May 12, 2001 - 5761
Prepared by Rabbi Randall J. Konigsburg
Temple Sinai, Hollywood, FL
Edited by Rabbi David L. Blumenfeld, PhD
Department of Services to Affiliated Congregations
Annual Cycle: Lev.21:1-24:23; Hertz Chumash, p. 513
Triennial Cycle III: Lev. 23:23-24:23; Hertz Chumash, p. 522
Haftarah: Ezekiel 44:15-31; Hertz Chumash, p. 528
(21:1-22:9) Prohibitions against the priest (kohen) coming near a dead person. The marital laws of the priest, and the special holiness of the High Priest (Kohen Gadol) concerning marriage and bereavement. Laws concerning priests who have been rendered ritually impure.
(22:10-33) Who is permitted and forbidden to eat the meat of the sacrifices. Defects that disqualify an animal from being sacrificed, and other related laws.
(23:1-22) Laws concerning the holiness of Shabbat, Pesah, the bringing of the first omer offering, the counting of the omer, and the holiday of Shavuot.
(23:23-34) Laws concerning Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot.
(24:1-9) The Ner Tamid (Eternal Light) and the Showbread, twelve loaves left on display in the Tabernacle.
(24:10-16) An incident of blasphemy and the punishment of the blasphemer: death by stoning. The law for the future.
(24:17-23) Other laws which have major penalties, murder and severe injury.
Theme 1 - "Hear The Blast of the Shofar, O My People"
Speak to the Israelite people thus: In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall observe complete rest, a sacred occasion commemorated with loud blasts. (Lev. 23:24)
- On the eve of Rosh Hashanah, the words "Unclaimed Deposits" kept going through my mind. In Judaism, we have the deposits of 14,000 Jewish generations over 3500 years in different lands and varying ages. The deposits have appreciated with time. There is a spiritual treasure waiting to be claimed by the heirs of the depositors. The passbook is the Torah, and the bank housing the treasure is the synagogue... We all need the Tekiah of the Shofar to remind us of our unclaimed deposits, the Shevarim to point out the emptiness of life without Judaism, and the Teruah to show us the richness of life lived by the teaching of Judaism. (Aaron Landes, in Moments of Transcendence, Dov Peretz-Elkins)
- Some time ago, a sheep herder in the hills of Idaho sent a letter to one of the national radio programs in which he made a strange request. He explained that he listened to the program every week and that the radio was his sole companion in his lonely occupation. His old violin that he used to play was now so badly out of tune as to be worthless. "I wonder if you would be kind enough," he went on, "to pause on your ten o'clock program on Tuesday morning to strike an "A" so that I might tune my violin and enjoy its music again." The Shepherd's request was honored. On the ten o'clock program the following Tuesday, the announcer read his unusual request to his nationwide audience and then an "A" was sounded so that the shepherd might tune his violin and play it again. On Rosh Hashanah G-d bids us to sound an "A" on the shofar so that each of us might tune up the instrument of our lives and proceed to play beautiful music. (Sidney Greenberg, "High Holiday Bible Themes")
- Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, the beloved Hasidic sage, used the following parable to explain the reasons for the shofar ceremony. Once a king returning from the hunt, lost his way in the forest. He asked one man after another to direct him to the highway, but received no help. Finally, the King met a man who knew the way, and he rewarded him with an appointment in the royal palace. After some time, the man committed a serious crime. Before sentence was pronounced upon him, the defendant asked that he be allowed to put on the same clothes that he had worn when he first met the king. When the King saw him thus attired, he was immediately moved to clemency. Similarly, said Reb Levi Yitzchak, at Sinai, Israel was the only people in the world willing to accept the obligation of the Torah - the other nations had rejected it. Upon hearing the shofar, we recall all that transpired at Sinai, when Israel accepted the Torah as the shofar was sounded. The shofar thus reminds every Jew of our commitment at Sinai – a pledge which we must renew each year. (Author unknown, from Dov Peretz-Elkins; Moments of Transcendence)
How do you view the sounding of the shofar on Rosh Hashanah? There are a number of nations that begin their New Year with fire crackers and horns. Any connection here that you can think of?
Theme 2: Words Spoken in Anger
There came out among the Israelites one whose mother was Israelite and whose father was Egyptian. And a fight broke out in the camp between the half Israelite and a certain Israelite. The son of the Israelite woman pronounced the Name in blasphemy, and he was brought to Moses - now his mother's name was Shelomith daughter of Dibri of the tribe of Dan (Lev. 24:10-11)
- Our daughters ask: ...Why is the blasphemer identified only by his mother's name... why does both he and his father remain nameless? The Rabbis answer: The blasphemer's father was none other than the Egyptian taskmaster whom Moses had killed for beating a Hebrew slave. The name of the dead slave's wife was Shelomith. The night before her husband died, Shelomith has been raped by this same Egyptian. Her bastard son's sin of blasphemy is her fault, because her very name reveals that she was a harlot who greeted all men with open arms and a warm greeting of "Shalom". Leah the Namer counters: Utterly preposterous! Her name means "woman of peace" the daughter of "Dibri" a version of the "Word of G-d" You yourselves acknowledge that she was raped. Dinah the Wounded One cries: Don't blame the victim! The Sages in our own time suggest: That the priestly book of Leviticus identifies her as a Danite may reflect the fact that in later centuries, the temple of Dan in northern Israel was one of the sites of a rival cult, where a golden calf was set up by the rebel king Jeroboam. (Ellen Frankel, The Five Books of Miriam:; p. 186-187)