Archive for July 2016

17th of Tammuz: The Burning of the Torah Scroll by Apustamus & The Placing of an Idol in the Sanctuary

Sunday, July 24, 2016 · Posted in , , ,

The Burning of the Torah Scroll by Apustamus

The Gemara tells us that we know this event happened on the seventeenth of Tamuz as a tradition from our forefathers. The Gemara does not tell us who Apustamus was, or what the significance of the Torah scroll was.

The R"av writes that Apustamus was a Greek officer at the time of the second Temple. The Tiferet Yisroel offers two possible explanations as to the significance of the scroll. One is that this scroll was the one written by Ezra HaSofer, Ezra the Scribe. The text was the most authoritative, and all other Torah scrolls that were written were checked against this one for accuracy and errors. Another understanding is that he burnt every Torah scroll he could find.

No matter the explanation, the intent behind Apostamus’ actions remain the same: to eradicate Torah from the nation of Yisrael.

The Placing of an Idol in the Sanctuary 

The Gemara tells us that we know from the verse in Daniel 12:11 that this event occurred on the 17th of Tamuz, as the verse says that "on the day the Tamid offering ceased to be brought, an idolatrous image was placed in the Temple."  Although the Gemara here does not mention who placed the idol in the Temple, the Gemara in the Talmud Yerushalmi mentions that there is debate as to who did it. Some say that Apustamus placed the idol in the Temple as well as burning the Torah scroll. Others say it was placed by Menashe, an evil Jewish king, in the time of the first Temple. (

[Since the 17th of Tammuz fell on Shabbat, the fast was postponed until today, Sunday July 24th.]

17th of Tammuz: Breaking of the Luchot

17th of Tammuz: The Discontinuance of the Tamid

17th of Tammuz: The Breaching of the Wall Around Yerushalayim

17th of Tammuz: The Breaching of the Wall Around Yerushalayim

The Gemara then discusses the tragedy of the wall of Jerusalem being breached, the event which led to the overrunning of Jerusalem by our oppressors and the eventual destruction of the Temples.

The Gemara notes that there is an inconsistency between our Mishnah and the verse in Yermiyahu 52:6, which implies that the wall was breached on the ninth of Tammuz, not the seventeenth as the Mishnah says.

The Gemara resolves this inconsistency by explaining that the verse in Yirmiyahu is referring to the time of the first Temple, while our Mishnah is referring to the time of the second Temple. If that is the case, why do we fast only on the 17th of Tammuz, and not on the ninth as well?

The Talmud Yerushalmi (Jerusalem Talmud) explains that in reality, the breach of the walls occurred on the 17th during both eras. However, in the time of the first Temple, because of the stress and upheaval of the time, the people became confused and miscalculated the days in the calendar. Therefore, they thought the breach occurred on the ninth. Yirmiyahu, when recording the event, wrote it down according to the erroneous calculation of the people, which was the prevalent belief as to the date of occurrence.

The Tur in Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 549 writes that the breaches did occur on different dates. However, because having two fasts in such close proximity would be a burden on the community, only one fast day was established. The fast day was established on the day the wall was breached at the time of the second Temple because the tragedy was greater regarding its impact on us: the exile that began at that time is the exile we currently live in. (

[Since the 17th of Tammuz fell on Shabbat, the fast was postponed until today, Sunday July 24th.]

17th of Tammuz: The Discontinuance of the Tamid

The next tragedy the Gemara discusses is the discontinuation of the Tamid offering (daily burnt offering). The Gemara tells us that we know this happened on this day because we have a tradition from our forefathers that this is so. Rashi explains that the reason why the sacrifice was no longer brought was because the government at the time forbade it.

The Tiferet Yisrael, a commentator on the Mishnah, gives another possible explanation. We see from the Gemara in Baba Kama (82b) that there were two brothers who were members of the Hashmonean family (of Chanukah fame). These brothers, Aristablus and Hyrkanus, fought each other for the throne of Judea. Aristoblus laid siege to Yerushalayim, where Hyrkanus was headquartered.  As lambs were needed for the daily sacrifice and there were none in Jerusalem, the inhabitants worked out a deal with the lamb-sellers outside of the city. Everyday, the Jerusalemites would lower a basket full of gold coins over the wall. In return, the lamb-sellers would supply a lamb, which was then hoisted up. One day, an elderly man outside of the wall advised the sellers to supply a pig instead of a lamb. As the pig was unknowingly being hoisted up, the pig stuck its claws into the wall, and all of Yisrael quaked. From this day until the end of the siege, the daily offering was not brought.

The R"av, also a commentator on the Mishnah, gives another explanation. He explains that the Tamid was discontinued during the period of time when Jerusalem was under siege prior to the destruction of the Temple. The Tiferet Yisrael elaborates on this and says that the R"av is referring to the three year siege of Jerusalem by Nevuchadnezzar, at the time of the destruction of the first Temple. (

[Since the 17th of Tammuz fell on Shabbat, the fast was postponed until today, Sunday July 24th.]

17th of Tammuz: Breaking of the Luchot

17th of Tammuz: The breaking of the Luchot

The Gemara tells us that we know the Luchot, containing the Ten Commandments, were broken on this day by means of a simple mathematical calculation. Although there is disagreement as to when the Ten Commandments were given to the nation of Yisrael, all agree that Moshe went up to Mount Sinai to get the Luchot on the seventh day of the month of Sivan. 

As proof of this, the Gemara brings the verse in Shemot 24:16 which says that Moshe  "was called (to the mountain) on the seventh day." 

We also know from a verse (Shemot 24: 18) that Moshe "was on the mountain for 40 days and 40 nights." As Sivan that year was 30 days long, Moshe was on the mountain for 24 days in Sivan, and the first 16 days of the next month, Tammuz. 

On the seventeenth day of Tammuz, Moshe descended from the mountain. Seeing what the nation was doing with the Golden Calf, he broke the Luchot. (

[Since the 17th of Tammuz fell on Shabbat, the fast was postponed until today, Sunday July 24th.]

Parashat Chukat: Laws of the Parah Adumah - Summed Up

Tuesday, July 12, 2016 · Posted in , , ,

On the first of Nissan, 2,449, the Mishkan's last Inauguration Day, Hashem revealed to Moshe the laws regarding impure people who are expelled from the Camp and the purity laws of the Kohanim.

Hashem taught him how purification from the different types of impurities is achieved (either by immersion in a mikvah or in a live spring, and so on), as well as the sacrifices that consummate the purification procedure.

When Hashem taught Moshe that a Jew becomes tamei by touching a dead body, Moshe questioned, "How does he purify himself of this tum'ah?"

Hashem did not answer his question, and Moshe's face darkened in grief and shame.* (There can be no greater pain for a talmid chacham, whose life goal is to perfect himself in Torah knowledge and performance, than to be denied the knowledge he seeks.)

* According to Alshich, Moshe was ashamed for Aharon's sake when Hashem did not reply. He thought that by participating in the chet ha'egel (sin of the calf - golden calf), Aharon had brought back the Angel of Death to the Jewish people and he would be eternally stigmatized unless Hashem prescribed a way of purifying oneself from the tum'ah caused by death. In truth, Hashem delayed His answer as a kindness to Aharon. The first time He addressed Msohe, Aharon was not present. Hashem therefore waited until Aharon, too, was present and then addressed the parsha of parah adumah to both of them (Bamidbar 19:1). This publicized the fact that He had forgiven Aharon for having participated in the Sin of the Gold Calf.

Later that day Hashem resumed the subject, explaining to Moshe and Aharon, "If someone became defiled by contact with a corpse, he is to be sprinkled with a special mixture of water and ashes from a red heifer."

The Almighty instructed them in the laws of the parah adumah:

  • The parah adumah is purchased from the treasury of the Beit Hamikdash, from a fund containing the yearly half-shekel donations of individual Jews.
  • To qualify as a parah adumah, a cow must be at least three years old (old enough to bear young).
  • Its color must be completely red; even two hairs of another color disqualify it.
  • The animal is also disqualified if it was once harnessed to a yoke, even if it did not perform labor.
  • The kohen slaughters the cow "outside the Camp." During the years int he wilderness it was slaughtered outside all three Camps, and in the time of the Beit Hamikdash on the Mount of Olives, since this mountain is considered "outside Yerushalayim."
  • He gathers some of the heifer's blood in his left hand, dips his right index finger into it, and sprinkles it in the direction of the entrance of the Heichal (Temple), which he can see from the mountain.
  • A fire is lit, and the kohen supervises the cow's burining.
  • With a red woolen string he ties together a cedar stick and some hyssop.
  • While the cow is burning, the bundle containing the cedar stick and hyssop is cast into its carcass.
  • The heifer's ashes are divided into three parts: one is placed in a certain section of the courtyard of the Beit Hamikdash, where it is preserved in order to fulfill the mitzvah that the ashes of the parah adumah must be kept for all generations. A second part is divided among the groups of kohanim who become tamei. the third part is placed in a spot on the Mount of Olives for the purification of Benei Yisrael.
  • Whoever was involved in the preparation of the ashes - for example, the person who burned the cow, who cast the bundle into the fire, who gathered wood, who touched or carried the ashes - becomes tamei.
  • In a utensil the heifer's ashes are mixed with fresh spring water.
  • the waters of the parah adumah are sprinkled by someone who is himself pure from tumat hamet (the impurity of death) onto the Jew who purifies himself. He sprinkles him on the third and seventh day of the individual's purification. Moreover, during the seventh day the person being purified must immerse himself in a mikvah to consummate his purification.

To this day, nine Parah Adumah have been burnt. The first was prepared by Elazar ben Aharon under Moshe's supervision on the second of Nissan, 2,449. (Moshe directed the proper thoughts toward it, because Elazar did not understand its reasons.)

A blessing rested upon the portion of Moshe's ashes set aside for purification; they lasted until Ezra's time. Under Ezra's supervision, a second parah adumah was burned; a third and a fourth under Shimon HaTzaddik's guidance, and two more in the time of Yochanan Kohen Gadol. From then until the destruction of the Second Beit Hamikdash three further parot adumot were burnt. 

The tenth one will be prepared by Mashiach, may he come soon!

- Midrash Says, Bamidbar

Parashat Chukat: All Torah Laws are Beyond our Understanding

Monday, July 11, 2016 · Posted in , , , ,

Generally, the mitzvot of the Torah belong in one of three categories:

  1. Eduyot / Testimonies: If a mitzvah testifies to a historical event or to some aspect of our emunah (faith), it is termed edut - testimony. Examples are the mitzvah to observe Shabbat, which attests to our belief that the Almighty created the world in sinx days; to observe the yamim tovim, because they commemorate Yetziat Mitzrayim (Exodus from Egypt); the mitzvot of tzitzit and tefillin, which demonstrate our belief in Hashem's Rulership.
  2. Mishpatim / Civil Laws: Mishpatim are Divine laws that promulgate the safety and survival of human society. They include, for example, the prohibition against theft and murder.
  3. Chukim / Divine Ordinances: In the category of chok (plural "chukim") fall those mitzvot whose purposes or meanings are not necessarily understood by human intelligence.  There are numerous examples of chukim, but the Midrash lists four about which the Torah explicitly states, "It is a chok." Since they contain apparently contradictory elements, they are liable to be ridiculed by the rational thinker. The Torah therefore advises the Jew to tell himself, "It is a chok; I have no right to question it."
The four are:

Yibum: A Jew who marries his brother's wife during his brother's lifetime or even after the latter's death, incurs the karet penalty, provided his brother had children. But if his brother's widow is childless, it is a mitzvah to marry her (yibum). Since logic may find this turnabout difficult to accept, the verse emphasizes, "And you shall guard My chukim" (Vayikra / Lev. 18:26).

Sha'atnez: The Torah forbids the wearing of a garment that contains a mixture of wool and linen. However, it is permissible to wear a linen garment to which woolen tzitzit are attached. Lest we question this exception, the Torah declares concerning the mitzvah of sha'atnez, "You shall keep My chukim" (Vayikra 19:19).

Sa'ir LaAzazel / The he-goat to Azazel: The he-goat, sent to its death as part of the Yom Kippur Service, purified K'lal Yisrael of its sins while defiling the agent who took it away. This law is therefore called "an eternal chok" (Vayikra 16:29).

Parah Adumah / Red Heifer: The ashes of the parah adumah purify a Jew who is tamei, while rendering tamei anyone involved in preparing them (1). Since this also defies logic, the Torah introduces the subject with the words, "This is the chok of the Torah" (19:2); we must accept the mitzvah as a Divine ordinance. Nevertheless, chukim are not "laws without reasons"; rather, their logic is Divine. The greatest among our people were able to understand some of them. Thus, the rationale behind the laws of the parah adumah were Divinely revealed to Moshe. On the other hand, King Shlomo, who researched the reasons behind the mitzvot and found explanations for all the others, professed that this mitzvah was incomprehensible. Shlomo discovered why for beasts the shochet must cut both the windpipe and esophagus, while for birds cutting only one of these organs suffices, and fish need not be ritually slaughtered at all. However, he confessed, "I thought I would get wisdom, but it (the understanding of the mitzvah of parah adumah) is far from me" (Kohelet / Eccl. 7:23).

  1) However, while the parah adumah purified a person from the severest kind of impurity, avi avot hatum'a, it made the person who prepared it merely an av hatum'a (a carrier of a minor degree of impurity).

Shlomo's Torah wisdom was immense. It surpassed that of the entire generation of the wilderness, known as "the Generation of Knowledge." He knew details of Torah that even Moshe did not know.

Shlomo's greatness in Torah is apparent from the three wonderful and holy Books he authored with rauch hakodesh - Kohelet (Ecclesiastes), Mishlei (Proverbs), and Shir HaShirim (Song of Songs) - which were included in Tanach. (He also composed some of the psalms in Tehillim.)

He endeared the Torah to the people, for he was able to illustrate the meaning of each halachah with as many as 3000 parables, and cite 1005 different reasons for any Rabbinic ordinance.

How profound, then, is the mitzvah of parah adumah, if Shlomo, the wisest of all men, declared, "I studied it and toiled to understand it, but it is far beyond my grasp."

In truth, even those mitzvot of the Torah which seem understandable are "chukim." Their true meaning and significance is far beyond man's intellect.

- The Midrash Says, Bamidbar

Three Crowns

Three crowns were bestowed upon the Jewish people:

1) The Crown of Royalty; it was given to David and his descendants forever.

2) The Crown of Kehunah (Priesthood); it was awarded to Aharon and his sons forever.

3) The Crown of Torah; It is accessible to all. If a Jew claims, "If only I had descended from royalty or priesthood, I would exert myself to achieve greatness," he is answered, "The Crown of Torah is available to all. Have you exerted yourself to become a talmid chacham (Torah scholar)? The Crown of Torah is the greatest crown of all.

- The Midrash Says

Parashat Korach: The Sounds Of The Earthquake Or The Voice Of The Earth?

Wednesday, July 6, 2016 · Posted in , , , ,

"V'Chol Yisra'el Asher Sevivoteihem Nasu L'Kolam",
all of Benei Yisrael that were around them ran from the voice (Korach 16:34).

Which voices were they running from?

The Mizrachi says it could not have been from the screaming of the people falling in the open earth or else all the people would run towards the voices to see this strange event, and not away from it. Instead he says it was from the booming noise of the earth opening up.

The Tosafot Yom Tov says that the voice was that of the earth speaking and announcing that the sinners were swallowed alive and still living inside the bowels of the earth. He brings proof from the pasuk that says (Korach 16:30),

"U'Patzitah HaAdamah Et Piha"
the earth opened its mouth.

The word Patzitah implies that it opened its mouth to speak because the word that is used in this parsha to describe the opening of the ground is "VaTiftach HaAretz Et Piha".

Maybe this would explain the mishnah in Pirkei Avot (5:8) that says that one of the ten things created Erev Shabbat Bein HaShmashot was "Pi HaAretz" the mouth of the earth that swallowed Korach.

If it meant the crack in the earth then why would this be a special creation?

The earth splitting was not a one time event and happens from time to time. Moreover, a crack is not a creation. Maybe it means the mouth of the earth that spoke, similar to another creation in this mishnah, the mouth of the donkey of Bilam who spoke.


A Thought of Torah

Tuesday, July 5, 2016 · Posted in ,

The most brilliant human philosophies behave like butterflies slipping through reality’s net, like birds drawn upward in flight, ever-evading the practicalities of real life.

A thought of Torah, however, sits above your head like a reservoir of living waters. As ethereal as it may be, it needs only a small opening to burst its dam and pour down into your life.

Whatever Torah you learn, whatever you know, do something with it. Make it real
— From the wisdom of the Lubavitcher Rebbe zt’l

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