Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Parshas Vayishlach 5778

Isaac's Burial vs Abraham's Burial

The Torah writes (Genesis 35:28-29) about Isaac's burial, with Esau being first:
Isaac was a hundred and eighty years old when he breathed his last and died. He was gathered to his kin in ripe old age; and he was buried by his sons Esau and Jacob.
Earlier, the Torah writes (Genesis 25:7-10) about Abraham's burial, with Isaac being first:
This was the total span of Abraham’s life: one hundred and seventy-five years. And Abraham breathed his last, dying at a good ripe age, old and contented; and he was gathered to his kin. His sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah, in the field of Ephron son of Zohar the Hittite, facing Mamre, the field that Abraham had bought from the Hittites; there Abraham was buried, and Sarah his wife.
Rashi (ibid) comments:

ISAAC AND ISHMAEL — From this we gather that Ishmael repented of his evil ways (cf. Bava Batra 16b) and yielded the precedence to Isaac. This is what is meant by the “good old age” mentioned in connection with Abraham (Genesis Rabbah 38:12).
Therefore, there are two indications that Ishmael repented: one is that Ishmael gave preference to Isaac, and that it says "good old age".

However, here we find that Esau comes first. There are several reasons for that.

Radak (also mentioned by Bechor Shor, Chizkuni, Ibn Ezra and Rashbam):
Esau is mentioned first, seeing that he was the firstborn although he had sold his birthright to Yaakov.
Moreover, Yaakov had been in the habit of according the honour due to a firstborn to Esau, ever since the two had made peace between themselves.
On the other hand, when describing the funreal of Avraham, the Torah names Yitzchok first, seeing that Yitzchok had been the son by the major wife of Avraham, Sarah, whereas Yishmael had only been the son of the servant maid (25,9)
The Alshich explains somewhat differently:
And the fact that it doesn't mention "good old age" like it does by Abraham, is because he was buried by Esau who was wicked, unlike Abraham where Ishmael repented. And a hint to the fact that he did not repent, is the fact that it doesn't say "Jacob and Esau" like it does by Ishmael who repented and gave honor to Isaac. By Esau on the other hand, he did not honor Jacob and that's why it says "Esau and Jacob". And this is the meaning of what the Talmud writes (B"B 14)

Bela and Bilaam

The Torah writes (Genesis 36:32):

Bela son of Beor reigned in Edom, and the name of his city was Dinhabah.
Sefer Tziuni (ibid) writes:
He was Bilaam the son of Beor
The Ibn Ezra (ibid), however, disagrees:
This is not Bilaam, and Bilaam is also not the same as Laban the Aramean, however he may have been a sorcerer like the other one for nothing falls to the earth from the words of our Rabbis. And also Bela was an Edomite, while Bilaam was an Aramean
This is referring to the Talmud (Sanhedrin 105a):
We learned in a Braisa that Beor was the same person as Cushan-Rishasaim and the same person as Laban the Aramean

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Parshas Vayeitzei 5778

What are the Teraphim?

The Torah writes (Genesis 31:19):
Now Laban was gone to shear his sheep. And Rachel stole the teraphim that were her father’s.
and later on (Genesis 31:30):
Very well, you had to leave because you were longing for your father’s house; but why did you steal my gods?”
This seems to imply that these objects were idols of some sort, and Radak (31:30) explains similarly:
he called his Teraphim “my gods,” as he and his kind of people relied on them just as we rely on the true G’d.
This is also implied by Rashi (31:19) which explains Rachel's motivation:
her intention was to wean her father from idol-worship
Daas Zeikinim (31:19) explains that they were oracles of some sort that can provide information:
“Rachel stole the teraphim; what precisely are “teraphim”? According to Pirke de rabbi Eliezer chapter 36, they were deities that people like Lavan worshipped. How did they originate? A firstborn male human being was slaughtered; they cut off his head, salted it (to preserve it from decomposing) using both salt and oil. They inscribed on the forehead of that slain person the name of a deity such as a demon, hung it up under the tongue of the slain person on the wall, lit candles in its honour, prostrated themselves before it, and it would start speaking to the worshipper. (presumably answering questions addressed to it, like to an oracle.) These teraphim are referred to as doing this in the Book of Zecharyah 10,2: כי התרפים דברו און, “for the teraphim spoke delusions.” Rachel stole them so that they could not speak to their father and tell him that Yaakov had fled and where he was going. Not only this; she may have used the opportunity to destroy all idols in her father’s home.
(Other commentators also explain that Rachel's motivation was to make sure Laban can't tell where they went)

However, as the Ramban and others ask, we find teraphim in the house of King David, so they cannot be idol-related. As it says later on (Samuel I 19:11-16):
Saul sent messengers to David’s home to keep watch on him and to kill him in the morning. But David’s wife Michal told him, “Unless you run for your life tonight, you will be killed tomorrow.” Michal let David down from the window and he escaped and fled. Michal then took the teraphim, laid it on the bed, and covered it with a cloth; and at its head she put a net of goat’s hair. Saul sent messengers to seize David; but she said, “He is sick.” Saul, however, sent back the messengers to see David for themselves. “Bring him up to me in the bed,” he ordered, “that he may be put to death.” When the messengers came, they found the teraphim in the bed, with the net of goat’s hair at its head.

Tur HaAruch explains differently, that these were astrological or clock-like devices that can predict the future, but not idol-related:
It is most likely that the teraphim were objects which enabled people to know the time of day, and in that connection they were also used to help them to predict future events  The root of the word is from רפה, “weak” as in רפי ידים, “weak-handed,” or נרפים אתם, “you are weak” (in the sense of lazy, not pulling one’s weight.) The reason people call these objects תרפים is to hint that the reliability of these objects in predicting future events is not very strong, although in the majority of instances the predictions prove more or less accurate. Only people who do not pray to the Lord, the Creator, would be foolish enough to put their trust in them. Some people argue that astrologers possess the power to summon up certain images at a time which they can accurately predict. Ibn Ezra writes that teraphim are objects made of copper which are designed to help us determine portions of an hour, such as minutes. Some people claim that some astrologers possess the skill to raise some life-like shapes at a predetermined hour, and that apparition appears to speak intelligently.
Metzudas Dovid (Samuel I ibid) explains that they were statues of people:
Teraphim are made in the shape of people, and some are used for idol worship and some are made in the shape of someone known, and women used to make them in the form of their husbands, so they can lovingly gaze on them [i.e. these figures]
Ibn Ezra (Genesis 31:19) also cites another explanation:
Some say these are copper vessels that are made in order to know the time, and others say that they are astrological and speak at certain times, but to me it seems that they are made in the shape of a person and are made to accept Heavenly powers and more than that I cannot explain

What are the Dudaim?

The Torah writes (Genesis 30:14):
Once, at the time of the wheat harvest, Reuben came upon some dudaim in the field and brought them to his mother Leah. Rachel said to Leah, “Please give me some of your son’s dudaim.”
Rashi (ibid) explains:
דודאים are violets: it is a plant. In Arabic it is called Jasmin.
Rashbam explains differently:
flowers of the fig tree; In Song of Songs 7,14 these flowers are described as rich in fragrance.
Ibn Ezra and others explain that the root of this plant had a shape like a person, seemingly referring to a plant called the "mandrake"

The Radak and other commentators explain that this herb was thought to help in having children:
Perhaps Reuven had heard some place that this herb is supposed to help women get pregnant, and that seeing his mother had not had any babies lately, he meant to help her in this regard. The popular belief in the efficacy of the dudaim in this respect is not based on fact. If it had been true, why did Rachel not get pregnant after eating them? Also Leah did not get pregnant as a result of eating dudaim, for the Torah says: וישמע אלוקים אל לאה, that G’d listened to Leah’s prayer. (verse 17)

The Ramban and others explain that it used because of a good smell and not to help to have children

Otzar haMidrashim cites a Midrash that explains that the donkey that Reuben was leading ended up being tied to the dudaim, and while trying to escape, it pulled out the root and died; and as the result of that, Reuben found it and brought it to Leah, thus causing Issachar to be born. That is how the Midrash explains "יששכר חמר גרם" (Genesis 49:14).

(There may be a scientific explanation for this phenomenon, for the plant currently known as "mandrake" has highly toxic leaves, so it is possibly that the donkey ate the leaves at the some point and got poisoned, but it was also the pulling of the root caused Reuben to know that the plant was by its shape like a person)

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Parshas Toldos 5778

We know based on the interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar's dream in the Book of Daniel, that there are four eras of exile. Chazal equates these four eras to Babylon, Persia and Media, Greece and Rome. This is followed in the end of days by Rome and Ishmael. However, Rome is equated with the nation of Edom. This is somewhat problematic since it is clear from later in the Torah, that Edom was located to the south east of the Land of Canaan, to the east of the Dead Sea.

There are two possible ways to answer this:
1. Several Midrashim cite the fact that small groups of Edomites left their original place and traveled across the sea to settle in Italy. There they mixed with the existing populate and eventually created Rome. In particular, Tzafo, the grandson of Esau, is cited as becoming one of the kings of what was to become Rome.
2. Another way to answer is that this is not necessarily referring to the ethnicity of the nations but their culture, religion and customs, which where transferred to Rome at some point.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Parshas Chaye Sarah 5778

The Family of Abraham
In the end of the parsha, the Torah concludes the story of Abraham even though he doesn't actually pass away until his grandchildren (Isaac and Esau) are born. The Torah writes (Genesis 25:7-10):
This was the total span of Abraham’s life: one hundred and seventy-five years. And Abraham breathed his last, dying at a good ripe age, old and contented; and he was gathered to his kin. His sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah, in the field of Ephron son of Zohar the Hittite, facing Mamre, the field that Abraham had bought from the Hittites; there Abraham was buried, and Sarah his wife.
The question is who were his wives and children, and what happened to them?

The Wives of Abraham

The Torah mentions that Abraham had three wives: Sarah, Hagar and Keturah. Sarah was his original wife with whom he arrived in the Land of Canaan. Hagar was Sarah's servant from Egypt whom Sarah gave to Abraham as a wife when she was childless; and Hagar left Abraham's house with her son, Ishmael, when they were told to leave on Sarah's advice. Keturah was Abraham's third wife, whom he married after Sarah's passing.

Sarah was Abraham's full wife. As stated earlier, Sarah was Abraham's niece: Abraham's brother Haran had three children, two girls who married their uncles, Abraham and Nachor, and one son, Lot. Sarah was buried in the Cave of Machpelah.

Hagar was Abraham's wife but her status was not entirely clear. She was nopt a concubine, since her son Ishmael, could have inherited Abraham. According to many Midrashim, Hagar was an Egyptian princess, and a the daughter of Pharaoh. She was given to Sarah, either when Pharaoh tried to marry her or after he escorted both Abraham and Sarah out of Egypt. It is clear from the verses that she was the servant of Sarah, but not necessarily of Abraham. There are also some sources that say she was a granddaughter of Nimrod. The Torah and Midrashim do not tell us where she died and was buried.

Keturah is the third wife of Abraham but as the verses state clearly she was a concubine and not a full wife, this her children would not inherit. According to the Midrashim cited by Rashi, Keturah was actually Hagar whom Abraham took back after Sarah's passing. However, other Midrashim state that Abraham married one wife descended from each of the three sons of Noah, which would make Keturah from Japheth and a different person than Hagar. The Torah and Midrashim do not tell us where she died and was buried.

The Children of Abraham
According to the Torah and Midrashim, Abraham had 8 sons and possibly 1 daughter:
- With Sarah, he had one son - Isaac
- With Hagar, he had one son - Ishmael
- With Keturah, he had six sons - Zimbran, Midian, Medan, Jokshan, Ishbak and Shuah
- According to the Sages of the Talmud, he may have had one daughter (which the commentaries explain was from Hagar).

As the Torah continues to write the story of Isaac and his children, Isaac continues to live in the Land of Canaan and is eventually buried in the Cave of Machpelah.

Ishmael is sent away with Hagar from Abraham's house, however, he does come back at certain times including accompanying Abraham and Isaac to the Akeidah (with Eliezer), and helps Isaac to bury Abraham when he passes away. However, he lives in the desert and marries an Egyptian, with whom he has 12 sons (and 1 daughter). While the Torah mentions his passing in between the engagement and marriage of his daughter to Esau, as well as his righteous when he dies, his burial place is not mentioned.

The sons of Keturah get sent away before Abraham's death and do not inherit since they are children of a concubine and not a full wife. Nevertheless, we find that Midian specifically shows up later in the Torah during the stories of Joseph, Moses and Balaam. Midian is ordered to be destroyed by Moses but apparently survives and is mentioned later in the Book of Judges. It is assumed that these nations eventually disappear and get mixes with other nations during the reign of Sancherib.

However, according to the Rambam (Hilchos Melachim 9:10), the children of Keturah get mixed with the children of Ishmael, and because the children of Keturah have a special commandment of circumcision, this ends up transferring to the children of Ishmael since they are mixed together.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Parshas Vayera 5778

Why Were the People of Sodom Destroyed?

The Torah (Genesis 19:24-25) writes:
And the L-rd had rained down upon Sodom and Amorah brimstone and fire, from the L-rd, from the heavens. And He overturned these cities and the entire plain, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and the growth of the ground.
The Talmud (Sanhedrin 56b) tells us that G-d only punishes people only after warning them:
Rabbi Yosei says: With regard to every type of sorcery that is stated in the passage about sorcery, it is prohibited for a descendant of Noah to engage in it. This is derived from the verses: “When you come into the land that the Lord your God gives you, you shall not learn to do like the abominations of those nations. There shall not be found among you one who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, a diviner, a soothsayer, or an enchanter, or a warlock, or a charmer, or one who consults a necromancer and a sorcerer, or directs inquiries to the dead. For whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord; and because of these abominations, the Lord your God is driving them out from before you” (Deuteronomy 18:9–12). Evidently, the Canaanites were punished for these practices; and since God would not have punished them for an action unless He first prohibited it, these practices are clearly prohibited to them.
The Torah also writes (Genesis 13:13):
Now the inhabitants of Sodom were very wicked sinners against the LORD.
The Radak (ibid) explains:
The inhabitants of Sodom were evil and wicked. The word רעים describes their attitude to G’d, whereas the word חטאים describes their attitude to fellow human beings (non-residents.) They ignored all the seven Noachide laws, including idolatry, the other 6 laws dealing with inter-personal relations. The Torah, underlining the severity of these people’s wickedness, adds: מאד, “very much so.” They did not bother to conceal their evil deeds but carried them out in the open, brazenly.
However, why did they get punished for something that not everyone of them did? We find the answer in the Rambam (Melachim 9:14):
.... It was for this reason all residents of the City of Shechem deserved to be executed. For Shechem kidnapped, and they saw and knew and failed to judge him. ....

How Many Commandments Were Given to Noachides?

The Rambam (Melachim 9:1) lists seven:
Regarding six things Adam, the First Man, was commanded: regarding foreign worship, and cursing God, and murder, and forbidden sexual relations, and theft, and [a justice system]. ... He added for Noah [the prohibition on eating] the limb of a live animal...
The Rambam (ibid 10:6) also adds two more:
According to the tradition Benei Noach are forbidden to breed cattle and to graft trees ...
The Rambam (ibid 10:7-8) also adds that circumcision was an extra commandment for the children of Abraham:
The circumcision – was only commanded to Avraham and his descendants as it states "You and your descendants after you, for generations" (Genesis 17, 9). This excludes the descendants of Yishmael, as it states "Because with Yitshak will be called your descendants." (Genesis 21, 12) – This excludes Esav for behold Yitzhak said to Yaakov "And the blessing of Avraham will be given to you, you and your descendants." (Genesis 28, 4) – It comes to teach us that he (Yaakov) only is the descendant of Avraham that upholds his righteous way and they (the descendants of Jacob) are obligated for circumcision. Our sages of blessed memory said that the children of Keturah who are the descendants of Avraham that came after Yishmael and Yitzhak – are obligated on circumcision. And because the children of Keturah are mixed together with the children of Yishmael, they are all obligated of [completing] circumcision by the eighth day. ...

The Location of Sodom

Interesting article in Archeology Today about the possibly location of Sodom as being in the delta of the Jordan rive, north of the Dead Sea