The Hidden Revelation at Sinai, By Rabbi Dr. Chaim E. Schertz

Of the Ten Commandments, the First and Second are considered those that are primary.  The First is positive and states, “I am the Lord your God who has taken you out of the Land of Egypt from the house of slavery.”  Exodus 20:2.   The Second is negative and states, “You shall have no other Gods before me.” Exodus 20:3.  Immediately after receiving the Ten Commandments, it seems that God is repeating the first two.  The Torah says, “And God says to Moshe, Thus you shall say to the Children of Israel, ‘you have seen that I spoken with you from the heavens.’” Exodus 20:19.  This is a positive statement of what God did.  And it immediately follows with a negative corollary, “do not fashion with me gods of silver and gods of gold, do not make them for yourselves.” Exodus, 20: 20.

What was the need for God to repeat these again?  The Rabbis were sensitive to this issue and attempted to explain that it referred either to those who serve God through the worship of the heavenly constellations or these referred to the construction of the cherubs on the aron.  “Do not make an image of my servants who serve before me in heaven.”  Rashi, Ad Locum.

The plain meaning of the text, however, even with the Rabbinic interpretation, is that this is another prohibition against idolatry, albeit with a broader definition of idolatry.

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The Four Cups:  A Foundation of Jewish Thought, By Rabbi Dr. Chaim E. Schertz

The Mishna tells us that even an impoverished Jew on the night of the Seder should eat in a reclining manner, as do free and independent people, on a couch as a demonstration of freedom.  In addition, the poorest of the poor, one who only receives one meal a day from communal funds, must strive with all his might to acquire wine, including selling his garments, for four cups during the Seder, if the community does not provide it for him.  This is all done to express the concept freedom. Pesachim 99b.

It is interesting that the same effort is not required for the acquisition of Matzah even though eating Matzah is a Torah requirement while the requirement of the four cups of wine is purely Rabbinic.  Indeed, the Torah makes no mention whatsoever of the four cups of wine.

The source of this requirement is brought down in the Midrash.  “Rav Huna in the name of Rav Benaya said, ‘This (the four cups) is an allusion to the four terms of redemption that are stated prior to the Exodus from Egypt. (God says, I will remove, I will save, I will redeem, and I will take. Shemot, 6, 6-7. )’”  Bereisheet Rabba, 88:5.

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Purim: A New Understanding, by Rabbi Dr. Chaim E. Schertz

 

The most telling moment presented in the Megillah was when Haman discovered that one of the king’s retainers, Mordechai, would not follow Haman’s decree to bow before him. This was aggravated by the fact that Mordechai let it be known that he was a Jew. According to Jewish tradition, it was not just obeisance that Haman demanded, but he declared himself to be a divinity and thus made it impossible for any Jew to recognize that claim.

The Megillah (3:5-6) describes this critical moment in the following manner:

And Haman saw that Mordechai did not bow or prostrate himself before him, and Haman was filled with rage. It was insignificant in his eyes (vayivez b’einav) to strike a blow at Mordechai alone, for they told him who was the nation of Mordechai, and Haman desired to exterminate all the Jews which existed throughout the empire of Achashverosh, the people of Mordechai.

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The Sound of Shofar, By Rabbi Dr. Chaim E. Schertz

 

In Jewish tradition we encounter two different traditions about the nature of the Mitzvah which requires us to hear the sound of the Shofar on Rosh Hashana.  According to one tradition, this is a Mitzvah which is incumbent upon the individual.  It is no different than the Mitzvah of taking hold of Lulav and Etrog on Sukkot or having Tzitzit upon a garment which one wears, or placing Tefillin upon one’s head or arm.

A different tradition, however, considers hearing the sound of the Shofar as a communal obligation.  That obligation is related to communal prayer and is in many respects no different than other communal obligations for example, building the Temple or going to war against specified enemies.

The Rambam discusses both of these aspects.  He first states:  “How many Shofar blasts is a person (i.e. an individual) obligated to hear on Rosh Hashana?” and he answers, “nine blasts.”  (Mishneh Torah, Laws of Shofar 3:1).  Later in the chapter he states, “The community is obligated to hear the sound of the Shofar blasts according to the order of the blessings.”  (Ibid  3:7)

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The Revolution of Tisha B’Av, By Rabbi Dr. Chaim E. Schertz

From a philosophical and psychological perspective, Tisha B’Av became the most significant Jewish observance over the past two millennia.   Tisha B’Av revolutionized the status quo of life, and turned our experience of time on its head. In the normal experience of time, each day, week or month is viewed as predominantly a positive experience in which one desires to continue and partake in what life has to offer. On occasion, a tragic event or interlude interrupts this flow of time and the individual pauses to absorb the tragedy, live through it, and then regain his previous life.

This normal dynamic of life has been totally undermined by the experience of Tisha B’Av which in Rabbinic tradition became an unending experience. Jews feel or should feel a sense of loss which is impossible to be fully healed. Thus, normal life could never be retrieved. In a sense, that loss should be greater than a personal tragedy of death, for even in the experience of losing a loved one, there is law which forbids us to grieve too much. One should not presume to love the deceased more than God.

There is, however, no such application of not grieving too much to the experience of Tisha B’Av. The sense of irredeemable loss becomes part of our normal experience. That continues to be so, until the appearance of the Messiah.

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Shavuot: When the Final Countdown Fades Away, By Rabbi Dr. Chaim E. Schertz

The process of Matan Torah occurred in two stages. Both of these stages were subject to unintended consequences which severely detracted from their impact. The issue of time was a significant factor in the difficult outcome of these stages.

The first stage of Matan Torah was God’s revelation at Sinai and His transmitting the Ten Commandments to Israel. There is a controversy in the Talmud between Rav Yosi and the Rabbis whether this process was of a six or seven day duration.

Rava stated, “everyone agrees that they (Israel) arrived at the wilderness at the first day of the month (Sivan) . . .and all agree that the Torah (Ten Commandments) was given to Israel on the Sabbath . . .they argue about when the new month began. Rav Yossi believed that the new month began on the first day of the week (Sunday) thus the Ten Commandments were revealed on the seventh day of the month, . . .and the Rabbis believed that it (the beginning of the month)was on the second day of the week (thus the Ten Commandments were given on the sixth day of the month.” Shabbat 86b-87a.

In the intervening days between Israel’s arrival and God’s revelation, Moshe conveyed to them (Israel) both God’s covenant and the restrictions that they were to observe before the revelation could occur. If they were to heed God’s word and observe His covenant, they would be His special treasure, a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. Exodus, 19: 5-6. The people were thrilled by this pronouncement and immediately answered in unison, “everything which God stated, we will do.” Exodus 19:8.

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The Duality of Purim, By Rabbi Dr. Chaim E. Schertz

The importance given to Purim by Rabbinic tradition seems way disproportionate than its observance as a minor holiday would merit. Although the Book of Esther is placed in the Tanach in the section of Ketuvim, the Rabbis assign it a significance comparable to the Torah itself.

All the books of the prophets and all the Ketuvim are destined to become nullified at the time of the Messiah, with the exception of the Scroll of Esther. It will continue to exist as will the five books of the Torah, and as the oral Torah which will never be nullified. Even though memory of the earlier sufferings of the Jewish people will become null . . . the days of Purim will never become null for it says, “these days of Purim will not pass away from the Jews and memory of them will not cease from their progeny.” Megillat Esther, 9:28, Mishneh Torah , Laws of Megilla, 2:18

The Raavad explains that the text of the Prophets and Ketuvim will not really cease to exist, but rather, will no longer be read publically, but Megillat Esther will always be read publically. Raavad ad Locum.

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