Saturday, June 28, 2008

Chukat Summary

For a d'var Torah on the parsha written by me click on the link.

For a translation of a section of Tosefet Beracha (by the author of the Torah Temima) click this link.

Summary of Parshat Chukat

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.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Parshat Korach

Korach's main complaint against Moshe was that there should not be a single leader for the nation, "For all the congregation are holy." (Bamidbar 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" (Bereishis 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 (Bereishis 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.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Tosefet Bracha Shelach Lecha

l'ilui nishmat R' Avraham ben Yona Ya'akov

"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?]

"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.

Shelach 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.