GOOD MORNING! In about two weeks (starting Saturday night, May 26th) is Shavuos, the holiday celebrating the giving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai. In addition to the usual festive meals at night and during the day, there is a custom to stay up all night studying the Torah. It's exciting, exhilarating, exhausting. What is the Torah that causes such devotion and appreciation?
The word "Torah" means "instructions" and "Toras Chaim" means "instructions for life." If one gives a present, an mp3 player for example, it comes with an instruction booklet on how to use it. The more complex the gift, the more detailed the instruction book. Life is the greatest gift and the Torah is the "user manual" -- the instructions on how to get the most out of life and enjoy it to the fullest.
The Almighty not only entered into a covenant with the Jewish people to protect us and ensure our survival, He also gave us instructions on how to best use our time on this planet to perfect ourselves ethically and spiritually as well as create the ultimate relationship with the Almighty. That's the Torah that we so excitedly dance with on Simchas Torah and so enjoyably study on a daily basis whenever possible.
The Torah has two integrated parts -- the written Torah and the Oral Torah. The written Torah refers to Tanach, a Hebrew acronym for Torah, Nevi'im (prophets), Kesuvim (writings). The Torah, or Chumash (the Hebrew word for "five" referring to the Five Books of Moses, the Pentateuch), contains -- Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy.
The Prophets include: Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and then the 12 Minor Prophets: Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nachum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi.
The Writings include: Psalms (Tehilim), Proverbs (Mishlei), Job (Iyov). It also contains the 5 Megillos (scrolls) that we read on the holidays: Song of Songs (Shir HaShirim) -- read on Pesach, Ruth -- read on Shavuos, Lamentations (Eicha) -- read on Tisha B'av, Ecclesiastes (Koheles) -- read on Succos, Esther -- read on Purim. The writings conclude with: Daniel, Ezra/Nehemia and Chronicles (Divrei Hayamim).
Along with the Written Law, the Almighty gave the Oral Law -- the explanation for the words of the Chumash. It was given orally to ensure the accuracy of transmission. A father or teacher would make sure that his son or student correctly understood the meaning of the verse. This worked well until the Jewish people were almost destroyed 2,000 years ago. Then Rebbie Yehuda HaNasi compiled the Mishnah, the Oral Teachings. He organized 63 tractates in the Six Orders of Mishnah: 1. Zeraim (Seeds) -- agricultural laws and prayers 2. Moed (Festival) -- Jewish holidays and Sabbath 3. Nashim (Women) -- marriage and divorce 4. Nezikin (Damages) -- civil and criminal law 5. Kodshim (Holy Things) -- sacrificial rites, the Temple, dietary laws 6. Tohorot (Purities) -- laws of spiritual purity and impurity.
One of the 613 commandments is that every Jew should write a Sefer Torah (Torah scroll) to learn. The commandment can be fulfilled through purchasing a printed book of the Torah. I highly recommend the Artscroll Stone Chumash available at your local Jewish bookstore, at JudaicaEnterprises.com or by calling toll-free to 877-758-3242. One cannot love what he does not know; one cannot do what he has not learned.
It is considered to be a great merit for the soul of a beloved one to have a Sefer Torah (Torah scroll) written in his or her memory and then given or loaned to a synagogue or yeshiva where it will be read. One must make sure that the Torah is written properly and not stolen! One site you might find interesting is ZichronOlam.com -- a site set up to help people who want to remember a loved one with a kosher Sefer Torah purchased with confidence.
It is amazing. The same book that is studied by first graders is being studied by our greatest and oldest scholars. There is tremendous depth and wisdom in its words. Our Sages tell us that there are 70 levels of understanding to the Chumash. It is not only our heritage, but the life source for the Jewish people which has ensured our uniqueness and our survival. It belongs to you; go and learn!
Torah Portion of the Week
Behar begins with the laws of Shemitah, the Sabbatical year, where the Jewish people are commanded not to plant their fields or tend to them in the seventh year. Every 50th year is the Yovel, the Jubilee year, where agricultural activity is also proscribed.
These two commandments fall into one of the seven categories of evidence that God gave the Torah. If the idea is to give the land a rest, then do not plant one-seventh of the land each year. To command an agrarian society to completely stop cultivating every 7th year one has to be either God or a meshugenah (crazy).
Also included in this portion: redeeming land which was sold, to strengthen your fellow Jew when his economic means are faltering, not to lend to your fellow Jew with interest, the laws of indentured servants. The portion ends with the admonition to not make idols, to observe the Shabbat and to revere the Sanctuary.
The second portion for this week, Bechukosai, begins with the multitude of blessings you will receive for keeping the commandments of the Torah. (Truly worth reading!) It also contains the Tochachah, words of admonition, "If you will not listen to Me and will not perform all of these commandments..." There are seven series of seven punishments each. Understand that God does not punish for punishment's sake; He wants to get our attention so that we will introspect, recognize our errors and correct our ways. God does not wish to destroy us or annul His covenant with us. He wants us to know that there are consequences for our every action; He also wants to get our attention so that we do not stray so far away that we assimilate and disappear as a nation. I highly recommend reading Lev. 26:14 - 45 and Deut. 28.
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based on Growth Through Torah by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
The Torah teaches:
"You shall walk in My statutes" (Lev. 26:3).
Why does the Torah use the word "walk"? The Almighty could have told us to uphold, fulfill or keep His statutes.
The Ohr HaChayim comments: Since this part of the verse refers to toiling in Torah, it states the term "walking" because we should become used to studying Torah even when we are walking and traveling.
There are many opportunities to study Torah that frequently are not utilized to their fullest potential. When you travel, remember to take along a Torah book to study from. Many books are published in a small size to make them convenient for traveling or waiting in lines. Whatever and whenever you are able to study is of great merit and great benefit.
Many people listen to Torah lectures or classes in their cars when traveling. One can download them for free or for a nominal amount. AishAudio.com is an excellent site as are 613.org, Torah.org, OU.org . Turn travel time into Torah time. Turn what could be mindless time into a time of personal growth and learning!
CANDLE LIGHTING - May 18
(or go to http://www.aish.com/sh/c/)
Guatemala 6:06 - Hong Kong 6:38 - Honolulu 6:45
J'Burg 5:10 - London 8:31 - Los Angeles 7:32
Melbourne 5:00 - Mexico City 7:51 - Miami 7:44
New York 7:45 - Singapore 6:48 - Toronto 8:21
QUOTE OF THE WEEK:
Never confuse movement with action
-- Ernest Hemingway
With Deep Appreciation to
Mr. Alan Richardson