Friday, January 19, 2007

Tosefet Bracha Shemot

Here is my attempt at translating a couple of pieces from the sefer Tosefet Bracha which is a five volume commentary on the Chumash by Rav Baruch HaLevy Epstein (author of the Torah Temima).
To see the original Hebrew edition click here

Parshat Shemot

“She saw him, that he was good” (2; 2)

In the Talmud (Megillah 14a) it states: When Moshe was born the whole house was filled with light. The basis for this drasha is the word ‘good’ which appears in Bereishit (1; 5) as a description of the creation of light. So ‘good’ is a synonym for ‘light’.

It also states in the Talmud there that before Moshe was born his sister Miriam prophesied that her mother was going to give birth to a son who would save Israel. When Moshe was born and the house was filled with light, her father stood up and kissed her on the head, and said, ‘My daughter, your prophecy has been fulfilled’. But after Moshe was abandoned by the Nile and they thought he was going to die, her mother slapped her on the face and said ‘My daughter, what has become of your prophecy!’ (according to the text of the Maharsha).

It is not clear why, when it seemed that her prophecy had come true, that it was her father who kissed her, and afterwards when it appeared that it would not be fulfilled it was her mother who slapped her. Why did her mother not also kiss her at the beginning, or her father slap her at the end?

Perhaps we can explain based on the verse in Mishlei (10; 1) “A wise son will make his father happy, but a foolish son brings depression to his mother”. Therefore, when they thought the prophecy had been fulfilled Miriam was in the category of ‘wise’, and this made his father happy. Therefore he expressed his joy by kissing his daughter. But afterwards when they thought that the prophecy was not to be, Miriam seemed like a fool which brought depression to her mother and this was expressed with the slap.

Let us try to understand the verse in Mishlei – why should there be a distinction between the father and the mother’s reactions to a wise or foolish son? Why do both parents not feel the same way?

It seems to me that we can explain it based on the Halachic concept that only the father is obligated in the Mitzvah of procreation and not the mother (Yevamot 65b). Therefore the father is required to fulfil his Mitzvah without any thought or consideration of what kind of child he will have. We find this with King Chizkiyahu who didn’t want to have children because he saw prophetically that his son would be wicked. The prophet Isaiah rebuked him for this, saying ‘Why are you involving yourself with the Divine plan? You must fulfil your Mitzvah and leave G-d to take care of His plans’ (Brachot 10a). We see from here that a father should not try to make calculations as to whether the child will be wise or foolish, but rather must do his Mitzvah without questioning.

Therefore, if the child is wise, for the father it is a great gift and unsought benefit. And if the child is foolish, the father can take comfort in knowing that he has fulfilled his Mitzvah.

However with the mother it is exactly the opposite. Since she is not obligated in this Mitzvah, if the child is wise she will consider it fair compensation for the pain and difficulties of pregnancy, childbirth and rearing. But if the child is foolish she will be upset at the effort expended for no purpose, since she is has not fulfilled a Mitzvah.

Using this idea I wanted to explain the Talmud (ibid.) which explains the verse in Isaiah (54; 1) “Sing, O barren, that you did not bear; break forth into singing, and cry aloud, that you did not travail with child”. The Talmud asks, ‘Should she sing and rejoice that she has no children? Rather the verse means that she should rejoice that she did not give birth to children who would go to Gehinom.

Why does the verse not include the father also? Surely he is happy that he will not produce wicked children? But in reality he cannot rejoice, for although he may have the merit of not having children in Gehinom, nevertheless he also has the sin of not fulfilling his Mitzvah of procreation. When someone is deprived of a Mitzvah they cannot rejoice. For example someone who is unable to obtain an etrog for Succot, even though he will not be punished for this since a person is exempt if it is impossible to fulfil a Mitzvah due to circumstances beyond their control. Nevertheless he will certainly not be happy that he is unable to do the Mitzvah. Only a woman can sing and rejoice since she has no Mitzvah to fulfil.

(there are another two paragraphs that I have not translated).

“Remove your shoes” (3; 5)

The Torah states here ‘your shoes’, meaning both shoes from both feet. However regarding Joshua (Joshua 5; 15) the angel only tells him to remove his ‘shoe’ in the singular, implying from only one foot.

Perhaps we can explain the difference in the language between these two cases. Moshe was destined to remove from himself any connection with the physical world. He remained on Mount Sinai for forty days and nights without eating or drinking (Devarim 9; 18) and separated from his wife (Talmud Shabbat 87a). He succeeded in removing from himself any traces of physicality to the extent that he is referred to as ‘the man of G-d’ (Devarim 33; 1), and is trusted completely by G-d (Bamidbar 12; 7) and spoke ‘face to face’ with G-d (Shemot 33; 11). We don’t find any of these things with Joshua. This is the meaning of the statement that Moshe’s face was like the sun and Joshua’s face was like the moon. It is known that the moon does not give off light of its own, but only that which it reflects from the sun. Similarly, whatever spiritual levels Joshua was able to reach were only because he had received them from Moshe, and they were only a reflection of Moshe’s level.

This is why Moshe removed both his shoes – removing all physicality from himself completely. Joshua, however, only reached the level of a ‘holy man’, but still retained some aspects of physicality. Therefore he was only instructed to remove one shoe, to hint at the fact that he kept one foot still in the realm of the physical. (like the phrase in Eruvin (58b) ‘with one foot still inside the boundary’)

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