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