Parasha with Rabbi Benji is a unique and interesting approach to the weekly Parasha, bringing different ideas through one-minute videos, and texts available as downloadable PDFs.
Among families, mundane chores are often, quite organically, divided up between the members of the household, so that there is usually one person whose job it is, for example, to take out the trash. Have you ever wondered, however, about the mundane tasks that needed taking care of in the Temple? Who cleared the dishes? Who took out the trash? Fascinating insights into the routines of priestly life teach important life lessons on sanctifying the mundane, preserving humility, and appreciating the Divine gift of each new day.
If all fish that have scales also have fins, why do the laws of kashrut need to specify that a kosher fish must have both fins and scales? Why not simply specify that it must have scales? Jacob’s blessing of Joseph’s two sons that they should ‘multiply like fish’ unexpectedly sheds light on the deeper metaphorical meaning behind this intriguing aspect of the laws of kashrut.
As the well-known phrase goes, it takes lemons to make lemonade and rain to make rainbows. In life, there are many ways in which to regard every situation, and it is up to us to seek out the positive lens through which to view the world. Will we be those that simply see the lemons and the rain, or will we generate positivity through adopting a brighter perspective? The Torah’s discussion of leprosy, and in particular its use of the word “nega”, meaning affliction, provides the key to unlocking a truly optimistic attitude.
So often as children we are told not to speak badly about others behind their backs. We are told not to tell tales, not to lie, and not to use swear words. There are many very clear instructions about what we must not do in the realm of speech. The biblical remedy for the tzaraat disease (leprosy), often described as the punishment for lashon hara - slanderous speech - strangely and unexpectedly involves the very specific use of two birds. Beneath the surface of this fascinating instruction lies a metaphor for forging successful interpersonal relationships throughout our lives.
In our modern world, it is easy to view freedom as the ultimate value - freedom from oppression, freedom to act, freedom to choose, freedom to speak - after all, it is our right to sail freely through our world. What happens, however, to a boat with no rudder, a map with no legend, or a sailor with no compass? A single phrase that is repeated over and over in the Torah’s description of immoral relationships, offers insight into the ultimate moral compass that guides our navigation of this world.
It would be very easy, and somewhat natural, for us to simply accept the habits, tendencies and character traits with which we were created. ‘That’s just who I am’ we can humbly say to ourselves and anyone who is listening. Self-acceptance, after all, seems so much less challenging than self-growth. Yet, a very subtle yet specific ordering of the words in the commandment about honouring our parents alludes to our responsibility to challenge our default path, and to take the reins in determining our own destiny.
At some point in our lives, it is likely that we will find ourselves in a position of authority, whether in the community, family or professional context. With this authority often comes respect and esteem from others. It is easy to become arrogant and let the authority go to one’s head. A subtle nuance in the Torah’s command to the priests that they should be ‘holy to God’ offers us a blueprint for how to counter this mindset and carry our authority with humility.
Peer pressure generally has negative connotations. We warn our children against the potential dangers of following the crowd and of adopting negative behaviours in order to fit in with their peers. In essence, however, peer pressure also contains a positive element. The knowledge that we are not alone in the challenges we face offers us solace. This, after all, is the very foundation for the establishment of support groups. One of the perplexing commandments involved with the Jubilee year serves as a piercing remind- er to us of the positive effect of peer support rather than peer pressure.
It is easy to reflect on certain aspects of life as distinctly holy or spiritual. This applies to specific times, such as Shabbat, specific places, such as the synagogue, and specific activities, such as prayer. In the same vein, it is easy to understand how one could perceive any other time, place or activity as relatively mundane. Through the use of just one simple word, the Torah offers a glimpse into a contrasting perspective, one that has the potential to spiritually enhance our entire existence.