Saturday, May 21, 2011

Blessings and Curses

An interesting contrast occurs between the blessings and the curses of Parshas Bechukosai. It starts out
אם בחקתי תלכו ואת מצותי תשמרו ועשיתם אותם
26:3 If you follow My decrees observe (or guard) my commandments and do them
On the other hand, the curses start ou
ואם לא תשמעו לי ולא תעשו את כל המצות האלה
ואם בחקתי תמאסו ואם את משפטי תנעל נפשכם לבלתי עשות את כל מצותי להפרכם את בריתי
26:14 If you will not listen (refuse to listen is the implication) to Me, and you will not do all these commandments
 26:15 If you will despise My decrees and your souls reject (lock out) My laws, in order to (deliberately) not do all My commandments, so that you annul My covenant.

As we see, the blessings and the cursesw come about because of a set of deliberate actions. It is not that a person is "happening" to act in a certain way or is negligent or "forgettiing", but that a person must explicitly decide what path to go on. The original people who rejected Hashem explicitly decided that they would go against the commandments of the Torah and would refuse to listen to Hashem. People would not eat nonkosher food because it happened to be cheaper or was available, but would deliberately buy nonKosher food  even when Kosher food was available. The Socialist Workers would deliberately schedule their dinner/dance for Yom Kippur. THis is what causes the curses to start.

Later on, once they have brought the curses on themselves, we see that continuing to act with "indifference" (בקרי) will cause the curses to continue. Once someone has started down the wrong path, it takes a positive action to break away and return to the right path. This is the tragedy of the descendants of those who started the breakaway cults. They are raised in the mistakes of their anscestors and no longer know what they must do to stop the curses that their forebears have left them and return to the blessings that are their heritage.

Their is a statement attributed to a soldier in the Yom Kippur War

"My father knew how to pray and refused to do so. I want to pray but do not know how to"
This is what we need to learn how to do in order to regain the blessings that are our heritage.


The blessing of נחקתי seems to have a contradiction in it. The pasuk says (26:6)
ונתתי שלום בארץ ושכבתם ואין מחריד והשכתי חיה רעה מן הארץ וחרב לא תעבר בארצכם
ורדפתם את אויביכם ונפלו לפניכם לחרב
And I will give peace in the land, and lie down with nooned to make you afraid, and I will cause wild animals to be banished from the land and a sword will not cross your land.
You will pursue your enemies and they will fall before you by the sword.
This seems to say that peace will first be the blessing of peace, then the wild animals will be chased away, and then the sword will not "cross over" the land. Rashi says that this means that this means that even a "friendly" nation will not cross over Israel to attack an enemy on the other side. This is what happened with Pharoah Necho and King Yoshiah. The king thought that Israel was worthy of this blessing and tried to stop Pharoah from crossing to fight Babylonia. He was wrong and got killed for his trouble.

Only then does the bracha say that Israel will fight and defeat its enemies. How can this be? Wouldn't peace come about in the reverse order? First destroy the enemies, then have even "friendly" armies no longer use the land as a base, then not have to worry about wild animals, and only then full "peace"?

The meforshim say that the peace that occurs is actually an internal peace. A peace that is between the various groups of Jews and within each individual Jew. Only when this occurs, will criminals not longer be around to cause people to worry about being burglarized or mugged. Only thewill the wild animals withdraw from the land to no longer menace the nation and allow the Jews to live in safety. Once this happens, then armies will no longer fell free to march through the land even if their original intent is to just pass beyond to destroy their own enemies.

This is similar to the blessing of peace that Hashem gave Pinchas after he killed Zimri ben Salu and Kozbi bas Tzur. The medrash says that he was the kohen that went out witht the army to fight Midyan after the plague of Ba'al Pe'or. The medrash says that he was the one who killed Bil'am.

In actuality, we see that only when a person finds peace within himself and שלימות (wholeness) can the effect of this peace spread out into the world around him. A person who is at peace is then capable of making piece with its neighboring  communities. Only then will the blessing of the time of Adam be reinstated so that the wild animals will stay away.

Friendly nations will be affected so that they will not attempt to use Israel as a military base to attack others.

However, we see that the enemies of the Jews will still not learn the lesson that they should have and will still continue to attack us. This is like Amalek after the Exodus. In spite of all the miracles and the plagues, they still insisted on attacking. Later on, the only thing that they learned was to disguise themselves so that Bnei Yisrael could not pray by name to defeat them. They thought that if they disguised themselves so that Bnei Yisrael prayed using the wrong name, they could fool Hashem. They found out that they were wrong. This is why the bracha of chasing the enemies is the end of that sequence.

Monday, May 16, 2011

And you shall proclaim "Liberty"

The word "dror" (דרור) is a unique word in the Torah and appears only in Parsha Behar (25:10) at the declaration of the Yovel.While it is translated as "liberty", we should consider what meaning it might have.In the gemarah in maseches Beitzah or in Meseches osh Hashanah, we see the term applied to a "tzipor dror" as a bird that cannot normally be "captured" by being closed in a house or the bird that is freed as part of the purification rites of the metzora ("leper"). The commentaries discuss what kind of bird this is. Rashi actually gives two answers. On answer is that it will continue flying and keep itself from getting caught. Another explanation that he gives is that it will find any opening that might occur and fly out. There are those that say that it is unable to survive in captivity. Others that it is capable of living anywhere that it finds itself and will "break free" whenever it can. That is, it will not be like the canary that will not leave the cage even if the cage door is left open, but will always work to make itself free.

The gemara in Rosh Hashana 9b says that the word is related to דיירא (dwelling place) and means someone who is subject to noone's will but his own. He chooses his own place of residence and will make his living wherever he finds himself. He will refuse to subjugate himself to anyone.

The פני יהושוע points out that the pasuk say לכל ישביה (all its inhabitants). This means that even if a person is a slave owner, he is not considered "free" unless the entire society is free. As long as there are those who are slaves, he himself cannot be considered free. That is why we have the saying
כל הקונה עבד כקונה אדון לעצמו
Whoever purchases a slave, it is as if he  has obtained a master  for himself
Therefore, it is only when the slaves are set free that we can say that the inhabitants of the land are free.

Rabbi Samson Rafael Hirsch shows the usage of the bird as one that does not allow itself to be tamed but makes its nest in a human house just as if it was an open field or wild forest. It uses the term מרור דרור, pure myrrh. It uses the word as a legal term, דררא דממונה which is explained as a situation that requires a decision of the court even thought he parties involved have not brought the question to the court. He then declares that the basic meaning is "to follow a natural trend". That is, the "dror" is something that follows its intrinsic nature and does not allow itself to be coerced into being "adulterated" in any way.

We see therefore, that the declaration of freedom is not only a responsibility of sending out the slaves into "freedom", but the responsibility of a person to make himself free to follow the nature that Hashem gave him. This is why we regard it as a requirement to serve Hashem. During the Yovel year one cannot continue to be a "slave" to the land but must follow the laws of shmita.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Can a Kohen marry the widow of a nonKohen?

In the haftorah of Parshas Emor, the navi Yechezkel speaks about the Bais Hamikdash after the coming of the mashiach. The gemarah states that the book of Yechezkel was almost rejected as part of the canon because a number of points in this section appeared to contradict the Torah. One of the points that appears to contradict the law of the Torah is pasuk 44:22 which ends:
כי אם בתולות מזרע בית ישראל והאלמנה אשר תהיה אלמנה מכהן יקחו
This is translated by many commentators (such as the Art Scroll Chumash) as
only virgins of the seed of Israel; but a widow who is only a widow, some Kohanim may take.
This  means that a regular Kohen may marry a widow even though the Kohen Gadol (high priest) may not.

However, when looking at the Hebrew, it appears as if the translation should read:
Only a virgin from the seed of Israel and a widow of a Kohen may they take.
This changes the meaning of the sentence completely and appears to  contradict the Torah law that a regular Kohen may marry a widow. However, I have found a possibility that allows this statement to stand as translated in the second way. A widow can either have children or not have children. If she has not had children, then she is subject to yibum (marrying her brother-in-law) or Chalitza (equivalent to divorce). For a Kohen to marry the widow of a nonKohen, she must have undergone Chalitza. By rabbinic law a woman who has gone through Chalitza is treated as if she were a divorcee and is forbidden to marry a Kohen. Thus the widow of a nonKohen must have children if she is to be allowed to marry a Kohen. However, these children are not Kohanim and are forbidden to eat terumah even though their mother (who is now the wife of a Kohen) would be allowed to eat terumah. Similarly, any children the mother would have are now Kohanim and could eat terumah.

Is this a problem? Perhaps it can be considered like a child who has an allergy and cannot eat the same food as the other children in the family. However, this really is not the same as a child can understand the necessity to stay away from some food in order to not get sick. Terumah on the other hand is a spirituel matter and the child could wind up eating it, even accidentally. The mother could wind up putting it in front of all the children who would then eat it.

We actually see this situation in parshas Emor (Vayikra 22:13)
ובת כהן כי תהיה אלמנה וגרושה וזרע אין לה ושבה אל בית אביה נכנעוריה מלחם אביה תאכל וכל זר לא יאכל בו
And a Kohen's daughter who is widowed or divorced and has no children may return to her father's house as in her youth, she may eat from her father's food, but no "stranger" (nonKohen) may eat from it.
 The commentaries point out that one of the reasons for this is that she could wind up feeding her children terumah. This is forbidden since they are not Kohanim. Rashi also points out, that as long as she has children who are not Kohanim, she is considered part of a family of nonKohanim. This would be the source of the rabbinic enactment describe by Yechezkel forbidding the widow of a nonKohem who has children from marrying a Kohen. This is like the enactment forbidding a Kohen from marrying a woman who has undergone Chalitzah just like he is forbidden to marry a divorcee.

This allows the sentence in Yechezkel to be read in a straight forward manner and to mean that a Kohen may only marry the widow of another Kohen.