Wednesday, December 27, 2006
In 45:27 the pasuk tells us, "וירא את העגלות אשר שלח יוסף" - Yaakov saw the wagons that Yosef had sent for him. Rashi explains that Yosef sent the wagons as a sign to Yaakov. They had been learning together the topic of Eglah Arufa when the incident in which Yosef disappeared had occurred. The wagons, agalah in Hebrew, was a play on words to show Yaakov that his son remained faithful and learned.
But I think Yosef did not send the wagons. And if he did, they were only on the command of Pharoah, so he could not have sent them as a sign.
Why do I say that? Because in 45:19 we see very clearly Pharoah telling the brothers of Yosef to take wagons and bring back their father to Egypt. Furthermore, in 45:21 it says Yosef gave them wagons on Pharoahs word. Furthermore, in 46:5 it says that the children brought Yaakov from Beer Sheva in the wagons that Pharoah had sent to carry him.
So how could Yaakov have understood anything from the wagons?
It is possible that once wagons were being sent on Pharoahs command that Yosef made some alteration to the wagons or some sign on the wagons to indicate the message to Yaakov, but that is not clear from the Midrash. The Midrash quoted by Rashi seems to say that simply by the fact of the wagons being sent the message was conveyed. The Midrash is based on the fact that the passuk in 45:27 says, "The wagons that Yosef sent" rather than associating them with Pharoah as it does elsewhere (in the other pessukim I quoted), yet I still find it difficult to accept that answer. Yaakov would not have known who sent the wagons and could only have assumed they came from Pharoah.
Sunday, December 24, 2006
The question just came to me: Who is this man? In Miketz 41:45 Wee see Yosef given to marry Osnat the daughter of Poti Phera the priest of On. In the earlier reference to Potiphar in Parshat Va'Yeishev in 39:1, Potiphar is referenced as a minister of Pharoah, the Chief Chef (Sar Hatabachim).
Is this the same man?
According to Rashi it seems to be. Rashi brings a midrash that says Yosef saw with Ruah Hakodesh he would have children from Potiphar. So when he married Osnat daughter of Poti Phera, that would imply it is the same person.
Is it the same man? Did Potiphar receive a promotion to priest of On? Were they two different people? Was it the same man? Why was he referenced as a minister and chief steward/btcher/chef earlier and later as a priest?
Monday, December 18, 2006
We read about Yosef's meteoric rise to power and wealth. His interpretation of Pharoah's dreams and following advice finds favor in Pharoah's eyes and he appoints Yosef to the position of the minister responsible for averting the coming famine and implementing the ideas and policies they had discussed.
In 41:45 Pharoah changes Yosef's name to Tzafnas Pane'ah and gives him Osnat the daughter of Potiphar as a wife.
Yosef just got out of jail. He was sitting in jail for a few years after having been out there by Potiphar. He was accused of attempting to rape Mrs. Potiphar, after her really having attempted to seduce him (and failed) and therefore put in jail. Why would Yosef agree to marry Osnat, the daughter of the people who caused him so much pain?
This is not such a difficult question. Yosef saw with Ruah Ha'Kodesh that Osnat was the woman for him to marry, so he ignored all the side issues because he knew she was his bashert. It is like Yaakov marrying Lavan's daughters and Yitzhak marrying Lavan's sister. Despite knowing how evil the family was, they knew that these were the women meant to be the mothers of the Jewish Nation, so they ignored the family history and did what they had to do. So Yosef married Osnat.
But, my question is, what was wrong with Pharoah, Mr. Potiphar and Mrs. Potiphar?
Pharoah must have checked why Yosef was in jail (for sure after he took such a liking to Yosef befor he would be willing to appoint him as a minister he would want to know why he had been in jail). He must have been given the reports on the attempted rape of the wife of one of his top men. Why would Pharoah offer the daughter of Potiphar as Yosef's wife? Was there nobody else available for Pharoah to offer in marriage?
And Mr. and Mrs. Potiphar - how did they get involved in this? Mrs. Potiphar was a schemer and she knew Yosef did no worng, but Mr. Potiphar thought Yosef had tried to rape his wife and Mrs. Potiphar at least had to continue putting on the show. How could they agree to let Yosef marry their daughter?
The answer I can suggest is that they were very greedy people. Morals and all that did not make a difference. They saw Yosef was on the rise and they wanted part of the action. They could tell he was moving into a position of power and wealth so they forgot aout all the history and offered their daughter Osnat to be his wife (I would guess they suggested to Pharoah that he offer their daughter to Yosef).
If anybody has a better answer, post it in the comments.
Thursday, December 14, 2006
"ויבא יוסף את דבתם רעה אל אביהם" In 37:2 we start reading about the growing rift between Yosef and his brothers. Yosef woul dtell his father all the "bad" things they were involved in.
Why is this such a problem? As a parent, when one of my kids does something bad, I would like to be told so I could take corrective action. If my kid runs in the street or is seen doing something to hurt another child, etc. I would like to be told. So what was wrong with Yosef telling his father what they were doing? He wanted his father to be aware and take corrective action!
The reason it was considered bad of Yosef was because of his intentions. There is a way to tell over information for beneficial purposes in order to improve a situation and there is a way to tell over information when you are gloating or trying to undermine somebody.
Sometimes a parent will call up and say I saw your kid do this or that. If they have the intention of trying to help then their comments are appreciated and accepted. When their comments are in that gloating tone, so as to say your kid is wild or nasty or hurtful or you don't know how to raise your kids (and you can usually tell by the tone), etc, then the informations is resented.
That is what happened with Yosef. Yes the information was important and beneficial so yaakov could attempt to correct things. However his tone was one that indicated he was not doing it 100% with good intentions.
Friday, December 08, 2006
There is a curious debate as to whether the sons of Yaakov were involved in a plan of deception or not. Shchem and Hamor come to Yaakov and his sons and request that they allow the families to intermarry. The children respond that they cannot marry with uncircumcised people. They make a deal that the people of Shchem will circumcise themselves and then they will allow marriage (or consideration of it). Then, on the 3rd day after the circumcisions when they were in the most pain, Shimon and Levi killed everyone out.
It looks like the whole deal was a plot to weaken them and set them up as easy prey in a way that they would not be able to fight back effectively.
I would like to suggest that there was no plot here and no deception. The brothers were really making a deal. If it was a plot, why were Shimon and Levi the only ones who went and killed everyone? Where were the others?
There was no plot. They really were making a deal. I think that as the deal was panning out and the people of Shchem were fulfilling their end of it, Shimon and Levi woke up and asked themselves how they could let this happen. They realized that the whole deal was wrong and corrupt and only harms their interests. So they got up and reacted.
This is similar to what we see happening by the story of Chushim Ben Dan, when Yaakov dies. We know the stroy that they were bringing Yaakov for burial and Esau stopped them claiming the plot in Hebron was rightfully his, not Yaakov's. Naftali ran back to Egypt to retrieve the document of sale as proof. In the meantime, Chushim, who was deaf and not clear as to what was happening and holding up the funeral, killed Esau and the funeral proceeded. The brothers entered negotiations and Chushim realized that just the delay itself, the negotiating itself was a desecration fo Yaakov. Sure, we can prove our point by bringing the documents, but just responding to Esau was a desecration of Yaakov's honor, so he stood up and took action.
Shimon and Levi realised that the negotiations between the brothers and Shchem were harmful to their interests and a continued desecration of Dina's honor and their honor. They stood up and took action. And that is why it was only them. There was no plot and deception taking place.
In response to Shchem having his way with Dina, Yaakov's sons make a deal with Shchem that all the people of the town should be circumcised. On the 3rd day after the circumcision, the passuk tells us in 34:25 the two sons of Yaakov, Shimon and Levi, the brothers of Dina came to the city and destroyed..
There is a general criticism of their actions, though it is unclear as to the nature of the criticism. Some meforshim say they were wrong in taking such harsh action, others say they were right. Did Yaakov agree, or did he not. It is all very unclear.
I heard a dvar Torah on the topic yesterday in which it was brought down from some meforshim that the criticism was based on the fact that after they killed everybody in town it then says that they looted the city of its possessions. The fact that they looted the city indicated that their reaction might not have been completely lshem shamayim, but might have had a tinge of intent for personal gain. That lack of 100% clarity is what made Yaakov criticize them.
I was looking the section over again today and I noticed something in the way the story is written.
In passuk 25 it tells us specifically that the two sons of Yaakov, Shimon and Levi, went and killed everyone, etc..
In passuk 26 it concludes by saying they took Dina and left.
In passuk 27 it says the children of Yaakov came and looted the city.
I would like to suggest that Shimon and Levi came and destroyed the city killing all the inhabitants. They then retrieved Dina from her captivity and left. They took her home. Then the other brothers, having seen that the city was destroyed, came and looted the town.
Shimon and Levi were not the ones looting the town. I think the common perception that the whole story here was Shimon and Levi is incorrect. I think based on the text that Shimon and Levi only retrieved Dina, destroying the city in the process. The loot was taken by the others.
That would vindicate Shimon and Levi from any suggestions that there kavanos were improper. They were lshem shamayim, and that is whay Yaakov only criticized their anger and haste, and not the actions.
Thursday, December 07, 2006
We read about the story in which Shchem takes Dina and has his way with her. He and his father Hamor approach Yaakov and family and request her hand in marriage along with a general approval of their communities intermarrying.
Yaakov and family are not impressed, to say the least. They come up with a plan and suggest that they cannot marry uncircumcised people. if they would circumcise themselves, they could marry each other.
Shchem and Hamor have all the males in the community get circumcised and when they are at their weakest point (the third day), Levi and Shimon say they cannot let this happen and they wipe out the whole town to no resistance.
Yaakov is upset at his sons. He tells them off that this is not the way to act and they have put him in a precarious position.
Levi and Shimon offer a very simple response to their fathers scathing discipline. In 34:31 they respond with just four words. הכזונה יעשה את אחותינו. Should we let our sister be treated like a harlot?
Four simple words to deflect their fathers wrath. Four words that did not even answer the issues Yaakov had raised.
Sometimes the answer is clear. Sometimes the method of action is clear. No beating around the bush. Yaakov was worried about diplomacy and how it would affect his relationships with the various other natives and clans around the country.
But Levi and Shimon had a clear and simple equation. We cannot let our sister be treated like that. Nothing more. Nothing less. The time to act was upon us and we had to defend Dina. The rest does not matter.
And Yaakov accepted the answer.
Yaakov meets up with the angel of Esau and battles with him. The angel requests to end the battle so he can depart and Yaakov refuses. In 32:37 we see Yaakov's response, in which he says, "I will not send you, unless you bless me."
Rashi says this is referring to showing that he accepts the fact that Yaakov has the brachos from Yitzhak and will retain no further claims on them.
While I would not dispute that and disagree with Rashi, I would like to offer an alternate pshat, one based on the simple reading of the text.
In the next response of the angel we see that the angel actually blessed Yaakov ("ויברך אותו שם"). That would indicate to me that Yaakov was simply requesting a blessing from this angel.
I would like to point out a thought that came to me when reading this:
We see from here that even people who we might consider evil have the ability to bless, and that, as the gemara says, is something we should take seriously. Do not scoff and reject the blessing of anybody, even if you think they might not be worthy. Yaakov actively sought out the blessing of the angel of Esau who had just tried to kill him and maimed him in the process! Who could represent greater evil than that!!
Thursday, November 30, 2006
We read about Yaakov deciding to gather his family and belongings together and leave Lavan's house to go back to his homeland. In 31:19 as they are leaving, the passuk tells us, "ותגנב רחל את התרפים" - and Rachel stole [Lavan's] idols. Eventually Lavan notices they are gone and when he catches up with them this becomes a point of contention resulting in Rachel's untimely demise due to a curse Yaakov placed on her for the theft.
What was Rachel thinking? Did she think she could get away with it? Did she think her father would notice them gone and wave them off?
At least when Avraham messed around with his fathers idols, the midrash tells us that he smashed them all to pieces, so there was nothing to chase after to retrieve, and it helped Avraham concoct a story in his defense. Rachel did not even smash them up. She just took them? Did she think Lavan would not want them back? They were probably expensive so he would not just wave it off! And even if he would not chase them, what good is taking them anyway - Lavan could just go to the idol store and buy new ones?
I think Rachel was making a point. Sure, she knew Lavan would look for them. I think her idea was just to make him pause and think about whether he really needed the idols.
Oftentimes we get into routines and we just continue doing the same thing using the same methods and putting out the same efforts, even if situations have changed. We continue following the same minhagim even if they are not relevant. We continue in the same path we have always followed, just because that is what we are used to doing.
By taking Lavan's idols, she is making him stop and think. Yes, he can chase them down and find them. yes, he can go buy new ones. But all that takes effort. You do not just run off and do those things. He would have to think about whether it was really worth it.
By making Lavan stop and think, she was creating a new situation in which Lavan would be forced out of his routine worship of these idols and re-evaluate whether he really needed and wanted these idols.
Wednesday, November 29, 2006
Yaakov wakes up from his dream of the laddr and Hashem speaking to him and declares in 28:20-21, "If Hashem will be with me and guard me on the way that I am going and give me bread to eat and clothes to wear and if I will get home to my family safely, then hashem will be to me for my God and I will..."
This is our forefather Yaakov? The "איש תם יושב אהלים"? This is the same Yaakov who just had a dream in which Hashem spoke to him and he woke up and said he only now realized how holy the place was, etc..? he is making his acceptance of Hashem conditional on Hashem giving him bread and clothes? Wasn't Hashem already his God?
And how is this different than what many of us do? We "test" Hashem and say if I pass this test I will keep shabbos, or if I win the lottery I will do x y or z, etc. Was Yaakov doing the same "test of Hashem" and is that what his faith was based on?
Ever wonder who started Jewish Geography? How it began?
I think I found the first instance of Jewish Geography.
In Parshat Va'Yetzei (this weeks portion of Torah reading) we find Yaakov running away from his home to avoid Esau's wrath, and to find for himself a wife. Yaakov finds his way to a well outside of Haran and sees a bunch of sheperds.
In 29:3 he asks them where they are from. They respond that they come from Haran. Yaakov says, "Hey! I have an uncle in Haran!! You guys knows Lavan my uncle??!!"
They said yes.
There you have it. The first documented case of Jewish Geography that started a great tradition to be kept in all Jewish gatherings for all future generations.
Thursday, November 23, 2006
In 27:33-41 we read about Yaakov fooling Yitzhak to get the blessings. Esau finds out and totally freaks out. He gets upset and threatens to get even with Yaakov. He pleads with his father Yitzhak to find another bracha to bless him with.
We tend to have a picture of Esau as an evil person who was a bit bloodthirsty. Maybe a megalomaniac. Idol worshipper.
Yet Esau ran off to serve his father and fulfill his wishes. Commentaries say that despite Esau's overall bad disposition, the one mitzva he excelled at was honoring his father. He went all out in that regard. That was why Yitzhak thought that Esau deserved the brachos. Even if he did not realize how evil he was, he must have at least thought he is an ok kid and deserving of the brachos, because of the great mitzva of honoring parents that he adhered to very carefully.
But there is more to it than just that. Esau really believed in the brachos. He was not simply scoffing at them when he sold them for the bowl of lentils saying they are worthless. Look at how upset he was when he understood they had been given to someone else. he must have believed they would happen or else he would not have gotten so upset. He pleaded with his father to come up with a new bracha for him. he threatened Yaakov. etc.
It seems to me that brachos are not just someones good wishes for you. It is not that someone, maybe a great person, is just wishing you well and maybe Hashem will isten because he is great and has influence. No. I think brachos are generally indicative of a certain reality that may not yet have come to fruition and the bracha expresses the impetus for the recipient to strive in that certain direction to attain that reality.
Esau realized he lost the brachos. he lost the potential for all that wealth and fortune. that is why he could not understand why Yitzhak could not just give him another bracha. He asks "Is there nothing else for me?" (27:38). He was desperate for that potential and thought there had to be something available for him. But Yitzhak says no I cannot. That bracha is his and proceeds to bless him with another smaller blessing. A bracha is not just a wish of goodwill that Yitzhak could bestow uon whomever he wanted. It is a reality of what Hashem has to offer. Once he gave it to Yaakov, he could not just share it with Esau.
Rivka overhears Yitzhak telling Esau to bring him food so he will bless him. She hatches a plan to have Yaakov act as Esau and fool Yitzhak into blessing him. She tells Yaakov her plan and what he needs to do. Yaakov recoils in horror and comes up with reasons why the plan will not work. And the worst of it is that the risk is so great - Yitzhak might realize and then curse me!! The risk is too great. Can't do it.
Rivka's response is that do not worry - any curse he throws at you is on my back. I will take the curse. You just go ahead and do what I told you.
I find two aspects of this story fascinating:
- The level of self-sacrifice Rivka had on behalf of the future nation of Israel. She knew it was crucial for the future of Israel that Yaakov get those blessings and not Esau. She was willing to take the curses on her own head, just as long as it would effect the stewardship of the blessings be in Yaakov's hands.
- Yaakov was a naysayer. He was not an aggressive risk-taker. Rivka hatched this great plan, albeit risky. Yaakov found every excuse why it would not work and is not a good idea. We often find ourselves at a juncture where we could take a risk and end up with great success or avoid the risk and settle for less. Most of the time we are too cowardly to take the risk. Yaakov, the "איש תם יושב אוהלים" was the same way. If it was up to him, he would not have taken the risk, Esau would have been blessed by Yitzhak, and who knows how history would have turned out. The most successful people are usually the people who take the risk. Rivka told Yaakov not to worry about the risk. He followed her advice and it paid off.
Wednesday, November 22, 2006
In 27:3-4 Yitzhak tells Esau that he is soon going to die and he should go trap a deer and make food so he can bless him. He was very specific about what he wanted Esau to bring him.
Was Yitzhak really so concerned on his deathbed about what his last meal would consist of? Why didn't he just say bring me something to eat so I can bless you? Whyw as he so concerned with the specifics? And why is he so concerned about what's for dinner at such a critical time?
The Seforno suggests that he requested food from Esau because he wanted Esau to perform this mitzva of honoring his father so the blessing would have a mitzva to take effect upon, because Yitzhak knew that Esau was not really a worthy person (even if he did not know how bad he actually was, he at least knew this).
But it still seems out of place that Yitzhak gave such specific instructions. He could have just said to bring him dinner and the mitzva would have been accomplished the same.
It happened again. In Chapter 26 we see Yitzhak going to the city of G'rar. He followed in his father's footsteps and told the people (and Avimelech the king) that Rivka is his sister so they would not kill him and take her. Avimelech played sleuth and figured out that they are husband/wife and not brother/sister.
Avimelech chastised him for the lie saying somebody could have possibly approached Rivka and we all would have been punished for it. "How could you do this to us?" He then told his people to leave Yitzhak and Rivka alone. They continued to live there and prospered.
This is consistent with how Avimelech reacted with Avraham. When Avraham pulled the same trick of saying Sarah is his wife, Avimelech nearly got killed for it and when he found out he gave Avraham great wealth and a choice of land to live on.
Yet when Avraham pulled the same trick on Pharoh, the Egyptians threw him out of Egypt. They gave him money and told him to get lost.
I find the different reactions interesting and telling regarding their attitudes. At the time Avraham went down to Egypt we are told that Egypt had a decadent society and therefore Avraham had great fear for his life. That might be consistent with the Egyptians throwing Avraham out after having duped them. Yet Avimelech had a positive attitude and understood Avraham and Yitzhak's concerns and allowed them to continue living in his country.
Tuesday, November 14, 2006
Eliezer, servant of Avraham, goes to Aram Naharayim to seek out a wife for Yitzhak from the family of Nahor. After the whole story of meeting up with Rivka and her offering water to him and his camels, Eliezer requests a place to sleep the night. Rivka offers lodging and then goes home to tell her family of the guest.
The passuk in 24:29 says, "וירץ לבן אל האיש" - Lavan ran to the man...
Rashi explains why Lavan ran. He explains, "Why did he [Lavan] run and for what did he run? "When he had seen the nose ring," he said, "This one is rich" and made plans to get at his money. "
The Seforno as well discusses this running of Lavan and explains that he wanted to see the wealthy man who came to town (the Seforno does not ascribe nefarious plans to Lavan as Rashi did, so it could have been for the purpose of finding a way to get his money or he possibly just wanted to see a wealthy person).
The Torah is clearly describing this act of Lavan, as it continues to portray Lavan, in a negative fashion, as an act of an evil person plotting and scheming.
Yet this is something we all do and commonly find in practice among the best of us. When someone wealthy comes to town we are all curious. We go out to see him and hope for the opportunity to shake his hand, let alone if one would have the opportunity to exchange a few words with him.
Warren Buffet just recently came to Israel and his every move was watched by all. Celebrities with their paparazzi and who knows how many more examples.
I think most of the time it is out of curiosity with a bit of hope that his luck/fortune will rub off a bit on me. But sometimes there is also a bit of nefariousness involved. We are jealous, possibly, as well.
Regardless of the intentions, we see from Lavan and how he is written up here in the Torah, that it is not a good thing to chase after the wealthy, whether simply to watch them or worse.
Thursday, November 09, 2006
We read about the akeida. Hashem tells Avraham what he wants from him. In 22:2 Hashem says, bring your son, etc.. " והעלהו שם לעולה" - bring him up there as a sacrifice.
Rashi already tells us that Hashem never said to actually slaughter Yitzchak. He only told him to bring Yitzchak up.
Did Avraham misunderstand Hashem and what He wanted? Did Avraham make a (nearly fatal) mistake?
I guess that for it to be a good test, Hashem had to find a way to say it ambiguously, using a word that implies offering it up for a korban but could be interpreted differently, so He could retract later. Avraham seems to have misinterpreted the ambiguity of God, but that was the point.
We read about the incident in which the angels show up in Lot's house in S'dom.. Lot brings them in. The people of the town hear that Lot has guests and they come to "arrest" them. It is unclear what they really wanted to do with the guests, some opinions say sodomistic purposes, others say torture. Lot says in 19:8 not to take the guests rather I have two daughters, take them.
How could Lot offer his daughters to them? If you say he felt responsible for hsi guests and could not give them up at any cost (as Rashi says) and therefore he had to offer his daughters in their places, should he not feel responsible for his daughters well being as well? He should have offered himself in their place!
Maybe he knew they would not take him because he was one of them, so the only alternative was to offer his daughters. I just fail to understand how a father could offer his daughters to such an evil plan..
Wednesday, November 08, 2006
Avraham, at Sarah's behest, throws Haggar and Yishmael out of his house and sends them packing. We read about how they go through the desert and Yishmael falls ill and is dieing. Haggar distances herself from him so as not to se him in his death throes. An angel appears to Haggar and says that Hashem has heard her prayers and the child will recover. In 21:17 the angel says that Hashem has heard the prayers of the boy where he is.
Rashi explains "where he is" to be a reference to the idea that Hashem listened to his prayers and judged him in his current status, and ignored the fact that he would later be evil and cause trouble and do bad. His current actions are ok and therefore his prayers have been accepted.
But Rashi already told us in 21:9 that the reason Sarah wanted him thrown out of the house was because she saw him involved in idol worship, murder and inappropriate relationships. These are the three worst sins a person can be involved in! How can Rashi say that he was currently ok and being judged for now rather than later?
I do not have a good answer to explain Rashi, btu was thinking that this might be the reason the Ramban (and others) suggest a different, more basic, explanation. They say that it simply means he will be healed right where he is.
Anybody out there who can explain Rashi?
The parsha starts off with the story of the three angels who come to Avraham appearing as men. They eat, drink and make merry and give over the information they need to give over. In 18:9 the angels ask Avraham "Where is Sarah your wife?"
If Avraham did not know they were angels, how was he not curious how they knew he had a wife and her name was Sarah that they should ask about her? And if he did know they were angels, why did he bother with the trouble of making lunch for them, slaughtering a bull and baking bread, etc, knowing they would not eat it because they are angels?
Wednesday, November 01, 2006
In 15:18 at the conclusion of the Brit Bein Ha'B'sarim, Hashem promises to Avram his children would be given "From the river of Egypt until the great river the river of P'Rat".
Rashi says that the P'rat river was seemingly the smallest and most minor of the 4 rivers as it is the fourth and last river mentioned (and had no description ascribed to it). Yet it still calls it here "the great river, the river of P'Rat".
Rashi explains because it is connected to the Land of Israel it deserves the title "The great river". Just by association.
Associate with good people and ideas and you will be thought of and considered to be good. Associate with evil and you will be thought of that way as well...
Look how important a decision can be. In 13:8-12 we read about Avram and Lot splitting ways. Avram let Lot choose first which direction he wanted to go and Avram would go the other way.
What does Lot choose? How does he come to that decision? The Torah tells us he lifted up his eyes, saw the beautiful grazing land with rivers and babbling brooks and lush grass and fertile land and chose that direction.
Nothing else mattered. He did not consider the community or the type of people that lived there. He did not consider where he would want to raise and educate his children and in what society he would live. It did not matter that he would become a resident of a place like S'dom.
None of it mattered as long as he had good grazing land for his sheep. He was impulsive.
And look where it got him. We all know how the story progresses and what happens in S'dom.
It is important not to be impulsive, but make your decisions with careful consideration.
We experience Avram and Sarai going down to Egypt due to a famine in the Land of C'naan. As they approach Egypt, Avram devises a plan. He fears for his life, as Sarai is an exceptionally beautiful woman he expects that the Egyptians, desiring Sarai, would have him killed so she would be husbandless and then they would take her for marriage.
In 12:13 Avram comes up with a plan that, "Say you are my sister, thereby they will be good to me for you, and will let me live because of you."
Avram did not want to say they were married because that would put him in danger. They would desire Sarai and if she was married, they would kill her husband to release her from her marriage. By saying she is his sister, they would take Sarai but not kill Avram.
Was Avram so selfish and self-absorbed that he was only concerned about his own safety, and not of Sarai's? Was he so greedy that his concern was first "they will be good to me" which Rashi explains they will give me presents on your behalf even before he says "and they will let me live"?
I found the S'forno which seems to answer this question, at least in part. The S'forno explains that Avram said of we say we are married they will kill me and take you. By saying you are my sister, they will not kill me and they will also not take you. They will beseech me and ask for your hand in marriage and offer gifts as a bribe and goodwill so I will allow them to take you.
But I do not think that is enough to answer the question. Avram should have expected it to be dangerous for her even with the claim that she is a sister. Why? Because we see they claimed she was his sister and yet in 12:15 we see that they still took Sarai. Did Avram predict incorrectly?
I suspect that Sarai being taken by the Egyptians was a fait accompli, and Avram recognized that. He knew that no matter what he did, she would be taken. The only way to avoid it would be not to go down to Egypt, but that was not an option because of the famine spreading in the Land of C'naan. Instead of looking for an unrealistic solution to the problem, he looked for the best way to protect the two of them. By saying they were married, they would kill him and Sarai would be lost for good. By saying she is his sister, they would have no reason to kill him, even if they forcibly take her, and then he would still be around to fight for her release.
Take the lesson from Avram - don't waste your time searching for unrealistic solutions.
Thursday, October 26, 2006
In 9:18-27 we read about the incident in which Noah's middle son, Ham, defiled his father's honor. His father awoke from his drunken stupor, realized what had happened and proceeded to curse Ham.
When the incident takes place, the Torah says, "Ham the father of C'naan". Rashi tells us the reason why it brings C'naan into the picture despite his not having been involved in the incident was because Noah cursed C'naan in order to punish Ham so it relates Ham to C'naan to let us know in advance (until now we had not yet been told C'naan is Ham's son, so now it is letting us know). Why punish C'naan? Because by Ham defiling Noah he prevented him from having a fourth child, so he punished/cursed the fourth child of Ham.
But why not punish Ham directly? At least in addition to punishing C'naan - C'naan did not do anything, so Ham should at least get part of the punishment if not the bulk of it?
Also, throughout this section of the parsha it vever mentions Ham on his own - it is always Ham the father of C'naan. It would have been enough for Rashi's lesson just to say it once, but it says it a couple of times and then Noah curses only C'naan and even when it happens it does not say Ham's name but says Noah realized what his youngest son had done - why is Ham absolved of the responsibility of his actions?
I do not have a good answer for this. It seems that maybe the connection between Ham and C'naan was so strong that punishing C'naan was like punishing Ham. Maybe Cnaan was his favorite son and they had a strong bond so by punishing Cnaan it was destroying Ham as well. Not a very good answer.
If you have any thoughts on this, feel free to put them in the comments.
Tuesday, October 24, 2006
Noah and his family left the Ark and offered sacrifices to Hashem. In 8:21 the Torah tells us that Hashem smelled the pleasant smell (of the korban) and said to Himself He would no longer curse the land because of man.." "וַיָּרַח יְהוָה, אֶת-רֵיחַ הַנִּיחֹחַ, וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה אֶל-לִבּוֹ לֹא-אֹסִף לְקַלֵּל עוֹד אֶת-הָאֲדָמָה בַּעֲבוּר הָאָדָם".
The smell of meat pacified Hashem and made Him change His position on the idea of wiping out mankind? It is not like the korbanot Noah brought were a surprise and He saw the goodness of Noah that caused Him to change His mind - Noah knew (in 8:20;Rashi) that Hashem told him to bring 7 of each kosher animal specifically for the purpose of having animals for korbanot - so Hashem knew and really in essence told Noah to bring the korbanot.
So why did He change His attitude?
When the smell reached Hashem he recognized that Noah really did have the best intentions and despite the fact that man is evil from his youth (the continuation of the passuk), there is potential for good and even for greatness. That being the case, there is hope for mankind. That is what pacified Hashem. The smell of the korban caused Hashem to realize (k'v'yachol) that there is great potential in man and therefore should not be destroyed.
Saturday, October 21, 2006
The following questions I had on the parsha that I have not yet thought of answers for nor have I found answers yet:
1. In 2:14 the Torah is describing the 4 rivers that branch out from Gan Eden. It describes 3 of them and says exactly where they go. When it gets to the fourth river, it simply says "And the fourth river is P'ras". No description. It does not tell us which land it surrounds. Why not? Why by the others does it describe their location but not by the P'ras river?
2. In 4:22 when delineating the descendants of Kayin, the passuk mentions the two wives of Lemech and their children. Then it says at the end of the passuk "and the sister of Tuval Kayin was Na'amah". Why does it relate her as the sister of Tuval Kayin instead of as the daughter of Lemech and Tzila?
Sunday, October 15, 2006
In 1:16 the Torah describes how the sun, moon and constellations were created. The Torah calls the moon and sun, "את שני המאורות" and then again calls the moon, "את מאור הקטן".
Rashi goes into a nice explanation using the midrash to describe how the moon complained that they were created equal (moon and sun) but they cannot function like that, so Hashem shrank the moon and that is why the sun is call "מאור הגדול" and the moon is called "מאור הקטן".
But there is a fundamental question here. Why is the moon called a Maor at all? Maor is a source of light and the moon, as we all know is a big rock. It does not shine forth any light of its own, rather the light we see is simply a reflection of the light from the sun. So why is the moon referred to as a source of light?
I think it is related to the sphere of influence. For example, When a rebbe teaches a student, he is sometimes referenced as a father, as his sphere of influence is similar to that of a parent and if the student learns and follows the rebbe, the influence can change the character of the relationship to that of a parent and not just a rebbe.
The moo n shines forth no light of its own. Yet it reflects the light of the sun, to the point where it can light up the night sky. The moon is receiving the influence of the sun and has made itself subservient, in a way, to the leadership of the sun, which is also described in the midrash Rashi describes.
Because the moon accepted the leadership of the sun and dedicated itself to the influence of the sun, it is described as a מאור even though technically it is not.
The first Rashi in the parsha is relatively famous, as far as Rashis go. The parsha begins in 1:1 by saying "In the beginning Hashem created the heavens and the earth."
Rashi comes along and tells us that the reason the Torah begins with all this history of the world and of the Jewish nation rather than simply beginning with the first mitzva (החודש הזה לכם...), is to let it be known that Hashem created the world and can give the land to whomever He desires. So if/when other nations come to claim the land of Israel from the Jews as having been unfairly captured, the Jews can say God created it and gave it to us, as has clearly been delineated in the Torah that He has the right to do so.
This is a wonderful explanation and should be read in Rashi by everyone. It was clearly written for Jews to internalize the lesson rather than non-Jews, as they likely will not accept such an argument. Rather, we Jews need to internalize the idea that we have the right to the Land of Israel.
However, I would like to offer another suggestion to explain why we begin the Torah reading how Hashem created the world and the history of the world, our forefathers, the Jewish nation, etc.
If the Torah was simply a book compiling all the mitzvos, it is unlikely it would be read by many. Nobody would feel obligated to adhere to the mitzvos and nobody would feel connected to them. Hashem had to begin the book by showing how He created the world, how the forefathers came to recognize Him and commit their lives to His way and how the Jewish nation began and was sustained by Him.
Only after reading all this history and explanation, only after all the raging debates about science and Torah, only after delving into the actual history and stories that made us into the nation we are, only after all that can Hashem delineate the Mitzvos for us. Once we are committed to Hashem and His way, then we can read and study the actual mitzvos and follow and perform them.
Without the history, it is just a bunch of rules nobody would be interested in keeping. The point of the Torah is not just tio give us these rules, but to allow us to dedicate our lives to Hashem. For that we need to mitzvos, but we also need the history.
Wednesday, September 13, 2006
In 31:13 Moshe is instructing the people regarding the mitzva of Hakhel. Every shemitta year when the people will come to the Temple during the Festival of Sukkot, the king is to read the whole Torah so they should hear and listen and learn to fear Hashem and keep His Torah. In passuk 13 Moshe then says "And the children who did no tknow will listen and learn to fear Hashem, etc.."
Why did the children not know? We educate our children all year round? We send them to school to learn Torah every day and describe the miracles of the exodus from Egypt and the desert? Why do they not know? Are we only to instruct them once every 7 years?
"The children who did not know" - sure we teach them. We send them to the best schools for them to learn Torah. We fulfill the mitzva of "And you should tell to your children" every Pesach seder. We teach them all the time. But they still do not know - it is not firsthand knowledge and cannot really be categorized as knowing it internally.
The next generation (and all subsequent generations) learns and hears and studies, but it is never going to be firsthand knowledge like that of those who experienced it, and therefore do not internalize it the same way.
By coming to a mass meeting once in 7 years with the whole nation to learn Torah together and review the events of the Torah that is the best and closest way to convert all that information they had learned into a sense of being together as one nation with a common goal of serving Hashem and developing this knowledge and sense of awareness.
in 31:7 Moshe tells Yehoshua that he will be taking over and bringing the nation into the land of Israel. Instead of using the word to bring, "תביא", he says to come, "תבוא". Moshe says Be strong and courageous for today you will come [with?] the nation into the land... Why does he not say you will bring them in, as he says later?
Moshe says Tavo, you will come, because he is telling Yehoshua that he will not really be the leader. He will not be leading them into Israel. Hashem will be the leader. Sure, Yehoshua will have a role to play in directing them and being the go-between between the people and Hashem, but Moshe wants to make sure Yehoshua never forgets that he is not the leader, rather just one of the people despite his important role.
In the last section of the parsha, Hashem is informing the nation that they have a choice between good and evil, between life and death. In the last passuk of the parsha, in 30:20 He suggests to the people that they choose life so you will live and to love Hashem to listen to His words and to adhere to Him, for that is [the source of] your life and longevity, so that you will live on the land that He has promised to your father, etc.."
Keeping the Torah is synonymous with loving Hashem, as that is what it means "to listen to His words and to adhere to Him".
Loving Hashem is the source of your life and doing so will bring about the ultimate goal of living in the land, for that is the only way we can fulfill out potential as a people.
Wednesday, September 06, 2006
In Chapter 27 Moshe is setting the nation up to receive a set of blessings and curses. The representatives of the tribes are setting up on the mountains of Gerizim and Eval and when the Levites called out a blessing towards those on Mt. Gerizim and they respond amen and then the corrsponding curse towards Mt. Eval and those standing there would call out amen.
The interesting thing I noticed is that the Torah, when listing the blessings and curses, only lists the curses. If it was going to choose one or the other, why did it choose the curses and not the blessings? Another reason for the assumption is that the blessings were mentioned first and the curses second, so the first item (blessings) is what should have been listed in the Torah, if only one was going to be listed? Furthermore, a few verses later the Torah lists a number of generic blessings for listening to the word of Hashem and then it lists the corresponding curses for not listening - if it listed both the blessings and the curses there, why not here as well?
I have not thought of a satisfactory answer yet at this point. Maybe one of my readers can suggest an answer... if you do please post it in the comments.
When searching through the commentaries, I noticed that the Seforno deals with the issue of why only the curses were mentioned.He suggests the reason to say it in the form of the curse was to separate the curses so only the people deserving of the curse will receive it, rather than all of Israel. I did not completely understand hsi reasoning and why it is true, and am still looking for an answer..
In 28:68 the Torah is nearing the end of the "tochecha" section. This is a big warnign containing a long list of horrible calamities that will befall the nation if they stray from the path of Torah observance and dedication to Hashem. The pasuk says, "And you will be returned to Egypt in boats in the way I had said you would never see again and there you will be sold as slaves and maidservants, yet there will be no buyers."
What is the great calamity? After reading about horrific tragedies waiting to befall us such as going crazy, eating your own children, destroyed by the enemy, crops not growing, among many others. After all that, not being bought as a slave does not seem like such a horrible punishment! So what is the big deal that this is the final threat in the warning?
I would like to suggest that this really is a real threat. It is a threat to a persons psyche. everybody wants and needs to know that his life and being has some sort of value. If I cannot even be sold as a slave that means I am pretty much worthless. I am a good for nothing.
By warning us that nobody will even by you as a slave, Moshe is warning the nation that they will be made to feel worthless and good for nothing. That, as we all know, can lead to depression and a horrible state of mind.
That is the threat of the passuk and that is how it fits into the context of the tochecha.
Wednesday, August 30, 2006
Parshat Ki Tetze
In chapter 24 we read a series of mitzvot that delineate aspects of a welfare society and social concern. The verses talk about leaving parts of your fields and crops for the downtrodden, the convert, the widow, etc.. We also find the Torah give reasons for these mitzvot. In verses 18, 19 and 22 we find the reason: You should remember that you were once slaves in the Land of Egypt, etc.. This is in addition to the multitude of mitzvot we find throughout the Torah that are to remind us of our days in Egypt.
A Jewish community is not meant to be purely capitalistic. Social rules must be built into society. We have to care for the needy and less fortunate among us. It is not only to be left for the philanthropic feelings – when a person feels like donating. The commandments tell us the rules of what we have to leave for the poor.
In Egypt we were the lower-class of society. We were the slaves. We were the people who were not taken care of. Therefore it is incumbent upon us to think back to Egypt – remember those times, imagine what it was like. Think back and understand how difficult it is for the widow, for the orphan, the convert, the poor, etc. By doing that, you will be sensitive to his needs and you will be able to treat him properly, with the proper care every Jew deserves.
Tuesday, August 29, 2006
Masechet Yoma 82a
NOTE: no halachic conclusions should be drawn from this article. A competent Orthodox Rabbi must be consulted regarding any practical questions that might arise. The following is a discussion for hashkafic thought alone and has not been fully researched for the purpose of psak.
On daf 82a of Masechet Yoma we have a discussion in the gemara regarding what age a parent must begin training his child to fast on fast days, specifically Yom Kippur.
The Tosefos Yeshanim asks an interesting question: There is a rule in halacha that says if one sees a child eating neveilos (non-kosher food) one must not (or need not) stop him. So what is the big discussion on what age to train him to fast, we should be discussing what age to stop him from actually transgressing something assur!!??
The Tosefos Yeshanim answers the question by bringing the opinion of R' Eliezer from Mitz. R' Eliezer from Mitz is of the opinion that the two issues are completely separate. There is an inyan of "chinuch" which entails training and educating the child to do a mitzva - to do what is right. Then there is an inyan of abstaining from issur. Chinuch, he says, has no bearing on abstaining from issur, only doing mitzvos. That is why we are discussing training him to fast rather than stopping him from issur.
The idea R' Eliezer is telling us is mind boggling (to me). The mitzva of chinuch is only for positive mitzvos, not to stop him from doing something wrong (though that too might be admirable to teach a child when possible). If one sees the candy-man in shul give a child a candy with a questionable hechsher (or even no hechsher), one should talk to the candy-man about no longer providing those candies, but he should not take away the candy from the child! Let the child finish eating it. To me that is an amazing chiddush in chinnuch!
Why is that so?
I was thinking about it and considered this thought. We want to give our children a positive outlook on Yiddishkeit and mitzvos. The obligation of chinnuch incorporates that idea. The obligation to educate your child in mitzvos is, on the one hand, to train the child in the habit of actually doing the mitzvos. On the other hand, it is also to engender within the child the positive attitude towards doing mitzvos. We urge him to do mitzvos, but we do not stop him when he does issurim. We want to give over the positive aspect and not the negative.
Again, this should not be used as a halachic guide. It is simply a thought on an idea presented by R' Eliezer from Mitz in the Tosefos Yeshanim. If the question arises and you need to know whether to stop your child from doign something that is assur, you must consult with your Rav.
Thursday, August 24, 2006
Starting with 20:10, the Torah describes the way the Jewish Nation goes out to war. It delineates how we fight, the terms we offer for peace, and how we settle things properly.
In 20:10 the Torah says “When you come to a city to wage war upon it, you first offer it peace.” Fighting is never meant to be the ideal solution to our problems. We are meant to first look for peaceful resolutions to our disputes.
In 20:11 the Torah continues by letting us know what peace is: “If they respond for peace, all the residents of the city will pay taxes to you and will have to serve you”. Peace is not a fictitious set of achievements that allow situations to continue and let resentment fester and build up. Peace is a method of achieving a situation without having to kill all sorts of innocent people. The only way to have peace with our enemy is by having them be subservient to us.
In 20:12, 13, 14 the Torah continues: “If they reject the peace with you, you shall wage war upon the city. You should kill every male by sword. Only allow the women children and cattle to live. All that is in the city will be yours as spoils of war, etc.”
The Torah tells us how to fight and it tells us how to make peace. The prerequisite for this to happen is that we must be coming from a position of strength, not weakness. If our goals are clear and the opposing people are in fear of our strength and unity, then we will be able to achieve our goals, even peacefully. If we are weak, they will not accept our terms and we will not resort to the appropriate methods of warfare, and we will end up paying the cost in lives of our soldiers and more.
Tuesday, August 22, 2006
This sounds like the title to a John Grisham novel, or a Harrison Ford movie. but it is not.
The passuk tells us in 17:7 that if one worships other gods, etc., we bring him t judgement with witnesses, etc., and when the death sentence is meted out, "the hand of the witnesses will be first to kill him, and then the hands of the ntion, You shall remove the evil from your midst."
Why must the witnesses get their hands dirty and also play the role of executioner? Why not have the executioner of the Beis Din perform the execution?
It is a fairly easy thing for two people to show up in court and testify against someone else (truthfully of course. I am not talkign about them possibly fabricating their stories). There would be no reprcussions and nothing for them to worry about. By making them follow through and carry out the execution, we are making it much more serious. They have to realize that they are not one small part of a process, but everything is hinged on them and they will be the ones up front getting their hands dirty performing the execution.
If that does not sober them up, nothing will.
They, and the rest of the nation if necessary, must be prepared to act on their findings and eradicate evil from amongst them.
In the beginning of this weeks Parsha, the Torah instructs the nation to appoint judges and police. to judge the nation properly, not to show favor in judgement or take bribes. Then in 16:20 it continues by saying, "Seek out righteousness so that you will live and inherit the land that Hashem has given to you."
The question is, and it is asked by many, what is the connection between judging righteously and inheriting the land?
Rashi, with the help of the explanation of te Sifsei Chachamiim, explains that ,"So you will ive and inherit the land" is not referring to the Seek out righteousness statement, rather it is going back on the appoint judges to judge properly and not take bribes. if you appoint such judges they will be worthy of bringing the nation to inherit and live in the Land of Israel.
I think that it is all one continuous flow of pesukim, and there is no need to relate this part back to the previous passuk.
If the judges act righteously and do not take bribes, there will be a sense of morality among the people. When the leaders are righteous it filters down to the regular people. They too will seek out to live righteously. When everybody is living properly with the proper moral and ethical codes, then the nation will be worthy of inheriting the Land of Israel.
Thursday, August 10, 2006
Many times throughout the parsha Moshe mentions this idea again and again, and says you are inheriting not by your own rights. Hashem wanted to destroy you a number of times, when you did x, y and z in the desert. In 9:5 Moshe clearly says, "Not by your merits do you come to inherit the land, rather because of the wickedness of the other nations Hashem promised to your father Avraham, Isaac and Jacob, etc..."
In the current war we (our government) have been declaring such things as "We will dictate the terms of the peace" and "We will make them fear us" and other things of the sort. Clearly we have fallen into the trap Moshe warned us so strongly against in this weeks parsha.
If we would be more humble in our attitude and give Hashem some of the credit, he would look more kindly upon helping us out of our problems and helping us live here peacefully.. The parsha concludes with Moshe saying, "Nobody will be able to stand before you. Hashem will place on you fear and trembling in all the lands you will tread upon."
If we would do our part, He will do His.
In 11:10 Moshe tells the nation, “For the land to which you are going to inherit, is not like the land of Egypt from which you departed, that you would plant the seed and water the garden with your foot.”
Rashi explains that Moshe was saying it is not like Egypt, but better than Egypt. In Egypt you had to bring water from the Nile River, as there is no rain. In the Land of Israel it will be easier, as all you have to do is plant and then wait for the rains.
I don’t know about you, but last time I checked, there are always problems of droughts in Israel. There is usually not enough rain and the farmers are always complaining of crops dying from lack of water. The government is always working to find alternative sources for water, such as importing from Turkey, desalination, etc.. So what makes this land so much easier? Sure there is no water to take and we just have to wait for the rain, but there is generally not enough rain!!!???
I was thinking that Moshe’s statement must be dependant on the behavior and attitude of the Jews. Life in Israel can and will be easier and better than it was in Egypt. It will be easier to water your crops. But only if you listen to God and do what He wishes. If we fulfill our side of the commitment, He will make our lives easier and provide the water we so dearly need. Rain is even one of the items specifically mentioned in the “tochacha” section of the curses in the Torah, in the sense that if we do not keep the Torah, the rain will be withheld.
That is why Moshe continues and says ”The land is constantly being watched by Hashem… (and continues) and I will bring the rains on your land in their proper time, etc..”.
It is not simply an easier life in Israel. However, if we would fulfill our side of the deal with Hashem, it would be.
Monday, August 07, 2006
In Chapter 8 Moshe goes through many of the miracles that Hashem performed in the desert on behalf of the Jews. He mentions in verse 3 the Manna. He says, “Hashem made you hungry and then fed to you the manna that was not known to you or to your fathers.” Then he says something interesting. He says, “In order to let you know that not on bread alone does man survive, but on whatever Hashem dictates a man will live.”
The purpose of the manna was not to sustain the Jews in the desert because there was no other food to be had. Hashem could have provided for the Jews differently, as he did with the quail or bring some other seemingly natural type of food.
Moshe is telling Bnei Yisrael that when Hashem sent them the Manna, it was a means to an end. It was meant not just to sustain them but to teach them a lesson. To teach them that Hashem can, and will, provide for their needs.
As the Jews are about to go into Israel, they are at risk of forgetting all these lessons they had experienced in the desert. The desert was a magical place for them. All their needs were taken care of. They saw miracles openly.
As they are about to enter Israel, they are also about to lose that lifestyle. They are now going to have to begin working for their food and living basically normal lives. They could fall into the trap of thinking they are providing for themselves and they are earning their own way.. That is why Moshe says all this now. To remind them of who is really behind it all. That is why he continues by saying that Hashem is bringing you to the land and you will eat and be satisfied and bless Him for the good land that He has given you. And then he continues to warn them from falling into the trap of saying, “Kochi V’Otzem yadi” – that their accomplishments are because of their own efforts and they provided for themselves.
Remember the manna and all the other miracles and you will see that Hashem is really behind all the sustenance you have.
Wednesday, August 02, 2006
UPDATED - after adjusting the text a number of times, this is the adjusted text that indicates what I actually said.
Tisha B’av 5766
In my shul we have a program which has become quite common among anglo communities in Israel. Instead of reading all the kinot published as was commonly done, we select a number of the kinnot to read (a lot of them, but not all of them). Before each kina one of the members will give a brief introduction to the kinna, an explanation, some words of inspiration, etc. The idea is that instead of mindlessly reading a bunck of kinnot that nobody understands, we say less but it is more infused with meaning and understanding.
I was asked to give the introduction to Kinna 23, entitled “V’Es Navvi”. Below I am posting what I plan (more or less to say as the introduction.
In 23 we will be lamenting the story of the children of R’ Yishmael Ben Elisha. The paytan relates the tragic story of how these 2 children, a son and a daughter were captured by separate captors. The captors were bragging to each other about the special beauty each one saw in his respective captive. They came up with a plan to have the two captives mate and they would share the offspring, which they assumed would be tremendously beautiful children.
The paytan goes on to describe how they were put together in a dark room and they stayed apart the whole night ashamed that this is what could come of the child of such a great man. By daybreak they each realized who the other was and they held each other and their nashamos left them together.
Truly a tragic story. Bit it is difficult, at least for me, to relate to a story of a kidnapping from about 2000 years ago and be moved to tears.
If one has a hard time relating to a story from so long ago and crying about it and simply reads it as a tragic story, there is no lack of similar stories from more modern times.
If you must, think about Gilad Shalit, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev who are being held by barbaric captors under who knows what type of conditions. Think of Ron Arad whose daughter never had the opportunity of knowing him because he has been held captive for so long. Think of all the other MIA’s who we have no idea of their whereabouts. Think of their parents who have no idea if their children are alive or dead or what kind of condition they are in. Think of the turmoil these people are going through.
If that is not enough, think of the holocaust. Think of the children who were snatched away from their parents. Think of the families that were separated and decimated and destroyed.
The ArtScroll explains that we are not crying specifically about the capturing of these young adults, rather we are crying about the hillul hashem. We are including this story in the kinnos because they were less concerned with their personal fate and more concerned with the hillul Hashem of their being forced to such degrading acts.
But if you have a hard time crying about a hillul Hashem that took place 2000 years ago, think of the hillul hashem that we have gone through daily, throughout history, since the destruction of the beis hamikdash. All Jews are princes and princesses and we all come from great yichus of Avraham Avinu. Yet the blood of jews, the children of Jews, have been left for hefker for the pillaging of the goyim. We have suffered throughout history bloog libels and progroms and holocausts. Killing and kidnappings. Even to this day.
Think again to the holocaust. Think of all the children who were given refuge and protection by the church, only to never be returned to their families, but to be raised as Christians.
Think of what is perhaps the most famous of uch stories, the story of Edgardo Mortara. Edgardo was a young 6 year old child in Italy in the mid-1800s. he fell ill and was on his deathbed. The families youngle Christian maidservant was concerned the child would die without ever having been saved and he would remained damned for eternity. So she baptised him, without telling the family. Edgardo eventually recovered from his illness, but it did not matter. The church found out about the baptism, and despite it being unauthorized and illegal, he had been baptized. They came and removed him from his parents care. After all, it was illegal for a Jew to raise a Christian child. No amount of pleading and fighting with the church and with the courts was able to bring Edgardo back home to his parents. he later went on and became a Catholic priest.
That is something everybody can relate to. If thinking of children being kidnapped 2000 years ago creating a hillul hashem does not move you to tears, think of the more modern instances of the same events, and that should move you.
As Jews we are all princes and princesses with the great yichus of being children of Abraham. Every tragedy that has befallen us is a tragedy but is also a hillul Hashem. If you cannot cry about the tragedy and hillul Hashem of 2000 years ago, it is all too easy to think about more recent tragedies and let those move you.
The paytan says, - woe Hashem has such decreed, he says and he fullfills his word. אוי כי זאת גזר אומר ועושה . If we do not let these kinnos move us to be inspired to improve our ways, Hashem has promised what will happen, and we should know that He fulfills His word.
Monday, July 24, 2006
Moshe begins his review of the events of the travels through the dessert. He gets to the tale of the sending of the spies to Israel and he says that you came to me and wanted to send spies, etc.. In 1:23 Moshe says, “the idea was good in my eyes.”
Rashi aks if Moshe approved of the idea, why does he seem to be criticizing them? He explains that it is like a car salesman (he actually uses donkey instead of car, but I am paraphrasing). A guy is trying to sell a car. A customer comes in and asks questions. Finally he asks if he can take it for a test ride. The saleman says of course. Than he asks what about uphill? Downhill? In the sun? In the rain? Etc.. and the saleman keeps on responding in the affirmative.
When the buyer sees that the seller has nothing to hide and is willing to let him test it under any condition, he says I have no need for a test drive, I see from your confidence that nothing is wrong with it and I will buy it right now.
The same is true with Moshe. He thought that by his displaying confidence and agreeing to send the spies to Israel, they would say that if Moshe is so confident that everything there is ok that he is even willing to let us send spies, it must be fine and they would drop the idea of spies and just go in.
My question is, why would Moshe think his confidence would inspire them? What is the comparison to the car salesman – after all, the car salesman knows the specs of the car and where it works and has problems. His confidence really would inspire a potential customer. However, Moshe never saw the Land of Israel that he would have any reason to have confidence in what he was offering them? Why should his sales pitch inspire them when they knew that all his info was only second hand?
Moshe spoke directly with God and that is where his information came from. Moshe heard how great the Land of Israel is directly from the mouth of God. He was not trying to pass off bad information – he was passing on the word of God. He was so in tune with God and so in sync with God and Gods will that if God said the Land is great, Moshe can confidently say it as well, as if he had even seen it himself. Moshe had no doubts whatsoever of Gods intentions and sincerity.
That is why he assumed his confidence would inspire the buyer. However, he “forgot” that they were not on the same level as him. They were doubters. They found reasons to complain and doubt Gods words and abilities.
That is why he thought he would inspire them, but they refused to accept his inspiration.
Thursday, July 20, 2006
Parshiot Matos and Maasei
When we conclude reading this weeks parshat hashavua, we will be concluding the chumash of Bamidbar and we will call out Chazak Chazak V’Nitchazek.
In the final book of Collected Writings of Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch he concludes the book with a brief essay on the call Chazak. I will simply quote here a piece from the initial paragraph of that essay, as nothing more really needs to be said here.
“It is in keeping with the spirit of Judaism that we mark the successful completion of any good endeavor with the rallying call Chazak V’Nitchazek, thereby exhorting ourselves and our companions to muster continued strength and courage so that the work may go on. It is not the Jewish way to look backward and to bask in the glory of past achievements, to rest on our laurels, as popular parlance has it. Whatever a Jew has accomplished should vanish from his view; the memory of past attainments should serve only to give him confidence and courage so he may go on to new and, if possible, even greater achievements…
In chapter 46 the Roshei Avos and Nessim present their complaints to Moshe. Their complaint is that if the daughters of Tzlafchad are given the inheritance of their father, they potentially could marry out of the tribe and that land which was part of the tribal division will then suddenly belong to a different tribe. Eventually there would be chaos with different tribes possessing parcels of land in various tribal areas. Specifically they were worried about their tribe losing parcels of land.
Moshe responds with an answer from Hashem that such women who inherit because there were no sons to inherit should only marry within their own tribe. This would ensure that the lands would stay in the original tribal division.
In verse 10 the Torah tells us that as Hashem commanded Moshe, so acted the daughters of Tzlafchad. It then proceeds to tell us that they married their uncles, thereby keeping their lands in the same tribal division.
Why did the daughters of Tzlafchad have to go through the whole process of arguing for the inheritance if at the end of the day they were going to marry their uncles, who would have been next in line anyway to inherit the land had the daughters not stepped forward? What did the women gain that gave them reason to argue as they did?
The Seforno and Ohr Hachayim seem to be answering this question. They each suggest that the command of Hashem that women who inherit should only marry within the tribe did not apply to the daughters of Tzlafchad. They had already been given permission to marry whomever they so desired. The fact that they chose to only marry within the tribe shows they were doing so to set an example, even though they did not need to.
I would like to suggest a different answer. It could be that they did not need to marry in their own tribe and this was a selfless act to set an example. However, they could have married some other nice young men from their tribe. They did not need to marry their uncles. It seems to me that the fact that they married their uncles indicates that they originally intended to regardless of the fact that they did not have to. In fact it was very common then to marry relatives, uncles, cousins, nieces, etc.. So the chances are that this was the original intention anyway. So my question still stands, why did they have to go through the whole issue if they were planning anyway to keep it in the family?
I would like to suggest this answer. They were arguing the point purely for arguments sake. They felt it necessary to be the precedent. Sure, it did not really make a difference in their case, but they saw an injustice happening and that would affect many other women in the future, even if it did not really affect them. They were willing to stand up and put themselves in the line of fire, so to speak, to set the precedent for future scenarios similar to theirs.
Wednesday, July 19, 2006
After the tribes request to be given their portion of land on the other side of the Jordan River, Moshe responds with a question: “Why do you dishearten Bnei Yisroel from crossing over to the land that Hashem has given them?” (translation by Tachash)
By requesting to stay on the East Bank of the Jordan because the grazing land was no good there, Moshe was concerned that they would leave a bad impression about going to Israel in the eyes of the rest of the nation. People would hear of the request and think that maybe other lands are better, maybe Israel is not so good, etc.. maybe, as Rashi says, they are afraid of going to battle and that would make others afraid and weakened as well, etc.. Moshe goes on and brings up the sin of the spies and makes a comparison of the impression they are leaving to what the spies did.
A person has to be very careful of his actions that they not influence negatively on other people. That is true in every issue that one should be careful from not giving a bad impression, but especially so when referring to the Land of Israel. Moshe was comparing the impression they were leaving to the act of the spies, who actively tried to dissuade the Jews from entering the Land!
David Shirel of Hebron told me a story last week, and this passuk reminded me of it.
David Shirel is the manager of the English department of Manhigut Yehudit. He and his family went to Safed last week for a few days of vacation. This was just before the Katyushas started falling. On their last day of vacation the katyushas began falling and the residents of northern Israel were beginning to clear out to find safer places. As they are getting ready to leave to go back home, his children said, “Abba, we cannot leave!” He asked why not?
The response from his children was, “If we leave, we will be giving people an impression that we are running away and that is wrong! We cannot give over that impression!”
That is exactly what Moshe is concerned about in our parsha. What you do must be done with concern over the impression you are leaving about Israel. Make sure it is a good one.
In chapter 32 we experience the request of 2.5 tribes to receive their portion of land on the other side of the Jordan. They had dealt in cattle and sheep and the grazing land on that side of the Jordan was much better for their needs.
In 32:6 Moshe responds to their request. His initial response is to ask (rhetorically), “Will your brothers go to war, and you will sit here?” In other words Moshe was saying that it was wrong for them to take this land and begin to settle it while the rest of the nation goes to war.
After some discussion, in verses 16-19 we see they return with the response that Moshe was looking for. They say they will put their families into their land and they will continue on to help their brethren conquer the land and they will not go back until everybody else is settled each in his own parcel of land.
The message is clear. We cannot divest responsibility from acting on behalf of our brothers. We are one nation. We are all responsible for one another. When one part of our nation goes to battle, we all go to battle. When one is found in a crisis situation, we are all in the same crisis. We are all obligated to participate together and equally in our national struggle.
Looking at the current events, we can all be proud of the fact that we do feel this message applies to us. Even if at other times we fight and bicker and criticize each other. In the time of crisis we all come together and somehow find ways to help and support each other.
In 31:14 we see Moshe taking the leaders of the army to task for failing to criticize and properly instruct their soldiers what to do in battle (regarding taking the booty and who to let live and who to kill). The passuk says Moshe got angry at them and Rashi explains that “This teaches that the entire corruption of the generation is attributed to the great men, since they have the power to rebuke.” (Translation by Tachash website).
This clearly shows that leadership is responsible for the general public’s attitude and behavior. We sometimes find situations in which criticism of leaders (be they Rabbonim or lay leaders) is defelected with the statement that they have other concerns and cannot always be the ones to lead the way on all issues. They say if it is right to do, do not wait for the Rabbonim.
I will not deal now with the issue of deciding on your own what is right to do or not. Obviously every case needs to be judged individually – sometimes it will be ok to do what you feel is right and sometimes it would be inappropriate without rabbinic approval.
However, this parsha seems to contradict that thought. The leaders are responsible at all times for instructing the people properly. If the great men do not rebuke, the people just don’t figure it out on their own, or even may extrapolate the wrong ideas from the lack of rabbinic response (e.g. if so and so did not say anything against it he must approve, etc..).
The leaders have an obligation to lead, all the time. No passing the buck.
Tuesday, July 11, 2006
Moshe finds out he will soon die. We find the unusual phrase of “And Moshe spoke to Hashem saying.” in 27:15. I say it is unusual because we usually have God speaking to Moshe, not the reverse. Here we see the reverse.
So what does Moshe tell Hashem? He goes into a speech in which he explains how important it is to appoint a successor to lead the Jews into Israel and that it should be somebody who has merits and can lead, etc.
Did Moshe really think Hashem would knock off Moshe and leave Bnei Yisrael without a leader? After everything Hashem had done the previous 40 years or so, taking them out of Egypt, through the desert, to the cusp of Eretz Yisrael and Moshe thought Hashem would now abandon them to their own abilities and forces? Moshe must have known Hashem would appoint someone, so what is the big discussion here?
Rashi tells us that the Torah is showing the greatness of the righteous (and Moshe in particular) that they are concerned with the welfare of the community even to the point that at the time of their deaths they are concerned with the public rather than closing their own affairs.
Of course Moshe knew Hashem would make sure the Jews were taken care of and had a leader. However, he felt it important to deal with the issue of appointing a successor while he was still alive, to ensure the smooth transition of leadership.
We see nowadays many organizations and groups who suffer from not planning the future leadership properly. The top brass leave or die and suddenly the whole organization is in turmoil. People do not know who to turn to. Oftentimes there is a split in the organization because of competing rivals looking to take the leadership role, etc. Other times there is a void as the competing rivals duke it out and the ones to suffer are the regular people who end up with no real leadership.
Yes, Hashem would take care of it. But a true leader makes sure his people are taken care of and does not leave it for other people to worry about. Moshe had to make sure his people would be taken care of. That is why Moshe spoke up now.
Sunday, July 09, 2006
In 25:11 the passuk tells us “Pinchas, son of Elazar, son of Aharon Ha’Kohen”. Rashi tells us the reason the Torah felt it important o state the lineage of Pinchas back to Aharon (the grandfather) instead of just to Elazar (the father) was because people were talking about how hypocritical Pinchas was. After all, they said, Pinchas’ grandfather (Yisro) himself was a priest o Avoda Zaras who fattened the animals for sacrificing to all sorts of deviant gods. Who is Pinchas to preach to us??!! Therefore the passuk relates Pinchas to Aharon.
So what? What does relating him to Aharons side of the family do for anyone? Did people stop talking after that? It must have gone something like this: People were talking about Pinchas and then suddenly they read he was Aharons grandson so they stopped??!! I do not think so. They knew he was Aharons grandson to start with, so what was the purpose of writing this?
I think the passuk was not writing this fact in order to stop the rumors and lashon hara from spreading and to stop people from besmirching the integrity of Pinchas. People talk and nobody likes to be told they are acting inappropriately, so they spoke badly of Pinchas. The passuk is coming to tell future generations – us, that we should know that the intentions of Pinchas were honest and done with integrity.
Wednesday, July 05, 2006
Bil’am is heading out to curse the Jews on behalf of Balak. He is cutting through a field riding on his donkey, and the donkey veers from the path. It happens a few times and it upsets Bil’am. He threatens to kill the donkey. All of the sudden the donkey starts to talk and defends his actions. Bil’am responds and explains himself to the donkey.
Can you imagine this happening? I picture the story in my head and what do I see? How would I have responded if my donkey had started to talk to me? I picture myself falling off the donkey, extremely shocked and startled. Yet Bil’am reacts as if this is a perfectly normal situation.
I would assume that Bil’am must have always seen and experienced unusual things, in order for this not to have surprised him. Maybe that is part of the package of being a prophet.
We have a very strange situation in Parshat Balak. Balak sends messengers to persuade Bil’am to assist him in bringing about the downfall of the Hews, via a terrible curse Bil’am would place upon the Jews using his calculations to figure out the moment God gets angry at the Jews. He would take advantage of the moment and curse the jews and in His great anger, He would allow Bil’ams curse to have the desired affect.
Yet Bil’am rejects the request a couple of times, saying he would not do it. Finally he is persuaded to attempt on the condition that Balak be aware that he provides no guarantees (and no money back guarantee) to being able to curse the Jews. He says very clearly that what he accomplishes regarding the Jews would be completely dependant on what Hashem wants to happen.
Balak accepts the pre-condition and they head out to try to curse the Jews. Bil’am tried once and it comes out as a blessing. When confronted by Balak, he responds that is what Hashem wanted and tough noogies, I told you inadvance it would happen.. Balak persuaded him to try again and he does. Again, it comes out as a blessing with some added stinging rebuke to Balak for even bothering to try.
This happens over and over again in the parsha with Balak attempting to curse and Bil’am giving a blessing.
Balak had a one track mind. He had to curse the Jews. He had to destroy the Jews. By hook or by crook. He did not care about anything else. He was extremely stubborn and ignored everything that was happening.
The passuk in 23:17 even tells us “The ministers of Moab were with him” and Rashi explains that earlier it had said “all the ministers of Moab” which indicates that some had left because they could tell it was a waste of time and there was no chance of success. I would venture to say that the ministers that remained with Balak did so out of respect to Balak’s position (and probably fear for their lives) rather than because they wanted to be there for the curse.
Only Balak could not see what was going on. He was so stubborn that he was blinded and could not see the reality of the situation.
It is worth taking a deep breath and reassessing a situation that is not working out rather than just driving on blindly. Don’t let your stubbornness lead you to the abyss.
Tuesday, July 04, 2006
In 22:29 Bil’am responds to his donkey by saying if he had a sword he would kill the donkey. Rashi mentions that in the eyes of the ministers accompanying him it was an embarrassment that he had to threaten the donkey with physical violence, while he was on the way to supposedly destroy the Jews by using his sharp tongue. After all, why would he need a sword to kill the donkey, why not just say something that will cut short the donkeys life?
What is going on here? Why would they expect Bil’am to present a verbal attack on the pathetic donkey rather than a physical attack, which would clearly be considered normal?
In the original decision to hire Bil’ams services, Balak expressed the knowledge that he had no physical power to beat the Jewish nation and he knew he needed to beat the Jews at their own game – by verbal powers. He specifically pursued and hired Bil’am because Bil’am was unique among the nations of the world, whose strength normally lies in the physical realm, in that Bil’ams strength was similar to the strength of the Jews, by using his mouth.
The raison d’être of Bil’am was to gain advantage by curses and blessings. He could use any lowly servant to attack with physical violence. Now he sees Bil’am getting frustrated over a confrontation with a donkey (!) and he threatens the donkey with physical violence. When a person gets frustrated lie that, he generally lashes out, and usually will attack with what is second nature to him, in Bil’ams case he should have automatically cursed the donkey and felled it in its tracks. But he did not. He threatened it with violence.
That made the ministers think maybe we are bringing back a fraud to Balak. They were embarrassed they spent so much time and effort pursuing the services of somebody who clearly did not have the powers (or at least the level of powers) he claimed to have.
The gemora even says in many places one of the ways to know a person is to view him in his state of anger. At that time he reacts with a natural reaction and by watching him at that time you will see if he is really in control of himself, and if not you will see what comes naturally to him. The ministers witnessed Bil’am in his state of anger and frustration and they saw that he was not all he claimed to be..
Wednesday, June 28, 2006
In Parshat Chukat we read about the story of Hashem sending the snakes to bite the people as punishment for (yet again) complaining how Moshe could dare take them out of Egypt with no bread or water in the desert. Hashem sends the poisonous snakes to bite them and people start dying.
In 21:8 hashem tells Moshe to make a “saraf” (fiery serpent) and place it on a pole. Whoever would look at it would be healed and whoever would not look at it would not be healed. Rashi brings the words of Chaza”l who ask how could looking at the snake heal the people? Rather when they would look at the snake they would remember their Father in Heaven, Hashem, and repent. Those who did not look at the snake would have no catalyst to cause them to think about Hashem and repentance, hence they would die.
Why did this have to be part of the healing process? Moshe davened to Hashem to stop the snakes and Hashems response was to put a snake on a pole. Why did He require this? He has sent many plagues in the past which he cancelled without doing anything so strange, so why here did He require such an act of participation on the people’s behalf?
Because their sin was one of lack of faith (they asked and complained about having been taken from Egypt into a barren desert), Hashem could not just heal them and let bygones be bygones. Next week it would happen again, as it has already occurred a number of times. The only way to nip it in the bud was to make them realize on their own what their mistake was. By telling Moshe to put the snake on a stick and make them look at it to get healed, He was forcing them to think about what they had done wrong, thereby allowing them to repent for the lack of faith. Living in the desert was an experience of truly miraculous proportions. Every moment they were surrounded by unusual miracles. They just did not think about them and realize Hashem is taking care of them.
Their participation in the healing process would force them to think about it and later to remember the lessons of the past, thereby ensuring it would not happen again.
When you participate in a process, the results are often internalized in a much greater way than by one who simply observes from the outside.
We read the story how the Jews complained about not having water to drink. Moshe was told to speak to the rock in front of the nation and water would come forth to satisfy the thirst of the people. Moshe hit the rock, the people drank and Moshe got punished for hitting rather than speaking.
In 20:12 Hashem punishes Moshe for hitting the rock, He says, “Because you did not have faith to sanctify Me in the eyes of Bnei Yisrael, etc..”. Rashi explains this verse that had Moshe spoken to the rock, the people would have extrapolated from the event that just as the rock was spoken to and did as it was told despite the fact that it receives no punishment for not listening, how much more so do I have to listen to Hashem’s word when I do get punished for not listening.
I was thinking about this “kal v’chomer” that the people would make to learn the lesson Hashem wanted them/us to learn. It seems that had Moshe spoken they would have naturally come up on their own with the above extrapolation. That means, I think, that now that Moshe hit the rock, they are coming up naturally with a different extrapolation. That kal v’chomer must have been – “Moshe hit the rock and it listened, so Hashem will hit us and we will listen (I.e. if we do not listen Hashem will hit us).”
If my thoughts are correct that the lesson we were supposed to learn was avoided and instead we learned a different lesson, it is understandable why Moshe was punished so harshly for a seemingly slight mistake (after all, hitting a rock to draw water is also a pretty big miracle). That would be because look at the lesson he taught them. He taught them (or at least made them think so) by his actions that God is a harsh God and quick to hit to have people act in accordance with His will. That is not the lesson Hashem wanted conveyed, because it is not true.
Thursday, June 22, 2006
After the Fear Factor/Survivor challenge between Korach and Aharon (or maybe The Apprentice is a better analogy) comes to a conclusion, Moshe, unbelievably, still finds doubters among the people. He goes back to the crowd and people say he was too harsh with Korach’s group, and they did not all need to die, and maybe Moshe sabotaged the challenge, etc.
Moshe comes up with another idea. He says the Nasi of each tribe should place his staff in the Holy Tent and the one that sprouts almonds would be a sign from God who is chosen for the job. They accept the idea, place the staffs, surprisingly Aharon’s staff sprouted almonds and everybody is calm and satisfied.
In 17:25 Hashem tells Moshe to place Aharon’s staff in the tabernacle as a reminder to the people, lest they should start complaining again. They would see the staff and remember all that happened.
Amazing that after all that happened, all they had seen and gone through, they would still need a stick and a pile of almonds to remind them. You would think the images of the ground swallowing the people would be seared in their minds. You would think seeing a stick sprout almonds would be unforgettable. Why is it necessary to keep the stick around as a reminder?
I think the answer is that until now also they had seen miracles of equal quality. The splitting of the sea. Water coming out of a rock. The daily Manna. The clouds and fire and daily protection form the elements. Yet despite all these miracles constantly flooding their experiences, they still keep finding reason to complain and to doubt Moshe. When you feel slighted, it does not matter how much your mind tells you that the other side is obviously correct – sometimes the only thing that can stop you in your tracks is a visual, physical reminder of what happened. Not just a memory, but something physical that forces you to remember honestly. That was the purpose of keeping the stick.