Shabbas Chol HaMoade:
“Commentary on the Torah Reading for Shabbas Chol HaMoade"

Echelon Art Gallery
Oil Paintings, Prints, Drawings and Water Colors


Shabbas Chol HaMoade



Shabbas Chol HaMoade - December 5, 2022
© Drew Geoffrey Kopf 2022


Framed Original

Title:Shabbas Chol HaMoade

Medium: Water Color, Graphite and Water Color Markers on Paper

Size: 16" x 12"

Available Framed or Unframed

Signed: הכהן הרש צוי בן דוב (in Hebrew) lower right corner and Drew Geoffrey Kopf 2022 (just to the left of that)

Created: 5783 corresponding to December 2022

Original: created in memory of the artist's good friends Merna and Donald "Don" Ingram, may their memories be for blessings; z"l, and as a gift to their granddaughter Sophie to mark her becoming a Bat Mitzvah on Shabbas Chol HaMoade Sukkos, October 15, 2022.

The text afixed to the back of the framed origional and which is provided with each geclee copy, reads as follows:


Torah Reading for Sabbath Chol HaMoade
Drew Geoffrey Kopf
December 5, 2022

The Kohain AlleeAh

Exodus Chapter XXXIII Verses 12 to 16

We first need to remember where the Torah is in its recounting of the story following the Exodus from Egypt before we dive into the verses selected to be the Torah Reading chanted before the congregation on the Shabbas that might fall on one of the days between the first two and the last two days of Passover, Sukkos, the Feast of Tabernacles, or Shavuos the Feast of Weeks, also known as the Three Regalim or the Three Pilgrimages. 

To set the scene, the Jewish People, after experiencing the amazing ten plagues that the L-rd had brought against the Egyptians in an effort to get the Egyptian Pharaoh to free the Jewish People who had been enslaved there by the Egyptians for four hundred years, are now free and encamped at the foot of Mount Sinai. Moses has been to the top of Mount Sinai for forty days and forty nights and had received two stone tablets with the Ten Commandments carved into them by the L-rd Himself. Moses had descended Mount Sinai only to have been confronted by a scene that literally stopped him in his tracks.

During the forty days that Moses had been on the top of Mount Sinai and away from his people an unexpected development had occurred which resulted in a rather extensive gathering of the recently freed Jewish People who had been slaves in Egypt were surrounding and worshiping a statue of a calf that had been made out of gold. Surely it was or had to have been the very last thing that Moses would have expected or anticipated to have happened.

We read of the reaction of Moses to the making of and the worshipping of the Golden Calf twice. First in Chapter 32 Verses 7 through 14 when the L-rd informs Moses of what was going on down below and He (the L-rd) tells Moses that He (the L-rd) will be destroying the Jewish People and will be starting all over again to make a new Jewish People starting with Moses.

Moses does not so much defend the Jewish People who were apparently now (then) guilty of the worst offence one can be accused, particularly in the face of the face of the L-rd Almighty Himself, and that is the worshipping of other gods (small “g”). Moses rather reminds the L-rd of His promise to the Forefathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and gets the L-rd to hold off on ending things right then and there. There is actually an additional argument that Moses used in presentation the case to the Almighty to spare the Jewish People at least until Moses can see for himself what is going on down there.

Moses paints a picture for the L-rd as to how things will look to the Egyptians and, really, to anyone else looking at what will have happened if the L-rd were to erase the Jewish People newly freed from slavery and started all over again with Moses to create His (the L-rd’s) chosen people. In Chapter 32 Moses projects what the Egyptians might say about the L-rd with regard to what is now about to take place. “For evil did He (the L-rd) bring them (the Jewish People) forth to slay them at the mountain and to consume them from the face of the earth?” It is almost as if it would be bad “PR” (public relations). Moses was not wrong. But, who would ‘a “thunk” it?

Moses’ arguments were successful since the L-rd did chose to lean away from ending things for the Jewish People right there and then. Instead He (the L-rd) allowed Moses to carry the two stone tablets down the mountain to see for himself what was transpiring and to confront the Jewish People on his (Moses’) own.

In Chapter XXXIII Verse 19 we learn how Moses reacted when he reached a point in his decent from Mount Sinai and came to the edge of the encampment.

The Torah reports that “as soon as he (Moses) saw the calf and the dancing and Moses’ anger waxed hot …”
The Biblical commentators go off in a variety of directions on the word “anger.”  Some commentators hold that to break anything out of anger is, in itself, a sign of being an idolater oneself. In the Hertz Chumash of the late Chief Rabbi of the British Empire, Dr. J.H. Hertz, z”l, says “Anger is selfish and blind and purely emotional reaction against any injury received.” The great rabbi tells of how when a youngster  might hurt his or her foot against a stone they might become so unreasonably angry that they would hit the stone as if that would right things for them even though it means nothing to the stone of course and, really, only goes further to harm themselves.

So, when Moses is said to “wax angry” in seeing how some of the people who he had with the help of the L-rd saved from slavery in Egypt were demonstrating a complete lack of faith in the Almighty by worshiping an idol. We can appreciate why he (Moses) would be angry. But, the throwing of the two stone tablets that had been carved by the Almighty on to the ground before him (Moses) was motivated by more than simple anger.

Some commentators hold that he (Moses) felt a kind of indignation as well and that those who would dance and otherwise worship an idol like a golden calf, were unworthy of owning the Devine Tablets of the Law as made by the Almighty.

Those commentators may very well be correct. But, the people who were dancing around and praying to the Golden Calf were not the only ones in the camp as Moses reached its perimeter and saw what was going on. There were actually a much greater number of members of the Jewish People who were not at all involved in the demonstration of a complete lack of faith in the L-rd as was being committed by those Jews who were so involved.

Moses took swift and immediate action and had the sons of Levi swear allegiance and arm themselves with swords and had them seek out those who had worshiped the Golden Calf and killed them to a number the Torah gives as three thousand men and we are guessing a certain number of women as well. The Torah goes on to tell us that the L-rd crossed out the names of those who had worshiped the Golden Calf from his “book” and announced that He would kill those who had so worshiped the Golden Calf that had been built by Aaron at their request.

With that, things get back on track to taking the Jewish People to the Land as promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, our Forefathers.

Now, in the first AlleeAh (Torah Reading) on Shabbas Chol HaMoaid, Exodus Chapter XXXIII Verses 12 to 16.

The AlleeAh actually starts off kind of funny or at least odd in that Moses says to the  L-rd, “Thou hast said …” but the words that Moses says that the L-rd had said are actually nowhere else mentioned within the Torah; i.e. “I know thee by name and thou has also found grace in my sight.” Rabbi Hertz figures that the L-rd may have said these words back when the L-rd was about to destroy the Jewish People and start all over with Moses (Chapter XXXIII Verse 10).

The back and forth in Verses 12 to 16 is all about having the L-rd along with the Jewish People while en route to the Promised Land. Moses is not satisfied with just having the L-rd giving His personal directive to go forth Moses but insists on His (the L-rd’s) being with them. He (Moses) goes as far as to choose to stay where they are at the foot of Mount Sinai which is where the L-rd revealed Himself which makes that place holy.

The Levy AlleeAh

Exodus Chapter XXXIII Verses 17 to 19.

There is an immediate moment of acceptance of the request that Moses had just made of the L-rd when the L-rd says, “I will do this thing of which you have spoken because you have found grace in my eyes and (because) I know you by name.”

We must admit that it is rather interesting (shocking really) that the L-rd’s immediate reaction to the demonstration by a certain number of the Jewish People who had just days earlier been freed from bondage and who were now worshipping an idol when the vast majority of the Jewish People in the camp had not been involved with this open display of complete lack of faith and respect for the L-rd. We would hope the disappointment and, yes, the anger that the L-rd might have felt would have been directed solely at those few, three thousand plus, who had exhibited such a lack of faith and done what ever had to be done to them and to them only. But, the L-rd did nothing really. No. It was what the L-rd said He (the L-rd) was going to do – to kill all of the Jewish People and to start all over with Moses was all that was decreed by the L-rd. Then, once Moses had contested that plan and that he (Moses) had received 100% of exceptions of Moses requests did Moses take the proverbial “reigns” and went forward punishing those of his community the Jews who had actually worshipped the Golden Calf and had them slaughtered by the Leveeim (the Levites).

In Chapter XXXIII Verse 18 Moses gets greatly encouraged to comment even more to the L-rd by making a very special request: “And he (Moses) said: ‘Show me, I prey thee, Thy glory.” Rabbi Hertz interprets “glory” to be the L-rd’s “eternal qualities” but does not define them for us. We are taking it to mean that which makes the L-rd what He (the L-rd) is; i.e. All Mighty in every way.

That is really pretty bold on the part of Moses. But, it is understandable when we remember who Moses is (was) and how he (Moses) got to where he is (was) at that moment. Did Moses speak Hebrew? No. He did not. His brother Aaron had to translate for him to the Jewish People. Moses was raised as an Egyptian. There would be no way that his mother would have done anything to have given away the fact that he was her son and surely not that he was one of the Jewish People. Now, at this juncture, where he (Moses) has been working with the L-rd and has accomplished so much including the freeing of the Jewish People from slavery in Egypt. So, with this special and admittedly negative happening but his (Moses’) willingness to be bold enough to again go up against the L-rd and request that another way be considered and have his (Moses’) request granted, he (Moses) feels brave or strong enough to ask to know the “secret” behind what makes the L-rd the L-rd.

The L-rd could easily have said something respectfully to Moses but at the same time refused to have shared any such information with Moses. But, instead, the L-rd opens up to Moses to a certain extent in Chapter XXXIII Verse 19: “And He (the L-rd) said: ‘I will make all my goodness pass before you; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious and I will show mercy to whom I will show mercy.”

The rabbis help us understand that the relationship between man and the L-rd is one where we, man, i.e. “mankind,” is to observe the L-rd and imitate Him is how we live our lives. We cannot imitate the L-rd’s infinity, omnipotence, or eternity. That part of or side of His (the L-rd’s) nature, which is beyond human comprehension, is also beyond human imitation. But, mankind is able to know the L-rd’s “goodness” and we can follow His (the L-rd’s) ways of mercy and His way of forgiveness. So, pity is a divine quality and, when man is compassionate in that way he (man) is imitating the L-rd.

The Third AlleeAh

Exodus Chapter XXXIII Verses 20 to 23.

Verse 20

“And He (The L-rd) said, “You (Moses) will not be able to see My face for man (mankind) shall not see My face and live.”

When we read this verse it is almost as if we are listening in on a private conversation between two friends; buddies; where one is “kind ‘a sord’a” explaining the up close and personal limits of their unique and very special friendship. “Like, ‘we can be close but only so close. There is a limit.” The funny thing is that in the preceding verses there is no request by Moses to see the L-rd’s face. Moses had asked to be shown G-d’s glory and G-d responded that He (G-d) would show him (Moses) His (G-d’s) goodness but no mention had been made by Moses of Moses seeing G-d’s face.

Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, z”l, (1040 – 1105) tries to help us by explaining that in this instance the L-rd is establishing a kind of limit to the extent of His own (The L-rd’s) goodness that Moses would be permitted to see.

So, it is like the L-rd is saying “We can be friends to a certain extent but, hey, look, it’s like this, there is a limit.”

Very interesting in deed. Think of how very special this interaction is between Moses and the L-rd.  If you ever saw the Broadway Musical or the motion picture version of “Fiddler On the Roof” it will remind you of how the protagonist in that show, Tevya the Milkman, is constantly conversing with the Almighty as if the Almighty is right there all the time and even as if he (Tevya) is hearing the L-rd’s reply to him (Tevya) but that we are just not able to hear what the Almighty is saying to Tevya. The only difference here in Verse 20 is that we are in the Torah hearing both sides of the verbal interchange between Moses and the Almighty.

Verse 21

“And the L-rd said, ‘Behold there is a place with Me (the L-rd) and you (Moses) shall stand on the rock.”
We are told by various Biblical commentators that “the rock” is referring to Mount Sinai. But, the verse is one that we need some additional help to more fully appreciate it. At a very simple level we are told that the L-rd is inviting Moses to watch Him (the L-rd) do what He (the L-rd) does and that where Moses will stand (on Mount Sinai) he (Moses) will be protected and safe.

But, the word “with” in the verse gives the commentators pause. Usually we do not speak of an entity being “with” a place but, rather, we speak of and entity being “in” a place. Rashi comes to help us by explaining that with regard to G-d we cannot speak of Him (the L-rd) as being “in” a place because that would imply that the L-rd is somehow limited by the dimensions of that space. Not at all. So, the Torah says it like it is, i.e. “with” a space.”

Verse 22

“And it shall be that when My glory passes by, I will place you (Moses) into the cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by.”

This verse does not specify where G-d’s glory would be passing when Moses would be put in the cleft or crevice of the Rock, i.e. Mount Sinai. Rashi helps us by explaining, firstly, that this protection would only be necessary when the L-rd’s glory would pass before Moses. But, Rashi explains further and at perhaps a different level or from a different perspective that the phrase “My Glory” is synonymous with the phrase “My Self.” This is borne out by the use of the phrase “until I pass by” instead of saying “until My Glory passes by.” The Torah thereby equates “My Self” and “My Glory.”  Rashi says further that the phrase “when it passes” should not be confused with “because.” In Hebrew the two words have very similar spellings and Rashi is telling readers to make sure that the proper reading is not to be the former but only the later; i.e. “when it passes.”

Verse 23

“Then I will remove My hand and you (Moses) will see My back but My face shall not be seen.”
The commentators try to help us by explaining that the form of the L-rd that Moses would see would be in a pillar of fire and that Moses would see the back of the pillar of fire after it had passed by. So, he (Moses) would see the “after glow” or the “back” so to speak.

Still other commentators talk about watching a large sailing ship sail by and being only able to get a very small idea of the size and force and majesty of the ship when all we get to see after it passes by us is its wake.

But, again, we are tempted to think back to “Fiddler on the Roof” and how Tevay sees the L-rd in his (Tevya’s) life every day, every moment really, in constant and continual dialogue. Prayer is how we are more often told to be able to reach the Almighty. But, when we review these verses in the Torah where the L-rd and Moses dialogue with one another and a kind of limit or set of expectations is established by the L-rd for Moses, we can understand where Tevya in his understandable naivety could and would see himself in a similar dialogue with the Almighty and to speak with Him (the L-rd) as if He (the L-rd) is answering him (Tevya) just as He (the L-rd) was really there.

That must make us ask, “If it was like that for Moses and if it works for Tevya the Milkman in “Fiddler on the Roof” might it not work for any of us?”

We could start right here and right now by asking: “What do You think L-rd?”

It would be nothing short of amazing if either of us heard something back like: “Let’s give it a try.” 

The Fourth AlleeAh

Exodus Chapter XXXIV Verses 1 to 3.

“And the L-rd said to Moses, ‘Hew for (by) yourself two stone tablets like the first ones. And I will inscribe upon the tablets the words that were on the first tablets, which you broke.”
It all seems pretty straight forward.  There was a covenantal agreement between Abraham and the Almighty, which later on got held in abeyance while the Jewish People were enslaved in Egypt until some four hundred years had gone by and, then, the Jewish People were released from slavery after Moses, as a veritable spokesperson for the Almighty, subjugated the Egyptians with ten punishing and powerful plagues to where Pharaoh finally freed the Jewish People, who Moses then led to Mount Sinai where the Ten Commandments, representing the Torah itself, were given to the Jewish People. Then, when the one thing that could throw a monkey wrench in the entire thing happened and everything came to screeching halt.

The Jewish People, or, really, we need to be more precise in our own reporting here, some three thousand male members of the Jewish People  and a certain number of female members of the Jewish People who had been freed from Slavery in Egypt demonstrated a complete lack of faith in G-d by worshipping a (the) Golden Calf. The reaction of Moses when he saw this outrageous display of disbelief in the L-rd was to throw the two tablets of the Ten Commandments on to the ground, which apparently broke them into pieces.

There are a couple of things about this that need to be noted. Firstly, when the Jewish People were led out of Egypt by Moses after being freed by Pharaoh a certain number of Egyptians apparently went along with the Jewish People having been so impressed by the power and majesty of the L-rd and how He (the L-rd) was able to make this entire thing happen. They became what might be called “believers” and converted as it was to be “followers” of the L-rd.

This conversion of non-Jews to become members of the Covenantal Community was not new. Way back when the Avos (the Forefathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob} were founding the Jewish People, there were those non-family members of their community who might have been employed by them who might have served their needs on an occasional basis to where they might have come to know these clearly very special people and who came to appreciate what they, the Avos, had discovered; i.e. “the L-rd” and were clearly caring and nice enough people to have shared with all who may have come into their orbit.

But, when Moses disappeared for forty days and forty night there must have been those who were born Jewish and those who were Egyptians by birth who voluntarily “signed on” to be members of the Covenantal Community (the Jewish People as it was) whose faith in the L-rd was not as strong as it needed to have been and they got so scarred and frightened to where they looked for comfort by going back to what they knew before and to what, let’s face it, the rest of the world at that time would do and was doing all the time, they requested that an idol be built and they worshiped it.

So, this set of stone tablets is to be shaped by Moses so that the L-rd will write the commandments on them. We might do well to remind ourselves that even if we might think that Moses ought to be responsible to carve into the new stone tablets the words that the L-rd have carved into the original stone tablets that had been broken. But, the fact of the matter is that Moses could not have carved the Ten Commandments into the new stone tablets even if he (Moses) had wanted to or even if He (the L-rd) had wanted him (Moses) to because the Ten Commandments were written in Hebrew, the language of the Jewish People, and Moses did not speak Hebrew as we noted earlier.

So, this new set of stone tablets is to be shaped by Moses so that the L-rd will rewrite the Ten Commandments on them.

The Rav (Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, z”l, 1903 – 1993) points out that the phrase used regarding the new set of stone tablets is “Like the First Ones” and is repeated several times in this discourse in the Torah. The Rav explains that this is because the  L-rd is not skipping a beat. He (the L-rd) is renewing his original relationship with the Jewish People as if nothing had happened.

Verse 2.

“Be prepared (or, ready yourself) for the morning and in the morning you shall ascend Mount Sinai and stand before Me (the L-rd) there on the top of the mountain.”

Biblical commentators focus on the first few words here regarding “Be Prepared” or “Ready Yourself.” Those of us who experienced being Cub Scouts or Boy Scouts will recall the Boy Scout motto was also “Be Prepared.”  Interesting. It was never noted to us as youngsters that the Scout motto might have had its roots in Exodus Chapter XXXIV Verse 2. But, still here it is. Why does the Almighty alert Moses in this way? It is a good question. Perhaps because even Moses, who was living a life that was about as consecrated as a life could be, needs to prepare himself for certain very special times such as this.

The whole thing with regard to the descending and ascending the mountain in this part of the Torah might just be looked at as a way for the Torah to dramatize what was going on. But, again, the Rav (Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, z”l, 1903 – 1993) helps us by giving us the “ups and downs” of all these “ups” and downs” (sorry). The Rav reminds us of the idea of doing “Mitzvos” (good deeds) and committing sins (transgressions). When the Jewish People (or at least some of them} sinned by worshipping an idol (the Golden Calf) the L-rd directs or allows Moses to descend the mountain to check things out for himself. When the time comes to make replacement stone tablets the L-rd has Moses ascend the mountain again. So, it is “down” for the sin related stuff and “up” for the Mitzvah (good deed related) things. The Rav goes on to remind us that later on in the Torah this kind of “ascent” and “decent” thing comes into play when the Holy Temple comes into our lives. He draws our attention to the following verse, Deuteronomy Chapter XVII Verse 8, “You shall rise and go up to the place the L-rd your G-d chooses.”

Verse 3.

“No one shall ascend with you, neither shall anyone be seen anywhere on the mountain, neither shall the sheep and the cattle graze before (at the foot of) the mountain.”

The rabbis point out that the first stone tablets were given in great pomp and upheaval; both physical and psychological; and (yet) they ended up being thrown to the ground and broken into pieces. The second revelation and “giving” of the new or replacement stone tablets was conducted in absolute silence to just one man in communion with his (Moses’) Maker (the L-rd) and yet these stone tablets endured for the salvation of Israel (the Jewish People; i.e. the People of the Covenant) and, really, of all of mankind.

Rashi’s contribution is that there is nothing better than “modesty.” Also a very good point.

The Fifth AlleeAh

Exodus Chapter XXXIV Verses 4 to 10.

Verse 4.

“So he (Moses) hewed two stone tablets like the first ones, and Moses arose early in the morning and ascended Mount Sinai as the L-rd had commanded him (to do} and he (Moses) took (those) two stone tablets in his hand(s).”

“Ascended …” is discussed by Biblical commentators as meaning that Moses went up or ascended Mount Sinai on the first day of the month of Elul and, after having remained on the mountain for forty days and descended on the tenth day of the month of Tishrai, unto the sinful people which became known as the Day of Atonement, as it was the day that he (Moses) brought the tidings of G-d’s perfect pardon unto the sinful people.

Let us not go forward without first reminding ourselves that the sinful members of the Jewish People of that day and time were those 3,000 men and a certain undisclosed number of women who had worshiped the Golden Calf all of whom had been put to death. The Jewish People to whom Moses returned were not, nor had they been sinful. So, how then are we to understand where this all fits into that first Day of Atonement and to all the Days of Atonement from then and onward all the way up unto today?

Simply put, since the Jewish People, who had not worshipped the Golden Calf were the ones to whom Moses returned from having been upon Mount Sinai that second time, who exactly was being forgiven and for what were they being forgiven?

This is not so easy to know. That is for sure. But, if we think in terms of the meaning of the Day of Atonement as it has been observed from then and onward, the Day of Atonement is more for the atoning being done by those who were and now are by their own choices members of the Covenantal Community rather than those who had rejected the Almighty and, instead, worshiped idols, which was, perhaps, the ultimate way to demonstrate a complete lack of faith in the L-rd, and for whatever their (our) own feelings of inadequacy and personal wrong doing might contain.

“You can be better than you are” is something like what Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is all about. Hey, let’s face it, if you are totally unconvinced that there is a  G-d who answers our prayers, you would doubtfully be reading this effort to understand what these things, including Yom Kippur, are all about, how each of us fits into it and how we, each of us, can benefit from it every single day of our lives.

“Never put off until tomorrow what you can do today” was the advice of Benjamin Franklin.

Good advice. But, the fact of the matter is that we all tend to do just the opposite. When we owe someone an apology we often keep putting it off until tomorrow. That book we keep saying we want to read. The fifteen pounds we want or need to lose.

That is exactly what Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is all about; to help us, each of us individually, to stop ourselves in our tracks and, for at least one brief time each year, to stop putting off for tomorrow what we can do today, a la Benjamin Franklin.

The day of Yom Kippur itself is supposed to be used by each of us individually to come together with our community and to formally state our request for individual forgiveness for the kind of transgressions that are normal in the lives of people rather than for any sins, per se, that might be termed unforgiveable.

Now, that being said and understood, let us project backwards for a moment. We could find no Biblical commentator who asks the following: If there had been no need for Moses to have carved a second set of stone tablets, which is to say, if there had been no Golden Calf or anyone in the Covenantal Community and former slaves in Egypt or former Egyptians who were so impressed by the ten plagues and how the Almighty got Pharaoh to free the Jewish People from 400 years of enslavement, would there have been any “forgiveness” by the Almighty that would become the seed for what would become the annual observance of the Day of Atonement; Yom Kippur? We would have to say that there would not have been any delivery of “forgiveness” and, therefore, no need for atonement and no evolution into Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.

It is hard to imagine. But, without the Golden Calf and the display of complete faithlessness by those 3,000 men and a certain unidentified number of women who chose to worship the Golden Calf rather than to have faith in the Almighty to deliver on a promise by allowing Moses to return from the top of the mountain and to bring with him the Ten Commandments and the Torah as it is understood, there would not have been the evolution of a day of Atonement that we call Yom Kippur.

Interesting indeed,

Someone once said, “You cannot make an omelet without breaking a few shells.”

We are not told that the L-rd caused or brought about the Golden Calf and all that followed from it. But, without all that imperfection in the faithfulness of those who worshipped the Golden Calf, we would be … what? On our own when it comes to dealing with staying on track in life. So, it might be surmised that the need for or the creation of a Day of Atonement was not in the plan or plans of the Almighty but, rather, evolved due to the human frailty to which anyone might be tempted to display and allow the possible evolution of the basest parts of our make up to express itself. Heavy duty indeed. Worship idols like so many barbarians or believe in G-d. That, dear reader is the acid test we, each and every one of us, faces every moment of every day of our lives.

Verse 5.

“And the L-rd descended in a cloud and stood with him (Moses) there, and He (the L-rd) called out (or spoke) in the name of the L-rd(as follows):”

Here we are. Moses has climbed up Mount Sinai; with the two replacement carved stone tablets and stands up on the top of the mountain again. With Moses in place, the L-rd now descends through the cloud at the top of Mount Sinai to join Moses where Moses is standing and the L-rd readies Himself to speak as Himself in His (the L-rd’s own) name.

Why does the Torah need to set the stage for us as it does so exactingly? Because the only person on earth who would be hearing the following statements by the L-rd was Moses.

“So what?” you may ask. Well, he (Moses) is the one who is reporting this to us in the Torah and he (Moses) wanted to make absolutely certain that we, the readers of the Torah, are absolutely clear on the details.

Verse 6.

“And the L-rd passed before him (Moses) and proclaimed: L-rd L-rd benevolent G-d who is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abundant in kindness and truth.”

Before we comment on the essence of this verse in which contains the attributes of G-d are enumerated, we need to point out that the usual reading of this verse where the L-rd’s name is repeated, i.e. “the L-rd the L-rd benevolent G-d” is usually translated just like that with the word “L-rd” (which is usually translate at “the L-rd” simply repeated and the verse then reads on. But, in the Torah, when a word is repeated the meaning of that repeated word is not to be understood as being merely repeated as in one plus one equals two and then just go on from there. No. When the Torah repeats a word the effect is to multiply the meaning of that word times itself or really several times itself. Thus, the reading of “L-rd L-rd” would come out to read something like “The L-rd G-d Almighty” etc. Or, perhaps even “The L-rd of the Entire Universe and Beyond until Forever and ever and absolutely always and in all possible ways …” like that.

No kidding.

The Torah is a no fooling around entity. When the Torah says something it means it. So, when the Torah repeats a word we are supposed to understand that that repeated word is as if was being multiplied by itself, then what else would it mean than … well, you can see what we mean.

But, we need to remember too that the Torah has a few different terms that reefer to   G-d and those terms are not all exactly alike. In this particular instance the word used to refer to G-d is “Yod Kay Vav Kay” (we do not spell out or even sound out the Hebrew letters out of respect) the one that encompasses the L-rd’s humane qualities such as being forgiving, and being compassionate and reacting to situations before Him with kindness.

So, in this instance, the repetition of this very special name of the Almighty when repeated, as it is in this verse of the Torah, would need to reflect the loving, compassionate, forgiving and warmth that the L-rd is capable of displaying when we try to express it in translation. It cannot be the one offered a few paragraphs ago. What might it be?

“G-d whose graciousness and compassion are beyond measure or comprehension and equaled only by His love of life and boundless kindness … “

That is a lot closer to being what we are looking to capture what the Torah is saying when the word “the L-rd” is repeated as it is in Verse 6. “kindness and Goodness” multiplied by itself has got to be a lot more than just saying “the L-rd the L-rd” leads us to understand, especially when it is leading into the next phrase, “Ail Rachoom Vi Chanoon” which is kind of interesting because the word “Ail” as Rashi points out, is also describing G-d’s attributes of mercy, particularly after a person sins and then repents for their sin. It is almost as if the writer, Moses, had had a way of shining a spotlight on these words or if he had fire crackers that he could have go off to illuminate and to draw attention to these things even more, that he would use all of such tools to help emphasize what he is sharing with us in this verse about who the L-rd is and how amazingly wonderful the L-rd can be.

The remainder of the verse “… who is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abundant in loving kindness and truth” is now all the more meaningful with the fully understood introduction that leads us properly into it.

Verse 7.

“…preserving loving kindness for thousands of generations, forgiving iniquity and rebellion and sin; yet He does not completely clear (of sin) He visits the iniquity of parents on children and children’s children, to the third and fourth generations.”

The Torah zeros in now on the various elements of the L-rd’s way of relating to mankind in order to clarify for Moses and through Moses to us what we might call “the rules of the game of life” in this world that the Almighty created and which would be completely meaningless without us, mankind, complete with our freedom of will.

We point this out because it is our freedom of will that allows each of us to do whatever it is we may want to do, which includes doing certain things that are, frankly, not nice, and for which we may or may not feel ashamed, sorry, regretful, unhappy, sad, burdened and crestfallen. We may even be deserving of some kind of retribution or punishment for certain things we have done. It is here where the Torah illuminates for us how the Almighty handles or deals with men and women who may have acted in ways that are considered regretful and, perhaps even mean spirited or worse.

The phrase “loving kindness for thousands of generations …” kind of kicks things off in an “over the top” way. So, our good deeds of today will be remembered by the L-rd to the benefit of our future descendants for what amounts to forever. And the flip side is that the good deeds of generations going way back in our own family histories have been and will continue to bring rewards to us and onward as well.

The Rav, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, points out that the Hebrew word in this verse NahSaw literally means “lift,” or “elevated” and actually counts to his or to her credit according to the Reish Lakin, Shimon ben Lakis, better known as Reish Lakish (born in the year 200 of the common era - died in the year 275) an Amour (a Biblical commentator) who lived in the Roman province of Judaea) who is quoted in the Talmud or Gomorrah of Yona page 86-b: “Great is repentance, as sins committed intentionally are counted as if they were merits.”

The penitent who does not wipe out the past, but actively uses the memory of his (or her) sins to enhance his (or her) longings for holiness – such a person achieves the type of repentance that elevates evil to goodness. It is the memory of sin that releases the power within him (or her) to do great things than even before the sin. This type of repentance is called “TeshuVah MeAHaVaH” which is Repentance motivated by Love.

The Rav helps us appreciate what the Reish Lakish has said by explaining that “the Reish Lakish himself was originally an accomplished scholar who became a thief but later, at the urging of Rabbi Yochanan, repented of his ways (Tosofas, Baba Metzia 84a). It was Reish Lakish’s memory of his sins which allowed him to achieve this. (From the Rav’s Teshuvah Drasha; i.e. Talk about Repentance, that he delivered in 1968).

Another interesting observation when reviewing this verse is when we compare the beginning of the verse with the end of it. The beginning talks about forgiveness and how it lasts for thousands of generations. The end of the verse talks about “visiting the iniquity of parent” on their children and on their children’s children to the third and fourth generations.” It shows how much more forgiveness is offered than the passing on of iniquity.

Verse 8.

“And Moses hastened, bowed his head to the ground and prostrated himself.”

Rabbi Hertz explains that the reason Moses ”hastened” was that as soon as he (Moses) learned the prominent place that mercy holds in the nature of the Almighty he (Moses) moved immediately to supplicate G-d to exercise His (the L-rd’s) quality of mercy in favor of Israel (i.e. The Jewish People).

Verse 9.

“and he (Moses) said: ‘If I have now found favor in your eyes, O L-rd, let the L-rd go now in our midst (even) if they are a stiff necked people, and You shall forgive our iniquity and our sin and thus secure us as Your possession (inheritance or legacy).”

It is interesting how Moses chooses to ask for the L-rd’s forgiveness by aliening himself with the Jewish People by saying “for our iniquity and our sin.”  Of course we still want to ask ourselves with whom Moses is aliening himself. It cannot logically be with those who had worshipped the Golden Calf since they were all (by that time) dead. It therefore hurt to be with the members of the Covenantal Community who were still alive at the foot of Mount Sinai, but for what iniquity and for what sin was he (Moses) owning up to? Those members of the Jewish People had done nothing deserving of punishment or forgiveness.

Rabbi Hertz notes that the liturgy on the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, and even more specificity in the Confession of that big day the prayers are composed in the plural (“we have sinned … etc.”) because our rabbis teach that ‘the  individual should associate himself (or herself) with the community in all supplications.”

We can certainly appreciate this. However, the sin for which Moses is seeking forgiveness for him and for the Jewish People is still unidentified. Oh, we could be assuming it is for the sin committed by the three thousand men and an undetermined number of women who worshipped the Golden Calf. But, again, those people were punished by being killed. They were not able or available to have been forgiven since they were all dead.

We believe that Moses is (was) speaking of the future and that he is associating himself with the Jewish Community then and onward forever and seeking compassion and forgiveness for misdeeds yet to be committed by. the Jewish People or by himself.

The verse ends with Moses putting the proverbial cherry on top of the ice cream sundae for the L-rd by reminding the L-rd that by making His (the L-rd’s) presence with the Jewish People He (the L-rd) would thereby make the Jewish People His (the L-rd’s) inheritance, which is to say His (the L-rd’s) people forever, which is to say His (the       L-rd’s) legacy.

Moses shows himself to be the ultimate salesman. He (Moses) knows what would motivate his potential consumer or counterpart in the exchange, in this case, the L-rd Almighty who created the world and who needs mankind to be in it and well in order to make the world at all worthwhile.

Verse 10.

“And He (the L-rd) said: ‘Behold! I make (or some say I will form) a covenant; in the presence of all of your people, I will make distinctions such as have not been created upon all the earth and among all the nations, and al the people in whose midst you are shall see the work of the L-rd how awe inspiring it is that which I will perform for you.”

It is as simple as that. You ask and you receive. Moses asked the L-rd to come within the midst of the Jewish People and here, immediately, in the very next verse we learn that the L-rd will and did comply. The L-rd went further to say He (the L-rd) would do wondrous deeds on behalf of the Jewish People to convince them that He (the L-rd) wants to lead the Jewish People to their (eventual) destination; (i.e. the Holy Land).

There are Biblical commentators who explain that the difference between the Jewish People and other peoples would be that the “ShahCheeNah” which means the “Essence of the L-rd” will be over and with the Jewish People and not be with other peoples.

The Rav, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, makes a very interesting contribution to understanding this verse. He said the written Torah was represented by the first “LuChoos” (set of stone tablets).  This form of the Torah was extrinsic to the Jewish People. It could be studied but could not be incorporated within their (the Jewish People’s) body and soul.

With the second set of “LuChoos” (stone tablets) a new covenant was entered into involving the Oral Torah, which is the “Torah Shel B’al Peh.” This verse describes this “bris” (covenant) as miraculous because the Oral Law (Torah) is not extrinsic to the personality but, rather, permeates the mind and endows each Jewish person with an indelible “KeduShas Haguf” (Holiness of the Body). The Rav explains that with the giving of the Torah in the form of the second set of Stone Tablets following another forty days of Moses being on the top of Mount Sinai and the L-rd meeting with Moses there the very essence of the Torah would now require a lot more than simply receiving it. It would now require an actual effort to study and learn the Torah which would make it much more of an individual investment and relationship with the Torah than the previous set of Stone Tablets was to have been.

Jews have endured two millennia of persecution, torture, forced conversions and deviant sects of heretics and apostates. Yet, the Torah and the Jew’s KeduShas Haguf (Holiness of the Body) has been preserved. The spark of the Living Torah in each Jewish soul has never been extinguished.

The greatest miracle of all time, which in Hebrew is: NeefLawOs AhSger Low NeeChRawOoo, was realized by the Jewish People’s steadfast commitment to the Torah and the preservation of the nation’s identity through its study for thousands of years. Scholar and ignoramus, saint and sinner, man and woman, are all infused with the KeduShas Haguf of the Torah, thereby ensuring the Jewish People’s continuity as a nation, despite all external pressures. The miracle is unique in human history:

In Hebrew: AhShwer Low NeeVeRahOoo BeKawl HaAwretZ BeKawl HaGoyEeem. (from Noraos Ha Rav – Volumn 16 Plo 3)

What does this mean to us? It means that every time a youngster becomes a Bar or a Bat Mitzvah and studies their Torah portion and the Haftara and gets called to the Torah for an AhLeeAh on their big day, it confirms what the Rav has described. There is nothing like the studying of the Torah as we, the Jewish People, have been doing for literally thousands of years. It is really amazing.

The Sixth AlleeAh

Exodus Chapter 34 Verses 11 to 17.

Verse 11.

 “Keep carefully (or observe thou) what I am commanding you today: Lo! I will drive out from before you the Amorites and the Canaanites, the Hittites and the Perizzites, the Hivvites and the Jebusites.”

Rashi notes that the Torah only mentions six nations (peoples) because the Girgashites left their homeland before Israel (the Jewish People) were to be entering the Promised Land.

It is not said in so many words but we can learn from the rather intense way the L-rd introduces this subject that He (the L-rd) will be taking care of the removing these people from the Land and, apparently, the Jewish People will not need to be engaging in any kind of military activity to bring it about.

Verse 12.

“Beware lest you form a covenant with the inhabitants of the Land into which you are coming, lest it become a snare in you midst.”

Rabbi Hertz comments on the words “a snare” by noting that “fraternization with the heathen would inevitably lead to idol-worship and bring disaster upon the Israelites, as was proved abundantly in the time of the Judges (Estimated from 1,510 BCE (Before the Common Era) to approximately 1,000 BCE).

We see this today in a different way but with a similar result. Youngsters who go off to college away from home will often be introduced to other youngsters who were brought up in different cultures and attended a wide variety of different religious communities, both Jewish and non-Jewish ones. How many friends grow to be romantically involved and get married and often times a young person’s Jewish upbringing gets put on the proverbial back burner and becomes ancient history when the young man or woman ends up following their spouse’s religion. Hard to believe. Not really. Here in our Torah reading we see where the Almighty Himself cautioned the Jewish People of the day against exactly this kind of thing and what the results might be.

Verse 13.

“But you shall demolish their altars, shatter their monuments and cut down their sacred trees.”

Now the Torah is getting into the heavy stuff. We need to remember that before Abraham figured out that there had to be an Almighty G-d that ended up connecting him (Abraham) to or with the L-rd and from that relationship developed their mutual covenant, which grew into the Covenantal Community and what we refer to nowadays as Judaism, humanity was made up of absolutely nothing but barbarians who worshiped gods (small “g”) of everything you could think of and really believed, we mean believed that slaughtering a little child of their own would really appease the gods (small “g”) and that kind of human sacrifice was common.

We read heathens in history class and call people who are less then genteel or who are downright crude heathens. But, this kind of heathen that the Torah is telling us about is like the grand daddy of ‘em all type of heathens; Heathens with a capital “H.”

The Almighty’s “To Do List” for the Jewish People with regard to the barbarian idol worshipping heathens is pretty darn complete:

“Demolish (or break down) their altars” means all forms of heathenish worship (devices) are to be obliterated.
“Altars” are the structures on which human sacrifices were made were not uncommon.”

“Shatter their monuments” which were apparently poles made of wood around which “immoral orgies were carried on.

And their “Ahshairav” which the rabbis generally believe were carved symbols of a goddess called “Ashera” which was the Venus of the Phoenicians, Ashtoreth, Astrate. Immoral rites were practiced at these shrines.

Verse 14.

“For you shall not prostrate yourself before another god (small “g”) because the L-rd, whose name is ‘Jealous One,’ is (indeed) a jealous G-d.” (Please note that the word ‘Zealous’ is also a valid translation here).

These are more rules of the game with regard to interfacing with other gods (small “g” and, very emphatically stated.  Rashi helps illuminate it for us: Zealous is the name; He is Zealous to exact payment and does not overlook (anything). Rashi continues by saying this is the meaning of every example of the word spelled Kahf Noon Alaph Hay in the Torah. It alludes to one who seizes upon the opportunity of his victory and exacts retribution from his enemies.

Verse 15.

“Lest you form a covenant with the inhabitant(s) of the land, and they (the gentiles) go astray after their gods (small “g”), and they offer sacrifices to their gods (small “g”), and they invite you, and you eat of their slaughtering.”

When it says “call thee,” it means when they (the heathens) invite you.

When the Torah mentions “eat of their sacrifice” it is saying not to partake of the flesh of a heathen sacrifice as it would be tantamount to apostasy, since religious ideas were associated with such sacrificial meals.

Rashi’s comments harmonize with this take on the verse. But, he splashes water in our collective faces by warning that what could and really is known to have happened that just having a meal together with heathens leads to having your young people marrying them and becoming heathens themselves. Where have we heard that kind of warning before?

Verse 16.

“and you take of their daughters for your sons; then their daughters will go astray after their gods (small “g”) and lead your sons astray after their (their daughter’s) gods (small “g”).”

Intermarriage is pretty commonplace in our day and age as we write this commentary. That said, there may be a feeling that as the song by composers Jay Livingston and Ray Evans that was published for the first time in 1955 and was introduced by vocalist Doris Day in the Alfred Hitchcock film “The Man Who Knew Too Much” in 1956 says, “Que Sera Sera” (What Ever Will Be Will Be).

It is kind of amazing to an old timer like yours truly that there are rabbis who perform mixed marriages. And we are not talking about a Mets fan marrying a Yankee fan. We are talking about Jews marrying non-Jews. It seems that these days anything goes. How are their kids going to be raised? Who knows? Worse, who cares?

One of the modern day Biblical commentators, Rabbi Morris David Joseph (1848 to 1930; London England), said it this way: “Every Jew who contemplates marriage outside the pale must regard himself as paving the way to a disruption which would be the final, as it would be the culminating, disaster in the history of his people.”

Verse 17.

“You shall not make molten gods (small “g”) for yourselves.”

Earlier in this section “pillars” and “Asherim” were condemned as objects of worship by heathens. The mention of molten gods (small “g”), which means ones made of silver or gold is repeated here. It was noted earlier in Exodus, Chapter XX Verse 20.

We could ask why does the Torah choose to be so very strong about what must seem to us pretty obvious stuff; i.e. the One and Only Almighty G-d to the gods (small “g”) worshiped by heathens. Do we really need this warning?

Apparently we do. We could say that the Torah was addressing the Jewish People of that time when the rest of mankind were indeed idol worshipers and committers of human sacrifice and all sorts of other disgusting kinds of activities that was proof positive to their being nothing other than barbarians.

But does the Torah need to be read with such concern in our time? We must say that indeed it does. Nowadays there are those who look at money and power in the marketplace or in the political arena as what might be worshiped in a similar way to how barbarians or heathens of yesterday did when they worshiped the Golden Calf.

Could it be that nothing has changed?

It could very well be so. We certainly know that even with pretty solid foundations in their early years a great number of our Jewish youth end up drifting away from their roots somewhere down the road.

What can be done to help prevent such drifting away from ones roots?

What we are doing here and what you, dear reader, are doing now by reading the Torah and studying it at any level and in any way is, from our observation is something that has and will do quite a lot to help prevent that drift away from one’s Jewish roots.

The Seventh AlleeAh

Exodus Chapter XXXIV Verses 18 to 26

Verse 18.

“The Festival of Unleavened Cakes (Bread or Matzos) you shall keep; seven days you shall eat unleavened cakes (bread or matzos) which I have commanded you, at the appointed meeting time of the month of spring, for in the month of spring you went out of Egypt.”

Rabbi Dr. J.H. Hertz, late Chief Rabbi of the British Empire, observes that this verse and all the rest through verse 26 contain the commands that concern exclusively the relation between G-d and man. For these verses speak of the Covenant which had been broken, not by any neglect of duties towards fellow-man, but by neglect of Israel’s duty toward G-d.”

Rashi reminds us that earlier in the Book of Exodus in Chapter IX Verse 31 and in Chapter XXIII Verse 15 the Torah describes in detail how to which month is the month of spring by what plants bloom and which fruits emerge and how important that season is to the Jewish People.

This is a good juncture to pose a question about the holiday of Passover, which is alluded to in these verses dealing with the eating of Matzah for a week every spring. The question is posed in two parts. One, did our forefathers, Abraham Isaac and Jacob observe the Sabbath? Checking back in the Book of Genesis we can say that they did; perhaps not exactly the way we do today, but they did observe the Sabbath. The question about eating Matzah for a week in the spring time and observing Passover is similar: Did the Avos, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob observe Passover including the eating of unleavened bread of Matzah? We can safely say that the Avos did not observe Passover nor did they eat Matzah. They knew that there would be a time when the Jewish People would be enslaved in a land that was not their own and that they would remain in slavery for four hundred years. However, they did not observe Passover. So, the big question then becomes that if the Avos, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob did not need to observe Passover then why do we need to observe the Passover Holiday or, really, any of the three “Regalim” (the three Pilgrimage Holidays of Passover, Sukkos and Shavuos)?

We offer an answer to these questions in a separate article which we are attaching to this piece. It can also be accessed at the following URL address:

Verse 19.

“All that opens the womb is Mine and all your livestock (that) bears a male, (by) the emergences of ox or lamb.”

 Iban Ezra (Abraham ben Meir iban Ezra, 1089 in Tudela, Spain to 1167 Calahorra, Spain) explains that this law is mentioned here because it is connected with (the) Exodus from Egypt. The sparing of the first born of the Israelites (Exodus Chapter XII Verse 13) was commemorated by the dedication of the first born, both human and animal, to G-d. (See Exodus Chapter XIII Verses 2f and 15).

To us, today, the sparing of the first born is seen as “a Bible story.” It is more than likely that today’s readers of this story do not look at the people who went through the process involving the first born sons being killed which, remember, eventually gave us Moses Rabaynoo (Moses our Teacher) and later the Exodus from slavery in Egypt for the Jewish People.

But, in truth, those were real people who did what they could to survive such a horrible decree and treatment by the Egyptians.

Verse 20.

“And a first born donkey shall redeem with a lamb. If you do not redeem it, you shall decapitate it, every first born of your sons you shall redeem, and they shall not appear before Me (the L-rd) empty handed.”

The phrase “and they shall not appear before me empty handed  ... “ according to Rabbi Dr. Hertz is referring to the three Pilgrimage Holidays; i.e. Passover, Sukkos (Tabernacles) and  Shavuos (The Feast of Weeks).when people were to bring sacrifices to the Holy Temple. Here is where that process apparently began.

Verse 21.

“Six days you may work and on the seventh day you shall rest, in plowing and in harvest you shall rest.”

This, of course, is a reminder that the L-rd created the world and He (the L-rd) rested on the Seventh day. Here the Torah is using a very real example if work one wants to keep doing with no rest certainly not an entire day off from plowing their fields at planting time. To say time is of the essence, when it comes to the elements related to farming is pretty heavy indeed. But, the Torah is serious and is saying it like it is and, to be respectful of the Almighty and, interestingly, to be respectful to one’s self. No kidding.

Verse 22.

“And you shall make for yourself a festival of weeks, the first of the wheat harvest and the festival of the ingathering at the turn of the year.”

“… at the turn of the year…” tells it all. The year in the Holy Land was and in some ways still is all about the growing season and it all concludes with the harvest.
We still live in a world with seasons; Summer, Fall, Winter and Spring. But, we are much less conscious of the seasons than the people who lived at the time of the giving and the receiving of the Torah. We travel, almost at will, to all parts of the globe at any time. Our dwellings are climate controlled 24/7 to where only the most unusual of weather events, such as a hurricane or a tornado, will capture our attention.

The Jewish People in those early days of living in the Holy Land were to bring the “First Fruits,” which was really crops like barley or wheat and not actually fruits like apples or peaches, to the Holy Temple. It was a big deal. Actually, it was a very big deal.

We just go to the store and buy all the food we ever need. We may or may not complain about the prices or if the fresh produce is as terrific as we want it to be. And some stores are better than others. But, we do not get our hands dirty or do anything to grow the food. We just buy it and eat it. Our connection to nature and, ipso facto, to the Almighty, is lessened by this separation from nature; i.e. the world that G-d created.

We can say we go to the synagogue and on a holiday such as Sukkos we may “dwell” (sort of) in the Sukkah, but let’s face it, it is still just symbolic since everything we need and want is twenty feet away in the kitchen or the other rooms in the house.

So we can just race right through these verses about First Fruits and the like because we really have no idea of what it all means; how super duper important it all was and if life really still is, and where we, yes even today with 24/7 everything, we still need the Almighty and to know where we, each and every one of us, fits into the world.

Verse 23.

“Three times during the year shall your male(s) appear directly before the Master, the  L-rd, the G-d of Israel.”

We need to remember that in time, or times really, that there was a Holy Temple. There were no synagogues. There was nothing in the way of communal prayer services, what today we call a “Minyan” (a quorum of ten) or praying three times a day. People worked at their work all the time. There was time off for the Sabbath but not for going to “Shul” or a synagogue. There was the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and that was it. People might live far away from the Holy Temple. But three times a year they would journey to Jerusalem to bring sacrifices and to connect with the Jewish Community and with the Almighty.

And we need to remember also that all around them the rest of the world was made up of idol worshippers. Being Jewish was not at all easy; certainly not as compared to today.

Verse 24.

“When I drive out nations (people) from before you and I widen your border, no one will covet your land when you go up to appear before the L-rd, your G-d, three times each year.”

Apparently, only the men of the Jewish Community would make the pilgrimage to Jerusalem three times a year leaving their women and children at home. The phrase “no one will covet your land” is telling us that the L-rd would protect the women and children from being attacked by those who might want to steal the very favorable land that the Jewish People now possessed.

It comes down to what we might refer to as logistics. Rashi explains that as the L-rd gives the Jewish People more and more of the Promised Land by causing the other people who had been inhabiting the land to leave … by driving them out in some way that is not identified or made known to us … the distance from the Holy Temple to the outskirts of the areas where the Jewish People were then settling. Visiting the Holy Temple was for those in the outskirts indeed a real pilgrimage.

Today we observe the three pilgrimage holidays of Passover, Sukkos and Shavuos by going to our local synagogues and doing certain ritualistic things in our homes. But, by comparison, what we do is nowhere near as taxing and difficult as the people of the days of the Holy Temple had to observe.

 Verse 25.

“You shall not slaughter (or sprinkle) the blood of my sacrifice with leaven, and the offering of the Passover feast shall not remain overnight until morning.”

Rashi reaches back to Targum Onkelos (Onkelos was a famous convert to Judaism who lived from the year 35 to 120 in the Common Era, who wrote the translation and explanation of the Torah) to help explain things here. If these were sacrifices that were being offered up (burnt) on the “Mizbaiach” (the altar) in the Holy Temple, then these details really only applied to those who were tasked with conducting such religious practices; i.e. the Priests.. Similarly, when a sacrifice is made in connection with the observance of Passover that which is offered is to be completely consumed (we are assuming by fire) before the sun rises in the morning. But, the phrase “… the Passover feast…” indicates that the Torah is referring to a meal and not to a sacrifice at all. If it is indeed a “feast” that the Torah is defining with regard to its duration, then everything needs to be regarded as not for sacrifices conducted or executed by the Kohanim (the Priests) but rather the Passover meal to be eaten by everyone.

This is very interesting indeed. We learn that for some reason the Almighty instructs that the Passover feast (meal) must end before the next day dawn; i.e. before the morning. The commentators do not apparently comment on why.

While we are wondering what might have motivated G-d to make this request or to issue this requirement regarding the Passover meal, we might do well to consider something that is surely related but which is, or has been, completely ignored until right here and now.

The Torah noted that only men were to make the three pilgrimages, Passover, Sukkos and Shavuos to Jerusalem and to the Holy Temple. That being the case, what about the Passover Seder for example, or eating meals and sleeping in the Sukkah with one’s family? How were the men who made the annual pilgrimages to the Holy Temple to observe these holidays, as we do nowadays, with their families?

We must confess that we do not have an answer for this apparent anomaly. Making the pilgrimage to the Holy Temple but, by doing so, to miss out on observing the Passover Seder with one’s family is conflicting. It does not seem to say that women and their children could not accompany their husbands and fathers to Jerusalem at these times. So, perhaps the Passover Seder was observed away from home where ever people stayed when visiting Jerusalem.

It does not play out too well whether or not since there were no hotels or places to stay in Jerusalem. Their temporary dwellings would need to have been brought with them. It is a question that deserves resolution. Perhaps our readers will help us do that. But, at this juncture we will have to leave it as an open issue.

Verse  26.

“The choicest of the First of your soil you shall bring to the House of the L-rd, your G-d. You shall not cook a kid in its mother’s milk.”

Please Note: This last verse; “You shall not cook …” is also cited in Exodus, Chapter XXIII Verse 19 in exactly the same words.

Rashi notes that the part of the verse that says “You shall not cook a kid in its mother’s milk” excludes foul and, though the Torah does not apparently include cooking birds in milk, the sages brought about the practice of treating mean from birds as meat from animals that do nurse their young with milk from their mothers.
Of course, it is not addressed anywhere to our knowledge why the interpretation of this phrase or its direction includes all types of animal meat and not just that of goats.

We know that it is important or it would not be repeated in the Torah as it is. What we are not sure of, of course, is why it is repeated right here. What does it have to do with all that the verses in this section are addressing?

Here is a possible answer to that question for consideration.

Let’s face it. Eating a cheeseburger is not going to make a person an evil person. Warning against eating meat and milk in one meal can be much more easily stated than “thou shalt not boil a kid in its mother’s milk.” There is no need for the Almighty to put messages to mankind in code. The Torah is certainly making an important statement and is telling us all who wish to be considered and who wish to consider themselves to be civilized that stuff like this just ain’t done. Stuff like what you ask?

The very thing that gives a kid (a baby goat) life just after it is born is its mother’s milk. So, to kill that little baby with the very stuff that sustains its life must be seen as downright cruel and heartless. It might even be called ironic. And, that kind of irony in the shape of doing evil and cruel and heartless things, such as boiling a baby goat in its own mother’s milk is what we believe is really on the Torah’s mind as it tries to establish a set of guidelines for life for those of us who choose to be part of the Covenantal Community.

So, if we are correct that this verse in the Torah has nothing to do with what we eat or how we prepare our meals, but, rather, is a command that we tread very carefully when interacting with each other and the entire world so as not to be obnoxious, then we had better get our act together and now.
Maftir AleeAh” Numbers Chapter 29 Verses 26 to 31

Verse 26.

“And on the fifth day nine bulls, two rams and fourteen lambs in the first year all unblemished.”

Verse 27.

“And their meal offerings and their libations, for the bulls, for the rams and for the lambs, according to their number, as prescribed.”

Verse 28.

“And one young male goat for a sin offering, besides the continual burnt offering, it’s meal offering, and its libation.”

Verse 29.

“And on the sixth day, eight bulls, two rams, and fourteen lambs, in the first year, (all) unblemished.”

Verse 30.

“And their meal offerings and their libations, for the bulls, for the rams, and for the lambs, according to their number, as prescribed.”

Verse 31.

“And one young male goat for a sin offering, besides the continual burt offering its meal offering and its libations.”

We thought about trying to figure out the significance of the various numbers of each type of animal in particular sacrifices and what it all might have meant way back then when these sacrifices were offered by the Kohanim (the Priests) in the Holy Temple. But, whatever we might have come up with would only have been conjecture; which is to say total guess work.

Rather than trying to read into the numbers of animals that were called out to be sacrificed or to guess what each species being called out was to signify or mean to those who would be bring in them to the Holy Temple, we opted instead to seek rabbinic commentary that would help us get our arms around the entire sacrificing practice that had taken place in the Holy Temple on the final day of the third pilgrimage holiday and to use it here, at the end of the Torah reading on Shabbas Chol HaMoAid; i.e. why here and why now?

There is a tendency to look at the work related to offering of sacrifices by the Kohanim (the Priests) on behalf of the people who brought them to the Holy Temple as if the Priests (the Kohanim) were kind of like chefs preparing a meal or even a feast. After all, the whole sacrifice thing is food oriented; this and that kind of meat, mixing in the “meal” which is the wheat and the oats perhaps, and the “libation” piece to wash everything down.

Or, the question might really be, was this for eating or was it for being mixed and matched as described but burnt on top of the MizBayach (the Altar) with absolutely none of it being enjoyed as a meal at all by anybody but, rather, as a symbolic offering to the Almighty.

But, before we try to tie a bow around this in and of itself as a series of verses from the Torah, let us first note that these verses are being read during the celebration of the holiday of Sukkos and only if the Sabbath should fall on the middle days of the eight day (seven days in Israel) holiday. These verses are actually all about describing the offerings that come at the end; i.e. the last day, of the third pilgrimage holiday of Shavuos, which is the day called SheMini AtZeres, which comes at the end of the seventh month; i.e. Tishrei. Back in the day this was big. But, why?

But, before we try to tie a bow around this in and of itself as a series of verses from the Torah, let us first note that these verses are being read during the celebration of one of the Pilgrimage holidays and only if the Sabbath should fall on the middle days of the eight day (seven days in Israel) holiday. These verses are actually all about describing the offerings that come at the end; i.e. the last day of the third pilgrimage  holiday of Shavuos, which is the day called Shemini Atzeres, which comes at the end of the seventh month; i.e Tisrei. Back in the day this was big. Why?

We get some very good help here from Rabbi Adin Even-Israel Steinsaltz, z”l, (1937 to 2020; was an Israeli Chabad Chasidic rabbi who wrote and number of books including The Steinsaltz Humash from which we quote here: “Since Chanukah and Purim are not holidays that are found in the Torah since they were instituted way later, the holiday of Shemini Atzeres marks the beginning of the ordinary days when there are or were no (such) festivals.”

Rabbi Steinsaltz also points out that the offerings delineated here is the exact same recipe (delineation) as that for the end of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.  And each of the three pilgrimages has the exact offering scenario. The only difference is that at the end of Passover and at the end of Sukkos there is a joyfulness that the Torah emphasizes and mentions specifically.  But at the end of Shavuos, on Shemini Atzeres, the Torah makes mention of an upbeat or joyous celebration. So, we must take it to mean there was none.

We appreciate how and that Rabbi Steinsaltz made note that at the particular time when these verses are usually chanted; i.e. at the conclusion of Shavuos, that there is no festive celebration. But, here, during Chol HaMoaid, the reading of these verses is not going to be chanted without a festive and rejoicing that the Pilgrimage holidays certainly deserve.

So, we are, of course, wondering why the rabbis who selected these particular verses from the Torah did so in what would appear to be a kind of contradiction with festivity being somewhat overshadowed by seriousness and solemnitude.

Perhaps we err on the side of festivity and joyousness when we offer the following possible reason behind why those who selected these verses for this particular situation did so:

Passover is still Passover. Sukkos is still Sukkos. Shavuos is still Shavuos. The joyousness is there and a very important part of these holidays. But, there is the proximity of these holidays to the YomMeem NorahEEm (the High Holy Days) and to just bounce right back into joyousness almost right after the deeply spiritual and almost mind bending experience that the community and each one of us experiences during the Days of Awe is, or perhaps, could be, at least somewhat contradictory or emotionally confusing.

Surely the rabbis did not and do not want us to just go through the motions in the observing of the holidays. So, at the special time when the Sabbath comes during Chol HaMoAid, the Torah portion including the Maftir does a kind of 180 degree turn around from the festive to ask us to focus, at least briefly, on the essence of the Day of Atonement, which is the big focus of the High Holy Days. We read the same verses that are read on Yom Kippur, which are, let’s face it, heavy duty in a sacrificial kind of way.

But, we then return to the observance of Pilgrimage Holiday once the Torah reading is over so that we can put the entire experience into perspective. Atonement? Yes. Grieving?  No. Ask for forgiveness and apologize for misdeeds and conviction to do better and to then move forward by enjoying life in a thankful and sharing way, which is surely a good part of observing the Pilgrimage holidays.

Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkos) Intermediate (Chol HaMoaid) Sabbath

Haftara: Book of Ezekiel Chapter XXXVIII Verse 18 to Chapter XXXIX Verse 16

The choice of this story from the Book of Ezekiel to be the Haftara reading for the Sabbath that falls within the intermediate days of Sukkos is based on an old tradition or belief that the war that is predicted in this section of the Book of Ezekiel would eventually be waged during the Feast of Tabernacles.

The story on the Haftara reads just like a report on what has already happened but the absolute opposite is the truth. It is instead telling us (the world) what will take place, where it will happen and who will be involved in the battle (the war really) that will be the prelude to the coming of the Messianic Era.
Things do not get more important than this.

In the rendering of this story, Ezekiel foretells that the eventual repatriation of the Jewish People into the Land of Israel will not happen easily. The Jewish People returning to the Promised Land will be challenged by what we are told will be formidable armies emanating from the northern most areas of the land and will be under the leadership of Gog. The invasion led by Gog against Israel will be completely and utterly destroyed by the defenders of the land; i.e. by the Jewish People.

We are never given a clear or accurate introduction to who Gog is, which leads the Biblical commentators to believe that Gog is not an actual personality but, rather, an apocalyptic figure which is serving to somehow personify the forces (the peoples) hostile to (read: enemies of) Israel.

In the Book of Ezekiel Magog is the country (area) of Gog. But, in the rabbinic literature there is either a kind of mix up of identities or a misunderstanding of what or who Magog was. In one story Magog is the area from where Gog is from. In the rabbinic literature they are one and the same; i.e. Gog is also known as Magog. But, overall the war or the battles that make up the war of Gog against Israel will be won by Israel and will introduce the period that is known as the Messianic Age; i.e. when the Messiah will come to return the world to the way the L-rd wanted and wants it to be.

We are pretty sure that things do not get heavier or more important than this in the study of Torah.

That this war or series of battles will eventually take place at the time of the year; i.e. during the Holiday of Sukkos, as is the understanding among the ancients in the Jewish community makes us pay even greater attention to the goings on in the world at large as it affects the Jewish People as we observe the Holiday of Sukkos.

The coming of the Messiah. May it be so and in our time for the good of all. Amen. Amen Amen. 


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