Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Parshas Noach 5778

What was special about Nimrod?

The Torah writes (Genesis 10:8-10):
Cush also begot Nimrod, who was the first man of might on earth. He was a mighty hunter by the grace of the LORD; hence the saying, “Like Nimrod a mighty hunter by the grace of the LORD.” The mainstays of his kingdom were Babylon, Erech, Accad, and Calneh in the land of Shinar.
Rashi (ibid) explains that he convinced others to build the Tower of Babel:

Mighty in causing the whole world to rebel against the Holy One, blessed be He, by the plan he devised for the generation that witnessed the separation of the races (דור הפלגה) to build the Tower of Babel.
Targum Jerusalem explains that he convinced people not to listen to Shem:
He was mighty in hunting and in sin before the Lord; for he was a hunter of the sons of men in their languages. And he said to them, Leave the judgments of Shem, and adhere to the judgments of Nimrod.

(see also this article connecting Nimrod with Hammurabi like this: Amraphel is Hammurabi, and Chazal connect Amraphel with Nimrod, and this Targum) 

Midrash Tanchuma (Lech Lecha 16) explains that Nimrod caused people to do idolatry: 
This refers to Nimrod the Wicked, who used to make images and lead astray the children of Adam; for idolatry resembles falsehood
Chizkuni (Genesis 10:12) explains that people worshiped Nimrod as a G-d:
... Ashur was being disgusted with his own children acclaiming Nimrod as deity, so much so that he decided to move far north east ...

Ibn Ezra and Radak explain that this referred to his hunting prowess:
MIGHTY - to show the strength of men over the animals for he was a great hunter. BEFORE THE LORD —for he built altars and sacrificed animals on them to G-d
Chizkuni (ibid) explains that this was a preparation for Abraham:
... as predicted in the name of the Lord.” ... The Torah tells us that G-d decreed that a person of the type of Nimrod had to arise in order for Avraham to demonstrate that one could prevail even against such mighty warriors who defied the Lord ... According to tradition no ferocious beast ever escaped alive in an encounter with Nimrod. He was aided by G-d in attaining such a reputation so that G-d could demonstrate in due course that such apparently invincible warriors could not prevail against Him.
Tur Ha-Aroch (Genesis 10:7) explains that this was singling him out because he did not create a nation:
On the other hand, Nimrod did not develop into being founder of a nation. We know this because the Torah describes his exploits in a different manner in verse 9. We would have expected the Torah to write: ובני כוש נמרד, following the pattern established since the beginning of the chapter.
HaEmek Davar (ibid) explains that this was about rulership:
FIRST MAN OF MIGHT - From him originated the concept of kingship and rule over men. Truly, this was the will of G-d in order to upkeep the world for without a government, a fellow would eat his friend alive, and Nimrod was the one who began this. MIGHTY HUNTER BEFORE THE LORD - for through this he completed the will of G-d ... and therefore they say this over a man who was wicked but his deeds are desirable before G-d, and it is a wonder  so they say "like Nimrod, a mighty hunter before the Lord".
Tur HaAruch (Genesis 10:13) explains in a similar way but referring to war:
The correct interpretation of our verse (author’s words) is that he was the first individual to assert his power over his fellow human beings, making them subject to his will. He introduced organized warfare, commencing with his capture of Babylon. He followed this up by subjecting Assyria to his rule.
Radak explains in a similar fashion but learns that Nimrod lived after the separation of the people:
Nimrod displayed his power and bravery either vis a vis one nation, or even vis a vis numerous nations by conquering them and being appointed or appointing himself as their ruler, their king. Until the time of Nimrod no one had possessed the effrontery to lord it wholesale over his fellow man. Nimrod invented the concept of “dictator.” These developments were a by-product of mankind having dispersed over different areas of the globe after the collapse of their attempt to “conquer” heaven.
Malbim (Esther 1:1) explains the type of monarchy Nimrod had:
There were two types of monarchies:
  • The first was a monarchy in which the king was elected by the people.
  • The second type of monarchy was rule by force, in which the king conquered the country and became its ruler against the wishes of the people.
This is what is told about Nimrod, and from these two appear two different types of governing:
  • A. The powers of the king in the first type of monarchy were limited. The limitations to his actions are known. The limits of his powers were legislated already at the time of his election. Upon taking office, the king swore to follow the laws and practices of the country.
  • B. In the second type of monarchy, however, the powers of the king were unlimited. He does what he desires. Though he might seek the advice of ministers, he did what he wanted, changing the laws of the country and its practices as he saw fit. He is the king and the law maker, all in one.

When Did Nimrod Attack Abraham?

Midrash Rabbah (Bereishis Rabbah 38:13) explains that this was when Abraham rebelled against his father:
Terah took Abraham and passed him off to [King] Nimrod. ... Nimrod replied: You're just speaking words - I only worship fire. I will throw you into it, and the God you worship can save you from it.
Rabbeinu Bachya (Genesis 15:8) writes that Nimrod also tried to kill Abraham at birth:
According to a comment in the Sefer Hayashar at the time Avram was born a certain star in the eastern sky “swallowed “ four other stars in four directions of the sky. At that time Nimrod’s advisors said to him: “at this moment a son has been born to Terach whose descendants will produce a nation which will inherit the whole earth as well as the hereafter. If you agree, let us give his father a house full of gold and silver and get his permission to kill the baby.”

How Did Nimrod Die?

Daas Zeikenim (Genesis 25:30) explains:
for I am tired, worn out;” according to tradition, on that day Esau had killed Nimrod the foremost hunter in the world up to that time, and its ruler. Nimrod had challenged him to a duel as he had not asked him for permission to use his hunting grounds. He had consulted with his brother what to do about this. Yaakov had told him that as long as Nimrod was wearing the garments which had once belonged to Adam he was invincible. As soon as he would take off those garments he could easily be overcome. Esau engineered to find him without those garments and killed him. On that day he was exhausted from that effort.

Who Was Related to Nimrod?

According to Targum Jonathan (Genesis 14:14) Eliezer was Nimrod's son:

And when Abram heard that his brother was made captive, he armed his young men who were trained for war, grown up in his house; but they willed not to go with him. And he chose from them Eliezer the son of Nimrod, who was equal in strength to all the three hundred and eighteen; and he pursued unto Dan.

(Chizkuni on Genesis 15:2 learns it was his grandson, not son)

Targum Jonathan (Genesis 16:5) says that Hagar was his granddaughter:
And Sara said to Abram, All my affliction is from thee. Being secure that thou wouldst do me justice, I left the land and house of my father, and came up with thee to a foreign land; and forasmuch as I was not able to become a mother, I set free my handmaid, and gave her to lie in thy bosom; and she seeth that she had conceived, and mine honour is despised before her. But now is my affliction manifest before the Lord, who will spread peace between me and thee, and the land shall be replenished from us, nor shall we need the help of the progeny of Hagar the daughter of Pharoh bar Nimrod, who threw thee into the furnace of fire.
The Talmud (Chagigah 13a) learns that Nebuchadnezzar was a descendant of Nimrod (see Rashi ibid):
Rabbi Yochanan the son of Zakai said, "What is the answer that the heavenly voice answered to the same evildoer when he said, "I shall ascend on the heights of dense ground to the One Above (Isaiah 14:14)"? A heavenly voice went out and said to him, 'Evildoer the son of an evildoer the grandson of Nimrod the evildoer, who made the whole earth rebel against His rule.'"

What Gift Did Nimrod Give to Abraham?

Pirkei DeRabbi Eliezer (16) says that he gave him Eliezer (who was Og):
"The elder of the house of Abraham" was Eliezer, his servant. How did he become his servant? When he (i.e. Abraham) was leaving Ur Kasdim, all the great people of the generation gave him gifts. Nimrod signed over his servant Eliezer to Abraham. When he did kindness with Isaac, his son, Abraham freed him and G-d have him rewards in this world and he became king - he was Og, the king of Bashan.
(see above that Eliezer was Nimrod son or grandson)

Targum Jonathan (Genesis 48:22) says this refers to the garments of Adam:
And I, behold, I have given thee one portion. Above thy brethren, the robe of the first Adam. Abraham the father of my father took it from the hands of Nimrod the Wicked, and gave it to Izhak my father; and Izhak my father gave it to Esau, and I took it from the hands of Esau my brother, not with my sword nor with my bow, but through my righteousness and my good works.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Parshas Bereishis 5778

It is often thought that Parshas Bereishis which describes the account of creation of the world is in conflict with modern science. However, if we explore the entire spectrum of commentators, midrashim, meforshim, etc. there is plenty of room to reconcile the modern scientific view of how the Universe begin with one described in the Torah.

Who Created the World?
The Torah teaches us that the Universe was created by G-d, and that it has both a beginning and an end. However, according to science prior to the development of modern physics it was thought that the Universe existed forever and thus did not have a Creator. This view originated with the ancient Greek philosophers. However, in the last 100 years, a new scientific consensus developed which described the Universe as having a beginning (Big Bang theory) and possibly an end as well (Big Freeze or Big Crunch). This aligns closer to what the Torah is described than the older, "eternal universe" model. Modern physics does not however claim to have found what the original cause of the Universe coming into being was (although research into quantum fluctuations and such continues). Therefore, it seems that both science and the Torah agree that the Universe had a beginning and while the Torah claims that the beginning was caused by the Creator, science currently doesn't have an answer to that.

How was the Universe Created?
It is common to assume that every day of the first six days of Creation, G-d created something new. However, according to Rashi and other commentators all matter was created on the first day and then shaped/formed on the other days. The Ramban goes even further and explains that all of the matter in the Universe was initially created from nothing as a compressed dot and from that single dot / point, all of the Universe was shaped. This approach dovetails nicely with the prevalent scientific theory of the Big Bang where everything in the Universe came into being in some sort of a singularity from which everything else came from. However, it is important to note that the fact of who created the Universe is more important than the how.

When was the Universe Created?
According to the Torah, it seems that the Universe was created in six days, and less than 6,000 years ago. According to science, the Universe begun almost 14 billion years ago and the process did not take six days. First of all, it is interesting to note that the three measures of time that humans use are all derived from the movement of planetary bodies and those are: a day (from sun rise to sun rise), a month (from new moon to new moon) and a year (from sun position in the sky). If according to the Torah, the various celestial bodies were put in to place on the fourth day of Creation, how can the first three days be measured? Many of the commentators end up resolving this issue by relying on the primordial Light and Darkness to measure days and nights, instead of the sun, moon and the earth. So seemingly, the clock and measurements during the first six days of Creation, were not the necessarily the same as what we use today. Second, our calendar does not count from the first day of Creation but rather the sixth - the Creation of Man. One can argue, that perhaps the calendar may have even started towards the end of the sixth day when man was created, and all of the time prior to that may be using a different clock - which can be longer. As noted earlier, it is still more important to know who rather than when the Universe was created.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Parshas Zos haBracha 5778

In this week's parsha we find various blessings given by Moses to the various tribes. While most of us grew up with a view of these verses as interpreted by Rashi, there are many other opinions in the commentators. Here are some selected ones (see Sefer Shaarei Aharon for a complete list).

Reuben - the blessing that Moses gave this tribe was that "may Reuben live and not die". The obvious issue with this verse is that Reuben already died. While Rashi interprets this as referring to the world to come, Targum Onkelos interprets this as referring to the future day of Judgment and the death of the wicked following that day, thus asking G-d not to judge Reuben as wicked. Rabbeinu Bachya interprets this verse as a reference to reincarnation, asking G-d not to reincarnate Reuben again and let him die again, but rather keep him alive in the World of Souls. 

Simeon - is skipped, either because he never repented from the story of Schechem or because of the story of Baal Peor.

Judah - Tzror HaMor interprets the blessing as a reference to the four ways kings often win wars. As follows (33:7): "Hear, O LORD the voice of Judah" - through prayer;  "And restore him to his people" - through a larger army; "Though his own hands strive for him" - through their own strength; "Help him against his foes." - through outside help from G-d but not other human beings

Levi - while Rashi interprets the verse of the Tribe of Levi not knowing their families as a reference to the Golden Calf, Targum Jonathan interprets that verse as a reference to their work in the Temple / Tabernacle. Because the Tribe of Levi is performing their work elsewhere, they often do not see their families.

Benjamin - while Rashi interprets the blessing as referring to the land of Benjamin; the Talmud (Baba Bathra 17a) teaches us that this blessing means that Benjamin's body did not decay. The Talmud (Shabbos 55b) also tells us that Benjamin was one of the four people who never sinned.

Joseph - Rabbeinu Bachya cites from a Midrash that Joseph got a blessing for his land because he withstood the temptation of Potiphar's wife while Adam (the first man) got the land cursed because he listened to his wife. Also, Rashi interprets part of the blessing as referring to water coming from below the land, seemingly as a reference to mountain aquifer in Israel.

Zebulun and Issachar - the blessing to these tribes is interpreted by Rashi as a reference to Zebulun's commerce and Issachar's learning. Bechor Shor and Hizkuni interpret this as a reference to the commerce of Zebulun because he lived on the sea shore, and the tents that Issachar spread to watch over his fields because they were bountiful and he did not need to go out for commerce like his brother. HaEmek Davar learns that Zebulun and Issachar went to war together, and while Zebulun fought his brother had tents near the battle where he learned and prayed for his brother.

Gad - Shach learns that Gad wanted his land even though it was impure due to idol worship because Moses was going to be buried there. Malbim learns that they picked that land because it was given by Moses himself and not selected by lottery.

Dan - Gra learns that Dan is compared to a lion just like Judah, because they took land on opposite ends of Israel. Mincha Belula learns that Messiah will come from these two tribes with his mother from Dan, and his father from Judah.

Naphtali - HaEmek Davar learns that there are two types of riches - actual riches and being happy with what one has, and Naphtali had both.

Asher - Chizkuni learns that Asher was the one who told the other brothers about the story of Reuben and the couch. The brothers scolded him for it, and Moses here reverts that. The Talmud (Succah 56) teaches us that the brothers excommunicated Asher when they say that his daughter Serach knew that Joseph was sold (through prophecy). Moses here reverts the curse. Gra learns that the children of Asher were beautiful because of the oil and they married Kohanim who were rich (because of the incense).