Daniel and Karl are joined by Rabbi Miriam Terlinchamp as we delve into Ch. 30, learn that Gehenna isn’t just a suburb of Columbus, reflect on giving and justice, and consider the ethics of counting people.
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(Talmud, Eruvin 19a) (30:1–3) You shall make an altar for the burning of incense; of shittim wood shall you make it. . . . And you shall overlay it with pure gold
As Reish Lakish said: With regard to the sinners of the Jewish people, the fire of Gehenna has no power over them, as may be learned by a fortiori reasoning from the golden altar. If the golden altar in the Temple, which was only covered by gold the thickness of a golden dinar, stood for many years and the fire did not burn it, for its gold did not melt, so too the sinners of the Jewish people, who are filled with good deeds like a pomegranate, as it is stated: “Your temples [rakatekh] are like a split pomegranate behind your veil” (Song of Songs 6:7), will not be affected by the fire of Gehenna.
And Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish said about this: Do not read: Your temples [rakatekh], but rather: Your empty ones [reikateikh], meaning that even the sinners among you are full of mitzvot like a pomegranate; how much more so should the fire of Gehenna have no power over them.
However, that which is written: “Those who pass through the valley of weeping” (Psalms 84:7), which implies that the sinners nonetheless descend to Gehenna, should be explained as follows: There it speaks of those who are liable at that time for punishment in Gehenna, but our father Abraham comes and raises them up and receives them. He does not leave the circumcised behind and allow them to enter Gehenna, except for a Jew who had relations with a “servant of the stars”, in punishment for which his foreskin is drawn, and our father Abraham does not recognize him as one of his descendants.
And Rabbi Yirmeya ben Elazar also said: There are three entrances to Gehenna, one in the wilderness, one in the sea, and one in Jerusalem. There is one entrance in the wilderness, as it is written with regard to Korah and his company: “And they, and all that appertained to them, went down alive into the pit [She’ol], and the earth closed upon them, and they perished from among the congregation” (Numbers 16:33).
In the sea there is a second entrance to Gehenna, as it is written about Jonah in the fish’s belly: “Out of the belly of the netherworld [She’ol] I cried, and You did hear my voice” (Jonah 2:3).And there is a third entrance to Gehenna in Jerusalem, as it is written: “Says the Lord, Whose fire is in Zion, and Whose furnace is in Jerusalem” (Isaiah 31:9). And it was taught in the school of Rabbi Yishmael: “Whose fire is in Zion,” this is Gehenna; and “Whose furnace is in Jerusalem,” this is an entrance to Gehenna.
(Rashi) (30:10) — חטאת הכפרים sin offering of expiation
(Rashi) (30:10) קדש קדשים It is most holy
the altar is sanctified for offering on it these things alone and not for any other sacrificial service.
(Rashi) (30:12) — לא יהיה בהם נגף That there be no calamity among them
for numbers (i. e. things that have been numbered) are subject to the influence of the “evil eye”, and therefore if you count them by their polls pestilence may befall them, as we find happened, in the days of David (II Samuel 24:10 and 15).
(Midrash Tanchuma) (30:13) This they shall give
G‑d took a coin of fire from under His throne of glory and showed it to Moses, saying: “Such as this they shall give.”
(The Rebbe of Kotzk) Moses could not understand: How could a mere coin serve a person as “a ransom for his soul to G‑d”? G‑d answered him by showing him a “coin of fire.” G‑d was saying: When a person performs even a modest act of charity with the fire of passion and enthusiasm, he is indeed giving a piece of his soul.
(Rabbi Elimelech of Lizensk) Money is fire. Like fire it can destroy and annihilate, or illuminate and warm, depending on how it is used.
(Midrash HaGadol) (30:13) This they shall give . . . half a shekel
The mitzvah of the half-shekel is that each should contribute a coin that [is valued at] half of the dominant coin of that time. If the prevailing coin is a takal, they should give a half-takal; if it is a sela, they should give a half-sela; if it is a darcon, they should give a half-darcon.
(The Chassidic Masters) Why not a complete coin? To teach us that no man is a complete entity unto himself. Only by joining with another can a person become a “whole thing.”
(Rashi) (30:14) — from the age of twenty and upward:
[The Torah] teaches you here that no one under twenty years old goes out [to serve] in the army or is counted among men.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe) (30:15) The rich shall not give more, and the poor shall not give less
People differ in their intellect, character and talents, in the quantity of their material resources and the timbre of their spiritual sensitivities. But all are equal in the very basis of their bond with G‑d: the intrinsic commitment to Him that resides at the core of their souls. So while every man contributed to the making of the various components of the Sanctuary in accordance with their individual capacity, all gave equally of the silver of which its foundation was made. As regards the foundation of the relationship between man and G‑d, the “rich man” cannot give more, and the “pauper” cannot give less.
(Rashi) (30:19) –their hands and feet:
He [the kohen] would wash his hands and feet simultaneously. So we learned in Zev. (19b): How was the washing of the hands and the feet [performed]? [The kohen] would lay his right hand on his right foot and his left hand on his left foot and wash [in this manner].
(Shulchan Aruch HaRav) (30:19) Aaron and his sons shall wash their hands and their feet . . . when they come near to the altar to minister
Every person, upon waking in the morning . . . should wash his hands with [a minimum of] a quarter-log of water poured from a utensil.
….Man entrusts his soul [to G‑d at night] tired and exhausted, and G‑d restores it to him rejuvenated and
refreshed so that he may serve his Creator with all his capacity, this being the purpose of man. Therefore we should sanctify ourselves with His holiness and wash our hands with water from a vessel before serving Him and ministering to Him, like the kohen who would wash his hands from the basin each day before beginning his service . . .
(Zohar) All dirt and all filth betake themselves to the “other side” (the forces of evil), which derives sustenance from them; therefore it is a mitzvah to wash the hands . . .
(Rashi) (30:21)— so that they will not die:
[This verse is written] to impose death upon one who serves on the altar when his hands and feet are not washed, for from the first death penalty (verse 20) we understand only [that death is imposed] upon one who enters the Temple.
(Rashi) (30:26) — And you shall anoint with it:
All anointments were in the shape of the Greek [letter] “X/chi,” except those of the kings, which were like a sort of crown. -[from Ker. 5b]
(Rashi) (30:34)–and galbanum:
A spice with a vile odor, called galbane [in Old French], galbanum. The Scripture counted it among the ingredients of the incense [in order] to teach us that we should not look askance at including Jewish transgressors with us when we assemble for fasting or prayer. [The Torah instructs us] that they should be counted with us. -[from Ker. 6b]
(Maimonides, Guide for the Perplexed) (30:35) And you shall make it a perfume, a confection according to the art of the perfumer
Since many animals were slaughtered in the sacred place each day, their flesh butchered and burned and their intestines cleaned, its smell would doubtless have been like the smell of a slaughterhouse. . . . Therefore G‑d commanded that the ketoret be burned twice a day, each morning and afternoon, to lend a pleasing fragrance to the Sanctuary and to the garments of those who served in it.
(The Chassidic Masters) Many of the commentaries object to this explanation of the function of the ketoret; in the words of Rabbeinu Bechayei, “G‑d forbid that the great principle and mystery of the ketoret should be reduced to this mundane purpose.” Chassidic teaching, however, applies Maimonides’ words as a reference to the spiritual “stench” of the animal soul within man, whose sacrifice and dedication to G‑d was the deeper significance of the animal offerings brought in the Sanctuary. This explains why the ketoret was the most sacred component of the Yom Kippur service: the ketoret represents the power of teshuvah, the sublimation of the “foul odors” of man’s failings and iniquities into the “sweet fragrance” of a new, invigorated bond with G‑d.