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Shavuot
Of bikes and angels Print E-mail
Friday, 18 May 2018

The past three Fridays in Jerusalem consisted of bicycle races. The first Friday was the GFNY race with roads closed early in the morning so that the cyclists could have the streets of Jerusalem to themselves. The second Friday, the world renowned Giro d’Italia race took over Jerusalem in the afternoon and continued for two more days across Israel before heading on to Italy. The third Friday was Sovev Yes Planet, cycling in the capital city, the Jerusalem race which was moved to the hills surrounding the city as to not disrupt the residents of Jerusalem yet again.

Those of us who live in Jerusalem have been hearing so much about bicycle races and street closings over the past few weeks that when we get to the Haftara for Shavuot from Yechezkel (which we read after staying up all night), we are going to be looking at the word ofanim (angels) and reading it as ofanayim (bicycle).

What is the connection between angels and bicycles?

The first time that we see a Modern Hebrew word for bicycle (afnayim) is in 1899 in a book MiBayit u’Michutz (Inside and Outside) by Micha Joseh Berdichevsky (later known as Bin-Gorion), a Russian born writer who wrote in Hebrew while living in Europe. In 1903, Eliezer Ben Yehuda published the word as ofanayim and that is how it remained until today.

The origin of the word comes from the Haftara for Shavuot, Yechezkel 1:1-28 which is known as Ma’aseh HaMerkava, the Vision of the Chariot where Yechezkel is shown the Heavenly realm of the angels. Yechezkel receives this prophecy in Babylon to teach us that God doesn’t abandon the Jewish people even when they are in exile and the hope is that the Jewish people will return to the Land of Israel.

In Yechezkel 1:15, we read “When I saw the Chayot (living creatures) - behold! One Ofan (wheel) was on the surface near the Chayot by its four faces. The appearance of the Ofanim (wheels) and their deeds were like the color of an emerald with the same semblance for the four; and their appearance and their deeds were like an Ofan within an Ofan.”

According to Rambam in Hilchot Yesodei HaTorah, there are ten levels of angels: Chayot, Ofanim, Er’elim, Chashmalim, Seraphim, Malachim, Elohim, B’nai Elohim, Cheruvim, Ishim.

We see from here that the Ofanim were angels that were ranked second and were shaped like wheels.

Each morning, in Shacharit we recite: “Then the Ofanim and the holy Chayot with great noise raise themselves towards the Seraphim and give praise…”

Even the most mundane word, bicycle is given its name based on the celestial angels, whereby elevating bike riding to a level of holiness.

Although traffic was disrupted in different parts of Jerusalem for bike races three weeks in a row, watching for afar, the large groups of bikers riding through Jerusalem looked like angels flying through the city.

The fact that thousands of people from all over the world came to Jerusalem to ride, cheer on the cyclists and show respect for our holy city makes Yechezkel’s prophecy one step closer to being fulfilled. As it says in Yechezkel 1:28, “Like the appearance of the rainbow that shall be upon the cloud on a rainy day, so was the appearance of brilliance all around…”

May we see more angels in Jerusalem.

 
Megillat Rut teaches us how to interact with potential converts Print E-mail
Wednesday, 08 June 2016

In Megillat Rut, 1:8,11 and 12, after Naomi’s husband, Elimelech and sons, Machlon and Chilion die in Moav, Naomi, who is on the way back to the Land of Israel tries to send away her daughters in law, Rut and Orpah three times : “Go, return, each of you to her mother’s house. May God deal kindly with you, as you have dealt kindly with the dead and with me!”, “Turn back, my daughters. Why should you come with me? Have I more sons in my womb who could be husbands to you? Turn back, my daughters, go along…”

 

At this point, Orpah returns home. However, Rut refuses to go.

 

The Talmud, Yevamot 47b points out that Naomi tried to dissuade Rut by explaining to her some of the difficult laws such as Tchum Shabbat (you are not allowed to walk more than 2000 amot on Shabbat), the laws of Yichud (not being allowed to be in seclusion with a member of the opposite gender), the commandment to observe 613 mitzvot, the fact that it is forbidden to worship idols, the four types of capital punishments etc. The Talmud explains that Rut’s responses can be found in Megilat Rut 1:16-17:

 

Rut said: “Do not urge me to leave you, to turn back and not follow you. For wherever you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people are my people and your God is my God; where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. Thus may God do to me and more if anything but death separates me from you.”

 

In 1:18 we read: “When she (Naomi) saw that she (Ruth) was determined to go with her, she stopped arguing with her.”

 

The Talmud explains that this is the source for the reason why we do not overly dissuade a convert from accepting Judaism. After trying to turn away a potential convert three times, we no longer need to dissuade them.

 

At this point Rut was clearly sincerely converting as she said: “your people are my people and your God is my God” and in the next verse she uses the true name of the God of Israel.

 

How fitting that the gematria (numerical value) of the name Rut is 606, the number of mitzvot that Rut took on when she converted. If you add another 7 for the Seven Noachide Laws which she was already observing before she converted, then the total comes to 613, the amount of commandments in the Torah.

 

May we interact with all potential converts the way that Naomi interacted with Rut.

 

 
The Double Significance of Shavuot Print E-mail
Friday, 25 May 2012

On Shavuot we are celebrating two things:

  1. The receiving of the Torah on Har Sinai
  2. The bringing of the Bikkurim (first fruits) to Jerusalem, appreciating the Land of Israel

 

The desert and the blooming Land of Israel are actually total opposites.

 

The desert represents exile, dryness and a break from civilization.

 

Israel and its fruits remind us of redemption, growth, abundance.

 

Why do we celebrate both the giving of the Torah in the desert and the bringing of the Bikurim in the Land of Israel?

 

Rabbi Rami Barchihu answers that in order to immerse ourselves in the Torah we have to put our whole being into Torah study and separate ourselves from civilization. However, he cautions, this should only be done for  a limited amount of time as Torah is supposed to be part of our every day lives and Torah study is supposed to lead to action- Mitzvah observance. It therefore doesn’t make sense to only study Torah as that will just keep us in the wilderness, we must act on what we have studied- come to Israel and bring the Bikurim.

 

What is interesting is to see the difference between how Shavuot is celebrated in Israel and how it is celebrated outside of Israel.

 

Outside of Israel it is celebrated as Chag Matan Torah, the holiday of the giving of the Torah with many communities studying Torah all night long. It is generally not observed by non-observant and unaffiliated Jews. Many Jews outside of Israel have never even heard of Shavuot.

 

In Israel, no matter what background Israelis are coming from, they all are aware of Shavuot and celebrate it in some way. On the Kibbutzim it is looked at as an agricultural holiday with tractor parades and the custom of eating milk products is seen in every supermarket. The religious community has the custom of staying up all night to study Torah with the added bonus of being able to walk to the Kotel at sunrise. Every Israeli is aware of Shavuot as it is a day off from work!

 

We hope and pray that soon all Jews will be able to observe Shavuot as fully as possible in the Land of Israel with the honor of bringing our first fruits to the Beit HaMikdash.

 

 
Did You Conduct Your Business Transactions Faithfully? Print E-mail
Thursday, 04 June 2009
As Shavuot approaches, we try to look for ways to strengthen our relationship with God and our connection to the Torah. Some study the Torah all night at a Tikkun Leil Shavuot, others commit to studying more Torah throughout the year, yet others commit to putting more effort into Mitzvah observance.

The Gemara in Shabbat 31a asks the following questions

1. Did you conduct your business transactions faithfully (nasata vinatata b’emunah)?

2. Did you set aside fixed times for Torah study (kavata itim laTorah)?

The above questions are part of a series of questions that a person will be asked by the Heavenly court when they are brought to their final judgment.

What does the first question have to do with the second? What is the connection between conducting business transactions faithfully and setting aside time for Torah study and why is the question about business transactions asked first?

Rashi talks about the idea of “isuk baTorah”, involvement in the Torah, not just in studying the Torah but in letting the Torah guide every aspect of our lives.

Rabbi Dr. Ephraim Kanarfogel points out that one’s business dealings have important connections to Torah study. Since the normal way of the world is to earn a livelihood, Chazal (the Rabbis) express on numerous occasions, not only the importance of one’s own learning, but also the need to support Torah study for others. As the famous Yissachar- Zevulun relationship teaches us, one who uses his wealth to support the Torah has a share in that study. The fountain of the Torah is carved out by Torah scholars. It is also acquired by philanthropists (nedivei lev). The scholars acquire it through their learning and those who donate funds acquire it through their support and generosity. So how a person uses the assets that he or she earns has much to do with the study of Torah.

Rabbi Dr. Kanarfogel adds that if one does business honestly, and thereby fulfills all the sometimes intricate Halachic regulations and requirements of proper Jewish business, that person is considered to have fulfilled all of the Mitzvot in the Torah.

At Torat Reva Yerushalayim we rely on your contributions to ensure that Torah study classes can be provided to Jerusalem ’s neglected populations- including the elderly and people with special needs who would otherwise have no other opportunities to study Torah.
 
Please consider making a tax deductible contribution to Torat Reva Yerushalayim in honor of Shavuot.

                                                                                   
 
Got Milk? Print E-mail
Wednesday, 04 June 2008

On Shavuot it is customary to eat dairy products. Why?

The Mishna Brura 494:12 explains that at the time of Matan Torah, God’s revelation at Sinai (the first Shavuot) B’nai Yisrael accepted upon themselves all of the mitzvoth (commandments). Since there was no time to properly prepare kosher meat (there were no delis in the desert) the only other choice was to eat dairy products.

Today, we eat dairy on Shavuot to remember that B’nai Yisrael ate dairy on the first Shavuot.

How do we know that milk is kosher?

The Gemara in Berachot 6b explains that one way that we know that milk (from a kosher animal) is fit for consumption is because in Shmot 3:8 God says “I will descend to rescue My people from the hand of Egypt and to bring them up from the land to a spacious land, to a land flowing with milk and honey (eretz zavat chalav u’dvash)…” If milk is not permitted, would the verse praise Eretz Yisrael with something that is not fit for consumption?

Before B’nai Yisrael received the Torah they may not have ever tried milk. It was only at the time of Matan Torah that they found out that milk was permissible.

In Shir HaShirim 4:11 we read (liral translation) “Your lips, O my bride, drop as the honeycomb: honey and milk (dvash v’chalav) are under your tongue; and the scent of your garments is like the scent of Levanon.” (Rashi’s allegorical translation reads: The sweetness of Torah drops from your lips, like honey and milk the Torah lies under your tongue…)

Since the Torah is compared to milk, it makes sense to drink some on Shavuot, the day that we received the Torah!

 
The Special Significance of the Fifth Commandment Print E-mail
Wednesday, 31 May 2006

On Shavuot, we reenact Maamad Har Sinai, God's revelation at Mt. Sinai. We all stand while the Ten Commandments are read, just as B'nai Yisrael did when we first received the Torah.

When one listens to the Ten Commandments, it is important to have the proper Kavana, intent and focus. I suggest that this year we put a special emphasis on the mitzvah of kibud av va'em, honoring our parents.

The Ten Commandments were evenly divided into two tablets. Each tablet contained a group of five commandments. The first tablet listed the mitzvoth between a person and God, while the second tablet listed the mitzvoth between a person and their fellow person. What stands out is that the fifth commandment, "Kabed et avicha ve'et imecha", "Honor your father and mother", is actually grouped with the mitzvoth between a person and God, not with the mitzvoth between a person and their fellow person.

Why is the mitzvah of honoring our parents on the first tablet?

According to Sefer HaChinuch, Mitzvah 33, "at the root of the mitzvah of Kibbud av va'em, honoring our parents, lies the thought that it is fitting for a person to acknowledge and treat with loving-kindness the person who treated them with kindness. A person should realize that their father and mother are the cause of their being in the world; hence it is proper to give our parents every honor and every benefit possible since they brought us into the world and labored through many troubles over us in our early years. When we set this quality firmly in our character, we will recognize the goodness of God, who is the cause for our existence.

To truly appreciate, respect and honor God, first we must learn to appreciate, respect and honor our parents.