Thursday, July 30, 2015

Ask Your Elders (Parshas Vaeschanan 5775)

Who were the Elders?

The Torah writes (Deuteronomy 5:20):
And it came to pass, when ye heard the voice out of the midst of the darkness, while the mountain did burn with fire, that ye came near unto me, even all the heads of your tribes, and your elders
Based on an analysis of the term "elders" appearing in the Torah, it appears that it may refer to four different things:

1 - The elders of the Jewish people in Egypt and shortly after the Exodus (Exodus 3:16, 3:18, 4:29, 12:21, 17:5-6, 18:12, 19:7). 

2 - The elders of the Jewish people that served on the Sanhedrin with Moses (Exodus 24:1, 24:9, 24:14, Leviticus 9:1, Numbers 11:16, 11:24-25, 11:30, 16:25, Deuteronomy 5:20, 27:1, 29:9, 31:9, 31:28).

3 - The elders referred in the description of various commandments (Leviticus 4:15, Deuteronomy 19:12, 21:2-6, 21:19-20, 22:15-18, 25:7-9)

4 - The elders of other nations (Egypt - Genesis 50:7, Midian - Numbers 22:4, Moab - Numbers 22:7).

It appears that our verse refers to either #1 or #2.

Rabbeinu Bachya (Numbers 11:16) explains who they were:
... already with the Jews in Egypt there were 70 elders, for from the day they descended to Egypt with 70 souls and the blessing was applied to their children, they appointed over themselves 70 elders to lead and to teach ordinances and judgements of the righteous for they were great sages from the ones accepted by our forefathers ... And that which is written "and gather the elders of Israel together" (Exodus 3:16) - there were 70 of them, and this happened at the Giving of the Torah as it is written (Exodus 24:9) "Then went up Moses, and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel". 

And that which is mentioned here (Numbers 11:16) "Gather unto Me seventy men", these were others that were now chosen anew for those 70 elders of the Giving of the Torah died at Taberah (see Numbers 11:1-3) for they were supposed have been killed for what they did at Mt. Sinai, and therefore it needed to say that they were chosen anew, and they were chosen through lots as our Sages told us...
They were among those who were appointed taskmasters in Egypt, in charge of punishing the people...
(see also Rashi [Numbers 11:16])

The elders are also mentioned as the generation immediately following Joshua and before the Prophets, but it is unclear if they were the same ones (Joshua 24:31, Judges 2:7):
And Israel served the LORD all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders that outlived Joshua, and had known all the work of the LORD, that He had wrought for Israel.
[This is also mentioned in the Mishnah (Pirkei Avot 1:1)]

Rav Obadiah miBartenura (ibid) explains:
For their days extended after Joshua, and those elders gave it over to other elders until it reached the beginning of the Prophets, which were Eli the Priest and Samuel Ramati
(see also Tiferes Yisrael (ibid) who explains that the elders here refer to the Judges in the Book of Judges)

(Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky (Sefer leMakesi Atik Joshua 24:31) explains that these elders were either Eldad and Meidad, or the Tribe of Levi)

(Tisha Bav) Who were Kamtza and Bar Kamtza?

The Maharsha (ibid) suggest they were related:
It is possible that they were father and son, and the messenger got mistaken between them. And also Bar Kamtza, once he knew that the host was looking for his father, who was his friend, also wanted his friendship and make peace with the one who send the invitation
Rabbi Avigdor Miller zt"l explains that the host of the party was a Pharisee, and Bar Kamtza was a well known Sadducee, which is why there was enmity between them.

[Published at]

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