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NASO: The Ordeal of the "Bitter Waters"

May 27, 2009

Joel Cohen's Question:

If a man's wife strays, but there is no witness, the husband must bring his wife to the kohen. The kohen takes "sacred water" in an earthenware vessel. He tells the woman that if she did not stray she will be innocent of the bitter waters that possess cursing power; but if she strayed, she is cursed.

Compelled to drink from the bitter waters, if guilty she will die a very painful death. If innocent, the bitter waters will have no impact. Trial by Ordeal.

  1. Does this passage mean to communicate that this seemingly barbaric "trial by ordeal" replaces a true trial to determine guilt or innocence of capital offense?
  2. Was this procedure foolproof—only guilty women would die?
  3. And, putting aside why straying men don't need to submit to the ordeal, should we understand that when the Temple is rebuilt, this "trial" will replace the criminal justice system for such offense?

Rabbi Eli Popack Responds:

Some skeptic we have here! You don't question the ability of water mixed with dried ink and a harmless bitter herb to cause someone's body to explode. This you apparently consider a natural outcome of drinking this mixture. You therefore deem this procedure to be a barbaric "Trial by Ordeal," in which only the lucky few are spared and survive.

I, on the other hand, can find no natural explanation why these waters would have any effect whatsoever. To me, someone being affected in such a bizarre and supernatural way would be the exception. If G‑d makes such an outlandish miracle, causing someone to explode upon drinking some bitter water, that would be a clear sign that all natural order is being suspended in order to punish someone who is quite guilty. So there's no reason for concern that these waters were not "foolproof" and could accidentally kill someone innocent.

As far as a criminal justice system, regular court proceedings were held, and the sotah waters were not used if there was even one witness who could definitively testify that the women had actually been unfaithful.

So what is the case of the sotah who drinks the bitter waters?

A husband asks his wife, in the presence of two witnesses, not to seclude herself with a particular man with whom he suspects she is carrying an affair. She ignores this warning. Two witnessed now testify that indeed she has secluded herself with this man—though they have no knowledge of what actually happened when the two were in seclusion.

In such a situation, where the preponderance of evidence is against the woman (and regardless of whether she was actually unfaithful or not, she certainly engaged in behavior that is unacceptable) halachah stipulates that the marriage cannot continue until the matter is cleared up.

And the woman is never compelled to drink the waters. If the women in question pleads guilty – or even if she pleads "not guilty" but merely choose to leave the marriage without suing her husband for alimony – she would not be forced to drink the sotah waters. If she chooses to leave, because there is no conclusive evidence of her misdeed, she suffers no penalty––besides the loss of alimony and perhaps a damaged reputation.

But if she wishes to remain married and prove her innocence, G‑d offers to supernaturally intervene to save this marriage. He creates a supernatural means which He promises to activate to determine whether the woman is innocent or guilty.

G‑d has His ways, and if He is already walking the miracle path, the options of the Infinite G‑d are endless, literally. But He wants to make a point:

We are warned in the Torah not to destroy anything that is associated with G‑d. Every synagogue has its "shaimos" collection where that torn page from an old prayerbook is deposited and eventually taken to be buried—rather than callously discarding an object upon which G‑d's name is inscribed. When writing a Torah scroll or a mezuzah, the G‑d-fearing scribe immerses himself in a mikvah (ritual pool) before inscribing G‑d's name. Even when we write His name in a foreign language, notice that we write "G‑d" with a dash to avoid the possibility that His name could be disrespectfully mishandled.

When a husband and wife seek to maintain their marriage despite momentary differences or fleeting urges to be disloyal, G‑d asks that His holy name be dissolved in the waters that the sotah drinks. As if saying: "I will break all the rules to keep you two together. I'll put everything aside for you, if you will do the same for each other."

In the light of the above, what other "more preferable" means do you suggest for settling this issue when the Temple is rebuilt?

Rabbi Adam Mintz Responds:

The case of the sotah, the suspected wife, is one of the most problematic sections of the Torah to the modern reader. Joel, you have identified the lawyer's problem with the Torah's description of this case. How can the miraculous drinking of the water substitute for the legal procedure that the Torah demands before punishing a suspected violator of the law?

Actually, the Talmud asks this question in a special tractate that is dedicated to the laws of the sotah. The Talmud concludes that while the ultimate test of the guilt of the woman is determined by the drinking of this special potion, the woman is only tried by the kohen if two witnesses testify that she secluded herself with a man other than her husband. The Talmud, as would be expected, is troubled by how the witnesses can give testimony to the fact that the woman is suspected of committing adultery without actually knowing what transpired. Is witnessing a wife and another man entering a hotel room alone enough evidence to convict them of adultery or does that case require her to drink of the special sotah potion to determine what really took place in that hotel room? This Talmud, Joel, is a lawyer's delight in the detailed way that it defines what constitutes witnessing an event.

Now, the question of whether this test is foolproof is an extension of the first question. The testimony of witnesses in cases of potential adultery is far from foolproof (at least in most cases). How often do two witnesses actually witness the act of adultery? This test was actually initiated to protect the woman against two witnesses who might be too quick to accuse a woman of committing adultery. While there were no blogs or gossip columns in the times of the Torah, it seems that there was a tendency for witnesses to err on the side of guilt in a case of potential adultery. This miraculous potion protected the innocent woman much as it punished the guilty one.

While this test is far from our twenty-first century sensitivities, it can be understood in light of our appreciation of the Torah's approach to law and to both punishing the guilty and protecting the innocent.

BAMIDBAR: Looking at G‑d

May 17, 2009

Joel Cohen's Question:

After meticulously describing the responsibilities for the grandsons of Kehot at the Tent of Meeting, G‑d tells Moses and Aaron to not let these families be "cut off" from among the Levites: "Thus shall you do for them so that they shall live and not die when they approach the Holy of Holies. Aaron and his sons shall come and assign them every man to his work and his burden. But they shall not come and look as the holy is inserted, lest they die."

The passage is curious. G‑d proposes, always, that we come closer to Him—but here He demands a conspicuous distance. He seems to want to create a "mystery" of an "Inner Sanctum": "Gaze At It And Die!"

The rabbis take it a strange step further. When the kohanim bless the congregation, the congregants are told to "look away," lest they be blinded by the Shechinah (Divine presence) that ostensibly passes through the kohen's parted fingers.

  • Are we supposed to believe that G‑d's Spirit – a Spirit He doesn't want us to approach, lest we die or be blinded – is located in the "sanctuary" of a kohen's fingers?
  • Isn't this our religion, both in the command to the Sons of Kehot and the priestly blessings, simply trying to create "mystery"?
  • And, in doing so, do the rabbis merely create a superstition?

Rabbi Adam Mintz Responds:

The mystery of G‑d is part of our religious experience. Maimonides tells us in his Guide for the Perplexed that it is impossible to describe G‑d. Therefore he chooses to tell us what G‑d "isn't" as a way to understand more about the nature of G‑d. In truth, Maimonides understands that to define G‑d would be to see G‑d in human terms thereby minimizing G‑d's ultimate power and transcendence.

With this background we can begin to answer your questions. G‑d's presence is indeed a mystery and the Torah is filled with laws and stories that strengthen this mystery. Beginning with the story of the Burning Bush, we get the impression that G‑d reveals only a piece of Himself to even the greatest of prophets. In the Anim Zemirot that many sing each Shabbat, we refer to a wonderful tradition that teaches that G‑d revealed only the back of His tefillin to Moses.

Yet, while G‑d is a mystery, He is also accessible and available. How else can we explain that fact that we are commanded to pray three times a day and to approach G‑d with our most personal requests and desires? The Torah at the beginning of the Book of Numbers reflects this tension between the transcendence and mystery of G‑d and the accessibility of G‑d. The kohanim are commanded to approach G‑d and if they do not approach G‑d they are punished. Yet, at the same time, they are warned about the risks of approaching G‑d.

The Priestly Blessing contains the same tension. The tradition teaches that G‑d's presence can be found between the fingers of kohanim as they bless the people. Yet, we are prohibited from looking at the kohanim. And, just in case we become tempted, the kohanim cover their hands with their tallit. G‑d is right there during the priestly blessing—yet, we are not allowed to see Him.

I believe that this tension does not create a superstition. Rather, it defines a religious struggle and tension that we feel as a Jewish community.

Rabbi Eli Popack Responds:

This is not the first place that we find this "don't look here" admonition. In Exodus 24:9-11, the Torah records, "Moses, Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel ascended, and they perceived the G‑d of Israel... And upon the nobles of the children of Israel He did not lay His hand, and they perceived G‑d, and they ate and drank." The commentaries point out that the verse calls attention to the fact that "He did not lay His hand," indicating that they indeed deserved that a "hand be laid upon them"—because they gazed at Him with levity, while eating and drinking.

The basic reason for this is the irreverence of staring at the sacred, or, on a superficial level, an effort to create an enigma. But in truth, I believe that herein lies the yin and yang of a Jew's service of G‑d. Come close, but stay far. In the words of Ezekiel (1:14), "run and return."

The Jew is commanded to search for G‑d with all his soul, to desire to strip himself of all worldly wishes and gratification in an effort to "run" towards the Truth. But just before he completely rids himself of the burden of corporeality he is told to stop and "return." The purpose of the soul's descent into this world is to affect the material; not escape it. And then, once he is knee-deep in elevating the dirt of the farce we call materialism, he is told to "run" once again. Don't get too caught up in it, or you will be influenced instead of influencing.

This idea is expressed in the final passage of the fourth chapter of Avot (4:22): "Against your will you live; against your will you die." The soul searching to cleave to G‑d is instructed, "They shall not come in to see…lest they die"—against your will you live. And just as the Jew gets comfortable with his physical surroundings, he is torn away and told, "Seek My presence" (Psalms 27:8)—against you will you die, figuratively referring to the abandonment of the hubbub of Wall Street or Collins Ave. in an effort to discover the Divine.

What about the Kohen's hands?

First, a disclaimer. For all the skeptics who have taken a peek at the Kohen's outstretched fingers and not been blinded, the Talmud (Chagigah 16a) states that in the Holy Temple, where the priestly blessing was recited using G‑d's Ineffable Name, one was blinded if he dared look. Today – as explained in the Code of Jewish Law, Orach Chaim 128 – we are only forbidden to gaze intently at the Kohen's hands so as not to lose focus from the meaning of the words being recited—much as we are also proscribed from staring anywhere else during the blessing. But we don't even glance at the hands, to remind us of Temple times when we were forbidden to do so—though the same risk does not apply today.

And did the Shechinah actually reside on the hands of the Kohen when he recited the blessing? If the Shechinah is some sort of monster that blinds people, this may be hard to believe. If, however, Shechinah means a manifestation of G‑d's presence to a greater degree than is normally felt by the human, who is meant to work within a world where G‑d's presence is concealed, then gazing may blind him of his true mission down here. And as the spiritual always plays out in the physical too, he would be literally blinded as well.

BEHAR-BECHUKOTAI: The Sabbatical Promise

May 10, 2009

Joel Cohen’s Question:

The Land of Israel belongs to G‑d, not us. I get it.

I also get that G‑d wants us to remember that immutable fact of His ownership of the Land—underscoring it by ordering that the Land remain fallow every seven years. There’s nothing to remind a farmer or property owner that “his” land is not really his like telling him, when he wants to plant in the seventh year, “Not so fast!”

But there’s more to the Shemittah (Sabbatical year) story. G‑d tells us that, given their periodic injunction against sowing and harvesting crops, the people may say, “What will we eat in the seventh year?” The answer? G‑d will “ordain” His blessing in the sixth year, and the Land will yield a crop sufficient for three years; the farmers will sow in the eighth year, and until that year’s crop is harvested—in the ninth year—they will still eat from the sixth year’s crop.

This is awfully hard to accept. G‑d is essentially foretelling for us the future’s agricultural reality: for every cycle of seven years, during the sixth year a crop will be harvested sufficient for the public’s consumption for three years—a biblical Farmer’s Almanac, as it were.

Really? Am I to understand that since the time that our ancestors “landed” in the Promised Land forty years following the Exodus, when the rules of Shemittah began, this foretelling by G‑d has always been an agricultural reality?

And if not so, what should one make of His foretelling?

Rabbi Adam Mintz Responds:

Joel, your question this week is a good one, and the answer, I believe, relates not only to the laws of Shemittah but to the entire Jewish belief system.

The world that the Torah addressed was an agricultural world, one in which the vast majority of the people owned fields and, through the produce that the fields produced, they fed their families and traded for those things that their own fields did not produce. Therefore, the prohibition of Shemittah, of not working your field during the seventh year, must have been the most frightening of all 613 commandments. Basically, the people were being told that they would make no money every seven years.

How does a Jewish community committed to the word of G‑d and His Torah react to such a prohibition? Or, maybe the question should be asked whether G‑d wanted the people to suffer so much as to be without income for entire year. It is in this vein that we can understand the Torah’s description of the Shemittah year. Don’t worry, G‑d tells the people, there is a prohibition against working the field every seven years. However, I promise, says G‑d, that I will allow the fields to produce enough in the sixth year to cover three years. G‑d tells the people not to worry. He will take care of the people, and they will not suffer due to the Shemittah prohibitions.

However, if the Jews will not suffer due to Shemittah, why bother with the prohibitions? Is it merely a game of symbolic gestures on both sides? Here, I believe, is the essence of Shemittah and its importance in the corpus of Jewish religion. G‑d promises that the Shemittah year will not adversely affect the people. Yet, did the people always believe G‑d? Sometimes, when things are going well, you are more prone to accept G‑d’s promise. Yet, in times when things are going poorly, you may doubt G‑d’s promise. Therefore, the Torah tells us that Shemittah falls very seven years regardless of how things are going. It is our job every seven years to reaffirm our faith and trust in G‑d, regardless of what is going on around us. That is the lesson of Shemittah that applies to this very day.

Rabbi Eli Popack Responds:

After browsing through pages and pages of Bible commentaries, from medieval to contemporary, I can say with certainty that the answer to your question is: yes, it means exactly that. To quote you: “G‑d is essentially foretelling for us the future’s agricultural reality: that is, for every cycle of seven years, during the sixth year a crop will be harvested sufficient for the public’s consumption for three years.”

This is perhaps the reason why later in this week’s (double) Torah portion, when G‑d speaks of the punishments that will befall the Jews because of their disobedience, the only sin singled out for notable mention is the abandonment of the Sabbatical year. “Then the Land will be appeased regarding its sabbaticals. During all the days that it remains desolate while you are in the land of your enemies, the Land will rest and thus appease its sabbaticals” (Leviticus 26:34). In my humble opinion—and apparently, Joel, you concur—this is the most difficult of G‑d’s promises to swallow and act upon. But He really means it, and that’s why He is so disturbed by the lack of trust.

(It is important to note that there are two ways of explaining how this miracle will play out. While some explain that the sixth year will yield triple the natural amount of produce, R. Chaim ibn Attar (1696–1743, Morocco and Jerusalem), author of the Ohr HaChaim commentary on the Torah, explains that the actual harvest will be the same, but the crop will miraculously replenish itself, much like the story related in I Kings 17:16, when “the pitcher of flour did not end, nor did the flask of oil diminish.”)


I would like to share the following story, which I found on our site, of a modern-day Shemittah miracle. The names and places are authentic, so this story can be verified by anyone who’d like:

My name is Dov Weiss, and I was one of a group of about thirty young men who started the moshav (agricultural settlement) of Komemiyut, in the south of Israel. It was in 1950, after we had completed our army service. I was still a bachelor then. Among the founders was also the well-known Torah scholar and rabbinical authority, Rabbi Binyamin Mendelson, of blessed memory. He had previously immigrated to Israel from Poland, and had served as the rabbi of Kfar Ata.

At first we lived in tents, in the middle of a barren wilderness. The nearest settlements to ours were several kibbutzim associated with the left-wing Hashomer Hatzair movement: Gat, Gilon and Negba. Several of our members supported themselves by working at Kibbutz Gat, the closest to us, doing different types of manual labor. Others worked in our fields, planting wheat, barley, rye, and other grains and legumes. I myself drove a tractor. Our produce, which grew throughout the 15,000 or so dunams (nearly 4000 acres) allotted us, we sold to bakeries and factories.

At that time, there were not yet water pipes reaching our moshav. We had to content ourselves with what could be grown in dry, rugged fields. Every few days we would make a trip to Kibbutz Negba, about 20 kilometers distant, to fill large containers with drinking water.

The second year we were there, 5712 on the Jewish calendar (1951–52), was the Shemittah year, which comes every seventh year, in which the Torah commands to desist from all agricultural work. We were among the very few settlements in Israel at the time to observe the laws of the Sabbatical year and refrain from working the land. Instead we concentrated on building, and succeeded that year in completing much of the permanent housing. The moshav gradually developed and expanded, and more and more families moved in, as well as a number of young singles. By the end of the year we numbered around eighty people.

As the Sabbatical year drew to its completion, we prepared to renew our farming activities. For this we required seed to sow crops, but for this purpose we could use only wheat from the sixth year, the year that preceded the Shemittah, for the produce of the seventh year is forbidden for this type of use. We went around to all the agricultural settlements in the area, near and far, seeking good quality seed from the previous years’ harvest, but no one could fulfill our request.

All we were able to find was some old wormy seed that, for reasons that were never made clear to us, was lying around in a storage shed in Kibbutz Gat. No farmer in his right mind anywhere in the world would consider using such poor quality seed to plant with, not if he expected to see any crops from it. The kibbutzniks at Gat all burst into loud derisive laughter when we revealed that we were actually interested in this infested grain that had been rotting away for a few years in some dark, murky corner.

“If you really want it, you can take all that you like, and for free, with our compliments,” they offered in amusement.

We consulted with Rabbi Mendelson. His response was: “Take it. The One who tells wheat to sprout from good seed can also order it to grow from inferior wormy leftover seed as well.”

In any case, we didn’t have an alternative. So we loaded all the old infested seed that the kibbutz had offered to us free of charge onto a tractor, and returned to Komemiyut.

The laws of Shemittah forbade us to plow and turn over the soil till after Rosh Hashanah, the beginning of the eighth year, so we didn’t actually sow the seed until sometime in November. This was two or three months after all the other farmers had already completed their planting.

That year, the rains were late in coming. The farmers from all the kibbutzim and moshavot gazed upward longingly for the first rain. They began to feel desperate, but the heavens were unresponsive, remaining breathlessly still and blue.

Finally it rained. When? The day after we completed planting our thousand dunams of wheat fields with those wormy seeds, the sky opened up and the rains exploded down to saturate the parched earth.

The following days we were nervous in anticipation, but we turned our attention to strengthening our faith and trust in G‑d. Anyway, it did not take a long time for the hand of the Almighty to be revealed clearly to all. Those wheat fields that were planted during the seventh year, months before the first rain, sprouted only small and weak crops. At the same time, our fields, sowed with the old infested seed and long after the appropriate season, were covered with an unusually large and healthy yield of wheat, in comparison to any standard.

The story of “the miracle at Komemiyut” spread quickly. Farmers from all the agricultural settlements in the region came to see with their own eyes what they could not believe when they heard the rumors about it.

When the farmers from Kibbutz Gat arrived, they pulled a surprise on us. After absorbing the sight of the bountiful quantity of wheat flourishing in our fields, they announced they wanted payment for the tractor-load of old rotten wheat they had scornfully given us for free only a short time before.

Even more startling: they said they would file a claim against us at a beit din, a rabbinical court, and with Rabbi Mendelson himself, no less! They must have figured that in a secular court, such a claim wouldn’t have even the slightest possible chance of gaining them a single penny.

Rabbi Mendelson accepted their case seriously, and in the end judged that we should pay them. He explained that the reason they gave it for free was because they thought it worthless for planting, while in truth it really was excellent for that purpose. We were astonished to hear his ruling, but needless to say, we complied.

The whole story became an extraordinary kiddush Hashem (glorification of G‑d) in the eyes of Jews across the country. Everyone agreed it was a clear fulfillment of G‑d’s promise in the Torah (Leviticus 25):

Six years you shall sow your field, and six years you shall prune your vineyard, and gather in its fruit. But in the seventh year shall be a Sabbath of solemn rest for the land, a Sabbath for G‑d . . .

If you shall say: “What shall we eat in the seventh year? Behold, we shall not sow, nor gather in our produce!” I will command My blessing upon you . . .

EMOR: The Disqualified Kohen

May 3, 2009

Joel Cohen’s Question:

We consider ourselves a spiritual people, a people who look out for the downtrodden among us, a people who are obliged to judge each other by their character—not by wealth or physical prowess. Still, when it comes to the kohen (priest) serving in the Temple, the Bible clearly looks down and disqualifies the unfortunate.

What is this about? Well, the Parshah (Leviticus 21:16–22) quotes G‑d’s specific instruction to Moses that a descendant of Aaron who is blemished, blind, lame, having a nose with no bridge, having one limb longer than the other, with a broken leg or arm, with abnormally long eyebrows, with a membrane on his eye, a blemished eye, a dry skin eruption, moist skin eruption or crushed testicles “shall not come near to offer the food of his G‑d.” Nor may he eat from the offering as might a non-disqualified kohen. For, if he were to do so, he would “desecrate My sacred offerings . . .”

So, here we have G‑d Himself telling us that those unfortunate individuals among us, as enumerated above, who have done nothing sinful leading to or causing the infirmities, are disqualified from service in the Temple. Given this challenging biblical instruction by G‑d, how does G‑d expect us, the rank and file among His followers, to treat the downtrodden or the deformed better than He is willing to? Aren’t we supposed to try to emulate His ways?

Rabbi Adam Mintz Responds:

Joel, your question this week is a troubling and difficult one. It is also a question for which most of the medieval explanations will not satisfy our 21st-century sensitivities. The classic explanation teaches that the kohen represents the people to G‑d. However, he also represents G‑d to the people. In this second role, it is vital that he be “perfect,” without spiritual or physical imperfections. This explanation resonates with a world that considered physical deformities as blemishes, and felt that such people could not assume positions of leadership.

Rabbi Eli Popack Responds:

Thank G‑d for the Zohar!

To be honest, this question has bothered me ever since the first time I was taught this section in elementary school. Days before learning this Parshah, one of the children had made a snide comment about handicapped people, and landed our class a lengthy lecture on respecting the true value of a human being and recognizing that people with handicaps actually possess souls of a higher nature than the rest of us… And then, the following week, we learned that these “holiest” people were “unfit” to serve in the Temple.

This week I discovered in the Zohar—a text written many centuries before sensitivity towards the disabled became, thankfully, the norm—that my teacher was correct. It is indeed true that the disabled have greater merit than the rest of us; and for precisely this reason they cannot work in the Temple. However, Joel, contrary to what you wrote, they may eat from the sacrifices: “His G‑d’s food, from the most holy and from the holy ones, he may eat” (Lev. 21:22).

In the words of that classic Kabbalistic text (Zohar, Vayeishev 181a):

Rabbi Shimon opened with the verse: “However, he shall not go in to the veil, nor come near to the altar, because he has a blemish . . .” (Lev. 21:23).

. . . When the moon is rendered defective by the same aspect of the evil serpent, all the souls that are issued at that time, although they were all pure and sacred, are flawed. Since they emerged at a defective time, their bodies are crushed, and the souls suffer pains and afflictions wherever they reach. The Holy One, blessed be He, cares for and loves those who are broken, although their souls are sad instead of joyous.

. . . These righteous are the constant companions of the moon, and have the identical defects . . . And “G‑d is near to those who are of a broken heart” (Psalms 34:19)—that is, to those who suffer from the same defect as the moon, those who are always near her. “And He saves such as are of a contrite spirit” (ibid.), by giving them a portion of the life . . . because they who suffered with her shall also be renewed with her.

. . . Those defects from which the righteous suffer are called “sufferings of love,” because they are caused by love, and not by the man himself . . . Happy is their portion in this world and in the world to come . . .

The third Lubavitcher Rebbe explains this passage of the Zohar in Derech Mitzvotecha, his tract on the inner meanings of the mitzvot. The following is my humble understanding of his dissertation:

G‑d created the world following a very complex plan. He wanted a world where there would be opposition to Him, and that we should overcome this opposition and reveal the truth—that G‑d is all, and all is G‑d.

Ambushing is a classic battle tactic: allow the enemy small advances, and even victories, only so that they eventually fall into your hands, completely vanquished. There is a price to pay for this, but within the pain of these losses lies the potential for the ultimate victory.

In order to allow for ultimate victory, G‑d created a situation where the opposition—which He Himself created—can make small advances, and even expropriate some divine energy. When the enemy lets down its guard, as it were, they are vulnerable and can be vanquished.

The moon represents this very idea: each month suffering losses, steadily waning, until it is reborn at the beginning of the following cycle.

Our souls, each a part of G‑d above, are born within the war room where G‑d’s strategic plan was devised and is being monitored. Some souls are born when the figurative “moon” shines bright, and some are born within the “ambush strategy.” The latter group is born disabled and challenged, going through the world bearing the burden and pain that the G‑dly energy that they mirror suffers too.

But we all know that the moon doesn’t actually shrink or vanish; it only compromises some of its external expression—the light that it emits to benefit us here on planet Earth. Similarly, the “opposition” doesn’t affect, or receive from, the essence of the G‑dly energy—it can only take its spoils from G‑d’s external manifestations.

The same is true with handicapped individuals: though the external elements of their souls are inhibited and temporarily held captive by the “opposition,” internally they are whole, like the moon in the latter half of the cycle. They suffer with G‑d, but they will have a greater part in His ultimate victory, for they too bear His wound.

G‑d is present in the entire world, but in the Holy Temple His glory is open and manifest. Since the souls within handicapped bodies are avatars of G‑d’s hiddenness, of the temporary victories that the enemy achieves in their attempt to obscure the divine reality, their service in the Temple would be inappropriate.

But the meat of the sacrifices carries holiness that is not revealed. Therefore: “His G‑d’s food from the most holy and from the holy ones, he may eat.”

Each week, Joel Cohen poses questions on the weekly Parshah (Torah reading). These questions are addressed by Rabbis Adam Mintz and Eli Popack.

About the Participants:
Joel Cohen, a former federal and state prosecutor, practices criminal defense law at a prominent NYC law firm, and is an Adjunct Professor of Professional Responsibility at Fordham Law School. He also authors a column at the New York Law Journal.

Rabbi Adam Mintz has served as a pulpit rabbi for over twenty years. He is an adjunct professor in Jewish History at Queens College, and lectures widely on a variety of topics. His weekly streaming video, “This Week in Jewish History,” is featured at rayimahuvim.org. Rabbi Mintz has recently published Jewish Spirituality and Divine Law (Ktav, 2005).

Rabbi Eli Popack grew up in South Africa, and is the founder and president of Map International, a socially responsible business engaged in Electronic Financial Infrastructure in Africa. In the summer he serves as spiritual guide to the Beach Minyan in Westhampton Beach, NY.