Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Parshas Vaeira 5777

What was the serpent?

The Torah writes (Exodus 7:10-11):
So Moses and Aaron came before Pharaoh and did just as the LORD had commanded: Aaron cast down his rod in the presence of Pharaoh and his courtiers, and it turned into a serpent. Then Pharaoh, for his part, summoned the wise men and the sorcerers; and the Egyptian magicians, in turn, did the same with their spells; each cast down his rod, and they turned into serpents. But Aaron’s rod swallowed their rods.
Rashi (ibid) explains:
לתנין means A SERPENT
Earlier Rashi explains differently (Genesis 1:21, see also Job 7:12):
התנינים THE HUGE CREATURES — the large fishes that are in the sea
The Malbim has another explanation (Isaiah 27:1):
Some explain this as referring to the crocodile and that this was the wolf fish
However, the Abarbanel cites Rabbeinu Chananel (Exodus 7:26) that the crocodiles were something else:
And that which is written here "צפרדעים" most commentators say that these are small fishes which always croak in the marshes, but Rabbeinu Chananel explains that these are the big creatures which live in the Nile which are called in Arabic "Al Tamsach" [which is translated as crocodiles]
Both of these would be referring to the Egyptian Crocodile (Crocodylus niloticus):

Metzudas Zion (Isiaah 27:1) explains differently:
This refers to a fish which is similar in its appearance to a snake
(Please see Rabbi Natan Slifkin's Sacred Monsters where he suggests many other possibilities including an oar fish as seen below)

Why did the Egyptians dig around the Nile?

The Torah writes (Exodus 7:24):
And all the Egyptians had to dig round about the Nile for drinking water, because they could not drink the water of the Nile.
Bechor Shor (ibid) explains:
They had to make wells for themselves which did not have fish and would go bad from the rot of the fish
Haemek Davar (ibid) explains:
And the Egyptians searched around the river for water to drink from the river, but other water they had through getting it from a Hebrew and they wouldn't need to dig
Ibn Ezra disagrees (ibid):
Many say that the water held by an Egyptian was red like blood and turned clear when an Israelite held it, if so why didn't the Torah write this sign? To me it seems that the plagues of Blood and Frogs affected everyone including Egyptians and Hebrews for afterwards they were separated, but for these three they were slightly damaged. Only from the plague of wild beasts which was very strong did G-d separate between the Egyptians and the Israelites etc.
The Malbim (ibid) cites another opinion:
The Midrash writes, that according to Rabbi Yehuda it says that only the waters above ground were stricken and not below and Rabbi Nechemiah is of the opinion that even below were stricken
[therefore according to the first opinion that's why the Egyptians were digging to get to the water below ground]
(There are also opinions that only regular water was affected but salty or bad-tasting water was still available)

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Parshas Shemos 5777

Who was the new king?

The Torah writes (Exodus 1:8):
A new king arose over Egypt who did not know Joseph
Rashi writes (ibid):
NOW THERE AROSE A NEW KING — Rab and Samuel (two Amoraim or Talmudical teachers) differed in their interpretation of these words. One said that he was really a new king; the other said that it was the same king but he made new edicts (Sotah 11a).
Daas Zeikenim (ibid) explains:
“a new king (dynasty) arose;” this was the first Pharaoh. The Egyptians suggested to him to join the Hebrews politically. The king said to them, how can we do this, seeing that thus far we have prospered thanks to them? The Egyptians did not like this and removed this new king from the throne for a period of three months. After the three months had elapsed, the king told the people that he was willing to change his attitude on the subject and to oppose the Hebrews. This is why the Torah wrote the word ויקם מלך חדש, “a new king;” The Torah did not report that the old king had died, as is customary.(Sh’mot Rabbah 1,8)
Ibn Ezra explains the other opinion:
It means as it sounds that he was not from royal descent
Rabbeinu Bachya adds:
It seems to me that this king was born at the time Joseph was in prison for it is written (Exodus 40) "a birthday of Pharaoh", to say that it was a day that Pharaoh was born for they called the name of the son same as the father, and that is according the opinion that this was a new king

(see also our earlier post on Parshas Vaeira about identities of the midwives)

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Parshas Vayechi 5777

Who Told Joseph that His Father Was Sick?

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.
Daas Zekeinim from Midrash Tanchuma (ibid) writes:
ויאמר ליוסף, “he said to Joseph;” according to our sages, the subject in this verse was Ephrayim, who informed his father of Yaakov’s illness; (Tanchuma section 6 on this portion) Rabbi Moshe adds that there is an oblique hint of this in the text, seeing that the letters in the word ויאמר and the word אפרים when reading the alphabet backwards, starting with the letter ת, are in the relative same position as when read from the right to left, i.e. the letter ו in the word ויאמר is the sixth letter in the alphabet when read from right to left, whereas the letter פ is in the sixth place when the alphabet is read from left to right commencing with the latter ת. (the other letters are identical)
Radak (ibid) disagrees:
It is reasonable to assume that it was one of the brothers who traveled to the capital to inform Joseph that his father had taken ill.
Midrash Pesikta Rabbasi (3:1) cites several other opinions:
Who told him that his father was sick? Some say that he saw it through the Divine Spirit; and others say it was Bilhah that told him for she ministered Jacob and when he got sick, she went and told Joseph; and some say it was Benjamin that told him; and some say that Joseph left his agents there and when they saw that Jacob was sick, they went and told Joseph;
Midrash Yalmadeinu (32) learns:
And who told him that his father was sick? Osnath, his wife, for since the time Jacob descended to Egypt she ministered to him, and when she saw that he was sick, she went and told Joseph
Midrash Lekhach Tov (ibid) learns:
And who told him? It was Menashe for he served Jacob, our forefather
Sefer leMakesei Atik (ibid) cites another opinion that it was the doctors that treated Jacob

(There are also other opinions that this was Serach)

What and Why Did Joseph Get Schechem?

The Torah writes (Genesis 48:22):
And now, I assign to you one portion more than to your brothers, which I wrested from the Amorites with my sword and bow.”
Targum Jonathan (ibid) explains:
And I behold have given to you the city of Schechem
Rashi (ibid) explains:
Because you will take the trouble to engage in my burial “I” give you an inheritance in which you will be buried. And which was this? Shechem, as it is said, (Joshua 24:32) “And the bones of Joseph which the children of Israel brought up out of Egypt, buried they in Shechem”.
Sforno (ibid) explains that Jacob personally conquered Shechem:
Seeing that he, Yaakov, had personally conquered the city of Shechem, in spite of this city being part of the land of Canaan, seeing that he had taken it from the “Emorite,” i.e. someone whose deeds were as evil as those of the Emorite, (although the inhabitants had been Hittites), what he was allocating to Joseph now was an actual, a gift bestowed by him now, and had no bearing on any distribution of land conquered by Joshua in the future.
Sefer Tzror HaMor (ibid) explains differently:
And I am giving you the city of Schechem as an extra portion because of Osnath, your wife for she is the daughter of Dinah that was left under the bush like our Rabbis tell us. And Schechem was given to Dinah in her marriage contract ... and it went to your wife according to Torah law, therefore I am giving it to you extra above your brothers
Daas Zekeinim (ibid) cites an opinion that this was only referring to the plot of land where Joseph's grave was but not the entire city:
Some commentators explain the words: שכם אחד, in our verse, the extra portion of ancestral parts of the land of Israel, allocated by Yaakov to Joseph, as referring to the grave in that city in which the remains of Joseph would be interred after the Israelites taking over that country. (Compare Joshua 24:32)
(Another possible answer is that Jacob gave to Joseph the field that he bought from Chamor, the father of Shechem which stood in front of the city, but not the city itself)

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Parshas Vayigash 5777

Who Told Jacob that Joseph was Alive?

The Torah writes (Genesis 45:26-27):
And they told him, “Joseph is still alive; yes, he is ruler over the whole land of Egypt.” His heart went numb, for he did not believe them. But when they recounted all that Joseph had said to them, and when he saw the wagons that Joseph had sent to transport him, the spirit of their father Jacob revived.
Targum Jonathan (46:17) has one opinion:
and Serach their sister, who was carried away while alive into the Garden (of Eden), because she had announced to Jakob that Joseph still lived.
However, Targum Jonathan (49:21) cites another opinion as well:
Naphatali is a swift messenger, like a hind that runneth on the tops of the mountains, bringing good tidings: he it was who announced that Joseph was living;
Daas Zekeinim (45:26) cites another opinion:
And if you ask who permitted them the ban [of not telling Jacob about Joseph] in which G-d was joined, and how did they tell their father? The answer must be that Benjamin told him initially for he did not participate in the sale
Another opinion (Avos deRabbi Nosson 30):
And some say that the Holy Spirit that left Jacob before rested on him at that time [and told him]

Why Didn't Joseph Tell His Father Before?

The Daas Zekeinim (42:1) gives two answers:
Furthermore, why did Joseph not communicate with his father during all these years which would have spared his father a great deal of grief? The answer is that they all had sworn a sacred oath not to reveal to their father that he was in Egypt. They had made G’d a partner to their oath, so that He too could not reveal their secret to him. All this can be proved from Scripture, when before revealing himself to his brothers (Genesis 45:1) he commanded that all the people around him remove themselves before he would have that conversation with his brothers. He did not want that anyone would ever hear about that oath which had now expired.
Other commentators offer a different reason for why Joseph had not communicated with his father for 22 years. As long as he had been a slave (13 years) he did not want to increase his father’s grief by informing him of his sorry condition. If he were to end a message that in the meantime he had become a king, his father would not believe him; he was right as his father did not even believe this when all his sons told that they had seen it with their own eyes. (Genesis 45:26) In addition, he was afraid that if his father were to leak his new found knowledge to someone, the brothers would each flee in all directions out of fear of his vengeance. As a result, his father would experience additional grief. This is why he waited until the time would be ripe for him to reveal himself, so that he would first reveal himself to his brothers before informing his father of his survival and the good fortune which had befallen him.