Thursday, December 6, 2018

Parshas Mikeitz 5779

Why Didn't Joseph Eat with His Brothers?

The Torah writes (Genesis 43:32):
They served him by himself, and them by themselves, and the Egyptians who ate with him by themselves; for the Egyptians could not dine with the Hebrews, since that would be abhorrent to the Egyptians.
There are two things happening here:
  1. Joseph not sitting with the brothers while eating.
  2. The brothers not eating together the Egyptians.
Bechor Shor answers #1:
Because of his greatness for it is not right to eat at the king's table unless you are a great person ... but they were seated close to him
HaEmek Davar explains similarly why regular people don't eat with the king:
... He should be demeaned in their eyes, or they should not be able to pass a knife to him and fight with him; but he did sit the brothers with the Egyptians because they were abhorrent...
 There are also multiple answers for #2 which answers #1 as well. Rashi (ibid) writes:
it is a hateful thing to the Egyptians to eat together with the Hebrews. Onkelos states a reason for this.
Onkelos explains:
They served to him by himself, and to them by themselves, and to the Egyptians eating with them by themselves because Egyptians cannot eat bread with Hebrews for the domesticated animals that the Egyptians worship, the Hebrews eat

The Torah writes similarly later on (Exodus 8:22)
But Moses replied, “It would not be right to do this, for what we sacrifice to the LORD our God is untouchable to the Egyptians. If we sacrifice that which is untouchable to the Egyptians before their very eyes, will they not stone us!
Rashi explains there:
The act of sacrifice which we practise is a hateful thing to the Egyptians seing that we sacrifice their god

However, Radak explains differently:
Egyptians did not eat sheep or goats, and the only reason they raised these animals was for their wool and their milk.
Chizkuni explains:
Egyptians detested eating at the same table as aliens, as they felt that they were a superior race and everyone else was way inferior.
Rashbam explains in a similar fashion:
The Egyptians’ attitude to people whose vocation was to tend flocks was one of utter disdain, as we know from 46,34. They had contempt for sheep and goats, hence their contempt transferred itself to the people raising such animals. This attitude to sheep and goats is mirrored when Moses asks Pharaoh how he could expect the Israelites to slaughter such animals while in Egypt without running the risk of the local populace stoning them to death for doing this. (Exodus 8,22) Stoning someone to express one’s disgust with his conduct is nothing new; we encounter it in Samuel II 16,5-6 when Shimi ben Geyrah, not only cursed (king) David publicly, but also threw stones at him.
Shadal explains this was because the Egyptians had their own religious customs for eating like the Greeks, and their religion wouldn't allow them to sit with people from other religions

Shape of the Menorah

Interesting article from Chabad.org addressing the discrepancy between the shape of the Menorah as described by the Rambam and archeological evidence

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Parshas Vayishlach 5779

Who Fought with Yaakov?

The Torah writes (Genesis 32:25):
Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the break of dawn.

Sforno explains that this was an angel:
This was the work of an angel at the instigation of G’d (that is why he is called איש)
We find similarly in Tanach (Hosea 12:5):
He strove with an angel and prevailed— The other had to weep and implore him. At Bethel [Jacob] would meet him, There to commune with him.
Rashi (ibid) writes:
Our Rabbis of blessed memory explained that he was Esau’s guardian angel (Genesis Rabbah 77:3)
Kli Yakar explains that this was the angel Samael

Targum Jonathan explains that this was the angel Michoel

Radak explains this was Gavriel:

the same type of איש as in Joshua 5,13, i.e. an angel. This was the angel Gavriel, described as איש par excellence in Daniel 9,21. The reason why these angels are called איש is because they appear to the people with whom they converse in human guise. The types of angels who speak with man are referred to as איש, as they appear either in a vision or while the person to whom they appear is fully awake.


Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Parshas Vayeitzei 5779

The Three Cities Called "Beth-El"

The Torah (Genesis 28:19) writes):
He named that site Bethel; but previously the name of the city had been Luz.
HaKsav veHakabalah explains (ibid):
Three places did Yaakov call "Beth-El": here he called it "Beth El" only, and later on (35:7) he called it "El Beth El", and with a different name he blessed it (35:15) "Elokim Beth El", and so we find by Shaul (Samuel I 14:3) "they went up to Elokim Beth El" ...

What is the Land of the Easterners?

The Torah writes (Genesis 29:1):
Jacob resumed his journey and came to the land of the Easterners.
Chizkuni (ibid) writes:
“to the land of Aram,” as we know from Isaiah (9:11) [where it says "Aram from the east And Philistia from the west"]
Ohr HaChaim (ibid) explains:
The reason the Torah describes these people as בני קדם, easterners, instead of referring to their city, i.e. Charan, is to tell us that only the district came towards him. Jacob himself walked to Charan ...
Radak (ibid) explains somewhat similar:
that land lies to the east of the land of Israel, Charan being the first town after one crosses the border into that country. The Torah does not mention the political name of the country but describes it as “the land of the people of Kedem,” in more general terms. Yaakov left the land of Canaan and crossed into this land, and while being close to Charan, he saw a well in the field.
Tur HaAruch explains (ibid) differently:
It is a mystery why Yaakov should go to the land of the people of the East, seeing the Torah already wrote that he was heading for Charan, (28,10). On the other hand, according to the tradition that Yaakov had reached Charan on the day he set out in that direction, but that he had turned back to pray at Moriah, not having been aware at the time that he had inadvertently gone past that site without doing so, the meaning of the verse becomes abundantly clear. From Moriah he went forth to the land of the people of the East, where he remained for 14 years before again going to Charan and joining the household of Lavan.
HaEmek Davar explains that the the verse implies that they dabbled in magic like the people of "Kedem" (i.e. the children of Keturah), and this is why it says that he "raised his feet" for he was afraid he may get drawn after it.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Parshash Vayera 5779

What Questions is Rashi Trying to Answer?

There are several instances in this Parsha, where Rashi's commentary seems to be addressing a specific issue in the text. When we contrast his commentary with other commentators, we can see the underlying question

1. The Wife of Lot
Rashi (Genesis 19:26) explains that when Lot's wife was punished by being turned into a pillar salt because she sinned with salt. However, the Ralbag disagrees and explains the same verse as referring to the city of Sodom turning into a pillar of salt instead of Lot's wife. The Ralbag also explains what the underlying question is: Lot's wife is listed as having left the city but when Lot goes into caves later on, she is no longer present. That is the question that Rashi also addresses - her disappearance from the story is explained by being turned into a pillar of salt.

2. Ishmael and the Guests of Avraham
When the guests come to Avraham, he orders a man to slaughter a calf for them (Genesis 18:7). Rashi explains there that this was Ishmael who was being trained in the mitzvos. Bartenura explains the underlying question - everything that Avraham did was done by him directly except this (and the kneading of the dough by Sarah). If Avraham strives to do everything himself, then handing off this job to a mere servant would sound derogatory to Avraham. Therefore, Rashi explains that this was no mere servant but Ishmael who was being trained.

3. Angels or Men?
As explained in previous years (see here), there is a disagreement among the commentators as to whether these visitors are angels or men (or a dream according to the Rambam). Rashi explains that these were angels but because of that he is forced to explain why there are initially called "men" in regards to Avraham but "angels" when they arrived at Sodom. Additionally, Rashi also explains why the number of visitors goes down from three to two.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Parshas Lech Lecho 5779

What is Ur Kasdim?

The Torah writes (Genesis 15:7):
Then He said to him, “I am the LORD who brought you out from Ur Kasdim to assign this land to you as a possession.”
It also states earlier (ibid 11:28):
And Haran died in the lifetime of Terach his father, in the land of his birth, Ur Kasdim.
And (ibid 11:31):
Terah took his son Abram, his grandson Lot the son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, the wife of his son Abram, and they set out together from Ur Kasdim for the land of Canaan; but when they had come as far as Haran, they settled there.
This is also mentioned later on (Nehemiah 9:7):
You are the LORD the God, who choose Abram, and brought him forth out of Ur Kasdim, and gave him the name of Abraham;
Rashi (ibid 11:28) says
The Midrashic explanation is that he died through his father. For Terah accused his son Abram before Nimrod of haying smashed his idols to pieces, and he cast him into a fiery furnace. Haran waited and said to himself, “If Abram proves triumphant I will be on his side; if Nimrod wins I shall be on his”. When Abram was saved they said to Haran, “Whose side are you on?” Haran replied, “I am on Abram’s side”. They therefore cast him into the fiery furnace and he was burnt to death. It is to this that the name of the place Ur-Kasdim (fire of the Chaldees) alludes (Genesis Rabbah 38:13).
Targum Jonathan (ibid) elaborates that it refers to the makers of the furnace:
And it was when Nimrod had cast Abram into the furnace of fire because he would not worship his idol, and the fire had no power to burn him, that Haran's heart became doubtful, saying, If Nimrod overcome, I will be on his side: but if Abram overcome, I will be on his side. And when all the people who were there saw that the fire had no power over Abram, they said in their hearts, Is not Haran the brother of Abram full of divinations and charms, and has he not uttered spells over the fire that it should not burn his brother? Immediately (min yad, out of hand) there fell fire from the high heavens and consumed him; and Haran died in the sight of Terah his father, where he was burned in the land of his nativity, in the furnace of fire which the Kasdim made for Abram his brother.


Metzudas Dovid (Nehemiah ibid) cites a similar explanation but Kasdim refers to the location:
Our Sages tell us that it was because Nimrod threw him into a fiery furnace while in the land of Kasdim and G-d saved him
Ramban (ibid) also explains this is regarding the location but differently:
In the land of his birth. Only Haran was born in Ur Kasdim. Terach was originally from Aram where his older sons Avram and Nachor were born. Afterwards Terach took Avram with him to Ur Kasdim while Nachor remained behind. That is why when Terach left to return to Aram (v. 31) Nachor is not mentioned.
Rabbeinu Bachya (ibid) explains in a similar fashion:
 It is a fact that Avraham’s birthplace was not Ur in the land of the Casdim, but that he was born on the west side of the river Euphrates. We have direct confirmation of this in Joshua 24,2 where we are told מעבר הנהר ישבו אבותיכם מעולם, “your ancestors have lived on the far side of the river Euphrates from time immemorial.” The word מעולם in that verse is clear proof of the fact that Avraham was not born in Ur. This is also why he was known as אברם העברי, in 14,13, “Avraham from across the river.” Had he been born in Ur Casdim he should have been known as אברם הכשדי, “Avram from the land of the Chaldaens.” Another proof for our contention is the fact that Nachor, Avraham’s brother is reported as living in Charan, a place well west of the river Euphrates. If we find in verse 31 that Terach took his son Avram and Lot the son of Haran with him as well as Sarai his daughter-in- law on his way from Ur Casdim in order to go to the land of Canaan and that they got as far as Charan, this suggests that Nachor was the only one who remained in Ur Casdim at the time. However, the truth is that Nachor had never left his birthplace in the first place. This is also the reason the Torah writes the word “in the land of his birth” in the middle of the verse instead of at its end. The word מולדתו, “his birthplace,” refers to Aram which was well to the west of the river Euphrates. We find that our sages in Baba Batra 91 mention that Avram was a prisoner for ten years, three of them in a place called Kuta, and seven years in a place called Kardo. According to some scholars the former place is identical with Ur Casdim. Others hold that it was west of the river Euphrates.

You should know that Terach begat his sons Avram and Nachor on the west side of the river Euphrates, the land of his fathers, and that subsequently he migrated to Ur Casdim to join his son Avram where his younger son Haran was born. Nachor had stayed in his birthplace in Charan all that time. The words בארץ מולדתו refer to Haran, who had indeed been born in Ur Casdim.

Maimonides, in his Moreh Nevuchim 3,29, writes that there is a record in Egyptian books about agriculture that Avram was born in a place called Kuta and that he disagreed with all the local people concerning their worshiping the sun. The king therefore imprisoned him where he remained for many years. Some time later the king feared that Avram would cause destruction to his country and that he would sway his subjects into changing their religion so that he decided to expel Avram to the borders of the land of Canaan.Thus far Maimonides.
The Malbim (ibid) explains that this refers to the fire itself:
For the Kasdim worshiped sun and fire, and they had a fire that was always lit as part of fire worship ... Ur Kasdim was on the other side of the river and Nimrod was also the ruler there ... and the furnace was also on the other side of the river, except that in Haran there was no ruler. And now you will understand what it means that "our forefathers lived on the other side of the river" ... and that was on the other side of the river and not the land of Kasdim ... it must be that Ur Kasdim refers to the fire of the furnace ...

Radak (ibid) says its name wasn't called that at the time:
 באור כשדים, a place known nowadays as Ur Kasdim, It could not have had that name at the time Terach and Avraham lived, as כשד the son of Nachor had not been born until later (Genesis 22,22) The offspring of this Kessed became were known as the Kasdim.
Rashi (ibid) cites another reason that it refers to valleys (also cited by the Radak):
Menachem ben Seruk, however, explains that אור means a valley, as (Isaiah 24:15) “Glorify ye the Lord in the valleys (באורים)”, and as (Isaiah 11:8) “the den (מאורת) of the basilisk”. Every hole or deep cleft may be called אור.
Rabbeinu Bachya (ibid) explains this may also refer to a mountain:
As to the meaning of the word אור in our verse. The word appears in three meanings. 1) valley or depression; 2) fire; 3) mountain. The reason that it may mean valley is based on Isaiah 11,8 מאורת הצפעוני, ”the den of an adder.” The prophet calls the den of that viper מאורה, and a valley is a depression in the earth. Our verse then would mean: “from the valley of the Casdim.” The reason the word may mean “mountain,” is based on Isaiah 24,15 באורים כבוד ה', “for the glory of the Lord is in the mountains,” and the reason the word was used to symbolise mountains was that the Israelites used to light flares on the mountains to inform the people that the new moon had been sighted so that the people who lived far from Jerusalem would observe the next day as New Moon. This is what is meant in Isaiah 24,15 באיי הים שם ה' אלוקי ישראל, “the name of the Lord G’d of Israel is (even) in the islands of the sea.” The prophet urges the people to proclaim the mighty miracles of G’d by honouring G’d with lights, as if the meaning of the words הר כשדים were “fire.” We encounter this word in Isaiah 44,16 חמותי ראיתי אור “I am hot, I can feel the fire (heat).“

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Parshas Noach 5779

Why Did Noach Send the Raven?

The Torah writes (Genesis 8:6-7):
At the end of forty days, Noah opened the window of the ark that he had made and sent out the raven; it went to and fro until the waters had dried up from the earth.
1: Simplest explanation from the Sforno:
וישלח את העורב, to find out if the atmosphere had dried out after the tops of the mountains had become visible. Noach wanted to know if the atmosphere in the meanwhile was such that the raven could tolerate it.
ויצא יצוא ושוב, this proved that the atmosphere was not yet dry enough for the raven to tolerate it for any extended period of time.

2: The Bartenura cites a different reason:
I found that the reason for Noach sending out the raven more than other birds was because ravens eat dead bodies and if it would find one of those that died in the Flood, it would bring from their flesh back to the Ark; and he [Noach] would know that the waters dried up ...
3 - The Chizkuni gives a similar reason:
the reason Noach chose one of the impure birds for this mission, was that since that bird feeds on carcasses, the chances that it would find something to eat were far greater than if he had sent a pigeon which is more circumspect in what it chooses as its food. Do not question how Noach could have dispatched any creature from the ark seeing that at that time it was totally dark outside? While it is true that there was no sunshine or moonlight, and the light of the stars is insufficient to know thereby whether it is day or night, there was some light, as we know from when the Torah wrote in verse 5 that the mountain tops had become visible at the beginning of the tenth month. Furthermore, there is an opinion cited in B’reshit Rabbah 33,5, according to which light of sun and moon was usable, but was not usable by Noach for astronomical calculations. Unless this was so, how would Noach have been able to tell day from night?
Bechor Shor seems to disagree:
It went to and from for the waters were still high and it was afraid to fly far lest it gets weak and falls to the water but it still went out and ate from the bodies of people, animals and birds that it saw floating in the water and came back to its nest in the Ark, and it kept doing so until the waters dried up completely, and then he [Noach] sent the dove ...
4: HaEmek Davar cites another reason:
We need to understand why he sent these two birds specifically: the raven and the dove, for there are many other birds that can fly better than these two. Also, how did he have permission to let them leave the Ark before the time came for all of them leave? Therefore, it seems that these (the raven and the dove) were not from the pairs that entered [the Ark] in order to keep the species alive according to Hashem's command. It must be that before the Flood, Noach was like one of the noblemen that are accustomed to raise ravens and doves, and these came with him as part of his household like it is stated above, for it is a custom to raise ravens inside the house and not to send them away. However, doves are taught to carry letters far away and bring things back in their beaks. therefore when Noach sent the raven and it saw the water around the Ark, it did not fly far but went and came back near the Ark. But the dove was taught to bring things even from afar and this is why he sent it for it flew far away.
5: Ohr Chaim gives another reason:
.... The entire verse must be understood in light of the aggadah (Sanhedrin 108) that the raven mated while in the ark and that Noach knew about it. This is why he expelled the raven from the ark as soon as he opened its window. This is why the Torah does not mention that the raven was dispatched in order to examine the extent to which the waters had receded. The raven was forced to remain outside the ark though it tried to return to it. This situation continued until the waters on the earth had dried out. .....


Why Did the Raven Keep Coming Back?
1: As per Bechor Shor above, it was afraid of falling in the water

2: Rashi provides another reason why it kept coming back:
It (the raven) flew in circles round and round the Ark and did not go on its errand for it suspected that he (Noah) intended to injure its mate, just as we learn in the Agada of Chelek (Sanhedrin 108b)
Chizkuni explains this further:
Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish in Sanhedrin 108 claims that the raven accused Noach with an ironclad argument of hating it, else he would have used a bird of which there were seven species rather than endanger the species of the raven of which he had only a single pair. As a result, the raven did not fly far away from the ark to ensure it would find its way back, and could protect its mate if need be.
The Malbim explains what Noach thought:
Since the raven, alone among the birds, produced offspring in the ark, Noach felt secure in sending it out knowing that the species would not perish. The raven was also the only bird that would have abandoned its nest to go on the mission.
However, Tur HaAruch disagrees:
Noach concluded at that point not to endanger the species of which only one pair was in the ark, and to dispatch birds of the “pure” species of which he had seven pairs each at his disposal.
3: Another reason - as per HaEmek Davar above,  it could be the raven stayed close because it was not accustomed to fly far like the dove

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Succos 5779

Eating in the Succah on the First Night

Rabbia Doniel Neustadt discusses this issue in his Weekly Halacha series and comes out with the following conclusions:
Since there are different rulings on all of these issues, the following, then, is a summary of the majority opinion:
  • If it is raining steadily and there is a reliable weather forecast for rain all night, one should make Kiddush [with shehecheyanu] and eat a k’zayis [or a k’beitzah] in the succah. No blessing over the succah is recited. The rest of the meal is eaten inside the house.

  • If there is no reliable weather forecast and there is a possibility that the rain will stop [e.g., it is drizzling or it is raining on and off], it is proper to wait an hour or two for the rain to subside. The poskim agree, however, that if the delay will disturb the dignity and pleasure of the Yom Tov, or if the family is hungry and/or tired, there is no obligation to wait.

  • If the rain stops while the meal is being eaten inside the house or even after the meal has finished, one is obligated to eat at least a beitzah of bread in the succah. Even if the rain stops after midnight, a beitzah of bread must be eaten in the succah. If one has already gone to bed and then the rain stops, there is no obligation to get out of bed in order to eat in the succah.

Shaking Lulav and Esrog on Shabbos

We do not shake the Lulav and Esrog on Shabbos today, but during the times of the Temple, this was done on the first day of Succos even on Shabbos. This is explained by the Rambam (Hilchos Shofar Sukkah veLulav 7:16-18):

While the Temple was standing, the lulav would be taken [in the holy place even] when the first day of Sukkot fell on the Sabbath. The same applies in other places where they were certain that this day was celebrated as a holiday in Eretz Yisrael. However, the places which were distantly removed from Jerusalem would not take the lulav on this day because of the doubt involved.

When the Temple was destroyed, the Sages forbade even the inhabitants of Eretz Yisrael who had sanctified the new month to take the lulav on the Sabbath on the first day of Sukkot.

[This was instituted] because of the inhabitants of the distant settlements, who were not aware of when the new month had been declared. Thus, a uniform guideline was established, rather than having some take the lulav on the Sabbath and some not. [The guiding principle was] that the obligation [of taking the lulav] on the first day applies in all places, and there is no longer a Temple to use as a point of distinction.

At present, when everyone follows a fixed calendar, the matter remains as it was, and the lulav is not taken on the Sabbath in the outlying territories or in Eretz Yisrael even on the first day [of the festival]. [This applies] even though everyone knows the actual day of the month.

Finishing the Torah in Three Years and Simchas Torah

The Talmud (Megillah 29b) writes:
However, according to the one who said that the portion of “Command the children of Israel, and say to them, My offering” is read as Shekalim, does that portion ever occur at that time of the year? That portion usually occurs much later in the year, in the summer. The Gemara answers: Yes, it sometimes occurs that this portion is read during the beginning of Adar, for the people of the West, i.e., Eretz Yisrael, who complete the cycle of reading the Torah not in one year but in three years.
In Sefer Maasos Rabbi Benyamin (page 63) there is a mention of a similar custom in Egypt (in the 12th century):
... there are two congregations - one for those from the Land of Israel and one for those from Babylonia ... and they do not observe the same custom for reading the portions and sections of the Torah, for those from Babylonia are accustomed to read one portion every week like we do in Spain and according to our custom. [Thus], every year and year they finish the Torah. And those from the Land of Israel do not do that but they make every portion into three sections and finish the Torah in the end of the three years. However, they have a custom to come together and pray as one on the day of Simchas Torah and the day of giving the Torah (Shavous) ...