Friday, June 14, 2019

Parshas Naso 5779

Why Did the Sotah Waters Stop?

The Mishnah (Sotah 9:9) writes:
When adulterers multiplied, the ceremony of the bitter waters ceased and it was Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai who discontinued it, as it is said, “I will not punish their daughters for ...” (Hosea 4:14)
(commentators explain in the Talmud - [Sotah 47b] that it was because the husbands were guilty as well)

The Rambam (Sotah 3:13-19) comments that the Sotah ritual only works if the husband never engaged in similar behavior, and therefore the Sanhedrin nullified it when this type of behavior became more common

The Ramban (Numbers 5:20) comments:
And there is no matter among all the laws of the Torah which relies on a miracle except for this one which was a constant wonder and miracle done among the Jewish people when most of them did the will of their G-d ... and therefore this matter stopped once they became involved in sin as it says (Talmud Sotah 47b) ...

Chanah, Shmuel and Sotah

The Talmud (Berachot 31b) writes as follows:
As for the double language in the verse, “if you will look upon [im ra’o tireh],” Rabbi Elazar said: Hannah said before the Holy One, Blessed be He: Master of the Universe, if You will look upon [ra’o] me now, fine, and if not, in any case You will see [tireh].  What was Hannah threatening? She said: I will go and seclude myself with another man before Elkana, my husband. Since I secluded myself, they will force me to drink the sota water to determine whether or not I have committed adultery. I will be found innocent, and since You will not make Your Torah false [pelaster], I will bear children. With regards to a woman who is falsely suspected of adultery and drank the sota water, the Torah says: “And if the woman was not defiled, but was pure, then she shall be acquitted and she shall conceive”(Numbers 5:28).
Ben Yehoyada (ibid) explains:
It is hard to understand who would allow her to commit two prohibitions together - yichud and erasing of G-d's name [during the ritual]? ... rather she said that she is able to do this but since she will not because it is forbidden, it should be counted as a merit for her ...

Friday, May 31, 2019

Parshas Behukosai 5779

Who is Being Ransomed?

The Torah writes (Leviticus 27:29):
No human being who has been proscribed can be ransomed: he shall be put to death.
Chizkuni explains the wording:
The somewhat awkward wording of this verse is due to the four different types of death penalty that a Jewish court can impose for different types of capital offences. Our verse applies to any of these kinds of death sentences.
Rashi explain that this refers to Arachin:

This means, if a person is going to be executed and someone says, “I take upon myself to pay his ערך” he has said nothing (his vow is of none effect); you see, he is going to be put to death, and he therefore cannot be redeemed, — he has neither a market-value (דמים) nor an ‎ערך

Bechor Shor (ibid) explains that he cannot be redeemed with money in order not to die based on this verse (Numbers 35:51):
You may not accept a ransom for the life of a murderer who is guilty of a capital crime; he must be put to death.
(The Talmud [Arachin 6b] explains that since those deemed to die by the hand of Heaven can use money to redeem themselves, we may make the same mistake for those sentenced by a regular court. Therefore, the verse teaches us otherwise)

Tur HaAruch cites the Ramban with three additional explanations:
The Torah had previously stated that anyone consecrating man or beast or chattels and land which he himself owns forfeits the right to redeem such as it automatically becomes the property of the priests and has already lost the status of being something consecrated. However, if someone consecrates something, i.e. the equivalent monetary value of something or someone whom he does not own, such property or people would not become the property of the priests.
I found further in Yalkut Shimoni (chapter 76 on the Book of Judges) that Rabbi Akiva is quoted as equating the word חרם in our portion with the word שבועה, oath. He derives from our verse that any High Court or legally appointed king, is entitled, especially, when all the tribes are represented when he declares such a decree, to impose the death penalty for violating an oath that bound the entire Jewish people to perform or to refrain from performing a certain task as the case may be.
And regarding Yiftach:
If so, we can understand Yiphtach’s cardinal error, due to arrogance, when he had failed to seek “redemption” from his vow, seeing he had never meant to sacrifice his only daughter if G’d were to grant him victory. He had mistakenly been under the impression that his vow (oath) was valid and could not be annulled. He was not unaware of the legislation enabling such annulment, but assumed that a leader of the nation could not avail himself of an option like this. It had not occurred to him that a vow to offer someone as a burnt offering, when that someone is essentially disqualified as an offering on the altar, has no legal validity at all. [Even if instead of his daughter being the first to welcome him, a cockerel had done so, he would not have had to kill that cockerel, as it is essentially not fit as an offering on the altar. Ed.]

Friday, March 15, 2019

Parshas Vayikra 5779

Washing the Sacrifices?

The Torah writes (Leviticus 1:9):
Its entrails and legs shall be washed with water, and the priest shall turn the whole into smoke on the altar as a burnt offering, an offering by fire of pleasing odor to the LORD.
Bechor Shor (ibid) explains why:
Washing" for the innards is only written for the burnt offering. This is since the sin-offering and the guilt-offering are eaten by priests, and the wellbeing-offering is eaten by its owners -- if one wants to wash it they may! But this, the burnt-offering, comes to the table of the King, and one needs to prepare it in a respectful manner. But they are burnt outside.
Similarly in Daas Zekeinim (ibid):
seeing that these parts are going to be presented at the “King’s” Table, extreme care had to be taken that everything was meticulously clean and no trace of blood was visible. On the other hand, when writing of animals which were not served up on the “King’s” Table but were burned outside sacred grounds, the Torah lumps together “its insides and its excrement,” (Leviticus 4,11) as it does in Leviticus 1,16, and 27 where flesh, skin, and excrement are all being burned at the same time and place.
 Sifsei Chachamim (ibid) explains who does it:
This is done either by a kohen or by a Levite. Thus Scripture must specify that the kohen is the one who will kindle .

The Mitzva to Destroy Amalek

The Torah (Deuteronomy 25:17-19) writes:
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. Therefore, when the LORD your God grants you safety from all your enemies around you, in the land that the LORD your God is giving you as a hereditary portion, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven. Do not forget!
Rashi (ibid) writes:
both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep (a quotation from I Samuel 15:3, stating how the Amalekites were to be destroyed), so that the name of Amalek should never again be mentioned even in connection with a beast, in that one could say: “This beast belonged to Amalek” (Pesikta Zutrata).
However, the Rambam (Hilchos Melachim 6:1-4) says that we ask for peace first:
War is not conducted against anyone in the world until they are first offered peace (and refuse it), whether this is a Discretionary War or a War of Mitzvoh, as it says, “when you come close to the city to fight with it, you shall call to it to make peace” (Deut. 20:10).
(see this article by R' Elchanan Samet that discusses the reasoning behind this)

The Value of PI

The Gra writes that it is possible to derive the value of PI from a ksav/kri in Melachim (Kings I 7:23):
Then he made the tank of cast metal, 10 cubits across from brim to brim, completely round; it was 5 cubits high, and it measured 30 cubits in circumference.
The Ksav/Kri is ״וקוה״/״וקו״ which is the gematria of 111 and 106. This results in:
(111/106) x 3 = 3.14150943
(see this article for additional details)


Monday, February 25, 2019

Parshas Vayakhel 5779

Why is Fire Singled Out Regarding Shabbos?

The Torah writes (Exodus 35:3):
On six days work may be done, but on the seventh day you shall have a Sabbath of complete rest, holy to the LORD; whoever does any work on it shall be put to death. You shall kindle no fire throughout your settlements on the Sabbath day.
Rashi (ibid) gives two reasons:
There are some of our Rabbis who say that the law about kindling fire is singled out (more lit., goes forth from the general proposition; i. e. it is specially mentioned here although it is included in לא תעשה כל מלאכה, the law prohibiting all work on Sabbath) in order to constitute it a mere negative command (thus indicating that, like all other negative commands, its infringement is punishable by lashes but does not make the offender liable to death as does the doing of other work on Sabbath). 
Others, however, say that it was singled out in order to separate the various kinds of work comprised in the term כל מלאכה (thus indicating that each transgression of the Sabbath law is to be atoned for separately if several of them have been committed at the same time and under the same circumstances)

Ibn Ezra, the Ramban and the Rashbam explain differently:
Because by the first day and the seventh day of Festival of Matzos [i.e. Pesach] it says "all the work you may not do" to permit אוכל נפש [i.e. work for the personal benefit of people like cooking]. Therefore, now it says regarding Shabbos "you shall not kindle fire" to bake bread and cook meat for fire is אוכל נפש ...
Sforno explains:
even though generally speaking, lighting a fire is not a productive but a destructive activity, seeing that it is an almost indispensable ingredient in most activities the Torah prohibited it as unsuitable for the Sabbath.
Chizkuni, Daas Zkenim and Bechor Shor explain in a similar fashion:
The reason why just the activity of kindling light was chosen by the Torah as the example in question, is that lighting a fire is something that for the onlooker hardly seems like an activity at all, involving neither skill, nor physical strain. If you were to say that granted that actually lighting a fire on the Sabbath is forbidden, but activities preparatory to lighting a fire after the Sabbath are permitted, this too is prohibited. The Sabbath is not a day to be used as a preparation for the activities on the six weekdays. 
Some says that the reason is that just like the fires in Gehinom don't light on Shabbos, the same way we don't light fires on Shabbos

The Talmud (Sanhedrin 35b) explains that this teaches that capital punishment may not be administrated on Shabbos

Spinning Wool While It's Attached

The Torah writes (Exodus 35:26):
And all the women who excelled in that skill spun the goats’ hair.
Rashi writes:

This required extraordinary skill, for they spun it (the goats’ hair) from off the backs of the goats (whilst it was still on the living animals)
The Talmud (Shabbos 99a) adds:
The phrase “whose hearts inspired them” suggests a greater degree of wisdom. Apparently, spinning the goat’s hair curtains required greater skill than spinning the various kinds of wool. And on a similar note, it was taught in abaraita in the name of Rabbi Neḥemya: The hair was rinsed on the goats, and it was even spun from the goats, which required a great deal of skill.
However, while there is a disagreement in in the Talmud (Shabbos 74b) whether one is liable or not if they spin wool that way, the outcome is that it is not, as the Rambam writes (Sabbath 9:7):
One who spins wool from a live creature is exempt – as this is not the way of shearing, nor the way of combing nor the way of spinning.

Fire is Allowed in the Mishkan on Sabbath

Chizkuni and Malbim writes:
in all of your dwellings, i.e. the Tabernacle was exempt from all of these restrictions as it was not a residence for human beings. Communal sacrifices were offered as usual.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Parshas Ki Sisa 5779

Why Did They Worship the Golden Calf?

The Torah writes (Exodus 32:7-8):
The LORD spoke to Moses, “Hurry down, for your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt, have acted basely. They have been quick to turn aside from the way that I enjoined upon them. They have made themselves a molten calf and bowed low to it and sacrificed to it, saying: ‘This is your god, O Israel, who brought you out of the land of Egypt!’”
The Talmud (Avodah Zarah 4b) cites an opinion:
And Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi says: The Jewish people fashioned the Golden Calf only to give a claim to penitents, as it is stated after the revelation at Sinai: “Who would give that they had such a heart as this always, to fear Me, and keep all My commandments, that it might be good for them, and with their children forever”. If the nation was truly at such a lofty spiritual state, how could they worship the Golden Calf? Rather, their sin occurred so that it would be made clear that one can repent for any sin, as even a sin as severe as the Golden Calf was forgiven.
Rashi (ibid):
They were strong and controlled their desires and it shouldn't happened that their desires overpowered them, but it was a decree of the King for [their desires] to overpower them in order to give an opening for those who want to repent, so if a sinner says "I won't repent for I won't be accepted" they will answer him "Go and learn from the story of the Golden Calf that they repented and were accepted"
(Rabbi Hershel Schechter interprets this as having their freedom of choice taken away. He also discusses sources that think there is a commandment to lain the Parsha of the Golden Calf every year)

Maharsha (ibid) explains:
To me it seems that the Israelites were fit that G-d would save them from a great sin like this one, even though "everything is in the hands of Heaven except for the fear of Heaven" ... but why did they do it and were not saved from this sin? [so it would be made clear that one can repent...

Identity of "Aromatic Cane"

The Torah writes (Exodus 30:23):
Next take choice spices: five hundred weight of solidified myrrh, half as much—two hundred and fifty—of fragrant cinnamon, two hundred and fifty of aromatic cane,
Rashi (ibid):
cane of sweet spices. Because there are canes which do not bear sweet spices Scripture had to state (add the word) בֹשֶׂם
Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan (ibid) provides additional sources:
  • Ancient sources identify this with the sweet calmus (Septuagint; Rambam on Kerithoth 1:1; Saadia; Ibn Janach)
  • This is the sweetflag or flag-root, Acoras calamus which grows in Europe. It appears that a similar species grew in the Holy Land, in the Hula region in ancient times (Theophrastus, History of Plants 9:7).
  • Other sources apparently indicate that it was the Indian plant, Cympopogan martini, which has the form of red straw (Yad, Kley HaMikdash 1:3).
  • On the basis of cognate pronunciation and Septuagint readings, some identify Keneh bosem with the English and Greek cannabis, the hemp plant.
  • There are, however, some authorities who identify the 'sweet cane' with cinnamon bark (Radak, Sherashim).
  • Some say that kinman is the wood, and keneh bosem is the bark (Abarbanel).


Thursday, January 24, 2019

Parshas Yisro 5779

How Many Judges did Moshe Choose?

The Torah writes (Exodus 18:24-26):
Moses heeded his father-in-law and did just as he had said. Moses chose capable men out of all Israel, and appointed them heads over the people—chiefs of thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens; and they judged the people at all times: the difficult matters they would bring to Moses, and all the minor matters they would decide themselves.
The numbers work out as follows (based on the Mes. Sanhedrin):
  • Chiefs of thousands: 600,000 / 1,000 = 600
  • Chiefs of hundreds: 600,000 / 100 = 6,000
  • Chiefs of fifties: 600,000 / 50 = 12,000
  • Chiefs of tens: 600,000 / 10 = 60,000
  • Total: 600 + 6,000 + 12,000 + 60,000 = 78,600 or 13.1%
(Ibn Ezra argues with these numbers reducing the numbers to 12 princes, and 6,000 heads of 100s, see Josh Yuter's parsha blog)

Why Did Yisro Leave?

The Torah writes (Exodus 18:27):

Then Moses bade his father-in-law farewell, and he went his way to his own land.
The Torah also writes later on (Numbers 10:29-32):
Moses said to Hobab son of Reuel the Midianite, Moses’ father-in-law, “We are setting out for the place of which the LORD has said, ‘I will give it to you.’ Come with us and we will be generous with you; for the LORD has promised to be generous to Israel.” “I will not go,” he replied to him, “but will return to my native land.” He said, “Please do not leave us, inasmuch as you know where we should camp in the wilderness and can be our guide.So if you come with us, we will extend to you the same bounty that the LORD grants us.” 
Rashi answers (Exodus ibid):
AND HE WENT HIS WAY INTO HIS OWN LAND, for the purpose of making proselytes of the members of his family (Mekhilta d'Rabbi Yishmael 18:24:2)
Ohr Chaim explains later on in a similar fashion:
Rabbi Eliezer the Modai claimed that before he departed Yitro said to Moses: "light is effective only in a place of darkness." He meant that amongst the Israelites he was not needed to provide enlightenment seeing Israel basked in the light of G'd. In his own country, however, his new found enlightenment could be of benefit to his countrymen. There he might succeed in converting his countrymen to monotheism and then he would bring them to study Torah. 

Sifsei Chachamim later on (Numbers) explains further:
Nonetheless it was his intention to return there but not to settle. I have found this said in the name of the Maharal of Prague.

Sforno answers differently (Exodus ibid):
Perhaps this was due to his being of advanced age; we encounter such reticence to move to a better place when David offered Barzilai a home in Jerusalem and he declined, citing that at his age he would not enjoy what Jerusalem had to offer anyway. (Samuel II 19,38) He preferred to be buried with his father and mother. Yitro’s sons (and daughters?) however definitely joined the Jewish people in their journey to the Holy Land, as we know from Judges 1,16 where they are described as the children of the Keyni, the father-in-law of Moses. Bileam also prophesied concerning their future in Numbers 24,21.
Similarly the Sforno writes later on (Numbers ibid):
so that in his old age he would not have to adjust to the different climate and food in a country he had not grown up in.
Chizkuni and Bechor Shor answer later on (Numbers ibid) in a different fashion:
Yisro preferred the known [of Midian] vs. the unknown [of Canaan]
Ramban later on answers differently:
Moshe said to Chovav. I already explained that Chovav was the new name given to Yisro when he accepted Torah, as every proselyte does. This is because Hashem gives a new name to His servants. Moshe asked him to go with them, and mentioned, “We will treat you well” without specifying what it would be. Yisro thought he would receive a portion of the spoils — gold and silver, garments, flocks and cattle — but he would not have an inheritance among the Bnei Yisroel. Therefore, Yisro was not interested, and he answered: But rather to my land and to my birthplace will I go — for there I have an estate, property and honor. Moshe replied: Please do not forsake us, for, because you know of our encampment in the desert and you will be our eyes — that is, since you are familiar with the Wilderness you will be our eyes in conquering the lands, and you will show us the way to go. And it will be, that when you go with us, it shall be that the very good which Hashem will bestow on us we will bestow on you — With this Moshe hinted that he would be given an inheritance in the good land, as reward for his efforts and assistance in conquering the Land.
Chiznuki disagrees with the fact that Yisro would inherit:
He meant that Yitro would be allowed to share in the loot the Israelites would secure from the Canaanites. He had not been authorized by G-d to promise him an ancestral piece of land in the Holy Land.

Did Yisro and His Sons Leave?

Ramban continues:
In my opinion Chovav agreed to Moshe’s request because of this promise, as I mentioned (Shemos 18:1). And thus we find in the Yerushalmi as well (Bikurim 1,4): “The sons of Chovav, Moshe’s father-in-law, bring [first fruits] and read [the parshah], as it says, ‘Come along with us and we will treat you well’”.
Ohr Chayim agrees:
Our sages say that the Israelites gave Yitro and family the most fertile land around Jericho  
Kli Yakar agrees:
Come along with us. First, Moshe promised a material benefit to Chovav, when he said: We will treat you well. Moshe did not mention Hashem in this offer and Chovav did not want to accept. Then, Moshe promised him a spiritual benefit — that he would be included in the Sanhedrin, which is called the eyes of the congregation, as it says: And you will be our eyes. In the context of this spiritual benefit, Moshe mentioned Hashem: It shall be that the very good which Hashem will bestow. Hashem will give of His Spirit upon him. To this, Yisro agreed.
Sforno disagrees:
If your children depart also you will be desecrating the name of the Lord among the nations as they will say: “if Yitro would have seen any merit in this religion surely he and his sons would not have abandoned them!” Both Yitro and his sons agreed with this argument of Moses so that in the end only Yitro returned to his country, as we know from Exodus 18,27 “Moses saw his father-in-law Yitro off, and he went by himself back to his own country.” There is no question that his children remained with the Jewish people, as the Book of Judges testifies when writing about “the children of the Keyni, the father-in-law of Moses, having previously ascended from the city of palms with the tribe of Yehudah.” (Judges 1,16).

When Did Yisro Leave?

Chizkuni here (Exodus ibid) points out when Yisro leave, and whether Moshe's children experience Matan Torah:
Whether Yitro had arrived at the camp of the Israelites prior to the revelation or subsequently, there is unanimity amongst the sages that he did not return to his homeland before the second year in the month of lyar when the people made ready to proceed to the Holy Land, having been encamped around Mount Sinai for almost an entire year. If the line reporting Moses accompanying Yitro on his departure occurred in the chronological sequence reported by the Torah, then both he, Tzipporah, Moses’ wife, and his two sons would have belonged to the only generation that ever experienced such a revelation. If the Torah did not report events in their chronological sequence, we have to make peace with the fact that Tzipporah and her sons did not experience this event.  The fact that neither of Moses’ sons are ever mentioned again by name in the Torah lends some support to the opinion that they had not stood at Mount Sinai.

Other interesting points:

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Parshas Beshalach 5779

The Quail and the Manna

The Torah writes (Exodus 16:11-15) [emphasis added]:
The LORD spoke to Moses: “I have heard the grumbling of the Israelites. Speak to them and say: By evening you shall eat flesh, and in the morning you shall have your fill of bread; and you shall know that I the LORD am your God.” In the evening quail appeared and covered the camp; in the morning there was a fall of dew about the camp. When the fall of dew lifted, there, over the surface of the wilderness, lay a fine and flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground. When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?”—for they did not know what it was. And Moses said to them, “That is the bread which the LORD has given you to eat.
However, the Torah doesn't mention the quail again until much later where there are complaints for more meat (Numbers 11:4-7):
The riffraff in their midst felt a gluttonous craving; and then the Israelites wept and said, “If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish that we used to eat free in Egypt, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. Now our gullets are shriveled. There is nothing at all! Nothing but this manna to look to!” Now the manna was like coriander seed, and in color it was like bdellium.

Rabbeinu Bachya writes (Exodus ibid):
Both the quail and the manna appeared for the first time on a Sunday (compare our comment on verse 1 and 5). The quails formed a daily diet of the Israelites for 40 years (based on Tossaphot Erchin 15 on the word התאוו). As long as the Israelites had the manna they also had the quails. Concerning verse 38: “the Israelites ate the manna for 40 years,” (where no such particulars are given for the quails), we must assume that the same applied to the supply of quails which became available every evening. The reason the Torah only refers to the continued supply of the manna for 40 years is that seeing it was heavenly food it required a daily supernatural miracle during all those years. The availability of the quails by comparison, was a much less impressive miracle, not having required that something out of the ordinary be “manufactured” in the celestial regions. Making the quails available is described by the Torah as a more or less natural phenomenon in Numbers 11,31when the Torah reported: “a wind went out from Hashem and blew quails from the sea and spread them over the camp.” ...
Tosfos (Arakhin 15b) cites a different opinion:
Rashi explains that they wanted more which implies that the quail did not stop for them. However, R' Yosef Kara explains that the original quail stopped for them and the rabble among them had a desire for more since they did not have it, and therefore it rained the quail for a second time
(see Sefer Pesach Einayim in Arakhin for additional opinions)

Bechor Shor (Exodus ibid) explains:
The quail here is the one from [Parshas] Behaaloscha only since the manna was mentioned here, it also mentioned the quail, for you should know if Moshe saw the quail come to them once and stop, why would he say "Would enough sheep and cattle be slaughtered and found for them"?
Chizkuni writes (ibid):
the gift of quails was a one time occurrence, which explains the people’s complaint in Numbers 11,4 where they craved meat. On that occasion G-d provided them with meat a second time as stated in the Talmud Erchin folio 15. Rashi writes that the demand by the people for meat in their diet described in Numbers was more insistent. The manna was provided by G-d daily for forty years. [After the disastrous results of many people dying from overeating on meat in the second year of their wanderings, and dying as a result, we never hear of such a request again. Ed.]
Ramban (ibid 16:12) writes:
... for the quail was with them from this day going forward just like the manna .. and the Torah spends more time discussing the manna and less time on the quail because the manna was miraculous ... and the reason why they complained at Krias Tarbeh for it was not not given to them for satiety ... perhaps only the great ones gathered it, or the pious among them, and the lesser ones desired it and hungered for it...
Riva (ibid 16:13) writes that the they did not complain about lack of meat, rather they were upset about the ban of marrying certain relatives that were permitted before the Torah was given