Sunday, July 29, 2007

Parshat Ekev (Rabbi Sedley)

"You shall be banished swiftly from the goodly Land that G-d gives you. You shall place these words ..." (Deuteronomy 11; 17 - 18). Rashi (based on Sifri 43) comments on this verse: "Even after you are exiled [from the Land of Israel] you should decorate yourselves with the Mitzvot, put on Tefillin, place a mezuzah on your doorposts etc. in order that they should not be new to you when you return [from your exile]. Similarly the prophet says "Set up signposts for yourselves" (Jeremiah 31; 20)."
The Vilna Gaon points out the apparent contradiction between this Midrash, and a Mishna. The Mishna (Kiddushin (36b)) states: "Any commandment which is dependent on the Land only applies in the Land of Israel, and any that is not dependent on the Land applies both in Israel and outside of Israel, with the exception of the Mitzvot of Orla1 and Kilayim2 [which apply also outside of Israel - Rashi]." The Talmud (ibid. 37a) explains further that the definition of a commandment which is dependent on the Land is one that is not an obligation on the ground, or on things which grow in the ground. Similarly one which is not dependent on the Land is one which is an obligation on the person themselves, such as keeping Shabbat, putting on Tefillin, not worshipping idols etc.
Why does the Midrash need to give the reason for performing the Mitzvot outside of Israel as in order that they should not be new to you when you return? Since this Midrash mentions those Mitzvot like Tefillin and mezuzah which are dependent on the person performing them, but not those which are dependent on the Land, surely the reason for keeping them is that they apply equally outside Israel as in Israel?
The Mishna L'Melech in his book Parshas D'rachim quotes the Rashba, who resolves this question. He explains that the Torah makes several references to the fact that G-d is giving us the Land of Israel in order that we should be able to keep the Torah (e.g. "You shall observe His decrees and His commandments so that you will prolong your days on the Land that G-d gives you..." (Deuteronomy 4; 40)). the Talmud which obligates Mitzvot outside Israel is only referring to such time as the majority of Jews are living in Israel. At such a time leaving Israel is not an exemption from the Mitzvot. However, once the majority of Jews live in exile one may have thought that there is a general exemption from all the Mitzvot, therefore the Midrash teaches us that we are still obligated, so that they should not seem foreign to us when we eventually return to Israel.
Rabbeinu Bachaya resolves this contradiction. He says that the Midrash teaches us that the essential performance of the Mitzvot is only possible in Israel. Even though we are equally obligated to perform the Mitzvot which are not dependent on the Land wherever we live, the effect is not the same as performing them in Israel.
Based on this explanation, we can understand the Talmud in Ketubot (110b): "A person should always try to live in the Land of Israel, even in a city which is mostly non-Jewish, rather than live outside the Land of Israel, even in a city which is mostly Jewish, because someone who dwells in the Land of Israel is like someone who has [a relationship with] G-d, but someone who dwells outside the Land of Israel is like someone who does not have [a relationship with] G-d." Though it is possible to be a good Jew anywhere in the world, and to live in a Jewish city with Jewish schools, restaurants and Synagogues, the value of the Mitzvot, and the connection with G-d is less than in the Land of Israel.
HaK'tav v'HaKabbalah explains the importance of performing Mitzvot outside of Israel, based on the analogy given in the Midrash. The Sifri likens it to a king who grew angry with his wife, and sent her away to her parent's house. The wife's father said to her "Make sure that you wear your jewellery, so that when you return to the palace you will not be unaccustomed to them." Similarly G-d says to the Jews, "You should decorate yourselves with the Mitzvot in order that they should not be new to you when you return." With this analogy the Midrash teaches us that through performing the Mitzvot we show that we have not despaired of returning to the palace, the Land of Israel. Similarly, by continuing to decorate ourselves with Mitzvot we show that our love for G-d has not diminished though we are far from Him at the moment.

Ekev Summary

Note:The events mentioned in this Torah reading are not listed in chronological order.

Moshe tells the nation that G-d promises blessing, health and prosperity if they observe and safeguard His commandments. He urges the Israelites not to fear the nations who inhabit the Land of Israel because G-d will cause them to flee before the Israelites when they enter into the land. In the same way that G-d miraculously brought them out of Egypt, He will also bring them miraculously into Israel. Moshe warns them to destroy all the idols and temples that they find when they arrive in Israel, lest these idols become a snare and they are seduced into idol worship.
Moshe reminds the nation of the miracles which G-d performed for them during the forty years in the Sinai desert; their food fell from the heavens, their clothes never wore out, and their feet did not become tired from walking. Similarly when they enter the Land of Israel G-d will provide for all their needs; the land is rich in crops and water and minerals. However with prosperity comes the danger that the Jews may turn their backs on G-d and ignore His commandments. Moshe warns the Jews that if they abuse the provisions that G-d gives them, they will perish and not enjoy the benefits. He tells them that the miracles that they will witness when they enter the Land of Israel will not be in their own merit. Rather they are part of the covenant which G-d made with the patriarchs Avraham, Yitzchak and Ya'akov.
Moshe tells the Jews that they must constantly remember that even when they were standing at Mount Sinai and about to receive the Two Tablets of Law, they rebelled against G-d and built the Golden Calf. G-d told Moshe that He would destroy the entire nation for their sin, and create a new nation from Moshe's descendants. Moshe pleaded with G-d and averted the decree. Moshe descended Mount Sinai, saw the Golden Calf and smashed the tablets that he was holding. Then he returned to the top of the mountain and prayed that G-d should forgive the nation. Moshe also ground up the gold from the idol and threw it into a brook.
Moshe reminds the people that they also sinned when they listened to the evil report of the spies who had been sentin to Israel, and the people refused to enter into the land. After G-d forgave the Jews He instructed Moshe to hew two new tablets and once again ascend Mount Sinai. G-d once again wrote the Ten Commandments on these stones and gave them to Moshe who placed them in a temporary ark.
Moshe retells Aharon's death, and how his son Eliezer took over his father's position as High Priest. G-d separated for Himself the tribe of Levi to minister in the Temple. Because of this they do not receive a portion in the Land of Israel.
Moshe tells the people of Israel what G-d demands of them - to fear and to love G-d, and to follow in His ways. Though everything in the heavens and the earth belongs to G-d, He chose to have a special relationship with the patriarchs. Therefore the Jews are entrusted with keeping all His commandments and decrees. They witnessed the miracles that occurred when G-d brought them out of Egypt, and all the miracles that accompanied them in the desert.
If the Jews observe these laws they will prolong their days in the Land of Israel, and it will be a prosperous country. If they observe all the commandments they will prosper and G-d will give them the material things that they need to better serve Him. If they ignore His instructions they will not be successful and we will eventually be banished from the Land of Israel. This portion ends with the commandments of Tefillin and Mezuzah.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Parshat Vaetchanan (Rabbi Sedley)

"I implored G-d at that time saying, ...". (Deuteronomy 3; 23). Rashi notes that the word for 'implored' (which gives us the name of the Torah portion), 'va'eschanan' always means asking for a free gift. He explains: Even though the righteous could ask G-d in the merit of their righteous actions, they only ask G-d to give them a free gift, for G-d has said "I will show favour to whom I chose" (Exodus 33; 9).
Rabbi Yonasan Eibschitz, in his work Tiferes Yehonasan explains that they are not asking for G-d to give them something for nothing, but rather that they pray for their request to be fulfilled in the merit of what they will be able to do through the granting of this petition. Similarly, the Talmud (Sota 14a) explains that Moshe's sole motivation for wanting to enter the Land of Israel was in order that he should be able to perform the Mitzvot that can only be kept there, such as terumah, ma'aser, and tithes for the poor.
The Talmud (Kidushin 30b) states: "A person's evil inclination grows stronger every day, and tries to kill him, And if G-d would not help him he would never be able to overcome it." Furthermore, the Mishna (Avot 2; 4) says: "Don't trust in yourself until the day of your death." This means that even the most righteous person cannot rely on the fact that they have not sinned as an assurance that they will not sin in the future. If so, how could Moshe pray to G-d in the merit of Mitzvot that he hopes to perform in the future? Without G-d's help he has no guarantees that he will be able to keep the Mitzvot.
Later in the Portion the Torah states (5; 26) "Who can assure that this heart should remain theirs to fear Me [G-d] and observe all My commandments all the days?" On this the Talmud (Avoda Zara 5a) comments: Moshe said to the Jews, 'You are ungrateful, the children of ungrateful people. When G-d asked "Who can assure ..." you should have replied, "You, G-d, guarantee it for us.".
The Chazon Ish asks, how could the Jews be expected to ask G-d to ensure that they not sin? Doesn't that negate the entire concept of free choice? He answers that G-d gives free choice to each person. However, a person is permitted to persuade his fellow to serve G-d, either through force, or through encouragement. This is not considered annulling their free choice, since the actions he performs through his own free choice, and all of Israel are considered as a single person. This is the meaning of the verse; who can assure that there will always be righteous people in each generation concerned with bringing the hearts of the people close to the service of G-d.
G-d does not normally place this closeness in a person's heart, because if He would it would not have come from the person. If, however, a person prays to G-d that they should be brought close, and their prayers are answered, then the closeness that G-d brings about is attributed to the person, since it came about through his prayers. This is the meaning of the statement in the Talmud, that the Jews should have asked G-d to give the assurance. In other words, through this G-d would have been able to bring them close, since it would have been through their prayers.
This is Moshe's prayer. "You have begun to show your servant Your greatness...". Until now Moshe's prayers to come close to serving G-d have been answered, and he has reached the highest level of attachment to G-d that it is possible for a human being to attain. He is now praying that G-d continue to help him to draw close to G-d, through performing the Mitzvot, and to give him a chance to perform even more Mitzvot by entering the Land of Israel. Moshe is not asking that G-d answer him based on his past performance, but is praying that he be given not only opportunities to fulfil more Mitzvot, but the personal capabilities and inner strength to rise to the challenge of his evil inclination, and continue to draw close to G-d.

Vaeschanan Summary

Moshe relates how he implored G-d to permit him to enter into the Land of Israel. However G-d chastised Moshe, and told him that he should look out over the land, but that he would not be able to enter into it. Moshe tells the people to continue to observe the commandments which G-d has given them, and never to forget the revelation that they saw at Mount Sinai. They should tell their children and their children after them how they heard G-d's voice from the midst of the fire on top of the mountain that was shrouded in darkness and cloud. They received the Ten Commandments at that time, and the other laws were given to them through Moshe. They are commanded not to make any graven image.
Moshe reminds the people how fortunate they are to be entering into the Land of Israel, and that he will not be able to go with them. Being in Israel will have special tests of faith, and the Jews must remain strong in their belief and not forsake G-d. Moshe prophecies however that in future generations they will turn their backs on G-d, and that as a result of this they will be banished from the land, and be scattered amongst the nations of the earth. However, even in the midst of the exile G-d will not abandon the Jews, but will wait for them to repent and return to Him. Then He will bring them out of exile, as He brought them out of Egypt.
Moshe then set aside three cities of refuge on the east bank of the Jordan, for those who commit accidental manslaughter. These are the laws that Moshe expounded before the Children of Israel.
Moshe restates the Ten Commandments:
I am the L-rd your G-d who brought you out of the land of Egypt. You shall have no other gods before Me.
You shall not make any carved image or idol.
You shall not take the name of the L-rd your G-d in vain.
Guard the Shabbat and keep it holy.
Honour your father and you mother.
You shall not murder.
You shall not commit adultery.
You shall not steal.
You shall not bear false witness against your fellow.
You shall not covet that which belongs to another.
These are the laws that G-d spoke to the entire nation. He inscribed them on two tablets of stone which He gave to Moshe. The people beseeched Moshe to act as an intermediary and tell them what G-d said, because they were unable to bear the direct revelation of His presence. Moshe instructs the people to observe all these commandments in order that they should remain in the Land of Israel.
The first paragraph of the Shema is recorded, which states belief in the unity of G-d, and a commitment to studying and observing His commandments. Moshe warns of the dangers that prosperity can bring, causing the people to forget about G-d. However they must remember that it is G-d who gives us this prosperity, and must not turn their backs on Him.
We are prohibited from testing G-d, but should observe the commandments faithfully. We should pass our faith and belief on to our children, and teach them the commandments. G-d commands the Jews that when they enter the Land of Israel they must utterly destroy the seven nations that are there, and completely destroy all of their idols and temples.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Tosefet Bracha - Devarim


“In the wilderness, in the plain” (1: 1)
Rashi explains (in the beginning of this verse) that these are the places that Israel angered G-d. Out of respect for Israel he didn’t list the sins themselves, but hinted to them by mentioning the place names where they occurred.

This seems difficult. In the continuation of the book of Devarim Moshe lists all the sins explicitly with all the details. for example in parshat Ekev (9: 7) “Remember how you angered G-d and made for yourselves a golden calf” It also says there “You would anger G-d”. In our parsha it states “Remember the incident of the spies”. Moshe wasn’t concerned in those cases about their honour.

Perhaps we can explain Rasbi’s intent based on what he wrote in parshat Beha’alotecha (Bamidbar 9: 1) regarding Pesach Sheni. “The book of Bamidbar should have begun with this incident (because it happened in the first month, whereas the beginning of Bamidbar is the second month). However, because it alludes to the disgrace of the Jews (since in the entire forty years in the wilderness this was the only time they did the Pesach sacrifice – see Tosefot Kiddushin 37b s.v. ho’il for an explanation of this), the Torah did not want to begin the book with it, out of respect for the book.

It is clear from here that the main objection is only at the beginning of a book, out of respect for the book, but in the continuation of the book there is no issue. Thus we can explain that the Torah only needed to allude to the sins at the beginning of the book, because it did not wish to begin with the disgrace of Israel, and therefore had to only hint to them. However, later in the book, there is no problem with stating the sins explicitly.

With this chidush we can also understand the Talmud in the beginning of Pesachim (3a). There it explains that a person should always speak using clean and respectable language, and they learn this from the language in the Torah in parshat Noach. It says there (Berieshis 7: 5) “From the animals that are pure and form the animals that are not pure even though the Torah could have used fewer words and simply written ‘the impure animals’. This is because ‘impure’ is not dignified language. Rashi explains that even though the Torah uses the word ‘impure’ several times, here the Torah changed its language to teach us that we should always try and use clean language.

Rashi’s explanation requires elaboration. Based on what we have said above, that being particular about clean and decent language is only the at the beginning of a book. This verse in Noach is the first time that the concepts of pure and impure appear, therefore the Torah wrote it using clean language, as the first time.

Also there in Pesachim it says; It was taught in the house of Rabbi Yishmael that a person should always speak with clean language. It explains there that for this reason the Mishna uses the word ‘ohr’ (light) to mean evening (in the evening of the fourteenth) rather than the word ‘lail’, because ‘light’ is a nicer way of saying it than ‘night’, which is language of darkness an depression, like we find in creation ‘He called the darkness ‘night’.” And also in Tehillim (104: 20) “Darkness comes and it is night”.
However later in the gemara (7b) it uses that word explicitly – ‘It was taught in the house of Rabbi Yishmael that on the night of the fourteenth we check for chametz…’. It seems as though the house of Rabbi Yishmael are contradicting themselves, first they say that we must use nice language – ‘light’ instead of ‘night’, and then they themselves use the word ‘night’ of the fourteenth. How can we reconcile these two?
The explanation is that when one learns in depth in the middle of a book, there is no obligation to use the nicest language (provided, of course, that it is not crass or foul language), since the mind is involved in learning deeply, and is not able to think of nice words. However at the beginning of a book, at the beginning of the first Mishna, it is required. Out of honour for the beginning of the book it is appropriate to search for the best language – ‘light’ of the fourteenth. But when the house of Rabbi Yishmael were involved in the intricacies of the halacha, they were not particular on their language and used ‘night’ of the fourteenth.
If goes without saying that if it is possible to do both – to learn in depth and use good language, certainly that is the best. That is the basis of the proof there from the language of ‘riding’ and ‘sitting’ regarding a zav and zava. The Mishna uses ‘sitting’ instead of ‘riding’ when speaking about a zava because it is better language to say ‘sitting’ regarding a female.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Parshat Devarim (Rabbi Sedley)

"These are the words that Moshe spoke to all of Israel ..." (Deuteronomy 1; 1). In the last few days of his life Moshe gathered the entire nation and spoke to them. Rashi and Onkelos explain that all of the place names in the opening verse are references to sins that the nation had committed. Moshe was chastising the people before his death, reminding them of their past iniquities, and the punishments that they suffered as a consequence. The Torah stresses that everyone gathered to hear his final words. For Moshe to speak to the entire assembled nation, of more than 600,000 men, as well as women and children, without a microphone or PA system was clearly miraculous. Since G-d only performs open miracles when absolutely necessary, why was this event worthy of such a miracle?
The Talmud (Eruvin 54b) lists the order in which Moshe explained the laws of the Torah to the nation. Moshe heard the commandments from G-d, then called Aharon to him, and repeated them to him. Aharon then stood to the left of Moshe, Aharon's sons entered, and Moshe repeated the Torah to them and Aharon. Aharon's sons moved to the side, the elders of the community entered, and Moshe again taught the Torah to all of them. The elders moved to the side, and Moshe repeated the laws again to the rest of the people. Then Moshe left, and Aharon repeated the commandments he had just heard from Moshe. After he left his sons repeated it, then the elders told it to the others. Finally everyone left and taught the laws to the rest of the nation. Thus each person heard the laws four times, and taught it at least once. Why was this system not also sufficient for the rebuke which Moshe delivered?
Rashi (ibid.) answers that had Moshe only rebuked some of the people directly, those who were not present would have said, "You heard all that from Moshe and didn't answer him back? You should have excused our behaviour in such and such a manner. If we had been there we would have justified ourselves." Therefore Moshe gathered everyone and said to them: "You are all here. If anyone has excuses for these sins, let them speak now."
Amongst the sins to which Moshe alluded as he reprimanded the nation were the building of the Golden Calf, and the incident of the spies. These are sins for which that generation suffered, and that we are still suffering the consequences to this day. Our mourning on Tisha B'Av is as much for the rebellion of the nation who refused to enter the Land of Israel, as it is for the destruction of the Temple, which was also decreed at that time. How could there be any excuse for crimes for which the verdict is so clearly 'guilty'?
Actually, Moshe himself found excuses for the nation, which prevented them from total and immediate destruction. He prayed to G-d after the Golden Calf, and said that the reason they had been tempted to build an idol was because of all the gold that G-d had given them as they left Egypt. The consequence of sudden prosperity is rebellion against G-d, as the verse states: Jeshurun (Israel) became fat and kicked and deserted G-d ..." (Deuteronomy 32; 15). Thus when Moshe alludes to that sin in this week's Torah reading, he calls it Di Zahav (overabundance of gold).
According to Rashi, Moshe alludes to the incident of the spies through the place name Paran. Perhaps this word also hints to the nation's possible excuse. The Talmud (Shabbat 89b) explains that Paran is another name for Mount Sinai, because there they multiplied and became great ('Paran' is related to 'Puru' meaning increase). The main reason that the people did not want to enter Israel is so that they could remain with Moshe in the desert, learn gin Torah directly from him, and thus becoming a spiritually great nation. After the tremendous 'highs' of Sinai, G-d could not expect them to give up that lifestyle and enter Israel.
This is why Moshe assembled the entire nation. He knew as well as they did that any behaviour can be justified with an excuse. However, an excuse is not a valid reason for escaping the consequences. The people knew that their actions were wrong. Had Moshe not rebuked them all at once, some would have deluded themselves that they were justified in their sins. This is worse than the sin itself, because this allows a person to continue to sin with impunity. The Talmud (Eruvin 19a) states that anyone who falls for the excuses of the evil inclination will fall into Gehinom. Therefore, Moshe gathered everybody together, and reminded them of their sins, and showed them the feebleness of their excuses, so that nobody would be able to come later and justify their sins.

Devarim Summary

The book of Devarim (Deuteronomy) contains Moshe's final words to the nation before they enter into the Land of Israel. Most of the book contains a review of the laws that they had already received from G-d until this point. Moshe begins by summarising their sojourns in the desert. He hints to the sins that the Jews had committed throughout their journey, by listing the place names where those sins occurred.
Moshe retells how he was unable to provide for the nation alone, and G-d commanded that he appoint leaders over the people, to provide judgement and leadership on a local level. He reminds the people of the sin of the spies, how they listened to the evil report that the spies brought back when they scouted out the Land of Israel and they refused to trust G-d and enter into it. Only Yehoshua bin Nun and Calev ben Yephuneh remained from that generation to enter into the land, because they remained firm in their faith.
The Israelites had wandered through the desert for another 38 years. Finally they journeyed towards the land of Se'ir, but the children of Esav refused to let them pass through their country. G-d also commanded that the Israelites not wage war on the Moavites, and they had to journey around their country also.
As the Jews approached the Land of Israel, Sichon and Og led out armies to battle against them. With the help of G-d the Israelites defeated them and conquered their lands. The tribes of Reuven and Gad asked to remain on the East side of the Jordan river and claim their inheritance there, where they saw there was good pasture land because they had large flocks and herds of animals. Moshe gave them this land on the condition that they enter with the other tribes into Israel and help them conquer the land before returning home to their families and their inheritance.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Parshat Mattos (Rabbi Sedley)

Saving Life

The portion of Mattos begins: G-d spoke to Moshe, saying, "Take vengeance for the Children of Israel against the Midianites; afterward you will be gathered unto your people." (Numbers 41; 1, 2). Rashi (quoting a Midrash) praises Moshe for carrying out G-d's command immediately, even though G-d said that his own death would follow directly.
Halacha commands us to do anything necessary to save our own life, or the life of another, with the exception of the three cardinal sins; idolatry, murder and forbidden sexual relations. For example, we must break the laws of Shabbat even if we cannot save a life, but can prolong it for a short while. The source for this is the verse (Leviticus 18; 5) "You shall observe My decrees and My laws, which man shall carry out and by which he shall live" (Sanhedrin 74a, Mishna Brura 328; 4). Commandments are to be the source of life, not the cause of death. Clearly the sanctity of human life takes precedence over keeping the commandments. Given this traditional Jewish view of the sanctity of life, how could Moshe hurry to perform G-d's command, which ultimately hastened his own death?
Moshe himself valued life, as we see from his pleading with G-d to prolong his life so that he may enter the Land of Israel, as recorded at the beginning of Va'eschanan. Moshe tells how he offered prayers to G-d, and only ceased his pleading when G-d commanded him to desist because of the risk of Chilul Hashem. Why then was Moshe so eager to fulfil G-d's command regarding the Midianites, when he could have prolonged his life by delaying?
According to Moshe Chaim Luzzato (Messilas Yesharim chap. 1) the main task of a person is to clarify and understand what are their obligations in the world. He continues: "Our Rabbis have taught us that a person was only created in order to draw close to G-d and enjoy the splendour of the radiance of the Shechina, which is the only true enjoyment and the ultimate pleasure. The place of this pleasure is the world to come, which was created for this purpose. However, the way to reach this goal is through this world. This is what our Sages meant when they said (Avos 4): This world is like a hallway before the world to come. The means through which a person reaches this goal is through the Mitzvot."
Moshe was in the unique situation of knowing exactly what was expected of him, and what his obligations in the world were. This is why he is described in the Torah as a "Servant of G-d" (Deuteronomy 34; 8). He also understood that this world is only a temporary hallway to prepare us for the world to come. Therefore, when G-d commanded him to wage war on the Midianites he didn't hesitate. Had he not fulfilled the command, he may have succeeded in prolonging his life in this world, but he would have missed the entire purpose of life, which is to perform the Mitzvot.
However, when G-d told Moshe that he was not permitted to enter the Land of Israel, Moshe tried everything he could to revoke that decree. His intention was not merely to prolong his life, but to give himself the opportunity to observe those commandments that can only be kept in the Land of Israel. The value of life is as a tool to performing Mitzvot.
The Vilna Gaon expressed this idea as he lay on his deathbed. He grasped his tzitzit in his hand and said: "How difficult it is to leave this world. In this world for a few kopecks a person can purchase tzitzit, and as a reward for that simple Mitzvah merit to experience the Divine Presence in the world to come. But in the Upper World, he can no longer earn anything, even if he exerts all his energies."

massei summary

The Torah lists the journeys of the Children of Israel from the time of the Exodus until the present, when they are about to enter the Land of Israel.
G-d instructs the Jews that when they enter Canaan they shall drive out all the inhabitants and remove any idols and temples that they find there. If they do not drive out all the present inhabitants, those inhabitants will become thorns in the side of Israel, and G-d will do to the Jews that which they should have done to the Canaanites.
G-d instructs Moshe as to the borders of the Land of Israel. This land should be divided up amongst nine and a half of the tribes since the tribes of Reuven, Gad and half of Menashe had already received their inheritance on the other side of the Jordan River. Elazar and Yehoshua will oversee the allotment of land. G-d lists a leader from each tribe to help apportion the Land of Israel to that tribe.
G-d instructs Moshe to set up forty-two Levitical cities. In addition there are to be six cities of refuge which will also be given to the Levi'im. A person who commits manslaughter should flee to one of the cities of refuge, and must remain there until the death of the current High Priest. After that time he may return to his home. If he remains outside the city of refuge, or leaves it, the relatives of the deceased may kill him without trial. Anyone who commits premeditated murder should be put to death by the Sanhedrin. Even if he escapes to a city of refuge, he must be taken out of there to stand trial.
The leaders of the tribe of Menashe complain to Moshe that when the daughters of Tzelophchod marry, their ancestral land will pass on to the tribe of their husband, and will not remain part of Menashe's inheritance. G-d therefore commands that these five women may only marry someone from their own tribe, in order that their land should not pass to another tribe.
These are the commandments and ordinances that G-d commanded through Moshe to the Children of Israel in the Plains of Moav.

Mattos summary

Moshe teaches the laws of vows and oaths to the Children of Israel. The father of a young girl may nullify the vow of his daughter immediately upon hearing it, as can a woman's husband. If they do not nullify it, it becomes binding. No person shall break their word or oath.
G-d instructs Moshe to wage war against the Midianites, after which he will die. Pinchas leads a thousand warriors from each tribe into battle and they kill all the men of Midian. However they take all the women and children captive. Upon their return Moshe chastises them for sparing the women, who were the one's responsible for seducing them to idol worship which led to the plague amongst the Jews. He instructs that all the boys and all women old enough for intercourse be put to death.
The Torah explains the laws of koshering utensils in regard to the spoils that were taken from the Midianites. Any vessel that is used in cooking must be koshered by heating. Also, any cooking utensil made by a non-Jew must be ritually immersed in a Mikva before being used.
The spoils of battle are divided up, half to those who fought and half to those who remained and guarded the camp. A tithe is also given to the Levi'im. The commanders of the soldiers bring a thanksgiving offering in recognition of the fact that not a single Jewish soldier was lost.
The tribes of Reuven and Gad see that the land on this side of the Jordan River is ideal for livestock. As they have many animals, they request from Moshe that they be allowed to stay here instead of entering into the Land of Israel proper. Moshe at first criticises them for preferring to remain in the desert, but then allows them to stay there provided that their men first go into Israel with the other tribes and help them to conquer it. The tribes of Reuven and Gad agree to this condition, and they and half of the tribe of Menashe remain on that side of the Jordan, building cities for themselves there.

Tosefet Bracha - Pinchas

Complete Forgiveness

“Therefore say, ‘behold I give to him My covenant of peace” (25; 12)

In Torah Temima we asked, why did Pinchas merit to receive this reward of becoming a Cohen more than Moshe. We find that Moshe also removed G-d’s anger from Israel, both at the time of the golden calf and the time of the spies. It is written in the verse after the golden calf, after Moshe’s prayer – “And G-d relented on the evil which He had spoken to do to His people” (Ki Tissa, Shemot 32; 14). And after the spies – “I have forgiven” (Shelach, Bamidbar 14; 20). Despite this, Moshe never received a covenant of peace from G-d as a reward, unlike Pinchas. This needs explanation.
We explained tat Moshe did not completely remove the anger totally and forever. He only effected a temporary forgiveness, but did not remove the root and cause of the anger. We find this after G-d has forgiven the sin of the calf, “On the day that I will visit (punishment) I will revisit their sin” (Ki Tissa, Shemot 32; 34). In the Talmud (Sanhedrin 102a) it says: every tragedy that befalls the Jewish people contains within it part of the punishment for the sin of the calf. So we see that the sin was not erased completely and things were not like they were before. Similarly with the spies, after G-d says “I have forgiven”, He adds “Nevertheless, I swear that none of these people will see the land…” (Shelach Bamidbar 14; 23). On the verse that says “the people cried on that night” (14; 1), the Sages say: G-d said, ‘they cried for no reason. I will give them a reason to cry for all generations’ (referring to the ninth of Av, the date of the destruction of the Temple – Ta’anit 29a). We see that in both cases, the calf and the spies, the anger still remains, somewhat muted and restrained. Pinchas, however, removed the anger entirely. He uprooted it entirely so that there was no trace left for the future. Therefore he merited his reward.
Based on this explanation we can understand the wording of the prayer ‘Avinu Malkeinu’ in which we say ‘forgive us and pardon us for all our sins’. We also say ‘destroy the evil decree against us’. It is not clear why we need the repetition of the same idea. Forgiving and pardoning is the same as destroying the evil decree. Through forgiveness everything should return to its original state (with no decree).
Based on our explanation, even after the forgiveness and pardon, it is possible that there still remains a trace of the sin for the future. This is what we find in the forgiveness for both the sins of the golden calf and the spies, as we explained. Therefore we pray that not only should we receive forgiveness and pardon, but we also request that the decree should be destroyed, like a loan document if the lender forgives the borrower the loan. Until the loan document is destroyed, the mind of the borrower is still concerned lest he only be given a temporary stay and the loan is not forgiven completely. As long as the document still exists the money can still be claimed. Once it is ripped up it loses its validity forever. This is the meaning of the prayer – we ask that G-d tear up the decree against us even after He has forgiven us for the sin.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Parshat Pinchas (Rabbi Sedley)

A recurring theme in the first half of this Torah reading is genetic purity. The Torah goes to great lengths to ensure that no doubts are cast on the lineage of the nation. The portion opens with the genealogy of Pinchas. "Pinchas the son of Elazar, the son of Aharon the Priest ..." (Numbers 25; 11). Rashi explains that after Pinchas's zealous act of killing Zimri, the prince of the tribe of Shimon, and Cosbi, the princess of Midian, people began questioning his actions. They accused him of murder, and protested "Have you seen this son of Puti [another name for Jethro], whose grandfather fattened calves for idolatrous purposes, yet he has slain the prince of a tribe of Israel?!" Pinchas's maternal grandfather was Yitro (Jethro), and though he became a convert and joined the Israelites in the desert, he had earlier been the high priest to idolatry. Therefore the Torah traces Pinchas back to Aharon the priest.
Rav Ya'akov Kaminetsky explains that the people were really questioning the purity of his motives. A religious zealot can rarely be motivated purely for the sake of heaven and act totally selflessly for G-d; this was the action of Pinchas. However, often a person acts zealously because their own personal religious sensibilities have been offended. This is not an act for G-d, but the satisfying of one's own desires in the name of G-d and religion. This is totally invalid and has no place in Judaism. Had the Torah not testified to Pinchas's total purity of motive, we would have understood that his act was one of murder, and was no less idolatrous than the former actions of his maternal grandfather. This was the taunt of the nation. Therefore the Torah traces Pinchas's lineage back to Aharon, who was distinguished for his love of mankind and his constant pursuit of peace. Aharon had no concern for his own self-image or prestige, and would attempt to bring peace between individuals and families even if that caused his own degradation. Similarly Pinchas knew that he would possibly be put to death for his actions, yet he correctly understood that this was the only way to save the rest of the nation from the plague that was killing them.
Immediately after this incident G-d again instructs Moshe to take a census of the nation. This time, however, the Torah lists the name of each family twice. "of Chanoch the Chanochi family, of Pallu the Pallui family ..."(Ibid. 26; 5 ff.). Rashi explains that the Torah adds the letter ‘heh’ at the beginning and ‘yud’ at the end of each family's name to show the purity of their lineage. The other nations claimed that if the Egyptians ruled the bodies of the men, subjecting them to constant harsh labour, surely they also had control over the women of the nation, and therefore most of the Jews are really illegitimate descendants of the Egyptians. ‘Yud’ and ‘heh’ spell the name of G-d; G-d added his name to each tribe to testify to the purity and chastity of the Jews in Egypt. In fact the Torah (Leviticus 24; 10) singles out the only exception who was the illegitimate son of an Egyptian.
The Torah continues with G-d instructing Moshe about the laws of inheritance. The Land of Israel is to be apportioned to each tribe according to the names of the fathers' tribes. The daughters of Tzelafchad come to Moshe to complain that they also deserve a portion in the land, even though their father is dead. G-d tells Moshe to accede to their claim, because they are righteous and their claim is just. However the Torah stresses that family land should remain within that family and not be transferred to another. We see that even the land seems to be connected with correct lineage.
Finally, Moshe is commanded to appoint Yehoshua to succeed him as leader of Israel. Yehoshua's name is unique in that he is closely linked to his father. Usually a person is known as ‘ben’ (the son of ...). Yehoshua, however is always called Yehoshua bin Nun. The only other time that the word "bin" appears in the Torah is in Deuteronomy (25; 2) "That if the wicked one is worthy of lashes ...". So Yehoshua could also be describes as "worthy of Nun [his father]". From here it seems that one of Yehoshua's main qualities was his attachment to his father, and his ancestry.
It is not readily apparent why the Torah should be so concerned with lineage, and how this theme connects with the last part of the Torah reading, the section detailing the daily, weekly and annual sacrifices. However the Midrash (Bamidbar Rabba 13; 14) hints at the connection: "One young bull" (Numbers 12; 15), corresponding to Avraham, who was the prime ancestor, "One ram", corresponding to Yitzchak "And one sheep ...", corresponding to Ya'akov. It would appear that the sacrifices are a way of 'reminding' G-d of the actions of the patriarchs, and showing our spiritual connection to them. Avraham is the source of all Jewish genealogy, because G-d said to him "I will give to you, and to your descendants after you the land that you dwell in, the land of Canaan, and I will be G-d for you." (Genesis 17; 8). Our only claim to the Land of Israel is through G-d's promise to Avraham that He would give it to those who are descended from him, and that they will accept Him as their G-d. It is through our biological connection to Avraham and the other patriarchs and matriarchs, and through emulating their faith and dedication, that we have the Torah and the Land of Israel*.
*However someone who converts is able to create new biological connections, as the Talmud says, "A convert is like a new-born baby". They create a relationship to Avraham, as the Torah says of Avraham "Behold my covenant will be with you, and you will become a father of many nations". (Genesis 17; 4).

Pinchas Summary

Through his zealousness Pinchas turns back G-d's anger and brings an end to the plague that has killed 24,000 of the Children of Israel. As his reward, G-d tells Moshe that from now on Pinchas and his descendants shall be Cohanim (Priests).
G-d instructs Moshe and Elazar to take a census of the Children of Israel according to their tribes and families. The total number of people amongst whom the Land of Israel will be divided is 601,730. The total number of Levites (who will not receive an inheritance of land) is 23,000.
The five daughters of Tzelafchad come to Moshe and explain that they also deserve a share in the Land of Israel. Their father died in the desert and had no sons, so they should be the ones to inherit him. Moshe brings their claim before G-d, who agrees that they should receive a portion of land. This is also fixed as the law for all future generations.
G-d tells Moshe that he should ascend Mount Avarim and look over the Land of Israel, because he will not be able to enter into it. Moshe is instructed to appoint Yehoshua bin Nun to succeed him. Moshe publicly passes on the mantle of leadership in front of the entire congregation.
The Torah then lists the various daily and festival sacrifices that are to be offered in the Temple. Shabbat and each Festival has its own specific animal sacrifice, accompanied by a flour and oil offering and a wine libation. This is in addition to the daily sacrifice each morning and afternoon.