Sunday, November 18, 2012

When did Yitzchak live in Geror

The Torah does not explicitly state when exactly the famine erupted and caused Yitzchok and Rivkah to move to G'ror. The Torah does put the story after the incident of Eisav selling his birthright, which occured when Avraham died (at 175) when the twins were 15 years old.

Logically it could not have occurred while they were growing up, because it would have been too hard to hide the children and keep their identity (as children of Yizchak and Rivkah) secret. Thus, it could only have occurred during the twenty years before they were born or after Avraham had died.

This depends on and argument as to whether or not the Torah tells things in chronological order or not. If the Torah does not necessarilyput things in chronological order (Ain mukdam u'meuchar baTorah) as Rashi says, then we cannot know when the incident occured. We can make a logical argument that Avraham was still alive during those twenty years and a famine that chased Yitzchak away and forced him to resettle would have affected Avraham as well. If he had been around, his reputation would probably have affected thecourse of events. THe memory of what occurred when he was in Gror would have protected Yitzchak.

On the other hand, if the Torah does list events in chronological order (Yaish mukdam u'meuchar batorah), then the events had to have occurred after the sale of the birthright. The question does arise, where were Yaakov and Eisav? This seems to imply that they were older and had already been on their own.

It would seem that Eisav had not yet married as the news of his marriage would have spread and made the ruse impossible. We know that Eisav married at the age of 40, in order to emulate his father. Professor Nechama Leibowitz brings up the point that Eisav actually led a band of fighters and used them to defend the family. She states that this can explain why the shepherds of G'ror used "lawfare" to harass Yitzchak rather than attacking him and attempting to take the wells away.

The Torah says that they caused problems and disputed the ownership of the wells. Professor Leibowitz says that this is because they did not dare to attack directly.

This seems to limit the priod of time in which the famine occured and Yitzchak was able to claim that Rivkah was his sister. After that he settled in B'er Shevah for the rest of his life.

Evidence that Avrohom had a daughter

When the Torah tells us that Avrohom was "blessed in everything" (Bakol), there is a dispute as to what that means exactly.

1. Avrohom and Sarah had a daughter as well as Yitzchak
2. Yitzchak was Sarah's only child and Avrohom did not have a daughter.
3. Avrohom had a "magic healing gem" with healing properties
3a. He was blessed with all manner of riches.

Option 1 is because a person is considered to have fulfilled "be fruitful an multiply" only when he has both a son and a daughter. The small kaf in Chayei Sarah in the word "U'Livkosah" (and to weep for her) shows  and indication of "UL'vitah" (and for her daughter. That is it implies that their daughter died at the same time as Sarah. This explanation states that Avraham could not find anyone for her to marry as the entire world was made of of idol worshippers. Unlike Yitzchak, she would have had to go to her husband's family and would have beeen lost.

The second explanation states that for the reason given above, it was actually a blessing for Avraham not to have a daughter.

When Yitzchak went to Geror, he told everyon that Rivkah was his sister. Avraham by this time was well known and therefore, it would have been well known who his family was and whether or not he had a daughter. For the claim to be believed, the fact of a daughter had to be known.

Monday, November 05, 2012

An honest judge doomed S'dom

Rabbi Sorotzkin asks why does the Torah emphasize that Lot was "at the gate of the city". Rashi says that this means that he had been appointed a judge. Rabbi Sorotzkin states that Lot was an "honest" judge and could not be bribed. He enforced the law impartially without fear or favor. Until then, the judges could be bribed and would let people off. That meant that people who had committed the "crime" of having guests would be allowed to go free. This postponed the doom of S'dom. Once Lot became the judge and could not be bribed, there was no longer a source of merit in the city and it's fate was sealed.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Hashem gives us a chance to get it right

Adam had three sons one of whom died.

The line of Kayin ended with Lemech who had three sons, one of whom created weapons that were used for death.

The line of Sheth ened with Noach (son of Lemech) who had three sons. The curse of Kena'an can be attributed to his father Cham and can be considered "like" death.

The line of Shem ended with Terach who had three sons, one of whom died.

It can be considered that he finally "got it right" and produced progeny that were able to resist the idol worship that had taken ove the world. Of his two surviving sons, Nachor had twelve sons, eight by his wife and four by his concubines. Avraham had Yishmael and Yitzchak.

Yishmael's line is given at the end of Parshas Chayei Sarah and shows twelve sons. Nothing further needs to said about them.

Yitzchak had Yaakov, who had the twelve shevatim, 8 by his wives and four by the "servants" of his wives. While he considered them wives as well, they seem to have considered themselves more like concubines.

It should be pointed out that "concubine" was a legal status and is not the way we would consider it nowadays.

This brings to mind the medrash that Hashem offered the Torah to all the nations in the world before giving it to us at Har Sinai. It appears from the history of the worls, that every lineage had the chance to reach the level of Avraham, but failed. Once someone finally "got it right", the Torah follows that group to see if they can manage to continue on the right path.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Noach was the past, Avrahom the future

This is an extension of my post Difference between תולדות אדם and תולדות שם. When looking at תולדות אדם we see that it starts with אדם and ends with Noach and the birth of his three sons. On the other hand, the build up to אברהם starts at Shem and ends with Terach and the birth of אברם נחור והרן as well as the birth of their children. Similarly, when נח dies, he is spoken of in the exact way that the rest of the people listed in תולדות האדם. Avraham on the other hand, begins the complete beginning of the narrative and is never linked to the previous generations. In fact, the first we hear of him is to be told how he had to leave and separate himself from all that went before. The Torah shows this by the names of the Parshios as well as the name of the people involved. נח  means rest, staying the same and is the end of the progression that takes the world past the mabul. לך לך means movement, separation and going to the future. Similarly, אברהם is given the nam אב המון גוים which means that he is the beginning of the future and the start of the next phase of history rather than the end of the previous stage.

When did Avraham perform Bris Milah?

Rabbi Monk in קול התורה says that the use of the term בעצם היום הזה actually means that it took place on Yom Kippur. This connects the blood of the bris with the korbonos of Yom Kippur and allows for some interesting drashos. However, this means that the Malachim had to have come on the 12th of Tishrei (the third day). We have learned that Sarah conceived on Rosh Hashannah following the bris and Yitzchak was born on Pesach after a seven month pregnancy (this includes an Adar Sheni that year).

This means that it took about a year and a half from the bris until Yitzchak was born. This means that Avraham turned 100 after the following Pesach and before the following Yom Kippur, since he was 99 at the time of the Bris. This means that the interpretation of כעת חיה as "this time next year", means that they said that when the sun reaches a particular point in its orbit "next year" (after the following Rosh Hashanah, Yitzchak will be born. Alternatively, it could mean "in the normal course of events" without being a specific time.

On the other hand, those who say that the malachim came on Pesach (like Rashi) follow the interpretation of Rav Shamson Rafael Hirsch, that בעצם היום הזה means in broad daylight and as soon as he was commanded. In this interpretation, Avraham could have just turned 99 or could have been 99 for a while. There is no way that we can logically determine what month he was born in from this part of the Torah. In this case, Yitzchak was born precisely a year later.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Why Hashem did not leave Mishpatim up to us

Rabbi Sacks posted an interesting article on Noach – True Morality which actually helps explain why Hashem had the Torah command us in the area of Mishpatim as well as Chukim. Mishpatim are usually translated as "rational" laws. That is, the laws that people should be able to determine for themselves that they are needed, such as theft and murder.

Rabbi Sacks points that that modern Games Theory and some neo-Darwinist analyses are finally explaining the rational basis for morality. The article points out that there is actually a rational basis for unselfishness and that a community is more likely to survive than a group of ruthless and completely selfish individuals. It took until now for people to come up with the logical and rational explanation. That is why Hashem had to give us the "logical laws" as commandments in the Torah. If he had not, we were likely to not come up with them on our own (the generation of the Flood is an example of such a society).

As Rabbi Sacks wrote:
In one of the first great works of Jewish philosophy – Sefer Emunot ve-Deot (The Book of Beliefs and Opinions) – R. Saadia Gaon (882-942) explained that the truths of the Torah could be established by reason. Why then was revelation necessary? Because it takes humanity time to arrive at truth, and there are many slips and pitfalls along the way. It took more than a thousand years after R. Saadia Gaon for humanity to demonstrate the fundamental moral truths that lie at the basis of G-d’s covenant with humankind: that co-operation is as necessary as competition, that co-operation depends on trust, that trust requires justice, and that justice itself is incomplete without forgiveness. Morality is not simply what we choose it to be. It is part of the basic fabric of the universe, revealed to us by the universe’s Creator, long ago.

Monday, September 24, 2012

How Moshe Rabbeinu maintained his strength

Moshe Rabbeinu states that he has reached 120 years without any diminution of his strength and capabilities. However, on the last day of his life he suddenly states that he cannot continue to "go out and come in". Rav Shamshon Rafael Hirsch states that this shows that it was his position as leader that caused him to lose his strength so suddenly. While he was the leader, Hashem helped him maintain the strength to continue his duties. As soon as Yehoshua became the leader, the extra strength was transferred to him and Moshe was left only with the natural strength of his physical age.

We see this in the strength that many of the gedolei hador exhibit as they continue to serve Bnei Yisroel. The strength that they exhibit is given to them to serve Bnei Yisroel and is a measure of the hashgacha that Hashem shows to His people.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Dip the Apple in the Honey

Dip the Apple in the Honey

Shana Tova U'Mesuka
שנה טובה ומתוקה

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

How Lavan led to Mitzrayim

Rabbi Sorotzkin in אזנים לתורה points out that the ביכורים declaration begins in an interesting way.

ה. וְעָנִיתָ וְאָמַרְתָּ לִפְנֵי יְ־הֹוָ־ה אֱלֹהֶיךָ אֲרַמִּי אֹבֵד אָבִי וַיֵּרֶד מִצְרַיְמָה וַיָּגָר שָׁם בִּמְתֵי מְעָט וַיְהִי שָׁם לְגוֹי גָּדוֹל עָצוּם וָרָב
5. And you shall call out and say before the Lord, your God, "An Aramean [sought to] destroy my forefather, and he went down to Egypt and sojourned there with a small number of people, and there, he became a great, mighty, and numerous nation.
This commentators stat that the Aramean was Lavan and that he sought to destroy Yaakov and his family by integrating them into the idol worshiping society of his day. That is why Yaakov had to flee with his entire family. Lavan laid claim to the entire family and was only stopped by an explicit command of G0d.

When the famine occurred in כנען, Yaakov could have gone to his family, just as he had when fleeing Esav. However, he knew that the influence of Lavan and his sons would have completed the destruction of his family. That is why he had insisted on an oath that neither side would cross the boundary line that they had set up when he was returning to כנען.

THus, the sentence in effect reads that because the Aramean (Lavan) tried to destroy "our father" (Yaakov), he went down to Mitzrayim. It was there that he was able to establish the family and begin turning it into a "great nation".

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Daughters of Tzelaphchad as wise as King Solomon

An intersting point in Parshas Mas'ei is that the daughters of Tzelaphchad made sure that even after they had won their case, they would make sure that the "other party" would not fell cheated. The elders of the tribe pointed out that if they would marry into a different tribe, their children (the future inheritors of the land) would belong to that tribe. Thus, the land would be lost to the tribe of Menashe. Hashem stated that the claim was correct and that in future cases, the daughters must marry within the tribe (though anyone they wished within the tribe). However, since the ruling had already been given regarding the daughters of Tzelaphchad, they could marry whomever they wished.

In response to this ruling, not only did the daughters of Tzelaphchad marry within the tribe, they married their cousins (the children of their father's brothers). This meant that their children would be the grandchildren of their uncles and would therefore inherit the land just as they could have done had the land gone to their uncles.

This reminds me of a story about the ruling King Solomon gave in regard to a bitter land dispute. Two people were fighting over a piece of land. Rather than giving it to one or the other (or splitting it which would have made it useless), the king suggested that the son of one of the people marry the daughter of the other. The two fathers would jointly give the disputed land to the young couple as their marriage portion. Neither person would object to his child getting the land and they would both be pleased to see their grandchildren growing up there. Of course, there are people nowadays who would rather see the land destroyed than even go to their children, but these were decent people and once they were able to step away from the dispute, were able to act correctly.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Can a father inherit from a son?

The answer of course is yes if the son dies without children while the father is alive. However, the rules of inheritance that we see in Parshas Pinchas do not mention this case. In fact, we learn the laws of inheritance as a result of the daughters' of Tzelaphchad coming and bringing a court case in Chapter 27. The question is asked because of the law in 27:9.

ואם אין לו בת ונתתם את נחלתו לאחיו 
And if he has no daughters, you shall give it to his brothers
ואם אין לו אחים ונתתם את נחלתו לאחי אביו
And if he has no brothers you shall give his inheritance to his father's brothers.
  The question is that the father has the right of inheritance before the paternal uncles. The Ramban suggests that the Torah does not want to explicitly state that such a tragedy has taken place. A parent should never have to bury his child. The Torah often goes out of its way to teach a law in using expressions of blessing rather than bad fortune even when referring to a law that comes about because of something sad (as in this case referring to a death).

While there is a hint in the Torah in 27:8, where the term used is pass over, the law actually cannot be stated explicitly. The case being considered is regarding the inheritance of the portion of land being assigned to the family. If the father were still alive, then the son would never have gotten such a portion of land. Any land that he had bought would be subject to returning to it's original owner at Yovel. It would not be part of the נחלה, inheritance, though the heirs would inherit the lease. Thus, the case could not explicitly speak of a father inheriting from a son.

Balak & Nasser, Midian & U.A.R.

רשי states that Balak was a prince of Midian and that he was appointed the king of Moab only after they became frightened of the בני ישראל. Rabbi Sorotzkin, in אזנים לתורה (Insights to Torah), states that he approached the elders of Moab and first scared them with the report that the destruction of the nations around Moab would actually lead to the downfall of Moab itself. The Moabites could have realized that they were "protected" in the same way that Ammon and Edom had been "protected". That is G0d commanded the בני ישראל not to go to war with those nations because of the fact that they were descended from Lot and Esav. However, Balak compared the situation to כלחך השור (Like an ox "licking up the grass") in the entire surroundings. This would mean that the Moabites would lose all their trading partners which would cause the economy to crash. The Moabites accepted this argument and used it when they approached the Midianites. This meant that they were saying that the Midianites would be destroyed just as the Amorites had been.

Rabbi Sorotzkin states that Balak came up with a plan to avoid this fate. As part of his becoming king of Moab, he arranged that Moab and Midian would create a political union similar to the U.A.R. (United Arab Republic) that Nasser set up with Syria from 1958 - 1961. The argument was that the conquest of the Amorites showed that G0d acknowledged the current political boundaries so that when Sichon conquered part of Moab, the בני ישראל were then allowed to conquer the territory that he had taken from Moab. Similarly, Midian would now be part of Moab and therefore immune from direct attack. The elders of Midian went with the elders of Moab to Bil'am in order to set this up officially. That is why (according to Rabbi Sorotzkin) the elders of Midian do not appear explicitly after the initial meeting. This was the equivalent of the acceptance by the United Nations of the U.A.R. in 1958.

Once Bil'am failed to curse the Jews, the Moabites realized (from the "prophecy" of the end of days) that they really did not have anything to worry about and the political union fell apart. That is why (according to Rabbi Sorotzkin) the Abarbanel states that the "Moabite women" that caused all the trouble were actually Midianite women in disguise. It is also the reason that when the plan appeared to be succeeding, the "Midianite woman" appears in 25:6. As a noble woman she would not lower herself to be in disguise nor could she hide her origin and status. Rabbi Sorotzkin states that even though they went along with the political sham, the Midianites hated the Moabites and wanted the blame for the immorality to fall on them. Indeed, they probably thought that if the ploy did not work, the בני ישראל would blame the Moabites and either attack them or obey G0d's original decree and leave them alone. If they attacked, they would either be punished for disobeying G0d's command or would destroy the Moabites (or both). This would place the Midianites into a win-win situation. One or both of their enemies would now be destroyed.  The Midianites also still attempted to use the "argument" that they were now Moabites, but G0d could not be fooled which is why He commanded the בני ישראל to go to war with the Midianites, while not mentioning the Moabites at all.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Miriam's Miracles

The מדרש says that the three main miracles that kept בני ישראל alive in the desert wer because of the זכות of the three children of Amram. The מן was given because of משה רבינו, the ענני הכבוד (clouds of glory) were erected because of אהרון הכהן, and the באר מים (well of water) in honor of מרים הנביאה.  Each of these miracles actually shows the character traits that symbolize the person in whose honor it was manifested.

The מן was an obvious miracle that even while "hiding" (within the dew cover) showed its greatness while being "modest". It was a miracle that taught the Jewish people a lesson at the same time as sustaining them. It required an acceptance of the protection of Hashem and required faith that it would appear each day while nothing was to be left over for the next day. The בני ישראל had to go out each morning and collect the מן and the ease or difficulty of the collection showed how well each person had learned his lessons. It was also used to show where a person belonged and helped judge disputes. This was the characteristic of משה רבינו in that his greatness was recognized within his modesty and he was the supreme judge and teacher of the people.

The ענני הכבוד were characteristic of אהרון הכהן in that they were an obvious miracle that was erected at teh beginning of the trip and faithfully carried out its duties consistently and without fail. Given the way the מדרש describes the miracles that the clouds performed, we see that they were obvious and did not require any activity from the Children of Israel. It defended them, cleaned their clothes, and smoothed the path. Everything that it did was accomplished in the same miraculous manner at the end as at the beginning. This connects with the description of אהרון in בהעלותך as having lit the candles with the same enthusiasm every day of the trip as at the inauguration of the משכן.

The באר מים actually teaches us more about מרים than the mentions of her in the תורה. During the entire book of שמות we see very little mention about her, but what we do see teaches us the lesson of the באר. In everything she does, she does the minimum necessary to accomplish the task that she sees is necessary and then stays in the background while the job is done. She says the minimum necessary to convince her father to remarry her mother and lift the decree against the rest of בני ישראל having more children. She stands by the river (hidden) to see what would happen to משה and then says the minimum necessary to obtain the "proper" wet nurse for him. She brings the musical instruments to the sea and then lead the other women in playing them so that the entire people can sing the אז ישיר.

This is the way that the miracle of the well is exhibited. There is a single miracle at the beginning, but then it continues in what appears to be a "natural" manner. How many of us think of the miracle of the water flowing from the tap when we turn on the faucet. Similarly, the בני ישראל did not think of the source of the water when they went to the stream coming from the well to get their water every day. It was as if they lived in a permanent oasis. It was only when they lost the well upon her death that they realized what she had done for them over the entire 40 years. This, the loss of the well is what triggered the "song of the well" when it was restored by משה. Now they realized what she had accomplished 40 years before. They realized that if not for her, משה would have had to start a new well at least at every camp site and possibly every day in order to provide them with water. This was the characteristic of מרים, the performance of a task in such a way as to require the minimum of obvious miracles.

We also learn fron the "song of the well" that one does not say the praise for salvation until the complete salvation has occurred. Thus, one does not say the "gomel prayer" until after one has gotten completely healed, finished crossing the desert or the ocean, or been completely released from prison. Thus, the Bnai Yisroel could not sing the song of praise until after they had reached the end of the 40 years of wandering in the desert.

Another interesting point is that it appears (from the מדרשים) that מרים was the only woman to actually die in the desert. It was only the men between the ages of 20 and 60 who were condemned because of the spies. This leads to the question as to why. She was not punished for the "sin" of hitting the rock like משה (she was already dead), she was not condemned for the golden calf or the spies (she was not involved with either of them). There is a דבר תורה that I saw that states that the three of them could not got into the land because the בני ישראל had to be weaned from the miracles in the desert and begin living a "natural" life in the land that they had been given. This is also why Eldad and Medad prophesied that משה would not be allowed to enter the land and יהושע would become the leader. Had the three children of Amram entered the land, the age of miracles would have continued and the Children of Israel could not have made the transition to a "normal" life.

The date of Miriam's death is given as the month in which she died, the exact date of Aharon's death (Rosh Chodesh Av) is given, anfd the date of Moshe's death is not given at all. None of them died as the result of the decree because of the spies. As a result, the TAorah shows that they did not die on Tisha B'Av, which was the date decreed for that punishment. Miriam died in a different month. Aharon died in Av, so the exact date had to be given. Moshe died after the decree had been completed so that his death date did not have to be mentioned at all.

UPDATE: Thanks to ba for pointing out that this last point was stated by the N'tziv

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Shlach - Yehoshua and Kalev

The commentators discuss the difference between Yehoshua and Kalev in the way they reacted to the meraglim and the way they are treated in the Parsha. Yehoshua was known to be Moshe Rabbeinu's disciple and would not have been believed had he attempted to pretend that he was going along with them. Had he attempted to try this policy, he would not have been allowed to back out and the damage to the community would have been immense. His obvious opposition to the meraglim could have led to his death as a result of "friendly fire". As a result, Moshe Rabbeinu had to daven for him and change his name from Hoshea to Yehoshua.
On the other hand, Kalev was able to successfully pretend to go along with the meraglim and then attempt to give the Bnei Yisrael the truth. Shakespeare illustrated this technique with his famous "I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him" speech, given by Marc Antony in Act III, scene 2 of the play Julius Caesar. In fact, he may have gotten the idea from Kalev. In order to do this, Kalev went to the Mearas HaMachpela in order to daven for the strength to resist the meraglim and to be able to do what was right. He needed this as the longer the pretense went on, the harder it would be to recognize that the moment had come to drop the pretense and speak out openly.
There is a famous study ( performed by Solomon Asch in 1958, in which a group of people where asked which of three lines was the same size as a reference line. All the participants except one were deliberately primed to give an obviously wrong answer.
To Asch's surprise, 37 of the 50 subjects conformed themselves to the 'obviously erroneous' answers given by the other group members at least once, and 14 of them conformed on more than 6 of the 'staged' trials. When faced with a unanimous wrong answer by the other group members, the mean subject conformed on 4 of the 'staged' trials.
Thus, since Yehoshua was going to be by himself, he needed the extra strength in order to maintain the correct position.
On the other hand, Kalev was able to rely on Yehoshua as an "ally". The Asch study found.
However, the subjects conformed much less if they had an "ally" In some of his experiments, Asch instructed one of the confederates to give correct answers. In the presence of this nonconformist, the real subjects conformed only one fourth as much as they did in the original experiment.
As a result, Kalev was able to strengthen himself in order to attempt to stop the destruction. He still needed to daven at the Mearas haMachpels in order to ensure that he had the strength to recognize the time to make his move. The main flaw in this tactic is that one must recognize that it is time to make the move. One could continue to delay with the rationalization that one is "working from within" or will make the attempt later when it is "more likely to succeed". This is similar to what happened before World War II. Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain thought that he would be able to use "quiet diplomacy" to prevent the coming war. Instead, he convinced the dictators that they could win.
 Kalev knew that this was the poblem that he would face and that is why he went to "kever avos". The avos not only had the strength to fight against the rest of the world, but the wisdom to choose the appropriate tactics. This is why Hashem calls Kalev "avdi", my servant, one of the few people in the Torah to actually earn that title.On the one hand, one needs to "follow orders" and do everything that Hashem wants us to do, just as we learn about Aharon lighting the Menorah. On the other hand, one must be intelligent enough to recognize the appropriate tactics required to accomplish the strategy encompassed by "doing the will of Hashem".
This is the lesson of Yehoshua and Kalev. They used different tactics to accomplish the same strategy.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Beha'aloscha - Getting "swept up" can be counterproductive

The tribe of Dan was the leader of the last group in the travel across the dessert (10:25).

ונסע דגל מחנה בני דן מאסף לכל המחנת לצבאתם

Then journeyed the banner of the camp of the children of Dan, the collector of all the camps according to their ranks.
The commentaters explain that they "swept up" the lost items that had been left behind as well as all the stragglers who fell behind in the march. If anyone lost an item, they went to the banner of Dan and were able to retrieve it. Rabbi Silber in his drasha this Shabbos explained that there are two reasons that the tribe of Dan was chosen for this position. One was that as the most populous tribe, they were able to spread out along the line of march and ensure that no-one was left behind and that nothing was lost.

The alternate explanation is that the tribe was spiritually weak and actually smuggled idols out of Egypt. This is also shown during the incident of פסל מיכה in Judges. The tribe of Dan in their journey to the north swept up an idol and used it to worship Hashem. Similarly, Yerav'am set up one of the idols in the territory of Dan to ensure that the 10 tribes would not reunite with the tribe of Judah. The other tribes would not have allowed these idols within their territories. In order to ensure that they were able to merit the rewards of following the Torah, Hashem gave them the significant mitzvah of השבת עבידה.

The significant point is that the word used has the connotation of gathering or "sweeping up"

Shortly afterwards (11:4) we have the complaints about the manna and the crying for meat.

והאספסף אשר בקרבו התאוו תאוה

And the rabble that was among them cultivated a craving.
Here again we see the root אספ so that we have the connotation of "those who had been swept up". That is it was those who left Egypt not because they wanted to follow Hashem or get the Torah, but because they had been swept up in the enthusiasm of moment. Notice that they were not overcome by a desire or or actually lacked nourishment, but they deliberately cultivated a desire. If they had been given lamb, they would have complained that they did not have beef. In any event, they had brought out vast flocks of sheep and cattle from Egypt. The nostalgia for fish (which only the poorest of the poor would be given) shows this. They deliberately chose to "remember" something that a dessert environment would not have.

The commentators state that this problem first arose with the ערב רב ("mixed multitude"), those slaves who came along with the Jews because they saw that Hashem was stronger and they wanted to get out. However, they did not want to serve Hashem nor did they want to follow the standard of morality required by עם קדוש (holy nation). Similarly, they knew that when the people came into the land, they would have to earn their own living and could not continue to be supported by the masters. Even in the dessert, the "free food" was restricted in that it had to be gathered by the individual and was not handed to them. The medrash say that the ease of gathering was directly proportional to the level of spirituality. These people were on the lowest level even though they were not as low as the 80% who Rashi says died in Egypt.

We learn from this that those who work and strive to act properly are rewarded by being able to improve themselves. On the other hand, those who merely allow themselves to be "swept up" by the enthusiasm of the moment (no matter how good the cause) are just as liable to be swept up in the mob enthusiasm for an improper cause. We can see this in modern day politics as well.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Beshalach: Why Israel sinned in the desert - childishness and immaturity.

The commentators have been pointing out that בני ישראל are compared to children when they went into the desert after the Exodus. Many, Jews and nonJews, religious and nonreligious, have used this analogy to explain what happened. In fact, that is why the term used is always translated as "Children of Israel".

As Yirmiyahu says in Chapter 2 pasuk 2

ב  הָלֹךְ וְקָרָאתָ בְאָזְנֵי יְרוּשָׁלִַם לֵאמֹר, כֹּה אָמַר יְהוָה, זָכַרְתִּי לָךְ חֶסֶד נְעוּרַיִךְ, אַהֲבַת כְּלוּלֹתָיִךְ--לֶכְתֵּךְ אַחֲרַי בַּמִּדְבָּר, בְּאֶרֶץ לֹא זְרוּעָה

2 Go, and cry in the ears of Jerusalem, saying: Thus saith the LORD: I remember for thee the affection of thy youth, the love of thine espousals; how thou wentest after Me in the wilderness, in a land that was not sown.
For example, Dennis Prager, a modern radio talk show host used this analogy in 1996 to explain why the Exodus is unique. Only then did Hashem actively and obviously intervene on a national level with open miracles in this way. Even the open miracles of the desert and the miracles in the time of Yehoshua can be connected to this. All other miracles were either hidden or individual. Even the miracle of the altar of Elijah was relatively restricted and for a specific circumstance. Actually, the fact that the sacrifice was burnt by "the fire of Hashem" was considered a normal response by a "god" rather than a miracle. Similarly, the sins of the Bnei Yisroel in the desert from the beginning to through the  חטא העל (Golden Calf) can be attributed to the fact that as newly freed slaves they were indeed immature "children". Indeed, the חטא המרגלים (sin of the Spies) can be considered in the same way as an expression of childishness. The punishment for that can therefore be considered a necessity of our having to mature before we could progress to the next stage.

Even at the beginning of the Exodus, the actions of the not yet freed slaves show their immaturity. When Moshe first came, even though Hashem had warned him that Pharaoh would not listen, the response to his initial request stunned him. During the initial confrontation, the Hebrew Elders could not bring themselves to actually let themselves be seen by Pharaoh. Even then Moshe did not expect that things would get worse and the reaction of the Hebrew foremen shows this attitude. Dennis Prager pointed out that those purged by Stalin actually begged for the chance to explain to him the mistake that his underlings were making, when it was Stalin himself who had ordered them purged. Similarly, the foremen begged Pharaoh to rein in his servants.

Shmos Chapter 5:

טו  וַיָּבֹאוּ, שֹׁטְרֵי בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, וַיִּצְעֲקוּ אֶל-פַּרְעֹה, לֵאמֹר:  לָמָּה תַעֲשֶׂה כֹה, לַעֲבָדֶיךָ.
טז  תֶּבֶן, אֵין נִתָּן לַעֲבָדֶיךָ, וּלְבֵנִים אֹמְרִים לָנוּ, עֲשׂוּ; וְהִנֵּה עֲבָדֶיךָ מֻכִּים, וְחָטָאת עַמֶּךָ.

15 Then the officers of the children of Israel came and cried unto Pharaoh, saying: 'Wherefore dealest thou thus with thy servants?
16 There is no straw given unto thy servants, and they say to us: Make brick; and, behold, thy servants are beaten, but the fault is in thine own people.'

The Medrash says that the lesson that the Hebrews learned from the plague of blood was to open up kiosks to sell water.

There are those who say that one reason that they were forbidden to go outside during the Plague of the First Born is to avoid the possibility that they might wind up gloating and showing themselves as not worthy of beeing freed.

Indeed, Ann Coulter actually pointed out the difference between the Exodus and other events when she contrasted the American and the French Revolutions. The American Revolution was a revolt by adults who carefully set up a system that was oriented to justice. The French Revolution (like the Bolshevik Russian Revolution) was one of mob action that swiftly devolved into terror to put the "new elite" firmly in the saddle. The Torah set up the model for bringing בני ישראל to maturity.

The first crisis after the left occurred at the sea. At the beginning of Beshalach, We see them leaving just like a mob of students who are pretending that they defeated Pharaoh and are ready for anything. But even here, we see that this is a facade and they are ready to break down. In fact, we see from the famous Rashi that וַחֲמֻשִׁים implies 20%, that even after all the plagues and the overt miracles that only a tiny minority were ready to go free. Of course, some commentators say that the 80% includes all those who died during the 210 years in Egypt and did not survive to go out, but the implication is still there.

The psukim in Beshalach chapter 15 say:

17 And it came to pass, when Pharaoh had let the people go, that God led them not by the way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near; for God said: 'Lest peradventure the people repent when they see war, and they return to Egypt.'
18 But God led the people about, by the way of the wilderness by the Red Sea; and the children of Israel went up armed out of the land of Egypt.

יז  וַיְהִי, בְּשַׁלַּח פַּרְעֹה אֶת-הָעָם, וְלֹא-נָחָם אֱלֹהִים דֶּרֶךְ אֶרֶץ פְּלִשְׁתִּים, כִּי קָרוֹב הוּא:  כִּי אָמַר אֱלֹהִים, פֶּן-יִנָּחֵם הָעָם בִּרְאֹתָם מִלְחָמָה--וְשָׁבוּ מִצְרָיְמָה.
יח  וַיַּסֵּב אֱלֹהִים אֶת-הָעָם דֶּרֶךְ הַמִּדְבָּר, יַם-סוּף; וַחֲמֻשִׁים עָלוּ בְנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל, מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם.

Even here, we see from the Hebrew that it is not, as in the English, that "Pharaoh let them go" but that "Pharaoh sent them". That is he forced them to leave, and unlike most times in using that term, it does not say where he sent them to. He just wanted them out of the country. This brings to mind the famous scene in the Cecil B. DeMille move "The Ten Commandments" when Edgar G. Robinson is forced to join the Exodus even though he wants to stay in Egypt. Similarly, in spite of their marching so proudly with their weapons, Hashem is careful not to actually see what war is really like. They avoid any area where someone with a real army might be.

As soon as they actually face a problem at the Reed Sea, they again show their immaturity by immediately breaking into factions that do not understand what to do. They knew that Hashem had caused them to turn back at Pi Hachiros in order to lure Egypt to its destruction. However, when they actually saw the Egyptian chariots they panicked. Perhaps it is because only the G0d fearing Egyptians (who kept them out of the fields as instructed by Moshe before the cattle plague, דבר) had horse. The Hebrews did not believe that they would actually give their horses to the army for the pursuit. Just as children would they split into factions. Some wanted to surrender immediately, lik Shalom Achshav today. Some wanted to run panic stricken into the desert, like some of the other leftists. Some began crying to G0d. Some wanted to try to fight, like many secular Israelis today, even though they had no chance. They actually believed their own propaganda. Moshe had to quiet them and Hashem had to tell Moshe that it was already taken care of.

After they are saved at the sea, Moshe has to force them to leave. As I explain in Why were Bnei Yisroel reluctant to leave Yam Suf they were still not ready to accept responsibility for their actions and could not bring themselves to leave the site of "their triumph". The next occurs just three days later. As Rabbi Sorotzkin explains in דאזנים לתורה (Insights in the Torah) in Beshalach chapter 15 verse 22:

After journeying for three days, they still had their own water with them. Yet they were so confounded that new water had not been miraculously provided, that they began to doubt whether G0d was still with them on the journey.

There are meforshim who say that the water was sweet before they arrived but, as a test, was turned into a bitter spring when they complained. Others say that it was always supposed to be bitter because it was not supposed to be their source of water. The actual source of water was supposed to at the following stop. As it says in Beshalach chapter 15.

27 And they came to Elim, where were twelve springs of water, and three score and ten palm-trees; and they encamped there by the waters.
 כז  וַיָּבֹאוּ אֵילִמָה--וְשָׁם שְׁתֵּים עֶשְׂרֵה עֵינֹת מַיִם, וְשִׁבְעִים תְּמָרִים; וַיַּחֲנוּ-שָׁם, עַל-הַמָּיִם.

The preceding sentence is another situation in which an immature understanding can be dangerous.

26 and He said: 'If thou wilt diligently hearken to the voice of the LORD thy God, and wilt do that which is right in His eyes, and wilt give ear to His commandments, and keep all His statutes, I will put none of the diseases upon thee, which I have put upon the Egyptians; for I am the LORD that healeth thee.' 
 כו  וַיֹּאמֶר אִם-שָׁמוֹעַ תִּשְׁמַע לְקוֹל יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ, וְהַיָּשָׁר בְּעֵינָיו תַּעֲשֶׂה, וְהַאֲזַנְתָּ לְמִצְו‍ֹתָיו, וְשָׁמַרְתָּ כָּל-חֻקָּיו--כָּל-הַמַּחֲלָה אֲשֶׁר-שַׂמְתִּי בְמִצְרַיִם, לֹא-אָשִׂים עָלֶיךָ, כִּי אֲנִי יְהוָה, רֹפְאֶךָ.

 Rabbi Sorotzkin explains that this was required here because the Hebrews were afraid that there would be lingering problems from the water at Marah. Perhaps the water was bitter because of poison and the effects would linger even though the taste had become sweet. Additionally, he explains that Hashem promised that He would not bring any illnesses upon them through miraculous means as He did the Egyptians during the plagues. The end is because he is promising them that he would take care of them in the desert and protect them from common non-miraculous diseases during there trip. This does not mean that someone who (G0d forbid) gets a heart attack or a disease has somehow sinned. This is a mistake made by some religions that refuse to go to a doctor because "G0d will heal us". It is G0d that allows the doctor to be successful (or not) in healing a person.

This is my we must not make the mistake of assuming that we will never get sick or that someone who gets sick has somehow "sinned".

The story is told (in multiple versions) about a man who is in a flood and refuses to be evacuated. "G0d will save me", he says. The National Guard truck comes by and he refuses to go. "G0d will save me". the water rises and he is forced up to the second floor. A rescue boat comes by and he again refuses to go. "G0d will save me". The water continues to rise and he is forced to the roof. A helicopter flies over and a rescue line is dropped. He refuses again. "G0d will save me". Finally he drowns.

When he gets before G0d, he complains, "Why didn't You save me".

G0d responds, "I sent the National Guard truck, the rescue boat, and I even caused a helicopter to deviate from its scheduled flight plan to save you. You did not want to be saved."

After Elim, the Hebrews go into the wilderness and complain about the lack of food. They nostalgically remember the pots of meat that they sat near (not that they got to eat any) while serving their masters, while they ate "bread". Hashem tells them that they will receive the Manna and the Quail. They are commanded not to leave any of the Manna over to the next day as Hashem plans to give them enough for each day at the beginning of that day. Just as poor people and slaves would do today, may of them cannot stop themselves from hoarding. They are like children who will put some of their candy or cookies under their pillow because they cannot bring themselves to trust that they will have more the next day. They gather and try to hoard as much as they can so that it requires a miracle to ensure that every one gets the proper ration. I am sure that you can imagine the way this would be seen in the movie with some of them running around and gathering as much as they can, while others move slowly and with dignity to pick up what is available.

Even though the miracle of precisely one omer each should be enough to tell them not to hoard, there are still those who try. The fact that first it rotted and then developed maggots drives home the lesson.

Even though they have been told that there will be a double portion on the sixth day, they still panic when they find a double portion on Erev Shabbat. They must be told again that this is because they are not going to receive a ration on Shabbat. While some may have gone out to show their children, look you see the miracle that Hashem has not sent any Manna today, others specifically went out to collect. The fact that the Manna did not appear on Shabbat underscores the realization that it is a miracle and not some unusual "natural phenomenon". This is even though a natural occurrence could not have fed the entire people and given everyone precisely the correct ration. This again shows the childish nature of the Hebrews and the need to raise them out of their slave mentality. The Medrash says that this is Dasan and Aviram who have been giving Moshe nothing but trouble from the day that he stopped them from fighting with each other in Egypt (probably about 60 years before) and that they were the same ones who tried to hoard the Manna earlier. Rabbi Sorotzkin points out that they took their baskets to try to collect Manna without even bothering to look if there was any Manna there to be collected.

Dennis Prager imagines the scene when they come back with empty baskets and begin complaining, as if it is Moshe's fault.

Hashem commands Moshe to take an Omer jar and fill it with Manna in order to keep it in the mishkan (and later the Bais HaMikdash) as a testimony as to what happened in the desert. This is in and of itself a miracle because, unlike every other particle of Man, it does not melt or turn rotten. Instead it stays as fresh as the day if fell onto the dew. This teaches us that we must always remember what happened while we were children and how our parents took care of us even though we are now adult and are not fed by our parents.

They finally come to Rephidim and are "smitten with thirst". Rabbi Sorotzkin says that this teaches us that now that they had a constant supply of food in the Manna, they wanted a constant supply of water. They realized that they could not bring themselves to wait until they got to an oasis. They wanted it now. They forgot the lesson of Elim, where the water whose lack they complained about was waiting at the next stop. Moshe became afraid that they would stone him and Hashem tells him to "take the rod" and pass before the people. The rod is a symbol of the power that Hashem gave to Moshe as his messenger. Not only are the people afraid to attack Moshe (who is carrying the rod that brought the plagues) but they realize that he is about to do something.

Hashem tells Moshe to go to the next stop, at Chorev, in order to take care of the matter. This emphasizes the lesson that they were going to get the water there in any event. The Bnei Yisroel are not correct in complaining and their complaint is being shown to be without merit. Moshe goes to Chorev where Hashem is waiting to show him which rock to hit. Moshe Rabbeinu does so and the permanent supply of water is created.

The Medrash describes how the Bnei Yisroel panic and run helter skelter from Rephidim to Chorev. As a result, the protective cloud is now in Chorev and the people are strung out along the entire route from Rephidim to Chorev. That is why the next sentence in Beshalach 17 is

8 Then came Amalek, and fought with Israel in Rephidim.
 ח  וַיָּבֹא, עֲמָלֵק; וַיִּלָּחֶם עִם-יִשְׂרָאֵל, בִּרְפִידִם.

They took advantage of the childish nature of Bnei Yisroel  took attack those who were left behind in the scramble for the well at Chorev. This is why the pasuk explicitly states that hey attacked at Rephidim. Had they remained together and traveled as a unit, just as they had been traveling until now, Amalek could not have attacked.

Moshe must now teach them how to deal with this attack. Indeed, it is similar to the way children are bullied in school. Just as parents must teach their children how to deal with bullies, Moshe must teach them how to fight back. In fact it is only when they see Moshe with his hands raised that they can bring themselves to fight. This mirrors the behavior of many children who take self defense lessons. Often the hardest lesson to learn is to hit the opponent and not pull back.

This could be part of the reason that we are told "wipe out the memory of Amalek" and "never forget what they did to you". One of the hardest lessons to learn as a child is how to deal with the tension between "remembering" the lesson learned and not carrying a grudge on the person who taught you the lesson by being evil. Similarly, we must learn that Amalek must be wiped out utterly so that he can not longer bring evil into the world and torment people, but we must never forget that it is the deeds that are evil and not (necessarily) the people. In fact, an Amalekite is allowed to convert just as any other nonJew is allowed to convert. We might have thought that they were to be wiped out and treated as Moav and Ammon in not being able to join our nation. However, they are not even restricted as much as the Egyptians. An honest and sincere conversion is treated as having fulfilled the command "wipe out the memory of Amalek". In fact we are told that the descendants of Haman studied Torah in Bnei Brak.

We now jump ahead to the עגל הזהב (Golden Calf). Here too we see the essential childishness of the Bnei Yisroel. They were warned that Moshe would be gone for 40 days (Daddy is going on a business trip and will bring you a fantastic present when he comes back). They miscount the number of days and immediately panic. They start pressuring Aharon and Chur who have been left in charge for a "replacement". They cannot take responsibility for themselves or leave matters up to the one who is really in charge (Hashem). They should realize that they have to stay where they are as long as the cloud has not moved. The cloud has not moved and is still protecting them, they still get the Manna every day, the water from the Well of Miriam is still flowing. Even if Moshe does not come back "on time" there is nothing to worry about or for them to do. After they kill Chur, Aharon tries to delay them so that Moshe will have time to get back.He tries all the tricks to delay them. He thinks that they would be reluctant to give up their most precious treasures. He tells them to take the treasures from their wives and children, knowing that they will object . He figures that while they are fighting over this, Moshe will have time to get back. Instead, they strip themselves of their jewelry. He tries making the calf in the most inefficient way possible. Finally, he declared the next day a "festival for Hashem". Not only would this delay them to the next day, but it gave them the opportunity to realize that an idol was not an appropriate item to bring to a festival to Hashem. After all Hashem had forbidden this explicitly in the Aseres Hadibros. None of this works.

Moshe Rabbeinu gets back just in time to see what is going on. Again they are treated like misbehaving children. He destroys the"present" that they were going to get. He smashes the idol and forces them to drink the powder in water. Actually, consider that the only water source that they had was the miraculous Well of Miriam. That means that he is emphasizing that it is Hashem that provides anything. He then rubs in that had those who objected to this actually stood up and tried to stop it, they would have been able to. After all only 3,000 out of 600,000 (half a percent) actually are killed as a result. This means that had the Children actually backed Chur, the entire affair would have been stopped before it got too far. This realization is internalized by the tribe of Levi, which leads to their appointment to serve Hashem.

Finally, we get to the last sin that seals the fate of this generation, the חטא המרגלים (sin of the Spies. Here the spies were the chosen ones of Bnei Yisroel. They could be considered the "eldest brothers" of the "family" and the most mature. The rabbis discuss what their motive was in bringing back such a report and causing the death over the next 38 years of the entire generation of the Exodus. They realized that the nation would actually have to support itself as a normal nation. They would not be able to rely on the Manna and the Well. They would no longer be "in school" spending all their time studying Torah and worshiping at the Mishkan. They would actually have to go out and earn a living. They could not take that prospect. They had to stay in the "ideal conditions" of the desert. They are like the "perpetual student" who continues to live in his parents' basement while continually taking courses to "prepare" him for the real world while never able to actually move out and join the real world. In fact, the "OWS" (Occupy Wall Street) protesters and the super leftist baby boomers epitomize this attitude today.

It is this that seals the fate of the generation. It is only a generation that has been raised in freedom that can continue and enter the land. Those who were under 20 at the time of the Exodus are young enough to internalize the lessons being taught and unlearn the habits of slavery. Those over 60 are old enough and beaten down enough to regard themselves as "retired" and to go along with whatever the new generation will set up as a society. They are willing to allow themselves to be "taken care of". It is the active generation between 20 and 60 that has the habits of slavery too deeply ingrained to be uprooted but who are too young to allow the next generation to just take over that cannot be allowed into the land. The "baby boomers" who are causing so much of the trouble in our current society are indeed this age. The problems that they are causing are like the problems that the Hebrews caused in the desert.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Vayikra - The limits of Humility

The מדרש that discusses the small aleph (א) at the end of the first word always emphasizes Moshe's humility and says that he made the small aleph to make it more like the ויקר (it happened) of Bilam. Rabbi Sorotzkin in אזנים לתורה (Insight to Torah) points at two other places in which this phrase is used. The מדרש says that Moshe was called in this way every time that G0d wanted to speak to him, but that it was not necessary to put it in explicitly each time. There are significant commentaries as to why this was done, but that was not the purpose of his commentary. In the other two places in which the word is used in this way, the final א is written full sized. This leads to the question why. Why was the א only written small here at the beginning of ויקרא?

The other two places are when Moshe sees the סְּנֶה (Burning Bush - Shmos 3:14) and at הר סיני (Mount Sianai - Yisro 19:4). In both those places the letter is full size. Rabbi Sorotzkin points out that at the Burning Bush, Moshe is being chosen for his mission. He will be appointed to the position of leader and must confront Pharoah and take the Jewish people out of slavery. It is inappropriate to think that G0d would "happen" upon a person and immediately appoint him to such a position. Indeed the initial message to Pharaoh commanded in Shmos 3:18, does indeed use the language of "happenstance", נִקְרָה עָלֵינוּ, this is solely so that Pharaoh could understand the message. The message to the Israelites uses the word "appeared", נִרְאָה, to shown that it is indeed deliberate. Thus, the calling cannot be minimized. It must be given its full worth and to do otherwise would cheapen the mission.

Similarly, the calling of Moshe to the mountain cannot be minimized either. He is about to get the Torah for the israelites. This from the beginning has been the entire purpose of the exodus. Again it must be shown in its full value and importance. Consider what is about to happen and the thunder annd lightning that will accompany the Voice of G0d as He gives the commandments.

Finally, we come to Vayikra. moshe is called to the mishkan (tent of meeting) in order to receive the instructions on how to inaugurate his brother as the High Priest and his nephews as the attending priests. He immediately rushes in to get the instructions and follows them exactly as he does honor to his brother. Here, at last, he is allowed to express his humility. Doing so will not diminish the honor of the task that he is about to do. Indeed it increases it, as he is showing that it is Aharon and his sons who must be honored in being able to take part in the sacrificial ritual and eat (when appropriate) from the meat. Moshe regards himself as only a conduit to do honor to them. Here, finally, he is allowed to diminish himself and present himself as less than the leader of Bnei Yisroel.

This teaches us a lesson about our times as well. The talmud has a principle that there are circumstances in which a person is forbidden to forgo any of the honor that is due him. This occurs in a situation in which it would diminish the mission if he were to do so. The mission is more important than the person. Rabbi Frand
told the story as follows:
There is a famous story which illustrates this point. Rav Chatzkel Abramsky, zt"l, once needed to testify in a case in which the Beis Din of London was sued by a shochet [ritual slaughterer] who had been fired. As the head of the Beis Din, Rav Abramsky had no choice, but to testify in secular court. His attorney asked him to state his name and his position. The attorney then asked, "Is it true that you are the greatest living halachic authority on the European continent?" Rav Abramsky said, "Yes. That is true."
At that point the judge interjected and said, "Rabbi Abramsky, is that not rather haughty on your part? I thought that your laws and ethics teach you to be humble." Without any hesitation, Rav Abramsky responded, "I know we are taught to be humble. But I am under oath."
The point of this story is that Rav Chatzkel Abramsky was aware that he was the greatest living halachic authority on the European continent. Recognition of his true status was not haughtiness.

Because he was called to testify on a matter of Torah Law, he had to accept and acknowledge his position as the "greatest living halachic authority". The talmud states

"If a Nasi wants to overlook his honor, his honor may be overlooked. If a king wants to overlook his honor, his honor may not be overlooked."
As part of the discussion, it states that even though the king has declared that the honor can be overlooked, as a human being his honor can be overlooked, however, the honor of the kingdom and of the position that he holds will still be required the next second. Similarly, as long as it was required for the mission, Moshe Rabbeinu could not forgo his honor. It is only when the mission itself required that he act as an individual and subordinate himself that he could allow his humbleness to manifest.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Why were Bnei Yisroel reluctant to leave Yam Suf?

Rashi gives the most quoted reason, which is that Bnei Yisroel were so intent on collecting the wealth that washed up with the dead Egyptians that they had to be forced to leave. Rabbi Sorotzkin in Oznayim LaTorah gives two other reasons that actually tie into modern politics. The Egyptian army had been destroyed. Egypt was no longer a world power. Indeed, we do not hear of the Egyptians again for almost 500 years, when King Solomon married the daughter of the resurgent Egyptian Pharaoh. This is an illustration of the point that most people lose sight of the long term goal because of the short term results that face them.

As a result, there was a group of Israelites who wanted to settle the area of the Yam Suf (Reed Sea) where they had emerged. Since they no longer feared the Egyptians and G0d had shown his power at that spot, they fell for the then current superstition that a god had his main power at certain locations in the world. The closer to the center of power that a people remained, the better the god would be able to show his power. The ten plagues were actually a prelude to the use of power and it was here at the sea that the center of power had been manifest.

Another group of Israelites wanted to go back to Egypt and tak over the government. Moses would become the Pharaoh and the Children of Israel would become the owners and their former owners, the Egyptians, would now be their slaves. This is indeed like most of the revolutions that have occurred in the world (except for the American Revolution).The former "oppressed class" instead of embracing freedom and learning how to behave, merely take the place of their former oppressors. This is similar to the results of the French and Russian revolutions. It is also what actually happened when the empires of Europe left their African colonies.The former slaves had no model of a society other than what they had seen from their masters. Since they had been slaves, they would never have seen the actual methods of governance or had a chance to learn what was actually required to build a society.

This is why the American Revolution was actually able to succeed. The people had built a society for themselves already and were defending "the rights of Englishmen" rather than uprooting what had been imposed on them. Similarly, the Bnei Yisroel needed to be taken to Sinai and given the laws of the Torah in order to be shown the society that was going to be built.This is also one of the reasons that they needed to have an entire generation grow up under the rule of the Torah before they could enter Eretz Yisroel and attempt to live on their own.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Parshas Bo - Let them discuss the matter

Rabbi Frand points out that every time Moshe Rabbeinu warned Par'o and his court about an upcoming plague, he would immediately leave. When someone must convince someone to act, it is best to allow that person to save face and appear to have made the decision on his own. Otherwise, he is likely to refuse to "give in" to pressure, even if it is the best thing for him to do. We see that also in the reaction to the plagues in which Par'o "strengthened his heart" (which in Hebrew is the symbol for the will). He could not allow himself to be "threatened" by a group of unruly slaves and diminish his "honor".

Rabbi Frand also points out the necessity for a man to have a wife. He needs someone to look on a situation from outside but who will be considered "part of him" so that he will listen to the advice.

Monday, January 02, 2012

Vayigash: 66 + 3 = 70

כו. כָּל הַנֶּפֶשׁ הַבָּאָה לְיַעֲקֹב מִצְרַיְמָה יֹצְאֵי יְרֵכוֹ מִלְּבַד נְשֵׁי בְנֵי יַעֲקֹב כָּל נֶפֶשׁ שִׁשִּׁים וָשֵׁשׁ:
 כז. וּבְנֵי יוֹסֵף אֲשֶׁר יֻלַּד לוֹ בְמִצְרַיִם נֶפֶשׁ שְׁנָיִם כָּל הַנֶּפֶשׁ לְבֵית יַעֲקֹב הַבָּאָה מִצְרַיְמָה שִׁבְעִים:
 26. All the soul(s) coming to Egypt with Jacob, those descended from him, excluding the wives of Jacob's sons, all the soul(s) were sixty six.
 27. And Joseph's sons, who were born to him in Egypt, two soul(s); all the soul(s) of the house of Jacob who came to Egypt were seventy.
The commentators discuss how the total that came from Canaan was sixty six, while adding the three who were in Mitzraim gives a total of seventy. Some commentators say that Yaakov himself was the seventieth person. Others say that Yocheved was born "in the gates of Egypt and wound up being the seventieth person. However, I have come up with another possibility. The שבטים (Yosef's brothers) are counted but the verse explicitly states that their wives were not counted. On the other hand, Yosef's wife אסנת בת פוטי פרע (Asenas), while not mentioned by name, is not explicitly excluded.

The Torah does not say something unless it is meant to teach us something. When counting people, the wives are normally not mentioned unless there is a specific need. However אתנת, while not mentioned by name is not explicitly excluded.Thus, since they had two children, there were four people in Egypt.

The question is now why she would be counted when the other wives were not. The significance of the way Menashe and Ephraim are spoken of comes through. The term used is אשר יולד לו (that were born to him) shows that she very carefully ensured that they were raised to follow in the way of Yoseph and to be worthy of being counted among the "Children of Israel". In fact they merited to be counted as the progenitors of tribes themselves.they were raised to a life of privilege and power. Their father was the viceroy of Egypt who controlled everyone and everything around them. The Medrash states that Menashe was the one who carried out his father's orders and ensured that everything worked all right. Ephraim learned with Yaakov and maintained the tradition.

Rabbi Beryl Wein points out that throughout our history, the intermarriage rate has been determined more by the way that the goyim have treated us than by our ability to resist assimilation. We have been able to survive the persecutions of the past and fight against the forces that attempt to destroy us. However, the most difficult tests have been the necessity to learn to live in a non-Jewish society that treats us kindly or allows us to live freely. This is the test that we are face with now in the United States. We have lost more Jews to assimilation than we have to persecution. This is the lesson of Ephraim and Menashe and what we need to learn from אתנת.

The Torah tells us that the redemption will be in the reverse order of the exile.

וזכרתי את בריתי יעקב ואף את בריתי יצחק ואף את בריתי אברהם אזכור והארץ אזכור” (ויקרא כו מב).
Avraham was regarded as a "Prince of G0d". Yitzchak was able to live in Geror and become wealthy and live in peace, though he was harassed before he could settle down. Yaakov became a penniless wanderer who had to work and fight and undergo physical hardships. The redemption will be in the reverse order. First we survived the physical attempts to destroy us; the Crusades, the Spanish Expulsion, the Holocaust, and all the other massacres and attempts to destroy us. We are now attempting to learn the lesson that אתנת and יוסף taught Ephraim and Menashe, how to survive as Jews in a country in which it is easy to assimilate and in which we are accepted. Only when we learn how to pass this test can we reach the level of Avraham and be recognized as נשיא אלוקים.