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 / Comments welcome to]

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 / Comments welcome to]

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.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Parshas Vayikra 5777

Four Things about Kehuna - Priesthood

  1. The original plan was for the firstborn to serve as Priests and Levites, we see evidence of this for Priests in Exodus 24:5 (see Rashi regarding the sacrifices brought on Mt. Sinai by the firstborn) and for Levites (see Chizkuni on Exodus 8:12 regarding the waving of the Levites in exchange for the firstborn). It does require further study since the tribe of Levi was already set side as priests before the Exodus (see Rashi on Exodus 5:4).
  2. In order to serve as priests, Aaron and his sons need to undergo a special inauguration ceremony during the establishment of the Tabernacle. However, that ceremony itself needed a priest and so G-d made Moses into a High Priest (see Zevachim 101b).
  3. Once the priesthood was given, it was only given to people specifically enumerated by the verse, so Moses got it but not his sons, and Aaron and his sons, but possibly not his grandsons (see our earlier discussion about how that applied to Pinchas).
  4. Priesthood was not meant to be shared with kingship and so we find that King Uzziah was punished with leprosy when he attempted to bring sacrifices as a priest (see Chronicles II 26:16). Similarly, the Hasmonean kings was also accused of the same problem of sharing priesthood and kingship, however, as I once heard from Rabbi Shmuel Irons, the position of the High Priest held the highest authority during the Era of the Second Temple and that was the way that the Hasmonean kings could rule. Their problem was that once things stabilized, they should have given up one of them.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Parshas Ki Sisa 5777

Single Things in the Tabernacle that Had Doubles

There were several things related to the Tabernacle and the Temple that seemingly there is only one of but may have additional doubles:
  1. Urim veTumim - as explained last week, the mentions the existence of at least one other Ephod that has the same power as the Urim veTumim because the way it was created was known by Moses and passed down through the generations.
  2. The Outside Altar - when the Tabernacle was not housed in a permanent structure and before the Temple was built, certain sacrifices were allowed to be brought on additional altars called "Bamos" that were outside the Tabernacle. Additionally, during the inaguration of the Temple, King Solomon temporarily consecrates the floor of the courtyard itself as an Altar (see Kings I, 9:64).
  3. The High Priest - in addition to the High Priest, there was also a second Priest that was anointed for war. The Talmud (Makkos 11a) cites opinions that in the context of the law of the exiled murdered, the death for the Priest anointed for war counts to release the murderer from exile. The same goes for a High Priest that steps down from his position. The Talmud (Sotah 42a) also discusses a deputy High Priest who steps in when the High Priest becomes disqualified.
  4. The Menorah - while the Torah describes only one Menorah, we do find additional ones mentioned in some places. For example, King Solomon made 10 additional Menorahs in addition to the original one from Moses (see Kings I 7:59 and Malbim there). There is also discussion in the context of Hanukkah about a temporary Menorah made by the Hasmoneans. There is also a visual disagreement between the Menorah depicted on the Arch of Titus (with curved branches) and the opinion of the Rambam (straight lines). This disagreement is explained by some as referring to two different Menorahs.
  5. The Keruvim - the Torahs describes these as being attached to the lid of the Ark and looking like two angels with faces of children. However, King Solomon had a second set made that stood attached to the floor over the Ark (see Kings I, chapter 6). This explains how they were able to overlook the Ark when it was brought in (see Kings I, 7:6-7). Additionally, this also explains what the Talmud writes (Yoma 54b) regarding the conquerors of Jerusalem parading the cherubim around at the time of the destruction of the First Temple. Since the Talmud (Yoma 52b) states that the Ark was hidden long before that by King Josiah, it must be that the cherubim that were being paraded around later on were the extra ones made by King Solomon.
  6. The Ark - as discussed last year, two arks existed - one used for war and one used in the Tabernacle (see Deuteronomy 10:1).
  7. The Tent of Meeting - as discussed earlier, the original Tent of Meeting was setup by Moses after the Sin of the Golden Calf outside the camp (see Exodus 33:7-11). It was later replaced by the Tabernacle.
Some additional things that had doubles:
  1. Mordechai and Esther -  both of them had two sets of names - Mordechai also had the name Pesachia, and Esther was also called Hadasah. It seems that one was their legal Persian name and the other was their personal Hebrew name. This would also explain why their names were similar to the names of Persian deities - it was a common custom among the Babylonians and later rulers of their empire to give foreign people names based on deities (see Daniel).
  2. The Golden Calf - as discussed earlier, some opinions mention multiple calves being made.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Parshas Tetzaveh 5777

What is the Urim veTumim?

The Torah writes (Exodus 28:30):
Inside the breastpiece of decision you shall place the Urim and Thummim, so that they are over Aaron’s heart when he comes before the LORD. Thus Aaron shall carry the instrument of decision for the Israelites over his heart before the LORD at all times.
Rashi (ibid) explains:
This was an inscription of the Proper Name of God which was placed between the folds (i. e. the two pieces forming the front and back) of the breast-plate through which it (the breast-plate) made its statements clear (lit., illuminated its words; מאיר from אור, light, this being an allusion to the אורים) and its promises true (מתמם from the root תמם, an allusion to תמים) (Yoma 73b).
The Rashbam (ibid) explains the purpose:
the function was somewhat similar to that of oracles employed by the priests of idolatrous cults. If those had any value at all, -and we may assume that at least their worshippers had concluded that they did, -how much more influential would these urim vetumim in the sacred garments of the High Priest be in order to elicit answers to questions posed to G’d, seeing that the means employed were holy and sanctioned by G’d Himself?
Rabbeinu Bachya explains that these were not made by human hands:
It is mentioned with the letter "ה" as it was known before but we do not see it being cited anywhere until now, for it is not mentioned with the other vessels in the work of the artisans to say "and they made the Urim and Tumim" like it says by other vessels. This is testimony that this was not made by a human artisan but directly by Heaven, and this is why it is mentioned with this letter like we find earlier [Genesis 3] regarding the angels, all this is mentioned by the Ramban.
Ibn Ezra as cited by the Tur disagrees:
Nachmanides writes that Ibn Ezra,in an effort to be very astute, wrote that the Urim and Tumim were something constructed by human hands, by artisans. (compare Leviticus 8:8 where Moses is described as placing the Urim and the Tumim inside the breastplate after Aaron already wore the breast plate). He clearly thought that these Urim and Tumim were something man made of silver and/or gold. He appears to have thought that these mysterious inserts were similar to what the astrologers use in order to understand communications from their zodiac signs
The Tur also mentions other "Turim":
It is quite possible that these names of G’d which Moses wrote on the parchment which he inserted in the folds of the breast plate, were known as such to the elite of the Jewish people at the time, and that this would explain the use of the definitive article used here, i.e. האורים, התומים, something which is never used unless the subject is a known quantity, a phenomenon that at least some people are familiar with. This may also explain why David possessed an ephod comparable to that which Moses had in his time, and why we read that in Nov the city of priests (whom King Shaul murdered) there were 85 priests wearing such a type of ephod. (compare Samuel I 22:18) These priests were all trained by prophets, and possibly they used their ephods to address inquiries to G’d on certain occasions.
(see also here and here)

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Parshas Terumah 5777

The Special Gifts

The Torah writes (Exodus 25:3):

And these are the gifts that you shall accept from them: gold, silver, and copper;
Bechor Shor (ibid) explains the difference between gifts collected here and everywhere else:
They only brought things that were usable for construction itself, and not like all other gifts that people can gift anything to the Altar or the upkeep of the House and those gifts are then sold and the money is kept for the upkeep of the House or the Altar. But here they did not gift things that could be sold and money taken from it, but only things needed for the Tabernacle like metals, animals, and clothes that were given directly for the work itself as it says described the specific 13 things appropriate for construction
HaEmek Davar (ibid) explains similarly:
The command from G-d was not according to the wealth of each individual in money, even though "money answers everything" to buy the things they needed, only it was according to what each person possessed from these things and one who didn't have any of these things, even though he was rich, was exempt

The Purpose of Silver

Rashi (ibid) writes:
All these came (were brought) as voluntary gifts, each man giving as his heart prompted him, except that silver which was brought by all in equal quantities (cf. Rashi above), a half shekel by each person. For we do not find in the account of the entire work connected with the Tabernacle that any silver was needed for the work there described in detail over and above this, for it is said, (Exodus 38:25-26) “And the silver of them who were numbered of the congregation [was an hundred talents, etc.] … a beka for every man etc.” and vv. 27 and 28 inform us that of this silver were made the Sockets and the hooks. Of the other silver which came (was brought) there, as a free-will gift they made the holy vessels (lit., vessels for service), and it is this silver that is referred to in this verse and which is stated in the preceding verse as having been brought voluntarily.
Ibn Ezra disagrees:
And to me it is not necessary to sat that for the Torah can exclude one item from a list of 16 for 15 of them were voluntary. And we find similarly by the sonds of Jacob that were born in Padan Aram and Benjamin was born in Israel; and the 70 souls that descended to Egypt

Wool, Not Silk

The Torah writes (Exodus 25:4):
blue, purple, and crimson yarns, fine linen, goats’ hair;
Kil Yakar writes (ibid):
The blue, purple and crimson yarns are all the same type of wool

Rabbeinu Bachya (ibid) writes:
And we don't find silk among the gifts to the Tabernacle, for it comes from the body of an unclean creature which is a worm, and is not fit to be used for the work of Heaven ... and regarding the crimson yarn, it does not come from the body of the bug but from the nest in which the worm lives in