Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Parshas Nitzavim 5778

Nature of the Covenant

The Torah writes (Deuteronomy 29:12):
You stand this day, all of you, before the LORD your God—your tribal heads, your elders and your officials, all the men of Israel, your children, your wives, even the stranger within your camp, from woodchopper to water drawer— to enter into the covenant of the LORD your God, which the LORD your God is concluding with you this day, with its sanctions; to the end that He may establish you this day as His people and be your God, as He promised you and as He swore to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
Rashi explains (ibid 29:12):
SINCE HE MUST BE UNTO THEE A GOD, because He has promised it unto you and has sworn unto your fathers not to exchange their descendants for another nation. For this reason He binds you by these oaths not to provoke Him to anger since He, on His part, cannot dissociate Himself from you. — Thus far I have given an exposition according to the literal sense of the chapter.
and:
An Agadic explanation, however, is: Why is the section beginning with the words, “Ye are standing this day” put in juxtaposition to the curses in the previous chapter? Because when Israel heard these ninety-eight curses besides the forty-nine that are contained in Torath-Cohanim (Leviticus 26:14 ff.), their faces turned pale (they were horrified), and they exclaimed, “Who can possibly stand against these?!” Therefore Moses began to calm them: “See, you are standing today before the Lord!” — many a time have you provoked the Omnipresent to anger and yet He has not made an end to you, but you still continue in His presence (Midrash Tanchuma, Nitzavim 1).
We tend to think of a covenant like a contract - where either side can break it, but it is really more like a treaty where the sides cannot exit the treaty unless it itself includes such provisions.

Why Did G-d Exile the Jewish People?

The Torah writes (Deuteronomy 29:21-25):
And later generations will ask—the children who succeed you, and foreigners who come from distant lands and see the plagues and diseases that the LORD has inflicted upon that land, all its soil devastated by sulfur and salt, beyond sowing and producing, no grass growing in it, just like the upheaval of Sodom and Gomorrah, Admah and Zeboiim, which the LORD overthrew in His fierce anger—all nations will ask, “Why did the LORD do thus to this land? Wherefore that awful wrath?” They will be told, “Because they forsook the covenant that the LORD, God of their fathers, made with them when He freed them from the land of Egypt; they turned to the service of other gods and worshiped them, gods whom they had not experienced and whom He had not allotted to them.
Daas Zekeinim explains (ibid 29:23-24)

“what has caused the Lord to do this to this land?” If there were murderers and adulterers among the Jews, this is a world wide phenomenon and G–d has not reacted similarly against them? Why has only their land been laid waste?
and

“then they will say, etc.” even the gentiles will come to the conclusion that the G–d of the Jews had done to them was justified; they had entered into a covenant with their G–d voluntarily, and had abandoned their part of the bargain without reason. It is therefore no more than just that they had to pay the price for their treachery.

The Parshas and the Years

There is a tradition from the Vilna Gaon that each of the 5 books of the Torah correspond to 1,000 years of creation, with the last one (Devarim) corresponding to years 5000 - 6000. Each of the Parshios in Devarim (a total of ten) correspond to 100 years. Thus Parshas Ki Savo corresponds to 5600 to 5700 (1840 to 1940), and Nitzavim-Vayelech to 5700 - 5800 (1940 - 2040). There are 70 verses - 40 in Nitzavim and 30 in Vayelech, thus making every 7 verses correspond to 10 years. This means Nitzavim is roughly 5700 - 5757 (1940 - 1997), and Parshas Vayelech is 5758 - 5800 (1998 - 2040).

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Parshas Ki Savo 5778

There is an incident described the the Book of Jeremiah concerning the writing of Megilas Eichah. It is written (Jeremiah 36:21-25):
The king sent Jehudi to get the scroll and he fetched it from the chamber of the scribe Elishama. Jehudi read it to the king and to all the officials who were in attendance on the king. Since it was the ninth month, the king was sitting in the winter house, with a fire burning in the brazier before him. And every time Jehudi read three or four columns, [the king] would cut it up with a scribe’s knife and throw it into the fire in the brazier, until the entire scroll was consumed by the fire in the brazier. Yet the king and all his courtiers who heard all these words showed no fear and did not tear their garments; moreover, Elnathan, Delaiah, and Gemariah begged the king not to burn the scroll, but he would not listen to them.
Rashi expands on the story (Jeremiah 36:23):
Our Sages tell us that this was the Scroll of Lamentations [i.e. Eichah] that was read in front of him. [When they read the first four verses ] "Alas", "Bitterly she weeps", "Judah has gone to exile", "Zion's roads are in mourning" - for all of these he didn't care since he said "I will be the king of the remaining people". One he read [the verse] "Her enemies are now her masters", he said "from now I am not king?" and immediately he cut it up with a knife.
Why did the king not care about the first four verses? He felt safe in his palace and did not feel like any of these things applied to him.

Something similar applies in this week's portion. If we read through most of the Tochacha, it seemingly doesn't apply to us. A lot of the punishments are very specific and we are not affected by them. However, when we get to the end of the portion, we find an interesting thing. It is written (Deuteronomy 28:66):
Thy life shall hang before thee; you shall be in terror, night and day, with no assurance of survival.
This seems to describe someone who cowers in fear, afraid for his life - seemingly not applying to us. But Rashi cites a surprising explanation (ibid):
THY LIFE SHALL HANG BEFORE THEE: ... Our Rabbis interpreted this to refer to one who is obliged to buy produce in the market (who does not possess any of his own), ... WITH NO ASSURANCE OF SURVIVAL — this they refer to one who must rely on the baker (cf. Menachot 103b).
What this means, that even though we may be safe in our houses like the king was, and assured in our safety, this is merely an illusion since the food and bread we need comes from someone else.



Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Parsha Vayeschanan 5778


What is "Lebanon" that Moshe references?

The Torah writes (Deuteronomy 3:25):
Let me, I pray, cross over and see the good land on the other side of the Jordan, the mountain and the Lebanon.
Rashi (ibid) explains:

AND LEBANON — this is a term for the Temple (Siphre).
Bartenura (ibid) explains why the Temple is called "Lebanon":
This is the Holy Temple because it whiteness the sins of the Jewish nation
Chizkuni (ibid) explains differently:
The word: הלבנון here is a simile for the permanent Temple. (Ibn Ezra) Seeing that Solomon used the cedar wood of that region to line the inner walls of the Temple that he built, this interpretation is not as far fetched as it might appear to some.
Haktav veHakaballah (ibid) explains:
... Some add a reason for this name because it is always covered with snow which is white ... and some add because of the myrrh and frankincense that grows there ...

What was Moshe pleading for?

The Torah writes (Deuteronomy 3:25):
Let me, I pray, cross over and see the good land on the other side of the Jordan, the mountain and the Lebanon.
Sforno (ibid):
in order to get rid of all the inhabitants of the land of Canaan so the people will never be exiled from that land. 
Chizkuni (ibid):
the question asked by most commentators is if Moses really only wanted to cross the Jordan for the mundane purpose of enjoying the fruit that grew in the Holy Land. It appears unbelievable to them that this could be the correct interpretation of this verse. They therefore conclude that the meaning of Moses’ plea was that he wished to be able to fulfill the many commandments of the Torah that can be fulfilled only while the person doing so is on the soil of the Holy Land.
Ohr HaChaim (ibid):
... Perhaps Moses wanted to rebut reasons which had prevented him from entering the Holy Land. Our sages say that there had been two such reasons:
  1. The time for Joshua to reign had arrived, and the rule of one monarch must not overlap with the rule of a second monarch by as much as a hair's breadth (Berachot 48).
  2. G'd foresaw that the Israelites would sin in the future and He would have to pour out His wrath at them. He therefore preferred to use the Holy Temple as the object on which to pour out His wrath rather than on the people themselves ... We explained that if Moses had crossed the Jordan the Temple he would have built would have stood forever, and whenever the Israelites would sin G'd would have to vent His wrath on them rather than on the Temple ...

This is why Moses referred to these two scenarios with his words:
  1. Concerning the fact that the time of his reign must not overlap with the time assigned to Joshua, he said "let me cross," i.e. he did not ask to cross in his capacity as the leader but was content to cross as a simple citizen; he did not expect to be given any special honour.
  2. Concerning the eventuality of the Temple becoming the excuse for G'd venting His wrath on the people in any future sinfulness by the people, he said: ואראה, "in order that I may see the land," i.e. he had no aspirations to build the Temple. Moses was thus careful to forestall any argument against granting his wish. As to his using the expression נא, this means that he was ready to abdicate his position as king immediately.
another reason:

It is also possible that Moses pleaded for the Israelites to cross the Jordan river immediately before the end of the day so that he could cross at a time when his crossing would not interfere with the period G'd had ordained for Joshua's reign. If you accept my interpretation that the words בעת ההיא referred to the time immediately after G'd decreed that the generation of the spies would not enter the Holy Land, there would not have been any problem with the time, as that event took place 38 years prior to the period when Moses addressed the people here. From Moses' words it is easy to surmise that he prayed on behalf of the whole people seeing that G'd had only decreed that they would die in the desert. He had not decreed that they would die prematurely, i.e. before reaching the age of 60 which would have meant that they died by the karet penalty. If Moses were to enter the Holy Land at that time (38 years ago) it would be understood that the people would enter with him as G'd had not decreed that they had to die prior to age 60.
another reason:
There is another way of explaining Moses' choice of words based on Bamidbar Rabbah 19,13 that the redeemer for the people of the generation of the Exodus would be Moses himself. ... Moses knew of this as G'd had revealed to him that it would be part of his role in the future [in the time of Redemption] to cross the river Jordan to the Holy Land. In view of this knowledge he merely begged to fulfil his role now instead of in the distant future. The words אעברה נא therefore mean: "let me cross now (we are speaking about 38 years ago)."
another reason:
The words אעברה נא may also be part of Moses' answer to something we have learned in Midrash Rabbah that the reason that Moses had to die outside the boundaries of the Holy Land was to enable him to lead his generation to their hereafter, as we have already explained. Moses used the term אעברה, i.e. a temporary crossing rather than a permanent crossing of the Jordan indicating he was quite willing to die and be buried on the East Bank after having first crossed the Jordan, so as to be able to play his appointed role of helping the people of his generation to attain their share in the hereafter.
another reason:
Yet another meaning of the term אעברה may be connected to the statement in Ketuvot 111 that any person who has had the good fortune to walk four cubits inside of ארץ ישראל has thereby assured himself of a share in the hereafter. Moses wanted to assure himself of that by crossing the Jordan even temporarily.
 

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Tisha Bav 5778

The Destruction of the Mishkan in Shilo

In the first Kinna of the morning (#6) we find the following:
... the fear of the sin of Shiloh ...
The Rambam (Beis HaBechira 1:2) writes (based on the Talmud Zevachim 118b):
Once [the Israelites] entered the Land, they set up the tabernacle at Gilgal [where it remained fourteen years while] they conquered and divided the land. From there it went to Shiloh, where they built a stone building without a ceiling and spread the sheets from the [original] tabernacle over it. It stayed in Shiloh for 369 years until Eli [the High Priest] died and it was destroyed and moved to Nob. When Samuel died, it moved to Gibeon, and from there it came to the Eternal House. The period of Nob and Gibeon [together] was 57 years.
The Mishkan in Shiloh stood for almost as long as each of the Temples, yet we find very little information about how it was destroyed. It is mentioned in three places on Tanach:

1. Jeremiah (7:12-15)
Just go to My place at Shiloh, where I had established My name formerly, and see what I did to it because of the wickedness of My people Israel. And now, because you do all these things—declares the LORD—and though I spoke to you persistently, you would not listen; and though I called to you, you would not respond—therefore I will do to the House which bears My name, on which you rely, and to the place which I gave you and your fathers, just what I did to Shiloh. And I will cast you out of My presence as I cast out your brothers, the whole brood of Ephraim.
(Rashi and Metzudas David explain there that it was destroyed in the days of Eli haCohen)

2.  Jeremiah (26:4-6)
Say to them: Thus said the LORD: If you do not obey Me, abiding by the Teaching that I have set before you, heeding the words of My servants the prophets whom I have been sending to you persistently—but you have not heeded—then I will make this House like Shiloh, and I will make this city a curse for all the nations of earth.”
(Radak explains there that when the Ark was taken by the Philistines, they also destroyed the Mishkan at Shiloh)

3. Psalms (78:60-65)
He forsook the tabernacle of Shiloh, the tent He had set among men. He let His might go into captivity, His glory into the hands of the foe. He gave His people over to the sword; He was enraged at His very own. Fire consumed their young men, and their maidens remained unwed. Their priests fell by the sword, and their widows could not weep. The Lord awoke as from sleep, like a warrior shaking off wine.
However, the when Tanach is describing the end of the period of Eli haCohen and the capture of the Ark, there is no mention of the destruction of the Mishkan in Shiloh. See Samuel I (https://www.sefaria.org/I_Samuel.4.17-5.3):
The bearer of the news replied, “Israel fled before the Philistines and the troops also suffered a great slaughter. Your two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, are dead, and the Ark of God has been captured.” Then he mentioned the Ark of God, [Eli] fell backward off the seat beside the gate, broke his neck and died; for he was an old man and heavy. He had been a chieftain of Israel for forty years. His daughter-in-law, the wife of Phinehas, was with child, about to give birth. When she heard the report that the Ark of God was captured and that her father-in-law and her husband were dead, she was seized with labor pains, and she crouched down and gave birth. As she lay dying, the women attending her said, “Do not be afraid, for you have borne a son.” But she did not respond or pay heed. She named the boy Ichabod, meaning, “The glory has departed from Israel”—referring to the capture of the Ark of God and to [the death of] her father-in-law and her husband. “The glory is gone from Israel,” she said, “for the Ark of God has been captured.” When the Philistines captured the Ark of God, they brought it from Eben-ezer to Ashdod. The Philistines took the Ark of God and brought it into the temple of Dagon and they set it up beside Dagon. Early the next day, the Ashdodites found Dagon lying face down on the ground in front of the Ark of the LORD. They picked Dagon up and put him back in his place;

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.