Weekly Reading Insights: 




From The Masters Of Kabbalah and Chumash (5 Books of Moses)

13th century - "RambaN" - Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman

14th century - "Bachya" - Rabbi Bachya ben Asher

16th century - "Alsheich" - Rabbi Moshe Alshech of Tsfat

17th century - "Shelah" - Rabbi Yeshaiya Horowitz

18th century - "Ohr HaChayim" - Rabbi Chaim Ben Attar


"And Aaron and his sons shall wash their hands and their feet thereat"
(Ex. 30:19)

This washing was out of reverence for Him Who is on high, for whoever approaches the King's table to serve, or to touch the portion of the king's food, and of the wine which he drinks, washes his hands, because "hands are busy" [touching unclean things automatically]. In addition He prescribed here the washing of feet because the priests performed the Service barefooted, and there are some people who have impurities and dirt on their feet.

By way of the Truth, [the mystic teachings of the Kabbalah,] these parts of the body had to be washed because of the extremities of the person's body are his hands and feet, for when the hands are upraised they are higher than the rest of the body, and the feet are the lowest point. They allude in the human form to the Ten Emanations. With the whole body between them, just as the Rabbis have said in Sefer Yetzirah: "He made a covenant with him [i.e., Avraham] between the ten fingers of his hands and the ten fingers of his feet, with the protrusive part of the tongue and with the protrusive part of the nakedness." Therefore the ministers of the One on High were commanded to wash their hands and feet, this washing being for the sake of holiness. Thus Onkelos translated l'rochtzah (to wash) in this verse as: l'kidush (to sanctify).

It is on the basis of the idea of this commandment that our Rabbis have instituted the washing of hands before prayer, in order that one should direct one's thoughts to this matter, just as in the uplifting of hands by the priests when blessing the people.

(Based on the English translation. Nachmonides on the Torah, by Rabbi Dr. Charles B. Chavel)


Rabbeinu Bachya

"Each one must give a half shekel of the holy shekel, which weighs twenty gera" [Ex. 30:19]

A kabbalistic approach: The mystical dimension of the atonement by means of a "half" shekel was to parallel the attempt to divide between what the people had seen (i.e., the fire), and what they had heard (the thunder and G-d's voice) at Mount Sinai. The sin of the golden calf was that they related incorrectly to the two phenomena they had seen at Mount Sinai (the Torah spoke of the people having "seen" the sounds, Ed.) The root of the sin at the golden calf episode was doubting or undermining the Unity of G-d, His indivisible nature, in spite of the manifold ways in which He manifested Himself. Seeing that the sin involved one of the TEN commandments it was appropriate that the act of atonement would be performed by a coin worth TEN gera, but with a half-shekel and not a whole shekel even if it had the same weight as this half-shekel. The reason that the silver for the shekel was also described as beka - "valley", was that they had made a bottom of the head and a head out of a bottom when they became guilty of idolatry [according the Torat Chayim, quoted by Rabbi Chavell, the words "making a head of the end and an end of the head", refer to reversing the meaning of the letters of the attributes of G-d in His tetragram. By committing idolatry the final letter heh in the tetragram had been treated as separate, treated entirely out of context in which it had been when spelled correctly. Ed.]



"When you take the census of the children of Yisrael....they shall each give a ransom for their souls.....They shall give...a half shekel...a shekel weighing twenty gerahs...." [30:12-13]

Why specifically a half shekel?

Since our sage say that he who commits idolatry commits a sin equivalent to transgressing all the 10 commandments, the reason for the half shekel is its value of 10-gerot, a reminder of the 10 commandments. Rabbi Shlomo Alkavetz [another of the Kabbalists of Zefat] states that a person must never think that he as a mere individual can amount to more than half of what he would amount to as a member of the community. This still leaves open the question why this lesson needed to be taught at this juncture.

It is conceivable that the average Jew would resent having to pay a ransom for sins committed by someone else, seeing that the principal sinners had already paid with their lives for their sins. The Torah teaches the interdependence of each Jew on one another, the collective responsibility shared by each Jew for the deeds of his fellow Jew.

Not only this, but we know from the Zohar that when the souls ascend to heaven, they do so in pairs, male and female. We know from the story of creation that G'd created male and female simultaneously, He did not call them Adam until male and female were together. A male is only half a human being when not paired with his female partner. At the episode of the golden calf, the women did not participate. Therefore, the ransom was needed only for half a Jew in each case, hence the half shekel.



"When you take a census…"[literally, 'When you lift up the head…'], (Ex.30:11)

The word "head", in Hebrew "rosh", in the verse:
When you take a census…"[literally, 'When you lift up the head…'], (Ex.30:11) tells us that if we manage to become the "head", then we can achieve spiritual elevation. This word "rosh" also contains the mystical element of the Shabbat within it, since it alludes to the completion of the creative process in the Celestial Regions, i.e. the "head".

The Shabbat is the soul-mate, of the Jewish people. The expression "zug shel [literally, 'mate of'] rosh", alludes to the letters in the alphabet following [i.e. being the mate of] the letters in the word "rosh": reish-alef-shin. These letters are shin-bet-tav, the letters that spell "Shabbat". As far as the half-shekel contribution was concerned, every Jew was counted, i.e. every "head" was equal.


Ohr HaChayim

"Every man over 20 years old …….and give this offering to G-d." [30:14]

The Torah stipulates that the minimum age at which a person had to make his half-shekel contribution was from twenty years and up. The Torah revealed a secret here when it did not demand that males from the age of 13 and up had to make this contribution. Seeing the males are considered as adults from the age of 13, why would teenagers not have been liable for this ransom? They also had participated in the golden calf episode!

The Torah told us here that a person's personality (nefesh) has not matured until age 20, as he had not had time to absorb and comprehend the various spiritual components that make up a true Israelite until he has reached that age. This is the mystical dimension of Psalms 2:7: "You are My son, I have fathered you this day." Compare what the Zohar Mishpatim 98 has to say on that verse. [The Zohar on Exodus 21:9 writes that a man is called ben form the age of 13, and ben leHaKodosh Baruch Hu from the age of 20. Ed.]

There is a sound reason why man should not be liable to punishment at the hands of heaven until he has reached that age, seeing that he has not yet matured emotionally and intellectually. Such maturity is essential to enable us to successfully battle the evil urge and to appreciate G-d's message to man. By the time man has reached the age of 20 he is considered fully equipped to cope with all kinds of temptations.



Ramban - credits
Adapted from the 13th century classic by the illustrious scholar, philosopher and defender of the faith, Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman-known as 'RAMBAN' or 'Nachmanides', a master kabbalist in his own right and a major link in the transmission of Jewish mysticism-based on the excellent annotated English translation, Nachmanides on the Torah, by Rabbi Dr. Charles B. Chavel

Bachya - credits
Selected with permission from the seven-volume English edition of The Torah Commentary of Rabbeinu Bachya, as translated and annotated by Eliyahu Munk. Rabbi Bachya ben Asher [1255-1340] of Saragosa, Spain, was the outstanding pupil of Rabbi Shlomo ben Aderet (the "Rashba"), a main disciple of Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman (the "Ramban"). Several books have been written about the Kabballah-based portions of R. Bachya's commentary.

Alsheich - credits
Adapted from Torat Moshe - the 16th commentary of Rabbi Moshe Alshech, the "Preacher of Zefat" on the Torah, as translated and condensed in the English version of Eliyahu Munk)

Shelah - credits
Rabbi Isaiah Horowitz was born in Prague around the year 1565. He served as Rabbi of Cracow and other congregations before he was appointed as the Rabbi of the community of Frankfurt on Main in the year 1610. In 1916, Rabbi Horowitz moved to Prague where he became the Chief Rabbi of the city. He moved to Eretz Yisrael about 1621. He was rabbi in Jerusalem and in Tiberias, where he died in or about 1630. In addition to his magnus opus, Shenei Luchot HaBrit, he also compiled an edition of the prayer-book with a comprehensive commentary. Many of his innovations, including his formulation of the Kol Nidrei prayer, have become part and parcel of the Ashkenazi Siddur.

Ohr HaChayim - credits
Selected with permission from the five-volume English edition of Ohr HaChaim: the Torah Commentary of Rabbi Chaim Ben Attar, as translated and annotated by Eliyahu Munk.
The holy Rabbi Chayim ben Moses Attar was born in Sale, Western Morocco, on the Atlantic in 1696. His immortal commentary on the Five Books Of Moses, Or Hachayim, was printed in Venice in 1741, while the author was on his way to the Holy Land. He acquired a reputation as a miracle worker, hence his title "the holy," although some apply this title only to his Torah commentary.

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