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.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Parshas Vaeira 5777

What was the serpent?

The Torah writes (Exodus 7:10-11):
So Moses and Aaron came before Pharaoh and did just as the LORD had commanded: Aaron cast down his rod in the presence of Pharaoh and his courtiers, and it turned into a serpent. Then Pharaoh, for his part, summoned the wise men and the sorcerers; and the Egyptian magicians, in turn, did the same with their spells; each cast down his rod, and they turned into serpents. But Aaron’s rod swallowed their rods.
Rashi (ibid) explains:
לתנין means A SERPENT
Earlier Rashi explains differently (Genesis 1:21, see also Job 7:12):
התנינים THE HUGE CREATURES — the large fishes that are in the sea
The Malbim has another explanation (Isaiah 27:1):
Some explain this as referring to the crocodile and that this was the wolf fish
However, the Abarbanel cites Rabbeinu Chananel (Exodus 7:26) that the crocodiles were something else:
And that which is written here "צפרדעים" most commentators say that these are small fishes which always croak in the marshes, but Rabbeinu Chananel explains that these are the big creatures which live in the Nile which are called in Arabic "Al Tamsach" [which is translated as crocodiles]
Both of these would be referring to the Egyptian Crocodile (Crocodylus niloticus):

Metzudas Zion (Isiaah 27:1) explains differently:
This refers to a fish which is similar in its appearance to a snake
(Please see Rabbi Natan Slifkin's Sacred Monsters where he suggests many other possibilities including an oar fish as seen below)

Why did the Egyptians dig around the Nile?

The Torah writes (Exodus 7:24):
And all the Egyptians had to dig round about the Nile for drinking water, because they could not drink the water of the Nile.
Bechor Shor (ibid) explains:
They had to make wells for themselves which did not have fish and would go bad from the rot of the fish
Haemek Davar (ibid) explains:
And the Egyptians searched around the river for water to drink from the river, but other water they had through getting it from a Hebrew and they wouldn't need to dig
Ibn Ezra disagrees (ibid):
Many say that the water held by an Egyptian was red like blood and turned clear when an Israelite held it, if so why didn't the Torah write this sign? To me it seems that the plagues of Blood and Frogs affected everyone including Egyptians and Hebrews for afterwards they were separated, but for these three they were slightly damaged. Only from the plague of wild beasts which was very strong did G-d separate between the Egyptians and the Israelites etc.
The Malbim (ibid) cites another opinion:
The Midrash writes, that according to Rabbi Yehuda it says that only the waters above ground were stricken and not below and Rabbi Nechemiah is of the opinion that even below were stricken
[therefore according to the first opinion that's why the Egyptians were digging to get to the water below ground]
(There are also opinions that only regular water was affected but salty or bad-tasting water was still available)

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Parshas Shemos 5777

Who was the new king?

The Torah writes (Exodus 1:8):
A new king arose over Egypt who did not know Joseph
Rashi writes (ibid):
NOW THERE AROSE A NEW KING — Rab and Samuel (two Amoraim or Talmudical teachers) differed in their interpretation of these words. One said that he was really a new king; the other said that it was the same king but he made new edicts (Sotah 11a).
Daas Zeikenim (ibid) explains:
“a new king (dynasty) arose;” this was the first Pharaoh. The Egyptians suggested to him to join the Hebrews politically. The king said to them, how can we do this, seeing that thus far we have prospered thanks to them? The Egyptians did not like this and removed this new king from the throne for a period of three months. After the three months had elapsed, the king told the people that he was willing to change his attitude on the subject and to oppose the Hebrews. This is why the Torah wrote the word ויקם מלך חדש, “a new king;” The Torah did not report that the old king had died, as is customary.(Sh’mot Rabbah 1,8)
Ibn Ezra explains the other opinion:
It means as it sounds that he was not from royal descent
Rabbeinu Bachya adds:
It seems to me that this king was born at the time Joseph was in prison for it is written (Exodus 40) "a birthday of Pharaoh", to say that it was a day that Pharaoh was born for they called the name of the son same as the father, and that is according the opinion that this was a new king

(see also our earlier post on Parshas Vaeira about identities of the midwives)

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Parshas Vayechi 5777

Who Told Joseph that His Father Was Sick?

The Torah writes (Genesis 48:1):
Some time afterward, Joseph was told, “Your father is ill.” So he took with him his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim.
Daas Zekeinim from Midrash Tanchuma (ibid) writes:
ויאמר ליוסף, “he said to Joseph;” according to our sages, the subject in this verse was Ephrayim, who informed his father of Yaakov’s illness; (Tanchuma section 6 on this portion) Rabbi Moshe adds that there is an oblique hint of this in the text, seeing that the letters in the word ויאמר and the word אפרים when reading the alphabet backwards, starting with the letter ת, are in the relative same position as when read from the right to left, i.e. the letter ו in the word ויאמר is the sixth letter in the alphabet when read from right to left, whereas the letter פ is in the sixth place when the alphabet is read from left to right commencing with the latter ת. (the other letters are identical)
Radak (ibid) disagrees:
It is reasonable to assume that it was one of the brothers who traveled to the capital to inform Joseph that his father had taken ill.
Midrash Pesikta Rabbasi (3:1) cites several other opinions:
Who told him that his father was sick? Some say that he saw it through the Divine Spirit; and others say it was Bilhah that told him for she ministered Jacob and when he got sick, she went and told Joseph; and some say it was Benjamin that told him; and some say that Joseph left his agents there and when they saw that Jacob was sick, they went and told Joseph;
Midrash Yalmadeinu (32) learns:
And who told him that his father was sick? Osnath, his wife, for since the time Jacob descended to Egypt she ministered to him, and when she saw that he was sick, she went and told Joseph
Midrash Lekhach Tov (ibid) learns:
And who told him? It was Menashe for he served Jacob, our forefather
Sefer leMakesei Atik (ibid) cites another opinion that it was the doctors that treated Jacob

(There are also other opinions that this was Serach)

What and Why Did Joseph Get Schechem?

The Torah writes (Genesis 48:22):
And now, I assign to you one portion more than to your brothers, which I wrested from the Amorites with my sword and bow.”
Targum Jonathan (ibid) explains:
And I behold have given to you the city of Schechem
Rashi (ibid) explains:
Because you will take the trouble to engage in my burial “I” give you an inheritance in which you will be buried. And which was this? Shechem, as it is said, (Joshua 24:32) “And the bones of Joseph which the children of Israel brought up out of Egypt, buried they in Shechem”.
Sforno (ibid) explains that Jacob personally conquered Shechem:
Seeing that he, Yaakov, had personally conquered the city of Shechem, in spite of this city being part of the land of Canaan, seeing that he had taken it from the “Emorite,” i.e. someone whose deeds were as evil as those of the Emorite, (although the inhabitants had been Hittites), what he was allocating to Joseph now was an actual, a gift bestowed by him now, and had no bearing on any distribution of land conquered by Joshua in the future.
Sefer Tzror HaMor (ibid) explains differently:
And I am giving you the city of Schechem as an extra portion because of Osnath, your wife for she is the daughter of Dinah that was left under the bush like our Rabbis tell us. And Schechem was given to Dinah in her marriage contract ... and it went to your wife according to Torah law, therefore I am giving it to you extra above your brothers
Daas Zekeinim (ibid) cites an opinion that this was only referring to the plot of land where Joseph's grave was but not the entire city:
Some commentators explain the words: שכם אחד, in our verse, the extra portion of ancestral parts of the land of Israel, allocated by Yaakov to Joseph, as referring to the grave in that city in which the remains of Joseph would be interred after the Israelites taking over that country. (Compare Joshua 24:32)
(Another possible answer is that Jacob gave to Joseph the field that he bought from Chamor, the father of Shechem which stood in front of the city, but not the city itself)

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Parshas Vayigash 5777

Who Told Jacob that Joseph was Alive?

The Torah writes (Genesis 45:26-27):
And they told him, “Joseph is still alive; yes, he is ruler over the whole land of Egypt.” His heart went numb, for he did not believe them. But when they recounted all that Joseph had said to them, and when he saw the wagons that Joseph had sent to transport him, the spirit of their father Jacob revived.
Targum Jonathan (46:17) has one opinion:
and Serach their sister, who was carried away while alive into the Garden (of Eden), because she had announced to Jakob that Joseph still lived.
However, Targum Jonathan (49:21) cites another opinion as well:
Naphatali is a swift messenger, like a hind that runneth on the tops of the mountains, bringing good tidings: he it was who announced that Joseph was living;
Daas Zekeinim (45:26) cites another opinion:
And if you ask who permitted them the ban [of not telling Jacob about Joseph] in which G-d was joined, and how did they tell their father? The answer must be that Benjamin told him initially for he did not participate in the sale
Another opinion (Avos deRabbi Nosson 30):
And some say that the Holy Spirit that left Jacob before rested on him at that time [and told him]

Why Didn't Joseph Tell His Father Before?

The Daas Zekeinim (42:1) gives two answers:
Furthermore, why did Joseph not communicate with his father during all these years which would have spared his father a great deal of grief? The answer is that they all had sworn a sacred oath not to reveal to their father that he was in Egypt. They had made G’d a partner to their oath, so that He too could not reveal their secret to him. All this can be proved from Scripture, when before revealing himself to his brothers (Genesis 45:1) he commanded that all the people around him remove themselves before he would have that conversation with his brothers. He did not want that anyone would ever hear about that oath which had now expired.
Other commentators offer a different reason for why Joseph had not communicated with his father for 22 years. As long as he had been a slave (13 years) he did not want to increase his father’s grief by informing him of his sorry condition. If he were to end a message that in the meantime he had become a king, his father would not believe him; he was right as his father did not even believe this when all his sons told that they had seen it with their own eyes. (Genesis 45:26) In addition, he was afraid that if his father were to leak his new found knowledge to someone, the brothers would each flee in all directions out of fear of his vengeance. As a result, his father would experience additional grief. This is why he waited until the time would be ripe for him to reveal himself, so that he would first reveal himself to his brothers before informing his father of his survival and the good fortune which had befallen him.