Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Parshas Tazria-Metzorah 5778

Why Did Elisha Get Sick?

The Haftoras of Tazria and Metzorah discuss Gehazi, the servant of Elisha and his fall from power. One of the interesting things about this is that the Talmud (Sanhedrin 107b) states that Elisha got sick three times:
  1. After he cursed some youngsters and bears came out of the woods, and killed them.
  2. After he pushed away Gehazi.
  3. The last sickness that caused him to die.
Sefer Nachlas Shimon explains that the reason why Elisha got sick the first time was because he should have prayed for them to repent instead (like the story of Rabbi Meir and Beruriah in Mesechet Shabbos). Even though he was justified in cursing them, G-d treats the righteous by a stricter standard.

Regarding Gehazi, Sefer Nachlas Shimon cites several opinions why Elisha got sick (see here):

  • 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)
Regarding the third time, the Malbim (II Kings 13:14) cites another reason:
For Elisha anointed Hazael as the king over Aram (in accordance to the prophecy of Elijah), and prophesied about him that he would do harm to Israel, and that [decree] could not be overturned during his lifetime
(see last year''s post for why Gehazi was punished)

Monday, April 16, 2018

Parshas Shemini 5778

Reasons for Kosher Laws

The Torah writes (Lev. 11:1-2):
The LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying to them:
Speak to the Israelite people thus: These are the creatures that you may eat from among all the land animals:
There are many reasons why we keep kosher, but they generally fall into three general categories:
1. Logical reasons such as health, not teaching cruelty, etc.
2. Mystical reasons such as damage to the soul, etc.
3. Decree without reason (חוק) - we don't eat non-kosher food, not because it is bad or tastes bad, but because G-d decreed so.

(For a list of actual reasons and additional resources, see this excellent source sheet from Ner L'Elef)
 

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Passover 5778 - Part 1

Makkos Trivia

Some interesting trivia on the 10 makkos:
  • Blood:
    • Pharoh was not personally affected by this as a reward for letting Moshe grow up in his house (Mesecha Chochma, Midrash HaGadol, Mishnas Rabbi Eliezer). Same applied to the last Makkah (Bechoros) - Pharoh did not die while his firstborns did.
    • According to some opinions, the Egyptians dug around the river to get drinking water as opposed to buying it (Ibn Ezra, see here)
  • Frogs - according to some opinions these were crocodiles (Rabbeinu Chananel and Malbim, see here)
  • Lice - Rashi explains that the magicians were not able to replicate these due to the way magic works (through a demon). The Ramchal also explains in his sefer Derech Hashem other ways it works (through incantation and names of Hashem).
  • Plague - the death of animals also affected people who work in close contact with the animals
  • Boils - some learn that this was not done through dust but through smoke (Rabbeinu Avraham ben haRambam)
  • Locusts - Ibn Ezra cites an opinion that this was done through some sort of magic by having the locust tied to the staff
  • Hail and Darkness - these did not last the entire 7 days like others, and the extra days were saved for later (the Sea or time of Joshua).

The Date of the Counting of the Omer
There is a famous disagreement documented between the Sadducees and the Chazal during the times of the Second Bais Hamikdash regarding counting of the Omer (this also applies to Samaritans, Karaites and other groups that don't follow the Oral Torah). The Torah tells us the following (Lev. 23:15):

And from the day on which you bring the sheaf of elevation offering—the day after the sabbath—you shall count off seven weeks. They must be complete:
The disagreement revolved around the definition of which Shabbos this referred to.  According to Chazal, this refers to the first day of Pesach, thus resulting in the counting of the Omer starting from the second night of Pesach and Shavuos being 50 days later. However, Sadducees interpret this to be the first Shabbos following the first day of Pesach with the Omer always starting on the first Sunday after the beginning of Pesach. This results in the counting of Omer and the date of Shavuos being off by as much as a week.

However, this year being that the first day of Pesach falls out on Shabbos, the counting of the Omer starts on the second night of Pesach which is Motzoi Shabbos and is the same.

(The Essenes would start counting on the Sunday after Pesach finished, and some years the date of Pesach itself would be different as well according to groups that don't follow the Oral Torah)


Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Parshas Tzav 5778 / Shabbos haGadol

Removing the Ashes

The Torah writes (Leviticus 6:2-4)
Command Aaron and his sons thus: This is the ritual of the burnt offering: The burnt offering itself shall remain where it is burned upon the altar all night until morning, while the fire on the altar is kept going on it. The priest shall dress in linen raiment, with linen breeches next to his body; and he shall take up the ashes to which the fire has reduced the burnt offering on the altar and place them beside the altar. He shall then take off his vestments and put on other vestments, and carry the ashes outside the camp to a clean place.
The Talmud (Pesachim 26a) explains that the ashes were forbidden:
The Sages derive from the phrase: “And he shall put them” that he may not scatter these ashes; rather, they should be placed gently. “And he shall put them” also indicates that one may not derive benefit from these ashes.
Chizkuni explains who can do it:
The absence of the word “the priest,” here is an indication that even a priest who is disqualified from performing other procedures in the Temple due to physical blemishes, may perform this procedure.
(see also Jerusalem Talmud 8:4 where a non-priest, if he removes the ashes, is not killed) 
 
and where they are taken to:
a ritually pure location” seeing that these ashes had originated in sacred precincts. This is distinct from the stones of a house whose stones were afflicted with tzoraat, which have to be removed to a ritually unclean location, a location which people carrying objects that require ritual purity may not be brought to.
Mizrachi explains it wasn't done everyday:
There is a difference between the commandment of removing the ashes and one of carrying the ashes away, for removing the ashes [from the Altar] was done everyday but carrying out was only when the amount got large
Bechor Shor explains it was done at night:
like our Rabbis explained, this is a service of the night
The Talmud (Yoma 23b) cites an opinion that only two garments of the priest are enough instead of four:
Do you have any Temple service that may be performed with only two garments rather than the full set of four vestments worn by the priests? In the Torah’s description of the garments worn to remove the ashes it says: “And the priest shall put on his linen garment, and his linen trousers shall he put on his flesh”
Tur HaAruch adds about the clothing:
Even when engaged in just הרמת הדשן, the removal of the ash, or incompletely consumed incense, from the golden altar in the Sanctuary itself, an activity that is rated as part of the Temple service, priestly garments must be worn, though they may be of an inferior quality. There is an opinion according to which the word אחרים that we understood as “alternate, others,” but sacred garments, does not refer to inferior priestly garments, but to ordinary garments such as the ones worn by non-priests. The carrying of the ashes outside the Temple precincts was simply not considered as part of the Temple service.

The Talmud (Shabbos 114a) explains changing the clothing is honorable:

From where is it derived that changing clothes is a display of honor? As it is stated: “And he will remove his garments and will don other garments, and he will bring the ashes outside of the camp to a pure location” (Leviticus 6:4). The school of Rabbi Yishmael taught: The Torah taught you etiquette. The clothes in which one prepared food for his master, one does not wear to pour his master wine. Since cooking makes one’s clothes dirty, he should wear fresh clothes when serving his master.
(It is interesting to note that other times that they cleaned the Temple such as washing the floors by flooding, whitewashing the Altar, cleaning the vessels, were not considered a priestly service. We also find that the Menorah can be cleaned by a non-priest)

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Parshas Vayikra 5778

The reason for Korbanos

The Torah writes (Leviticus 1:2):
Speak to the Israelite people, and say to them: When any of you presents an offering of cattle to the LORD, he shall choose his offering from the herd or from the flock.
The Rambam explains (Guide 3:32):
Many precepts in our Law are the result of a similar course adopted by the same Supreme Being. It is, namely, impossible to go suddenly from one extreme to the other: it is therefore according to the nature of man impossible for him suddenly to discontinue everything to which he has been accustomed ... But the custom which was in those days general among all men, and the general mode of worship in which the Israelites were brought up, consisted in sacrificing animals in those temples which contained certain images, to bow down to those images, and to burn incense before them; religious and ascetic persons were in those days the persons that were devoted to the service in the temples erected to the stars, as has been explained by us. It was in accordance with the wisdom and plan of God, as displayed in the whole Creation, that He did not command us to give up and to discontinue all these manners of service; for to obey such a commandment it would have been contrary to the nature of man, who generally cleaves to that to which he is used; it would in those days have made the same impression as a prophet would make at present if he called us to the service of God and told us in His name, that we should not pray to Him, not fast, not seek His help in time of trouble; that we should serve Him in thought, and not by any action. For this reason God allowed these kinds of service to continue; He transferred to His service that which had formerly served as a worship of created beings, and of things imaginary and unreal, and commanded us to serve Him in the same manner
The Ramban argues (Leviticus 1:9):
Since the deeds of people are determined by thought, speech and action, God, may He be blessed, commanded that when he sins, he brings a sacrifice and place his hands upon him corresponding to the deed, and confess with his mouth corresponding to the speech, and burn the innards and the kidneys, as they are the instruments of thought and desire. And the limbs [of the sacrifice] correspond to the hands and feet of a person that does all of his work. And he sprinkles the blood on the altar corresponding to the blood of his soul, so that a person think in doing all of this that he sinned to God with his body and his soul, and it is fit for him that his blood be spilled and his body burnt; were it not for the kindness of the Creator, who took an exchange and ransom from him [in] the sacrifice - that its blood be instead of his blood and its soul be instead of his soul. 
Sforno explains (ibid 1:2):

... G’d is not interested in the fools who offer sacrificial animals if they have not first humbled themselves...By means of this symbolic act, the humility with which the owner of the sin offering is to approach G’d prior to gaining a chance of acceptance and forgiveness, has been demonstrated.
Sefer HaIkarim (3:25) explains:
Or if we say that the purpose of the sacrifices is to bring together and unite the upper powers with the lower,
Shadal (ibid 1:2) explains that these were like food and gifts given to a king

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Vayakhel-Pekudei 5778

On Nepotism

The Torah writes (Exodus 35:30):
And Moses said to the children of Israel: See, the L-rd has called by name Betzalel the son of Uri the son of Chur of the tribe of Judah
Rashi (ibid) adds:
HUR was the son the Miriam (Sotah 11b; cf. Rashi on Exodus 24:14)
The Talmud (Sotah 11b) adds that Chur was a son of Miriam and Caleb:
... And the one who says that it is referring to houses of royalty is referring to David, who also comes from Miriam, as it is written: “And Azubah,” the wife of Caleb, “died, and Caleb took to him Ephrath, who bore him Hur” (I Chronicles 2:19) and, as will be explained further, Ephrath is Miriam ..
(see also the Mizrachi who discussed difficulties with ages of the people involved)

Daas Zeikinim (ibid) explains why this is problematic:
“see! He has called upon, etc.” What does the word: ראו mean here? When Moses had told the people that Betzalel would be the chief architect/craftsman, and that he would be constructing the Tabernacle, there was murmuring among the Israelites who charged Moses with nepotism and assigning every position of importance to members of his family. He therefore repeated here that these men had not been chosen by him but by G–d, personally. In fact, Moses, personally, had originally thought that he himself had been charged with the whole task, seeing that G–d had said to him: ועשית , “you will make,” etc., chapter 25,17, and subsequently. The plural impersonal mode had been reserved for the construction of the Holy Ark (Exodus 25,10). G–d explained to him then already that on the contrary, not as he had thought, he would not build the Tabernacle but a descendant of Chur, who had given his life trying to stop the Jewish people from making a golden calf would be charged with that task. By doing so he would help atone for the murder of his grandfather and for the sin of the golden calf. This is why the Torah traces Betzalel’s ancestry to Chur, i.e. Betzalel son of Uri, son of Chur.
The Talmud (Berachos 55a) writes that Moses asked the people for permission:
... The Holy One, Blessed be He, said to him: Nevertheless, go and tell Israel and ask their opinion. Moses went and said to Israel: Is Bezalel suitable in your eyes? They said to him: If he is suitable in the eyes of the Holy One, Blessed be He, and in your eyes, all the more so he is suitable in our eyes. ...

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Parshas Terumah 5778

What is the Purpose of the Mishkan?

The Torah writes (Exodus 25:8):
And let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them
As a Place for the Shechina
Bechor Shor (ibid 25:2) writes:
... And G-d commanded him [Moses] to prepare that they should make a Tabernacle and the House of Holy of Holies, and in it an Ark, and in the Ark the Tablets, and there the Shechina will dwell with the Torah and the Jewish people will surround it like the Throne of Glory with the Shechina among them, like it says "that I may well among them" like among the angels...
The Ramban adds (ibid 25:1):
And the secret of the tabernacle is that the glory of God that dwelt on Mount Sinai, [also] hiddenly dwells upon it. And it is like it is written there (Exodus 24:16), "And the glory of the Lord dwells upon Mount Sinai," and it is written (Deuteronomy 5:21), "Behold, the Lord, our God, has shown us His glory and His greatness." And so [too] was it written about the tabernacle, "and the glory of the Lord, filled the tabernacle" (Exodus 40: 34)." And with the tabernacle, it twice mentioned, "and the glory of the Lord, filled the tabernacle" - corresponding to "His glory and His greatness." And the glory that was shown to them on Mount Sinai was always with Israel in the tabernacle.
As a Palace like an flesh-and-blood king
Shadal (ibid 25:1) writes:
After they accepted all of the judgements and the Torahs and G-d became a King in Jeshurun, it is fitting that they should make a Temple to Him, like Kings so He can dwell among them and this will strenthen the unity of the nation and its intense attachment to the Torah ...
To Atone for the Golden Calf
Sifrei Devarim (1) writes:
Rabbi Benaya says: when the Jews served an idol they deserved destruction, comes the gold of the Tabernacle and atones for the gold of the [Golden] Calf
Showing Forgiveness for the Golden Calf
Rabbeinu Bachya (25:6) writes:
In order to show that the sin had been completely forgiven, the Torah commences the list of contributions to be donated for building the Tabernacle with gold. This means that the very means which had caused their disgrace would now become the means by which G’d would express His goodwill. A Biblical verse expressing the same sentiment is found in Hoseah 7,3, ברעתם ישמחו מלך, ”with their very malice they make a king merry.”
As a Place to Connect with G-d after the Golden Calf
The Sforno writes (Exodus 31:18):
after the Torah described all the spiritual accomplishments which should have resulted from the many days Moses had spent on the mountain with G’d, the Torah now has to explain why all these spiritual accomplishments G’d had envisaged did not in fact materialise so that it became necessary to build a Tabernacle, etc., in order to achieve these spiritual accomplishments via a different route. The Torah explains that the cause of this detour in the spiritual ascent of the people was the abuse they had made of the freedom of choice. They, who had been about to receive the set of Tablets made and written by G’d Himself at the end of Moses’ stay on Mount Sinai for forty days, who were all to personify the ideal of being priests, and a holy nation, rebelled, corrupted themselves, as testified in Exodus 33,6 when they divested themselves of the signs of the covenant G’d had made with them, removing the garments emblazoned with the blood of that covenant.
(see also another explanation in the name of Rabbi Y. B. Soloveitchik as related to Adam)
As a Way to Adopt from Idolatry
The Rambam writes (Moreh 3:32):
... It is, namely, impossible to go suddenly from one extreme to the other: ... Now God sent Moses to make [the Israelites] a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (Exod. 19:6) by means of the knowledge of God ... But the custom which was in those days general among all men, and the general mode of worship in which the Israelites were brought up, consisted in sacrificing animals in those temples which contained certain images, to bow down to those images, and to burn incense before them; religious and ascetic persons were in those days the persons that were devoted to the service in the temples erected to the stars, as has been explained by us. It was in accordance with the wisdom and plan of God, as displayed in the whole Creation, that He did not command us to give up and to discontinue all these manners of service; for to obey such a commandment it would have been contrary to the nature of man, who generally cleaves to that to which he is used; it would in those days have made the same impression as a prophet would make at present if he called us to the service of God and told us in His name, that we should not pray to Him, not fast, not seek His help in time of trouble; that we should serve Him in thought, and not by any action. For this reason God allowed these kinds of service to continue; He transferred to His service that which had formerly served as a worship of created beings, and of things imaginary and unreal, and commanded us to serve Him in the same manner; ... He made it obligatory that certain gifts, called the gifts of the Levites and the priests, should be assigned to them for their maintenance while they are engaged in the service of the temple and its sacrifices. By this Divine plan it was effected that the traces of idolatry were blotted out, and the truly great principle of our faith, the Existence and Unity of God, was firmly established; this result was thus obtained without deterring or confusing the minds of the people by the abolition of the service to which they were accustomed and which alone was familiar to them. ...
The Ramban argues (Vayikra 1:9):
Since the deeds of people are determined by thought, speech and action, God, may He be blessed, commanded that when he sins, he brings a sacrifice and place his hands upon him corresponding to the deed, and confess with his mouth corresponding to the speech, and burn the innards and the kidneys, as they are the instruments of thought and desire. And the limbs [of the sacrifice] correspond to the hands and feet of a person that does all of his work. And he sprinkles the blood on the altar corresponding to the blood of his soul, so that a person think in doing all of this that he sinned to God with his body and his soul, and it is fit for him that his blood be spilled and his body burnt; were it not for the kindness of the Creator, who took an exchange and ransom from him [in] the sacrifice - that its blood be instead of his blood and its soul be instead of his soul. And the central limbs correspond to his central limbs. And the portions with which to sustain the teachers of Torah [are so] that they will pray for him. And the daily sacrifice is because there is no saving the community from always sinning. And these words are tenable [and] grab the heart, like the words of classic homiletic teachings (Shabbat 87a). And in the way of truth (mysticism), the sacrifices contain a hidden secret...
[A list of sources for this article were partially based on this article at AlHatorah.org - see further for a fuller explanation of sources and their differences]