Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Missing Piece - Devar Torah for Vayakhel-Pekudei 5769

Thoughts on the Kohen Gadol and Gilad Schalit by Rabbi Reuven Spolter, Director of Recruiting and Special Projects

Here in Israel, the government and public finds itself caught in the gut-wrenching debate over just how far to go to secure the release of captured soldier Cpl. Gilad Schalit. The two sides of the argument present clear but compelling contrasting arguments. On one side sit Gilad's family; his parents and brother, literally camping in a tent outside the Prime Minister's office hoping to compel the government to reach an agreement with Hamas and secure Gilad's release. On the other side sit the families of terror victims who, despite their sympathy for the Schalit family, feel that the price to be paid for Gilad's release is simply too high, and that bartering his life for the freedom of hundreds of terrorists and criminals will only further endanger the people of Israel.
They both right. It's a terrible decision to have to make, and it only makes me yearn for the days when we didn't have to make such decisions ourselves. Once upon a time Hashem Himself would answer these impossible questions for us – through the garments of the Kohen Gadol.
Among the different garments of the Kohen Gadol for his service in the Mishkah, he wore the Choshen – a breastplate. We all know what it looked like: four rows of three different types of stones. On these stones Bezalel carves the names of the tribes of Israel. But the Choshen carried an addition, critical element. Hashem instructs Moshe,
וְנָתַתָּ אֶל-חשֶׁן הַמִּשְׁפָּט אֶת-הָאוּרִים וְאֶת-הַתֻּמִּים וְהָיוּ עַל-לֵב אַהֲרֹן בְּבֹאוֹ לִפְנֵי ה' וְנָשָׂא אַהֲרֹן אֶת-מִשְׁפַּט בְּנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל עַל-לִבּוֹ לִפְנֵי ה' תָּמִיד:
And you shall place to the Choshen the Urim and the Tumim, and they shall be on the heart of Aharon when he enters before Hashem; and Aharon shall carry the judgment of the Children of Israel on his heart before Hashem always.
The famous Urim V'tumim raises all kinds of questions. First and foremost, what exactly was it? What does the Torah mean by telling us that through it Aharon would carry the "judgment" of the Jewish people on his heart? Finally, when we look at Parshat Pekudei and the final construction of the Choshen we learn that while Bezalel and his workers followed Moshe's instructions to a tee, they seem to have omitted one critical detail: there's no mention of the Urim V'tumim at all. (see Shemot 39:8-21) The stones were there. They weaved the garment properly. But where was the Urim V'tumim so seemingly critical to its proper function?
What was the Urim V'Tumim? Rashi (on Shemot 28:30) tells us:
הוא כתב שם המפורש, שהיה נותנו בתוך כפלי החשן, שעל ידו הוא מאיר דבריו ומתמם את דבריו. ובמקדש שני היה החשן, שאי אפשר לכהן גדול להיות מחוסר בגדים, אבל אותו השם לא היה בתוכו, ועל שם אותו הכתב הוא קרוי משפט...
This is a writing of the Holy Name which [Moshe] placed in the folds of the Choshen, through which it would light up (from Urim) his words and purify (from Tumim) his words. In the Second Temple there was a Choshen – for the Cohen Gadol could not serve with [the proper number of] garments. But that Name was not inside it, and through that name it was called "Mishpat"…
Rashi explains that the while the Urim V'tumim served as the spiritual "battery" of the Choshen, it was not a critical aspect of its construction. Perhaps this explains why the Torah considers the Choshen complete even without the Urim V'Tumin. Ramban, agreeing with Rashi adds that,
הם סוד מסור למשה מפי הגבורה, והוא כתבם בקדושה, או היו מעשה שמים
They were a secret given to Moshe from the mouth of Hashem, and [Moshe] wrote them in Holiness, or they were a creation of heaven.
Ramban points out that Moshe himself eventually placed the Urim V'Tumim inside the Choshen when he dressed Aharon for service in the Mishkan. (see Vayikra 8:8) So, while the Urim V'Tumim were not considered part of the Choshen itself, Moshe placed this mystical scroll (or whatever "they" were) crafted by Hashem Himself into the Choshen later on. What was did Aharon use it for? Why was it so important? Rashi explains:
דבר שהם נשפטים ונוכחים על ידו אם לעשות דבר או לא לעשות.
A matter that they would judge and decide based on [the Urim V'Tumim] whether to do something or not.
The Jewish people used the Urim V'Tumim to ask the impossible questions that no one person could legitimately answer himself. Should we go to war now or not? Whose sin caused the terrible suffering among the Jewish people? Is now the time to conquer new territory or remain on the sidelines? Is it better to trade terrorists for Gilad Schalit or suffer the painful price of refusing to negotiate?

Except today, we live without a direct connection. No Urim V'Tumim lights up the way. So we stumble along, groping around in the darkness, hoping that we don't make the wrong decision. All the while we must continue to pray not only for our country and her leaders, forced to make these difficult decisions, but also that Hashem bring a level of comfort and well-being to Gilad, held captive now for over one thousand days.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

A Letter from Judy Ford

Dear Girls, (to me you will always be girls!)

By now most of you are mothers and some of you may even be grandmothers. Many of you may even have teenage daughters just like you were when you were at Orot. Time does not stand still and we have all grown older. I see some students from time to time and I am amazed that they recognize me, I don’t always recognize the generally because of the scarves or hat that they are wearing.

I must tell you that some of my most special memories are of the Shabbatot and tiyulim that I spent with you and Sapir. I can still remember the untidy rooms and my attempts to get you to tidy them up. I am sure those of you with teenagers have the same up hill battle every day.

My husband and I still live in the same apartment in Petach Tikva. All our children are married, BH we have many grandchildren and several great grandchildren.
You can find me on face book and if you want you can send me an e-mail from time to time. My address is I will be happy to hear all about your lives since the last time me meet.

This photo of my husband and myself was taken at our granddaughter’s wedding on the 1st January this year. My granddaughter is 19 and just finished Sherut Leumi.

My regards to you all, Purim Sameach and Pesach Kasher Ve'Sameach.


Knock Knock. Table Talk for Tetzaveh 5769

By Rabbi Reuven Spolter, Director of Recruitment and Special Projects, Orot College of Education

To download a printable version of this Devar Torah, click here.

My son, who attends a weekly chug that concentrates on logic and thinking games, came home with the following brain-teaser:
A certain thief was terrorizing a neighborhood. Yet, despite repeated attempts to catch the thief, he always managed to elude them. One day he heard the police knocking on his front door. He quickly jumped out the window and checked himself into the most upscale hotel in town, where he went back to work. Again our thief, a master of disguise, avoided hotel security and soon terrorized most of wealthiest hotel guests. Before long, the wealthy clientele, tired to being robbed blind, began to leave the hotel.
One woman, Mrs. Thompson, refused to leave. "I am not afraid of thieves," she said, remaining at the hotel. One morning she heard a knock at her door, and when she answered, a well-dressed businessman stood in the threshold. "Oh, so sorry," he told her, "I thought this was my room."
As soon as he closed the door, Mrs. Thompson called hotel security. "The thief," she said, "just came to my door. He's riding the elevator down to the lobby as we speak."
Security caught the man and after a short interrogation, he confessed to his crimes. The hotel manager, relieved to finally catch the thief, visited Mrs. Thompson in her room with a token of appreciation from the hotel for her quick thinking.
"I have to ask you," he said to her, "how did you know that he was the thief?"
How did she know? And more importantly for our purposes, if the people in our story followed parshat hashavua (and specifically Parshat Tetzaveh), she would never have known. Why not?

Among the eight vestments (that's a fancy word for clothes) that the Kohen Gadol wore during his avodah in the Mishkan, the me'il – the coat of blue, served at least two distinct purposes. First and foremost, the techelet of the coat contrasted the Kohen Gadol from the distinct white garments of the other kohanim. But the coat had an auditory feature as well. The Torah tells us:

וּפַעֲמֹנֵי זָהָב בְּתוֹכָם, סָבִיב. פַּעֲמֹן זָהָב וְרִמּוֹן, פַּעֲמֹן זָהָב וְרִמּוֹן, עַל-שׁוּלֵי הַמְּעִיל, סָבִיב. וְהָיָה עַל-אַהֲרֹן, לְשָׁרֵת; וְנִשְׁמַע קוֹלוֹ בְּבֹאוֹ אֶל-הַקֹּדֶשׁ לִפְנֵי ה' וּבְצֵאתוֹ--וְלֹא יָמוּת).שמות לב:לג-לה)
And bells of gold between them round about: a golden bell and a pomegranate, a golden bell and a pomegranate, upon the skirts of the robe round about. And it shall be upon Aaron to minister; and the sound shall be heard when he goes into the holy place before Hashem, and when he comes out, that he die not.
Why did the coat have bells? Why were the bells so important that their sound prevented the death of the Kohen Gadol? Commentators offer different explanations.
Rashi interprets the "lifesaving" quality not on the me'il, but on all of the bigdei kehunah. Indeed, a Kohen may not serve in the Beit Hamikdash missing any of the bigdei kehunah under the threat of the death penalty. (And you thought that the dress code at your place of work was harsh.) Yet, most commentators apply the threat specifically to the sounds of the me'il.
Rashbam explains that on Yom Kippur, the Kohen Gadol had to be the only person in the Beit Hamikdash during the avodah. The bells on the lip of his coat would warn any kohanim present of the approaching Kohen Gadol, giving them sufficient time to stay away. Thus, the bells served as a kind of protective warning system to keep danger at bay. Ibn Ezra suggests that the chimes of the bells formed a part of the Kohen Gadol's prayer, providing a "background" music track to augment his personal tefillah to Hashem. Chizkuni raises the possibility that the bells alerted those around him to the presence of the Kohen Gadol, not as a warning, but to allow them to know when he performed the service in the Beit Hamikdash, so that they could focus together with him. Rashbam also allows that the bells served simply as another way to distinguish between the Kohen Gadol and the other kohanim.
Each of these explanations gives us a different understanding of the purpose of the bells. But the gemara in Pesachim (112a) provides a different interpretation that offers a practical lesson for each of us that we can and should implement in our daily lives. The Gemara lists seven lessons that Rabbi Akiva taught his son, Rabbi Yehushua. Among them,
ואל תכנס לביתך פתאום, כל שכן לבית חבירך
And you should not suddenly enter you own home, and certainly your friend's home.
Why not? Rashbam explains,
השמע את קולך להם דילמא עבדי מילתא דצניעותא. [בויקרא רבה] ר' יוחנן כי הוה עייל לביתא מנענע משום שנאמר "ונשמע קולו בבואו אל הקדש".
You should make your voice known to them, for perhaps they are engaged in a private matter. [In Vayikra Rabbah we learn that] Rabbi Yochanan, when he would enter his home, would shake [and make a noise], because it is written, " and the sound shall be heard when he goes into the holy place."
According to the Gemara, the bells of the Kohen Gadol also served as a means to protect privacy – not of the Kohel Gadol himself, but of anyone he might encounter. We can readily imagine not wanting to bump into the Kohel Gadol while performing some innocuous activity. Imagine yourself after a nice lunch, checking your teeth in the mirror for that small poppy seed stuck between your teeth. Suddenly you realize that someone important – your boss/a potential client/the Kohen Gadol is standing right behind you. Were you doing anything wrong? Of course not. But it's embarrassing nonetheless. For this reason, the Torah ensures that while your boss or client might silently walk up behind you, the Kohen Gadol never would. His bells would give him away, and protect you from the slightest sense of shame.
What a wonderful lesson! Every person deserves a sense of privacy and protection from embarrassment. Moreover, Chazal extend this protection even to our own homes. No one likes to be surprised suddenly, even by the closest family member, even when they're standing in their own kitchen.
So get in the habit of knocking when you walk into your own house or your own bedroom (assuming that you share it with someone). It will make you a more sensitive person – and transform your house into an even holier home – one the kohen gadol would be happy to enter.

That, of course, is the answer to the riddle: The woman knew it was the thief because no one would knock on his own door. When the man apologized and said, "So sorry, I thought this was my room," that's when Mrs. Thompson knew that she had her man.
Unless he read this week's parshah.