Sunday, June 24, 2007

Tosefet Bracha - Balak

“go and curse for me this people” (23; 6)

We must ask the question, why was Balak so anxious to bring Bilaam to him to curse the Israelites? He send messengers two or three times, and offered money and got angry. Why didn’t Balak simply ask Bilaam to curse the Israelites from where he was? We find many curses and cursers who were able to do damage without seeing the object of the curse. For example, when the Israelites came into Israel they gave the curses and blessings on the two mountains of Bracha and Eival [despite the fact that the people they were cursing – those who don’t keep the mitzvot – were not present]. Similarly, in Kohelet it states “even in your tears don’t curse a king and even in your private room don’t curse a rich person” (10; 2). This clearly refers to a curse not in the presence of the object of the curse.

Perhaps we can answer based on the Talmud (Brachot 7a) which explains the verse in Tehillim (7; 12) “G-d is angry every day”. How long is His anger? A ‘moment’. And a ‘moment’ lasts for 1/8888th of an hour. Bilaam was the only person who knew when this time was.

Tosefot asks, what could Bilaam have said in that fraction of a second that would have any effect? They answer that he would have enough time to say the word(s) ‘destroy them’ (‘kalem’). More than this and he would have run out of time.

Therefore we can understand why Balak had to bring Bilaam to the place where the Israelites were encamped, so that he could point to them and say ‘destroy them’. This could only be said when he could see them because otherwise there would be no ‘them’ for the curse to fall on.

We find a similar concept when praying for a sick person. The Halacha is that if one is praying in the presence of the patient there is no need to mention his or her name, only the request. We find the source for this with Moshe’s prayer for Miriam (which was in her presence) when he only said “G-d, please heal her”, without saying her name. In contrast, when Ya’akov prayed that G-d should save him from his brother (and was not yet in his presence) he said “save me please, from my brother, from Esav”.

However Tosefot also gives another answer to his question in Brachot. He says that if Bilaam could begin the curse in that moment, it would remain effective even while he finished saying the words of his curse. According to this answer we are back to our original question of why Balak was so desperate to bring Bilaam to him.

Perhaps we can answer based on the Mishna in Pirkei Avot (5; 19) that Bilaam was known for his evil eye (and as explained in more detail in the Zohar)s. His power was in his eye, and anywhere that he ‘put his eye’ was damaged. Therefore he had to come to a place where he could see the camp of the Israelites in order to put his evil eye on them.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Parshas Balak (Rabbi Sedley)

Bilam is presented to us as a total contradiction. He is described in the Torah as "Knowing the mind of G-d", and we are told in the Midrash (Bamidbar Rabba 14; 20) that his level of prophecy surpassed even that of Moshe. Yet his personal habits and character traits were the most despicable that we can imagine. The Mishna (Ethics of the Fathers 5; 19) states: "anyone who has the following traits is amongst the students of Bilam, an evil eye, a haughty mind and a proud spirit." Furthermore, the Talmud (Avoda Zara 4b) derives from the donkey's conversation with Bilam that he used to have sexual relations with it. How could someone simultaneously be on such a high level, and still remain such a base human being?
Rashi comments (22; 5): If you will ask, why did G-d rest His holy spirit on such a wicked non-Jew? In order that the nations of the world should not be able to claim, 'If we would have had prophets we would have repented our wicked ways. Therefore G-d gave them prophets who led them to perform even worse sins'.
Essentially Rashi is saying that Bilam did not deserve to become a prophet solely through his own merit. G-d spoke with him because he was a representative of the nations, not because he was worthy of it. This is why when G-d spoke to Bilam the Torah uses the word "Vayikar", "He happened upon", rather than the way G-d spoke to Moshe "Vayikra", "He called". This shows G-d's 'displeasure' at having to speak to Bilam. Nevertheless, how could someone on such a high level, after having spoken to G-d, remain with such low moral conduct?
A similar question can be asked about the experience that the Children of Israel had when they crossed the Reed Sea. The Mechilta (15; 2) says that even a maid servant saw more (experienced a higher level of prophecy) at the sea than the prophet Yechezkel saw (in his vision of G-d's Holy Chariot). Yet the Jews who crossed the sea remained who they were, whereas Yechezkel merited to be one of the 48 prophets of Israel. How could the Children of Israel remain on the same spiritual level that they had been on, despite witnessing this prophetic experience?
Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz writes that this is a fundamental of mussar (ethics and character building). If a person does not internalise what they experience through their own hard work at self perfection, they will not change who they really are. Knowledge which remains purely intellectual will ultimately have no effect on the way that a person acts. Because Bilam received his prophecy as a gift without having to work for it, and because having received that gift he made no effort to elevate himself to a spiritual level where he would be worthy of prophecy, it had no effect on his personal lifestyle. Bilam saw no contradiction in behaving in a way that was not in keeping with his status as prophet to the nations. Similarly the Children of Israel were not affected by the prophecy they perceived because they were as yet unable to attain for themselves the level where they could deserve prophecy. Only after seven weeks, when they stood at Mount Sinai, were they able to hear G-d speak and internalise that experience. Because they strove to perfect themselves during the Omer period, en route from Egypt to Sinai, that prophecy did change the national consciousness.

Balak Summary

Balak, the king of Moav, is terrified after witnessing the Israelites destroy Sichon and Og (the powerful giants who were neighbouring kings). He and the Midianites, send officers to Bilam, the greatest non-Jewish prophet, asking him to curse the Jewish nation for them. Bilam tells the messengers to spend the night. During the night G-d appears to Bilam and forbids him from going with the men. Following this, Balak sends a second, more distinguished party to persuade Bilam. This time G-d gives Bilam permission to go but warns him that he will only be able to speak the words that G-d tells him. When Bilam sets out the next morning on his donkey G-d is angered that he thinks he will be able to defy G-d's word. He sends an angel, which Bilam does not see. His donkey can see the angel however, and veers off the path three times to avoid it. Each time Bilam beats his donkey to force it back onto the path. Finally G-d gives the donkey the power of speech. It turns to Bilam and complains about being beaten. Then G-d lets Bilam see the angel, standing with his sword drawn. Bilam repents, and G-d again tells him that he may only say the words that G-d gives him to speak.
Bilam arrives, and Balak gives him a royal welcome. Bilam and Balak ascend a mountain which overlooks the Israelite camp. Bilam instructs Balak to build seven altars for him, and to prepare seven bulls and seven rams. G-d appears to Bilam and places words in his mouth. Bilam returns to Balak, but instead of cursing the Jews, he blesses them and declaims their praises. Balak is furious, and takes Bilam to another vantage point, where he again offers seven bulls and seven rams on seven altars. Once more G-d puts a prophecy in Bilam's mouth, and he blesses Israel. Balak takes Bilam to one final summit overlooking a wasteland, and again they build seven altars. This time Bilam understands that G-d wants him to bless Israel, and he does so. Balak is furious with Bilam and tells him to flee. Bilam continues to prophesy about the other nations of the world. Then Bilam returns to his home, and Balak also goes on his way.
In Shittim some of the Jews begin to commit harlotry with the daughters of Moav (Moab). This eventually leads to them committing idolatry with the Moavite god Baal-Pe'or. G-d sends a plague upon the nation as punishment and commands Moshe to put all the idolaters to death. Zimri the head of the tribe of Shimon commits harlotry with Cozbi, a Midianite princess, in front of the entire nation. Pinchas, Aharon's grandson, runs up, chases them into the tent and pierces them both with a spear, killing them. This ends the plague in which altogether 24,000 people die.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Tosefet Bracha - Chukat

“You should take for yourself a red heifer…” (19; 2)

It is not exactly clear what the word(s) ‘for yourself’ mean. In Parshat Tetzaveh where it states “You shall take olive oil for yourself” the Sages explain what it means. Here there is no explanation.

I found in the Yalkut here the following drasha:
G-d said to Moshe, ‘to you I will reveal the reason of the red heifer but for everyone else it will be a statute.

In other words, [G-d told Moshe] not to reveal the reason for the red heifer to anyone else so that is should remain a statute without explanation. This itself requires explanation, why should G-d be strict not to reveal the reason? There must be a reason for this.

Perhaps we can explain based on the Talmud (Brachot 9b) on the verse in parshat Shemot, “G-d said to Moshe ‘I will be that I will be’. G-d said to Moshe, ‘go and tell Israel that just as I was with them in the past during this slavery, so I will be with them in the future exiles’.” Moshe said back, ‘Master of the Universe, one suffering at a time is enough for them (in other words, why tell them now about future exiles to cause them pain?). G-d agreed with him, and said to Moshe that he should just tell them that ‘I will be’ sent me to you, and not ‘I will be as I will be’. He didn’t want to tell them about the future exiles, as we have explained.
The Yalkut here says that the red heifer hints at all the future exiles coming in later times. The word ‘heifer’ hints at Egypt, which is called “a beautiful calf” (Yeremiyahu 46; 20). ‘Red’ refers to Bavel, as the verse states “it is the head of gold, and the gold was red” (referring to Bavel). ‘Pure’ refers to Madai, because the kings of Madai were pure, who didn’t have their own idols to worship, apart from those they inherited from their ancestors. ‘That has no blemish’ refers to Greece. Alexander of Macedonia blessed G-d with his whole being. ‘That has never had a yoke on it’ refers to Nevuchadnezzar who didn’t accept the yoke of Heave and said “Who challenges me from the Heavens” (Tehillim 73; 25).

Therefore, based on Moshe’s claim that we brought earlier, to which G-d agreed, he should not reveal the pain that would happen to Israel in the future exiles, So regarding the red heifer, which hints at the future exiles, He said to him, ‘only to you will I reveal the reason, but for them it must remain a statute’ – so that they will not be pained. Look also at what we have written on parshat Bo (12; 13 and 13; 7).

Monday, June 18, 2007

Parshas Chukas (Rabbi Sedley)

Love Peace, Love Each Other

* This week's Torah reading contains the death of Aharon, the high priest and the brother of Moshe. The Midrash (Tanna d'vei Eliyahu chap. 12) contrasts the Torah's description of the death of Aharon with the description of the death of Moshe. When Aharon dies the Torah says, " And they wept for Aharon thirty days, the entire house of Israel" (Numbers 20; 29). However at the time of the death of Moshe the Torah says "The Children of Israel wept for Moshe in the plains of Moav for thirty days" (Deuteronomy 34; 8). There was greater mourning for Aharon ("The entire house...") than for Moshe, because Moshe was the judge, the strict lawgiver, who would reprimand the people for their misconduct. However Aharon's approach was to bring the people close to Torah through showing them love and peace. Aharon's love for the people, and his constant quest for peace, is documented in the Mishna (Ethics of the Fathers 1; 12): "Hillel says, Be amongst the disciples of Aharon, love peace, pursue peace, love people and bring them close to Torah".
"And the Canaanite King of Arad heard and he waged war with Israel." (Numbers 21; 1). What did he hear that caused him to fight Israel now? The Talmud (Rosh Hashanah) explains that he heard that Aharon had died. The clouds of Glory which surrounded the camp of the Israelites in the desert came in the merit of Aharon, and therefore after his death they departed. The Canaanite King took this as a signal that permission was given to wage war against Israel. It seems that Aharon himself, and his constant quest for peace, caused the Jews to be protected from their enemies. Without Aharon the people began once again to fight amongst themselves, and they became vulnerable to attack from outside.
The Ateres Mordechai points out a similar episode, where argument caused vulnerability. In Lech Lecha the verse states: "There was a quarrel between the shepherds of Avram and the shepherds of Lot. And the Canaanites were then in the land." What is the significance of the "Canaanites were then in the land?" It seems to be the same idea that we find here in our Parsha. As long as there was peace between the shepherds of Avram and Lot, their unity was a guarantee of protection from external enemies. However once quarrels broke out, there was a cause for worry about the Canaanites being in the land.
This has been the pattern throughout history. Whenever there are quarrels among the Jewish nation, they become vulnerable to attack from external enemies. The 9th of Tammuz (which is coming up next week) was the date that the walls of Jerusalem were breached by the Babylonians in the time of the First Temple (Jeremiah 29; 2). The week after is the 17th of Tammuz, the anniversary of the Roman's breaking through the walls of Jerusalem in the Second Temple period. These tragedies, which led up to the destruction of both Temples, were both caused by disunity amongst the nation.
The destruction of the First Temple was preceded (albeit 262 years before) by the division of the nation into the two kingdoms of Israel and Judah (Kings 1 12). This disunity, and the resulting idolatry, led to the destruction of the Northern Kingdom and the exile of the Ten Tribes. 23 years later the Kingdom of Judah was conquered and the remaining two tribes, together with the remnants of the ten tribes who had fled to Jerusalem, were also exiled.
The Talmud (Gittin 55b ff.) describes the cause of the destruction of the Second Temple: "Because of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza, Jerusalem was destroyed...". A certain man made a feast, and invited many people, including the leading Rabbis of the generation. However, instead of inviting the man's friend Kamtza, the servant accidentally invited Bar Kamtza, who was hated by the man. Thinking that this was an opening for peace, Bar Kamtza came to the banquet. However when the man saw him there he had him thrown out. No amount of pleading by Bar Kamtza would persuade the man to let him stay, and he was publicly humiliated. Bar Kamtza said to himself, "Since the Sages were present and did not protest against such behaviour, it is obvious that they approve. I will slander them to the emperor". He went to Rome and provoked Nero into launching a military campaign against Jerusalem.
Even when Jerusalem was under siege the people refused to unite. There was a group of people inside Jerusalem called the Biryonim, who vied with the Sages for power. The Sages wanted to negotiate with Rome, but these Biryonim would not let them. In order to rally the people into military conflict they set fire to the food stores, which would have been sufficient for 21 years, and in the ensuing famine many people starved to death. This forced them into battle with the Romans, and led directly to the destruction of the city and the Temple.
The phrase "United we stand, divided we fall" is the lesson that we must learn from this Torah reading, and from history. It is as true today as it has ever been, but it becomes more and more difficult to create harmony and peace amidst the splintering factions of the Jewish nation. Aharon showed us the way, "Love peace and pursue peace. Love people and bring them near to Torah".

* This Torah Treasures is partially based on Rabbi Yissocher Frand's Internet d'var Torah for parshas Chukas 5755

Chukas Summary

G-d commands the Children of Israel about the laws of the Red Heifer. It must be completely red without any blemish, and never have been placed in a yoke. It shall be slaughtered outside of the sanctuary, and some of its blood sprinkled in the direction of the Sanctuary. It shall then be entirely burnt, and cedar wood, hyssop and crimson thread thrown into the fire. The Kohen who performs this ceremony becomes tamei (ritually impure). The ashes should be gathered and placed outside the camp for safekeeping. The person who gathers the ashes also becomes tamei. Anyone who comes into contact with a corpse becomes Tamei, and must purify themselves by being sprinkled with water containing the ashes of the Red Heifer on the third and seventh day of the purification process. The person who sprinkles the ashes becomes tamei. Anyone who enters the Temple without undergoing this purification process will receive karet (be spiritually cut off). If there is a dead body in a room, any person or thing that is in that room, or enters into it becomes tamei, and requires purification with the ashes of the Red Heifer.
In the fortieth year in the desert, in the first month, the Children of Israel arrived at Kadesh in the Wilderness of Zin. Miriam dies and is buried there. There is no water for the people to drink, and they gather against Moshe and Aharon, complaining that they are about to perish. G-d instructs Moshe to take his staff and speak to the rock in the presence of the entire congregation. Moshe and Aharon gather the congregation, but instead of speaking to the rock, Moshe hits it twice. Water comes gushing out, but G-d punishes Moshe and Aharon for disobeying Him. Because they didn't sanctify G-d in the eyes of the nation, they will not be able to bring the Jews into the Land of Israel.
Moshe sends emissaries to the king of Edom asking permission to pass through their land. The king of Edom refuses and threatens war against the Jews.
The Jews arrive at Mount Hor. G-d instructs Moshe to lead Aharon and Elazar his son up the mountain. Moshe dresses Elazar in Aharon's priestly robes, and Aharon dies there. The entire nation mourns Aharon's death for 30 days. The Canaanite king of Arad wages war against Israel and takes a captive. Israel vows that if G-d will help them to defeat the Canaanites they will consecrate all the spoils of victory to G-d. G-d hears the prayer of the people, and delivers the Canaanites into their hands.
The people journey on, and once again complain that they have no substantial food or water. G-d sends serpents to attack the people. and a large multitude die. The people come to Moshe, admit their sin and ask Moshe to pray for them. G-d instructs Moshe to make a serpent and place it on a pole. Anyone who is bitten should look at the serpent and they will live. Moshe makes the serpent (Nachash) out of copper (Nechoshet).
The Torah lists the journeys of the Children of Israel.
After passing through valley of the river of Arnon the Children of Israel sing a song of thanksgiving to G-d for the miracles which he performed to them there. (The Torah doesn't explain the miracles, but we have a tradition that He miraculously killed the Emorites who were waiting there in ambush for the Jews.)
The Jews ask permission to pass through the land of Sichon, king of the Emorites. He refuses and wages war on them. They defeat Sichon and take possession of his land. Israel settles in the land of the Emorites and Moshe sends spies to Yazer. They conquer its suburbs, and drive away the Emorites remaining there. They then turn toward Bashan. Og, the king, comes out to fight them and he and his people are totally destroyed. The Children of Israel take possession of his land. They then journey and encamp on the plains of Moav on the bank of the Jordan opposite Jericho.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Parshat Korach (Rabbi Sedley)

All Men Are Equal...

Korach's main complaint against Moshe was that there should not be a single leader for the nation, "For all the congregation are holy." (16; 3). He was against what he saw as a dictatorial theocracy, and instead claimed to be advocating equality for all. This, however, was only a pretext for his true motivation, which was to become the new leader of the nation. This is why he accepted Moshe's challenge that he and all those who joined his rebellion should bring an incense offering, and let G-d choose who the leader should be. Despite his claims of equality, Korach personified the famous line from ‘Animal Farm’ that "all animals are equal, but some are more equal than others".
Not only Korach, but all those who followed him also openly espoused equality, but in reality were aiming for personal political power. This is why the Mishna (Ethics of the Fathers 5; 17) states: "What is an example of an argument that is not for the sake of heaven? The argument of Korach and his congregation." Were his followers supporting Korach, the Mishna should have said the argument of Korach and Moshe. We see from here that there was more fighting between Korach and his followers than between them and Moshe, and this is because they each wanted to be in charge.
Maor VaShemesh explains the Talmud (Nedarim 39b) based on this idea. "When Korach confronted Moshe, the sun and the moon went before G-d and said, 'Master of the Universe, if you do justice for the son of Amram (Moshe) we will continue to shine. But if not we will cease to shine'". Maor VaShemesh asks why the sun and moon were particularly involved in this argument? He bases his answer on the Talmud (Chullin 60b) which relates that originally G-d created the sun and the moon both the same size, as the verse states "G-d made the two great luminaries" (Genesis 1; 16). However the moon complained to G-d that two kings cannot both rule equally. Therefore G-d told the moon to make itself smaller, as the verse continues, "the big light and the small light". We see from here that G-d agreed fundamentally with the moon's claim that there can only be one ruler. Therefore, when Korach tried to claim that everyone was equal, and there was no need for a single ruler, both the sun and moon objected.
The Torah contains a story which deals with the inherent risks of having two equal leaders. Cain and Abel were originally the only two sons of Adam and Eve. The Torah states: "And Cain said to Abel his brother" (ibid. 4; 8). The Midrash (Genesis Rabba 22; 7) explains that Cain's pretext for killing Abel was making a pact with him. Cain was to take the entire earth as his inheritance, and Abel was to have all the chattel. Cain would claim that the ground on which Abel was standing belonged to him, and Abel claimed that Cain's clothes belonged to him. Abel told Cain to remove his clothes, and Cain told Abel to fly in the air. Eventually Cain resolved the argument by killing his brother.
Korach hadn't learnt the lesson that it is not possible for two leaders to divide their kingdom. He continued to uphold the argument of Cain that everyone should have equal rights to govern. Therefore Moshe's challenge to Korach was the same as that of Cain and Abel. Just as they brought offerings to G-d, so too Moshe told Korach and his congregation to each bring an offering, and in that manner let G-d decide who should be the rightful leader. Moshe's prayer was "Do not turn to their gift offering", which is clearly a reminder of the earlier verse "G-d turned to Abel and his offering, but to Cain and to his offering He did not turn".
Rav Yonasan Eibeschitz in his book Tiferes Yonasan takes this idea to the point where he writes that Korach's soul was actually a reincarnation of the soul of Cain, and Moshe was a reincarnation of Abel. At this point in history the record is set straight, that ultimately righteousness, and serving G-d with a pure heart and good intentions, will triumph over might and egotistical power lust.

Korach Summary

Korach assembles Datan, Aviram and On, along with 250 other men from the tribe of Reuven, and leads a rebellion against Moshe's leadership of the nation (in fact, On did not fight against Moshe, but withdrew from the fight after discussion with his wife). He claims that everyone heard G-d at Mount Sinai, and therefore everyone is equally able to lead the Israelites. Moshe, in consulatation with G-d, tells the rebels to make incense pans and to prepare incense on them, to see who's offering G-d chooses to accept. He privately summons Korach and tries to dissuade him from leading this revolt. He also summons Datan and Aviram, but they refuse to come to speak to him. G-d tells Moshe to separate the people from the tents of Korach, Datan and Aviram. G-d makes the earth open its mouth and swallow Korach, Datan and Aviram, all their families, and all that belonged to them. A flame descends from heaven and consumes the 250 men who were offering the incense.
G-d commands Moshe to tell Elazar (Aaron's son) to gather up the fire-pans. They are hammered out and made into a covering for the altar. This acts as a reminder to everyone else that only Aharon and his descendants the Cohanim may offer incense before G-d.
The entire assembly of Israel gathers the next day and complains that Moshe and Aharon are killing off the nation. Immediately a plague begins killing the people. Moshe tells Aharon to intercede by offering incense, and thus appease G-d's anger. Aharon stands between the living and the dead, offers the incense and stops the plague.
G-d then instructs Moshe to bring a new proof of Aharon's greatness. Each tribe should bring a staff inscribed with the name of the leader of that tribe. The staff of Levi should have Aharon's name on it. All the staffs are placed in the Mishkan overnight. In the morning when Moshe enters, Aharon's staff has blossomed and brought forth buds, ripening into almonds. Moshe brings out the staffs, and each leader takes his staff. The staff of Aharon was kept as a safekeeping and a reminder to prevent any future claims against Aharon.
G-d reiterates the duties of the Cohanim. They shall perform all of the sacrifices in the Temple. Any non-Kohen who performs these tasks shall die at the hands of heaven. G-d awards a portion from every sacrifice to the Cohanim. They shall also receive a tithe of the first fruits and crops. Every firstborn animal shall be given to the Cohanim. Part of it is offered on the altar and the rest of the meat belongs to the Kohen. The Cohanim will not receive a share in the Land of Israel because G-d alone is their portion.
The Levi'im receive a tithe of ten percent from all produce in return for the service that they perform in the Temple. From this tithe the Levi'im must take ten percent and give that to the Cohanim.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Tosefet Bracha Shelach Lecha part 2

"Moshe called Hoshea bin Nun - Yehoshua” (13; 16)
Rashi explains here, based on the midrash, that Moshe's intention in changing his name was to add a 'yud' to the 'heh' so that it would spell G-d's name, and as if to say 'G-d should save you from the advice of the spies' (because Moshe saw in a vision that it was posssible that the spies would sin, and he prayed that it shouldn't happen). We have to explain why Moshe prayed for Yehoshua more than for all the other spies, that he should be saved from speaking lashon hara and saying bad things about the land of Israel.
Perhaps we can explain based on the Midrash Rabba in parshat Vayeshev (end of section 86) regarding the nature of people. 'Throw a stick to the ground and it will return to where it came from'. This is an analogy to people who inherit their behaviour patterns from their parents. Like we find in the Midrash Rabba, Parshat Miketz, that when the goblet was found in the sack of Binyamin, and the brothers thought that he had stolen it, they all called him 'thief, the son of a thief'. They thought he was following in the footsteps of his mother who had stolen the idols from her father (Vayetze 31; 32). We also find this as a common saying amongst people, 'the lamb follows the ewe, the actions of the daughter are like the actions of the mother' (Ketubot 63a). Also in Yechezkel (16; 44) we find “the daughter is like the mother”.
We know that Yehoshua was from the tribe of Ephraim ben Yosef. Yosef had the attribute of speaking badly about others, like we find at the beginning of parshat Vayeshev (37; 2) “Yosef brought evil reports (about his brothers) to his father”. Therefore Moshe was concerned that this attribute might be part of Yehoshua's genetic makeup. Since he was so close to him as his student, Moshe prayed for him in particular, like for something which is likely to cause damage [which explains why he didn't also pray for Gadi ben Sussi from the tribe of Menashe, who was also descended from Yosef.]
We gave a similar explanation to something which we find many times in the Talmud. When Rav Yosef was amazed about something he would say 'Master of Avraham' (for example look in Shabbat 22a, and the other places listed there). We don't find anyone else who used this expression, nor is it explained why Rav Yosef chose this phrase to express his surprise or amazement, or why it was unique to him.
Perhaps we can explain based on what the Ran brings in Kiddushin (chapter one on the Talmud 31a) in the name of an aggada. That Rav Yosef was careful not to look outside of his immediate four amot. For this purpose he damaged his eyes [which eventually led to him becoming blind]. This trait of never looking outside the four amot was also a trait of Avraham. Like Rashi explains in parshat Lech Lecha on the verse “Now I know that you are beautiful” [that until that moment Avraham had not noticed how beautiful Sarah, his wife, was]. Also in the Midrash Rabba on Vayera (parshat 53) they said that he fulfilled the verse “close his eyes from seeing evil” (Yishiya 33; 15). Because of this trait of not looking at things away from himself, he didn't notice the actions of Yishmael. Therefore Rav Yosef had the same trait as Avraham, and therefore used this expression of surprise 'Master of Avraham'.
We also explained similarly the Talmud in Chagiga 14b, which tells of Rabbi Elazar ben Erech who expounded upon kabbalistic secrets of the nature of G-d. After he finished, Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai stood up and kissed him on his head, and said, 'Blessed is G-d who gave such a son to Avraham our father'. He meant this same idea, because we know from midrashim that Avraham explored these kinds of ideas, and as explained by Rambam at the beginning of his laws of idolatry. Therefore he connected Elazar ben Erech to Avraham because he followed in his footsteps.

Tosefet Bracha Shelach Lecha part 1

"Send for yourself men” (13; 2)
Rashi points out the reason that the story of the spies follows immediately after the story of Miriam (at the end of Beha'alotecha), since they both speak about lashon hara.
It is not clear to me why Rashi has to point this out. There are many sections of the Torah that we never ask about the reason for their juxtaposition, so why does Rashi need to say anything here?
Perhaps we can say that this juxtaposition requires particular explanation, based on the Talmud in Shabbat (116a) that it is not correct to put two bad topics next to each other. Here we have the tragedy of the spies immediately after the tragedy of Miriam, and this requires explanation. Therefore Rashi explains that they both deal with the same topic of lashon hara.

"Moshe called Hoshea bin Nun - Yehoshua” (13; 16)
We must point out that every time in the Torah and Nach that the word 'ben' appears it has three dots (segol) under the 'bet'. However, every time it says Yehoshua's name there is only one dot (chirik) so that it is read as 'bin'. This is strange. There must be some special reason for this unusual vocalisation.
There is only one other time that the word 'bin' is used, and that is in Mishlei (30; 1) “These are the words of Agur, son of (bin) Yakeh...” when the 'bet' also has a chirik. [There is also another time in Parshat Ki Tetzei, Devarim 15; 2, but there it doesn't mean 'son', so perhaps that is why the author doesn't mention it.] The Sages have discussed this in the midrash, and explained it aggadically (metaphorically) in Shemot Rabba Parshat Va'era section 6. However the explanation there has no relevance to the verse here. The Sages appear to say nothing at all about our case. Nor have any of the commentaries discussed it, and this is extremely strange.
Perhaps we can explain based on the Talmud (Sanhedrin 107a) and midrashim that say that the 'yud' that was taken from Sarai (after he name was changed to Sarah) complained about being removed from the Torah. It was only consoled when Moshe took it and added it to Hoshea's name to make Yehoshua (by adding a 'yud'). In this way the 'yud' that was removed from Sarai was replaced into the Torah.
This Talmud still leaves a difficulty, because even though Moshe found the 'yud' to add to Hoshea's name, where did he find the vowel to go under it? The 'yud' from Sarai had no vowel under it, whereas the 'yud' of Yehoshua has a 'sheva', which is two dots. We know that the number of dots in the Torah is precise and exact, so how could Moshe add two dots to the 'yud'? Therefore he had to remove the two dots from the 'bet' of 'ben' and replaced the 'segol' with a 'chirik'. This left two dots extra which were used for the 'yud'.
Even though this explanation is subtle and unusual, nevertheless, because of the uniqueness of the vocalisation of this word you should accept it.
[This doesn't explain why he was called Hoshea 'bin' Nun before Moshe added the 'yud' (verse 8) – perhaps the 'segol' was already removed in advance of the name change?]

Parshat Shelach Lecha

Looking for the Divine in the natural

The Torah reading ends with the commandment to place tzitzit on the corners of our garments. The Talmud (Menachot 43b) explains its significance: Rabbi Meir used to say, "Why was the colour techeilet (a green/blue dye derived from a sea snail) chosen [by G-d] to be the colour on the tzitzit? Because techeilet resembles the sea, and the sea is the same colour as the sky. The sky is similar in colour to G-d's Throne of Glory, as the verse says 'And beneath His feet was the likeness of sapphire brickwork, and it was like the essence of the heaven in purity ...". The Talmud also points out that the Mitzvah of tzitzit is equivalent to all the other Mitzvot: "You shall see them, and remember all the Mitzvot, and you shall perform them..." (Numbers 15; 39). Seeing brings to remembering, and remembering brings a person to action. (Menachot ibid.). Furthermore, Rashi explains that tzitzit correspond to all 613 commandments. The numerical value (Gematria) of the word tzitzit is 600, and there are eight strings and five knots, making a total of 613.
All of these statements lead to the question that if we need a reminder of the commandments why did G-d not give us a simpler, more direct reminder. Wouldn't placing a bumper sticker on our cars saying "I love G-d", or "Remember the 613" have been more effective? And why did Rabbi Meir lead us through a list of blue reminders, rather than simply saying that techeilet is the same colour as the sapphire which is under the Throne of Glory?
These questions can perhaps be answered by looking back to the opening of the Portion. When the ten spies returned with their evil report about the Land of Israel one of their claims was "It is a land which devours its inhabitants" (13; 32). Rashi (based on the Talmud Sotah 35a) explains that wherever they went throughout the land they saw funerals taking place. They thought that the Land of Israel caused premature death, and were therefore frightened to enter into it. What they failed to realise was that G-d purposely caused many Canaanite people to die while they were touring the land, in order to divert the inhabitants' attention from the unwelcome Jewish visitors. Rather than seeing the hand of G-d in what they witnessed, they saw only the negative side of Israel. Yehoshua tried to counter the claims of the spies in front of the nation, "If G-d desires it He will bring us into this Land and give it to us ..." (14; 8).
The generation of the desert had a far greater level of trust in G-d than we can fathom. Every night they would go to sleep without any provisions for the morning. They were miles away from the nearest source of water or food, and were totally dependent upon G-d providing Manna the next morning. Yet their mistake was that they thought that G-d could only relate to them in a miraculous way. When the spies entered the Land of Israel they didn't realise that G-d was also present in natural events. So when they saw the funerals taking place they misunderstood what was really happening. It didn't occur to them that G-d could be causing this for their benefit.
Tzitzit is a partial correction of the sin of the spies. Thus the Torah says, "Do not explore after your heart and after your eyes..." (15; 39). Tzitzit comes to teach us to see G-d not only in the miraculous, but also in the natural events that occur. This is why Rabbi Meir goes to such lengths to describe the different steps of remembering the Throne of Glory. If we see the techeilet we remember that G-d is also present in all natural phenomena, and in this way we come to recognise G-d. That is why it is precisely through the complicated mathematical formula that we learn the message of the tzitzit, not through slogans or empty phrases. We wear a constant reminder that G-d is present everywhere and in everything.

Shelach Lecha summary

G-d gives Moshe permission to send spies to scout the land of Canaan. Moshe sends the twelve most distinguished men, one from each tribe. One of the spies is Hoshea bin Nun, whom Moshe renames Yehoshua. The spy from the tribe of Yehuda is Calev. The spies are instructed to investigate the land, and bring back a report of the strength of its inhabitants and its fertility. When the spies return, ten of them report that the Jews will not be able to conquer the land because its inhabitants are too strong for them. Despite Calev's protestations that they should obey G-d's command to enter the land, national hysteria ensues. The Children of Israel weep throughout the entire night, they question why G-d brought them out of Egypt, and contemplate returning to captivity there. The nation is about to stone Moshe and Aharon, along with Yehoshua and Calev, when G-d's presence appears in the Ohel Mo'ed. G-d tells Moshe that He wants to destroy the entire nation, and begin anew with Moshe's descendants. Moshe pleads on behalf of the Children of Israel, and G-d agrees to forgive the nation. However, all of the generation who left Egypt will not enter the Land of Israel. Only after they have died will G-d bring their children into Israel. Meanwhile they must spend forty years wandering in the desert. The ten spies who came back with the bad report perish immediately in a plague.
When Moshe tells this decree to the nation they begin to mourn again. They rise early the next morning and attempt to enter the Land of Israel by force, in defiance of G-d's decree, but are severely defeated by the Amalekites and the Canaanites.
G-d instructs Moshe about the libations that must accompany the animal sacrifices. He also instructs the Jews to set aside Challa, a portion from every dough to be given to the Cohanim. G-d instructs the nation about sacrifices they must bring if the entire nation unintentionally worships idols, or if an individual unintentionally commits idolatry. Someone who purposely worships idols will receive the punishment of karet (spiritual excision).
The Jews find a man gathering wood, defiantly breaking Shabbat. They bring him to Moshe, who asks G-d what his punishment should be. G-d explains that he must be put to death by stoning, which the Children of Israel then do.
G-d instructs Moshe to tell the nation to make tzitzit (tassels) on the four corners of all garments. One of the strings should be dyed with techeilet (blue dye derived from a variety of sea snail). The tzitzit will be an eternal reminder of all the commandments.