Thursday, October 26, 2006

The favorite son

Parshat Noah

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

The smell of meat

Parshat Noah

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

Questions I do not have answers to

Parshat B'Reishit

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


Parshat B'Reishit - 5767

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.

Rule book and history book

Parshat B'Reishit - 5767

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.