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).