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

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Parshas Mishpatim 5777

What was the Tzeirah?

The Torah writes (Exodus 23:28):
I will send a tzeriah ahead of you, and it shall drive out before you the Hivites, the Canaanites, and the Hittites.
Rashi (ibid) explains:
This is a kind of insect which wounded their eyes and injected poison in them, so that they died. The hornets did not cross the Jordan ... for our Rabbis have explained in Treatise Sotah 36a that the hornets placed themselves on the east bank of the Jordan and from there cast the poison against them.
The Ramban (ibid) explains:
This was a species known to them like the bee, and the Sages mentioned them saying "honey of bees, honey of hornets")
(see also the Chizkuni who explains that there were two types of hornets)
Ibn Ezra (ibid) explains:
This was a bodily sickness, from the decree of leprosy that weakness the strength of the body
Who were the Leaders of Israelites?
The Torah writes (Exodus 24:11):
Yet He did not raise His hand against the leaders of the Israelites; they beheld God, and they ate and drank.
Rashi (ibid) explains:
these were Nadab and Abihu and the elders
אצילי means “the great men”, as, (Isaiah 41:9) “I called thee from the chief men (אציליה) thereof”; (Numbers 11:17) “And he increased (ויאצל) some of the spirit” (cf. Rashi on Numbers 11:17 and Onkelos on 11:25); (Ezekiel 41:8) “six cubits in its size (largeness) (אצילה‎)”.
Ibn Ezra (ibid) explains that the reason the term "elders" wasn't used was in order to include Nadab and Abihu

Targum Jonathan (ibid) explains that this refers only to Nadab and Abihu, and not the elders

Pirkey DeRabbi Eliezer (45:1) explains this referring to the princes of the tribes

Shadal explains (ibid):
This means Aaron and other who went up with him
Bechor Shor explains (ibid):
And to the leaders - meaning the firstborn

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Parshas Yisro 5777

What Did Jethro Hear?

The Torah writes (Exodus 18:1):
Jethro priest of Midian, Moses’ father-in-law, heard all that God had done for Moses and for Israel His people, how the LORD had brought Israel out from Egypt.
Rashi (ibid) writes:
What was the particular report which he heard so that he came? — The division of the Red Sea and the war with Amalek (cf. (Mekhilta d'Rabbi Yishmael 18:1:1; Zevachim 116a).
Chizkuni (ibid) asks how he hard about Amalek:
How did Yitro hear about all this now? Maybe someone had escaped from the battle with Amalek and he heard it from him.
The source that Rashi quotes (Zevachim 116a) cites a third opinion:
R' Eliezer of Modiim said: he heard about the giving of the Torah and came

Sforno (ibid) explains in a similar fashion:
However, if we understand the words כי הוציא as meaning כאשר הוציא, “when He took out,” we must understand Yitro as saying that he had heard all that G’d had done for Israel at the time when He took them out of Egypt. This would include a reference to all the plagues, the drowning of the Egyptians army, etc. It was this information which had prompted him to journey into the desert himself instead of sending a messenger who would accompany Tzipporah and her children so that they would be reunited with their husband/father. He was primarily motivated by his quest for G’d.
Rashbam (ibid) explains the reference to Moses:
that Pharaoh never tried to harm him personally, and that G’d provided him with such an imposing image in the eyes of Pharaoh and his servants seeing He let him perform all these miracles.
Bechor Shor (ibid) explains also:
And Jethro heard about all the signs and the miracles and the great Hand which G-d has done for the Israelites through Moses and that he placed Moses at their head to be a king and a great man
Sefer Torah Shleimah (ibid) cites additional opinions from Midrashim:

Rabbi Shimon says: he heard that the Manna descended from Heaven and about the quail and he came to convert.

Rabbi Yose says: he heard that the Clouds of Glory protected that from the heat by day and from the cold by night and he came to convert

He heard that G-d healed the speech impediment of Moses

(there is also an opinion that heard about the building of the Tabernacle)

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Parshas Bo 5777

How Did Moses Start the Plague of Locusts?

The Torah writes (Exodus 10:12):
Then the LORD said to Moses, “Hold out your arm over the land of Egypt for the locusts, that they may come upon the land of Egypt and eat up all the grasses in the land, whatever the hail has left.”
Ibn Ezra (ibid) writes):
Rabbi Moshe haDarshan writes the reason why it says "for the locusts" was because a locust was attached to the staff and that is not a proper explanation only the reason why it says "for the locusts" means so they should come
Mechochek Yehudah (ibid) explains Rabbi Moshe haDarshan:
The opinion of Rabbi Moshe haDarshan was that Moshe placed on the staff images of locusts in order to draw in the upper powers to bring locusts to Egypt, and according to this he brought locusts through astrology and therefore Ibn Ezra writes that it is not proper
The Ohr HaChaim (ibid) explains:
Perhaps he tied a locust to the staff or he mentioned the name "locusts" when he raised his hand, for he raised his hand because of the locusts

The Lawsuit over the Borrowed Vessels

The Torah writes (Exodus 11.1-3):
And the LORD said to Moses, “I will bring but one more plague upon Pharaoh and upon Egypt; after that he shall let you go from here; indeed, when he lets you go, he will drive you out of here one and all. Tell the people to borrow, each man from his neighbour and each woman from hers, objects of silver and gold.” The LORD disposed the Egyptians favourably toward the people. Moreover, Moses himself was much esteemed in the land of Egypt, among Pharaoh’s courtiers and among the people.
The Talmud (Sanhedrin 91a) cites a related story:
There was another time when the Egyptians came to ask for judgment against the Israelites in front of Alexander of Macedonia [Alexander the Great]. They told him: It says [in the Torah] that G-d gave favor to the people in the eyes of the Egyptians and they borrowed [vessels]. Give us the silver and gold that they took from us! Gaviha ben Pesiah asked the Sages: give me permission and I will go and ask for judgment against them in front of Alexander. If they win, you can tell them that they won against a regular person, and I win they will say that the Torah of Moses our teacher won. They gave him permission and he went and asked for judgment against them. He asked them: where do you bring proof from? They answered: from the Torah! He told them: I will also bring you proof from the Torah - for it says that the time the Israelites spent in Egypt was 430 years. Give us the wages for work of 600,000 people who worked in Egypt for 430 years. Alexander of Macedonia told them: answer him! They asked for 30 days to respond. He gave them 30 days and they could not find an answer. They left their fields and their orchards and fled.