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Shmini
Treating animals with respect Print E-mail
Friday, 21 April 2017

In Parshat Shmini, we learn about the laws of keeping kosher by being presented with a list of which animals we are allowed to eat based on the characteristics of the animal (the animal must have both a split hoof and chew its cud, the fish must have fins and scales etc).

Thinking about where our food comes from and not just eating anything that we see teaches us sensitivity towards animals.

When we use other articles that come from animals such as leather shoes, we must also be conscious as to where they came from. The Rema quotes Rav Yaakov Weil (Mahari Veil 37) who says that although it is customary to bless others when they wear a new article of clothing with the words “tibale v’titchadesh”, “may you wear it out and acquire a new one”, this blessing would not be appropriate for leather shoes which would entail killing another animal as it says in Tehillim, Psalms 145:9 “And His tender mercies are over all His works.”

The same can be said for a fur coat. If you tell someone to wear out their fur coat, then you are wishing that down the line more animals will need to be killed to produce a new fur coat.

Nowadays, people often buy more than they need to for the sake of fashion and often don’t think about where their leather shoes came from. On the other hand, there are a lot of shoes being made today that are not leather. Warm coats are now being produced from other materials so fur is not as necessary as it once was and fur coats are not as popular today as they used to be, partially due to the campaigns of the animal rights activists and partially due to their high price tags.

We can learn from the laws of kashrut that animals should be treated with respect and only killed when necessary. The next time that we shop for meat, shoes or coats we should ask ourselves if we really need these particular products and remember that these items should be used in moderation. 

 
Is there a reason why we are required to keep kosher? Print E-mail
Saturday, 02 April 2016

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In Parshat Shmini, we are informed of which animals are kosher and which are not.

 

The explanation of why we are not allowed to eat animals that do not have split hooves and chew their cud is in Vayikra 11:8 “tmeim hem lachem”, “they are ritually impure to you.”

 

The description of why we don’t eat fish without fins and scales and creatures that creep in the water is because “sheketz hem lachem”, “they are repulsive to you.”

 

The non-kosher birds are also listed as “repulsive.”

 

Aside from the descriptions of “ritually impure” and “repulsive”, no actual reason is given for why we are not allowed to eat them and why some animals are ritually unclean or repulsive while others are not. The only thing that we are told is (Vayikra 11:45) “Vehayitem Kedoshim ki Kadosh Ani”, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”

 

Commentaries throughout the ages have tried to figure out the reason why God permitted certain animals while forbidding others.

 

The Rambam (1135-1204), in Moreh Nevuchim explains that pigs are dirty animals, forbidden to be eaten for health reasons.

 

Sefer HaChinuch, published anonymously in 13th century Spain, adds that even if the harmful character of some of the forbidden foods is unknown to us or to medical science, the True Physician (God) Who admonished us regarding them is wiser. How foolish and rash is he who considers himself as the sole judge of what is beneficial and harmful!

 

Akedat Yitzchak (1420-1494) explains that the dietary laws are not motivated by therapeutic considerations. If that were so then once the cure for the illnesses caused by eating non-kosher animals would be found people would stop keeping Kosher.

 

Sefer HaChinuch points out that it is for our benefit that the reasons were not divulged, lest people with scientific pretensions argue: The harm attributed by the Torah to this food only applies to certain types of climates and persons. Some thoughtless people may accept such arguments. To save us from such pitfalls, the reason was not revealed.

 

Sefer HaChinuch was right. Six hundred years later, the Reform movement’s position was set out in the Pittsburgh Platform of 1885: We hold that all such Mosaic and Rabbinical laws as regulate diet, priestly purity and dress originated in ages and under the influence of ideas altogether foreign to our present mental and spiritual state. They fail to impress the modern Jew with a spirit of priestly holiness; their observance in our days is apt rather to obstruct than to further modern spiritual elevation.

 

It is interesting to note that over the years many Reform Jews have rejected what was said in the Pittsburgh Platform and have taken on some form of keeping kosher. As well, many Reform Temples have dietary restrictions in their kitchens. In 2010, the laws of keeping kosher were included for the first time in a book put out by the Reform rabbinical association.

 

The Ramban’s (1194-1270) view is that the laws of kashrut protect our souls. We are forbidden to eat birds of prey lest their bloodthirstiness affect those who eat them.

 

Abravanel (1437-1508) also believes that the unkosher animals are called ritually impure and repulsive, not poisonous, stressing the spiritual rather than physical source of the prohibition.

 

We see from here that God intentionally did not give us reasons for why certain animals are kosher while others are not as He didn’t want us to find an excuse to cancel the restrictions.

 

The bottom line is that we observe the mitzvah of keeping kosher because God commanded us to observe it. Without the Beit HaMikdash, we do not have an obligation to eat meat so those who want to be stringent and choose to be vegetarians are welcome to do so but those who choose to eat meat may not abandon the laws set out for us in the Torah.

  

 
Does “Vayehi” Always Mean Oy Vey? Print E-mail
Friday, 02 May 2014

Parshat Shmini (Vayikra 9:1) which talks about the dedication of the Mishkan begins with the word “Vayehi” (And it was). “And it was on the eighth day (bayom haShmini) that Moshe called to Aharon and to his sons and to the elders of Israel”.

 

Megillat Ester also begins with the word “Vayehi”. “And it was in the days of Achashverosh…”

 

The Tamud, Megilla 10b states that there is a tradition passed down to us from Anshei Knesset HaGedola (The Men of the Great Assembly) that the term “Vayehi” introduces a painful narrative.

 

According to the Maharsha, “Vay” means woe and “hi” means mourning.

 

The Gemara lists painful narratives that come after the word “Vayehi” including, Vayehi, in the days of Achashverosh, Haman sought to destroy the Jews. Vayehi, in the days when the Judges judged, Shfot HaShoftim (Megillat Rut), there was a famine. Vayehi, man began to increase on the earth (Breisheet 6:1), God saw that the wickedness of man was great. Vayehi, when they journeyed from the east (Breisheet 11:2) they said let us build a city (the Tower of Bavel.).

 

The Gemara challenges this assertion by bringing the first pasuk from Parshat Shmini:

Vayehi, “And it was on the eighth day”. It was taught in a Braita: On the day of the dedication of the Mishkan, there was much happiness before God as on the day when the heavens and earth were created.

 

On the first day of creation it said “Vayehi Erev Vayehi boker…” It was evening, it was morning one day.

 

From this Braita it seems that the word “Vayehi” could also be used for fortunate times as both the dedication of the Mishkan and the creation of the world were happy occasions.

 

The Gemara explains that since Nadav and Avihu, Aharon’s sons died on the day that the Mishkan was dedicated, the term Vayehi is appropriate on account of the tragedy.

 

According to Rav Ashi, there are some instances in the Torah where Vayehi refers to fortunate times (like during the creation of the world) and there are other instances where it refers to painful times. The words “Vayehi Biymei” (and it was in the days of), always introduce a painful narrative.

 

There are five instances of “Vayehi Biymei” in the Tanach and they all refer to painful times:

“Vayehi Biymei Achashverosh”, “Vayehi Biymei Shfot HaShoftim”, “Vayehi Biymei Amrafel” (Breisheet 14:1, when the four kings waged war against the five kings and as a result, Lot, Avraham’s nephew was captured), “Vayehi Biymei Achaz” (Yishayahu 7:1, a war against Jerusalem), “Vayrhi Biymei Yehoyakim” (Yirmiyahu 1:3, the exile from Eretz Yisrael and the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash took place during his lifetime).

 

Although Purim is a happy time for us now, if we really focus on the story we see what a painful time it was for the Jews who were living at the time of Achashverosh.

 

The dedication of the Mishkan in Parshat Shmini was also bittersweet. It was a happy time to celebrate yet the happiness was dampened by the fact that two of Aharon’s sons died.

 

Let’s hope and pray that we can return to the true happiness from the days of the creation when the word “Vayehi” was not followed by negativity but was rather followed by a description of the wonderful world that God created for us.

 

 
Did Aharon Have Protectzia? Print E-mail
Friday, 05 April 2013

The first pasuk of Parshat Shmini states: “And it was on the eighth day that Moshe called to Aharon and to his sons and to the Zkenim (Elders of Israel).”

 

If God was commanding Aharon to bring the Korbanot (offerings), then why was it necessary for the Elders to be there as well?

 

According to Rashi, God wanted to announce to the Elders that it was by Divine command that Aharon entered the Mishkan (Tabernacle) and served as the Kohen Gadol (High Priest) so that they should not say that he entered into it on his own authority.

 

God also wanted to make sure that everyone knew that it wasn’t Moshe who chose Aharon (his brother) to become the Kohen Gadol but rather God’s choice.

 

In Israel, we have the concept called Protectzia (connections) where “it doesn’t matter what you know but rather who you know.”

 

Many people with Protectzia will get jobs/keep jobs that they are not qualified for.

 

There is a current member of Knesset who was accepted into a Master’s/PHD Program at one of Israel’s top universities yet he never completed his High School Bagrut (Matriculation exams).

 

There are also many people who are extremely qualified for a job and having Protectzia may help them get it over someone who doesn’t have Protectzia.

 

For those of us without Protectzia, we know that whatever we have it is because we worked for it and earned it.

 

Although it may seem that Aharon had Proectzia, God made it very clear that it was His choice alone to make Aharon the first Kohen Gadol.

 
Save the Sea Turtles! Print E-mail
Friday, 25 March 2011

I was in the middle of teaching a Hrebrew class in Parshat HaShavua at a Jerusalem nursing home this past week when all of a sudden one of the women stopped me and asked me why I was talking about Jewish people not being allowed to eat a “tazav”, translated in modern Hebrew as a turtle.

 

The woman claimed that nobody eats turtles and she wanted to know what book I was reading that talks about such things.

 

I surprised her by telling her that I was reading straight from the Torah, from Parshat Shmini Vayikra 11:29: “These also are unclean to you…vihatzav…”

 

She sent me home with an assignment to find out if anyone really eats turtles today.

 

I found her question posted on Yahoo answers on the internet: “Can Humans Eat Baby Turtles?” One answer said that “Green Turtle and Snapping Turtle are edible and are often used in soup. In the US it is often illegal to trap turtles because they are endangered.”

 

An article in National Geographic Kids called “Sea Turtle Soup, No Thanks!” by Catherine Clarke Fox teaches us that eating Sea Turtles turns out not to be good for anybody:

 Sea turtles have been on Earth for millions of years, but they are in danger of going extinct. The main threat to them is people who kill them for food, according to Dr. Wallace J. Nichols of the California Academy of Sciences and The Ocean Conservancy.

But the latest news may slow turtle hunting: Dr. Nichols and other scientists have found that sea turtles (family Cheloniidae) absorb a lot of pollution from the ocean, including pesticides and heavy metals like mercury and cadmium. These toxins are health hazards for both turtles and humans and can cause permanent damage to their bodies. Sea turtles also carry the bacteria salmonella, which can cause severe diarrhea in people. Research shows that many people get sick and even die from eating sea turtle meat.

If you’re from the United States, chances are you haven’t had sea turtle on your dinner plate. “My daughter is four, and she thinks eating sea turtles is gross,” says Nichols. Besides, all seven species are protected by the United States Endangered Species Act, which makes it illegal to harm or kill these amazing animals. “But there are kids–-and adults—around the world who do still eat them,” explains Nichols. “Our first goal was to save turtles; now we want to save people too.”

He wants to get the word out to people who still think turtle steaks or soup make good eating. And he wants people to understand a bigger message: that we should protect the oceans. “The health of the ocean, the health of the animals in the ocean, and our own health are all connected. For a long time we didn’t really make those connections,” explains Nichols. “Now it’s clear that a clean ocean is really good for us too because of the food we eat from there.”
 The laws of Kashrut are often difficult for us to understand. Why are some animals kosher and not others? Why are some animals that seemingly would never be eaten even mentioned?  The answer is that we don’t know when some of the animals will become popular in different parts of the world and therefore every animal must be covered. 

Although we don’t always know God’s reasons for why some animals are not kosher, scientific discoveries often  prove that it may be better for everyone if certain animals are left alone.

 
Haircuts and Mourning Print E-mail
Friday, 09 April 2010
Parshat Shmini begins with the deaths of Aharon’s sons, Nadav and Avihu who sacrificed a strange fire.
 
In Shmot 10:6 “Moshe said to Aharon and to Elazar and Itamar his sons: ‘Do not let your hair grow long and do not tear your garments so that you will not die and bring Divine anger to the entire congregation; your brothers, the entire House of Israel shall weep over the conflagration that God set ablaze.’”
 
Rashi teaches that from the words “Do not let your hair grow long” we learn that  Biblically, generally a mourner is forbidden to take a haircut. However, Aharon and his family were not subject to that law.
 
Rashi bases his view on the Gemara in Moed Katan 14b “A mourner is forbidden to engage in haircutting since God said to the sons of Aharon: Do not let your hair grow long, it follows by implication that for all other mourners haircutting is forbidden.”
 
The fact that the Gemara derives the prohibition from a Biblical verse seems to refute those such as Ramban (Vayikra 10:6) who say that the laws of mourning are of Rabbinic origin. They believe that this pasuk would be looked at as an Asmachta (Scriptual support) for the law, not as the actual source.
 
Whether the prohibition against a mourner cutting their hair is Biblical or Rabbinic, when one lets their hair grow it is an outward sign of mourning.    
 
We are now in the midst of counting the Omer, which has become a communal mourning period for the students of Rabbi Akiva who died during this time. Just as all of B’nai Yisrael mourned for Nadav and Avihu, so too we all mourn for Rabbi Akiva’s students and part of that mourning process is that we don’t get haircuts during this time.
 
As we continue to count the Omer, we look forward to Lag B’Omer, the day that the plague stopped, Rabbi Akiva’s students stopped dying, the day that we can once again get our hair cut and communally move from mourning to joy.
 
Shabbat Shalom from Yerushalayim!
 
Sharona Margolin Halickman

 

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The Strength of Teshuva (Repentance) Print E-mail
Wednesday, 26 March 2008

In the beginning of Parshat Shmini, on the eighth day of the installation of the Mishkan (tabernacle), Moshe commands Aharon to bring a Korban Chatat, a sin offering of a young calf (egel).

Rashi explains that this is to let Aharon know that God forgave him by means of this calf for the deed of the (Golden) Calf which he had made.

Targum Yonatan points out thet the sin offering is to bring atonement for his involvement in Chet HaEgel.

We learn from here the strength of Teshuva. Even after Aharon was involved in construction of the golden calf, he was still allowed to serve as the Kohen Gadol in the Mishkan.

Teshuva is not just done on the high holidays, rather it should be done on a constant basis. We beat our chests and say “Selach Lanu”, forgive us, three times a day.

Many ask how it can be that Aharon was not punished for his involvement in Chet HaEgel and the answer is that there is a tremendous amount of strength and power in Teshuva that is performed correctly.

Let’s all take the time to regularly inspect our deeds and focus on doing Teshuva on a daily basis!

 
Blame it on the Grapes Print E-mail
Wednesday, 11 April 2007

After the death of Aharon’s sons, Nadav and Avihu, God commands Aharon (Vayikra 10:9) “Do not drink wine or any other intoxicant, you and your sons with you, when you enter the tent of meeting and you will not die; this is an everlasting statute (chok) throughout your generations”. The Midrash in Vayikra Raba Chapter 12 explains that the reason why this commandment is given at this point is because Aharon’s sons were drunk when they offered the esh zara, unbidden incense and were therefore put to death.

This is the only commandment which God gives directly to Aharon himself without using Moshe as an intermediary. The reason why it is given directly to Aharon is because it relates to what Aharon’s sons did wrong in the past and offers a tikkun (correction) for all future Kohanim.

The Midrash in Vayikra Raba quotes the pasuk from Tehilim 19:9 “The statutes of God are right, rejoicing the heart…” The Shechina, Divine presence only appears when there is happiness. Therefore, when the Kohen brings the korban (sacrifice) he is required to be in a good mood, a happy state of mind.

Why is the Kohen forbidden to drink wine at the time of the service? After all wouldn’t wine put him in a good mood?

Rabbi Bunim of Peshischa points out that the Kohen should be happy from doing the mitzvoth. His happiness should come from observing the Torah’s commandments not from being drunk.

Rabbi Asi takes it a step further and explains in the Midrash that if a Talmid Chacham drinks wine, then he is forbidden from issuing a Halachic ruling since when he is drunk his mind will be all mixed up and he will end up permitting that which is forbidden.

The Midrash lists countless examples of otherwise good people in the Tanach who went off the path because they drank too much. The list includes Noach, Lot and King Solomon.

Unfortunately, alcohol abuse is a major issue in the Jewish community today. We must do what we can to educate the next generation of the dangers of alcohol abuse as well as emphasize the fact that it is in fact a Torah prohibition.

 

 
What Does Mozart have to do with Keeping Kosher? Print E-mail
Thursday, 20 April 2006

A few years ago a Seattle doctor came up with the theory that Mozart, who died in 1791 at age 35, died from trichinosis, a disease caused by eating uncooked pork. How does this doctor know that Mozart ate pork? In a letter written by Mozart a few weeks before he got sick, he described delicious pork cutlets that he was about to eat.

Would Mozart have been a healthier person if he kept kosher? Now that trichinosis is not really an issue can we abandon the laws of kashrut?

Although in some cases keeping kosher has saved Jews from contracting certain illnesses, the reason why we keep kosher is not because it is healthier for our bodies. We keep kosher because it is healthier for our souls.

In Parshat Shmini, God commands the Jewish people to keep kosher. The only reason why: (Vayikra 11:45): "You shall be kedoshim (holy), for I am kadosh (holy)."

According to the Torah, Keeping kosher makes the Jewish people kadosh- holy, separate, sanctified.

What about keeping kosher makes us an "am kadosh", holy nation?

Rashi says that when we see unkosher food, we should actually say Efshi- that looks so delicious, I wish I could eat it. However, God wants me to be separate and sanctified and therefore I won't eat it.

Being an "am Kadosh" means that we should strive as a community to do God's will. That may be the reason why many of our prayers that come from the root kadosh (such as the Kaddish, and the Kedusha) must be said with a minyan, as a community. In everything we do we should strive to work together as a community to elevate ourselves to become holy.

There are actually character traits that we can learn from certain non-kosher animals. Midrash Raba teaches that from a pig we can learn that a holy person shouldn't put on an act. They should act the same way in public as they do in private.

A pig is not kosher because although it has split hooves, it does not chew its cud. A pig puts on an act. On the outside he says, you see, I'm kosher, I have split hooves. However, on the inside he is not kosher, he doesn't chew his cud.

Keeping kosher can be a constant reminder that we should live our lives, both publicly and privately in a holy manner. Many of our important mitzvot are not the public mitzvot which need to be performed in a synagogue. Many of our mitzvot are performed privately at home. On Shabbat and holidays, we make Kiddush (also from the root kadosh), sanctifying the Shabbat day over wine. Kiddush must be performed even by a person eating alone. The mitzvah of Taharat HaMishpacha, family purity is private yet the Torah ranks it up there with fasting on Yom Kippur and refraining from eating bread on Passover.

The reason why we perform mitzvot should not be to put on a show. We should perform mitzvot in order to make ourselves a holy people.

There is a bird called the Chasida, sounds almost like a chasid! Actually it is a stork and it is not even a kosher animal. The Gemara in Chulin 63a asks: Why does this bird gets such a wonderful name, pious one? Because the chasida does kindness with its fellows. If this bird is so compassionate, then why isn't it kosher? The Rizhiner Rebbe explains, the stork directs its kindness exclusively towards its fellows, but will not help other species. This is not a holy act. This is not an act that we should emulate.

We learn from the chasida that it is not good enough to be kind to some. We must strive to help all who are in trouble. Some people just want to help their inner community, which is a good start. However, we must strive to help as many people as possible, with different backgrounds, strengths and limitations.

We must remember that the laws of keeping kosher were designed to make us a truly holy nation.