Derech Tzofeh (“The Path of the Scout”) offers commentaries on Judaism from all diverse Jewish Scouting sources to incorporate the values inspired by the Torah, Talmud and Mishnah and relate them to the Scouting program.
We encourage publishing commentaries on this site, from respected rabbinical authorities to individual Jewish Scouts. The National Jewish Committee on Scouting recognizes all branches of Judaism – Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist – and considers each of equal importance and worthy of inclusion.
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April 20, 2018 – Parshot Tazria-Metzora
This week, I write in memory of Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein, a famous scholar and leader of the Jewish community, whose yahrzeit was this week.
In the double portion of Tazria-Metzora, having completed the building of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) and the inauguration of the Kohanim and the Mishkan itself, the Torah turns us to learning the laws of ritual purity (tuma) and impurity (tahara).
Many of these laws no longer apply, because we no longer have the Temple. The laws are confusing to us today. What does it mean to be pure and impure? Does it relate to our clothing being soiled? Is it like the idea of Clean in the Scout Law – to be clean in thought, word and deed?
The Torah talks about the impurity that relates to events like giving birth and the spiritual illness of tzaraas where the skin becomes discolored and flaky (often inaccurately described as leprosy) and even how tzaraas can be in clothing or a person’s home. It also describes how to become ritually pure again.
I get some help in understanding tuma and tahara by a commandment that seems out of place. Near the beginning of Tazria, at the start of the discussion of ritual cleanliness, God again instructs us on the mitzvah to circumcise infant boys (brit milah) on the eighth day after birth. We first received this commandment in Genesis (17:11-14). This time, in addition to the instruction that it be on the eighth day, we learn that the brit milah must be during daytime, when the Sun’s light can be seen (recall that in the Jewish calendar, days start at sundown).
There have been some some other interesting eighth days in the Torah. Adam received rest in the holiness of Shabbat on the seventh day, after having sinned by eating of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil on the sixth day. With the new gift of fire from God at the beginning of the eighth day, Adam was able to enter the world of work with fire to help him, but it was up to him and all humanity after him to decide how to use fire – for good or evil. Last week, in Parasha Shemini, we learned of the inauguration of the Mishkan on the eighth day of celebration, with holy services dedicated to God. On that eighth day, the Jewish people showed they had decided to be loyal to God, which was in question because of the sin of the Golden Calf.
Now in Tazria we again learn that on the eighth day of a boy’s life, he is brought into the covenant Abraham made with God 3,700 years ago – the Jewish people will worship God and God will make them a great nation.
The number seven represents nature’s completion – God finished work on the universe in six days and completed the natural world by creating Shabbat for rest on the seventh day. So the number eight signifies something that transcends nature. A baby boy, having been with us for a week, on his eighth day has his brit milah to elevate him from the natural world to a spiritual level. So, too, Adam’s spirit was lifted by the gift of fire when used for good, and the Mishkan brought spirituality to the Jewish people. All these things occurred on an eighth day.
You often have a spiritual experience at the start of an eighth day – on a weekend campout. Saturday night, after a great Shabbat outdoors with your troop, as the darkness brings a new week, the embers of the campfire die out, the last notes of your closing song float away, your Scoutmaster gives you an inspirational thought, and you experience a wonderful spirit. Take that spirit home with you and pass it along to everyone you meet and use it in everything you do.
PS- We also include a dedication to the brave men and women who gave their lives to making and preserving the State of Israel, in honor of Yom Hazikaron (Memorial Day), and to wish everyone a joyous Yom Ha’atzmaut(Independence Day).
Am Yisrael Chai – The Jewish People Live
April 13, 2018 – Parsha Shemini
This week, as we complete Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Memorial Day), I study in memory of my great-grandmother, Rachel Leah Chodesh Poliakoff and her daughter, who were killed during the Holocaust.
For several weeks before Passover, we learned about the building of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) that would serve as the place where the Children of Israel would worship God, the offerings to be made there, and the duties of the Kohanim (priests) in performing the services. In Parsha Tzav, just before Passover, we learned about the first seven days of the eight-day celebration of the first services in the Mishkan.
Now, in Parsha Shemini, we learn of the final day of celebration. As the service began, Moses summoned his brother, Aaron, the High Priest, to make the offerings. He said to Aaron, “This is the thing God has commanded you to do.” Our Sages interpreted this verse to mean that Aaron hesitated to approach the Altar, and Moses had to encourage him.
Aaron was ashamed to come forward, because of his sin in making the Golden Calf. Moses pointed out to him that God knew of his sin, but still wanted him to serve as High Priest. Because Aaron showed shame, many rabbis point out this is just the sort of person God wanted ministering to the people, because he was humble.
Then, the parsha gives us a very sad example of what happens when people are not humble. Aaron’s sons were also priests, and two of them, Nadav and Avihu, brought fire and incense as an offering. Tragically, because God had not commanded this offering, both men died. The parsha does not explain why this happened, but some of our rabbis point out Nadav and Avihu did not act humbly. They assumed they could bring “strange fire”, as the Torah describes their offering, without consulting whether this was proper with their teacher Moses or with each other.
The parsha ends with another example of humility – God gave us the laws of kosher animals, including mammals, fish, birds and insects. After giving these laws, God explained “For I am the Lord your God – you are to sanctify yourselves and you shall become holy, for I am holy.”
Even though God gave humanity control over the animals as far back as the Garden of Eden, if we are to be holy in what we eat there are certain rules we must follow. What we eat is not only meant to nourish our bodies, but also our souls.
April 5, 2018 – Pesach
This week’s d’var Torah is dedicated to the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King, who was assassinated 50 years ago today. Just as we recall our struggle for freedom 3,300 years ago, we should recall those who have struggled for freedom in modern times.
I hope you had a wonderful time at your seders.
The Haggadah is an interesting book, filled with both questions and answers that lead to more questions. This somewhat confusing construction is intended to make us curious about the story of the Exodus, the ways in which we celebrate it, and the deeper significance of both. The point of raising our curiosity is to cause us to ask even more questions. Which raises a good question: Why do we want to raise questions?
One reason we want to raise questions is because that is a good way to learn things. You may get an answer to your question that gives you good information. Or you may continue to ask questions, until you understand.
Another reason we raise questions is as a reminder of our freedom. Slaves do not have the freedom to question their masters, they only take orders. Free people get to ask questions. One of my college professors taught that the person asking the questions is the one who gets to frame the conversation – that’s a lot of power.
Now that you’ve had some practice at the seders, go ask more good questions!
Shabbat shalom and chag sameach,
Derech Tzofeh, the Path of the Scout, is brought to you by the National Jewish Committee on Scouting. ©2017 Nelson R. Block. Prior Derech Tzofeh are available at the J-Scouts message repository on Yahoo! Groups.