Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Many Nations (Parshas Ki Teitzei 5775)

Are Ammonite and Moabite Converts Accepted?

The Torah writes (Deuteronomy 23:4, 23:8-9):
An Ammonite or a Moabite shall not enter into the assembly of the LORD; even to the tenth generation shall none of them enter into the assembly of the LORD for ever ... Thou shalt not abhor an Edomite, for he is thy brother; thou shalt not abhor an Egyptian, because thou wast a stranger in his land. The children of the third generation that are born unto them may enter into the assembly of the LORD.
Sefer HaChinukh (561) writes that this no longer applies:
And this prohibition was applicable before Sennacherib the king of Assyria went up against Jerusalem and exiled the Jews, and also confused all the nations and mixed them, for he ruled over the whole world. After Sennacherib mixed up the world, and the Ammonites and Moabites got mixed with other nations, all are permitted to marry after they convert. [We assume] that they came from the majority that is other nations as opposed to the Ammonites and Moabites. The same principle applies to Egyptians and Edomites.

When Did Amalek Attack the Jews?

The Torah writes (Deuteronomy 25:17-19):
Remember what Amalek did unto thee by the way as ye came forth out of Egypt; how he met thee by the way, and smote the hindmost of thee, all that were enfeebled in thy rear, when thou wast faint and weary; and he feared not God. Therefore it shall be, when the LORD thy God hath given thee rest from all thine enemies round about, in the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee for an inheritance to possess it, that thou shalt blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven; thou shalt not forget.
The Torah mentions one instance in Rephidim (Exodus 17:8):
Then came Amalek, and fought with Israel in Rephidim
According to Rashi, they were attacked by Amalek a second time after Aaron died:
"And the Canaanite, king of Arad, who lived in the south, heard that the Jews came through Atharim, and he fought them, and captured some captive" (Numbers 21:1)
Rashi (ibid):
This was Amalek, as it says "Amalek lived in the land of the south" (Numbers 13:29)
Rashi's source appears to be a Midrash (Bereishit Rabba 19:20 and Tanchuma 4:6, see also my previous post here)
The Baal HaTurim (Deuteronomy 26:1) adds:
Amalek told the King of Egypt that the Jews have fled and he also told Laban that Jacob fled, and this is why the passage of the first fruits is placed here [after the commandment to destroy Amalek], for it mentions that "the Aramean wanted to destroy me"
Midrash Rabbah (Exodus Rabbah 27:6) mentions that Amalek was an advisor to Pharoh:
Amalek and Jethro plotted together with Pharaoh [to kill the Jewish boys]. When Jethro saw that G-d destroyed Amalek from This World and the World to come, he went and repented
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Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Levite Cities (Parshas Shoftim 5775)

Where did the Levites Live?

The Torah writes (Deutoronomy 18:1-2):
The priests the Levites, even all the tribe of Levi, shall have no portion nor inheritance with Israel; they shall eat the offerings of the LORD made by fire, and His inheritance. And they shall have no inheritance among their brethren; the LORD is their inheritance, as He hath spoken unto them.
The Torah explains earlier that Levites only got cities and open areas around them (Numbers 35:2-3):

’Command the children of Israel, that they give unto the Levites of the inheritance of their possession cities to dwell in; and open land round about the cities shall ye give unto the Levites. And the cities shall they have to dwell in; and their open land shall be for their cattle, and for their substance, and for all their beasts.
Parts of the open areas were not allowed to be used at all as explained by the Talmud (Arachin 33b, as cited by Rashi [Numbers 35:2]):
Empty belts of land surrounding each city, so as to beautify the city. It was forbidden to build a house, plant a vineyard or sow seed there.
They were given 6 cities of refuge and 42 additional cities (ibid 35:6). The Rambam (Shmita 13:1) adds that all cities of refuge in the future will also belong to them. The Rambam (Rotzeah 8:8-9) also explains that all 48 cities of the Levites acted as a place of refugee for a murderer but there were differences between them and the 6 designated cities.

The houses and fields in Levite cities could not be sold forever and the Levites always retained the right of redemption (see Leviticus 25:32-34). 

The Levites were not allowed to be buried in the cities or their surrounding areas as the Talmud (Makoth 12a) explains:
Rav Avahu said: These cities were not given for burial as it is says: "And their open fields should be for their animals and possessions and all living" - for the living and not for burial
The Rambam (Shmita 13:3) explains that Levites were granted additional land outside their cities and open areas to be used for burial purposes only (see also Meiri on Makkoth 12a).

They were also not allowed to share in the spoils of war as explained by the Rambam (Shmita 13:10) but only in the land of Israel, with other lands allowed.

Which cities were given to the Levites?

The cities were allocated by the Jewish people under the guidance of Joshua and Elazar as described later on (Joshua 21 and I Chronicles 6). They were allocated to each of the Levite families by lots as follows, 48 cities in total including all the cities of refuge:
  • Kohath - Kohanim - 13 cities
    • Judah and Simeon - 9 cities - Hebron (city of refuge); Libnah, Jattir, Estemoa, Holon, Debir, Ain, Juttah and Beth-shemesh
    • Benjamin - 4 cities - Gibeon, Geba, Anathoth and Almon
  • Kohath - non-Kohanim - 10 cities
    • Ephraim - 4 cities - Schechem (city of refuge), Gezer, Kibzaim and Beth-horon
    • Dan - 4 cities - Elteke, Gibbethon, Aijalon and Gath-rimmon
    • Manasseh on the west bank - 2 cities - Taanach and Gath-rimmon
  • Gershon - 13 cities
    • Manasseh on the east bank - 2 cities - Golan in Bashan (city of refuge), Beeshterah
    • Issachar - 4 cities - Kishion, Dobrath, Jarmuth and En-gannin
    • Asher - 4 cities - Mishal, Abdon, Helkath and Rehob
    • Naphtali - 3 cities - Kedesh in the Galilee (city of refuge), Hammoth-dor and Kartan
  • Merari - 12 cities
    • Zebulun - 4 cities -  Jokneam, Kartah, Dimnah and Nahalal
    • Reuben - 4 cities - Bezer, Jahaz, Kedemoth and Mephaath
    • Gad - 4 cities - Ramoth in Gilead (city of refuge), Mahanaim, Heshbon and Jazer
The cities were allocated to the specific families of Levites and not all of them (see Metzudas David [Joshua 21:7]). All cities were given with the open land around them (as per Numbers 35:1-8), except Hebron, where the open land was given to Caleb (see Joshua 21:12). The six cities of refugee were all given to Levites  - 1 to Kohanim - Hebron, and 5 to the rest.

There are several questions:
  • How was the open land around Hebron allowed to be given to Caleb if the Torah requires all the open land around the Levite cities to go to the Levites?
  • Why is Bezer, which is a city of refugee, not mentioned that way?
  • According to some versions, there is no mention of the cities given by Reuben (Joshua 21:36-37) in Joshua while they are mentioned in Chronicles. Why?
  • Why are the cities listed in Chronicles slightly different than in Joshua?
  • How was Ephraim allowed to give the city of Shechem to Levites, if Jacob gave this to Joseph specifically (see Joshua 24:32)?
  • Why did Kohanim get 13 cities (over 25%)?
  • If Shechem was a Levite city, why do we find it later to be a city of Ephraim (see Judges 8 and 9, and I Chronicles 7:28), and a city of King Jeroboam (see I Kings 12:25)?
  • Why is Nob, the city of Kohanim (see I Samuel 22:19), is not mentioned in this list?
  • Is Geba here the same as the Geba in the story of the concubine of Geba (see Joshua 19)? If so, if this was a Levite city, why was Benjamin punished?
I would like to suggest that perhaps these cities were not fully occupied by the Levites, since Tanach only tells us that these cities were given to the Levites, but it never mentions that they were occupied by them.

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Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Blessings and Curses (Parshas Reeh 5775)

Where were the Levites during the Blessings and Curses?

The Torah writes (Deuteronomy 11:29):
And it shall come to pass, when the LORD thy God shall bring thee into the land whither thou goest to possess it, that thou shalt set the blessing upon mount Gerizim, and the curse upon mount Ebal.
The Torah writes later (Deuteronomy 27:12-13) and mentions that the Levites were on Mt. Ebal:
’These shall stand upon mount Gerizim to bless the people, when ye are passed over the Jordan: Simeon, and Levi, and Judah, and Issachar, and Joseph, and Benjamin; and these shall stand upon mount Ebal for the curse: Reuben, Gad, and Asher, and Zebulun, Dan, and Naphtali.
Later on we find that Levites were not on the mountain (Joshua 8:33):
And all Israel, and their elders and officers, and their judges, stood on this side the ark and on that side before the priests the Levites, that bore the ark of the covenant of the LORD, as well the stranger as the home-born; half of them in front of mount Gerizim and half of them in front of mount Ebal; as Moses the servant of the LORD had commanded at the first, that they should bless the people of Israel.
The Talmud (Sotah 37a) provides several answers:
We learned that Rabbi Eliezer son of Jacob said: It is impossible to say that the Levites were below for it already said "above". And it is impossible to say "above" for it already said "below". How did it happen?

The elders of the priests and the Levites below, and the rest [of the tribe] were above

Rabi Yoshia said: All that were fit [to carry the Ark - Rashi] were below [near the Ark - Rashi], the rest were above. 

Rabbi said: Those and those [Levites and the Jews] were all standing below, and they turned towards Mt. Gerizim and said the blessings, and turned towards Mt. Ebal and said the curses.
Tosfos (ibid) provides another answer in the name of the Jerusalem Talmud (Sotah 7:4):
"Simon and Levi", just like Simon was entirely above, so Levi was entirely above. How do we satisfy the verse "against the priests and the Levites""? Like Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi said - in twenty four places the priests are also called Levites and this is one of such places

Where were Mt. Gerizim and Mt. Ebal Located?

The Torah writes (Deuteronomy 11:30):
Are they not beyond the Jordan, behind the way of the going down of the sun, in the land of the Canaanites that dwell in the Arabah, over against Gilgal, beside the terebinths of Moreh?
The Mishnah (Sotah 7:5) explains this was near Shechem [as cited by Rashi (ibid), also see Talmud (Sotah 33b)]:
The blessings and curses: How so?  Once Israel crossed the Jordan and came to Mt. Gerizim and Mt. Ebal which are in Samaria, next to Shechem which is next to the terebinths of Moreh, as it is said, “Are they not the other side of the Jordan, [beyond the west road that is in the land of the Canaanites who dwell in the Arabah—near Gilgal, by the terebinths of Moreh] (Deut. 11:30), and elsewhere it says, “And Abram passed through the land unto the place of Shechem unto the terebinth of Moreh” (Genesis 12:6)—just as the terebinth of Moreh mentioned in this latter verse is Shechem, so the terebinth of Moreh mentioned in the former verse is Shechem. 
The Daat Mikra Atlas (pp. 130-13) explains that these two mountains were located on each side of Shechem - Mt. Gerizim south of the city, and Mt. Ebal north of the city.

Mt. Ebal and Mt. Gerizim with the city of Nablus / Shechem in between (from Wikipedia Commons)

This as also where Jacob buried the foreign gods brought with his family (Genesis 35:4):
And they gave unto Jacob all the foreign gods which were in their hand, and the rings which were in their ears; and Jacob hid them under the terebinth which was by Shechem.
Tosfos (Chullin 6a) says that this terebinth tree was on Mt. Gerizim:
"Rav Nachman bar Yitzhak said: They [i.e. the Samaritans] found an image of a dove on top of Mt. Gerizim and they worshipped it" - in the Midrash it says that these were the idols that Jacob hid under the oak on the mountain in Shechem
The Rashbam (Genesis 49:10) explains that this tree was famous:
There was open space at Shechem around the famous oak located near Shechem. At that location a mass rally could be held easily. The people would pay homage to the Sanctuary in Shiloh from that vantage point, as it was in their line of vision.
(see also Joshua 24:25-26 and Judges 9:6 which discuss possibly the same tree near Shechem in regards to Joshua and Abimelech; see also Ibn Ezra [Genesis 12:6] that connects this tree with Mamre, a friend of Abraham)

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Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The Golden Calves (Parshas Eikev 5775)

The Torah writes (Deutoronomy 9:16):
And I looked, and, behold, ye had sinned against the LORD your God; ye had made you a molten calf; ye had turned aside quickly out of the way which the LORD had commanded you.

Who Worshipped the Golden Calf?

Rashi writes (Exodus 32:4) that it was first worshipped by the mixed multitudes / Erev Rav, and then by regular Jews:
These are your gods: But it does not say, “These are our gods.” -[from here [we learn] that the mixed multitude who had come up from Egypt were the ones who gathered against Aaron, and they were the ones who made it [the calf]. Afterwards, they caused the Israelites to stray after it. -[from Midrash Tanchuma 19]
The Talmud (Yoma 66b) seems to imply these were regular Jews:
Rav Yehuda said: The Tribe of Levi did not serve idols as it says: "And Moses stood in the gate of the camp" ... He said to his father and his mother "I didn't see them" (Deuteronomy 33:9) - father meaning a paternal grandfather who was a regular Jew; brother meaning a maternal half-brother who was a regular Jew; son meaning grandson through his daughter who was a regular Jew
And Rashi (ibid) explains:
for it seems that their father, mother, brother and son did serve idols
However, the Malbim (Exodus 32:7) learns that there were several different groups:
  • The mixed multitudes which built and worshipped it, and were killed in a plague.
  • The Jews that worshipped it without witnesses and warning - they died after drinking the water with ground up gold.
  • The Jews that worshipped it, and were warned and observed by witnesses. They were judged by courts and executed by the Tribe of Levi.
  • The Jews that did not worship but did not protest - they were saved by Moses interceding with G-d.
As the Malbim writes (ibid):
 "Go and descend, for the nation which you brought up from Egypt has become corrupted" (Exodus 32:7) ... and we do not find in any place that the Jewish people are called by the term "nation of Moses" only by the episode of the Golden Calf. From this our Sages explained that the core of the sinners in the episode of the Calf where the mixed multitude and they are not called "the nation of G-d" and G-d did not wanted them to leave Egypt with the Jews. However, Moses took them thinking that he would bring them closer to holiness.
and later on (Exodus 32:31):
"And G-d struck them with a plague" - the mixed multitudes that made the Calf were struck by a plague. The Sages explain that they did not have warning and witnesses, for only the Jews that worshipped had those since there were many who did not serve it. But among the mixed multitudes, all of them served and could not be witnesses for they were among the ones who made it. Therefore, all of the mixed multitudes were destroyed by a plague since G-d did not swear to Moses about them that He will bring them to Israel (see verse 11 above) 

How Many Golden Calves Were Made?

The simple reading of the verse implies only one. However an earlier verse (Exodus 32:4) seems to imply multiple ones:
He took [them] from their hand[s], fashioned it with an engraving tool, and made it into a molten calf, upon which they said: "These are your gods, O Israel, who have brought you up from the land of Egypt!"
The Jerusalem Talmud (Sanhedrin 10:2) says that they made 13 calves:
And what did Jeroboam do by making two golden calves? Didn't the Jews make many golden calves as we learned in the name of Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai: Thirteen calves the Jews made, and one was the main one for all of them. And what is the reason it says "and they said - these are your gods, O Israel" (Exodus 32:4) - that refers to the 12 ones for the tribes. "This is your god" (Nehemiah 9:18) - this is the main one for all of them.
The Zohar (Ki Tisa 84) writes that there was one calf but it was half ox and half donkey.

Bonus - Why did Elazar burn the Red Cow instead of Aaron?

The Midrash (as cited in Sefer Chasdei Hashem Vol 4, pp. 172) says:
"And you should give her to Elazar the priest" (Numbers 19:3) - Why was it done by Elazar and not Aaron? Because he was involved in making the Golden Calf
A similar idea appears in some versions of Rashi (ibid):
And because Aaron made the Golden Calf, this particular procedure was not done through him, for a prosecutor cannot become a defender
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