Sunday, January 20, 2019

Parshas Beshalach 5779

The Quail and the Manna

The Torah writes (Exodus 16:11-15) [emphasis added]:
The LORD spoke to Moses: “I have heard the grumbling of the Israelites. Speak to them and say: By evening you shall eat flesh, and in the morning you shall have your fill of bread; and you shall know that I the LORD am your God.” In the evening quail appeared and covered the camp; in the morning there was a fall of dew about the camp. When the fall of dew lifted, there, over the surface of the wilderness, lay a fine and flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground. When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?”—for they did not know what it was. And Moses said to them, “That is the bread which the LORD has given you to eat.
However, the Torah doesn't mention the quail again until much later where there are complaints for more meat (Numbers 11:4-7):
The riffraff in their midst felt a gluttonous craving; and then the Israelites wept and said, “If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish that we used to eat free in Egypt, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. Now our gullets are shriveled. There is nothing at all! Nothing but this manna to look to!” Now the manna was like coriander seed, and in color it was like bdellium.

Rabbeinu Bachya writes (Exodus ibid):
Both the quail and the manna appeared for the first time on a Sunday (compare our comment on verse 1 and 5). The quails formed a daily diet of the Israelites for 40 years (based on Tossaphot Erchin 15 on the word התאוו). As long as the Israelites had the manna they also had the quails. Concerning verse 38: “the Israelites ate the manna for 40 years,” (where no such particulars are given for the quails), we must assume that the same applied to the supply of quails which became available every evening. The reason the Torah only refers to the continued supply of the manna for 40 years is that seeing it was heavenly food it required a daily supernatural miracle during all those years. The availability of the quails by comparison, was a much less impressive miracle, not having required that something out of the ordinary be “manufactured” in the celestial regions. Making the quails available is described by the Torah as a more or less natural phenomenon in Numbers 11,31when the Torah reported: “a wind went out from Hashem and blew quails from the sea and spread them over the camp.” ...
Tosfos (Arakhin 15b) cites a different opinion:
Rashi explains that they wanted more which implies that the quail did not stop for them. However, R' Yosef Kara explains that the original quail stopped for them and the rabble among them had a desire for more since they did not have it, and therefore it rained the quail for a second time
(see Sefer Pesach Einayim in Arakhin for additional opinions)

Bechor Shor (Exodus ibid) explains:
The quail here is the one from [Parshas] Behaaloscha only since the manna was mentioned here, it also mentioned the quail, for you should know if Moshe saw the quail come to them once and stop, why would he say "Would enough sheep and cattle be slaughtered and found for them"?
Chizkuni writes (ibid):
the gift of quails was a one time occurrence, which explains the people’s complaint in Numbers 11,4 where they craved meat. On that occasion G-d provided them with meat a second time as stated in the Talmud Erchin folio 15. Rashi writes that the demand by the people for meat in their diet described in Numbers was more insistent. The manna was provided by G-d daily for forty years. [After the disastrous results of many people dying from overeating on meat in the second year of their wanderings, and dying as a result, we never hear of such a request again. Ed.]
Ramban (ibid 16:12) writes:
... for the quail was with them from this day going forward just like the manna .. and the Torah spends more time discussing the manna and less time on the quail because the manna was miraculous ... and the reason why they complained at Krias Tarbeh for it was not not given to them for satiety ... perhaps only the great ones gathered it, or the pious among them, and the lesser ones desired it and hungered for it...
Riva (ibid 16:13) writes that the they did not complain about lack of meat, rather they were upset about the ban of marrying certain relatives that were permitted before the Torah was given

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Parshas Vayechi 5779

Why Wasn't Joseph in Goshen?

The Torah writes (Genesis 48:1):
Some time afterward, Joseph was told, “Your father is ill.” So he took with him his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim.
HaEmek Davar writes:
I have heard from Rabbi Sh’muel of blessed memory that the reason that Joseph did not frequently visit his father was that he was afraid that Yaakov would ask him how he had come to be in Egypt in the first place, in which case he would have had to tell him that his brothers had sold him, etc., as a result of which his father would have cursed the brothers. This in turn would have spelled the destruction of the civilized world, seeing that when he had cursed Rachel quite unintentionally, Rachel died prematurely as a result, although the teraphim of Lavan had never even been found. We cannot even imagine what the result of Yaakov cursing ten of his twelve sons would have meant.
However later on, when he blesses Shimon and Levi, it implies that he knew. Some answer that Yosef thought that his father would curse them, but he would never do it once he found out about it via ruach hakodesh.

Ephraim before Menashe

The Torah writes (Genesis 48:17):
When Joseph saw that his father was placing his right hand on Ephraim’s head, he thought it wrong; so he took hold of his father’s hand to move it from Ephraim’s head to Manasseh’s.
However, we find even earlier that the order was switched (see Genesis 48:5):
Now, your two sons, who were born to you in the land of Egypt before I came to you in Egypt, shall be mine; Ephraim and Manasseh shall be mine no less than Reuben and Simeon.
Shadal (ibid) writes:
He put Ephraim before Menashe for in his mind [he knew] that Ephraim was greater than Menashe
(see also HaEmek Davar here who explains that Yosef didn't grasp the switch initially, and only realized it during the placing of the hands)

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 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).“