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The Partnership of the Olive Oil Print E-mail
Tuesday, 30 May 2023

Dedicated to the Memory of Louis Levine zl, Baruch Aryeh ben Avraham Halevi,

on his Seventeenth Yahrzeit, 19th of Sivan

In Parshat Tetzave (Shmot 27:20-21), after the building of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) was complete, B’nai Yisrael were commanded regarding the oil that would be used for the Ner Tamid (eternal lamp):

Now you shall command B’nai Yisrael that they shall take for you pure, pressed olive oil for illumination, to kindle the lamp continually. In Ohel Moed (the Tent of Meeting), outside the partition that is near the Testimonial-tablets, Aaron and his sons shall arrange it from evening until morning, before God, an eternal decree for their generations, from B’nai Yisrael.

Sforno explains that as opposed to the other gifts that were given to the Mishkan which were one time contributions to help get the Mishkan set up, the donation of olive oil would be ongoing. It would constantly need to be replaced.

The olive oil that was used in the desert was from the reserves that B’nai Yisrael brought out of Egypt as there were no olive trees available in the wilderness.

Upon arriving in the Land of Israel, they would have the luxury to systematically make new olive oil.

In Parshat Beha’alotcha (Bamidbar 8:1-3), once the Mishkan was dedicated on the 1st of Nisan, Aaron was commanded in regards to the Menorah:

God spoke to Moshe, saying, “Speak to Aaron and say to him: When you kindle the lamps, toward the face of the Menorah shall the seven lamps cast light.” Aaron did so; toward the face of the Menorah he kindled its lamps, as God had commanded Moshe.

According to Rashbam, since the lighting of the Menorah is a procedure that is repeated daily it is mentioned here. Even though the Mishkan had been completed and all of the work had been done, the Menorah was incomplete as the oil and wicks needed to be renewed regularly and the lighting of the flame was required as a continuing procedure on a daily basis.

The Menorah was part of an ongoing partnership between B’nai Yisrael who brought the oil and Aaron and his sons (the Kohanim) who lit it. By working together they were able to bring light into the world.

Gossip doesn’t speak to me Print E-mail
Tuesday, 07 June 2022

In Parsha Behaalotcha (Bamidbar 12:1-2) we read:

And Miriam and Aharon spoke against Moshe because of the Cushite (Ethiopian) woman whom he had married; for he had married n Ethiopian woman. They said: “Is it only to Moshe that God has spoken? Did he not also speak with us?” and God heard.

From these two verses, it is very hard to understand what they were speaking about.

Who was the Ethiopian woman? Was it Tziporah? How could it have been Tziporah? She was Midianite, not Ethiopian. If she wasn’t Ethiopian then why is she called Ethiopian? Why is the fact that he married an Ethiopian woman repeated twice? If it wasn’t Tziporah, then who was it? Did Moshe marry this woman before he married Tziporah or after? What does all of this have to do with which prophets God has spoken to?

The rabbis and commentators grapple with these questions and try to find answers, some of which may seem to be outlandish and don’t even fit the context of the story.

Rashi based on the Midrashim, Avot D’Rabi Natan and Sifri Zuta says that Moshe separated from his wife, Tziporah due to the fact that he was receiving prophecy from God.

Rashi’s comment fits with the second verse which talks about prophecy. However, we only see them mention marriage in the text, not divorce. As well, we are brought back to the fact that Tziporah was not Ethiopian. To solve that issue Rashi uses Onkelos’ translation of Cushite as beautiful rather than Ethiopian.

Rashbam, Rashi’s grandson, has a totally different take. He quotes Divrei HaYamin D’Moshe Rabbeinu, an Aggada, legend, which teaches that after Moshe left Egypt, he was a king in Ethiopia for 40 years, married an Ethiopian queen.

Rabbi Yosef Ibn Kaspi, a medieval Jewish commentator, does not agree with any of the above opinions. Tziporah is not the Ethiopian woman and Moshe did not marry an Ethiopian princess. He also doesn’t believe that Moshe separated from his wife. Rather, their complaint was that Moshe was now taking on a second wife, in addition to Tzipora.

Why do the commentators have to guess what they were talking about? Why doesn’t the Torah just tell us?

According to Nechama Leibowitz, the Torah did not wish to prohibit merely explicit gossip about our fellowmen in general and the spiritual leaders of our generation in particular. It wished to prohibit any kind of talk or gossip disparaging our fellowmen.

I was teaching this topic to a group of older adults and they were extremely bothered by the fact that the commentaries spent so much energy trying to figure out what Miriam and Aharon were really talking about. Unlike most of the general public who want every detail of gossip, my students were not concerned with the private life of Moshe or anyone else’s private lives. If only we could all be like these women who are at a level where Lashon HaRa (evil speech) does not speak to them.

What Blessing did they say on the Manna? Print E-mail
Thursday, 27 May 2021

Dedicated to the Memory of Louis Levine z"l, Baruch Aryeh ben Avraham HaLevi, on his Fifteenth Yahrzeit, 19th of Sivan

The manna is described as a type of bread in the Torah, yet it does not grow from the ground so “…HaMotzi Lechem Min HaAretz”, ...Who brings forth bread from the ground” which we usually say before eating bread would not be the right bracha.

The Talmud does not discuss the bracha before eating the manna but does speak about the bracha achrona, the blessing recited after eating the manna, Birkat HaMazon (Grace after Meals) in Brachot 48b:

Rav Naḥman said: Moshe instituted for Israel the first blessing of Birkat HaMazon, “...HaZan et HaKol”, “...Who feeds all”, when the manna descended for them from heaven.

From this Gemara, it sounds like B’nai Yisrael recited Birkat HaMazon after they ate the manna but we are still left with the question: Did they also make a blessing before they ate it and if so, what was the blessing?

 In Shmot 16:4, God said to Moshe, “I will rain down ‘lechem min hashamayim’, bread for you from the sky, and the people shall go out and gather each day that day’s portion—that I may thus test them, to see whether they will follow My instructions or not.”

 Rav Ovadia Yosef in Yechave Daat quotes a few different sources for if there was a bracha and if so, what the bracha may have been:

 Rabbi Yehuda HaChasid (Yehuda ben Shmuel of Regensburg) wrote in Sefer HaChasidim that the bracha for manna is “…HaMotzi Lechem Min HaShamayim”, ...Who brings forth bread from Heaven.” Eliyahu HaNavi said this bracha as well when he ate Ugot Retzafim, coal baked cake that was given to him by the angel (Melachim I, 19:6).

 Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech Spira (of Dinov) in his work Bnei Yisaschar, wrote in the name of Rabbi Menachem Azariah de Fano (Rema MiPano) that in the future, at the Feast of the Leviatan (Sea Monster) described in Masechet Bava Batra 74b, the Leviatan will be slain and its flesh served as a feast to the righteous in the World to Come. The beautiful skin will be used to cover the tent where the banquet will take place. There they will celebrate by eating manna that was saved in a container by Yoshiyahu (Talmud, Yoma 52b) which is called bread.

 Rema MiPano is referring to the manna that was saved in Shmot 16:32-34:

Moshe said, “This is what God has commanded: Let one omer of it (the manna) be kept throughout the ages, in order that they may see the bread that I fed you in the wilderness when I brought you out from the land of Egypt.”

 And Moshe said to Aharon, “Take a jar, put one omer of manna in it, and place it before God, to be kept throughout the ages.” As God had commanded Moshe, Aharon placed it before the Ark of Testimony for a safe keeping.

 In Shmot 16:15 we read:

When the B’nai Yisrael saw it (the manna), they said to one another, “What is it?”—for they did not know what it was. And Moshe said to them, “That is the bread which God has given you to eat.

 Based on the verses above that call the manna bread, Rema MiPano said that the bracha should be “…HaMotzi Lechem Min HaShamayim”, ...Who brings forth bread from Heaven.

 The Mekubal, Rav Yisrael Dov took a different generation and said that they didn’t make a bracha on the manna at all as it is called “Lechem Abirim.” As it says in Tehillim 78:23-25:

 He commanded the clouds from above and opened the doors of heaven, and rained down manna upon them to eat and gave them of the corn of heaven. Man ate “lechem abirim”, the bread of angels: He sent them provision to the full.

  In Parshat Behaalotcha, when B’nai Yisrael complain about not having meat, fish or vegetables, they say (Bamidbar 11:6) “But now, our soul is dried away, there is nothing; we have nothing to anticipate but the manna.”

 According to the Talmud, Yoma 75b they were saying: Eventually this manna will expand in our intestines. Is there any such thing as a creature born from a woman who takes food in but doesn’t need to go to the bathroom?

 Rabbi Yishmael taught: Do not read the word as “Abirim”, strong ones or angels, read it as “Eivarim”, limbs. The manna is absorbed in the 248 limbs of the body.

The Mekubal, Rav Yisrael Dov’s approach is that if there is no waste in the food then it would technically not need a bracha at all and maybe the bracha  “…HaMotzi Lechem Min HaShamayim” presented by the Rema MiPano is only for the Seudat Livyatan, but was not recited by B’nai Yisrael. However, Sefer HaChasidim states that B’nai Yisrael did recite the bracha “…HaMotzi Lechem Min HaShamayim” on the manna as the Rema MiPano had mentioned.

A Pesach Sheni Miracle Print E-mail
Monday, 01 June 2020

Dedicated to the Memory of Louis Levine z”l, Baruch Aryeh ben Avraham HaLevi, on his Fourteenth Yahrzeit, 19th of Sivan

In Parshat Behaalotcha (Bamidbar 9:6-7), we read about an unusual circumstance:

There were men who were impure, having had contact with a corpse, and they were not able to perform the Pesach offering on that day, and they drew near before Moshe and before Aharon, on that day. Those men said to him: “We are impure, having had contact with a corpse; why should we be excluded and not be able to bring the offering of God in its proper time, among B’nai Yisrael?”

Moshe consulted God about what to do and God answered that if someone was impure and unable to bring the Korban Pesach on Pesach (14th of Nisan), they could perform the mitzvah a month later (14th of Iyar).

According to Rabbi Shlomo HaCohen Rabinowitz of Radomsk (1801-1866) the mitzvah of Korban Pesach is the only mitzvah that can be made up at a later time. Why this mitzvah specifically? His answer is that the people went out of their way to make a special effort to observe the mitzvah of Korban Pesach as they came to Moshe and Aharon and asked why should we be excluded?” Rabbi Rabinowitz explains that the same should be true for the redemption of Israel. If the Jewish community makes the effort with all of their hearts and all of their souls to inherit their homeland, then the redemption will come. How true have his words proven to be.

Recently, we have seen a modern day example of Pesach Sheni. Eli Beer, the founder of United Hatzalah (volunteer EMS group) was in Miami for Purim. He wasn’t feeling well and after a few days with fever, he went to the hospital and was diagnosed with COVID-19. He was put into a medically induced coma with a 5% chance of survival. A month later he woke up and was cured. He was looking forward to Pesach and was devastated to find out that he already missed it. He flew back to Israel in time for Pesach Sheni and decided to celebrate in Tel Aviv with his family with a five hour “model seder.” It meant a lot to him to be able to make up for the Pesach that he missed due to circumstances beyond his control.

Even though we don’t have the Korban Pesach as there is no Beit HaMikdash (Temple) today, Pesach is still one of the most observed Jewish holidays. This year, many felt that they could not celebrate in the way that they would have liked to. Hopefully soon things will be getting back to normal and we will be able to celebrate the holidays in the way that they were intended to be celebrated.

Not all prophets are created equal Print E-mail
Friday, 14 June 2019

The following verse (Dvarim 24:9) is recited by some congregations each day at the end of Shacharit (the morning service): “Remember what HaShem, your God did to Miriam on the way when you departed from Egypt.”

In Bamidbar, Chapter 12:1-2, Miriam and Aharon speak about Moshe and the Cushite woman that he married. They then continue, “’Is it only to Moshe that God has spoken? Did He not also speak to us?’ and God heard.”

God tells all three of them to go to Ohel Moed (Tent of Meeting). He called to Aharon and Miriam to come out and He said (verses 6-8) “Please listen to My words. If there will be a prophet among you, I, God, will make Myself known to them in a vision; in a dream I will speak to him. That is not the case with My servant, Moshe; in My entire house he is trusted. Mouth to mouth I speak to him, in a vision and not in riddles; he gazes at the likeness of God; so why are you not afraid to speak about my servant, about Moshe?

In verse 9 we see that “God’s anger flared against them and He left.”

From God’s reaction we see that He was angry at Miriam and Aharon for trying to show that their prophecy was equal to Moshe’s.

Rav Kook, in Olot Reiyah, his commentary on the siddur, explains that we mention what happened to Miriam on a daily basis to remind us that not all of the prophets were the same. Miriam and Aharon comparing themselves to Moshe was a problem since no other prophet was on the same level as Moshe and no other prophet can cancel out Moshe’s prophecies. Even though it says at the end of the Torah (Dvarim 34:10) “And there has never arisen a prophet within Yisrael like Moshe, whom God knew face to face” it is important to constantly remember it.

The “top six list” of remembrances recited each morning are:

The Exodus from Egypt

Receiving the Torah at Mt. Sinai

Amalek’s attack

The Golden Calf



As we are reminded of this list each morning, may we remember the mistakes of the past so that they are not repeated.

The Seven Books of the Torah Print E-mail
Thursday, 31 May 2018

Dedicated to the Memory of Louis Levine z"l,

Baruch Aryeh ben Avraham Halevi,

on his Twelfth Yahrzeit, 19th of Sivan 

In Parshat Behaalotcha, we find two verses from Bamidbar 10:35-36 which we have been saying since the 13th century, each time the Torah is removed from the ark and replaced, “Vayehi binsoah ha’aron…”, “When the ark would journey, Moshe said, ‘Arise, God, and let your foes be scattered, let those who hate you flee from before You…’” When we look closely in the Chumash, we see that these verses are enclosed in upside down letter nun’s. Why?

 In the Talmud, Masechet Shabbat 115b-116a, the rabbis taught in a Braita, God made signs (inverted nuns) above and below (sentences 35-36) to teach that this is not the proper place in the Torah for these two verses. Rebbi says: It is not for this reason that the signs appear, but rather because this section ranks as a significant book unto itself.

The Talmud then states that the Torah actually consists of seven books. How are the seven books of the Torah calculated?

Rashi explains that the book of Bamidbar is divided into three separate books:

1.    Bamidbar 1:1-10:34

2.    Bamidbar 10:35-36 (Vayehi binsoah ha’aron…)

3.    Bamidbar 10:37-36:13

If we add these three books to the other four books of the Torah, we end up with seven.

Why do we need seven books?

According to the Talmud, seven books are needed in order to separate between the narrative of the first punishment and the narrative of the second punishment. The first punishment was in 10:33 (“They journeyed from the Mountain of God a three day distance…”) Rav Chama bar Chanina commented that within three days from receiving the Torah, they already turned away from God. The second punishment was in Bamidbar 11:11 (“And the people took to seeking complaints”) this is the section of the “mitonenim.” “Vayehi binsoah” is placed in between these two unfortunate incidents in order to separate them.

If verses 35-36 are a book of the Torah unto themselves, what lesson are they trying to teach?

The message of “Let your foes be scattered, let those who hate you flee from before you” certainly rings true today. Unfortunately, the State of Israel has many enemies who are looking to destroy us from all sides. Each time that Moshe began a journey he would ask God for protection. We should do the same.

Rashi asks who the haters of Israel are. According to Sifre “they counsel cunningly against your people.” Today, you can find them on Israel’s borders, in the New York Times and on social media. We must speak out against them.

In verse 36 we read, “When the ark rested, he (Moshe) would say, ‘Reside tranquilly, O, God, among the myriad thousands of Israel.’” This verse is recited when the Torah is returned to the ark.

May we reside peacefully and tranquilly in the State of Israel and may our soldiers be safe. 

Did Moshe know that he would not enter Israel? Print E-mail
Tuesday, 06 June 2017

Dedicated to the Memory of Louis Levine z"l, Baruch Aryeh ben Avraham HaLevi, on his Eleventh Yahrzeit, 19th of Sivan

Did Moshe know that he would not enter Israel?

In Parshat Behaalotcha (Bamidbar 10:29), Moshe tells Yitro, his father in law, “We are journeying to the place about which God said ‘I will give it to you,’ come along with us and we will treat you well, for God spoke of bringing good fortune on Israel.”

Why did Moshe include himself in the group that would be entering the Land if he would not be permitted to enter?

Rashi’s answer is that the decree that Moshe would not enter the Land was only issued after the episode of “Mei Meriva”, “The Waters of Dispute” when Moshe hit the rock instead of speaking to it as God had commanded. When Moshe spoke to Yitro, it was before “Mei Meriva” and therefore he believed that he would enter the Land.

Rashi’s interpretation of Shmot 4:13 says that Moshe already knew that he would not be the one who would lead B’nei Yisrael into the Land. However, he thought that he would still enter the Land as an ordinary Israelite. Rashi’s view conjures up images of a rabbi emeritus that remains with their congregation after retirement.

In Shmot 6:1, “God said to Moshe, ‘Now you will see what I will do to Pharaoh, for by My strong hand he will let them go, and by a strong hand, He will drive them out of His Land.’” Rashi points out that Moshe would see what would be done to Pharaoh (now), but not what will be done later to the kings of the seven nations in the Land of Cnaan.

Why did Moshe still think that he would be entering the Land?

Moshe felt that he would at least set foot in the Land even if he would die before the conquest.

After the splitting of the Red Sea, in “Az Yashir” (The Song of the Sea) Shmot 15:7, Moshe sang “You will bring them and implant them in the mountain of your inheritance.” According to Rashi, by saying “them”, Moshe is excluding himself from those who would be entering the Land.

Why would Moshe exclude himself, if he still thought that he would be entering the Land?

According to Mizrachi, the lyrics of “Az Yashir” were revealed to Moshe by prophetic inspiration and therefore he recited them exactly as they were revealed.

Gur Aryeh states that Moshe thought that the decree had not been finalized, so he could still pray for its reversal. For this reason, he sang the song as God intended hoping to reverse the decree later through prayer.

Even though Moshe received many hints from God that he would not be entering the Land, he continued to grasp on to the hope that he would at least have the opportunity to set foot in the Land, even for a brief moment.

Miriam’s Imagery Print E-mail
Wednesday, 15 June 2016

In Parshat Behaalotcha, Bamidbar 12:1, we read: “Miriam and Aharon spoke about Moshe concerning the Cushite woman that he married, for, he married a Cushite woman.”


Rashi explains that everyone agreed to her beauty just as everyone agrees to the fact that the Cushites (Sudanese) have dark skin.


The Talmud, Moed Katan 16b states: Is Cushite her name? Her name is Tziporah! Rather, the word comes to teach us that just as a Cushite woman is different in the color of her skin, so Tziporah was unusual in the aspect of her deeds.


The Talmud brings another instance where we see the word Cush. King David used the word Cush in Tehillim 7:1 “A song of the shigayon by David which he sang to God concerning the matter of Cush ben Yemini.” The Gemara asks: Is Cush his name? But his name is Shaul! The Gemara explains: Cush is not his name but rather a characterization. Just as a Cushite is different in the color of his skin, so Shaul was unusual in the aspect of his deeds.


Rashi explains that Shaul was unique in being righteous while his generation was evil.


The Talmud quotes a similar idea from Amos 9:7 “Behold you are like the children of the Cushites to me, O children of Israel”. The Gemara asks: Is Cushites their name? But their name is Israel! Rather, the word teaches that just as a Cushite is different in the color of their skin, so are B’nai Yisrael different from all other nations in the aspect of their deeds.


We see from here that the Biblical word Cushite is interpreted by the Talmud to refer to someone who is different and unique.


However, beginning with the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, the use of the word Cushite in Modern Hebrew was no longer considered politically correct and is no longer acceptable in Israel today.

Is the Glass Half Empty or Half Full? Print E-mail
Sunday, 31 May 2015

Dedicated to the Memory of Louis Levine z”l, Baruch Aryeh ben Avraham HaLevi, on his Ninth Yahrzeit, 19th of Sivan 

In Parshat Behaalotcha, Bamidbar 11:1-3 we read about the nation acting as “mitonenim” complainers: “The people were “k’mitonenim” like complainers; it was evil in the ears of God. God heard and His anger flared and the fire of God burned among them and consumed some of the outcasts of the camp. The people cried out to Moshe and Moshe prayed to God and the fire subsided. He called the name of the place Taverah, for it was there that burned among them the fire of God.”


Since their complaints are not specifically mentioned in the text, our commentators conjecture what their complaints were about.


According to Ramban, the word “mitonen” is from the same root as “Ben Oni” (Binyamin’s name given to him by Rachel right before she passed away, meaning “the son of my sorrow”). As they got further away from Mount Sinai, which was near an inhabitable settlement and entered “the great and dreadful wilderness” in their first journey they became upset and said: “What shall we do? How shall we live in this wilderness? What shall we eat and what shall we drink? How shall we endure the trouble and the suffering and when shall we come out of here?”


Ramban explains that they spoke in the bitterness of their soul as do people who suffer pain and this was evil in the sight of God as they should have followed Him “with gladness and goodness of heart when everything was abundant” however they behaved like people acting under duress and compulsion, murmuring and complaining about their condition.


In every situation we can find positives and negatives. Each of us can decide if we want to look at the glass as half empty or half full.


Instead of letting God take care of them, in place of appreciating the fact that they just received the Torah, rather than being grateful for the fact that the Ark of the Covenant was traveling in front of them and the Cloud of God was above them, they chose to worry and complain.


When encountering a difficult situation, one needs to take the time to assess the situation and weigh the positives and negatives. Often, one will find that the good outweighs the bad.


Why Were Miriam and Aharon Talking About Moshe? Print E-mail
Tuesday, 03 June 2014

In Parshat Behaalotcha, Bamidbar 12:1, we read: “Miriam and Aharon spoke against Moshe because of the Kushite woman whom he had married: For he had married a Kushite woman.”


According to Yoseph Ibn Kaspi (Spain 1280-1340) in his book Mishneh Kesef, if you follow the pshat (the plain meaning of the text), Moshe, while still married to Tzipora married a second wife, an Ethiopian woman. We don’t know why or exactly when he married her, the Torah doesn’t give us any other details about it.


The rest of Miriam and Aharon’s conversation about Moshe is not recorded in the Torah.


In Biblical times, it was common for a man to have more than one wife. Avraham had two wives and Yaakov had four wives. Just because Aharon chose to have one wife (Elisheva) doesn’t mean that he had a right to criticize Moshe for taking a second wife.


Rabbeinu Bachya Ibn Pekuda in his book Chovot Ha Levavot describes human nature: Should one of your colleagues be superior to you in the service of God and his deeds be better than yours and he tries harder than you to draw nearer to God, your evil inclination will seduce you and say to you: His greater efforts to achieve moral perfection only throw into relief your faults. If not for him you would be considered by everyone the most righteous in your generation. Stir up opinion against him, envy him and hate him! Find fault with him and if you can spread an evil report of him to lessen his reputation, do so!


Unfortunately, people feel that they have to put down others in order to make themselves look better.


Aharon and Miriam were prophets who were on a high spiritual level. There was no reason for them to feel that they had to compete with Moshe.


We have to learn from Miriam and Aharon’s mistakes and rise above them.


We must concentrate on being the best that we can be without putting down others.

To Everything there is a Season Print E-mail
Friday, 24 May 2013


Dedicated to the memory of Louis Levine z”l, Baruch Aryeh ben Avraham HaLevi on his seventh Yahrzeit, 19th Sivan

When Miriam was sick with tzaraat (a skin disease), Moshe prayed for her to be healed. We find Moshe’s prayer in Bamidbar 12:13: “Moshe cried out to God in prayer saying: E-l na rifa na lah, Please, God, please heal her.”


Rashi asks the following question: Why didn’t Moshe pray at length for Miriam to be healed?


Rashi’s answer is: He didn’t pray at length so that B’nai Yisrael should not say, “His sister is suffering and he stands and prolongs his prayer.”


Rashi brings a different answer (from Sifri): So that the Israelites should not say: “For his sister he prays at length but for us he does not pray at length.”


According to the Maharsha, Moshe’s behavior teaches us that there are times when it is sufficient to say a brief prayer. Since Miriam’s sin did not involve all of B’nai Yisrael, it was not necessary for Moshe to say a long prayer.


On the other hand, after the sin of the Golden Calf, Moshe prayed a long prayer as the sin involved many people.


In Brachot 34a we read:


It happened that a certain student led the prayer service in the presence of Rabbi Eliezer and he prolonged the service excessively. Rabbi Eliezer’s students said to him: What a prolonger that person is. Rabbi Eliezer answered: Does he prolong his prayers more than Moshe did after the sin of the Golden Calf ? Moshe’s lengthy prayer is described in Devarim 9:25: “And I threw myself down before God for forty days and forty nights, I threw myself down before God because God intended to destroy you.”


Another student led the prayer service in the presence of Rabbi Eliezer, and he abbreviated the service excessively. Rabbi Eliezer’s students said to him: What an abbreviator this person is! Rabbi Eliezer answered: Does he abbreviate his prayers more than Moshe did? Moshe’s prayer in Bamidbar 12:13 was “Please, God, please heal her.”


We see from here that there are times when a short prayer is appropriate while there are other times when a longer one would be.


Some synagogues have short services while others have lengthy ones. The beauty of being in Jerusalem is that each person has the option to choose a service that meets their needs.



Why Did B’nai Yisrael Want Fish, Cucumbers, Watermelons, Leeks, Onions & Garlic? Print E-mail
Friday, 08 June 2012

Dedicated to the memory of Louis Levine z"l, Baruch Aryeh ben Avraham HaLevi on his sixth Yahrzeit, 19th Sivan


In Parshat Behaalotcha, we are told that B’nai Yisrael were given manna to eat while they traveled in the desert.


A well known interpretation is that the manna tasted like whatever food the person who was eating it wanted it to taste like. If this was the case then why did B’nai Yisrael complain saying the following (Bamidbar 11:5): “We remember the fish which we ate freely in Egypt; the cucumbers, watermelons, leeks, onions and garlic?”


Rashi says that the manna was transformed into everything except for the foods listed here.


The Sifri (Midrash written around the same time as the Mishna) explains what the problem was:


Rabbi Shimon said: Why was the manna transformed into everything but these foods? It is because these foods are harmful to nursing mothers. We tell a woman: “Do not eat garlic or onions for the baby’s sake.” This is compared to a king who placed his son under the tutelage of a pedagogue who warned him against harmful food and drink. The son was angry with his father, saying that this is not because my father loves me, but because he does not want me to eat.


Throughout the centuries, different cultures had their own lists of what was and wasn’t good for nursing mothers to eat. We learn from here that in the Third Century CE nursing mothers were told to keep away from the above foods as they were afraid that they would have an adverse effect on the mother’s milk.


Is this still true today?

  1. Fish- nursing moms are told to stay away from eating large amounts of fish due to the levels of mercury that it may contain.
  2. Cucumbers- and some other vegetables are thought to make some babies irritable.
  3. Watermelon- is a fruit that helps boost the mom’s fluid intake and it is now considered an “old wives tale” to tell nursing moms that it is harmful.
  4. Leeks, Onions and Garlic- are still known to change the taste of the mother’s milk. Some babies may get fussy if the milk tastes different. According to La Leche League, in Italy nursing moms are told to stay away from garlic while in India the moms are told to eat garlic as it may actually help boost the mom’s milk supply.


Today, nursing moms are told to eat all healthy foods and to only stop eating a specific food (often one or more on the foods on the list above) if it bothers the baby.


Instead of appreciating all of the foods that the manna could have tasted like, according to this Midrash, B’nai Yisrael craved the six foods that they could not have and complained. We must learn the lesson here that we can’t always have everything and we must be thankful and appreciative for what we do have.

 Eizeh hu ashir? Hasameach bichelko. Who is rich? The person who is happy with what they have.

Click on the link below to hear my interview on Life Lessons with Judy Simon on Israel National Radio!








A Second Chance Print E-mail
Thursday, 09 June 2011

We have been celebrating a lot of holidays over the past month including Yom Haatzmaut (Israel’s Independence Day), Lag BaOmer (the 33rd day of the counting of the Omer), Yom Yerushalayim (Jerusalem Day) and Shavuot.


There is a holiday that you may have missed. The holiday takes place on the 14th day of Iyar and is called Pesach Sheni, a Second Passover.


Why do we need a Second Pesach?


In Bamidbar 9:9-11 we read: “God spoke to Moshe saying: Speak to B’nai Yisrael, saying: any person, if he will be impure from a corpse, or is on a distant road, whether among yourselves or for your descendents, he shall perform the Peasch offering for God in the second month, on the fourteenth day in the afternoon he shall perform it. Together with matzot and marror they shall eat it.”


According to Rashi, the simple definition of “distant” is that the person was outside of the courtyard of the Beit HaMikdash (Temple).


A Midrashic interpretation would be that the person is on a “distant road”, further than Modiin where they would not have the opportunity to reach the courtyard of the Beit HaMikdash in time.


Gur Aryeh points out that Pesach Sheni is just to make up for the Korban Pesach (offering). We presume that the regular mitzvoth of Pesach such as destroying the Chametz and eating Matza were observed on the ”regular” Pesach in Nisan.
Pesach Sheni is not a Yom Tov and owning Chametz is permitted.


In sentence 13 we are warned: “The person who is pure and was not on the road and refrained from performing the Pesach offering that soul shall be cut off from its people, for the offering of God he did not bring in its proper time; that person shall bear his sin.”


We see here that second chances are given to those who are sincere but not for those who try to take advantage of the situation.


Although we no longer have the Korban Pesach, many Israelis still commemorate Pesach Sheni by eating Matzah.

Honor Will Come to Those Who Deserve It Print E-mail
Friday, 28 May 2010

Dedicated to the memory of Louis Levine z"l, Baruch Aryeh ben Avraham Halevi, on his fourth Yahrzeit, 19th Sivan


In Parshat Behaalotcha, Bamidbar 26-29, we read about Eldad and Meidad: “Two men remained behind in the camp, the name of one was Eldad and the name of the other was Meidad, and the spirit rested upon them, they had been of the recorded ones, but they had not gone out to the Tent and they prophecied in the camp. The youth ran and told Moshe, and he said ‘Eldad and Meidad are prophesying in the camp.’ Yehoshua Bin Nun, the servant of Moshe since his youth spoke up and said ‘My lord Moshe, incarcerate them!’ Moshe said to him, ‘Are you being zealous for my sake? Would that the entire people of God could be prophets, if God would but place His spirit upon them!”


What does “they were among the recorded ones” mean?


The Sanhedrin only had 70 seats so Moshe had to select six members from each tribe and the 72 that were chosen would have to draw lots for the seventy seats. Seventy lots said “elder” on them and two were blank.


Why did Eldad and Meidad stay in the camp and not attend the drawing?


According to Rashi quoting Sifre, they did not attend the drawing because they were so humble that they felt that they did not deserve the honor.


In the Talmud, Sanhedrin 17a we see the opinion that they were afraid that they would draw blank lots and be humiliated.


In the end, two other candidates drew blank lots and Eldad and Meidad became members by default.


What was their prophecy?

  1. Rashi quoting Sifre says that the prophecy was: Moshe will die and Yehoshua will bring Israel into the Land.

2. In Sanhedrin 17a Abba Chanin said in the name of Rabbi Eliezer: It was concerning the quails that they prophesied- They said “Arise birds! Arise, birds!” The episode of Eldad and Meidad took place immediately before the arrival of the quails.


3. Rav Nachman gives a third opinion in Sanhedrin 17a, They prophesied        concerning Gog and Magog (the Messianic era will be preceeded by the war of Gog and Magog when Gog, the king of Magog will attack Israel).


Why was Yehoshua so disturbed by their prophecy?


The answer can be found in Sanhedrin 17a: Yeshoshua felt that it was not proper conduct for them to prophesy in the presence if Moshe because it was like a student rendering a Halachic decision in the presence of his teacher.


We see from here that Eldad and Medad as well as Yehoshua and Moshe did not seek out honor yet honor was brought to them on account of their humbleness. Eldad and Medad stayed back in the camp as opposed to running over to see if they would be chosen for the Sanhedrin, Yehoshua didn’t want Moshe’s honer to be tarnished and Moshe was humble in the fact that he didn’t have a problem with others having prophecy as well.


We can learn from Eldad, Meidad, Yehoshua and Moshe that honor will come to those who don’t specifically go to seek it out.

What the Tabloids Won’t Tell You About Moshe’s Wives Print E-mail
Thursday, 04 June 2009

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At the end of Parshat Behaalotcha we read about Miriam speaking to Aharon about a Kushite woman (a woman with black skin from Ethiopia): “Miriam and Aharon spoke against Moshe regarding the Kushite woman he had married, for he had married a Kushite woman” (Bamidbar 12:1).


According to Rashbam who quotes the Midrash in Divrei HaYamim Shel Moshe Rabeinu, Moshe was the king of Kush (Ethiopia) for forty years between the time that he escaped from Egypt after killing the Egyptian until the time that he arrived in Midian and met Yitro. While living in Ethiopia, Moshe married the queen (the widow of King Nikonos) and became the king. However, Moshe never had relations with her since she was not an Israelite. The Midrash continues that after forty years the queen told her generals that Moshe never had relations with her and that she would like to marry a Kushite from her first husband’s lineage so that she will be able to have children. The generals thanked Moshe for serving as king and for helping them defeat the enemy and then asked him to take whatever riches he wanted and then they sent him on his way.


According to Abarbanel, this Midrash helps explain why Moshe left Egypt when he was twenty years old yet he only arrived in Midian at the age of sixty. Moshe’s experience as the ruler of Kush also helped him prepare for the difficult job that lay ahead of leading the Jewish people out of Egypt.


Why was Miriam discussing Moshe’s first wife with Aharon so many years later, after Moshe had already been married to Tzipora (a Midianite) with a family of their own?


Rashi states that at this point, Moshe was no longer having relations with Tzipra and that they were actually divorced so it reminded Miriam of the other time that Moshe had been married yet refrained from having relations.


No matter what Miriam said or who she was referring to, Miriam spoke Lashon HaRa (gossip) and was punished for it with Tzaraat (an illness similar to leprosy).


No matter how juicy your piece of gossip is -and it probably can’t get juicier than this Midrash about Moshe having a first wife- remember to try to hold back because there are consequences.

Moshe's Stamp of Approval for Conversions and Aliya Print E-mail
Wednesday, 11 June 2008

In Parshat Behaalotcha (Bamidbar 10:29-32) we read a discussion that Moshe has with his father in law:

“Moshe said to Chovav (Yitro) the son of Reuel, the Midianite, Moshe’s father-in-law: “We are journeying to the place about which God said ‘I will give it to you’, come along with us and we will treat you well, for God spoke of bringing good fortune on Israel.” He (Yitro) said to him (Moshe) “I will not go, but rather to my land and to my birthplace will I go.” He (Moshe) said to him (Yitro) “please do not forsake us, for because you know of our encampment in the desert, and you will be our eyes. It will be, that when you go with us, it shall be that the very good which God will bestow on us we will bestow on (share with) you”.

Rashi says that Yitro wanted to go back to Midian for the sake of his properties and for the sake of his family.

Rabbi Avraham MiPrag says that Yitro did not want to remain in Midian, rather he wanted to go back to sell his property and convert his family.

In the book of Shoftim (Judges) 1:16 we read: “The children of the Kenite, Moshe’s father-in-law ascended from the city of Date Palms…they went and settled with the people”.

We see from here that Yitro’s family did choose to go to the Land of Israel.

In the same way that someone who is making Aliya (immigrating to Israel) wants to tie up the loose ends back home before taking the big step and moving to Israel, Yitro also wanted to get his accounts settled before making the big move.

Moshe did not have a problem with converts making Aliya so why should the Rabbis in Israel today?



Man Can't Live on Bread Alone Print E-mail
Thursday, 31 May 2007

Dedicated to the memory of Louis Levine, Baruch Aryeh ben Avraham Halevi, on his first Yahrzeit, 19th Sivan

 Man Can’t Live on Bread Alone

 In Parshat Behaalotcha, Bamidbar 11:4, B’nai Yisrael complain that the manna is not enough and that they also want meat. They continue (psukim 5-6) with the idea that they had it much better in Egypt: “We remember the fish which we ate in Egypt “chinam”, freely; the cucumbers, watermelons, leeks, onions and garlic. Now our bodies are withered, there is nothing at all but the manna before our eyes.”

God sent them the manna which according to Sifri could taste like almost anything, so what were B’nai Yisrael worrying about?

According to Ramban, B’nai Yisrael were upset that the manna was not in their control. The manna came down in the quantity required for that day and none was left for the following day. If the manna was left over, it rotted. They were therefore in constant worry for the next day’s food. As the expression goes “One cannot compare a person who has bread in his basket with one who does not have bread in his basket.” As slaves in Egypt, they got very little bread and water. However, they knew that they could always find fish on the banks of the Nile and they could take vegetables from the Egyptian’s gardens. In the desert all they had was the manna which made them totally dependent on God each day.

Sifri comments on the words “which we ate in Egypt freely”,to mean free of the mitzvoth. In Egypt, before the Torah was given, they could take the food without having to observe the mitzvoth. In Devarim 11:13-17 (the second paragraph of the Shema prayer) we learn that God supplies Israel with food only when they observe the mitzvoth.

In Devarim 8:1-3 we learn the importance of observing the mitzvoth : “All of the mitzvot which I command you on this day shall you observe to do, that you may live and multiply and go in and possess the land which God swore to your fathers. You shall remember the way which God led you these forty years in the wilderness to humble you and to prove you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep the commandments or not. And he humbled you and suffered you to hunger and fed you with manna…that he might make you know that man does not live on bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God does one live”.

Ibn Ezra points out that we don’t live on bread alone, rather we live on the strength that God gives us through our observance of the mitzvoth. We saw this in the desert when B’nai Yisrael did not eat bread (they just ate the manna). Through their observance of the mitzvoth, they were able to live.

Eternal Blessings and Eternal Light Print E-mail
Thursday, 08 June 2006

Eternal Blessings and Eternal Light

Parshat Behaalotcha begins with God's command to Moshe to tell Aharon (Bamidbar 8:2): "When you light the lamps towards the face of the Menorah shall the seven lamps cast their light."

Rashi asks why the Parsha of the Menorah is adjacent to the Parsha of the nesiim, leaders described in Parshat Naso, Bamidbar, chapter 7. Parshat Naso describes Moshe's completion of the Mishkan, Tabernacle. After Moshe anointed the Mishkan and consecrated it, each day a leader of each tribe of Israel brought korbanot, sacrifices.

Midrash Tanchuma answers that when Aharon saw the leaders dedication offerings he was humiliated, since he did not join them in this dedication and neither did his tribe, the tribe of Levi. When God saw Aharon's frustration and he told him not to worry, "You will have a greater honor than they will, for you will light and cleanse the lamps."

According to Ramban who quotes Rabbeinu Nisim, this midrash refers to Aharon's descendants, the Chashmonaim (Macabees) who lived at the time of the Second Temple. The Chashmonaim led the overthrow of the Greek invaders, rededicated the Beit HaMikdash and lit the Menorah. Their victory is commemorated throughout the generations by the lighting of the Chanukiah (Chanukah Menorah). Thus, Aharon's mitzvah is greater than that of the other tribal leaders. The lighting of the Menorah is commemorated eternally, whereas their sacrifices were offered only while the Beit HaMikdash stood.

The midrashim in Tanchuma and Midrash Raba add as well that not only will the candles be lit forever, but all of the blessings that God has given to Aharon and the Kohanim to bless B'nai Yisrael will never come to an end. This refers to Birkat Kohanim, the priestly blessing, which can be found in Parshat Naso, Bamidbar 6:24-26 which is juxtaposed to the dedication offerings of the nesiim.

Yivarechecha Hashem Veyishmerecha, May God bless you and protect you

Yaer HaShem Panav Elecha Viychuneka, May God cause his countenance to shine upon you and favor you

Yisa HaShem Panav Elecha Viyasem Lecha Shalom, May God lift his face to you and grant you peace.

May our lives be blessed with eternal light and eternal blessings.