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) ...

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).