Sunday, October 31, 2010

"Angels" and "Work"

Rabbi Shimshon Refael Hirsch has a number of interesting writeups on the relationships between words and their meaning. This shabbos, our rabbi brought up the relationship between מלאך (Malach - Angel or messenger) and מלאכה (Melacha - work). This is the way that Hebrew connects words to the noun that applies to them. Consider the piyut on יום כפור, that starts הנה כחומר, as an example of seeing how the noun is created from the מפעיל, the causative usage.

In Parshas Vayera, the meforshim say that the reason that three מלאכים came to אברהם and only two continued on to סדום to save לוט was that a מלאך only exists for as long as its task (מלאכה) has not yet been accomplished. Once the job is done, the מלאך  no longer exists.  Similarly, we can connect the 39 מלאכות of שבת to the person doing them and to the definition as those things being done for the משכן. Similarly, the word מלאכה is used when speaking of the "work" that השם "did" creating the world. We see that this term is used for a task that is directly connected to the person doing the job.

This is opposed to the word עבודה which seems to be used for work that is imposed from without and is meant as "service". For example, a person who does עבודה is an עבד which is normally translated as "slave" or "servant". This means that instead of being something that is intrinsic to the being (מלאכה performed by a מלאך), this עבודה is an external task that is assigned by a "master". The being performing the עבודה is totally separate from the "work" being done. As a result, a מלאך cannot do עבודה as its "work" is intrinsic to its being. This means that animals, lacking free will, and created to work only according to the natural laws set up by השם can only do עבודה. A human being, created by השם, with both aspects of the universe, and with the free will to choose between them, can perform מלאכת or עבודה, . An example is seen in Parshas Bereishis (פרק 2: פסוק 15) where the purpose of אדם being in גן עדן is "לעבדה ולשמרה".

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Avrohom in Geror

A post on mail Jewish asked
In Parshat Lech-Lecha, we read about the incident where Avram and Sarai are driven from Cana'an because of a famine and go to live in Egypt. In order to protect Avram's life, they declare themselves as brother and sister.

Several of the commentators, especially the Ramban, state that Avram erred in this matter because he left Cana'an without G-d's command, and thereby risked Sarai's life and honor. (The Ramban also sees the Egyptian exile of Avraham's descendents as a punishment for this sin.)

But what about the additional sin of putting Sarai (a married women) in a position where she might have martyred herself and not submit to gilui arayot (a severe illicit relationship). Here, we can probably say that before receiving the Torah, the rule that requires martyrdom instead of gilui arayot does not apply.

Now we move to Parshat Vayera, and this time we read of a more puzzling incident where Avraham and Sara go to live in Grar, and again adopt the "brother and sister" story. But this time, there was no famine that drove them away from Eilonai-Mamrei! (Rashi says that one of the reasons for the move was to distant themselves from Lot, who became infamous because of his relationships with his daughters.) Of course, Sara was taken to King Avimelech's house. Sara was ultimately saved from being violated only because of G-d's intervention.

Since there was no famine in Cana'an, what was Avraham's justification for moving to Grar, and then using the "brother and sister" story again? (This was against Sara's will, according to Rashi.) The dangers were very real and no justification is stated in the Torah. In fact, during G-d's dealings with Avimelech, Avimelech is shown to be a tzadik and Avraham is not shown in that light.

Later, during the confrontation between Avraham and Avimelech, Avraham excuses his behavior by saying "I thought there was no fear of G-d in this place, and I expected to be killed because of my wife". So why did he come to Grar?

So how do we explain Avraham's behavior in this incident?
There are are several different questions being asked that need to be dealt with.

Even those who fault Avraham for going to Mitzrayim, do not fault him for going to Grar. Yitzchak was forbidden to leave Eretz Canaan as a result of the Akeidah, but Hashem told him (in Toldos) specifically to stay in Grar. Thus, Grar was not outside of Canaan and there was nothing wrong with that. The only problem was the trick that Avrohom used. As Avraham tells Avimelech, this trick was actually necessary and part of their normal behavior. It is only brought up in the Torah when the king (who was the only one who could get away with violating Avraham's rights as the "brother" of an unmarried woman) actually took the "sister" in order to make her part of her harem.

Rav S. R. Hirsch (among others) points out that this trick was designed to save the two of them from the general population of the city state. As Rav Hirsch says,(as translated in the Judaica Press edition) in Vayera chapter 20 pasuk 2.
"... unmarried virgins must have been much safer amongst the people than married women. It seems to have been only princes that unmarried strangers had reason to fear. And actually it was again only a king that dared to take her, and who later on has no scruples in admitting it."
Avimelech, in fact, is wrong even though he *thinks* that he is innocent. When Hashem "speaks" to him, Avimelech says
בתם לבבי ובנקיון כפי עשיתי 
in the innocence of my heart and the integrity of my hands I did this
However, when Hashem responds, he says
גם אני ידעתי כי בתם לבבך עשית זאת
I know that you thought that you were acting innocently (my translation)
 We see that Hashem acknowledges that Avimelech thought that he was right, but tells him that not only was he wrong, but he needs to get Avrohom to pray for him or he would die as a result of what he did
ויתפלל בעדך וחיה And he will pray for you and you will live
 Thus we see that Avimelech was deserving of death for the abuse of power. Note that Avimelech does not dispute the fact that Avrohom used the trick on everyone else. He is just upset that Avrohom did not let him know what was going on. Indeed, Avimelech in Toldos tells Yitzchak
כמעט שכב אחד העם את אשתך
One  of the people might have "taken" your wife (in "nicer" language)
Rashi points out that this means he himself might have taken her. In fact, Avimelech there has to explicitly warn the people not to "touch" either Yitzchak or Rivkah, even though Eisav was already grown (and according to some meforshim) running the family "defense forces". Avimelech in Vayera did not dare let Avraham stay in the city itself. He couched his "request" that Avraham leave in nicer language by telling him that he was free to settle wherever in the land under his (Avimelech's) control that he wanted to.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Difference between תולדות אדם and תולדות שם

The list of generations in פרק ה בראשית  for תולדות אדם and the list of generations in פרק יא נח for תולדות שם is that there is an extra פסוק in בראשית. The standard in בראשית is as follows:
  1. X lived for m years and fathered Y
  2.  X lived n years after fathering Y and fathered sons and daughters.
  3.  All the years of X's life were m+n years, and he died.
The standard in נח is just the first two פסוקים. What is the reason for the difference between them?

The obvious difference between the two may be the fact that the ten generations until נח ends with the destruction of the world in the מבול. The ten generations from נח to אברהם ends with the reestablishment of belief in Hashem and the beginning of what will become the Jewish people.

This is discussed in a number of places. Rabbi Munk references רבינו בחיי. It is also discussed in ספורנו and כלי יקר and אור החיים as well as Rabbi Zalman Sorotzkin's אזנים לתורה (Insights in the Torah). The difference is connected to the the fact that the ten generations from אדם to נח lead to the end of the world and the מבול. On the other hand, the ten generations from נח to אברהם leads to the birth of אברהם אבינו. Rabbi Munk points out that this is the beginning of the development of the world that will end with the coming of the משיח.

Rabbi Sorotzkin says that the extra פסוק is to point out that this is actually a praise of the people who are listed as it emphasizes that they died natural deaths and were not punished by being killed in the flood. This is similar to the explanation given when בנות צלפחד explain that their father "died in the desert" in order to show that he was not part of those who died because of the rebellion of Korach or one of the other explicit punishments for the various sins. As רבינו נחיי says, there is no need for the third pasuk since the flood was over and we would no longer need to emphasize the fact of "natural" death.

An alternate answer given by Rabbi Sorotzkin (and others) compares the deaths in the מבול to the death of יואב. The גמרא states the the extra phrase "he died" means that he did not leave any children.  The מבול can be considered the complete destruction of the world, and נח, far from being an "heir" of his ancestors. can be considered a "new creation". Thus, everything that happened before has been wiped out and is "dead".

The first death explicitly given in the genealogical table between נח and אברהם was פלג (Peleg) who died in 1996, the year of the dispersion. At that time אברהם was 48 years old. Thus all of his ancestors were alive, not only at his birth, but for the significant occurrence that ended that stage of existence. The Medrash says that Avrohom's brother הרן was the first person to die while his father was still alive, and by implication, he would have been the first person to die since the flood. As a result, the medrash of the כבשן האש had to have occurred while נמרוד still controlled the "civilized" world before the dispersion. This means the the actual major event of the age, the refusal of אברהם to succumb to the idolatry of his age and the initial revolt that led to מתן תורה and will lead to ימות המשיח, occurred while every link in the generational chain was still alive.

The final end of the generations also shows the difference between נח and אברהם. אברהם tried his best to save the world, and whether he succeeded or not,  as with his brother or with סדום, the attempt still allowed the world to continue and led to life. The names show the difference between them. נח basically sat back, did what Hashem told him and left it at that. While he was saved, the entire world died and it was as if he was a new creation starting from scratch. אברהם worked and strove and not only became the "father" of the future, but was able to keep his ancestors alive as well.