Shemot 5782

Saturday, December 25, 2021

There is a difficult group of verses (4:24-26) in the middle of the story in the Parsha that takes place when Moshe is on his way back to Egypt to begin the Exodus. While Moshe stops at a hotel with his family, G-d looks to encounter him and kill him. Tziporah, Moshe's wife, immediately circumcises their son and the threat is avoided. The story then continues on. The commentaries from the time of the Talmud are baffled by this story and the details of it. How could Moshe be moments from death as he is on his way to free the Bnei Yisroel?

I believe the answer can be found based on an idea the Rambam writes about at the beginning to his opening commentary on the Mishnah. The Rambam explains that there are four types of prophets, two within the realm of prophesizing in the name of idolatry and two in the name of Hashem.

1.A. The prophet who says a foreign deity came to him and commanded him to worship them. He then encourages the masses to follow suit.

1.B. The prophet who says he received a message from Hashem to begin worshipping a foreign deity such as the sun or the moon. He may even provide miracles and wonders.

2.A. The prophet who prophesizes in the name of Hashem and encourages people to strengthen their faith and service to Him. However, he notes the Hashem also told him to add/subtract a commandment; this also includes reinterpreting a commandment that the Oral Torah explains. 

2.B. The prophet who prophesizes in the name of Hashem and calls to others to strengthen their faith and service to Him without any exceptions or ramifications. He warns them about sinning and gives them directives based on his visions. 

The first three categories of prophets are to be executed for being false prophets; only the last category is accepted. With this information in mind, let us return to the story of Moshe. He is to be the prophet that returns to Egypt to save the Bnei Yisroel. He even performs miracles with his staff, his hand, and the river water. However, his son would not be circumcised at the time. What if someone from the Bnei Yisroel noticed this? This would put Moshe's validity into question and theoretically make him liable to the death penalty as the lack of a bris would mean that he did not believe in such a commandment. What Hashem was doing was holding Moshe accountable and giving him the chance to correct this mistake before he went to Egypt and therefore was moments away from killing him.

The lesson here is how one should be consistent in their service to Hashem in every facet, especially when it comes to core beliefs and foundations.

Toldot 5782

Saturday, November 6, 2021

 The commentators give many reasons for why Yitzchak became blind at the time of blessing Yaakov. Rashi gives a couple of explanations. One is that he became blind from the smoke of the idolatrous offerings given by Esav and his Canaanite wives. A second is when he was about to be slaughtered by Avraham the angels' tears fell into his eyes. 

These are the classic answers given. However, the S'forno explains that Yitzchak became blind due to his lack of discipline towards Esav. He draws the comparison to Eli, the Kohen in the story of Shmuel Hanavi. The posuk notes that his sons weren't righteous children and because of this he lost his sight. The Da'as Zekenim gives another reason in that it was because of Esav's trickery towards Yitzchak. The posuk says that Esav was a hunter and "had a taste for game", "tzayid b'fiv" (25:28), which is why Yitzchak loved him. The Da'as Zekenim explains that this was Esav's way of "bribing" Yitzchak and convincing him that he was righteous. As we learn in Parshas Mishpatim, bribes blind the upright. 

Chayei Sarah 5782

Saturday, October 30, 2021

There is a well-known Rashi that explains the actions of Eliezer when he gives gifts to Rivkah at the well. Before he even knows who she is, Eliezer proceeds to give her bracelets and a nose ring; only then does he ask for more information. When he retells the story to Rivkah's family, he switches the details and says he asked her first before giving the gifts. Rashi explains that Eliezer put his trust in Avraham's merits that Rivkah was the right woman for Yitzchak. He only switched the details later on so that he wouldn't be bombarded by questions about his judgement.
The Be'er Basadeh (24:47) expands on this explanation and points out that the verse says he merely took the items, not that he actually put them on her as he tells the story ("Vayikach" and not "Vayasem"). Additionally, he points to Rashi's wording in saying Eliezer switched the details and not that he straight out lied. The Be'er Basadeh explains that Eliezer wasn't 100% relying on Avraham's merits; he put the gifts on Rivkah that signified that they were given only as deposits and not full fledged gifts.

Vayeira 5782

Saturday, October 23, 2021

Shortly after the parsha begins, Hashem decides to tell Avraham about His plan to destroy the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Avraham then prays to Hashem to spare them. But why does Hashem tell Avraham in the first place, almost to get some sort of feedback from Him? Rabbi Ben Keil, from the Young Israel of Pelham Parkway, explains that Hashem was teaching Avraham a very important lesson about prayer. Every day we pray for things in hopes that we receive what we ask for. However, the answer isn't always "yes". Though Avraham had prayed to spare the cities, Hashem's answer in this case was "no". This is why the Torah records Hashem's commentary about how Avraham will follow in His ways and lead his descendants in the path of Torah. This was a golden opportunity to teach a foundation of prayer and its mechanics.

Lech Lecha 5782

Saturday, October 16, 2021

The Gemara in Nedarim (32a) explains that Avraham was punished when he asked for reassurance from Hashem when he was promised the land of Israel. Avraham asks, "how will I know that I will inherit it?" (15:8). Hashem answers with "You will surely know..." (15:13) and proceeds to tell him the 400 years of slavery the Jews will endure due to him supposedly expressing doubt in this promise. The Kli Yakar finds this very difficult to understand, that such a question by Avraham would cause his descendants to suffer. He proceeds to explain that the question bothering the Gemara is as follows: regardless of what the reason for 400 years of slavery was, why did Hashem tell Avraham such negative details about his descendants to distress him freely? Avraham was asking something which wasn't necessary to know; he should not have asked for a sign from Hashem. This ends up being a middah kineged middah in Hashem responding as if saying, "Do you really want to know? Fine, I will share the unpleasant parts of the covenant." Hashem was as if hoping to spare Avraham from such things.

The Kli Yakar himself believes that the slavery in Egypt was for different reasons (he points to the Abarbanel for a list of them). He continues on to ask why Avraham did not ask for such confirmation when he was promised descendants. Plus, why doesn't he ask about the land when it is first mentioned along with the promise of descendants?

When Hashem mentions giving the land to Avraham, He says it will be given as an "inheritance" (15:7). When Hashem mentions giving Avraham descendants, He merely says "I will give you children," the implication being freely. When Avraham heard the word "inheritance" he wanted confirmation that he would be the sole owner of the land of Israel without any claims from his cousins. Noach gave the Middle East and parts of Asia to Shem after the flood, who had five sons (10:22). Avraham came from the family of Arpachshad, but he was worried that descendants from the other four siblings would claim rights to Israel. Hashem then makes a covenant with him just as He does so with Aharon to disclaim any of Korach's challenges to the priesthood. 

Noach 5782

Saturday, October 9, 2021

The Midrash Rabbah (B"R 23:7) discusses the root "hey-chet-lamed" as it appears in various places throughout the first two parshios. R' Simmon explains that the root's implication is to rebel in the following three places: 1)"az huchal likro b'shem Hashem"; 2)"ki heicheil ha'adam"; 3)"hu heicheil lihiyot gibor". The Eitz Yosef explains each of the three verses. Verse 1) refers to when Mankind began serving idols and straying from Hashem. Verse 2) introduces the story of the Bnei Elohim, which many commentators describe as a time when sexual immorality was rampant [see Bereishit 5782 for more]. Verse 3) is the Torah's description of Nimrod, the fierce hunter (10:8); he began to convince everyone to rebel against Hashem and promoted murder with his strength. Each of these are considered rebellions against Hashem and represent the three cardinal sins in Judaism. 

Bereishit 5782

Saturday, October 2, 2021

After Noach is born towards the end of the Parsha, the Torah speaks about the Bnei Elohim who act in a way that causes Hashem to change the way He interacts with Mankind. The Midrash in Bereishis Rabbah attempts to explain the story, and the gist of their interpretations makes note that these supposed leaders of the generation were acting in a corrupt way that included illicit relationships. Because of this, Hashem decides to take a step back (6:3). The Or HaChaim explains that up until this point Hashem was directly talking to people, such as Adam and Cain, and that everyone was on the level of prophets. Once the people began to act immorally, He determines that Mankind is no longer fit to be at such a spiritual level to merit such direct dialogue. The Or HaChaim continues onward explaining how the righteous brought back His Presence with time until the Temple was destroyed, as well with Divine Inspiration when the Jews were exiled.

This is one idea behind the ending of Eichah when we ask Hashem to renew our days like old, "k'kedem" (5:21). Kedem refers to Gan Eden, the ultimate paradise. We hope that one day we can reach the level of prophets once again and have a closer connection to Hashem, where we can have a "face to face" with Him.

Mishpatim 5781

Monday, February 8, 2021

 Parshas Mishpatim mainly deals with the bulk of laws found in Tractates Baba Kama and Baba Metzia, which focus on damages (both material and physical) and liabilities. The Gemara in Baba Kama (30a) notes that if one wants to be pious he should learn the laws of damages; others include Pirkei Avos as well as the laws of blessings. The Maharsha in his Chiddushei Aggados explains that a pious person looks to do good with all his actions. These are split into three categories: acts towards others, acts towards oneself, and acts towards G-d. Each of the topics listed address one of these categories. The laws of damages teaches one to care for others' property; Pirkei Avos helps one refine his character; learning the laws of blessings helps one appreciate G-d's kindness in this world. While some commentaries note that mastering one of these qualifies one to be a pious person, one should strive to improve himself in every part of his life. Only then will he be able to bestow goodness in its totality. 

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