Thursday, May 28, 2009

Shavuot - שבועות

Tonight is the fiftieth day of the Omer and as such, we celebrate Shavuot. Shavuot is known by many names, including: Z'man Matan Torateinu (The Time of the Giving of our Torah), Atzeret (Assembly), Chag HaKatzir (Festival of the Harvest) and Chag HaShavuot (Festival of the Weeks). I have even heard Shavuot referred to by the colloquial "חג עוגת-גבינה," (Cheese-cake Fesival!)

There is one other name for Shavuot, too - Chag Habikurim, the Festival of the First Fruit. This particular name derives from the times of the Bet Hamikdash and the mitzvah of bringing the first fruit in the fields of Israel to ripen to the Kohanim as an offering.

The basic concept behind Bikurim is this; farmers in Israel who grow any of the seven kinds of fruit or grain have an obligation to keep an eye out for any freshly ripened fruits in their fields. When the very first fruit in the field is ripe, the farmer ties a red ribbon around it and makes a declaration confirming that it this particular fruit is Bikurim. He then takes this fruit (and more fruit with it, if he wishes) to the Bet Hamikdash, makes a declaration there and turns it over to the Kohanim.

Three years ago while staying up all night learning Torah for Tikkun Leil on Shavuot night, I read a lovely D'var Torah by the Sfat Emet on this particular topic. The Sfat Emet teaches that the concept of Bikurim allows to understand the purpose of Tefillin more. Up until this point, I had never really felt much connection with the mitzvah of putting on Tefillin - what kind of sense is there in wrapping leather strips and boxes to one's arm and head? And what kind of spiritual function is there in this? It all seemed rather ritualistic to me. In this context, you might understand that the Sfat Emet's teaching was really welcome. He explains that upon examining the mitzvah of Bikurim we may gain insight as to how Tefillin functions. So let's do that!

There are a few specific aspects to the mitzvah of Bikurim - first of all, it can only be performed with the very first fruits in the field to ripen. Second of all, we mark it by tying a red ribbon around it. Thirdly, we make a statement to declare it's status as Bikurim. As a whole, it is obvious that the idea behind Bikurim is taking something that we would otherwise be proud of and claim to be attributed to our own "hard work," subduing our own ego and correctly accredit it's true source.

Now let's look at the procodure for the Tefillin. Firstly, Tefillin is a mitzvah that was given exclusively to the Jews - the first nation to accept God and all His laws. Second, we use black leather straps to mark ourselves off as belonging to God. Third we make a statement called "V'eirastich."

Now for the fun but - let's draw the parallels between Bikurim and Tefillin. The concepts of the Bikurim and Tefillin are remarkably similar - both mark off something as belonging to Hashem. More than this, in each case we take something and tie it around the item being marked off. Significantly, when we wrap Tefillin around our arms and head, we are instructed to take care that the straps are completely black. Similarly, the mitzvah of Bikurim must be performed with a red ribbon. In both cases, we use visually strong colours to mark off God's property.

The action of tying the ribbon around the fruit and over wrapping the tefillin around head and arm is also significant - in Jewish spiritualism, the concept of a circle is very powerful and is often connected to bonding and marriage. In fact, when men put on tefillin, they read the verse:

"וארסתיך לי לעולם וארסתיך לי בצדק ובמשפט ובחסד וברחמים וארסתיך לי באמונה וידעת את ה - And I will betroth you unto Me forever, and I will betroth you unto me with righteousness, justice, lovingkindness and compassion, and I will betroth you to me with faith and knowledge of God."
הושע ב-

Maybe know we can understand the underlying concept of the Tefillin by marking ourselves as Hashem's property, in much the same way as Bikurim. To complete the picture, we should also bear in mind the fact that Chag HaBikurim takes place at Shavuot, which is also called Zman Matan Torateinu - the time that when our Torah was given to us. Just as the Bnei Yisrael stood around Mount Sinai in a circle, so too a bride encircles her husband at their Chupa seven times. And maybe now we can understand the significance of tying the Tefillin Shel yad around the arm in seven circles.

Hope you enjoyed that as much as I did, wishing you a Chag Sameach!

Monday, May 25, 2009

More on the Security Barrier.

Further to my post on Israel's West Bank barrier last week, I stumbled across this cartoon online and had to share it with you:

Friday, May 22, 2009

Parshat Bamidbar - פרשת במדבר

This Shabbat we start the fourth book of the Torah - Sefer Bamidbar. In fact, there are actually two names for this Parsha and Sefer - it is also known by the name Sefer Pekudim, the "Book of Numbers" as the book opens with the census of Bnei Yisrael. The other name, Bamidbar, might be perceived as somewhat irrelevant, though - how can we relate to Am Yisrael's trek across the desert to reach Israel? We can say plenty about the need for census and equality (each man would be counted equally, each bringing exactly half a shekel,) but how much can we derive from the fact that the Jews traversed the wilderness?

This week I heard a number of Divrei Torah, and one speaker (I can't remember who exactly) said something interesting. He made the point that Hashem created the world exactly as He saw fit, and that everything is made the way it is for a reason. Therefore if Hashem wanted mainland Egypt to be next to Israel, he would have arranged the world to be that way. The fact that He designed the world with a desert between Egypt and Israel clearly is significant and not without meaning and intention.

The Sfas Emet focuses on the meaning of the Hebrew word for desert, מדבר, and suggests that we may learn how to improve our character traits by understanding the nature of the desert. The Sfat Emet explains that the root of the word for speech (dibbur) is דבר. Clearly there is a connection between the concept of speech and the concept of a desert - a place devoid of all extraneous details.

Some roots have multiple meanings and the root דבר also has another meaning - "to lead". The Sfat Emet then explains that the word Midbar could be interpreted as having a passive meaning, "to be led." The link between these two meanings seems unclear, though.

The Sfat Emet may be suggesting a number of things. Firstly, we must realise that when we reach times and places in our lives that are resemble a desert, we should try our best to give ourselves over to Hashem's leadership. All too often we have no idea where we are going and what we are doing, and if we try to work it out by ourselves we will only get confused and bewildered. Of course I'm not saying that one should have blind faith, but it is important to recognise that everything comes from heaven, and that we should not have faith in our own (God-given) abilities.

Secondly, we learn in the Medrash that in order to progress in the study of Torah, one must be careful to recognise that he is nothing without Hashem, and all that he has is attributed to God. Each and every one of us must learn to train ourselves to overcome our own sense of pride and personal achievement. In this way, when one learns Torah, he will not feel proud of his intelligence. In time, one reaches the madreiga whereby he considers himself "hefker," free and accessible to all claimants, like the desert.

I would like to tender an additional resolution of my own - the desert is not really all that different to other parts of the world, but it is defined it's lack of all extraneous details. If there is something that we would do well to learn, it is that we should learn how to speak properly and in accordance with Hashem's will. Man is the only creature in this world that has the distinction of being able to talk, and this is no accident - we are created in God's image. Each and every time we speak, we emulate Hashem, and it is vitally important that we use this ability selectively and cautiously.

Each time one speaks, one should think first and decide whether he needs to speak at all, and even if he does, whether he is saying the right thing. Unfortunately, we often have an inclination to speaking disparagingly of others, something clearly illicit within Torah law. It is important to learn how to limit one's speech in circumstances. On a different note, people also tend to "talk themselves up" and make themselves out to be better people than they actually are, When Am Yisrael were given the Torah they didn't go directly to Eretz Yisrael. Maybe one of the reasons was that they first had to head through the desert in order to realise their total dependence on Hashem and learn a measure of humility before they would be allowed to re-engage with the world.

Rav Yitzcak Ginsurgh of Kfar Chabad teaches that if we think picture the desert in our mind's eye, we see a vast expanse of land and absolute silence. How paradoxical it is that the Hebrew root for desert is connected with the root for speech!

There is a famous story told in Sefer Malachim of Eliyahu Hanavi encountering Hashem in a cave in the desert. Several natural phenomena accompanied Hashem's presence: first an earth-shattering wind passed him by, but the verse states that Hashem was "not in the wind." Then a tremendous earthquake shook him, but again, the verse states that Hashem was not in this phenomena, either. Following the earthquake, Eliyahu saw a great fire, but once again, Hashem was not in the fire. But the next verse reads, "And after the fire — a still silent voice."

Many things can be learned from this cryptic passage, but most relevant to us is the concept of a voice. Eliyahu heard a quiet voice and through that voice recognised Hashem. Moreover, Eliyahu experienced the still, silent voice of God in the desert. The word used to describe this still voice is Chashmal, a word that means electricity in modern Hebrew, is a compound of two other words; חש - silence, and מל - speaking. We can understand the concept of the "chashmal," having read this passage, as a kind of electrifying charge that can be experienced only in the atmosphere of neutrality and calm. Hopefully we can learn from the lessons of the midbar and will work towards the spiritual level that Eliyahu attained.

Wishing you a שבת שלום ומבורך.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Land grab? NO!

Ever since construction of the West Bank barrier began, it has been the subject of controversy and intense debate. Although almost everyone agrees that it does serve to save lives, many people have dismissed the barrier's building as an unnecessarily strong and permanent measure; one that effectively takes away land from Palestinians.

The issue here is one of intent; while Israel claims it's intention is to save lives by denying suicide bombers access to Israeli cities and towns, this has been rejected as a front by Palestinians and anti-Zionists who have dubbed the move a "land grab."

While many accuse the barrier of effectively isolating Palestinians and cutting them off from their land, it is my belief that the West Bank barrier was not designed as a stealthy lang grab, and truly is a worthy method of reducing the effectiveness of terrorism. As recently as last week I mentioned to a member of my family how I can't remember the last time a terrorist infiltrated Israeli security and successfully bombed Jerusalem or Tel Aviv, thank God. During the intifada, terrorism was something Israelis had almost become used to, even though the IDF were doing their best to prevent suicide bombers and the like from entering into Israel. Love it or hate it, the effectiveness of the wall in saving Israeli lives is indisputable.

With this in mind, I was intrigued to read this story on the BBC website yesterday morning. The BBC reports the head of Israel's security service, Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin as saying, "there is no security reason for continuing construction of Israel's barrier through the West Bank."

At first my reaction to what I had read was to reject Mr. Diskin's claim out of hand, dismissing him as an ideologically weak officer who had bowed to the pressure of the peace lobby without giving due consideration to Israel's security concerns. But the more I think about the issue, the more I feel compelled to agree with Mr. Diskin. If Israel is experiencing a calm period as a result of the wall, it would seem that the wall is doing it's job and that further building is not necessary.

Moreover, if Israel should halt construction of the barrier now it will conclusively prove to the world that the West Bank barrier is no land grab. While I cannot advocate tearing down the wall just yet - that would be reckless without at least assurances of prevention of terrorism from the Palestinians - I believe Israel is now in a position to halt construction of the barrier. If Israel's security remains as stable as it has been for the last two years or so, then maybe it would be possible to leave the wall as it is, without completing it as originally intended.

Ultimately Israel's most stubborn detractors will most likely continue to deny Israel's stated objectives of the barrier, decrying Israeli actions as an attempt to steal the Palestinians' olive groves and suchlike, but I believe the statement issued by Mr. Diskin proves Israel's real intention. I heard somebody talk about Israel on Sunday, and he said that there are only two ways to judge a country - by what it's officials say and by what it's officials do. What Israel's officials were doing when they commissioned the barrier is still being debated, but what they are saying is indisputable - this is no land grab. I only hope the world pays attention.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Media Boycott of Israel

Despite the fact that it is terribly subjective, the BBC website is typically my first port of call for checking the news. I can imagine a fair few readers might be disappointed by that, but you needn't worry too much though; I am familiar enough with the warped mindset of the politically correct British that I can "translate" the babble that passes as reporting into an educated guess as to what has actually occurred.

This afternoon I read an interesting story, detailing how the Edinburgh International Film Festival has returned a £300 grant to the Israeli government after a prominent film director called for the event to be boycotted. The director in question, one Ken Loach, is a socialist and was upset by the Israeli government potentially subsidising the cost of a film festival.

I wasn't particularly surprised that somebody who was involved in the arts had decided to boycott Israel - it's really rather trendy to be anti-Zionistic these days, and even more so if you are hatefully and intolerantly anti-Zionistic. Ken Loach, a man who described a report on rsing anti-semitism as a fraud and stating that: "If there has been a rise I am not surprised. In fact, it is perfectly understandable because Israel feeds feelings of anti-Semitism."

Funnily enough, actor and ex-Manchester United footballer Eric Cantona recently compared his famously vocal and blunt former manager, Sir Alex Ferguson to Ken Loach: "Ferguson and Ken Loach are where they are because they have an enormous amount of humility." Although Eric was being quite serious, his suggestion is hugely ironic given both parties' well-documented lack of humility.

While I am not surpised that a left-winger has decided to denounce Israel publicly and petulantly make a point that they know Israel will not be able to defend, I was slightly peeveed by the statement consequently put out by the spineless chaps at the Edinburgh International Film Festival: "Although the Festival is considered wholly cultural and apolitical, we always acknowledge and consider the opinions of the film industry as a whole, and as such accept that one filmmaker's recent statement speaks on behalf of the film community."

Unfortunately, being spineless doesn't detract from the festival boss's ability to be downright pompous and act as spokesmen for an entire industry. Their claim that Loach's objectionable statement is no less than a universal truth is an assertion that even the staunchest of anti-Zionists might realise as being rather uncredible.

Of course, if Mr Loach and the film industry want to make an example out of injustice and abuse in the Middle East, they need not look further than the case of Farfur the fake Disney mouse. Alternatively, they might want to sample the atttiude of Israeli children towards Palestinians (first video clip below) and contrast that with the way Palestinian children are brought up to regard Israel. (Second clip below.)

Ultimately, instead of dismissing Israel out of hand, the world would do well to pay close attention to what really happens in Israel, and try to understand what's happening when the TV cameras aren't rolling. This heart-warming video speak volumes about how Israel truly regards the Palestinians:

Friday, May 15, 2009

Parshiot Behar and Bechukotai - פרשיות בהר ובחוקתי

"אם בחוקתי תלכו ואת מצותי תשמרו ועשיתם אתם: ונתתי גשמיכם בעתם ונתנה הארץ יבולה ועץ השדה יתן פריו: והשיג לכם דיש את בציר ובציר ישיג את זרע ואכלתם לחמכם לשבע וישבתם לבטח בארצכם: ונתתי שלום בארץ ושכבתם ואין מחריד והשבתי חיה רעה מן הארץ וחרב לא תעבר בארצכם: ורדפתם את איביכם ונפלו לחרב: ורדפו מכם חמשה מאה ומאה מכם רבבה ירדפו ונפלו איביכם לפניכם לחרב:ף ופניתי אליכם והפריתי אתכם והרביתי אתכם והקימתי את בריתי אתכם: ואכלתם ישן נושן וישן מפני חדש תוציאו: ונתתי משכני בתוככם ולא תגעל נפשי אתכם: והתהלכתי בתוככם והייתי לכם לאלהים ואתם תהיו לי לעם: אני ד'אלהיכם אשר הוצאתי אתכם מארץ מצרים מהיות להם עבדים ואשבר מוטות עלכם ואולך אתכם קוממיות"

If you will follow My decrees and observe My commandments and perform them; then I will provide your rains in their time, and the land will give its produce and the tree of the field will give its fruit. Your threshing will last until the vintage, and the vintage will last until the sowing; you will eat your bread to satiety and you will dwell securely in the land. I will provide peace in the land, and a sword will not cross your land. You will pursue your enemies; and they will fall by the sword. Five of you will pursue a hundred and hundred of you will pursue ten thousand; and your enemies will fall before you by the sword. I will turn my attention to you, I will make you fruitful and increase you; and I will establish my covenant with you. You will eat very old grain and remove the old to make way for the new. I will place My sanctuary among you; and My spirit will not reject you. I will walk among you, I will be God unto you and you will be a people unto Me. I am Hashem, your God, Who took you out of Egypt from being their slaves; I broke the stave of your yoke and I led you erect.

(ויקרא, פרק כו', ג'- יג)

This week we read a double Parsha (again) and seeing as so many people I know have taken Divrei Torah on the first parsha (Behar) this week, I have decided to write something about the second Parsha, Bechukotai. Thankfully, the beginning of the Parsha is replete with things to comment on, so I have a number of small divrei torah and will use them together. They are rather rather disjointed, but there is an overall theme - that of the brachot we are promised by Hashem.

Parshat Bechukotai begins with Hashem describing what will happen if we follow his laws. The first thing that the Bnei Yisrael are promised is rain. Not just any rain, but "גשמיכם - your rains." It seems a bit odd to single out rain in this way; this phraseology needs some explanation. Rav Moshe Feinstein teaches in his sefer Drash Moshe that the possessive "you" is earned here because the rains will only come as a result of man's good deeds. The concept to be grasped, teaches Rav Moshe, is that the universe functions due to man's actions. When we perform good deed for one another, we help stake a claim to Hashem for the continued existence of the universe - it is as if we are saying, "we are doing do our bit!" As a result, Hashem graciously allows the universe to continue to exist and blesses us with the rain in it's season - rain we truly have earned!

(On a side note, it is interesting that while in English the word "rain" has negative connotations, such as a "rainy day" or why does it always rain on me?" the Hebrew word for rain actually has positive connotations. When we talk about realising one's dreams we use the words להגשים חלומות, which literally means "to cause dreams to rain," or more figuratively, "to see dreams realised.")

A few Psukim later, we come across another point of interest in the text - Bnei Yisrael are promised that "ואכלתם לחמכם לשבע - you will eat your bread to satiety." This seems fair enough - that if we follow Hashem's laws we will be well sustained and satisfied. The only problem I have with this is that this seems to be rather a small reward for following God. After all, what could stop the Master of the Universe from providing his followers with a bountiful crop and masses of fruit and drink? Why are we only promised to receive enough bread (the simplest of all foods) to our satisfaction?

The answer lies in that hint I dropped - the simplest of all foods. Rav Dessler writes in Michtav M'Eliyahu that it is better to curtail one's eating and eat only to a minimal level of satisfaction than it is to fast many times. The point being made is that it is easy to deprive oneself for the sake of God, that it is easy to go to an extreme, but that real value lies in being able to engage with the physical world and yet not allow oneself to forget the source of this world's goodness. Rav Moshe Feinstein points out that the lesson is that one must strive to minimise even those worldly pleasures that are permissible, and only take as much as we need. Now we can understand why the word לחמכם, your bread is used - Hashem will bless us with all that we need, and we should feel the need to worry about any more than what is truly ours.

The next point on this text is another blessing: "ורדפו מכם חמשה מאה ומאה מכם רבבה ירדפו ונפלו איביכם לפניכם לחרב - Five of you will pursue a hundred and hundred of you will pursue ten thousand; and your enemies will fall before you by the sword." Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis of Kinloss (my shul) said something particularly interesting a month or so ago on this. He pointed out that the ratios mentioned are not the same! 5 men conquering 100 is a 1:20 ratio, and 100 slaying 10,000 is a 1:100 ratio - why the disparity?

Rabbi Mirvis explained that the lesson being taught here is of the strength of אחדות. When we follow Hashem's commands then 5 men will have the blessing of being able to defeat 20 times their number. But these are only five men acting in unison. When 100 men act as one, however, Hashem grants us an extra blessing as a reward for our unity and we find our strength hugely increased.

The last point I want to make on this passage is on the words, "והתהלכתי בתוככם והייתי לכם לאלהים ואתם תהיו לי לעם - I will walk among you, I will be God unto you and you will be a people unto Me." The greatest blessing of all is that Hashem gives us the chance to attain a level of closeness with Him. Whereas christians practically believe that they can do no good and are eternally damned, we believe that we have been created in Hashem's image and can emulate Him. And if we do follow Hashem, He won't abandon us, or even lead us from a distance, rather He will enter into our midst. I find the difference rather poignant - that Hashem "will walk among" us.

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The cleverest video you will see all year

The person who thought of this is a genius - Pixar should sign him/her up pronto!

Noteboek from Evelien Lohbeck on Vimeo.

Hat tip: Thanks to Joel Leyden for posting this on his facebook!

Friday, May 08, 2009

Parshat Emor – פרשת אמור

I'm feeling a lot better this week, but I have only a short D'var Torah again this week, as I am flying (last minute) abroad on Friday, and I won't have enough time to knock up before my flight. I hope you'll forgive me

"כי כל-איש אשר-בו מום לא יקרב איש עור או פסח או חרם או שרוע - For any man in whom there is a blemish shall not approac; a man who is blind, lame, one whose nose has no bridge, or one who has one limb longer than the other."

Concerning the blemishes that animals might have, the Torah uses the word עורת, which Rashi renders as "a noun which is the name of a blemish: blindness." In essence, Rashi is translating the word as "blind." This seems a perfectly normal way of referring to an animal that cannot see - we call it blind. So what is the point of phrasing things in a different way in our pasuk?

The answer is given that an animal has only one faculty of vision - that of normal sight. When an animal cannot see, it truly is blind. Humans, though, are very different. As humans, we use our senses to guide us and allow us to perceive more than just what is in front of us.

We can say that man has two kinds of vision; a basic and physical vision and a spiritual vision. The essence of this inner vision is something which cannot be taken away, and it is something that can discern things that normal vision cannot.

The Chachamim ask a question, "Who is wise?" Their answer is, "He who foresees the [events from their] infancy." The essence of foresight is a deep and true understanding of an issue. Anyone with real vision understands that this world is just a trap, and that it is important not to get too involved with all that goes on - all that is required of a Jew is that he learns Torah and acts in accordance with Torah. The Chafetz Chaim famously had only a very few posessions,but when people mentioned this to him, he would explain that this world is nothing but a corridor leading to the world to come. The Chafetz Chaim understood the lack of real value in worldy possesions, demonstrating his clear perception of this life.

Now we can understand why our pasuk above is phrased the way it is. Whereas most of us judge things by how good they look and place a tremendous amount of importance on "looking good," a true man will understand the superficiality of this kind of vision. True, a man who has lost the faculty of vision is blemished and as such is unfit to serve in the Bet Hamikdash, but the Torah does not refer to him as "blind," but as a "man who is blind", for he does not cease to be a man. A man who has lost his sight may feel very aware of his disabilty, but he does not allow this to overcome him, for he may still perceive things within his mind's eye - and this is sometimes even better than the vision offered with normal eyes.

Taken from the teachings of Rav Zalman Sorotzkin

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom!

Monday, May 04, 2009

New Favicon!

Hi there reader, I've got news for you - my blog has a new favicon!

You may be asking what a favicon is right now, so I'll do my best to explain. A favicon is the 16 pixel squared image that serves as a small logo for web pages, and are typically found in the address bar of your browser on the left of the URL of any given website. Look at the "screen-grab" below.

The URL in the address bar is, and Blogger's favicon has appeared to the URL's immediate left,. I have circled the Blogger favicon - a distinctive white capital B on an orange background. You will also notice that the Blogger and Facebook icons are shown on each tab, too.

Anyway, I decided that it was high time that my blog had an identity of its own, and I set about producing my own little brand. In next to no time I made a crude map of Israel, featuring the letters D and I (which stand for Destination Israel) superimposed over the Mediterranean and Jordan.

Actually, it's not really news as it happened a few weeks ago, but still, I want to let you know while it's relatively fresh. Please let me know what you think of my efforts and be sure to tell me how you think I can improve my "brand."

Thank you :)

Incredible video clip

A friend posted a link to this on facebook, and I simply had to share it here.

Members of the Stermer family talk about how they hid in caves for nearly a year during World War II to avoid discovery by the Nazis.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Acharei-Mot Kedoshim אחרי-מות קדושים

(Unfortunately I am rather ill with a bad cold, so I'm leaving you just a short D'var Torah this week. I hope you still enjoy it.)
"ולקח מלא-המחתה גחלי-אש מעל המזבח, מלפני יהוה, ומלא חפניו, קטרת סמים דקה; והביא, מבית לפרכת - He shall take a shovelful of fiery coals from atop the Altar that is before Hashem, and his cupped handful of finely ground incense-spices, and bring it within the curtain."

If we take a careful look at this pasuk, we realise that the word "מלא - full," is used twice. The repetition of this word is deliberate and teaches us many things, but I particularly like the answer put forward by R' Zalman Sorotzkin.

Rav Sorotzkin points out that the word full is used in two contexts in this sentence. The first time it appears, it relates to the measure of the shovel and the second time it used, it is pertaining to the amount of incense the Kohen HaGadol should take.

Interestingly, there is no measure specified for the shovel - it's proportions are not outlined in the Torah. So how could it be that the required amount is simply that the shovel, undefined as it is, be filled? This means that we can't even work out an approximate size for the shovel given the amount of incense it had to hold!

Similarly, the human hand also is undefined - no human hand has exactly the proportions or is exactly the same size. Some people's hands are tiny and others have monstrous hands; what kind of measures are to be taken when we don't even have a rough scale to work with?

If the purpose of this Pasuk is not to instruct us as to what amount is to be used in this Mitzvah, then a serious question is posed - why is the word מלא used at all?

The answer tendered is that the hand and the undefined shovel are used here to teach us that the task is not to simply fill a standardised amount or to fulfill a set requirement. Each person should realise that he has his own unique circumstances, but that it remains essential to do one's best to perform the mitzvot commanded of him, and to perform them well.

It is important that we recognise that it is not enough to do a mitzvah to the minimum required level, and that we should attempt to do each mitzvah to our respective "filled handfuls."

Wishing you a peaceful and cold-free, שבת שלום!