We hope you enjoy this selection of short divrei Torah, presented to family and guests at our Shabbos table as a springboard for discussion. Each one is followed by a question. The responses shared at our table are enlightening, entertaining, and always thought-provoking.
Please share them at your own Shabbos table, and send us your most interesting responses. A selection of the best will be posted on the website, and eventually, included in a book.
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Parshas Acharei Mos #1
“For His Household”
“And Aharon will offer the bull for his chatas offering, and it will atone for him and for his household” (Vayikra 16:6).
Yom Kippur, with its special services and sacrifices, would be a day of atonement for the Jewish people, every year anew. Aharon, and in subsequent generations, every Kohen Gadol, would play the central role in the Yom Kippur services. Among the many sacrifices offered by the Kohen Gadol was a chatas (sin offering) to “atone for him and for his household.”
Rav Shamshon Rephael Hirsch (1808-1888) comments that it would be inconceivable for the Kohen Gadol to be without a “household” – or in other words, unmarried, without a wife. The Kohen Gadol serving on Yom Kippur was the nation’s ethical role model. Integral to the positive example he was obligated to set was being married, and to only one wife (see Yoma 13a). Marriage, writes Rav Hirsch, is the Jewish people’s moral base.
Uplifted by Marriage
Rav Moshe Sternbuch cites the Mishnah in Yoma: there would be another woman ready for the Kohen Gadol to marry, just in case his wife were to die. This unusual measure was taken because a single man is incomplete and lacking in perfection, and this was inappropriate for a Kohen Gadol on Yom Kippur.
The Torah’s concept of holiness is radically different from that of other faiths. As they understand it, sanctity does not allow for marriage and in fact, in some religions, priests may not marry. In contrast, halachah requires a Kohen Gadol to be married; he is unfit to serve if he is single.
Rav Sternbuch writes that this refutes the contention that the Torah is not sufficiently respectful of women, and considers them inferior. The opposite is true; a woman is her husband’s full partner, a major contributor to his growth. Standing alone, without her, he is lacking (Taam V’Daas, Vayikra 16:6).
Question for Discussion:
There are many excellent, strong marriages. What have you seen to be the single most important ingredient for a successful marriage?
“Do not give of your offspring to pass [before] Molech, and do not desecrate the Name of your G-d. I am Hashem” (Vayikra 18:21).
This passuk brings together two prohibitions which appear to be unrelated: worship of Molech, and chillul Hashem (desecration of Hashem’s Name). Molech worship was an ancient form of idolatry: parents would hand over a child to the idolatrous priests, who led him between two bonfires (Rashi, Vayikra 18:21, citing Sanhedrin 64a,b).
The Ramban (ibid.) explains the connection between the two. Worship of Molech involved giving up a child, while the korbanos offered to Hashem only meant sacrificing an animal. When the non-Jews would hear that the Jews were willing to do so very much more for an idol than they were for Hashem, it would be a desecration of Hashem’s Name.
As we learn from the Ramban, granting greater importance to an idol than we do to Hashem, G-d forbid, not only transgresses the Torah’s prohibition of idol worship – it is also a chillul Hashem. The phenomenon of grossly misplaced priorities described by the Ramban is not all that unusual. We are often more committed to material interests and possessions than we are to spiritual concerns. The car we drive or our vacation plans can be more meaningful to us than our Torah and mitzvos. Turning our priorities upside down, making it obvious what comes first for us, and what only second, is a chillul Hashem.
Many people have made their careers a modern Molech, putting their jobs even before their family, their children, and their religion.
When my wife and I were newly married, we visited Riverdale, New York the day before Purim. My wife ran into “Rachael,” an old friend who was married to a friend of mine. It was Wednesday, and Purim would be on Thursday. Rachael told us that she had not seen her husband since Motzei Shabbos! He was an associate at one of the largest law firms in the world, and he was working on a high-profile merger. He was so busy with the deal that he had not come home that week at all, not even for just a few minutes to see his wife and children. When he was too exhausted to continue working, he would take a cat-nap on the floor of his office. He had a second set of tefillin at work, and his wife would send clean clothing via car service. Rachael did not expect to see him until shortly before Shabbos – he was not planning to be home for Purim.
The Ramban’s principle works both ways: a Jew who keeps hispriorities in order is a kiddush Hashem.
“Yosef,” a most generous baal tzedakah, wanted to build a sizable home in Jerusalem, but he and his wife had serious second thoughts. With so many Jews in need and so many good causes desperate for funds, how could they invest so much in building a nice house? Yosef consulted Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel, zt”l, renowned rosh yeshivah of Jerusalem’s Mirrer Yeshivah. Rav Finkel questioned Yosef about the scope of his support for Torah: if he had given as much to support yeshivos and Torah learning as he would be putting into the house, he could go ahead with the house.
As it turned out, Yosef had already given far more for Torah than the house would cost. Then and to this day, Yosef has always understood what really matters.
Question for Discussion:
What issue or activity deseves top priority in our lives, but unfortunately does not receive enough of our attention?