Thursday, May 25, 2017

Parshas Bamidbar 5777 / Shavuos 5777

Why Were Levites Counted from the Age of 30 Days and not 20 Years?

The Torah writes (Numbers 3:15):
Record the Levites by ancestral house and by clan; record every male among them from the age of one month up.
Chizkuni (ibid) answers:
The reason why they were not counted from twenty years and up is that they would not participate in any wars, and from 30 days of age and up they could be used to redeem firstborns of the other tribes. A first born son of any tribe became viable at the age of 30 days.

Why Didn't the Levites Get Any Land?

The Torah writes (Numbers 3:12):
I hereby take the Levites from among the Israelites in place of all the first-born, the first issue of the womb among the Israelites: the Levites shall be Mine.
Chizkuni (ibid) answers:
these firstborns also had not been intended to inherit ancestral fields, ever, as they were meant to be the priests in their respective families. When the Levites were appointed to perform the tasks previously meant to be performed by the firstborn, they forfeited their claim to ancestral heritage in the Land of Israel, and the firstborns, after redemption, could then lay claim to ancestral territory as did all the non firstborn.

What Was Drawn on the Flags of the Tribes?

The Torah writes (Numbers 2:2):
The Israelites shall camp each with his standard, under the banners of their ancestral house; they shall camp around the Tent of Meeting at a distance.
Rashbam (ibid) writes:
There was a symbol on every flag, as for instance, the picture of a lion on the flag of the tribe of Yehudah, or that of an ox on the flag of the tribe of Joseph.
Ramban (ibid) writes:
Each banner was a cloth dyed with a dye, and the dye of this one was not the same as the dye of that one. Each one's dye was colored like their stone from the breastplate [worn by the High Priest]
Tur ha-HaAruch (ibid) writes:
Rashi explains that each flag had coloured insignia woven or embroidered on it reflecting the appearance of the respective gemstone of the tribe on the breastplate of the High Priest. Ibn Ezra writes that each flag had a pattern that easily identified the tribe it belonged to; (possibly reflecting the definitions used by Yaakov when he had blessed his sons before his death.) They could also have reflected the images seen by the prophet Ezekiel in his famous vision of the merkavah.
Bereishis Rabbah (2:7) describes the flags
  • Reuben - red flag with mandrakes on it [that he picked for his mother] [see below where it says it was also a person]
  • Simon - green flag with the city of Shechem [because he conquered that city to rescue his sister]
  • Levi - flag that was 1/3 white, 1/3 black and 1/3 red and it has a picture of Urim veTumim [because they had the priesthood[
  • Judah - blue flag like the sky with a picture of a lion [from Jacob's blessing]
  • Issachar - very dark blue (almost black), and pictures of the sun and the moon [because they were wise in astronomy]
  • Zebulun - white like the moon with a picture of a ship [based on Jacob's blessing]
  • Dan - somewhat blue with a picture of a snake [based on Jacob's blessing]
  • Gad - the color was white and black mixed with pictures a military encampment [based on Jacob's blessing]
  • Naftali - light red like diluted wine with a picture of a deer or gazelle [based on Jacob's blessing]
  • Asher - gem-like white with a picture of an olive tree [based on Jacob's blessing]
  • Joseph - black with a picture of two animals, for Menashe and Ephraim (an ox, and a wild ox or a unicorn - re'eim [based on Jacob's blessing]
  • Benjamin - a multicolored flag containing the colors of all the other flags with a picture of wolf [based on Jacob's blessing]
Midrash Bereishis Rabbah as cited by the Chizkuni (ibid) states:
the flags had the names of the (fore)father’s houses inscribed upon them. How did this work? On the flag of Reuven there was an inscription אי׳י, the respective first letters of the names of the patriarchs אברהם, יצחק, יעקב. On the second flag (there were four flags, for each army group of four tribes.) there were inscribed the letters בצ׳ע, the second letter in the names of each of the three patriarchs. The third flag would have the letters רח׳ק representing the third letter in the respective names of Avraham, Yitzchok and Yaakov, and the fourth flag the letters מק׳ב, representing the last letters each in their names. The letter ה which had been added to Avraham’s name, would be represented by the protective cloud that rested above the Israelites and protected them against nosy intruders during all the years they were in the desert. An alternate interpretation of the line: באותות לבית אבותם. The flag of the camp of Reuven had the outline of a human being in red colour, matching the colour of his stone on Aaron’s breastplate. It represented the mandrakes Reuven had found in the field and brought to his mother Leah, which the latter had traded for an extra night with her husband. (Genesis chapter 30) These mandrakes were shaped like a human being. The outline of a lion was drawn or stitched ion the flag of Yehudah, who was called: “lion” in the Torah by his father (Genesis 49,9) The colour of that outline was turquoise as was the colour of his gem on Aaron’s breastplate. The flag of Ephrayim showed the outline of an ox, whom his father Joseph had reputedly called שור, ox, (Deuteronomy 33,17) The colour of that outline was onyx, as was the colour of his gemstone on the breastplate of Aaron. On the flag of Dan there was the outline of an eagle, coloured in a variety of colours, iridescent, as the gemstone that represented the tribe of Dan on Aaron’s breastplate. (Ibn Ezra) The Tabernacle located in the centre, was flanked by all these camps, and was a symbol of the holy angels called chayot, which surround the throne of G-d forming a square. The various nations learned from the Israelites to make tablecloths and the like in a variety of colours.

Shavuos 5777

The many ways to described a relationship between G-d and the Jewish people:
  • Like one between a king and his servant, or master and his slave
  • Like one between a parent and a child
  • Like one between spouses
  • Like one between two countries making a treaty
All of these are found in our everyday lives which serve as examples for us

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Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Parshas Acharei Mos - Kedoshim 5777

Who Took the Goat to the Azazel?

The Torah (Leviticus 16:21) writes:
Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat and confess over it all the iniquities and transgressions of the Israelites, whatever their sins, putting them on the head of the goat; and it shall be sent off to the wilderness through a designated man.
Rashi (ibid) explains:
A READY MAN — one who was held in readiness for this purpose from yesterday (Yoma 66a; Sifra, Acharei Mot, Section 4:8).
Rashbam (ibid) explains:
A man familiar with the paths and the desert regions, someone always available, on call, for such an assignment.
Rabbeinu Bachya explains:
Our Rabbis taught us: "man" - this could be a regular Israelite (i.e. not a priest); "designated" - even someone who is spiritually impure / tomeh; and even on the Sabbath
Ibn Ezra disagrees:
Our Sages, whose words are true, said [Yoma 66a] that this person was a kohen.
HaEmek Davar explains:
Someone who was wise and knew what to do in the right time
Chizkuni explains:
According to a Midrashnot found) the word: עתי, “which could be translated as: “whose time had come,” this is someone who was destined to die before this year is out. This would account for the fact that it was noticed that the man who had been entrusted with this task never lived out that year. We must assume that in those days people used astrology to determine who was not destined to live out the year.
(see also Sefer Limakesi Atik that cites several other opinions)

What Are the Seerim?

The Torah writes (Leviticus 17:7):
and that they may offer their sacrifices no more to the seerim after whom they stray. This shall be to them a law for all time, throughout the ages.
Kli Yakar explains why this is written here:
...This was written in order to answer the heretics who say that the goat [to Azazel] was sent to the demons in the desert, G-d forbid...
Rashi explains:
means TO THE DEMONS. Similar is (Isaiah 13:21) “and demons (ושעירים) shall dance there" (Sifra, Acharei Mot, Chapter 9 8).
HaEmek haDavar explains:
The demons are called this way because they don't rest and dance like goats
Ibn Ezra explains:
These are the demons, so called because when one sees them, one’s body convulses [Hebrew: yis̀ta‘er]. Also, the lunatics who see these demons experience visions of goat-like creatures [Hebrew: s̀e’irim].
Tur explains:
“to the demons;” the spiritually negative phenomena, שדים, the expression occurs in that sense also in Isaiah 13:21 ושעירים ירקדו שם, “and the demons are dancing there.”
Radak and Metzudas Zion on Isaiah (13:21) explain:
They were called this because their appearance was similar to goats
Sforno explains that the blood of the sacrifices would feed them:
... Apparently, although they are composed of composite material, their bones are extremely thin and transparent. That just as ordinary human beings in common with the animals possess a נפש חיוני “intangible life-force” which, seeing that it dies with the body it inhabits, as distinct from the human נשמה which is an intangible spirit emanating in the celestial regions, is basically terrestrial in nature, these demons are “powered” by such a life-force. The reason we find that “life-force” referred to on occasion as נפש is the fact that it cannot exist without its tangible partner, the one which feeds on food and drink secured from what is available in our terrestrial universe.
Consider the very fact that the Torah describes “blood as the life-force” (Deuteronomy 12:23). If someone were to sacrifice blood to such a creature, especially, seeing that it is powerful enough to sustain the life of such creatures, the blood sacrificed to such creatures would be equivalent to keeping these demons alive. (compare Maimonides, Moreh Nevuchim,3,46 on the subject). 
At any rate, when a situation exists when many people find such demons useful and pliable to their wishes, people indulged in offering them blood so as to endear themselves to these creatures and to get them to perform their wishes. ...
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