ketoret

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Ki Tisa Hints at the Coronavirus

On the Eve of Shabbat, we received a government mailing containing documents that we were required to fill out and send back to the Census Bureau. The connection between the Census and the plague was not lost on me. The Torah portion we read last Shabbat, Ki Tisa. It begins with the story of the census: When you count the children of Israel according to their numbers, let each one give to the Lord an atonement for his soul when they are counted; then there will be no plague among them when they are counted.” (Exodus 30:12) This verse, linking the census with a plague, was uncanny in view of the COVID-19—Coronavirus pandemic—the modern-day plague, in the midst of which we find ourselves today. Interestingly, the word “count” in the verse above is [...]

Sacrifices and incenses – fields and entanglement

At the end of the weekly portion, Tetzaveh, Torah speaks of the burnt offerings (Heb. qorbanot) and the incense offerings (Heb. qetoret). The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, contrasts these two types of offerings by highlighting their symbolism. The Hebrew word for a burnt offering or sacrifice, qorban, is etymologically related to the word  qarov “close,” qiruv “to bring close” and qerovim “relatives,” as they all share the same root QRB “to be close.” Sacrificial offering (qorban) meant to bring a person who brought it close (qarov) to God. The Hebrew word for incense offerings, qetoret, literally means “smoke, the odor of sacrifice, incense.” However, Radak points out that the word qeturot means “connected” as it is etymologically related to the Aramaic word qeter “to bind” and to the Hebrew word qesher [...]

Shabbat in Numbers

Last week Torah portion, Emor, speaks about the prohibition of working on Shabbat. In fact, the Talmud enumerates precisely 39 categories of labor forbidden on Shabbat. But why 39? Rabbi Shimon b’ Rabbi Yossi ben Lakunya (Shabbat 49b) suggests that the number 39 can be derived from the number of times the various forms of the word “melacha” (work) appear in the Torah. Unfortunately, it’s not easy to see how this works out. In his commentary on this passage, Rabbi Hananel ben Hushiel (990-1053) already pointed out that this word appears 61 times in the Torah, not 39! Actually, this word actually appears 63 times! Another Talmudic Sage, Rabbi Chanina of Sepphoris derives the number 39 homiletically strenuously computing gematria of the phrase, “These are the things.” (Shabbat 7:2) The lack of clear [...]

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