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שאו את ראש כל עדת בני ישראל למשפחתם לבית אבתם

Take a census of the entire assembly of Bnei Yisrael according to their father’s house. (1:2)

The Zera Shimshon wonders why the Torah traces each Jew’s lineage from his father’s line, rather than from his mother’s. First, a child’s Jewish identity is determined by his mother. (Matrilineal descent is one of the areas which the secular streams have attempted to alter, due to their diminishing numbers.) Second, the women in Egypt were at the center of safeguarding yichus, lineage, of the Jewish People. They refused to be violated by the Egyptians. Indeed, in addressing the familial names of each tribe, the Torah writes, mishpachas ha’Reuveni, mishpachas ha’Shimoni, “the family of Reuven, the family of Shimon” (Ibid….

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והלוים למטה אבתם לא התפקדו בתוכם ... וידבר ד' אל משה לאמר אך את מטה לוי לא תפקד

The Leviim, according to their father’s tribe, were not counted among them. Hashem spoke to Moshe saying, “You shall not count the tribe of Levi.” (1:47,48,49)

Apparently, Moshe Rabbeinu did not count the Leviim even before Hashem instructed him to exclude them from the census. Ramban and Sforno rationalize Moshe’s decision. Every shevet, tribe, had a Nasi, leader, who represented the tribe. Shevet Levi did not, because Hashem did not tell Moshe to appoint one. As a result, Moshe deduced that Hashem had other plans for the tribe of Levi. While this is all well and good, we wonder why Hashem did not preempt Moshe’s decision by telling him up front that Shevet Levi was not to be counted. Horav Mordechai Gifter, zl, explains this with…

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משפחת בני קהת יחנו על המשכן תימנה

The families of the children of Kehas would encamp on the side of the Mishkan to the south. (3:29)

Rashi explains that specifically concerning Bnei Kehas, the Torah underscores that they were to the south side of the Mishkan, indicating that a special significance was attributed to the southern campsite of Bnei Kehas. He quotes Chazal (Succos 56b) that posit, Oy l’rasha v’oy lishcheinav. The tribe of Reuven encamped on the south next to Kehas, rendering Reuven vulnerable to the negative influence of Korach who descended from Kehas. As a result, the sons of Reuven, Dasan and Aviram, followed by the 250 heads of the Sanhedrin, joined the Korach controversy, which ultimately led to their untimely deaths. Rashi’s lashon,…

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ולא תונו איש את עמיתו

Each of you shall not wrong his fellow Jew. (25:17)

The Chafetz Chaim observes the famous maxim: The world thinks that the fool is a fool only with regard to other people’s interests. However, Ven es kumpt tzu zich, “When it involves himself, his own interests, he suddenly becomes quite clever.” Conversely, when it comes to one’s personal vested interests, the otherwise clever man may act foolishly. When one allows his petty prejudices and self-serving opinions to drive his actions and control his life – he is a fool. The sage expounds on our pasuk, noting the added word, V’lo sonu Ish es amiso: The word es is extra. He…

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וחי אחיך עמך

And let your brother live with you. (25:36)

With regard to the above, Chazal (Bava Metzia 62a) quote a debate between Bar Petora and Rabbi Akiva. Two men are traveling in the desert. It is hot, and they are thirsty. The problem is: They have only one water canteen. If one of them drinks the water, he will live, but his friend will die. If both drink the water, they will both die. Bar Petora says that it is better for both to drink and take their chances that a miracle might occur, than one drink and watch his friend die. Rabbi Akiva disputed this ruling, citing the…

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ונסתם ואין רדף אתכם

You will flee, though none chase after you. (26:17)

Fear of an unknown enemy (or demons, in today’s vernacular) is a terrible curse. It is a miserable way to live. To be beset by imagined fears and phobias takes a toll on a person. His life comes to a halt, his cognitive lucidity off balance, because he is afraid to do anything out of fear of consequences. The systems upon which a person’s basic needs are built are interrupted, often taking down the “victim” and those who have the misfortune to be in his proximity. A modern-day term for describing fear of an unknown enemy which one has convinced…

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שור או כשב או עז כי יולד והיה שבעה ימים תחת אמו... ושור או שה... אותו ואת בנו לא תשחטו ביום אחד... וכי תזבחו זבח תודה לד' לרצונכם תזבחו... ולא תחללו את שם קדשי ונקדשתי בתוך בני ישראל

An ox, lamb or goat, when it is born shall be with its mother for seven days… (22:27) But an ox or a sheep… you may not slaughter and its offspring on the same day… (22:28) When you slaughter a feast thanksgiving offering to Hashem, you shall slaughter it to gain favor for yourselves. (22:29) You shall not desecrate My Holy Name, rather I shall be sanctified among Bnei Yisrael. (22:32)

Four pesukim in sequence: the first three address korbanos, offerings; the fourth pasuk addresses chillul and kiddush Hashem, profaning and sanctifying Hashem’s Name. Clearly, the Torah’s arrangement of pesukim is not haphazard. Every pasuk, every letter, every crown, is in its specific place by Heavenly design. What is the rationale behind the positioning of these four pesukim? Horav Shimon Schwab, zl (Rav Schwab on Chumash), examines the common denominator in these pesukim. It is about life and living. First, the Torah teaches us that not just any animal, regardless of age, may be sacrificed. It must be, at minimum, eight…

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וספרתם לכם ממחרת השבת מיום הביאכם את עמר התניפה שבע שבתות תמימת תהיינה

You shall count for yourselves from the morrow of the rest day, from the day when you bring the Omer of the waving – seven weeks, they shall be complete. (23:15)

The mitzvah of sefiras haOmer, counting of the Omer, is the injunction to count every day (49 days) from the second day of Pesach, when the Omer is brought, until the fiftieth day, which heralds the Festival of Shavuos. Every single day of sefiras haOmer is an individual period of preparing oneself, refining one’s spiritual attributes, yearning for the moment when we receive the Torah. The seven-week period comprised of forty-nine days follows in the Torah’s tradition of dealing with a transition from a lower to a higher standard of morality, from a primitive, raw condition to one of advanced…

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ויניחהו במשמר לפרש להם על פי ד'

They placed him under guard to clarify for themselves through Hashem. (24:12)

The incident of the megadef, blasphemer, is a sad entry in the history of our people. It is not as if we have not had wicked, insecure people whose actions against Hashem warranted swift and extreme punishment. He was, however, the first to act so contemptibly. Thus, the punishment to be meted out to him was uncertain. Hashem had to inform Moshe Rabbeinu what form of execution – if any – he should receive. He was placed in a holding cell until Hashem clarified his punishment. The megadef was not the only sinner spending his time in a cell. The…

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וידבר ד' אל משה אחרי מות שני בני אהרן בקרבתם לפני ד' וימתו

Hashem spoke to Moshe after the death of Aharon’s two sons, when they approached before Hashem, and they died. (16:1)

The text of this pasuk is redundant, since it mentions the deaths of Nadav and Avihu twice in the same pasuk. Daas Zekeinim m’Baalei Tosfos explain that the Torah mentions death twice, since they left no offspring to continue their legacy. For reasons of their own, they did not marry. Thus, it is considered as if they died twice: once when they left this world; and again because they left no one to carry on the memory of their lives and achievements. Horav Zev Weinberger, zl, cites the Talmud Moed Kattan (24a), “When they told Rabbi Yochanan that Rabbi Chaninah…

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