Sunday, February 25, 2007

Parshat Tetzaveh

This week's portion is the only one from the beginning of Exodus until the end of Deuteronomy which does not contain Moshe's name. Instead of the usual "G-d spoke to Moshe..." Moshe is addressed in our portion only in the second person. The Ba'al HaTurim explains that after the sin of the Golden Calf, G-d wanted to destroy the entire nation, and begin again from Moshe and his descendants. Moshe pleaded on their behalf, "I implore! This people has committed a grievous sin and made themselves a god of gold. And now if You would but forgive their sin - but if not erase, me now from this book that You have written." (Exodus 32; 32). Though G-d did accept the repentance of the nation, Moshe's words partially came true in that his name was removed from one portion.
Oznaim LaTorah offers another explanation for the omission of Moshe's name. He explains that this week's portion always falls on the Shabbat before or after the week of the 7th of Adar which is the date of Moshe's birthday and also of his yarzheit. Some other religions commemorate the birth or death of the founder of their religion with festivals and celebrations. In this way the founder of the religion can appear to be almost more important than G-d. However, in Judaism, the Torah stresses that we are not to make Moshe into an icon. Not only does the Torah not explicitly state the date of his death or birth, but goes to the extreme of removing Moshe's name from the portion of this week.
From these two explanations we can understand why Moshe is referred to as the humblest of all men (Numbers 12; 3). Not only was he prepared to forgo any personal honour in order to save the nation, but we see the great lengths that the Torah goes to in order to avoid any cult of personality. This week's portion also falls just before Purim, and perhaps this is in order to highlight the contrast between Moshe's humility, and Haman's egomaniacal quest for power.
Haman was elevated by Achashverosh to the second in command of the kingdom. He had power of authority and riches beyond most people's wildest dreams. "[Haman] sent for his friends and his wife Zeresh, and Haman recounted to them all the glory of his wealth and of his many sons, and every instance where the king had promoted him and advanced him above the officials and royal servants. Haman said, 'Moreover, Queen Esther invited no one but myself to accompany the king to the banquet that she had prepared.'". However, he goes on to say that 'All this means nothing to me so long as I see that Jew Mordechai sitting at the king's gate." (Esther 5; 11-13). We can understand that he may be upset by this perceived slight to his dignity, but how can he say that everything that he has is worthless?
From here we can see the tremendous destructive influence of pride. With desires for physical pleasures once the goal has been attained a person can receive a certain degree of satisfaction. Though they will almost certainly continue to desire greater things, they will not feel that they have accomplished nothing. However the sin of pride is one which allows for no half measures. Only if everyone in the entire world was bowing down to Haman would he have felt satisfied, but if a single person refused, then all the glory was worth nothing.
The Book of Esther is unique amongst all the books of the Bible, in that it is the only one which does not contain the name of G-d. Perhaps we can explain the contrast between the omission of G-d's name from the Megillah, and the omission of Moshe's name from our Torah portion. Moshe was prepared to nullify himself before G-d, in order to save his nation. However, Haman thought himself great, thereby leaving no room for G-d in the story of Purim. This course of action backfired on Haman, so that all his plans were turned around and he was the one hanged in place of Mordechai. This is in keeping with the Mishnaic dictum: "Nullify your will before G-d's will, that He may nullify the will of others before your will." (Pirkei Avot 2; 4). Moshe nullified not only his will, but his whole being, so that he became the conduit of G-d's will. Haman only thought of himself and his pride, and therefore G-d caused him to show the will of G-d through his downfall.

Summary Tetzaveh

G-d instructs Moshe about the oil to be used for the Menorah. Moshe is told to separate Aharon and his sons to be the Cohanim (priests), and to make special garments for them to wear. The Ephod is only worn by the Cohen Gadol (High Priest), and is made out of six-coloured thread. It is an apron tied with a belt, and has two shoulder pads with two sardonyx stones on them, on which the names of the twelve tribes are engraved.
The Cohen Gadol also wears the Choshen Mishpat (Breastplate of Judgement). It has four rows with three precious stones in each row, each stone corresponding to one of the twelve tribes. The Urim V'Tummim (Lightings and Decisions) is placed inside the Ephod, and when worn by the Cohen Gadol can be consulted like an oracle. Next Moshe is instructed to make a robe for the Cohen Gadol. It is entirely techeilet (a shade of blue). At its base are "pomegranates" made of thread, interspersed with gold bells. The Cohen Gadol must also wear a Tzitz (forehead-plate) of pure gold, engraved with the words "Kadosh LaShem" (Holy to G-d). He also wears a linen tunic and a turban.
The regular Cohanim wear only tunics, sashes, turbans, and linen pants. These garments must be worn by the Cohanim whenever they perform the sacrifices in the Temple.
Moshe is instructed as to how to consecrate the Cohanim. Moshe must bring them to the Communion Tent and immerse them in a Mikvah (special pool for ritual purity). He must then dress them in their appropriate garments and anoint Aharon (as Cohen Gadol) with the anointing oil. He must then offer sacrifices on their behalf to inaugurate them.
Moshe has to consecrate the altar with the daily Tamid sacrifice. He is also instructed to construct a second altar, to be of wood covered with gold. This altar is only to be used for offering incense, except for the Day of Atonement when the Cohen Gadol sprinkles blood of the Atonement sacrifice on it.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Parshat Terumah

Fire of Sinai

Having completed the narrative of Mount Sinai and receiving the Torah we now begin the description of the mishkan (Tabernacle) and its construction. Four of the next five parshiot deal primarily with the mishkan, so let us investigate its purpose and reason.
There is a famous conflict of opinion between Rashi and Ramban. Rashi holds that the mishkan was built only as a result of the sin of the Golden Calf. The Israelites had demonstrated that they were not satisfied with a direct relationship with G-d but wanted some kind of intermediary. Therefore G-d gave them what they were looking for, and instructed them to build a physical representation of their relationship with G-d. This approach is similar to the Rambam’s description of the reason for Mitzvot – in the third section of Moreh Nevuchim he explains almost all of the Mitzvot, including the sacrifices and temple rituals, as an antidote to the idolatry which the Israelites were gradually being weaned from.
The Ramban understands that the Mishkan was not the result of sin, but rather the goal of the exodus. He writes in his introduction to Shemot that the whole book is describing how the nation returned to the level of the patriarchs. Just as the tent of the first fathers and mothers had the Divine Presence resting within it, and had daily miracles which were a clear expression of G-d, so too the mishkan was the resting place of the Shechina and the same daily miracles were recreated within.
In our parsha he is more explicit and explains that the mishkan is designed to recreate the Sinaitic experience. He writes (Shemot 25; 1):
The secret of the mishkan is that the Glory of G-d which rested on Mount Sinai now rests hidden within the mishkan. Just as it says (24; 16) “The Glory of G-d rested upon Mount Sinai”. It also states “Behold The L-rd your G-d has shown you His Glory and His Greatness”. Similarly it says in regard to the mishkan “The Glory of G-d filled the mishkan”. The Torah states twice that “The Glory of G-d filled the mishkan” corresponding to “His Glory” and “His Greatness”. The glory that appeared to them at Mount Sinai remained constantly with Israel in the mishkan. When Moshe entered into the Mishkan the speech came to him which was the same speech that spoke to him at Mount Sinai. The verse states (Devarim 4; 36) “From the Heavens I caused you to hear the Voice, to test you. And on the Earth He showed you his great fire”. Regarding the mishkan it states (Bamidbar 7; 89) “And he heard the Voice speaking to him from above the kaporet, between the two cherubs, and He spoke to him”.
The fire of Sinai which represented the covenant between G-d and his chosen people was encapsulated in the mishkan which not only had constant fire (on the altar) but had the two golden cherubs in the Holy of Holies from where G-d spoke to Moshe throughout their time in the desert. The kabbalists explain that gold represents the fire descending from Heaven.
The Ramban explains that the fire of Sinai was represented not only while the mishkan stood, but even after it was replaced with the Beit Hamikdash. The Shechina was ever present even in the second Temple, even when the Aron (Ark) with its cherubs were no longer in the Holy of Holies (having been buried by King Chizkiya).
However after the destruction of the second Temple the Shechina and the Divine Fire found a new locus for interaction with the world. The Talmud (Rosh Hashana 31a) tells us:
The Shechina made ten journeys, all of which are recorded in the Scriptures. From the kaporet to the cherub, from one cherub to the other cherub, from the cherub to the lintel, from the lintel to the courtyard, from the courtyard to the altar, from the altar to the roof, from the roof to the wall, from the wall to the city, from the city to the mountain, from the mountain to the desert. From the desert it ascended and returned to its place, as the verse states “I will go and return to my place” (Hosea 5)
The Divine Presence returned to its place. However it is still accessible through learning Torah. It is the Torah scholars who now bring the Shechina into the world along with the fire that represents the Sinaitic covenant. This is the simple meaning of the Mishna in Pirkei Avot (3; 7):
Rabbi Chalaphtha ben Dosa of the village of Chananiah said: "When ten sit and are occupied in words of Law the Shekhina is among them, as it is written (Tehillim 82; 1): 'G-d stands in the Congregation of God.' And from where is it proved of even five? It is written (Amos, 9. 6): 'And has founded his bundle on the earth' (and a bundle is at least of five). And from where do we see even three? It is written (Tehillim 82; 1): 'In the midst of judges does He judge' (and the number of judges is generally three). And from where even two? It is written (Malachi 3; 16): 'Then they that favored the L-rd spoke often one to another.' (The least number of persons who can speak to each other is two.) And where is the source for even one? It is written (Shemot 20; 21): 'In every place where I shall permit my name to be mentioned, I will come unto you (singular) and will bless you.'
It is now the judges and the scholars who become the foundation of the Holy Chariot and the place where G-d’s Shechina rests in the world. The Yerushalmi (Chagiga 2; 1) brings this idea out very clearly when it gives an account of the events that transpired at the Brit Milah of Elisha ben Avuyia (who later became one of the greatest Sages of the Mishnaic period before he became an Apikorus and henceforth was known as Acher).
Avuyia, the father of Elisha (Acher) was one of the great men of Yerushalayim. On the day of Elisha’s brit he invited all the dignitaries of Yerushalayim and seated them in one room, and seated Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Yehoshua in another room. The people ate and drank, sang and began to clap and dance. Rabbi Eliezer said to Rabbi Yehoshua, as long as they are doing their thing, let us learn Torah. They sat and began with Torah. From the Torah they moved on to the Prophets and from there to the Writings. A fire came down from Heaven and surrounded them. Avuhia said to them, “My Rabbis! Have you come to burn down my house?” They replied, “Heaven forfend! Rather, we were learning Torah which led to the Prophets which led to the Writings. The matters were so happy like the day that they were given on Sinai, and the fire came down to lick them like the fire of Sinai. The main giving of the Torah at Sinai was only through fire, as the verse states “The mountain was burning with fire to the heart of the Heaven”.” Avuyia said to them, “My Rabbis, if this is the power of Torah, and if G-d will allow my son to live, I will dedicate him to learning Torah.”
When learning Torah one has the potential ability to recreate the experience of Sinai when we heard the voice of G-d. This voice and the accompanying fire moved from Mount Sinai to the mishkan and later to the two Temples. Finally the Shechina became accessible only through learning Torah. May we all merit to see the rebuilding of the Temple speedily and once again have direct access to the fire of Sinai and experience the miracles of the Shechina first hand.

Shabbat Shalom

Tosefet Bracha - Terumah 2

“They shall make an Aron of cedar wood, two and a half amot (amataim vachetzi) is its length” (25; 10)
The Talmud (Sanhedrin 29a) learns from here that anyone who adds really subtracts. Rashi explains that if you would remove the aleph from amataim (two amot) it would read mataim, meaning two hundred. By adding the aleph you really subtract from the total number and make it only two amot.
But Rashi’s explanation is difficult to understand. If the Torah would have only written mataim we wouldn’t know which measure it was using. It may have meant 200 amot, or 200 tefachim or 200 etzbaot (or any other measure). Whereas the word amataim speaks specifically about the length of two amot.
In the Torah Temima we gave a different explanation from one of the Rabbis of the Talmud there. When it says ‘anyone who adds, subtracts’ it refers not to the aleph, but to the vav of vachetz (and half). If it would have left out that letter the verse would have read ‘two amot is half its length’ which would imply a total length of four amot. By adding the vav the Torah teaches us that the length is only two amot, and therefore is subtracting. Even though in the Torah Temima we challenged this explanation, it nevertheless seems to be the most correct reading.

(editor’s note: in the Torah Temima he cites this in the name of the Rashash who attributes it anonymously. I also saw this explanation in the sefer Kol Eliyahu by the Vilna Gaon).

Tosefet Bracha - Terumah

“they shall make the Aron (ark)” (25; 10)
Regarding all of the other items in the mishkan the verse says ‘you shall make’, directing the instruction to Moshe. Only with the Aron does it state ‘they shall make’, directed at all of Israel. The Aron represents Torah, as it contains within it the two stone tablets. The verse states “You shall place the Edut in the Aron” (verse 16) and edut refers to the tablets of testimony. Therefore we can say that the verse uses the third person plural to teach us that when it comes to supporting Torah everyone is equally obligated, rich or poor.
This is implicit in the Yerushalmi (Sotah 7; 4) where it expounds the verse (Devarim 26; 26) “Cursed is the one who does not uphold the words of the Torah”. This means that even one who has not learnt and not taught, but strengthens and supports those who learn Torah, is included in the blessing of “that upholds the Torah”. (The blessings in that parsha are the inverse language of the curses). This is clearly said to everybody, as it states, ‘even someone who has not learnt and not taught’. Even a person who has no direct connection to learning or teaching Torah is still obligated to uphold the Torah.
The reason for this is clear, based on the verse in Mishlei (3; 18) “It is a tree of life to those that uphold it”. Every person needs life, wise or foolish, rich or poor. Therefore the verse is teaching us that everyone must support Torah learning.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Summary Terumah

G-d instructs Moshe to collect the materials that are needed to build the Sanctuary. He gives exact details on how the Tabernacle and other furnishings are to be made. Moshe is instructed how to build the Ark of Testimony. It is to be made of wood, and covered within and without with gold. It has rings attached, and poles which are inserted in them with which to carry it. There is a golden cover for the Ark, on which two golden cherubs are standing with their wings outstretched. The tablets will be placed in the Ark, and the cover placed on top.
The table is also made of wood covered with gold; it too has rings and poles for carrying. On it are placed the showbreads, which are baked in special moulds that give them two "faces". The menorah is to be made of pure gold. It has six branches extending out from a central stem, each of which faces back towards a central flame.
These three items are to be placed in the Tabernacle itself. The Tabernacle is a tent, constructed of tapestries covered with a layer of goat's wool. These are draped over a frame of wooden beams. The Tabernacle is to be 30 cubits (about 45') in length, and 12 cubits (18') in width. Within this Tabernacle is to be a partition to separate the "Holy of Holies", which contains the Ark, and the "Holy" containing the table and menorah and incense altar. The partition is to be of sky-blue tapestry, with cherubs woven into it.
Moshe is instructed to build an altar for animal sacrifices. This is to be made of wood, and is to be 5 cubits x 5 cubits x 3 cubits (7.5' x 7.5' x 4.5'). It also has rings and poles for carrying. The altar is to be placed outside the Tabernacle, and both the Tabernacle and altar are to be surrounded by an enclosure. The enclosure is to be 5 cubits high (7.5') made of woven tapestry, and will measure 100 cubits x 50 cubits (150' x 75').

Friday, February 16, 2007

Tosefet Bracha - Mishpatim

“And will surely heal (lit. heal will heal)” (21; 19)

The Talmud in Bava Kamma (85a) learns from here that it is permitted for a doctor to heal a patient. Without this verse I would have thought that since it is G-d who brings illness upon a person, how could a doctor heal them, when it is trying to do something against G-d’s will. Therefore the verse gives us permission to heal.
The idea of G-d bringing the illness is based on the Talmud in Chullin (7b) that says ‘a person does not stub their toe on earth unless it was first decreed so in Heaven.’ Therefore we might have thought that the doctor’s work is contradicting Divine decree.
But the truth is that this is not a valid concern at all. It is similar to a person who is so poor that they are starving. We know that wealth or poverty are also decreed by G-d, as it says in the end of Kiddushin (82b), just as wealth is decreed, so too poverty is a decree from Heaven. Nevertheless someone who helps a poor person and provides them with their needs has clearly performed a Mitzvah, and one of the greatest Mitzvot. There is an explicit verse about this “Give your bread to the hungry” (Isaiah 58; 7). The Sages tell us that if someone asks for food because they are starving we don’t have to check whether they are really poor or not. Furthermore, this is included in the concept of returning lost objects, as the Talmud (Sanhedrin 73a) explains: “Return, you will return the object” (Devarim 22; 1-2). The repetition of the language comes to include returning his body (i.e. his life). If a person sees someone in danger they are obligated to save him. Included within this instruction is feeding or healing someone. If someone has the ability to help another in this regard they are obligated to do so.
You should know that the Talmud we cited above says that he doctor should not say to himself ‘since G-d brings the disease, how can I cure?’ According to this the patient could also say to himself that it is forbidden for him to take any measures to heal himself, because maybe that would be against the Divine intent. If that were true the Talmud should have said ‘From here we learn that it is permitted for a patient to heal himself’, just as it says about the doctor.
Perhaps we can say that regarding the sick person himself this doubt of the permissibility of healing would not apply. Since we know that all the mitzvot of the Torah are pushed aside when there is an threat to life, because the mitzvot were given for the sake of life. The Talmud (Yoma 85) learns this from the verse (Vayikra 18; 8) “You should safeguard My statutes and My laws that a person should do them to live by them.” The Rabbis learn from here ‘to live by them, and not to die by them’. Therefore any action that will heal the person themselves would be permitted even without any other verse to include it.
However regarding the doctor, I might have thought that it was included in the concept that we may not tell someone to sin for someone else’s benefit. (Shabbat 4a). Therefore the torah needs to give specific permission to the doctor to heal. The reason that he needs the permission is actually to give him the obligation to heal (as we explained above).
Look at Ramban on Parshat Bechukotai on the verse (26; 11) “I will place my mishkan in your midst” that he says that it is better for someone who fears G-d not to go to doctors but rather to pray to G-d. There is a hint to this in Divrei Hayamim (2; 16; 12) regarding King Assa. It says about him that in his illness he did not seek G-d, but only the doctors. It seems that the verse criticises him for this.
We can find another support for his advice to avoid doctors from the Talmud in Brachot (64a): Rav Yosef never invited even a blood-letter into his house. It seems that the explanation is that he never sought this cure but rather relied solely on G-d. However Rashi explains there because he was so humble, that when he needed to let blood he always went to the doctor rather than having the doctor come to him. According to this interpretation it is not connected to what the Ramban was saying. Perhaps the Ramban would explain differently than Rashi, but if so he should have brought it as a support for himself.
Based on what we have written above regarding the permission for a doctor to heal from the analogy of giving bread to a poor person, even though poverty is also from G-d, and moreover it is a mitzvah to support him. We can derive the same idea from the perspective of the patient, that just as a poor person may not sit back and accept his poverty without trying to find food (using the excuse that it is all from G-d), so too an ill person must seek cures for his illness.

(to be continued)

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Parshat Mishpatim

After a lengthy list of laws and statutes, the Torah portion returns to the narrative of the Jews standing at the foot of Mount Sinai. G-d tells Moshe, "Behold I will send my angel to go before you, to guard you on the way, and to bring you to the place which I have prepared" (Exodus 23; 20). Rashi explains that G-d here warns Moshe and the people that they will come to sin with the Golden Calf, and instead of G-d leading them directly, He will direct the nation through the intermediary of an angel. This is what we find in the Torah after the sin of the Calf, G-d says to Moshe, "Now go and lead the people, to that which I spoke to you. Behold my angel will go before you..." (ibid. 32; 34).
We have a principle that Heavenly punishment always fits the crime, and this is indeed the case here. At the time of the Golden Calf the nation were afraid that Moshe had been killed, and would not return. Therefore they wanted another leader, to act as an intermediary between them and G-d. They said to Aharon, "Make for us a god (or judge) that will go before us, for this man Moshe, who brought us out from the land of Egypt, we know not what has become of him." (ibid. 1). They did not consider Moshe divine, rather a leader who was an intermediary between them and G-d. Similarly the concept behind the Calf was for to have an intermediary, not a god. Only after it was built did some of the people begin to worship the Calf itself, and proclaim it as a god.
However, even asking for an intermediary deserved punishment. When the people heard G-d at Mount Sinai they were afraid, and asked Moshe, "'You speak to us and we shall hear; let not G-d speak to us lest we die'. Moshe said to the people, 'Do not fear, for in order to elevate you has G-d come...'" (ibid. 20; 16-17). Moshe rebuked the people for not wanting this direct contact with G-d. In fact we find that the desire for intermediaries was the origin of idolatry in the world. The Rambam writes (Yad, Laws of Idol Worship, 1; 1) that in the generation of Enosh the people made a grievous error. They reasoned that it was not appropriate to pray directly to G-d, but they should instead pray to Him via the celestial luminaries that He had placed before him. Over the generations this led to forgetting that these were only intermediaries, and the people began worshipping them as gods.
So, from the outset, the building of the Golden Calf was bound to end in disaster. Though the Jews were only seeking an intermediary, that was itself a sin that would inevitably lead to idolatry. Therefore as punishment G-d told them that He would not be in their midst, but would only relate to them through an angel.
The Ramban points out that this punishment of 'I will send an angel before you' never took place. Moshe pleaded for mercy, "If Your presence will not go with us, do not take us out from here..." (ibid. 33; 15), and G-d consented when He said, "I will also do this thing that you have spoken" (ibid. 17). Although this decree did not take place in Moshe's lifetime, it was fulfilled immediately after his death. Just before Yehoshua led the nation to do battle with Jericho the Bible states, "And it came to pass, when Yehoshua was by Jericho, that he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold there stood a man over him, and he said, 'I am captain of the host of the Eternal, I am now come'." (Joshua V; 13-14). The Midrash Tanchuma (Mishpatim 18) explains: "The angel said to Yehoshua, 'I am he who came in the days of Moshe your master, and he pushed me away and did not want me to go with them.'". After Moshe's death, G-d's relationship with the nation changed, from being direct, to being only through an intermediary.
Nevertheless, it seems strange that the Israelites were punished for wanting an intermediary, when at the end of this week's Torah portion we find that they are not able to cope with direct revelation. "Go up to G-d, you [Moshe], Aharon, Nadav and Avihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel, and you shall prostrate yourselves from a distance, Moshe, Aharon, Nadav and Avihu, and seventy of the elders ascended. They saw the G-d of Israel, G-d did not stretch out His hand [to punish] the great men of Israel - they gazed at G-d, yet they ate and drank." (Exodus 24; 1-11). Rashi explains that G-d did not punish them on the spot, though they were worthy of punishment for gazing at Him. However, G-d delayed their punishment so as not to detract from the sanctity of Mount Sinai. The reason that they were punished was for staring at G-d while they were eating and drinking. They were unable to attain the proper level of spirituality but instead were sunk in their material actions. We see from here that even the leaders of the Israelites, with the exception of Moshe and Aharon, were unable to cope with such a direct relationship with G-d. Why then were they punished for wanting an intermediary?
The answer must be that their need for an intermediary was real, and thus their attempt to find one valid. However, their mistake was in settling for this lesser relationship with G-d instead of trying to elevate themselves spiritually to a level where they would be able to sustain a direct relationship. As long as they were in the desert, under the influence of Moshe, they were able to have G-d's presence in their midst. But as soon as Moshe was no longer with them, instead of remaining on this spiritual level the people settled for intermediaries to lead them. The angel coming was not so much a punishment as it was the inevitable result of the people's actions and spiritual level.

Summary Mishpatim

This week's Torah reading lists many of the damage and interpersonal laws. Some of the laws given are those concerning manslaughter and murder, kidnapping and stealing, injuring or cursing a parent, personal injury or damages, and killing or injuring slaves. The nation are also given laws concerning animals, damage by grazing, or by fire, the laws of custodians, and money lending. Other laws include those dealing with a man who seduces a woman, occult practices, and idolatry. We are commanded not to oppress widows or orphans and are obligated to lend money to the poor. We must accept the authority of the judges, bring the first of our produce and animals to G-d, and not pervert the system of justice. We are instructed to return lost objects and help unload an animal that is unable to carry its burden.
We are given the laws of Sh'mita, when we let the land lie fallow every seventh year. We are instructed not to oppress converts, and are told the laws of Shabbat and the three agricultural festivals. G-d tells us that He will send an angel before us to lead us into Israel, and warns us of the dangers and temptations that will face us once we enter the land. G-d promises to bless us and our children, and to help us conquer the Land of Israel.
Moshe relates all of these laws to the rest of the nation, and they unconditionally accept them. Moshe and the people offer sacrifices as a sign that they have entered into a covenant with G-d to accept the Torah.
The Parsha ends with the conclusion of the Receiving of the Torah. G-d calls Moshe to ascend Mount Sinai. The nation watch as he ascends into the clouds and smoke which cover the mountain top. Moshe remains there for forty days and nights.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Tosefet Bracha - Yitro 2

Tosefet Bracha - Rabbi Baruch Halevi Epstein (translation David Sedley)

“Honour your father and your mother” (20; 12)

But there is no commandment to love one’s parents. The reason is obvious, since love is something which is dependent on the feelings of one’s heart, and if the heart does not have feelings of love, commanding to do so will not help. Only honouring can be commnaded, since this is based on actions. Commandments can apply to actions even if there is no emotional love. This is what the Talmud tells us (Kiddushin 31b) ‘How does one fulfil the Mitzvah of honouring parents? By feeding them, giving them drink, dressing them, helping them go in and come out…’ The Talmud only lists things which are possible to do even without any feelings of love, and are only performed because of the obligation and the Mitzvah.
This is also the meaning of Hillel’s answer to the convert (Shabbat 31a). When he summarised the entire Torah in one statement he did not cite the verse “You shall love your fellow as yourself”, but rather used the phrase ‘that which you don’t like, don’t do to others’. It is not clear why he chose not to use the words of the verse which are simpler. Perhaps we can say that since love is dependent on emotion, and it is impossible to command on emotion, therefore Hillel explained it as not doing actions which are hurtful or hateful. It is possible to command someone about that.
Using this explanation we can explain the Talmud in Yoma (86a) which explains the verse “You shall love the L-rd your G-d” – do things that will cause G-d’s name to become beloved through your actions. If a person learns Tanach, Mishna and Talmud, and their business dealings are honest and pleasant, and they are nice to other people, people will say about them ‘Happy is the fatehr who taught him Torah, happy is the teacher who taught him Torah, woe to those who do not learn Torah. Look at this person, who has learnt Torah, how pleasant are his ways, how perfect are his actions etc.’
It is not clear how the Talmud derives all of this from the verse “You shall love G-d...” It is also not readily apparent as to why the Talmud changed from the simple meaning of love – ‘desire and yearning’ to the concept of ‘making G-d’s name beloved through your actions’.
Based on what we have said, that it is impossible to command about love, we understand that the verse cannot be talking about emotional feelings. If a person does not have feelings of love for G-d, nevertheless they can be commanded regarding their actions.
Using this understanding we can also understand what the Rama wrote in Yoreh Deah (Hilchot Kibud Av – end of 240) in the name of the Maharik. If a son wants to marry someone, and the father protests against his choice of spouse, the son is not obligated to listen to his father. It is not clear why the son does not have to listen to the father in this matter. Look there at the explanation of the Vilna Gaon.
According to what we have written, the explanation is simple. The son loves this woman, and the love comes from emotional feelings. Emotions cannot be held accountable to commandments. Therefore the father has no rights of ‘honour’ in this matter. (Look also at what we wrote at the end of Parshat Toledot about this).
The Talmud (Kiddushin 31b) teaches: It was taught in a Baraita, honour your father during his lifetime and after his death. How does one honour after death? If the son says Torah in the name of his father he should not say ‘This is what my father said’, but rather ‘this is what my father, my teacher said, and may I be atonement for his death’. This is within 12 months. After 12 months the son should say ‘May he be remembered for blessing and eternal life’. Look in Yoreh Deah (240; 13) that this Halacha applies also after his mother’s death, and also when he writes about his parents he must use these phrases.
Look at the Yerushalmi (Kiddushin 1; 7): ‘Rabbi Avin said, “I am exempt from honouring my mother and father”. It explains there that after he was conceived his father died, and when he was born his mother died. It is difficult to understand the phrase ‘I am exempt’, since he is still obligated in the honour that applies after the death of parents. We must say that he only means those aspects of honour that apply during the parents’ lifetime, but not those that still apply after death. When he says ‘exempt’ he must be referring only to a partial exemption, from the aspects of honour that require effort and actions. But not from the honour that is through mentioning their names with respect.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Tosefet Bracha - Yitro 1

Parshat Yitro

“And Moshe told his father in law all that G-d had done to Pharaoh and to Egypt for the sake of Israel, all the events that had occurred to them on the journey” (18; 8)

Rashi explains “all the events” as referring to the splitting of the Reed Sea and the war with Amalek. This requires explanation. In the beginning of the parsha Rashi already explained (based on the Gemara) that “Yitro heard” refers to the splitting of the Sea and the war with Amalek. Therefore Yitro had already heard this. Why did Moshe need to tell it to him again?
Perhaps we can answer that Moshe’s main intention in telling Yitro was to prove that everything that G-d did to Pharaoh and Egypt was only because of Israel. (As it states in the verse “for the sake of Israel”). In other words, Pharaoh deserved to be punished for many other reasons for example, for making himself into a god (Midrash Rabba Vaera 8) or for saying “Who is G-d?” (Exodus 5; 2) and many other sins. So too the Egyptians, who worshipped the sheep as idols. Despite these many sins, they were not punished for them, but only because they enslaved the Israelites and worked them overmuch. This is the meaning of “For the sake of Israel”.
This also explains what Rashi wrote (based on the Mechilta) on the verse “Moshe told his father in law” – in order to draw his heart close to Torah. At first sight it doesn’t seem obvious where this is hinted at in the verse. However, based on what we have written, that Moshe’s narration was in order to show that everything was done only for Israel, we understand that through this Yitro’s heart would be drawn closer to the G-d of Israel.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Parshat Yitro

D'var Torah by Rabbi Sedley

For a pdf printable version of this d'var Torah please click here


"And Yitro heard..." (Exodus 18; 1). Rashi comments, "What did he hear that brought him [from Midian to the desert]? The splitting of the Reed Sea and the war with Amalek". Hearing of these two events acted as the catalyst which made Yitro leave the comforts of Midian to join the Israelites in the desert. Surely such miracles would have been reported by every news agency in the known world, but nobody else came to join them. Why does the Torah stress that Yitro heard about these events? Why is this an appropriate introduction to the main part of our portion, the giving of the Torah and the Ten Commandments?
In Hebrew, as in English, 'hearing' also has connotations of understanding. It implies more than sound waves entering the aural canal. We find the best example of this meaning in the word 'Shema' in the recital of 'Shema Yisrael...'. The instruction which we proclaim is not to hear that G-d is one, but to understand that belief in G-d's unity is the bedrock of our faith, and underlies all of creation. Though all of the other nations heard about the miracles that G-d performed for the Jews, only Yitro 'heard' and understood that the only possible response was to leave Midian and come into the desert.
Yitro's 'hearing' is therefore a very apt introduction to the Ten Commandments, when the Jews recited the famous words, "We will do and we will hear" ("Na'aseh v'Nishma") (ibid. 24; 7). The Sages teach (Shabbat 88b) that when G-d heard Israel utter this phrase He exclaimed, "Who revealed this secret to My children, the secret that the ministering angels use for themselves", as the verse states, "Strong warriors [angels] who do His bidding and obey the sound of His words" (Psalms 103; 20). By pledging that they will perform anything that G-d commands without question, and only then try and ‘understand’ what G-d has asked of them the Jews put themselves on a par with the angels, who also act unquestioningly to do G-d's bidding.
After Yitro joins the nation, he watches as Moshe judges the people. He realises that having Moshe as the sole adjudicator for the nation will not provide a permanent system of justice, and that it will destroy both Moshe and the nation. He suggests the alternative of appointing courts and judges, with lower and higher courts for lesser or greater disputes. Yitro says to Moshe, "Now, listen to my voice" (ibid. 18; 19). The Torah continues that "Moshe listened to the voice of his father-in-law, and did all that he had said." (v. 24). Why does the Torah state that Moshe heard Yitro’s 'voice' rather than just telling us that he listened to his father-in-law?
Yitro understood that he was a newcomer to the nation, and though he was Moshe's father-in-law, he was not sure whether he would be accepted by the rest of the nation. Would they be prepared to listen to the suggestion of a former idolater, rather than the practice of their leader Moshe? Yet Yitro felt that what he had to say about the courts was as much a part of Torah as the commandments that they had heard directly from G-d. It was as if G-d were speaking from Yitro’s throat, using the G-d given logic in place of prophecy. This is why Yitro stresses that is not making his suggestion out of pride, but because the 'voice' of Mount Sinai is using his mouth as a conduit. Moshe understands this and therefore listens to his 'voice'.
This teaches us an important principle in Torah study, often the Talmud asks on a verse, "This can be derived from logic - why do I need this verse?" There are limitations to our logic, and there are things that we don't understand, which the Jews accepted at Sinai to do, and later come to an understanding. Also, Torah punishment cannot be given for a law derived purely from logic, and the 613 commandments only include those which are explicitly written in the Torah. But for daily living logic plays a vital role. Therefore, even though the incident with Yitro witnessing Moshe's judging only took place after Yom Kippur, four months after Mount Sinai, the Torah presents it here as an introduction to the receiving of the Torah.
Later in the Torah reading, having just received the Ten Commandments directly from G-d, the Torah tells us "All the nation saw the voices, and the flames, and the sound of the shofar and the smoking mountain..." (ibid. XX; 15). The people experienced synesthesia, where sounds became visible to them. Apart from the fact that we find it difficult to even conceive of such a concept, how does seeing a voice differ from hearing a voice? Why was it necessary for G-d to perform the extra miracle of making sounds visible?
We see from here that there is a clear difference from the voice of reason which resonates in the mouths of the scholars, which should be heard, and the direct prophecy of the encounter with G-d. The people went beyond hearing, and could actually see the words. The hidden meanings of each phrase became clear. Just as in English the phrase 'I see' implies a greater level of understanding than 'I hear', so too the Torah is telling us that the Jews reached the highest level of prophecy and insight. All the secrets contained within the Torah were revealed to them. When the Talmud wants to introduce a point it often uses the phrase, "Ta Shma", "come and hear". The Zohar, however, which contains the esoteric secrets, introduces phrases with the words, "Ta Chazi", "Come and see". Unless one 'sees' the meanings and secrets clearly they have not entered into the realms of the hidden secrets of the Torah.
Thus we see three different types of understanding in our portion. Yitro understood from events that he saw that the correct response was to join the Jews. Moshe heard and understood that Yitro’s logic was as valid as the rest of the Torah which was given directly from G-d. And the entire nation understood the Ten Commandments with such clarity that they went beyond hearing, and were able to 'see' what G-d demanded of them.

Yitro Summary

Shavua Tov
Here is my summary of this week's parsha. For a pdf version (which is easier to print) please click here
(PS Sometimes it looks as though I have posted these messaged during Shabbat. This is because of the time difference between Israel and bloggerland. You can rest assured that I did not post this or any other post on Shabbat).


Yitro (Jethro), Moshe's father-in-law, brings Moshe's wife Tzipporah, and their two sons, Gershom and Eliezer, back to Moshe in the wilderness. Yitro observes that Moshe is the sole judge of any disputes. He says that this system cannot work in the long term, and helps Moshe set up a new system of law, by training and appointing judges at various levels to judge simpler cases, thus only the most complicated disputes will actually come before Moshe. He refuses Moshe's offer that he stay with the Jews in their journey through the desert, and returns to his own land.
In the third month after leaving Egypt the Children of Israel come to the Sinai desert and encamp at the foot of Mount Sinai. Moshe ascends the mountain. G-d tells Moshe to tell the people to spend three days preparing themselves, and to set up fences to prevent them going near the mountain. On the third day, G-d reveals Himself in a cloud of smoke and fire, accompanied by the blast of a shofar. G-d gives the Ten Commandments to the people. The people tremble with fear from hearing G-d's speech, and ask Moshe to act as an intermediary, relaying the Divine words to them. The portion ends with instructions prohibiting making idols, and instructions for building the altar.