Saturday, June 23, 2018

Parshas Korach & Parshas Chukas 5778

Why Did Korach Rebel Now?

Rabbi Josh Yuter cites three reasons (in his parsha blog) (from Rabbi Yonasan Eibshutz):
  1. Because instead of 11 days until they enter Eretz Yisroel, it would now be 40 years.
  2. Because he was afraid of dying from carrying the Aron for 40 years.
  3. And here: He took advantage of the sitituation because the people were upset (Shadal)
There is a fourth reason possible also - some midrashim explain earlier that when the people listened to the spies, they wanted to appoint a new leader and return to Egypt. Those midrashim cite Dasan and Aviram as those alternate leaders proposed by the people, or even Korach (because he was rich). Based on that, it may be possible that is where these three people got the idea of leadership from in this week's parsha.

Many Spies
There are several sets of spies described in Tanach:
  1. Sent by Moses to spy out the Land in Parshas Shlach
  2. A set of spies sent by Moses to the city of Jazer (Numbers 21:32).
  3. Two spies sent by Joshua to spy on the city of Jericho (Joshua 1 and 2).
  4. Spies sent by Joshua to spy out Ai (Joshua 7).
  5. The spies sent to spy out the city of Luz (Judges 1).
  6. The Tribe of Dan sent to spy out the land who took Micah's idol (Judges 18).

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Parshas Behaaloscha 5778

The Lineage of Eldad and Medad

The Torah writes (Numbers 11:26):
Two men, one named Eldad and the other Medad, had remained in camp; yet the spirit rested upon them—they were among those recorded, but they had not gone out to the Tent—and they prophesied in the camp.
Daas Zekeinim (Numbers 11:27, also cited in Paneach Raza) writes:
These two men were (half) brothers of Moses. When the Torah was given, and certain types of family members were no longer allowed to live in married union together, such couples separated in accordance with the law. This caused sorrow among such families as we know from verse 10 in our chapter where Moses is portrayed as listening to the weeping of families which had been broken up as a result of the new laws. Amram, Moses’ father, was also affected by these new laws, as when Pharaoh had decreed that all male Jewish babies were to be downed, he had divorced his wife Yocheved, who was his aunt. He had remarried and Eldod and Meydod were sons sired by him from this marriage. Their named reflected that they were compensations for a marriage broken up as a result of the prohibition to marry one’s aunt .... Our author claims to have found a manuscript of a certain Rabbi Amram, son of a Rabbi Hillel, who had lived in the land of Israel, in which the author writes as follows: “I have personally seen the graves of Eldod and Meydod brother of Aaron through his father’s side but not from the same mother.”’
Another opinion (ibid):
... Some scholars claim that Eldod is identical with a certain Elidod son of Kisslon, mentioned in Numbers 34,21. Meydod is supposed to be identical with Kemuel son of Shifton in verse 24 in that chapter. ... The author finds it difficult to believe that these two men had been half-brothers of Moses seeing that according to the Torah in Numbers chapter 34, Elidod and Kisslon were members of the tribe of Binyamin. Kemuel is described there as a member of the tribe of Ephrayim.
(the connection with Numbers 34:21-24 is also quoted in Bamidbar Rabbah 15 - these were the heads of tribes that helped to divide the land with Yehoshua; this also would fit with what Rashi writes about 2 tribes lacking one elder and they were from two different tribes but they didn't necessarily go through the lottery)
 
 Targum Jonathan (ibid) writes:
But two men had remained in the camp; the name of the one Eldad, and the name of the second Medad, the sons of Elizaphan bar Parnach [the prince of Tribe of Zebulun], whom Jochebed the daughter of Levi bare to him when Amram her husband had put her away; and to whom she had been espoused before she gave birth to Moshe.
Rabbi Frand asks why Yocheved got remarried against Amram's halachic opinion, and answers that since she was closer to the Patriarchs she understood the will of Hashem much clearer.

Additional Notes

  • According to the Midrash (Bamidbar Rabbah 3), Eldad and Medad outlived Yehoshua
  • As per Rashi there are opinions that Eldad and Medad continued to receive prophecy after this day and even after Moshe died
  • Rabbi Jonathan Sacks asks about the difference between Korach and his desired to power, vs. Eldad and Medad, specifically in regards to how Yehoshua reacted. He answers that Moshe served two roles: prophet and king, and Korach wanted the kingship, but in the case of Eldad and Medad, it wasn't about power but prophecy
  • Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky cites sources that Eldad and Medad were the elders after Yehoshua or that it was the Tribe of Levi
  • Midrash haGadol (Numbers 11:26) states that Bezalel was the one who suggested to Moses the idea of picking the Sanhedrin through a lottery
  • See our earlier post about who inspected the tzaraas on Miriam
  • See our earlier post about who the elders were

Friday, May 25, 2018

Parshas Naso 5778

The Missing Targum

Rabbi Josh Waxman points out in his post that the Targum Onkelos in older and Yemenite manuscripts and Targum Yonasan is missing on the verses of Birchas Cohanim. Based on the Shadal on Sefer Ohev Ger, he connects this phenomenon with the Talmud in Megilah 25b:
Birchas Cohanim is read but not translated because it says "May He Turn"
An additional reason is provided based on the Yerushalami:
It was given for blessing and not given for reading

The Connection Between Parshas Naso and Shavuos

The Haftorah discusses the story of Manoach and his wife who were childless and were blessed with a son who grew up to be Shimshon. The Gemara (Bava Bathra 91a) states that Boaz (who appears in Megilas Rus which is read on Shavuos) lost of all his children because he didn't treat Manoach right:
Apropos the story of Ruth the Gemara adds: Rabba bar Rav Huna says that Rav says: The judge Ibzan of Bethlehem (see Judges 12:8–10) is Boaz. The Gemara asks: What is he teaching us? The Gemara explains that this comment is in accordance with the other statement of Rabba bar Rav Huna, as Rabba bar Rav Huna says that Rav says: Boaz prepared one hundred and twenty feasts for his children at their weddings. As it is stated, concerning Ibzan: “And he had thirty sons, and thirty daughters he sent abroad, and thirty daughters he brought in from abroad for his sons. And he judged Israel seven years” (Judges 12:9). The verse indicates that he had sixty children.  And at each and every wedding he prepared for his children, he made two feasts, one in the house of the father of the groom and one in the house of the father-in-law of the groom. And he did not invite Manoah, the future father of Samson, whose wife was barren (see Judges 13:2) to any of them, as he said: It is not worth inviting him; he is a sterile mule, how will he pay me back? Manoah will never invite me in return, as he has no children.  

Sotah at a Distance

The Talmud (Sotah 27b) states that the adulterer dies at the same time as the woman:
Just as the water evaluates her fidelity, so too, the water evaluates his, i.e., her alleged paramour’s, involvement in the sin, as it is stated: “Andthe water that causes the curse shall enter into her” (Numbers 5:24), and it is stated again: “And the water that causes the curse shall enter into her and become bitter” (Numbers 5:27). It is derived from the double mention of the phrase “and…shall enter” that both the woman and her paramour are evaluated by the water.
However, the Midrash Tanchuma (5:2) brings a story of twin sisters where the non-guilty sister went and drank the water, and nothing happened until she came home and kissed her sister who then died. While the Talmud implies that Sotah works at a distance, it doesn't seem to work unless the water is actually drank.

 

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Parshas Acharei Mos/Kedoshim 5778

Moloch and Azazel

Two enigmatic characters show up in this weeks parsha - Moloch and Azazel. Worshipping Molech is a special commandment separate from the general prohibition of idolatrous practices and Azazel was the name of the second goat that was dispatched and thrown off a cliff on Yom Kippur. What are they?

Moloch
The worship of Moloch consisted of a parent giving over his child to the priests of Moloch, and having that child either pass through the fires or put on hands of the idol which was heated up. The priests of Moloch would bang loud drums to distract the parents. There is also disagreement whether the child actually died or if the ritual was merely the passing in the fire, but no death occurred. It is not clear was the motivation of the parents was, but perhaps they gave up one child to Moloch so the rest of their family may live, somewhat similar to how a first born used to be dedicated to serve G-d.

According to the Ramban (Lev. 18:12), Moloch was an idol worshipped originally by Ammonites, also known as Milkom (as mentioned in Tanach in regards to Shlomo, see I Kings 11:7 and II Kings 23:13). However, the Talmud (Sanhedrin 64a/b) cites opinions that Moloch itself is not a specific idol, but rather it refers to the ritual of having his/her children passing through the fire. The name "Moloch" is related to the word "Melech", meaning "king" and as the Talmud explains, it can be anything that a person considers as a "king" over himself.

There are several reasons why a person is punished for this ritual:
  • The simplest is because it is murder if the child dies or because it is idolatry.
  • The Sforno also explains that animals are sacrificed to G-d and not people, so someone who does this obviously considers Moloch greater than G-d since he is offering something more precious than animals.
  • There is also an opinion in the Talmud (Sanhedrin 64a), that this ritual was not idolatry but rather is a decree without a reason ("chok").
Azazel
The "goat of the Azazel" is the name of the second goat sent away on Yom Kippur:
  • According to Rashi, Ibn Ezra, Bechor Shor and the Talmud (Yoma 67b) this is a reference to the place where the goat was brought.
  • Yalkut Shemoni (44:1) and the Talmud (ibid) cite another opinion that it is intended to atone for the sins of the fallen angels Uzza and Azael (the Nephilim in the end of Parshas Bereishis).
  • Pirkei deRabbi Eliezer, Bereshis Rabba and the Ramban are of the opinion that refers to a demon or Samael.
  • According to the Abarbanel it describes someone who is defiant against G-d
The purpose of sending the goat is:
  • R' Saadia Gaon and Sforno explain that this is a sin offering but cannot be brought in the Bais haMikdash because it is too impure.
  • According to the Abarbanel, Daas Zeikinim and the Rashbam, it is symbolic.
  • Pirkei DeRabbi Eliezer learns that this is a bribe for Samael (some learn Azael) so he won't prosecute. Ramban adds that this was a gift to Samael and is allowed because we are simply sending a gift to one of G-d's servants.
  • The Daas Zeikinim based on the Ibn Ezra, makes a connection between Azazel and a later commandment not to sacrifice to goat-demons. He learns that we destroy the goat to show how idolatry has no truth (instead of bringing it as a sacrifice)
(see our earlier posts here and here, see also this source sheet from AlHaTorah.org)

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)

Why Don't We Have Tzaaras Today?

The Rambam (Tumas Tzaras 9:2-3) writes:
Even though everyone is acceptable to assess blemishes, the designation of a person as impure or pure is dependent on a priest.
What is implied? If there is a priest who does not know how to assess blemishes, a sage should observe them and instruct him: "Say 'You are impure,'" and the priest says: "You are impure;" "Say 'You are pure,'" and the priest says: "You are pure." "Isolate him," and he isolates him. The pronouncement must be made by a priest, because Deuteronomy 21:5 states: "Their statements will determine every quarrel and every blemish." Even if a priest is a minor or intellectually or emotionally incapable, the sage instructs him and he declares the person definitively impure, releases him from the inspection process, or isolates him.

When does the above apply? When the priest relies on the words of the sage. If, however, the priest assesses the blemish and relies on his own understanding, it is forbidden for him to assess any blemish unless he is instructed by a master and is thoroughly versed in all the blemishes and their names, including the blemishes that affect a person and those that affect clothes and houses.

A priest who declared a person who was pure as impure or a person who was impure as pure does not affect his status, as can be inferred from Leviticus 13:44: "He is impure and the priest shall deem him impure" and ibid.:37: "He is pure and the priest shall declare him pure." When a person who contacted tzara'at is healed, either after isolation or after having been deemed definitively impure, he remains impure even for several years,until a priest tells him: "You are pure."
It seems to imply that this requires knowledge of what tzaraas actually is, and without that knowledge it doesn't work

(See also this article that cites sources that tzaraas stopped after the Temple was destroyed)

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)