Judaism is Emphatically “Pro-Life”

The Jewish Bible’s position on life is unambiguous—and unambiguously “pro-life.” It is the source for the value placed on human life in civilized Western society. The Torah identifies human life as a soul placed (breathed) within a body by G-d Himself.

The Setting of a New Day

The first Mishnah asks: “From when do we read the Shema at night? From the time that the Kohanim enter to eat their Terumah.” [Brachos 1:1] This is a very complicated answer to a very straightforward question.

The Shema is a basic Jewish ritual, required in the Torah for men over the age of 13, as it says, “and you shall speak of them… when you lie down, and when you rise up” [Deut. 6:7]. Twice a day we recite the Shema, two [and, Rabbinically, a third] short readings from the Torah, accepting that G-d is our King and we are His servants.

Terumah, on the other hand, requires much more explanation and understanding. The Kohanim, the Priests, descendants of Aharon, received the first of the crop in the Land of Israel as Terumah. It was a sanctified offering, to be eaten in a state of purity. A Kohen who contacted impurity had to go through a period and process of purification, which varied depending upon the severity of the impurity, and would have to immerse him or herself in a ritual bath. And then, as it says in our reading this week, “And the sun comes, and he is purified, and then he may eat from the Holy things” [Lev. 22:7].

The Talmud [Brachos 2a] asks, why add all of this complexity? The Kohanim are pure, able to eat their Terumah, after stars emerge at night. In Judaism, the evening begins the new day — as we read in the beginning of the Torah, “and it was evening and it was morning…” Once the stars come out, we know the new day has begun. So why not simply say so? The Mishnah should tell us that we read the Shema at night, after the stars come out!

The Sages answer that we are learning two lessons at once. In many cases of impurity, the Kohen had to bring an offering in the Holy Temple on the eighth day, having completed the purification process. Note that the verse in our parsha says “and the sun comes” — does that mean after the sun comes down, or after it comes up? One might imagine that it means after sunrise the following morning, when the Kohen brings his offering, and is fully purified. Perhaps he or she cannot eat Terumah until after bringing this offering.

By tying the Kohanim eating Terumah to the time for the Shema in the evening, the Mishnah clarifies that Kohanim may eat their Terumah at night, although they have not yet brought their offering that may only be done during the (following) day. And that is why the Mishnah gave such a complex answer — to tie the two together, indicating both that the Kohanim may begin eating Terumah at night, and also that one must recite the Shema after the stars come out.

After all of the foregoing, one might still wonder, is there no real connection between the two? In the end, all we learn is that the time for saying the Shema is the same moment that Kohanim are permitted to resume consuming Terumah.

The Iglei Tal says, in the name of his father, that the behavior of the Kohen teaches a lesson to all of us. The entire day this Kohen was impure, and even after he immersed in a ritual bath he was unable to eat Terumah. Now, simply because the sun has set, he may eat it once again.

This tells us that every evening is truly a new day. Saying the Shema, accepting G-d’s Kingdom, becomes a new obligation, as the Shema of the previous morning applied only to that previous day.

Our reading also discusses the holidays, including the period of Counting the Omer, the 49 days between the first days of Pesach (Passover) and Shavuos. Each of these 49 days, in Kabbalah, is tied to separate iterations of the seven mystical spheres — one for each day out of seven in each week, and one for each week out of the seven weeks of the Omer. Each combination of day and week, then, occurs only once per year.

This is another way of teaching us the same lesson: that each day is both a new opportunity and a new obligation. We must aim to set the past behind us, and grow anew, each and every day.

Holiness has but One Address

The opening verse of Parshas Kedoshim, second of our double reading this week, says “Speak to the entire Congregation of Israel, and you shall say to them, ‘you shall be holy, for I am Holy, Hashem your G-d'” [19:2]. This verse can be read in multiple ways.

The most obvious, of course, is as a command. We are commanded to emulate G-d in all His ways: just as he is kind and merciful, so shall we be kind and merciful, and so on. But perhaps we find that a daunting idea. G-d is entirely holy — but we are in a physical world, doing physical things. So we might ask, how can we be holy, like Hashem Himself?

So the Rebbe of Aleksander offered a mashul, a comparison. We all know that a child of wealthy parents has little to worry about when it comes to making a living, as long as his or her parents are providing support. So the Rebbe read the verse this way: “You will be holy,” you are capable of achieving true holiness, “because I, Hashem, am Holy,” because I, G-d have infinite Holiness, enough to share with all of you.

Rabbi Yosef Nathanson found another lesson in the precise order of the words in this verse. In English, we translate Ki Kadosh Ani as “for I am Holy,” but it would be more precise to read it as either “for Holy am I” or “for Holy, I am.” The mention of holiness comes first. And Rabbi Nathanson taught that this, like all of Torah, is no accident.

The Medrash says that when the verse reads “you shall be holy,” one might think that it was incumbent upon us, or theoretically possible, to achieve fullest holiness, truly like, as in equal to, that of Hashem himself. But then the verse says “for Holy, I am, Hashem your G-d.”

If we say about a person, “he knows Torah,” Rabbi Nathanson explained, this doesn’t imply that others do not know it. He could be one of many people who know Torah. But if we say, “Torah, he knows,” this implies that he is a unique resource. If you want to know something in Torah, you have to go to him.

So this is what the Medrash is telling us: if the verse had said “for I am Holy,” as we read it in English, this would not exclude others from having holiness. But since the verse says “for Holy, I am,” Hashem is telling us that he is the source of all holiness, greater than any we could achieve.

There are many sources of wisdom, knowledge, and understanding, but the Torah tells us that all holiness and spirituality come from a single source. The study of other societies and their traditions may teach us wisdom, but not Torah, not holiness. Everything we need to connect to G-d and holiness is here at home.

Your Religion or Your Business!

Activists are no longer pursuing “gay rights,” but trying to push religious people to compromise their religious principles or give up their business. Refusing to support an activity, of course, is not bigotry against a person — but that’s something they refuse to be honest about.

Most of the sources for today’s episode can be found in the CJV press release we issued last week regarding the case in Be’er Sheva that I discuss herein. More information about Jack Phillips and his various legal battles is available from Alliance Defending Freedom.

Oh, and don’t miss the idiotic claim that I “compared gays to space aliens” — which appears alongside the slander that Jack Phillips “refuses to sell cakes to gay couples.” If their cause were just, would they need to lie about it quite so often?

Learning Through the Plague

This post was written both as a Dvar Torah, and to promote the new virtual learning schedule at Torah.org. 

We are now in the middle of the time between Passover and Shavuos, the days of Sefiras HaOmer, the “Counting of the Omer.” Rather than have a precise day on the calendar, Shavuos is set to always come 50 days after the first night of Passover. [Due to the establishment of a permanent calendar by Hillel II in the 4th Century CE, today Shavuos falls on the 6th of Sivan. But when the New Moon was determined by testimony before the Sanhedrin, Shavuos could possibly fall on the 5th or 7th as well.] The Counting of the Omer begins on the day the Omer offering (a sheaf of barley) was brought in the Holy Temple, on the second day of Passover, continuing for 49 days until Shavuos on the 50th.

It is also a time of mourning — because in the time of Rebbe Akiva, a great plague swept through his students. 12,000 pairs of students, 24,000 in all, passed away during this time period. Our Sages say that this was because they did not treat each other with proper respect — this is alluded to by the fact that the Talmud identifies them as pairs, rather than individuals. They did not connect as they should!

Today we face a very different sort of plague, but one which has, like that in Rebbe Akiva’s day, greatly reduced the amount of Torah learning around the globe, as many students sit at home and learn less than they would in a school or Bais Medrash [house of study]. But we, in our day, can use this opportunity to deepen our connection to learning, as well.

Across the country and around the world, there are teachers who devote hours each day to providing adult learning opportunities. Because their classes have now been pushed online, into Zoom classrooms, Facebook Live and other venues, it is now possible for each of us, anywhere in the world, to join a class that meets our availability and interest — even if offered thousands of miles away. And when we offered rabbis to share their classes with you, many immediately jumped at the chance. They will be delighted to have you!

We have composed a weekly calendar of online classes — just click on one you would like to join, at the correct time, for links to join. The calendar is still being populated (and polished), but we want you to be able to join classes right away. So please excuse any rough edges, and check back often as we continue to fill in schedules! This is an opportunity for all of us to take our virtual learning to the next level, and I hope that you will join us.

Crisis Brings Out the Best in Some, the Worst in Others

Besides the dedication of healthcare workers and ambulance volunteers across the country (and around the world), we have seen incredible generosity. Elon Musk’s Tesla is manufacturing ventilators, using the patented design that the CEO of Medtronic’s Israel division is giving away free to save lives. The owner of the New England Patriots sent the team plane to China to pick up one million N95 masks, paying both for the flight and half the cost of the masks.

And yet we see the opposite, as well, such as using the crisis for a political agenda. For the left, this is all Trump’s fault, never mind that Dr. Anthony Fauci, described by the NY Times as “the nation’s leading expert on infectious diseases” and the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since 1984, said the risk is “just miniscule” in mid-February — because the Chinese were providing false information about transmission of the virus. Let’s not forget that despite Politifact’s attempt to spin the obvious, Joe Biden responded to the ban on flights from China by calling Trump “xenophobic.”

Then there’s the media mocking VP Mike Pence for opening a meeting of the Coronavirus task force with a prayer (never mind that Congress opens with a prayer every day). We are supposed to believe the Samaritan’s Purse field hospital in Central Park is “controversial” because the organization is “anti-LGBTQ” (because they don’t believe a baker should be coerced into celebrating a gay marriage, but that’s besides the point). And then we were told Mike Lindell of MyPillow violated the First Amendment when he encouraged us to “read our Bibles and spend time with our families.”

If that’s not nauseating enough, we then have a New York Post article claiming that a firehouse is stricken with COVID-19 because of a “Hasidic community that largely ignores social-distancing rules,” never mind that, like every community, the overwhelming majority are observing the rules and staying home. The source of infection was a firefighter who defended his father when the latter was convicted of an anti-Semitic terror conspiracy — and who claimed that Hassidic teens sneezed on him when on one was watching, just days after a NY-based Muslim brotherhood supporter told Muslims to sneeze on Egyptian government officials. Apparently neither the NYFD nor the NY Post investigated the truth of Sattar’s accusation before reporting it as fact against the Orthodox community.

We should all aspire to be remembered for the great things we did during this crisis, and not, Heaven forbid, the opposite.

We’ll Get Through This, and Massie’s Massive Mistake

How do we get through the Coronavirus? A nurse gave very simple advice: “act like you have it.” Do everything you possibly can to not share your germs with others, because in so doing you will improve your own chances of not getting it if you don’t.

I also talk about Ben Shapiro and Thomas Massie, both of whom I respect, and their errors (on an entirely different scale) regarding this virus and the most productive approach. Unfortunately, and I do think it’s unfortunate, I think Massie ended his career in DC.

My Close Encounter with Coronavirus

As far as we know, the person who attended CPAC after becoming infected with Coronavirus passed his infection to no one while he was there. It nonetheless made for interesting times — for Senator Ted Cruz, who went into self-quarantine, and for… me.

In this episode we’ll discuss the media hysteria, the run on toilet paper, Sheriff Clarke’s unhelpful tweet and the real need to flatten the curve.