24 – VAYIKRA (Leviticus, 1:1-5:26)

“Where’s The Beef?” (2010)

 …Leviticus is a vegetarian’s nightmare.  …  Do we, the civilized Jews of the 21st century really expect to return to the antiquated cult of animal sacrifice?! Can you see it… Jackie Mason… slaughtering bulls on the Temple Mount? Meanwhile, Paul McCartney and the animal rights crowd will be protesting outside!  🙂 And should we really be burning all that meat?  Is G-d THAT hungry?  Why not send it to a homeless shelter??! :-)… The interesting thing about animal sacrifice is that there is no such thing…


“Bringing G-d Home” (2008)

 He called to Moses, and G-d spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting…  (Leviticus, 1:1)

 The grammar of this verse is problematic – “He called to Moses.”  WHO called to Moses?  Obviously, as we see at the end of the verse, it was G-d who called him.  Wouldn’t the verse be clearer if it said, “G-d called to Moses, and He spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting”?…  G-d… “shrank Himself” …


 “Keeping Score” (2006) 

I try to write a new Torah Talk message every week…I was planning to write a new message this week.  As you will soon see, I have good reason to send this message, from three years ago, once again. 

Last Shabbos, my family enjoyed the pleasure of hosting a couple whom we have known for many years…  As we sat at the table Friday night, I told them a story about a former student of mine.  I didn’t recall at the time that I had written up the story in Torah Talk, and I certainly didn’t realize that it was written in reference to this week’s Torah Portion. But I was totally unprepared for what met me on Sunday morning…


 “Dehydrated Water” (2005)

… Salt is a preservative.  Before the days of refrigeration, they used to preserve meats by salting them.  A well-salted side of beef could last for months without being refrigerated.

Why would you want to preserve foods that are being “consumed” by G-d on the Altar?  If they’re being “eaten” right away, they won’t have time to spoil!  If you cook something and eat it immediately, there is no reason to keep it fresh by putting it in the Fridge!…


 “Hey, YOU!” (2004)

… Did you ever send someone a well thought-out message by email?  A little while later, we receive the response — a short, terse, copy of our comments with a two-or-three word response.  No “hello,” no “good-bye,” just the proclamation from on high!…


 “Little Big Man” (2001)

They say out there that Jews have horns.  Even Michelangelo thought so — you remember his famous statue of Moses with horns.  Where’d he get that crazy notion? …


25 – TZAV (Leviticus, 6:1-8:36) 

“The Breastbone’s Connected to the …” (2005)

 … Judgment that does not yield to G-d’s will is not judgment at all.  Rather, such decisions will be based upon personal bias and political agendas.

Could that, perhaps be the reason that society has to stand by, helplessly watching the courts help a Florida man murder his wife?…


“The Eternal Flame” (2003) 

…  fire was an integral part of every offering. The Torah tells us, “The fire must constantly burn on the Altar; it may not be extinguished.” Leviticus, 6:6)

It was the responsibility of the Kohanim to constantly add fuel to the flame so that it never went out. … Even when the Israelites dismantled the Tabernacle to transport it to the next encampment, the fire had to be kept burning. 

Fire is a multifaceted force that serves many purposes…


“Don’t Do Me Any Favors!” (2010) 

 … A friend of mine once asked me why the laws of the Torah are so strict.  By relaxing some of the rules, he argued, we would make Judaism easier to observe, and therefore, more people would be religious.

 I answered him with the following scenario …


 26 – SHEMINI (Leviticus, 9:1-11:47) 

“Silence Is Golden” (2010) 

. … Aaron, the Kohen Gadol, the High Priest, must have been devastated.  His sons, his disciples, his fellow Priests, were following in their father’s footsteps in serving as Kohanim in the Temple.  How painful it must have been for him to see the tragic deaths of these two young men … A man so full of feeling must have overflowed with emotion in eulogizing his precious sons.  What words of grief, mourning, or consolation did he utter?  The Torah records for us what is perhaps the most eloquent and moving eulogy in history …


“Kosher Cardiology” (2008) 

What is it about some foods that causes them to lift us up, while others bring us down?  In what way are chickens and trout holier than pigs and swordfish?  How does beef lift me up while clams bring me down?  …You are what you eat.  You can’t spend a lifetime eating junk food and expect to maintain perfect teeth, weight, blood pressure, and cholesterol.  The poison takes its toll…That’s why we make sure our children only eat strictly Kosher…


“Aaron’s Students” (2007) 

Some Mitzvahs are easy to fulfill.  Some take a little more work. 

It is easy to be happy on Purim.  A little wine, a little singing, and you are well on your way to enjoying an uplifting experience….  It’s easy to be happy when you are happy. 

Even some unhappy Mitzvahs are relatively easy…

When a loved one passes away, there is a Mitzvah to mourn.  It is “easy” to be sad, when you are sad. 

The hard part is when G-d expects us to be happy when we are inclined to be sad, and to be sad when we are inclined to be happy… 

I remember attending the funeral of a very dear friend that took place on a Friday afternoon.  As a non-relative, I had no Mitzvah to express mourning, but that didn’t take away the pain.  Even had I been a mourner, the advent of the Sabbath would have interrupted the Shivah period.  That, too, didn’t take away the pain.  I wish I had had the strength to do otherwise, but that Friday night I cried into my chicken soup…


“Kosher Legs = Kosher Eggs” (2005) 

… About a year ago, I received a phone call from the Mashgiach — Kosher supervisor — in the retirement home where I work.  “Rabbi,” he asked, can we serve eggs today?” 

I didn’t understand the question.  Why is this night (day) different from all other nights?  He explained that there had been a whole ruckus in his Yeshiva that morning due to the new “Shailah” — religious question — about whether eggs were Kosher. 

“What in the world are you talking about?” I demanded. 

“I don’t know, Rabbi.  All I can tell you is that they’ve stopped serving eggs in my Yeshiva.” 

I did some quick research… The question was based upon a quote from the Talmud… 

You may ask, what difference does it really make where a chicken puts its toes?!  Does G-d really care how a chicken sits?… there is, perhaps, a lesson we can learn from chicken toes…


“What Lovely Kosher Pig’s Feet You Have!”  (2004) 

What is as Treif as a pig? 

Everyone knows that religious Jews don’t eat pork.  Even those who are not aware of the intricacies of Kosher Law know that the pig is not Kosher.  It is the quintessential “unclean” animal  … The Midrash points out that there are some people who are like pigs…


“What a Nice Pig!” (2003) 

… The Torah tells us that in order for a mammal to be Kosher, it must have split hooves and chew its cud… The Torah goes on to explain that in order to be Kosher, an animal must have BOTH attributes; either one by itself is unacceptable: 

 …the camel, since it chews its cud, and doesn’t have a split hoof, is unclean . . . the pig, since it has a split hoof and doesn’t chew its cud, is unclean… 

This is actually a strange wording. The Torah already told us that one attribute alone is insufficient to be considered “clean”; you have to have both. Why does the Torah then detail the traits of the camel and the pig? Why not just say that an animal is not Kosher unless it has both attributes and then list those that don’t?…


27 – TAZRIA (Leviticus, 12:1-13:59) 

“Dueling Brisses” (2010) 

What do you do when you have conflicting responsibilities? 

A Mohel once asked Rabbi Moshe Feinstein whether he should perform a Bris on Saturday if the people attending the Bris are desecrating the Sabbath (turning on lights, etc.) in his presence…


“Blood Libel 2005” (2005) 

I really didn’t want to write this article. 

Often, the best way to react to negative PR is to ignore it.  When you respond to ugly accusations, you sometimes exacerbate the problem by giving a forum to a topic that does not deserve one.  I hoped that the story would die down and go away.  Therefore, I chose to remain silent. 

Ironically, this terrible tragedy has been great for business.  I have received phone calls and emails from concerned parents in search for a Mohel who wouldn’t “endanger” their child.  After a satisfactory conversation, they have been relieved of worry, and happy to utilize my services. 

Then, someone went too far. 

I was examining a baby prior to his Bris.  The father asked me about my methodology.  When I responded to his questions, he responded, “Good.  That’s terrible, what that rabbi did to that baby!”…


“Timing” (2003)

… I approached Rabbi F’s son with a “business proposition.”  I asked him to lend me his father’s knives, to be used “in memory” of his father. … he lovingly took his father’s two Bris knives out of their cases.  Imagine the nostalgia he must have felt!  He was happy that his father’s knives were going to be used once again, and I was honored to be the vehicle through whom they were to be used… After the sterilization cycle was finished, I opened the autoclave, and took a look.  To my horror, I discovered … one misshapen, brown glue-covered tarnished knife.  I had melted the glue that held the blade in the silver handle, and stained the “stainless” steel blade. I was mortified!  How was I going to tell my friend that I had destroyed his father’s knife?!… 

Now what was I going to do?  My friend had lent me his father’s knives in good faith, and I had ruined them! …


“No ‘Short Cuts’ to the Bris” (2002) 

 … Rabbi Akiva takes the position that there is no excuse for not doing everything in your power to avoid desecrating the Sabbath.  If you could have made the knife before Shabbos, and you didn’t, it’s your own fault!  You’re too far away on Saturday morning?  Too bad!  Why didn’t you take care of this yesterday? No dispensation.  No Shabbos Bris. See you on Sunday! … “Okay, G-d, I’m going to smoke and drink and be irresponsible.  Please make sure I stay healthy.”…


“A Taste of His Own Medicine” (2001) 

… Many have praised the wisdom of the ancient Hebrews in realizing the importance of isolating patients with communicable diseases.  The leper was segregated from the Camp of Israel, dressed in a way that clearly identified him as contagious, and would announce “Unclean!  Unclean!” to anyone who approached.  (Leviticus, 13:45) How insightful of the Israelites in the desert to realize that they could prevent an epidemic by keeping people with infectious diseases away from the general population. 

Except for one problem.  It makes no sense!…


28 – METZORA (Leviticus, 14:1-15:33) 

“A Pox on NONE of Your Houses” (2007)

… This spiritual disease can only happen in the Land of Canaan/Israel.  It never happened in the desert.  The Land of Israel is very sensitive to sin.  When people engage in activities to which the Land is “allergic,” the Land “breaks out” with an “infection.” 

So there’s a simple solution.  Stay out of Israel!  Who needs these threats to our financial well-being?  Forget the house in Israel; buy a condo in Miami!  It’s safer.  No wall stains, no Kohain visits, no quarantines!  Why would anyone want to subject themselves to this threat?…


29 – ACHAREI MOS (Leviticus, 16:1-20:27) 

“Our Man in the Holy-of-Holies” (2009) 

The High Priest had a daunting task. 

Once a year, on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year, the High Priest was required to enter the Holy-of-Holies…. According to Tradition, if his thoughts were not totally pure during his visit to the Holy of Holies, he would be struck down on the spot, and would have to be removed via a rope that was attached to his leg…It must have been a very lonely time for the High Priest… 

One day, each one of us will have to take our leave from this world… 

We will be ushered into the Holy-of-Holies.  We will, after a lifetime of hopefully doing the right thing, be called upon to meet our Maker. On that final Day of Judgment, we will enter G-d’s Presence, and we will be very much alone…There will be no Kohain to bring incense and sin offerings on our behalf.  It will just be us, G-d, and our deeds.  

…  When we go before G-d to stand in judgment, each one of us goes, all alone, as his own High Priest.  AND THERE IS NO ROPE!…


 “From the Summit to the Gutter” (2003) 

… Does the Torah really have to address such behavior on Yom Kippur? We are fasting. We are depriving ourselves of creature comforts and spending the day immersed in thoughts of holiness and devotion. We have confessed our transgressions of the past year and promised to avoid the pitfalls of sin in the coming year. We have witnessed the purity of the High Priest coming out of the Holy of Holies. We are on a spiritual high. Is this the time to talk about resisting X-rated temptations??!!…


“Cardiac Judaism” (2002) 

… The Torah describes in great detail the very busy schedule of the Kohain Gadol, the High Priest, on Yom Kippur… By the end of the day, the High Priest succeeded in achieving forgiveness for the sins of his People. 

What a system!  You can sin with impunity!  Do whatever your heart desires!  The Torah is telling us that once the Kohain performs the requisite ceremonies on Yom Kippur, all is forgiven!  … Is this what Judaism is all about?!  Do whatever you want, just make sure the High Priest gets you forgiven for it on Yom Kippur?! …


30 – Kedoshim (19:1-20:27) 

“Honor Thy Father’s General” (2010) 

… Michael embraced the religious values of his mother.  However, the court had granted ample visitation with his Dad, who was antagonistic toward his ex-wife’s Judaism.  Leslie argued that Mark’s hostility toward religion was detrimental to Michael’s well being, but the court would not get involved. 

Mark insisted that Michael come with him in the car on Saturday.  …Leslie was in a quandary.  Should she tell Michael to fight his father?  If Michael refuses to ride on Saturday, his father will drag him, kicking and screaming, into the car.  Should she tell him to ride in the car with his father?  If she would tell Michael to ride on Saturday in his father’s car, she would undermine the very Judaism that she was trying to teach him!  What should she do? 

What she did was turn to Rabbi Shimon Schwab, of Blessed Memory… Rabbi Schwab came up with an insightful solution to this problem… 


“A Torah Crash Course” (2006) 

A Torah lifestyle is very complex.  We are required to fulfill 613 Biblical Commandments.  Then there are rabbinic injunctions, and countless customs that have developed over the centuries.  It is impossible for one person to fathom it all. 

The Talmud (Shabbos, 31a) tells us about one person who tried. 

“Shammai,” called out the Gentile to the famous rabbi, “I will convert to Judaism if you will teach me the entire Torah while I stand on one foot.” 

Shammai, great scholar and righteous man that he was, was not a man who was known for tolerating mockery.  He threw the guy out.  The questioner decided to try to bring his challenge to Hillel instead…


“Exodus from Belarus” (2005) 

In 1904, an 18-year old boy from Postavy, a Russian/Polish/Lithuanian town in what is now Belarus, got on a boat and went to America.  He married, settled in Connecticut, and went into the cattle and chicken farming business.  By the time the Second World War began, his family was well-settled in its pursuit of the American Dream.  His family never experienced the Holocaust.  

That farmer raised a family of nine children.  One of his sons had four children.   I am one of those children. 

That farmer’s name was Rachmiel Tzeplyevitch (Zeplowitz at Ellis Island; Seplowitz in Connecticut).  I, Yerachmiel Seplowitz, am his grandson…


“Hanging Out on the Corner” (2003) 

As the story goes, a secular Jew got on a subway in New York City.  This fellow, who had come to America from Poland, shuddered when he found himself face to face with two VERY Jewish looking fellows with long beards and big black hats. 

Our “hero” had spent the last 40 years doing everything in his power to “fit in” among the gentiles and assimilated Jews in his neighborhood.  He wanted to distance himself as much as possible from anything that remotely resembled the “Shtetel.” This was America!  Europe belonged to the past!  And now he was confronted by two walking anachronisms known as Chassidim. 

He was repulsed.  He could barely hold back the venom in his voice.  “What’s the matter with you Chassidim?” he demanded in his still-Yiddish-accented English.  “Why must you call attention to yourselves in front of the Goyim?  This is America, not Poland!  I’m embarrassed to be seen with you!” 

The two “Chassidim” looked at each other and then at him with confusion.  “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” said one of them.  “What’s a ‘Goyim?’  We’re not from Poland.  We’re from Pennsylvania Dutch Country.  We’re Amish.”…


“How to be Holy” (2001) 

1) Be Normal…   2) …But Not TOO Normal …


31 – EMOR (Leviticus, 21:1-24:23)

“Kaddish and Other Overrated Mitzvahs” (2010) 

… What is the magic of Kaddish that it draws even the most non-observant Jew into the synagogue? What does it mean? What is its significance? …


“Beauty and the Priest” (2007) 

… The Torah goes on to give a list of “blemishes” that disqualify the Kohain from officiating in the Temple Service.  (Mr. Cohen, I hope your lawyer is taking notes!): 

“’… a man who is blind or lame or whose nose has no bridge, or who has one limb longer than the other… who has a broken leg or broken arm… abnormally long eyebrows, a membrane on his eye or a blemish in his eye… any man from the offspring of Aaron who has a blemish shall not approach to offer the fire-offerings of G-d…’” (Ibid, verses 18-22) 

There you have it — discrimination against people with disabilities! 

What’s going on here?  Shouldn’t there be a “Kohain with Disabilities Act”?!!  Why is the Torah discriminating against a Kohain just because he looks a little different?  Is this a beauty contest?!! 

This is not a concept that is easy to explain.  I called a colleague of mine and told him, “Give me a clear, Politically Correct, Jewish-outreach-to-the-uninitiated explanation to these rules.  How do I explain the Torah’s apparent prejudice against Kohanim with disabilities?” 

My colleague’s response:  “Good luck!”…


“The Passion of the Pharisees” (2004) 

… The world is abuzz about “The Passion.”  … 

I recently heard a fellow on the radio defending the movie from charges of being anti-Semitic.  “The Jews are NOT being blamed.  The people at fault were a small number of Jews who controlled the Temple.  The common folk had nothing to do with this murder.  It was the fault of the corrupt priests and the Pharisees!” 

…I do want to clear up one thing.  My father-in-law was a Priest, and I am a Pharisee.  And neither of us was portrayed fairly in the movie…


“When In Rome…?” (2002) 

… In Judaism, one does not enter the priesthood by choice …  Among other things, he has limitations on whom he may marry and where he may go. 

The Kohain Gadol, or High Priest, has additional rules that go beyond those of a regular priest…there is an authority in the Talmud who maintains that he should have TWO WIVES… 

 … After spending two years studying the laws and serving as an apprentice, I appeared before a Rabbinic Tribunal in B’nei Brak to be tested and certified as a “Sofer STA”M,” a Scribe for Torahs, Tefillin, and Mezuzahs…  The rabbis huddled together in a whispered conference. Would I receive my certification? Finally, the Chief Rabbi of the court rendered his decision…


“Is There a Middle of the Road?” (2001) 

 … How about acting in a way that creates neither good P.R. nor bad?  What if we live our lives quietly and anonymously, without calling attention to ourselves in any way?  Can’t we just do what we have to do without desecrating G-d’s name but not grabbing positive headlines for Him either? …


32 – Behar (Leviticus, 25:1-26:2)

“The Palestinians are Right!” (2010)

 Israel is ours.

From time immemorial, the Land of Israel has been inhabited by Jews.  There is no such thing as Palestine.  The so-called “Palestinians” need to wake up to that fact, get a life, and move on.

The Palestinians, on the other hand, dismiss this notion as wishful thinking on the part of the Jews.  They continue to argue that there is no proof that the Land is ours…

Of course, as we know, the Palestinians are wrong … Right? …


Read more.


“The Price of Tea in China” (2006)

“…  For six years you may sow your field, and for six years you may prune your vineyard, and you may gather its crop.  But the seventh year will be a complete rest for the Land…”

…  A farmer works his field for six years, trying his hardest to produce an income to support his family.  Now we tell him to take a year off.

Take a year off?!  How am I gonna eat?!

Good question…

Read more.


“Aharon Moshe — Servant of G-d and His Children” (2005)

… It is customary among Chassidim to bring written requests to righteous people.  All of their needs are written on these “Kvittlach” — notes, and the righteous people are asked to pray to G-d for the fulfillment of these requests.  After the Second World War, there was a dearth of such holy people.

One great Rabbi, the Rebbe of Satmar, of Blessed Memory, was asked what to do.  “Now that so many of our Tzaddikim, righteous people, have been killed, to whom should we bring our requests for blessings?”

The Rebbe gave two answers…

This was not an easy article to write.  (Tears don’t show up on computer screens.)…

Read more.


“Ask a Stupid Question…” (2004)

… CHAYIM: I can’t believe what happened to me today!

YANKEL: What happened?

CHAYIM: A guy came by the office today selling ties.  He showed me some hand-made silk ties.  He told me that they were worth $50, but he was willing to sell them for only $30.  What a bargain!  Twenty dollars off!  I bought five!

YANKEL: That’s great, Chayim!  What’s the problem?  You saved $100!  That’s wonderful!

CHAYIM: Well, not exactly.  As it turned out, they were actually made of polyester, and are available on Ebay for $3 apiece.

YANKEL: Oh…Uh, Chayim…

CHAYIM: Yes, Yankel?

YANKEL:  You, my dear friend, are a jerk.  A naive, stupid fool!  You should be ashamed of yourself!  What’s the matter with you?!  How could you allow yourself to be ripped off like that?!  Boy, that con man must be laughing at you now!

We have just observed two violations of Torah Law…

Read more.


“Free as a Bird” (2002)

We’re all familiar with the famous words on the Liberty Bell: “Proclaim Liberty throughout the land…” Many people are not aware that it is actually a quote from the Torah. (Leviticus, 25:10)

…”Proclaim ‘D’ROR’ throughout the land.”

You’ll notice that I left the word “D’ROR” untranslated. Most commentaries give comparable translations… synonymous with the bell-maker’s translation – “Liberty.”

… Rabbi Avraham Ibn Ezra presents an interesting insight into the word “D’ROR.” … the Dror is a very independent bird. As long as it is in its own nest, it sings to its heart’s content. However, once it is taken into captivity it silently refuses to eat and eventually starves. (“Give me liberty or give me death!”)…

Read more.


33 – Bechukosai (Leviticus, 26:3-27:34)

“Don’t Just STAND There…” (2009)

We strive to be holy.  It is not an easy task.  The Torah was not given to angels; it was given to human beings with human weaknesses.  Yet, we make the effort…

All this, of course, begs the question: whom are we trying to kid??!

We are simple, mortal human beings.  How can we even contemplate a serious attempt at being like the angels?  Their level of holiness is so far beyond ours that it seems pointless to even make the comparison…

Read more.


“Confessions of a Would-Be Vegetarian” (2005)

… it began to sink in.  Do I really want to KILL my chickens?  Do I really want to EAT my chickens?  After months of watching their antics, running and wing-flapping and squawking around my back yard, making me laugh and giving me eggs, do I really want to put them in a soup pot?…

Read more.


“Your Money or your Wife!” (2003)

How much is a person worth?  What is the dollars-and-cents cash value of a human being? … The Book of Judges tells us the heartbreaking story of Yiftach, whose poor judgment led to a tragedy … Yiftach was praying for success in battle … “If You deliver Ammon into my hands, the first thing that comes out of my house to greet me, I will offer as a sacrifice.” (Judges,11:31).

The Talmud says that Yiftach had made an irresponsible vow.  Not every animal is acceptable as an offering.  If the family cow or his pet lamb had ambled out the door to meet him, either one would have served as a fine Thanksgiving offer on the Altar.  But what would he do if he were greeted by Fido or his daughter’s pet iguana?!

Actually, the scenario was even worse…

Read more.


“Labor Gains” (2001)

Jewish life is all about choices.  We are given the option of choosing the path that G-d wants us to follow, or a path that goes the other way.  Either way, says the Torah, there are consequences to our choices….

We are, of course, proud to be Jewish.  We fulfill Mitzvahs and we recite prayers.  But do we LABOR IN TORAH?  Do we toil and struggle to make Torah the be-all, end-all emphasis of our lives?  Is Torah our lifeblood?  Or is it little more than a cultural appendage, a potpourri of chicken soup, matzah balls and gefilte fish?… There are two types of people who subscribe to my weekly messages…

Read more.

Published on March 22, 2010 at 11:11 am  Comments Off on Archive — VAYIKRA/LEVITICUS  
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