Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Parshas Nitzavim 5778

Nature of the Covenant

The Torah writes (Deuteronomy 29:12):
You stand this day, all of you, before the LORD your God—your tribal heads, your elders and your officials, all the men of Israel, your children, your wives, even the stranger within your camp, from woodchopper to water drawer— to enter into the covenant of the LORD your God, which the LORD your God is concluding with you this day, with its sanctions; to the end that He may establish you this day as His people and be your God, as He promised you and as He swore to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
Rashi explains (ibid 29:12):
SINCE HE MUST BE UNTO THEE A GOD, because He has promised it unto you and has sworn unto your fathers not to exchange their descendants for another nation. For this reason He binds you by these oaths not to provoke Him to anger since He, on His part, cannot dissociate Himself from you. — Thus far I have given an exposition according to the literal sense of the chapter.
and:
An Agadic explanation, however, is: Why is the section beginning with the words, “Ye are standing this day” put in juxtaposition to the curses in the previous chapter? Because when Israel heard these ninety-eight curses besides the forty-nine that are contained in Torath-Cohanim (Leviticus 26:14 ff.), their faces turned pale (they were horrified), and they exclaimed, “Who can possibly stand against these?!” Therefore Moses began to calm them: “See, you are standing today before the Lord!” — many a time have you provoked the Omnipresent to anger and yet He has not made an end to you, but you still continue in His presence (Midrash Tanchuma, Nitzavim 1).
We tend to think of a covenant like a contract - where either side can break it, but it is really more like a treaty where the sides cannot exit the treaty unless it itself includes such provisions.

Why Did G-d Exile the Jewish People?

The Torah writes (Deuteronomy 29:21-25):
And later generations will ask—the children who succeed you, and foreigners who come from distant lands and see the plagues and diseases that the LORD has inflicted upon that land, all its soil devastated by sulfur and salt, beyond sowing and producing, no grass growing in it, just like the upheaval of Sodom and Gomorrah, Admah and Zeboiim, which the LORD overthrew in His fierce anger—all nations will ask, “Why did the LORD do thus to this land? Wherefore that awful wrath?” They will be told, “Because they forsook the covenant that the LORD, God of their fathers, made with them when He freed them from the land of Egypt; they turned to the service of other gods and worshiped them, gods whom they had not experienced and whom He had not allotted to them.
Daas Zekeinim explains (ibid 29:23-24)

“what has caused the Lord to do this to this land?” If there were murderers and adulterers among the Jews, this is a world wide phenomenon and G–d has not reacted similarly against them? Why has only their land been laid waste?
and

“then they will say, etc.” even the gentiles will come to the conclusion that the G–d of the Jews had done to them was justified; they had entered into a covenant with their G–d voluntarily, and had abandoned their part of the bargain without reason. It is therefore no more than just that they had to pay the price for their treachery.

The Parshas and the Years

There is a tradition from the Vilna Gaon that each of the 5 books of the Torah correspond to 1,000 years of creation, with the last one (Devarim) corresponding to years 5000 - 6000. Each of the Parshios in Devarim (a total of ten) correspond to 100 years. Thus Parshas Ki Savo corresponds to 5600 to 5700 (1840 to 1940), and Nitzavim-Vayelech to 5700 - 5800 (1940 - 2040). There are 70 verses - 40 in Nitzavim and 30 in Vayelech, thus making every 7 verses correspond to 10 years. This means Nitzavim is roughly 5700 - 5757 (1940 - 1997), and Parshas Vayelech is 5758 - 5800 (1998 - 2040).

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Parshas Ki Savo 5778

There is an incident described the the Book of Jeremiah concerning the writing of Megilas Eichah. It is written (Jeremiah 36:21-25):
The king sent Jehudi to get the scroll and he fetched it from the chamber of the scribe Elishama. Jehudi read it to the king and to all the officials who were in attendance on the king. Since it was the ninth month, the king was sitting in the winter house, with a fire burning in the brazier before him. And every time Jehudi read three or four columns, [the king] would cut it up with a scribe’s knife and throw it into the fire in the brazier, until the entire scroll was consumed by the fire in the brazier. Yet the king and all his courtiers who heard all these words showed no fear and did not tear their garments; moreover, Elnathan, Delaiah, and Gemariah begged the king not to burn the scroll, but he would not listen to them.
Rashi expands on the story (Jeremiah 36:23):
Our Sages tell us that this was the Scroll of Lamentations [i.e. Eichah] that was read in front of him. [When they read the first four verses ] "Alas", "Bitterly she weeps", "Judah has gone to exile", "Zion's roads are in mourning" - for all of these he didn't care since he said "I will be the king of the remaining people". One he read [the verse] "Her enemies are now her masters", he said "from now I am not king?" and immediately he cut it up with a knife.
Why did the king not care about the first four verses? He felt safe in his palace and did not feel like any of these things applied to him.

Something similar applies in this week's portion. If we read through most of the Tochacha, it seemingly doesn't apply to us. A lot of the punishments are very specific and we are not affected by them. However, when we get to the end of the portion, we find an interesting thing. It is written (Deuteronomy 28:66):
Thy life shall hang before thee; you shall be in terror, night and day, with no assurance of survival.
This seems to describe someone who cowers in fear, afraid for his life - seemingly not applying to us. But Rashi cites a surprising explanation (ibid):
THY LIFE SHALL HANG BEFORE THEE: ... Our Rabbis interpreted this to refer to one who is obliged to buy produce in the market (who does not possess any of his own), ... WITH NO ASSURANCE OF SURVIVAL — this they refer to one who must rely on the baker (cf. Menachot 103b).
What this means, that even though we may be safe in our houses like the king was, and assured in our safety, this is merely an illusion since the food and bread we need comes from someone else.



Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Parsha Vayeschanan 5778


What is "Lebanon" that Moshe references?

The Torah writes (Deuteronomy 3:25):
Let me, I pray, cross over and see the good land on the other side of the Jordan, the mountain and the Lebanon.
Rashi (ibid) explains:

AND LEBANON — this is a term for the Temple (Siphre).
Bartenura (ibid) explains why the Temple is called "Lebanon":
This is the Holy Temple because it whiteness the sins of the Jewish nation
Chizkuni (ibid) explains differently:
The word: הלבנון here is a simile for the permanent Temple. (Ibn Ezra) Seeing that Solomon used the cedar wood of that region to line the inner walls of the Temple that he built, this interpretation is not as far fetched as it might appear to some.
Haktav veHakaballah (ibid) explains:
... Some add a reason for this name because it is always covered with snow which is white ... and some add because of the myrrh and frankincense that grows there ...

What was Moshe pleading for?

The Torah writes (Deuteronomy 3:25):
Let me, I pray, cross over and see the good land on the other side of the Jordan, the mountain and the Lebanon.
Sforno (ibid):
in order to get rid of all the inhabitants of the land of Canaan so the people will never be exiled from that land. 
Chizkuni (ibid):
the question asked by most commentators is if Moses really only wanted to cross the Jordan for the mundane purpose of enjoying the fruit that grew in the Holy Land. It appears unbelievable to them that this could be the correct interpretation of this verse. They therefore conclude that the meaning of Moses’ plea was that he wished to be able to fulfill the many commandments of the Torah that can be fulfilled only while the person doing so is on the soil of the Holy Land.
Ohr HaChaim (ibid):
... Perhaps Moses wanted to rebut reasons which had prevented him from entering the Holy Land. Our sages say that there had been two such reasons:
  1. The time for Joshua to reign had arrived, and the rule of one monarch must not overlap with the rule of a second monarch by as much as a hair's breadth (Berachot 48).
  2. G'd foresaw that the Israelites would sin in the future and He would have to pour out His wrath at them. He therefore preferred to use the Holy Temple as the object on which to pour out His wrath rather than on the people themselves ... We explained that if Moses had crossed the Jordan the Temple he would have built would have stood forever, and whenever the Israelites would sin G'd would have to vent His wrath on them rather than on the Temple ...

This is why Moses referred to these two scenarios with his words:
  1. Concerning the fact that the time of his reign must not overlap with the time assigned to Joshua, he said "let me cross," i.e. he did not ask to cross in his capacity as the leader but was content to cross as a simple citizen; he did not expect to be given any special honour.
  2. Concerning the eventuality of the Temple becoming the excuse for G'd venting His wrath on the people in any future sinfulness by the people, he said: ואראה, "in order that I may see the land," i.e. he had no aspirations to build the Temple. Moses was thus careful to forestall any argument against granting his wish. As to his using the expression נא, this means that he was ready to abdicate his position as king immediately.
another reason:

It is also possible that Moses pleaded for the Israelites to cross the Jordan river immediately before the end of the day so that he could cross at a time when his crossing would not interfere with the period G'd had ordained for Joshua's reign. If you accept my interpretation that the words בעת ההיא referred to the time immediately after G'd decreed that the generation of the spies would not enter the Holy Land, there would not have been any problem with the time, as that event took place 38 years prior to the period when Moses addressed the people here. From Moses' words it is easy to surmise that he prayed on behalf of the whole people seeing that G'd had only decreed that they would die in the desert. He had not decreed that they would die prematurely, i.e. before reaching the age of 60 which would have meant that they died by the karet penalty. If Moses were to enter the Holy Land at that time (38 years ago) it would be understood that the people would enter with him as G'd had not decreed that they had to die prior to age 60.
another reason:
There is another way of explaining Moses' choice of words based on Bamidbar Rabbah 19,13 that the redeemer for the people of the generation of the Exodus would be Moses himself. ... Moses knew of this as G'd had revealed to him that it would be part of his role in the future [in the time of Redemption] to cross the river Jordan to the Holy Land. In view of this knowledge he merely begged to fulfil his role now instead of in the distant future. The words אעברה נא therefore mean: "let me cross now (we are speaking about 38 years ago)."
another reason:
The words אעברה נא may also be part of Moses' answer to something we have learned in Midrash Rabbah that the reason that Moses had to die outside the boundaries of the Holy Land was to enable him to lead his generation to their hereafter, as we have already explained. Moses used the term אעברה, i.e. a temporary crossing rather than a permanent crossing of the Jordan indicating he was quite willing to die and be buried on the East Bank after having first crossed the Jordan, so as to be able to play his appointed role of helping the people of his generation to attain their share in the hereafter.
another reason:
Yet another meaning of the term אעברה may be connected to the statement in Ketuvot 111 that any person who has had the good fortune to walk four cubits inside of ארץ ישראל has thereby assured himself of a share in the hereafter. Moses wanted to assure himself of that by crossing the Jordan even temporarily.
 

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Tisha Bav 5778

The Destruction of the Mishkan in Shilo

In the first Kinna of the morning (#6) we find the following:
... the fear of the sin of Shiloh ...
The Rambam (Beis HaBechira 1:2) writes (based on the Talmud Zevachim 118b):
Once [the Israelites] entered the Land, they set up the tabernacle at Gilgal [where it remained fourteen years while] they conquered and divided the land. From there it went to Shiloh, where they built a stone building without a ceiling and spread the sheets from the [original] tabernacle over it. It stayed in Shiloh for 369 years until Eli [the High Priest] died and it was destroyed and moved to Nob. When Samuel died, it moved to Gibeon, and from there it came to the Eternal House. The period of Nob and Gibeon [together] was 57 years.
The Mishkan in Shiloh stood for almost as long as each of the Temples, yet we find very little information about how it was destroyed. It is mentioned in three places on Tanach:

1. Jeremiah (7:12-15)
Just go to My place at Shiloh, where I had established My name formerly, and see what I did to it because of the wickedness of My people Israel. And now, because you do all these things—declares the LORD—and though I spoke to you persistently, you would not listen; and though I called to you, you would not respond—therefore I will do to the House which bears My name, on which you rely, and to the place which I gave you and your fathers, just what I did to Shiloh. And I will cast you out of My presence as I cast out your brothers, the whole brood of Ephraim.
(Rashi and Metzudas David explain there that it was destroyed in the days of Eli haCohen)

2.  Jeremiah (26:4-6)
Say to them: Thus said the LORD: If you do not obey Me, abiding by the Teaching that I have set before you, heeding the words of My servants the prophets whom I have been sending to you persistently—but you have not heeded—then I will make this House like Shiloh, and I will make this city a curse for all the nations of earth.”
(Radak explains there that when the Ark was taken by the Philistines, they also destroyed the Mishkan at Shiloh)

3. Psalms (78:60-65)
He forsook the tabernacle of Shiloh, the tent He had set among men. He let His might go into captivity, His glory into the hands of the foe. He gave His people over to the sword; He was enraged at His very own. Fire consumed their young men, and their maidens remained unwed. Their priests fell by the sword, and their widows could not weep. The Lord awoke as from sleep, like a warrior shaking off wine.
However, the when Tanach is describing the end of the period of Eli haCohen and the capture of the Ark, there is no mention of the destruction of the Mishkan in Shiloh. See Samuel I (https://www.sefaria.org/I_Samuel.4.17-5.3):
The bearer of the news replied, “Israel fled before the Philistines and the troops also suffered a great slaughter. Your two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, are dead, and the Ark of God has been captured.” Then he mentioned the Ark of God, [Eli] fell backward off the seat beside the gate, broke his neck and died; for he was an old man and heavy. He had been a chieftain of Israel for forty years. His daughter-in-law, the wife of Phinehas, was with child, about to give birth. When she heard the report that the Ark of God was captured and that her father-in-law and her husband were dead, she was seized with labor pains, and she crouched down and gave birth. As she lay dying, the women attending her said, “Do not be afraid, for you have borne a son.” But she did not respond or pay heed. She named the boy Ichabod, meaning, “The glory has departed from Israel”—referring to the capture of the Ark of God and to [the death of] her father-in-law and her husband. “The glory is gone from Israel,” she said, “for the Ark of God has been captured.” When the Philistines captured the Ark of God, they brought it from Eben-ezer to Ashdod. The Philistines took the Ark of God and brought it into the temple of Dagon and they set it up beside Dagon. Early the next day, the Ashdodites found Dagon lying face down on the ground in front of the Ark of the LORD. They picked Dagon up and put him back in his place;

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Parshas Korach & Parshas Chukas 5778

Why Did Korach Rebel Now?

Rabbi Josh Yuter cites three reasons (in his parsha blog) (from Rabbi Yonasan Eibshutz):
  1. Because instead of 11 days until they enter Eretz Yisroel, it would now be 40 years.
  2. Because he was afraid of dying from carrying the Aron for 40 years.
  3. And here: He took advantage of the sitituation because the people were upset (Shadal)
There is a fourth reason possible also - some midrashim explain earlier that when the people listened to the spies, they wanted to appoint a new leader and return to Egypt. Those midrashim cite Dasan and Aviram as those alternate leaders proposed by the people, or even Korach (because he was rich). Based on that, it may be possible that is where these three people got the idea of leadership from in this week's parsha.

Many Spies
There are several sets of spies described in Tanach:
  1. Sent by Moses to spy out the Land in Parshas Shlach
  2. A set of spies sent by Moses to the city of Jazer (Numbers 21:32).
  3. Two spies sent by Joshua to spy on the city of Jericho (Joshua 1 and 2).
  4. Spies sent by Joshua to spy out Ai (Joshua 7).
  5. The spies sent to spy out the city of Luz (Judges 1).
  6. The Tribe of Dan sent to spy out the land who took Micah's idol (Judges 18).

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Parshas Behaaloscha 5778

The Lineage of Eldad and Medad

The Torah writes (Numbers 11:26):
Two men, one named Eldad and the other Medad, had remained in camp; yet the spirit rested upon them—they were among those recorded, but they had not gone out to the Tent—and they prophesied in the camp.
Daas Zekeinim (Numbers 11:27, also cited in Paneach Raza) writes:
These two men were (half) brothers of Moses. When the Torah was given, and certain types of family members were no longer allowed to live in married union together, such couples separated in accordance with the law. This caused sorrow among such families as we know from verse 10 in our chapter where Moses is portrayed as listening to the weeping of families which had been broken up as a result of the new laws. Amram, Moses’ father, was also affected by these new laws, as when Pharaoh had decreed that all male Jewish babies were to be downed, he had divorced his wife Yocheved, who was his aunt. He had remarried and Eldod and Meydod were sons sired by him from this marriage. Their named reflected that they were compensations for a marriage broken up as a result of the prohibition to marry one’s aunt .... Our author claims to have found a manuscript of a certain Rabbi Amram, son of a Rabbi Hillel, who had lived in the land of Israel, in which the author writes as follows: “I have personally seen the graves of Eldod and Meydod brother of Aaron through his father’s side but not from the same mother.”’
Another opinion (ibid):
... Some scholars claim that Eldod is identical with a certain Elidod son of Kisslon, mentioned in Numbers 34,21. Meydod is supposed to be identical with Kemuel son of Shifton in verse 24 in that chapter. ... The author finds it difficult to believe that these two men had been half-brothers of Moses seeing that according to the Torah in Numbers chapter 34, Elidod and Kisslon were members of the tribe of Binyamin. Kemuel is described there as a member of the tribe of Ephrayim.
(the connection with Numbers 34:21-24 is also quoted in Bamidbar Rabbah 15 - these were the heads of tribes that helped to divide the land with Yehoshua; this also would fit with what Rashi writes about 2 tribes lacking one elder and they were from two different tribes but they didn't necessarily go through the lottery)
 
 Targum Jonathan (ibid) writes:
But two men had remained in the camp; the name of the one Eldad, and the name of the second Medad, the sons of Elizaphan bar Parnach [the prince of Tribe of Zebulun], whom Jochebed the daughter of Levi bare to him when Amram her husband had put her away; and to whom she had been espoused before she gave birth to Moshe.
Rabbi Frand asks why Yocheved got remarried against Amram's halachic opinion, and answers that since she was closer to the Patriarchs she understood the will of Hashem much clearer.

Additional Notes

  • According to the Midrash (Bamidbar Rabbah 3), Eldad and Medad outlived Yehoshua
  • As per Rashi there are opinions that Eldad and Medad continued to receive prophecy after this day and even after Moshe died
  • Rabbi Jonathan Sacks asks about the difference between Korach and his desired to power, vs. Eldad and Medad, specifically in regards to how Yehoshua reacted. He answers that Moshe served two roles: prophet and king, and Korach wanted the kingship, but in the case of Eldad and Medad, it wasn't about power but prophecy
  • Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky cites sources that Eldad and Medad were the elders after Yehoshua or that it was the Tribe of Levi
  • Midrash haGadol (Numbers 11:26) states that Bezalel was the one who suggested to Moses the idea of picking the Sanhedrin through a lottery
  • See our earlier post about who inspected the tzaraas on Miriam
  • See our earlier post about who the elders were

Friday, May 25, 2018

Parshas Naso 5778

The Missing Targum

Rabbi Josh Waxman points out in his post that the Targum Onkelos in older and Yemenite manuscripts and Targum Yonasan is missing on the verses of Birchas Cohanim. Based on the Shadal on Sefer Ohev Ger, he connects this phenomenon with the Talmud in Megilah 25b:
Birchas Cohanim is read but not translated because it says "May He Turn"
An additional reason is provided based on the Yerushalami:
It was given for blessing and not given for reading

The Connection Between Parshas Naso and Shavuos

The Haftorah discusses the story of Manoach and his wife who were childless and were blessed with a son who grew up to be Shimshon. The Gemara (Bava Bathra 91a) states that Boaz (who appears in Megilas Rus which is read on Shavuos) lost of all his children because he didn't treat Manoach right:
Apropos the story of Ruth the Gemara adds: Rabba bar Rav Huna says that Rav says: The judge Ibzan of Bethlehem (see Judges 12:8–10) is Boaz. The Gemara asks: What is he teaching us? The Gemara explains that this comment is in accordance with the other statement of Rabba bar Rav Huna, as Rabba bar Rav Huna says that Rav says: Boaz prepared one hundred and twenty feasts for his children at their weddings. As it is stated, concerning Ibzan: “And he had thirty sons, and thirty daughters he sent abroad, and thirty daughters he brought in from abroad for his sons. And he judged Israel seven years” (Judges 12:9). The verse indicates that he had sixty children.  And at each and every wedding he prepared for his children, he made two feasts, one in the house of the father of the groom and one in the house of the father-in-law of the groom. And he did not invite Manoah, the future father of Samson, whose wife was barren (see Judges 13:2) to any of them, as he said: It is not worth inviting him; he is a sterile mule, how will he pay me back? Manoah will never invite me in return, as he has no children.  

Sotah at a Distance

The Talmud (Sotah 27b) states that the adulterer dies at the same time as the woman:
Just as the water evaluates her fidelity, so too, the water evaluates his, i.e., her alleged paramour’s, involvement in the sin, as it is stated: “Andthe water that causes the curse shall enter into her” (Numbers 5:24), and it is stated again: “And the water that causes the curse shall enter into her and become bitter” (Numbers 5:27). It is derived from the double mention of the phrase “and…shall enter” that both the woman and her paramour are evaluated by the water.
However, the Midrash Tanchuma (5:2) brings a story of twin sisters where the non-guilty sister went and drank the water, and nothing happened until she came home and kissed her sister who then died. While the Talmud implies that Sotah works at a distance, it doesn't seem to work unless the water is actually drank.

 

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Parshas Acharei Mos/Kedoshim 5778

Moloch and Azazel

Two enigmatic characters show up in this weeks parsha - Moloch and Azazel. Worshipping Molech is a special commandment separate from the general prohibition of idolatrous practices and Azazel was the name of the second goat that was dispatched and thrown off a cliff on Yom Kippur. What are they?

Moloch
The worship of Moloch consisted of a parent giving over his child to the priests of Moloch, and having that child either pass through the fires or put on hands of the idol which was heated up. The priests of Moloch would bang loud drums to distract the parents. There is also disagreement whether the child actually died or if the ritual was merely the passing in the fire, but no death occurred. It is not clear was the motivation of the parents was, but perhaps they gave up one child to Moloch so the rest of their family may live, somewhat similar to how a first born used to be dedicated to serve G-d.

According to the Ramban (Lev. 18:12), Moloch was an idol worshipped originally by Ammonites, also known as Milkom (as mentioned in Tanach in regards to Shlomo, see I Kings 11:7 and II Kings 23:13). However, the Talmud (Sanhedrin 64a/b) cites opinions that Moloch itself is not a specific idol, but rather it refers to the ritual of having his/her children passing through the fire. The name "Moloch" is related to the word "Melech", meaning "king" and as the Talmud explains, it can be anything that a person considers as a "king" over himself.

There are several reasons why a person is punished for this ritual:
  • The simplest is because it is murder if the child dies or because it is idolatry.
  • The Sforno also explains that animals are sacrificed to G-d and not people, so someone who does this obviously considers Moloch greater than G-d since he is offering something more precious than animals.
  • There is also an opinion in the Talmud (Sanhedrin 64a), that this ritual was not idolatry but rather is a decree without a reason ("chok").
Azazel
The "goat of the Azazel" is the name of the second goat sent away on Yom Kippur:
  • According to Rashi, Ibn Ezra, Bechor Shor and the Talmud (Yoma 67b) this is a reference to the place where the goat was brought.
  • Yalkut Shemoni (44:1) and the Talmud (ibid) cite another opinion that it is intended to atone for the sins of the fallen angels Uzza and Azael (the Nephilim in the end of Parshas Bereishis).
  • Pirkei deRabbi Eliezer, Bereshis Rabba and the Ramban are of the opinion that refers to a demon or Samael.
  • According to the Abarbanel it describes someone who is defiant against G-d
The purpose of sending the goat is:
  • R' Saadia Gaon and Sforno explain that this is a sin offering but cannot be brought in the Bais haMikdash because it is too impure.
  • According to the Abarbanel, Daas Zeikinim and the Rashbam, it is symbolic.
  • Pirkei DeRabbi Eliezer learns that this is a bribe for Samael (some learn Azael) so he won't prosecute. Ramban adds that this was a gift to Samael and is allowed because we are simply sending a gift to one of G-d's servants.
  • The Daas Zeikinim based on the Ibn Ezra, makes a connection between Azazel and a later commandment not to sacrifice to goat-demons. He learns that we destroy the goat to show how idolatry has no truth (instead of bringing it as a sacrifice)
(see our earlier posts here and here, see also this source sheet from AlHaTorah.org)

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Parshas Tazria-Metzorah 5778

Why Did Elisha Get Sick?

The Haftoras of Tazria and Metzorah discuss Gehazi, the servant of Elisha and his fall from power. One of the interesting things about this is that the Talmud (Sanhedrin 107b) states that Elisha got sick three times:
  1. After he cursed some youngsters and bears came out of the woods, and killed them.
  2. After he pushed away Gehazi.
  3. The last sickness that caused him to die.
Sefer Nachlas Shimon explains that the reason why Elisha got sick the first time was because he should have prayed for them to repent instead (like the story of Rabbi Meir and Beruriah in Mesechet Shabbos). Even though he was justified in cursing them, G-d treats the righteous by a stricter standard.

Regarding Gehazi, Sefer Nachlas Shimon cites several opinions why Elisha got sick (see here):

  • Because he also cursed his sons (Ben Yehoadah)
  • Because he did not go back to Gehazi after a few days and try to get him to repent (Ben Yehoadah)
  • Because he cursed Gehazi with having tzaaras forever (Margilous haYam)
  • Because when he used the language "forever", it sounded to Gehazi like he will never be able to repent (Shtei Lechem)
Regarding the third time, the Malbim (II Kings 13:14) cites another reason:
For Elisha anointed Hazael as the king over Aram (in accordance to the prophecy of Elijah), and prophesied about him that he would do harm to Israel, and that [decree] could not be overturned during his lifetime
(see last year''s post for why Gehazi was punished)

Why Don't We Have Tzaaras Today?

The Rambam (Tumas Tzaras 9:2-3) writes:
Even though everyone is acceptable to assess blemishes, the designation of a person as impure or pure is dependent on a priest.
What is implied? If there is a priest who does not know how to assess blemishes, a sage should observe them and instruct him: "Say 'You are impure,'" and the priest says: "You are impure;" "Say 'You are pure,'" and the priest says: "You are pure." "Isolate him," and he isolates him. The pronouncement must be made by a priest, because Deuteronomy 21:5 states: "Their statements will determine every quarrel and every blemish." Even if a priest is a minor or intellectually or emotionally incapable, the sage instructs him and he declares the person definitively impure, releases him from the inspection process, or isolates him.

When does the above apply? When the priest relies on the words of the sage. If, however, the priest assesses the blemish and relies on his own understanding, it is forbidden for him to assess any blemish unless he is instructed by a master and is thoroughly versed in all the blemishes and their names, including the blemishes that affect a person and those that affect clothes and houses.

A priest who declared a person who was pure as impure or a person who was impure as pure does not affect his status, as can be inferred from Leviticus 13:44: "He is impure and the priest shall deem him impure" and ibid.:37: "He is pure and the priest shall declare him pure." When a person who contacted tzara'at is healed, either after isolation or after having been deemed definitively impure, he remains impure even for several years,until a priest tells him: "You are pure."
It seems to imply that this requires knowledge of what tzaraas actually is, and without that knowledge it doesn't work

(See also this article that cites sources that tzaraas stopped after the Temple was destroyed)

Monday, April 16, 2018

Parshas Shemini 5778

Reasons for Kosher Laws

The Torah writes (Lev. 11:1-2):
The LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying to them:
Speak to the Israelite people thus: These are the creatures that you may eat from among all the land animals:
There are many reasons why we keep kosher, but they generally fall into three general categories:
1. Logical reasons such as health, not teaching cruelty, etc.
2. Mystical reasons such as damage to the soul, etc.
3. Decree without reason (חוק) - we don't eat non-kosher food, not because it is bad or tastes bad, but because G-d decreed so.

(For a list of actual reasons and additional resources, see this excellent source sheet from Ner L'Elef)
 

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Passover 5778 - Part 1

Makkos Trivia

Some interesting trivia on the 10 makkos:
  • Blood:
    • Pharoh was not personally affected by this as a reward for letting Moshe grow up in his house (Mesecha Chochma, Midrash HaGadol, Mishnas Rabbi Eliezer). Same applied to the last Makkah (Bechoros) - Pharoh did not die while his firstborns did.
    • According to some opinions, the Egyptians dug around the river to get drinking water as opposed to buying it (Ibn Ezra, see here)
  • Frogs - according to some opinions these were crocodiles (Rabbeinu Chananel and Malbim, see here)
  • Lice - Rashi explains that the magicians were not able to replicate these due to the way magic works (through a demon). The Ramchal also explains in his sefer Derech Hashem other ways it works (through incantation and names of Hashem).
  • Plague - the death of animals also affected people who work in close contact with the animals
  • Boils - some learn that this was not done through dust but through smoke (Rabbeinu Avraham ben haRambam)
  • Locusts - Ibn Ezra cites an opinion that this was done through some sort of magic by having the locust tied to the staff
  • Hail and Darkness - these did not last the entire 7 days like others, and the extra days were saved for later (the Sea or time of Joshua).

The Date of the Counting of the Omer
There is a famous disagreement documented between the Sadducees and the Chazal during the times of the Second Bais Hamikdash regarding counting of the Omer (this also applies to Samaritans, Karaites and other groups that don't follow the Oral Torah). The Torah tells us the following (Lev. 23:15):

And from the day on which you bring the sheaf of elevation offering—the day after the sabbath—you shall count off seven weeks. They must be complete:
The disagreement revolved around the definition of which Shabbos this referred to.  According to Chazal, this refers to the first day of Pesach, thus resulting in the counting of the Omer starting from the second night of Pesach and Shavuos being 50 days later. However, Sadducees interpret this to be the first Shabbos following the first day of Pesach with the Omer always starting on the first Sunday after the beginning of Pesach. This results in the counting of Omer and the date of Shavuos being off by as much as a week.

However, this year being that the first day of Pesach falls out on Shabbos, the counting of the Omer starts on the second night of Pesach which is Motzoi Shabbos and is the same.

(The Essenes would start counting on the Sunday after Pesach finished, and some years the date of Pesach itself would be different as well according to groups that don't follow the Oral Torah)


Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Parshas Tzav 5778 / Shabbos haGadol

Removing the Ashes

The Torah writes (Leviticus 6:2-4)
Command Aaron and his sons thus: This is the ritual of the burnt offering: The burnt offering itself shall remain where it is burned upon the altar all night until morning, while the fire on the altar is kept going on it. The priest shall dress in linen raiment, with linen breeches next to his body; and he shall take up the ashes to which the fire has reduced the burnt offering on the altar and place them beside the altar. He shall then take off his vestments and put on other vestments, and carry the ashes outside the camp to a clean place.
The Talmud (Pesachim 26a) explains that the ashes were forbidden:
The Sages derive from the phrase: “And he shall put them” that he may not scatter these ashes; rather, they should be placed gently. “And he shall put them” also indicates that one may not derive benefit from these ashes.
Chizkuni explains who can do it:
The absence of the word “the priest,” here is an indication that even a priest who is disqualified from performing other procedures in the Temple due to physical blemishes, may perform this procedure.
(see also Jerusalem Talmud 8:4 where a non-priest, if he removes the ashes, is not killed) 
 
and where they are taken to:
a ritually pure location” seeing that these ashes had originated in sacred precincts. This is distinct from the stones of a house whose stones were afflicted with tzoraat, which have to be removed to a ritually unclean location, a location which people carrying objects that require ritual purity may not be brought to.
Mizrachi explains it wasn't done everyday:
There is a difference between the commandment of removing the ashes and one of carrying the ashes away, for removing the ashes [from the Altar] was done everyday but carrying out was only when the amount got large
Bechor Shor explains it was done at night:
like our Rabbis explained, this is a service of the night
The Talmud (Yoma 23b) cites an opinion that only two garments of the priest are enough instead of four:
Do you have any Temple service that may be performed with only two garments rather than the full set of four vestments worn by the priests? In the Torah’s description of the garments worn to remove the ashes it says: “And the priest shall put on his linen garment, and his linen trousers shall he put on his flesh”
Tur HaAruch adds about the clothing:
Even when engaged in just הרמת הדשן, the removal of the ash, or incompletely consumed incense, from the golden altar in the Sanctuary itself, an activity that is rated as part of the Temple service, priestly garments must be worn, though they may be of an inferior quality. There is an opinion according to which the word אחרים that we understood as “alternate, others,” but sacred garments, does not refer to inferior priestly garments, but to ordinary garments such as the ones worn by non-priests. The carrying of the ashes outside the Temple precincts was simply not considered as part of the Temple service.

The Talmud (Shabbos 114a) explains changing the clothing is honorable:

From where is it derived that changing clothes is a display of honor? As it is stated: “And he will remove his garments and will don other garments, and he will bring the ashes outside of the camp to a pure location” (Leviticus 6:4). The school of Rabbi Yishmael taught: The Torah taught you etiquette. The clothes in which one prepared food for his master, one does not wear to pour his master wine. Since cooking makes one’s clothes dirty, he should wear fresh clothes when serving his master.
(It is interesting to note that other times that they cleaned the Temple such as washing the floors by flooding, whitewashing the Altar, cleaning the vessels, were not considered a priestly service. We also find that the Menorah can be cleaned by a non-priest)

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Parshas Vayikra 5778

The reason for Korbanos

The Torah writes (Leviticus 1:2):
Speak to the Israelite people, and say to them: When any of you presents an offering of cattle to the LORD, he shall choose his offering from the herd or from the flock.
The Rambam explains (Guide 3:32):
Many precepts in our Law are the result of a similar course adopted by the same Supreme Being. It is, namely, impossible to go suddenly from one extreme to the other: it is therefore according to the nature of man impossible for him suddenly to discontinue everything to which he has been accustomed ... But the custom which was in those days general among all men, and the general mode of worship in which the Israelites were brought up, consisted in sacrificing animals in those temples which contained certain images, to bow down to those images, and to burn incense before them; religious and ascetic persons were in those days the persons that were devoted to the service in the temples erected to the stars, as has been explained by us. It was in accordance with the wisdom and plan of God, as displayed in the whole Creation, that He did not command us to give up and to discontinue all these manners of service; for to obey such a commandment it would have been contrary to the nature of man, who generally cleaves to that to which he is used; it would in those days have made the same impression as a prophet would make at present if he called us to the service of God and told us in His name, that we should not pray to Him, not fast, not seek His help in time of trouble; that we should serve Him in thought, and not by any action. For this reason God allowed these kinds of service to continue; He transferred to His service that which had formerly served as a worship of created beings, and of things imaginary and unreal, and commanded us to serve Him in the same manner
The Ramban argues (Leviticus 1:9):
Since the deeds of people are determined by thought, speech and action, God, may He be blessed, commanded that when he sins, he brings a sacrifice and place his hands upon him corresponding to the deed, and confess with his mouth corresponding to the speech, and burn the innards and the kidneys, as they are the instruments of thought and desire. And the limbs [of the sacrifice] correspond to the hands and feet of a person that does all of his work. And he sprinkles the blood on the altar corresponding to the blood of his soul, so that a person think in doing all of this that he sinned to God with his body and his soul, and it is fit for him that his blood be spilled and his body burnt; were it not for the kindness of the Creator, who took an exchange and ransom from him [in] the sacrifice - that its blood be instead of his blood and its soul be instead of his soul. 
Sforno explains (ibid 1:2):

... G’d is not interested in the fools who offer sacrificial animals if they have not first humbled themselves...By means of this symbolic act, the humility with which the owner of the sin offering is to approach G’d prior to gaining a chance of acceptance and forgiveness, has been demonstrated.
Sefer HaIkarim (3:25) explains:
Or if we say that the purpose of the sacrifices is to bring together and unite the upper powers with the lower,
Shadal (ibid 1:2) explains that these were like food and gifts given to a king

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Vayakhel-Pekudei 5778

On Nepotism

The Torah writes (Exodus 35:30):
And Moses said to the children of Israel: See, the L-rd has called by name Betzalel the son of Uri the son of Chur of the tribe of Judah
Rashi (ibid) adds:
HUR was the son the Miriam (Sotah 11b; cf. Rashi on Exodus 24:14)
The Talmud (Sotah 11b) adds that Chur was a son of Miriam and Caleb:
... And the one who says that it is referring to houses of royalty is referring to David, who also comes from Miriam, as it is written: “And Azubah,” the wife of Caleb, “died, and Caleb took to him Ephrath, who bore him Hur” (I Chronicles 2:19) and, as will be explained further, Ephrath is Miriam ..
(see also the Mizrachi who discussed difficulties with ages of the people involved)

Daas Zeikinim (ibid) explains why this is problematic:
“see! He has called upon, etc.” What does the word: ראו mean here? When Moses had told the people that Betzalel would be the chief architect/craftsman, and that he would be constructing the Tabernacle, there was murmuring among the Israelites who charged Moses with nepotism and assigning every position of importance to members of his family. He therefore repeated here that these men had not been chosen by him but by G–d, personally. In fact, Moses, personally, had originally thought that he himself had been charged with the whole task, seeing that G–d had said to him: ועשית , “you will make,” etc., chapter 25,17, and subsequently. The plural impersonal mode had been reserved for the construction of the Holy Ark (Exodus 25,10). G–d explained to him then already that on the contrary, not as he had thought, he would not build the Tabernacle but a descendant of Chur, who had given his life trying to stop the Jewish people from making a golden calf would be charged with that task. By doing so he would help atone for the murder of his grandfather and for the sin of the golden calf. This is why the Torah traces Betzalel’s ancestry to Chur, i.e. Betzalel son of Uri, son of Chur.
The Talmud (Berachos 55a) writes that Moses asked the people for permission:
... The Holy One, Blessed be He, said to him: Nevertheless, go and tell Israel and ask their opinion. Moses went and said to Israel: Is Bezalel suitable in your eyes? They said to him: If he is suitable in the eyes of the Holy One, Blessed be He, and in your eyes, all the more so he is suitable in our eyes. ...

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Parshas Terumah 5778

What is the Purpose of the Mishkan?

The Torah writes (Exodus 25:8):
And let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them
As a Place for the Shechina
Bechor Shor (ibid 25:2) writes:
... And G-d commanded him [Moses] to prepare that they should make a Tabernacle and the House of Holy of Holies, and in it an Ark, and in the Ark the Tablets, and there the Shechina will dwell with the Torah and the Jewish people will surround it like the Throne of Glory with the Shechina among them, like it says "that I may well among them" like among the angels...
The Ramban adds (ibid 25:1):
And the secret of the tabernacle is that the glory of God that dwelt on Mount Sinai, [also] hiddenly dwells upon it. And it is like it is written there (Exodus 24:16), "And the glory of the Lord dwells upon Mount Sinai," and it is written (Deuteronomy 5:21), "Behold, the Lord, our God, has shown us His glory and His greatness." And so [too] was it written about the tabernacle, "and the glory of the Lord, filled the tabernacle" (Exodus 40: 34)." And with the tabernacle, it twice mentioned, "and the glory of the Lord, filled the tabernacle" - corresponding to "His glory and His greatness." And the glory that was shown to them on Mount Sinai was always with Israel in the tabernacle.
As a Palace like an flesh-and-blood king
Shadal (ibid 25:1) writes:
After they accepted all of the judgements and the Torahs and G-d became a King in Jeshurun, it is fitting that they should make a Temple to Him, like Kings so He can dwell among them and this will strenthen the unity of the nation and its intense attachment to the Torah ...
To Atone for the Golden Calf
Sifrei Devarim (1) writes:
Rabbi Benaya says: when the Jews served an idol they deserved destruction, comes the gold of the Tabernacle and atones for the gold of the [Golden] Calf
Showing Forgiveness for the Golden Calf
Rabbeinu Bachya (25:6) writes:
In order to show that the sin had been completely forgiven, the Torah commences the list of contributions to be donated for building the Tabernacle with gold. This means that the very means which had caused their disgrace would now become the means by which G’d would express His goodwill. A Biblical verse expressing the same sentiment is found in Hoseah 7,3, ברעתם ישמחו מלך, ”with their very malice they make a king merry.”
As a Place to Connect with G-d after the Golden Calf
The Sforno writes (Exodus 31:18):
after the Torah described all the spiritual accomplishments which should have resulted from the many days Moses had spent on the mountain with G’d, the Torah now has to explain why all these spiritual accomplishments G’d had envisaged did not in fact materialise so that it became necessary to build a Tabernacle, etc., in order to achieve these spiritual accomplishments via a different route. The Torah explains that the cause of this detour in the spiritual ascent of the people was the abuse they had made of the freedom of choice. They, who had been about to receive the set of Tablets made and written by G’d Himself at the end of Moses’ stay on Mount Sinai for forty days, who were all to personify the ideal of being priests, and a holy nation, rebelled, corrupted themselves, as testified in Exodus 33,6 when they divested themselves of the signs of the covenant G’d had made with them, removing the garments emblazoned with the blood of that covenant.
(see also another explanation in the name of Rabbi Y. B. Soloveitchik as related to Adam)
As a Way to Adopt from Idolatry
The Rambam writes (Moreh 3:32):
... It is, namely, impossible to go suddenly from one extreme to the other: ... Now God sent Moses to make [the Israelites] a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (Exod. 19:6) by means of the knowledge of God ... But the custom which was in those days general among all men, and the general mode of worship in which the Israelites were brought up, consisted in sacrificing animals in those temples which contained certain images, to bow down to those images, and to burn incense before them; religious and ascetic persons were in those days the persons that were devoted to the service in the temples erected to the stars, as has been explained by us. It was in accordance with the wisdom and plan of God, as displayed in the whole Creation, that He did not command us to give up and to discontinue all these manners of service; for to obey such a commandment it would have been contrary to the nature of man, who generally cleaves to that to which he is used; it would in those days have made the same impression as a prophet would make at present if he called us to the service of God and told us in His name, that we should not pray to Him, not fast, not seek His help in time of trouble; that we should serve Him in thought, and not by any action. For this reason God allowed these kinds of service to continue; He transferred to His service that which had formerly served as a worship of created beings, and of things imaginary and unreal, and commanded us to serve Him in the same manner; ... He made it obligatory that certain gifts, called the gifts of the Levites and the priests, should be assigned to them for their maintenance while they are engaged in the service of the temple and its sacrifices. By this Divine plan it was effected that the traces of idolatry were blotted out, and the truly great principle of our faith, the Existence and Unity of God, was firmly established; this result was thus obtained without deterring or confusing the minds of the people by the abolition of the service to which they were accustomed and which alone was familiar to them. ...
The Ramban argues (Vayikra 1:9):
Since the deeds of people are determined by thought, speech and action, God, may He be blessed, commanded that when he sins, he brings a sacrifice and place his hands upon him corresponding to the deed, and confess with his mouth corresponding to the speech, and burn the innards and the kidneys, as they are the instruments of thought and desire. And the limbs [of the sacrifice] correspond to the hands and feet of a person that does all of his work. And he sprinkles the blood on the altar corresponding to the blood of his soul, so that a person think in doing all of this that he sinned to God with his body and his soul, and it is fit for him that his blood be spilled and his body burnt; were it not for the kindness of the Creator, who took an exchange and ransom from him [in] the sacrifice - that its blood be instead of his blood and its soul be instead of his soul. And the central limbs correspond to his central limbs. And the portions with which to sustain the teachers of Torah [are so] that they will pray for him. And the daily sacrifice is because there is no saving the community from always sinning. And these words are tenable [and] grab the heart, like the words of classic homiletic teachings (Shabbat 87a). And in the way of truth (mysticism), the sacrifices contain a hidden secret...
[A list of sources for this article were partially based on this article at AlHatorah.org - see further for a fuller explanation of sources and their differences]

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Parshas Beshalach 5778

Who Was Pharaoh Talking To?

The Torah writes (Exodus 14:3):
Pharaoh will say to the Israelites, “They are astray in the land; the wilderness has closed in on them.”
Rashi (ibid) explains:
לבני ישראל means על בני ABOUT THE CHILDREN OF ISRAEL. Similarly. (v. 14) “The Lord will fight לכם”, i. e. עליכם for you; (Genesis 20:13) “Say לי, he is my brother” i. e. say about me.
However, Targum Jonathan (ibid) explains differently:
And Pharoh said to Dathan and Abiram, sons of Israel, who had remained in Mizraim, The people of the house of Israel are bewildered in the land: the idol Zephon hath shut them in close upon the desert.
Midrashim (Midrash HaGadol Korach, Shemos Rabbah 1:29) also write that Dathan and Abiram ultimately rejoined the Jewish people prior to the Splitting of the Sea and they were the ones who complained to Moshe (2:11).

Beer Mayim Chaim writes that the Sea split for them a second time, because they cross AFTER the Egyptians were drowned and that's also explains the discrepancy of the order of the verses right before the Song.



(There is also discussion in Sefer haHefetz [2:13] that Moshe asked Hashem to save some of the Jewish children being killed, and Dathan and Aviram were choosen; also Sefer Rokeach writes that Dathan and Aviram did not die during the plague of Darkness because they believe in the Exodus)

(It is also interesting to note that Moshe's children and wife did not experience the splitting of the Sea according to the some opinions)

Why Did the Wind Blow Before the Sea Split?

The Torah writes (Exodus 14:21):
Then Moses held out his arm over the sea and the LORD drove back the sea with a strong east wind all that night, and turned the sea into dry ground. The waters were split
The Ramban (ibid) writes:
It was G-d's will that the sea should be split with an east wind so it looked like that wind caused the splitting .... for it was because of this the Egyptians thought that the wind caused the splitting and not the hand of G-d that did it because of the Jews...
The Rashbam (ibid) disagrees:
G’d used natural means, i.e. an east wind which always brings dryness and on occasions dries out ponds and rivers.
The Sforno (ibid) explains that it wasn't for the splitting:
the east wind had frozen the mud on the bottom of the sea
(see also this journal article that describes how a land bridge could have stayed open for 4 hours due to wind)

How Was the Manna Cooked?

The Torah writes (Exodus 16:23):
he said to them, “This is what the LORD meant: Tomorrow is a day of rest, a holy sabbath of the LORD. Bake what you would bake and boil what you would boil; and all that is left put aside to be kept until morning.”
However, above it says it would melt (Exodus 16:21):
So they gathered it every morning, each as much as he needed to eat; for when the sun grew hot, it would melt.

Whom Did Amalek Attack?

The Torah writes (Exodus 17:8):
Amalek came and fought with Israel at Rephidim.
The Torah writes later on (Deu. 25:17-18):
Remember what Amalek did to you on your journey, after you left Egypt - how, undeterred by fear of God, he surprised you on the march, when you were famished and weary, and cut down all the stragglers in your rear.
Midrash Tanchuma (Ki Seitzei 10) explains:

Rabbi Yehuda says: anyone who gave up hope was attacked; Rabbi Nechemiah says: anyone who was expelled by the cloud was attacked; And the Rabbis say: the entire tribe of Dan was expelled by the cloud for they all were idol worshippers and they were attacked
Midrash Mekhilta (17:8) writes:
R. Elazar Hamodai says: "And Amalek came": Amalek "sneaked" under the edges of the cloud, kidnapped Jews and killed them

Haftorah - How Could Yael Kill Sisera if They Had a Peace Treaty?

(This question was originally asked by my daughter)
 
Tanach writes (Judges 4:17-21):
Sisera, meanwhile, had fled on foot to the tent of Jael, wife of Heber the Kenite; for there was friendship between King Jabin of Hazor and the family of Heber the Kenite. Jael came out to greet Sisera and said to him, “Come in, my lord, come in here, do not be afraid.” So he entered her tent, and she covered him with a blanket. He said to her, “Please let me have some water; I am thirsty.” She opened a skin of milk and gave him some to drink; and she covered him again. He said to her, “Stand at the entrance of the tent. If anybody comes and asks you if there is anybody here, say ‘No.’” Then Jael wife of Heber took a tent pin and grasped the mallet. When he was fast asleep from exhaustion, she approached him stealthily and drove the pin through his temple till it went down to the ground. Thus he died.
Chomas Anach (The Chidah - ibid 4:21) answers:
And Mahari z"l answers that there was peace with Jabin and no one else. And he also answers that Sisera attacked Yael and she killed him in self defense ...
The Malbim (ibid 4:17) answers:
And I say according to my opinion that the peace between Jabin and Heber was a general peace with the Kenites who dwelled in the desert of Judah ... but now that Heber separated from the rest of this brothers and pitched his tent among the Jews he was no longer obligated to keep the treaty of the Kenites for he left them.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Parshas Shemos 5778

Some interesting points regarding Parshas Shemos:

1. Who Was Exempt from the Labor in Egypt?
According to many Midrashim, the entire Shevet Levi was exempt, either because they were consider a priestly class and were exempt as per Joseph's original decrees, OR because they did not show up during the first day when the "volunteer" rebuilding efforts started, and were not enrolled as "volunteers" who later became slaves. In return, however, they population did not experience a great increase in numbers.

However, we also know that parts of Shevet Ephraim tried to leave Egypt 30 years before the Exodus, and they were killed during a war with the native population of Canaan. The valley where they were killed was the valley of "dry bones" that Yehezkel saw in his dream. How did they leave if they were slaves? Some midrashim state that parts of Shevet Ephraim were except from slavery because they were descendants of the royal viceroy - Joseph.

2. How Many Children Did Yocheved Have?
According to the Torah, she had three children: Miriam, Aharon and Moshe. However, Targum Jonathan writes that after the birth of Aharon, Amram and Yocheved were divorced, and she married someone else (Elizaphan) with whom she had two sons: Eldad and Medad. She divorced Elizaphan and re-married Amram, at which point she gave birth to Moshe. Thus, Yocheved had five children: Miriam, Aharon and Moshe with Amram, and Eldad and Medad with Elizaphan.

3. Yisro, Tziporrah and their relatives.
After Moshe ran away from Egypt, he ended up living in Yisro's house and marrying his daughter, Tziporrah. Many meforshim point out that Yisro is a descendant of Midian. It is interesting to note that Midian was a son of Avraham from his third wife, Keturah, which would make Moshe and his wife distant cousins.

There are also some Midrashim that discuss that Tziporrah and Basya, the daughter of Pharaoh, were in fact sisters who were orphaned and ended up being adapted by Yisro and Pharaoh respectively. This must have taken place when Yisro was still living in Egypt and was Pharaoh's advisor.

There is also an interesting connection between Tziporrah and Balak. According to the some midrashim, Balak was a grandson of Yisro, which would make his father, Tzipor a brother to Tziporrah, with their names being identical.