Friday, January 19, 2007

Tosefet Bracha Vaera

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 Vaera

“And the magicians of Egypt did likewise with their magic (b’lahateihem)” (7;11)

Later in verse 22 regarding the plague of blood it states “the magicians of Egypt did likewise with their magic (b’lateihem)” – without the letter heh after the lamed. The Talmud (Sanhedrin 67b) explains the difference between the two words, that b’lateihem refers to using demons, whereas b’lahateihem means using magic. The Talmud there also explains the difference between the two acts of the magicians. Demons don’t actually change one thing into another, but they bring the new item (from somewhere else) and replace the existing item with it. But magic involves actually changing the item from one thing into another, like turning the staff into a crocodile as we see in this verse.

A way of remembering that the work of demons is called lateihem and magic lahateihem is the verse in Parshat Bereishit (3; 24) “So He drove out the man; and He placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming (lahat) sword which turned every way (hamithapechet), to keep the way of the tree of life”. Since magic turn things from one to another it is lahat, like the sword which turns.

When the Torah describes the actions of the magicians at the plague of blood it talks of them changing the water into blood. So it should have used the word lahateihem which is the magic of changing one thing to another. Yet we see that the Torah uses the word lateihem which refers to the work of demons.

The explanation is that in that case the magicians were forced to use demons to perform their magic, to bring blood from elsewhere and switch it with the water. The reason for this is that the Talmud explains that magic has no influence over water. Therefore the magicians were forced to ‘cheat’ and use demons.

The reason that magic has no influence over water can be explained based on the Yerushalmi (Kilaim 9; 4). The Talmud there explains the verse in Tehillim (24; 2) For He has founded it upon the seas, and established it upon the floods”. The Land of Israel is surrounded on all sides by the seven seas and four rivers, and all the other rivers and seas in the world are connected to the seas and rivers of Israel. This is the source of all the kedusha in the rest of the world. For this reason magic, which comes from tumah has no influence over the water.

Based on this we can also understand the Yerushalmi there that relates how one of the Sages requested that if he died outside of Israel his coffin should be placed in an inlet of the sea. In this way it would be considered as though he were buried in Israel.

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