Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Parshas Korach 5777

Who Got the Land of Korach's Company?

The Torah writes (Numbers 16:32):
and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up with their households, all Korah’s people and all their possessions.
The Talmud (Bava Batra 118b) states:
Abaye said to him: We are referring to the protesters who were among the assembly of Korah. This term is not referring to all those who protested, but rather to the 250 individuals who protested along with Korah, and it is their portions of land that Joshua and Caleb received.
(Korach himself was a Levite and did not get land, plus his sons survived and they probably got whatever portion of Levite cities he was supposed to get)

When Did Korach Get His Name?

The Zohar writes (3:49a):
When did he get the name Korach? At the time he was shaved [like all the other Levites]. At the time that Korach saw his head without any hair and he saw Aaron adorned with royal garments, it became light in his eyes and he became jealous of Aaron
(see also our previous post about his name being the same as the grandson of Esau)

What Was Korach's Job?

The Midrash writes (Bamidbar Rabbah 18:15):
Korach was the treasurer of household of Pharaoh and in his hands he held the keys to all of the treasuries
Midrash also writes (ibid 18:3):
Our Sages say: Korach was a wise person and he was from the carriers of the Ark

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Parshas Shlach 5777

Why Did Moses Sends the Spies from the South?

The Torah writes (Numbers 13:17):
When Moses sent them to scout the land of Canaan, he said to them, “Go up there into the Negeb and on into the hill country,
Bekhor Shor (ibid):
They were near the south of the Land of Israel and he told them to go through the Negeb which was near by
Sforno (ibid):
Moses wanted them to commence their mission from the very spot the Israelites found themselves in at this time, i.e. in the south of the land of Canaan. He considered that at this point entry into the land of Canaan would not present any difficulty and they would not have to travel around the country inn order to enter from a more distant location.
Rashi (ibid):
It (the South) was the worst part of the Land of Israel. He bid them spy this out first because such is the way of merchants: they show a prospective purchaser the inferior goods first, and afterwards they show the best 
The Traveling Staff
Rabeinu Bachya (ibid) writes:

Moses gave them his staff in order to safe them from their hands

Related Posts

See also our previous posts relevant to this parsha:
 [Published at parshapeople.blogspot.com / Comments welcome to parsha-people@publishyoursefer.com]

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Parshas Behaaloscha 5777

What Did Miriam Tell Aron about Their Brother?

The Torah writes (Numbers 12:1-2)
Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Cushite woman he had married: “He married a Cushite woman!” They said, “Has the LORD spoken only through Moses? Has He not spoken through us as well?” The LORD heard it.
Rashi (ibid) - he divorced his wife:
THAT HE HAD MARRIED A CUSHITE WOMAN, and had now divorced her.
and (ibid) - he separated from his wife:
And whence did Miriam know that Moses had separated himself from his wife (for this was the statement she made; cf. Rashi below)? R. Nathan answered: “Miriam was beside Zipporah When it was told to Moses, ‘Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp’ (Numbers 11:17). When Zipporah heard this, she exclaimed, Woe to the wives of these if they have anything to do with prophecy, for they will separate from their wives just has my husband has separated from me!” It was from this that Miriam knew about it, and she told it to Aaron.
Daas Zekeinim:
“for he had married a woman from the land of Cush.” (Ethiopia) According to Moses’ biography, Moses had been king in that country and his wife had been a queen in her own right previously. Moses had ruled over that land for a period of forty years (before coming to Midian) This is why the Torah reported Miriam and Aaron as speaking critically only of Moses (“did G–d only speak with Moses?”) They thought that seeing that G–d had spoken with Moses, Moses had felt that no Jewish woman was good enough for him to marry, i.e. that he had given himself airs. They did not criticise Moses for having married Tzipporah, as he had done so in circumstances when he was a refugee from Egyptian justice at the time.

Chizkuni:
they wondered why Moses had chosen this point in time to separate from Tzipporah and concluded that it was because she wasn't beautfiul, and they could not understand that he had married her in the first place seeing that she had always been that way.
And:
A different interpretation of this line: She had been a queen in her land, the land of Kush. This would fit with what we have read in Chronicles that Moses had been a King in that land. At the time, he had to marry a local woman. Now there was no need for him to remain married to a Kushite woman. 

Several Points about the Story of Miriam

  • The definition of the words "אשה כושית" has several possibilities but the simplest is that it was someone from the land or the people of Cush
  • That is a problem if Tzipporah is the person referenced here since her father, Jethro, was from Midian who was one of the sons of Abraham. There are several possible solutions:
    • it does in fact refer to her, but the word doesn't mean "someone from Cush".
    • it does refer to her since her mother was from Cush (see Rokeach)
    • it refers to Moses's first wife who was the Queen of Cush
    • Midrash states that Tzipporah and Basiah, the daughter of Pharaoh, were twins who were abandoned in the marketplace and adopted by Jethro and Pharaoh. This way these still could have been originally from Cush.
  • What was the issue that Miriam noticed?
    • According to Rashi it was that Moses separated or divorced his wife
    • According to other opinions above, it was that as if Moses was too important to marry someone Jewish
    • Or that he should be marrying someone Jewish now that he has the opportunity
  • How did Miriam know this and why is this story placed here?
    • According to Rashi it was she overheard Tzipporah saying that during the story of Eldad and Medad (who were Moses's half brothers)
    • It is also possible she hard about her lineage from Jethro's family that was just here
[Published at parshapeople.blogspot.com / Comments welcome to parsha-people@publishyoursefer.com]

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Parshas Bamidbar 5777 / Shavuos 5777

Why Were Levites Counted from the Age of 30 Days and not 20 Years?

The Torah writes (Numbers 3:15):
Record the Levites by ancestral house and by clan; record every male among them from the age of one month up.
Chizkuni (ibid) answers:
The reason why they were not counted from twenty years and up is that they would not participate in any wars, and from 30 days of age and up they could be used to redeem firstborns of the other tribes. A first born son of any tribe became viable at the age of 30 days.

Why Didn't the Levites Get Any Land?

The Torah writes (Numbers 3:12):
I hereby take the Levites from among the Israelites in place of all the first-born, the first issue of the womb among the Israelites: the Levites shall be Mine.
Chizkuni (ibid) answers:
these firstborns also had not been intended to inherit ancestral fields, ever, as they were meant to be the priests in their respective families. When the Levites were appointed to perform the tasks previously meant to be performed by the firstborn, they forfeited their claim to ancestral heritage in the Land of Israel, and the firstborns, after redemption, could then lay claim to ancestral territory as did all the non firstborn.

What Was Drawn on the Flags of the Tribes?

The Torah writes (Numbers 2:2):
The Israelites shall camp each with his standard, under the banners of their ancestral house; they shall camp around the Tent of Meeting at a distance.
Rashbam (ibid) writes:
There was a symbol on every flag, as for instance, the picture of a lion on the flag of the tribe of Yehudah, or that of an ox on the flag of the tribe of Joseph.
Ramban (ibid) writes:
Each banner was a cloth dyed with a dye, and the dye of this one was not the same as the dye of that one. Each one's dye was colored like their stone from the breastplate [worn by the High Priest]
Tur ha-HaAruch (ibid) writes:
Rashi explains that each flag had coloured insignia woven or embroidered on it reflecting the appearance of the respective gemstone of the tribe on the breastplate of the High Priest. Ibn Ezra writes that each flag had a pattern that easily identified the tribe it belonged to; (possibly reflecting the definitions used by Yaakov when he had blessed his sons before his death.) They could also have reflected the images seen by the prophet Ezekiel in his famous vision of the merkavah.
Bereishis Rabbah (2:7) describes the flags
  • Reuben - red flag with mandrakes on it [that he picked for his mother] [see below where it says it was also a person]
  • Simon - green flag with the city of Shechem [because he conquered that city to rescue his sister]
  • Levi - flag that was 1/3 white, 1/3 black and 1/3 red and it has a picture of Urim veTumim [because they had the priesthood[
  • Judah - blue flag like the sky with a picture of a lion [from Jacob's blessing]
  • Issachar - very dark blue (almost black), and pictures of the sun and the moon [because they were wise in astronomy]
  • Zebulun - white like the moon with a picture of a ship [based on Jacob's blessing]
  • Dan - somewhat blue with a picture of a snake [based on Jacob's blessing]
  • Gad - the color was white and black mixed with pictures a military encampment [based on Jacob's blessing]
  • Naftali - light red like diluted wine with a picture of a deer or gazelle [based on Jacob's blessing]
  • Asher - gem-like white with a picture of an olive tree [based on Jacob's blessing]
  • Joseph - black with a picture of two animals, for Menashe and Ephraim (an ox, and a wild ox or a unicorn - re'eim [based on Jacob's blessing]
  • Benjamin - a multicolored flag containing the colors of all the other flags with a picture of wolf [based on Jacob's blessing]
Midrash Bereishis Rabbah as cited by the Chizkuni (ibid) states:
the flags had the names of the (fore)father’s houses inscribed upon them. How did this work? On the flag of Reuven there was an inscription אי׳י, the respective first letters of the names of the patriarchs אברהם, יצחק, יעקב. On the second flag (there were four flags, for each army group of four tribes.) there were inscribed the letters בצ׳ע, the second letter in the names of each of the three patriarchs. The third flag would have the letters רח׳ק representing the third letter in the respective names of Avraham, Yitzchok and Yaakov, and the fourth flag the letters מק׳ב, representing the last letters each in their names. The letter ה which had been added to Avraham’s name, would be represented by the protective cloud that rested above the Israelites and protected them against nosy intruders during all the years they were in the desert. An alternate interpretation of the line: באותות לבית אבותם. The flag of the camp of Reuven had the outline of a human being in red colour, matching the colour of his stone on Aaron’s breastplate. It represented the mandrakes Reuven had found in the field and brought to his mother Leah, which the latter had traded for an extra night with her husband. (Genesis chapter 30) These mandrakes were shaped like a human being. The outline of a lion was drawn or stitched ion the flag of Yehudah, who was called: “lion” in the Torah by his father (Genesis 49,9) The colour of that outline was turquoise as was the colour of his gem on Aaron’s breastplate. The flag of Ephrayim showed the outline of an ox, whom his father Joseph had reputedly called שור, ox, (Deuteronomy 33,17) The colour of that outline was onyx, as was the colour of his gemstone on the breastplate of Aaron. On the flag of Dan there was the outline of an eagle, coloured in a variety of colours, iridescent, as the gemstone that represented the tribe of Dan on Aaron’s breastplate. (Ibn Ezra) The Tabernacle located in the centre, was flanked by all these camps, and was a symbol of the holy angels called chayot, which surround the throne of G-d forming a square. The various nations learned from the Israelites to make tablecloths and the like in a variety of colours.

Shavuos 5777

The many ways to described a relationship between G-d and the Jewish people:
  • Like one between a king and his servant, or master and his slave
  • Like one between a parent and a child
  • Like one between spouses
  • Like one between two countries making a treaty
All of these are found in our everyday lives which serve as examples for us

[Published by parshapeople.blogspot.com]

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Parshas Acharei Mos - Kedoshim 5777

Who Took the Goat to the Azazel?

The Torah (Leviticus 16:21) writes:
Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat and confess over it all the iniquities and transgressions of the Israelites, whatever their sins, putting them on the head of the goat; and it shall be sent off to the wilderness through a designated man.
Rashi (ibid) explains:
A READY MAN — one who was held in readiness for this purpose from yesterday (Yoma 66a; Sifra, Acharei Mot, Section 4:8).
Rashbam (ibid) explains:
A man familiar with the paths and the desert regions, someone always available, on call, for such an assignment.
Rabbeinu Bachya explains:
Our Rabbis taught us: "man" - this could be a regular Israelite (i.e. not a priest); "designated" - even someone who is spiritually impure / tomeh; and even on the Sabbath
Ibn Ezra disagrees:
Our Sages, whose words are true, said [Yoma 66a] that this person was a kohen.
HaEmek Davar explains:
Someone who was wise and knew what to do in the right time
Chizkuni explains:
According to a Midrashnot found) the word: עתי, “which could be translated as: “whose time had come,” this is someone who was destined to die before this year is out. This would account for the fact that it was noticed that the man who had been entrusted with this task never lived out that year. We must assume that in those days people used astrology to determine who was not destined to live out the year.
(see also Sefer Limakesi Atik that cites several other opinions)

What Are the Seerim?

The Torah writes (Leviticus 17:7):
and that they may offer their sacrifices no more to the seerim after whom they stray. This shall be to them a law for all time, throughout the ages.
Kli Yakar explains why this is written here:
...This was written in order to answer the heretics who say that the goat [to Azazel] was sent to the demons in the desert, G-d forbid...
Rashi explains:
means TO THE DEMONS. Similar is (Isaiah 13:21) “and demons (ושעירים) shall dance there" (Sifra, Acharei Mot, Chapter 9 8).
HaEmek haDavar explains:
The demons are called this way because they don't rest and dance like goats
Ibn Ezra explains:
These are the demons, so called because when one sees them, one’s body convulses [Hebrew: yis̀ta‘er]. Also, the lunatics who see these demons experience visions of goat-like creatures [Hebrew: s̀e’irim].
Tur explains:
“to the demons;” the spiritually negative phenomena, שדים, the expression occurs in that sense also in Isaiah 13:21 ושעירים ירקדו שם, “and the demons are dancing there.”
Radak and Metzudas Zion on Isaiah (13:21) explain:
They were called this because their appearance was similar to goats
Sforno explains that the blood of the sacrifices would feed them:
... Apparently, although they are composed of composite material, their bones are extremely thin and transparent. That just as ordinary human beings in common with the animals possess a נפש חיוני “intangible life-force” which, seeing that it dies with the body it inhabits, as distinct from the human נשמה which is an intangible spirit emanating in the celestial regions, is basically terrestrial in nature, these demons are “powered” by such a life-force. The reason we find that “life-force” referred to on occasion as נפש is the fact that it cannot exist without its tangible partner, the one which feeds on food and drink secured from what is available in our terrestrial universe.
...
Consider the very fact that the Torah describes “blood as the life-force” (Deuteronomy 12:23). If someone were to sacrifice blood to such a creature, especially, seeing that it is powerful enough to sustain the life of such creatures, the blood sacrificed to such creatures would be equivalent to keeping these demons alive. (compare Maimonides, Moreh Nevuchim,3,46 on the subject). 
 ...
At any rate, when a situation exists when many people find such demons useful and pliable to their wishes, people indulged in offering them blood so as to endear themselves to these creatures and to get them to perform their wishes. ...
[Published at parshapeople.blogspot.com / Comments welcome to parsha-people@publishyoursefer.com]

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Parshas Tazria-Metzorah 5777

The Fall of Gehazi, Servant of Elisha

In the beginning of the Mishneh Torah, the Rambam describes the line of transmission of the Oral Law. We find in that line the prophet Achijah the Shilonite, followed by Elijah, followed by Elisha and then followed by Yehoyada the Priest. However, we also know that Elisha had a servant named Gehazi and just like Elisha served Elijah and succeeded him, it stands to reason that  Gehazi would be the successor of Elisha. But what we find is that instead of being the successor of Elisha, he is listed the Mishnah (Sanhedrin 10:2) among four commoners who lost their share in the World to Come. How did that happen?

There are five places on the Book of Kings that we encounter Gehazi. The first place is in the Haftorah of Parshas Vayera (II Kings 4) in the context of the story of the woman from Shunam who had a son that died and was brought back to life by Elisha (the Zohar writes that this child became was the prophet Habbakuk). Gehazi played a pivotal role within this story by first letting Elisha know that she had no son so Elisha can ask for a her to have a son, and then when her son passed away, Elisha sent Gehazi with his staff to try to revive the child. That didn't work and Elisha ended up resurrecting the child by himself.

The second place where we find Gehazi is in the Haftorah of Parshas Tazria (II Kings 4:42-5:19) which describes the story of general of Aram named Naaman, who was sick with tzaraas and went to Elisha to get healed. After Elisha told Naaman to submerse himself in the Jordan seven times, he was healed and came back offering a gift to Elisha but Elisha refused his gifts. After Naaman left, Gehazi followed him and made up a story asking for silver and clothing which he hid. After he came back to Elisha, and denied what happened, Elisha cursed him and his children with tzaraas (his sons were cursed because they knew what their father did).

A third place where we find Gehazi is in the Haftorah of Parshas Tazria-Metzorah (II Kings 7:3-20) where a siege is laid against the city of Samaria. The story mentions four lepers who discover that the military camp besieging the city has suddenly left, and they start taking treasures from the abandoned camp and hiding them. They stop and decide to let the people in the city know about this instead. The Talmud (Sanhedrin 107b) explains that these four people were Gehazi and his three sons.

A fourth place where Gehazi is found again is in conversation with King Jehoram (see II Kings 8:4-5) where Gehazi shares various stories of Elisha including the story of the dead boy. While relating the story, the boy and his mother show up to speak to the king about a house they lost. The Meshech Chochmah (Metzorah 64) also mentions here that even though people with tzaaras are normally shunned, in this case King Jehoram was speaking with Gehazi even though he had tzaraas. This was because Gehazi and his three sons accomplished a great thing for the people of the city, seemingly indicating that what Gehazi did here was a good thing.

The fifth place where Gehazi is found is immediately following this episode (II Kings 8:7) where Elisha has just arrived in Damascus. The Talmud (Sotah 47a and Sanhedrin 107b) explains that Elisha was pursuing Gehazi in order to get him to repent. Gehazi refused to repent by telling Elisha that those who made the public sin don't get a chance to repent.

In addition to these five places, the Talmud (Sotah 47a and Sanhedrin 107b) criticizes Elisha for "pushing Gehazi away with two hands" - meaning speaking to him harshly after he asked for gifts from Naaman. The Talmud also adds that Elisha was punished with a sickness for this specific behaviour in regards to Gehazi. Sefer Nachlas Shimon (pp. 221) quotes four reasons why Elisha was punished:
  • Because he also cursed his sons (Ben Yehoadah)
  • Because he did not go back to Gehazi after a few days and try to get him to repent (Ben Yehoadah)
  • Because he cursed Gehazi with having tzaaras forever (Margilous haYam)
  • Because when he used the language "forever", it sounded to Gehazi like he will never be able to repent (Shtei Lechem)
What was the sin that Gehazi got tzaaras for?
  • The obvious reason for profaning G-ds name with his interactions with Naaman by taking money after Elisha swore in G-d name that he wouldn't take anything
  • The Talmud (Sanhedrin 100a) says that Gehazi was punished with leprosy because he used to refer to Elisha, his teacher, by his name as seen during the time he spoke to King Jehoram (see extensive discussion in Sefer Nachlas Shimon regarding this prohibition [siman 13, pp. 161])
  • Avos deRabbi Nathan (9:3) explains that he was punished because he spoke improperly about Elisha. As explained by Binyan Yehoshua based on the Talmud (Sanhedrin 100a), when Elisha sent him to revive the dead boy, he explicitly told him not to talk to anyone. However, Gehazi spoke to everyone he met on the way mocking Elisha and saying: "Guess where I'm going? I'm going to resurrect the dead".
What was the sin that caused Gehazi to lose his share in the World to Come?

  • The obvious reason for profaning G-ds name with his interactions with Naaman by taking money after Elisha swore in G-d name that he wouldn't take anything
  •  The Talmud (Sanhedrin 100a) answers that:
    • either he magnetized the idol of Jeroboam and made it float in the air,
    • or he made the idol of Jeroboam speak. Either way, this caused more people to worship it.
    • Some add a third opinion, that he pushed away other Sages from coming to Elisha this preventing their learning
  • The Talmud (Jerusalem Sanhedrin 10:2, Berachos 10a and Berachos 17b) also mention that he acted immorally and inappropriately towards the boy's mother, a married woman.
  • The Jerusalem Talmud (Sanhedrin 10:2) also adds that while Gehazi was a great Torah scholar, he had three flaws:
    • he was stingy by not allowing other Sages to come,
    • he behaved with women immorally and specifically he approached the woman from Shunam inappropriately (also see Berachos 17b),
    • and he denied the resurrection of the dead by mocking Elisha when carrying out his mission to resurrect the dead boy.
[Published at parshapeople.blogspot.com / Comments welcome to parsha-people@publishyoursefer.com]

Friday, April 14, 2017

Passover 5777

Gradual Steps of Redemption

Starting from Shabbos haGadol there were several steps in redemption:
  1. The Israelites as commanded by Moshe each picked a lamb in front of a populace that worshipped them. There was a hidden miracle that they were not attacked but first they had to show via their action that they were ready to serve G-d.
  2. On the 14th of Nissan, they brought the lambs as a sacrifice, once again extending themselves to do something that was being commanded by G-d even though they feared retribution from the animal-worshipping populace around them.
  3. On the night of Passover, G-d skipped over the houses painted with the blood of lambs while killing the firstborn people and animals elsewhere. Through this visible miracle, G-d separated out the Israelites as a separate nation.
  4. On the morning of Passover, the people left Egypt thus completing the process of being separated into a nation as it is stated (Deuteronomy 4:32-34): "has anything as grand as this ever happened, or has its like ever been known? Has any people heard the voice of a god speaking out of a fire, as you have, and survived? Or has any god ventured to go and take for himself one nation from the midst of another by prodigious acts, by signs and portents, by war, by a mighty and an outstretched arm and awesome power, as the LORD your God did for you in Egypt before your very eyes?"
Thus the Jewish people extended themselves to do something for G-d and He responded first with a hidden miracle, and then with open miracles and took them out as a nation. This is similar to how lightning works - even though we see the lightning extending from the heavens to earth, there is an almost invisible channel that goes up from earth first. The Passover miracle of "skipping over" is the essential lesson of the holiday - this is when G-d separated them into a nation after they reached out to fulfill His commands.


Passover and Time

One of the things often lost during the bustle and hustle of the holidays is the immense span of time between where we are today and the original date of Passover. It has been 3,329 years since the original night of Passover and that immense amount of time is longer than almost everything we encounter around us including the foundations of Western civilization such as the Greek and Roman cultures. Even in other parts of the world things such as the origin of the Japanese monarchy, the origin of the Chinese state, birth of Buddhism, are all at least 1,000 years younger than Passover.

This also creates a sense of displacement since many things we encounter in the Torah and our observance do not mash with things around us. Things like the host being responsible for guests (story of Lot), animal sacrifices, how business transactions are done with shoes (story of Ruth), slavery, casting out impure people outside the city walls, etc. are all strange to us since the original frame of reference was thousands of years ago while today's civilization that we encounter no longer has these aspects.

There are two possible reasons why the Jewish people have been around for such long time:
  • To fulfill the original Divine plan that was intended for the entire world (as described in Sefer Derech Hashem)
  • To serve as an example for the rest of the world (Ohr LaGoyim) for a world without the presence of people who serve G-d may end up being a world without any morals or ethics at all, but one where the strongest rule
Those two aspects directly grow out of the holiday of Passover. Out of the all the holidays, Passover serves as the foundational holiday of the nation since the action of "skipping over" was the one that  created the nation in the first place, even prior to them leaving Egypt. And that is where two two parallel aspects of time started - the newly created nation took on the responsibilities of both serving G-d and the rest of the world.


Three Aspects of Yom Tov

There are three aspects to Yom Tov:
  1. The prohibition of not working, however unlike the one for Sabbath, the purpose of not working during the Yom Tov is not a remembrance about G-d resting on Sabbath, but rather a way to allow the people time of celebrate properly. This is also why certain things like cooking are allowed since they serve to enhance the holiday.
  2. There is also an aspect of happiness and celebration since Yom Tov is often called a chag. This is related to the words used during the episode of the Golden Calf - "a chag for G-d tomorrow". We also find a reflection of this in a special commandment to be happy on Yom Tov which we don't find elsewhere. Because the three main Yomim Tovim align with agricultural celebrations as well and with special "New Years" for things like water, fruit and grain, that is also channelled in the happiness that is experienced during the holidays.
  3. Another aspect that we find is one of "meeting" reflected in the term "Chol haMoed" - "Moed", and "Atzeres". That refers to several types of meetings: us meeting with our family and friends, us meeting with the rest of the Jewish people to celebrate, us meeting with the holiness of the Temple in Jerusalem, and us meeting with G-d for during these times He reaches closer to His people.