Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Parshas Yisro 5776

What Was Yisro's Job?

The Torah writes (Exodus 18:1):
Now Jethro, the priest of Midian, Moses’ father-in-law, heard of all that God had done for Moses, and for Israel His people, how that the LORD had brought Israel out of Egypt.

The Mekhilta (ibid) explains two opinions as to his title:
R. Yehoshua says: He was a priest, as in (Judges 18:30) "And Jonathan the son of Gershom the son of Menasheh — he and his sons — were Cohanim (for idolatry) to the tribe of Dan until the day the land was exiled." R. Elazar Hamodai says: He (Yithro) was an officer, as in (II Samuel 8:18) "And the sons of David were Cohanim."
Ikar Sifsei Chachamim (Genesis 47:22) explains further:
Any time it says "priest" without explaining for whom, it means a priest for divinity, and even more so if it says "priest for G-d", or "priest for idols" or stars. But priest of Midian or priest of On, when it mentions the name of a country or a city it means an officer or a prince of that place, and thus Onkelos explains it "priest of On", and "priest of Midian" as an officer of On and officer of Midian.

The Grandson of Moses

The Torah writes (Exodus 18:3):
and her two sons; of whom the name of the one was Gershom; for he said: ‘I have been a stranger in a strange land’;
Later on (Judges 18:30), we find the following regarding the idol of Michah:
And the children of Dan set up for themselves the graven image; and Jonathan, the son of Gershom, the son of Manasseh, he and his sons were priests to the tribe of the Danites until the day of the captivity of the land.
Rashi (ibid) explains based on the Talmud (Bava Bathra 109b):
the son of Menasseh: Out of respect for Moses (משֶׁה) a “nun” was inserted thereby changing the name (מְנַשֶּׁה). This letter was written suspended to indicate that it was not Menasseh but actually Moses.
Baal HaTurim (Exodus 2:16) explains why it happened:
"And to the priest of Midian" - similar language appears later on (Judges 17:10 18:19) regarding the idol of Micah. Jethro was a priest for idols and when Moses married his daughter, he required him to set aside his first born son as a priest for idols. Moses knew that his father-in-law will repent when he converts, nevertheless Moses was punished by having his grandson become a priest for idols as it says "Jonathan son of Gershom son of Menashe", and our Rabbis learn (Bava Bathra 109b) "son of Moses".
Targum Pseudo-Jonathan (Exodus 4:25) writes a similar story regarding Gershom's circumcision:
And Ziporah took a knife and circumcised Gershom, her son, and threw the foreskin to the feet of the destroying angel, and said: "My groom wanted to circumcise him but his father-in-law stopped him, and this circumcision should atone for my groom
The Talmud (Bava Bathra 110a) writes that he eventually repented:
When King David saw that money was precious to him, he put him in charge of the treasuries for it says (Chronicles I 26:24): "Shebuel the son of Gershom, the son of Moses, was ruler over the treasuries." But was Shebuel his name? Wasn't Jonathan his name? Rabbi Jochanan says: for he returned to G-d with his full heart [and his name was changed)
(see further discussion by Josh Waxman in his parshablog)

Additional Topics:

(see also our earlier post about who the elders in this week's parsha were)

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Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Parshas Beshalach 5776

What is "the way of the Philistines"?

The Torah writes (Exodus 13:17):
And it came to pass, when Pharaoh had let the people go, that God led them not by the way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near; for God said: 'Lest the people regret when they see war, and they return to Egypt.’

The Daat Mikra atlas (p. 72, p. 105) explains that there were two major trade routes in Canaan:
  • The way of the Philistines (or the way of the sea [Isaiah 8:23]), went from Egypt through the Sinai desert to the sea shore near Gaza, and then ran along the shore of the Mediterranean. It's modern name is Via Maris.
  • The other road called the King's Highway (see Numbers 20:17, 20:19, 21:22 and Deuteronomy 2:27), ran from Egypt through Sinai to the Gulf of Aqaba (near modern Eilat), then to the west of the Dead Sea and the Jordan river. This road went through the kingdoms of Esau, Moab and Amnon.
(Courtesy of Wikipedia, user: Ori-)
Miriam, the Sister of Aaron and not Moses?
The Torah writes (Exodus 15:20):
And Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a timbrel in her hand; and all the women went out after her with timbrels and with dances.
However, when Moses's birth is mentioned earlier, she is not identified by name (Exodus 2:1-4):
And there went a man of the house of Levi, and took to wife a daughter of Levi. And the woman conceived, and bore a son; and when she saw him that he was a goodly child, she hid him three months. And when she could not longer hide him, she took for him an ark of bulrushes, and daubed it with slime and with pitch; and she put the child therein, and laid it in the flags by the river’s brink. And his sister stood afar off, to know what would be done to him.
It is only later that the Torah connects the entire family together (Numbers 26:59):
And the name of Amram’s wife was Jochebed, the daughter of Levi, who was born to Levi in Egypt; and she bore unto Amram Aaron and Moses, and Miriam their sister.
(It is also important to note that several times when the Torah mentions someone being a sister it may actually indicate a half sibling or a step sibling. For examples, see our earlier post about Serah, and Rashi [Genesis 36:12] regarding Timna, sister of Lotan)

The Talmud (Megilah 14a) asks why she is not called the sister of Moses:
Rav Nahman said in the name of Rav: Because she prophesied as the sister of Aaron [Rashi: Moses was not yet born] saying, "in the future my mother will give birth to a son who will save Israel".
Rashbam (Genesis 28:9) explains that she is mentioned that way because of age (see also Ramban [Genesis 10:21]):
The reason she is referred to in that fashion is that she was older than Moses but younger than Aaron. On the other hand, in a verse where both Moses and Aaron are mentioned together with Miriam, (Exodus Numbers 26,59) she is referred to as “their sister.”
HaEmek Davar (Exodus 15:20) explains in another way:
To teach us that her prophecy was like Aaron's prophecy but not like Moses's prophecy for it was higher than that of their family

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Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Parshas Bo 5776

Was Moses an Egyptian or Hebrew Name? 

The Torah writes (Exodus 11:3):
And the LORD gave the people favour in the sight of the Egyptians. Moreover the man Moses was very great in the land of Egypt, in the sight of Pharaoh’s servants, and in the sight of the people.
The Torah writes earlier (Exodus 2:10):
And the child grew, and she brought him unto Pharaoh’s daughter, and he became her son. And she called his name Moses, and said: ‘Because I drew him out of the water.’
Daas Zkeinim (ibid) cites two opinions:
If you were to ask how she, the Egyptian gave him a Hebrew name? We have to answer that in fact she gave him an Egyptian name which was the equivalent of the word משה in Hebrew. The Torah contented itself with giving us his Hebrew name.
Second opinion (ibid):
An alternate interpretation: Pharaoh’s daughter had learned Hebrew after the Hebrews had come to Egypt and had made up a large percentage of the population. Pharaoh had even given Joseph a Hebrew name as we know from Genesis 41, 45.
Ibn Ezra (ibid) writes:
The name Moses was translated from Egyptian into Hebrew and his name in Egyptian was Monios ... It could also be that the daughter of Pharaoh learned Hebrew or asked someone
Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan in the Living Torah (ibid) cites several theories how Moses's name would be pronounced in Egyptian:
-- In Egyptian, Moshe means a son. Thus, his naming is prefaced by a phrase that is literally translated, 'he became to her as a son' ... The word moshe may indeed be of Semitic origin.
-- According to other ancient sources, the name Moses comes from the Egyptian mo (water) and uses (drawn from)
Ha-emek Davar (ibid) explains also:
I have seen in the name of Rav Shmuel that in Egyptian this word means "a child" and a son of the king is called a son of the country, when a son is born to the country.
(see also Josh Waxman's posts here and here)

What Happened to the Erev Rav

The Torah writes (Exodus 12:38):
And a mixed multitude went up also with them; and flocks, and herds, even very much cattle.
The Malbim learns that were killed after the Golden Calf.

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)

However, numerous Kabbalistic sources including the Zohar disagree and are of the opinion that they survived

(see our earlier post)

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Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Parshas Vaeira 5776

Who were Shifrah and Puah?

The Torah writes (Exodus 6:20):
And Amram took Jochebed his father’s sister as a wife; and she bore him Aaron and Moses. And the years of the life of Amram were a hundred and thirty and seven years.
Earlier, the Torah writes (Exodus 1:15):
And the king of Egypt spoke to the Hebrew midwives, of whom the name of the one was Shiphrah, and the name of the other Puah;
Rashi (ibid) connects them to Yocheved and Miriam:
This is Yocheved, due to her beautifying the newborn. This is Miriam, due to her crying and cooing to the newborn, in the manner of women who appease crying children.
This is based on the Talmud (Sotah 11b), which cites another opinion as well:
Rav and Shmuel, one said they were a woman and her daughter, and one said they were a woman and her daughter-in-law. The opinion that said this was a woman and her daughter, these were Yocheved and Miriam. And the opinion that said this was a woman and her daughter-in-law, these were Yocheved and Elisheva [wife of Aharon]
(see also Josh Waxman's parshablog)

Another opinion is that they were not Jews, and became converts. Yalkut Shemoni (Nach 9) writes:
There are some righteous women who converted: Hagar, Asenath, Tzeporah, Shifra, Puah, daughter of Pharoh, Rahab, Ruth, and Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenanite
The Kli Yakar (ibid) also cites a similar opinion:
Some say that the midwives were Egyptian for if they were Jews, why did the Torah ephasize that the "midwives feared G-d"

Who was Eleazar's Wife?

The Torah writes (Exodus 6:25):
And Eleazar Aaron’s son took him one of the daughters of Putiel to wife; and she bore him Phinehas. These are the heads of the fathers’ houses of the Levites according to their families.
The Talmud (Bava Bathra 109b-110a, also in Sotah 43a) cites two opinions regarding her descent, via a grandparent:
From Yisro who fattened calves for idols ... from Joseph, who conquered his desires ... If his mother's father was from Joseph, then his mother's mother was from Yisro; if his mother's father was from Yisro, then his mother's mother was from Joseph. This is what it means "from the daughters of Putiel" implying two ancestry lines.
(Similar explanation for Yisro's name also appears regarding Potiphar in Bereishit Rabbah [86:3], see here)

However, Ibn Ezra argues (ibid):
Putiel was a Jew and we don't know the meaning of his name just like we don't known the reason for Mishael and all names that are mentioned like Aaron.
(see also the Ramban [ibid] and Abarbanel who explain in a similar fashion; also see Josh Waxman's parsha blog here and here, and Rabbi Dov Kramer here)