at

by R. Gidon Rothstein Although it is a double portion, Tazri’a/Metzora does us the favor of focusing much of its attention on one topic, tzara’at. We learn bodily tzara’at, commonly but incorrectly translated as leprosy, clothing tzara’at, and house tzara’at. The Spiritual Roots of Tzar’at The Torah signals tzara’at’s spiritual/metaphysical nature—as opposed to being a primarily physical matter– in many ways. Ramban notes chapter thirteen of Vayikra opens with Gd ...

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Gd and People in Parshat Shemini

by R. Gidon Rothstein Parshat Shemini gave Onkelos, Rashi, and Ramban opportunities to show us a world where Gd plays a clear role while leaving room for human beings to contribute meaningfully as well. Onkelos a Kabbalist? As the Jews are dedicating the Mishkan, Moshe tells them what Gd said to do to have kevod Hashem (loosely, the Honor or Glory of Gd) ...

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Tzav: The Way to Understand Torah, for Sacrifices and Kohanim

by R. Gidon Rothstein Tzav is a portion most obviously about how various sacrifices work. In the comments I tracked from the parsha, I also noticed Onkelos, Rashi, and Ramban telling us about how to understand the Torah as well as about the kohanim themselves, aside from their performance of the service. The Nature of Literal A couple of times, Onkelos made a comment ...

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Vayikra: Learning the New Language of Sacrifices

by R. Gidon Rothstein Vayikra is also known as Torat Kohanim because much of it discusses the service of the Mishkan (to be transferred eventually to the Beit Ha-Mikdash, as we will see), performed by the descendants of Aharon. For all that we are always told sacrifice was common in those days, our commentators give us reason to see the Jews would have needed an education ...

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Vayakhel-Pekudei: Reaching Greater Heights

by R. Gidon Rothstein I don’t always make it clear, but this year’s parsha notes are a collation of ideas I shared in previous years of studying Rashi, Ramban, and then Onkelos. I’m putting together those three years’ worth, seeing if they cohere. After Sukkot next year, Gd willing, we’ll be able to see what each of the books of the Torah and the ...

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Tetzaveh: Lessons Learned from the Kohanim

by R. Gidon Rothstein Parshat Tetzaveh focuses on the kohanim, their garments and how they were to be readied for their new roles. Along the way, we learn about how the Torah sees us them and us, non-kohanim, functioning in a society that follows the Torah. Completeness, Readiness, or Just Qualifying for the Job Onkelos more than once translates the Torah’s use ...

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