Saturday, 23 June 2018

Parsha: Balak, "Schadenfreude I"


The Torah Claims that Balak hired Bil’am because: “Those whom he blessed were blessed, and those whom he cursed were cursed.”

Rashi objects to a literal read. After all, Balak is seeking only a curse and he considers the blessings just so much flattering blather.

What would happen if this were true and Bil’am was equally capable of blessing as well as cursing? If that were the case, then Balak would have had a choice in how to deal with the Israelite threat to his territory:
  1. Curse the Israelites to make them vulnerable
  2. Bless the Moabites to make his nation invincible.
What choice did Balak make? Why is that an important Torah lesson?  He did indeed choose to have Bil’am curse the Israelites. Balak's psychology was that it was more important to curse the Israelites than to bless his own people.

What does the Torah tell us about life in general? The Torah teaches us: It is more important for the Anti-Semite to do harm to the Jews than it is for him to obtain his own success. We will, BEH, explore this further on a series of posts

Shalom,
RRW


. Background Information:
Dictionary: schadenfreude (shäd'n-froi'də) n.
Pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others.[German : Schaden, damage (from Middle High German schade, from Old High German scado) + Freude, joy (from Middle High German vreude, from Old High German

Word Overheard: schadenfreude
Columnist George Will, who seems to enjoy the seven deadly sins almost as much as he does baseball, decided to add a pleasurable eighth — schadenfreude. "Sins can be such fun. Of the seven supposedly deadly ones, only envy does not give the sinner at least momentary pleasure. And an eighth, schadenfreude — enjoyment of other persons' misfortunes — is almost the national pastime."
Link: The economics of baseball — George Will
Posted October 15, 2006

Parsha: Balak, "Defining Evil"

We have chosen an article that relates to the week's Parsha from Nishma's Online Library archives, both to direct you to this d'var Torah and in order to initiate some discussion.This week's Parsha is Balak and the topic is the definition of evil. 

How can someone act evilly if he knows absolutely that God exists? Balak clearly knew of God. He chose to defy God even though he clearly understood the repercussions. How can we explain this? We invite you to look at an article on this topic.

Shalom, RBH

Counterfeiter, Rodeif, Hatra'ah

Kitzur SA 184:9
Based upon Rema Cho"M 388:11

Paraphrasing Goldin Translation

«A person who is engaged in counterfeiting money ... Is a "rodeif" ... And should be warned to desist from his practice [lest he jeopardize the community]»

Q1 : If the counterfeiter is indeed deemed a rodeif, why should he even get hatra'ah? What are the Rema and the Kitzur SA teaching us?

Note: Rema adds "v'im eino mashgi'ach" , so we expect that sometimes the counterfeiter will heed that warning.

Q2: Do we have sources re: Pinchas and Zimri? IOW did Pinchas warn Zimri first?

Shalom,
RRW

Saturday, 26 May 2018

Parsha: Beha’alotkha, "The Whispering Campaign"


Dvar Torah on Parashath Beha’alotkha
Rabbi Chaim G.Z. Solomon

The Whispering Campaign




Our sedra gives us three very puzzling vignettes, back to back.  Bemidbar chapter 11 begins thusly:  “Vayy’hee ha`am k’mithon’neem, r`a b’oznay Hashem - and the people were like murmurers, evil in the ears of the Lord.  The Lord heard and His anger was kindled.  The fire of the Lord burned amongst them, and devoured (those) at the boundary of the encampment.” (Bemidbar 11:1) Curious, as generally when such devouring fires issue forth, action and consequence occur somewhat near the center of the camp.  Also, when the people complained, how was it that the murmurs were heard by God, but perhaps not by Moshe?  Further, the actual complaint is not recorded.

In a curiously connected report, verses 4 and 5, we have more complaints. “V’hasaphsuph asher b’qirbo, And the ‘mixed multitude’ that was among them had craved cravings; and the children of Israel returned to weeping, saying: Who will provide us flesh to eat! We remember the fish, which we would eat in Egypt for nothing (chinam); the cucumbers, and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlic...And Moshe heard the people weeping. The ‘asaphsuph’, frequently rendered ‘mixed multitude’, is a puzzler.  

So to the complaint of the Children of Israel - first, they ask for meat, but then ‘fondly’ remember the fish and vegetables they ate ‘for free’ in Egypt. What does ‘free’ mean here?  The Israelites were slaves, after all!  At the end of the chapter, God’s anger is again kindled against the People, and God strikes those that lusted and meat-eaters, all the People, with a very great plague.  Interestingly, it is only those who lusted whom Scripture records are there buried.

So ends chapter 11.  Chapter 12 picks up straightaway with yet another curious vignette.   Miryam and Aaron speak against Moshe.  First they complain regarding Moshe’s Kushite wife, though the specific issue is not mentioned.  Then, they turn right around and raise a complaint that can really only be taken as criticizing Moshe as arrogant, “Has the Lord indeed only spoken through Moshe?  Has he not also spoken through us?”  God hears (like the first vignette) and God’s anger is kindled against Miryam and Aaron (as in both previous vignettes).   Here though, only Miryam is punished, and even so, only with tsara`at, not death.  Why is only Miryam punished?  And why is the punishment not death?

The trope ‘yichar aph’, rendered, ‘anger was kindled’ when applied to God with respect to the `Am, the People, appears in Shmot 32 (the Golden Calf), Bemidbar 25 (Ba`al Peor), and foretold in Devarim 6, 7, 11 and 29.  In each of these instances idolatry is the relevant transgression.  In our sedra, the anger of the Lord is kindled against the people, but idolatry is not clearly the transgression.  Our sedra appears to be the only outlier in this pattern, though Moshe applies the trope ‘yichar aph’ to God when recounting in Bemidbar 32 the incident of the Spies (Bemidbar 14).  Rambam (Guide for the Perplexed 1.36) would have us categorize all such usages of this trope applied to the People as caused by the sin of idolatry.  How are we to understand Rambam’s required classification?

In the second pericope we’ve studied, the phrase ‘zakharnu, et haddaga, asher nokhal b’mitsrayim, chinam, we remember the fish, which we would eat in Egypt for nothing’ certainly could do for some unpacking.  What is this ‘chinam’, generally rendered ‘for free’, or ‘for nothing’? Sinat Chinam - baseless or causeless hatred, is a phrase with which we are all familiar, unfortunately.  What is the ‘chinam’ of our verse meant to inform?  Yoma 75a would interpret chinam here as free from the obligations of mitswoth, specifically with respect to physical immoralities, for which ‘fish’ must serve as some manner of euphemism.  Sifre Bemidbar 67 is explicit in this regard, that ‘chinam’ in this verse is to be understood as ‘free from the commandments’.   God’s anger is kindled against the people, for an act signifying a desire to shake off the yoke of Torah.  The implication of Rambam’s classification is staggering.

---------------------

Whispering Campaign.
1.(idiomatic) A method of persuasion in which damaging rumors or innuendo are deliberately spread concerning a person or other target, while the source of the rumors tries to avoid detection.

In our third pericope, the exact subject of Miryam’s calumny is almost immaterial.  That Miryam could be criticizing Moshe for separating from his wife, on account of concerns over ritual purity vis a vis a perceived requirement for prophesy, well, that would be a textbook example of lashon harah.  Onqelos’ understanding of the word ‘Kushite’ as ‘beautiful’ is in consonance with Chazal’s interpretation of Miryam’s actions as in sympathy with a neglected wife, as the excuse for this criticism.  On the other hand,the possibility that Miryam is exhibiting color-consciousness would be even worse. What is curious and quite material is that it is clear from the language that Miryam was the primary speaker of the first complaint (vat’daber, not vay’dabru), and that it was God, not Moshe, that ‘heard’ (parallel to the first pericope).


Onomatopoeia
1. An onomatopoeia is a word that imitates or suggests the source of the sound that it describes.

So now, what do we make of the ‘asaphsuph’?  The difficulties with identifying asaphsuph as ‘elders’, ‘strangers’, ‘foreigners’ has been dealt with elsewhere  and need not be repeated here.  We merely must construct an alternative hypothesis.  For that, though, we have really no guidance from Tanakh itself, for this is an example of a hapax legomenon, a word that appears in Tanakh only this once, so no contextual hints as to its meaning may be drawn from other instances.  The word itself is perhaps a quadriliteral, with a root samekh-peh-samekh-peh. ‘Saph-saph’.  Even if not, it is still very similar to such words as gimgum (גמגום) stuttering tzichtzooach (צחצוח) polishing tiphtooph (טפטוף) dripping shifshoof (שיפשוף) rubbing, and of course baqbooq (בקבוק) a bottle (what is the sound of liquid pouring from a bottle?)

We’ve a word in English

Susurration
1. The sound of whispering

Perhaps the very word used to label these pestiferous miscreants itself is an onomatopoeia?

The pattern begins to come together.  These three vignettes, though not a re-telling of the same story, use several similar devices to tie them together.  In the first pericope, no one really spoke out loud, and the complaint itself was so immaterial it wasn’t even recorded.  It was those who were not central to the camp, those on the ‘outskirts’ bore the brunt of God’s kindled anger.  These, perhaps, were the people on the edge, whispering.  Whatever they were whispering, it was evil enough to warrant death.  In the second, the asaphsuph, the whisperers, goaded the People into their weeping.  The People’s complaints themselves seem logically unconnected, as if the first was merely a pretext for the second.  In their complaint, however, they rebel against God, throwing off the yoke of Torah in a baseless act of disloyalty.  God’s anger is kindled, yet the worse punishment seems to be attached to the whisperers.  In the third and final pericope, Miryam goads Aaron with a primary complaint that seems unspecific as to its nature (parallel to the first vignette) and unconnected to the secondary (parallel to the second vignette).  The secondary complaint does itself smack of an act of disloyalty against Moshe, the most humble of men, though it is God who seems to take it personally.  And who is punished? It is Miryam, the whisperer, the instigator.

So now what is left to us is to understand the severity of God’s response in the first two pericopes.  The third is easily understood as a lesson against one of several possible variations of lashon hara; Chazal and later commentators all seem quite comfortable with tsara’at as the appropriate punishment.   Miryam as the whispering instigator gives us a key to understanding the first two.  (Perhaps as a tool to strengthen the connection between the second and third pericopes Scripture uses as a play on words the root asph, gather, to describe how Miryam is to return to the camp after her seven day exile, instead of several more natural words, e.g. ‘return’, ‘enter’,  ‘come in’.)  Rambam would have us interpret these first two pericopes as instances of idolatry.   How so?  Our other clue is the Report of the Spies.  A principle message of the spies was that of God’s implied inability to see the People of Israel successfully through the settlement of Canaan.  Indeed, echoes of ‘Who can provide us meat’ are heard.  The message is clear.  Denying the omnipotence of God, ‘shorting his hand’ and through that pretext seeking to divest oneself of the yoke of Torah is no other sin than that of idolatry.  Underhanded disloyalty towards Moshe is bad enough to warrant tsara`at. Whispering others into disloyalty towards God will surely bring the severest consequences as the instigation of idolatry.

There is no middle ground between the genuine faith of Caleb and Yehoshua and the rebellious idolatry of the spies, whisperers and goaders.  Ours is to choose the path of genuine faith and loyalty to Torah. Bivrakhah,

- Rabbi Chaim G.Z. Solomon, Ph.D.


Note: Rabbi Solomon is a former student of mine, and is Rabbi in Mt. Dora, Florida

 
Shalom,

RRW

Tuesday, 22 May 2018

P. Nasso, The Nazir - Living in Moderation

The Nazir: Live in Moderation - Judaism - Israel National News
R Eliyahu Safran:
"Perishut is an attitude to live by, not necessarily a way of life to live with. It is a personal, not a universal, goal. So too Nezirut is a personal and temporary goal, to be used when necessary. It is not a rule to be imposed upon the community. It is not Torah."
http://www.israelnationalnews.com/Articles/Article.aspx/10295

Shalom,
RRW

Thursday, 17 May 2018

Yitro Vs. Ruth

originally published on 1/12/14

We read the 10 Dibrot on both P. Yitro and on Shavuot, and technically on vo'Etchanan, too! We also read the Scroll of Ruth on Shavuot so we can easily "connect the dots" between Ruth and the Dibrot
Now let's ask -

What do Yitro and Ruth have in common, and where do they differ?

What they do have in common is the discovery of the ONE TRUE G-D! No denying the sincerity of their common quest for that Holy Grail - so to speak.

Where do they differ?

Yitro found G-d, but - despite his relationship to his daughter and son-in-law - he subsequently abandoned the Jewish People to return to Midian.

Ruth, however, cleaved to Naomi and abandoned Moab to live the life of a beggar in Judea. Her commitment motto? Ameich Ami Veilokayich Elokai!. Her declaration of loyalty to the Jewish Nation preceded her commitment to G-D!

Blasphemy? Adearrabbah - a prerequisite! Yitro is the prototype of the Noahide who has found the True G-d but needs no society.

Ruth is the true convert, the prototypical "Ger Tzedeq" (actually Giyoert of course!). There is one reason to convert to Judaism following one's Spiritual Journey - to join the Priestly Kingdom and the Holy Nation. In truth, to live a life of G-dliness as an individual spiritual seeker needs no Judaism or Peoplehood.

Ruth's progeny? David and Mashiach. Her affiliation to our peoplehood earned her common destiny with us.
Yitro? A good guy to whom we say "fare thee well". Who of Yitro's descendants makes a glorious impact? Not the descendants of Hever haKeini who are allies.

Any sincere spiritual seeker can find G-d as an individual Noahide, but the prototypical Ger/Giyoret shares Jewish Destiny and Torah, as well as G-d.

Shalom,
RRW

Naaseh v'Nishma 2 - The D'var Torah

 originally published 1/14/14

The age-old question or issue grappled with by the Midrash is:
"Why did the Israelites precede Nishma with Naaseh"? IOW how could any Naaseh take place without a preceding Nishma to know WHAT to do first? Seems obvious!

There are several beautiful nuggets in Rabbinical Literature on this. This D'var Torah as I recall was originally based upon a Malbim. But in subsequent years, I could not locate it there. So, suffice it to say I didn't make it up but I've forgotten the precise source. Anyone who CAN identify the source is most welcome to fill the gap.

What's the p'shat of a NISHMA that follows a Naaseh? It seems obvious that in order to facilitate any Naaseh, SOME "how- to" handbook is a given - whether oral, mimetic, or even on video, Naaseh presumes a pre-existing prescription. As such, Halachah l'maaseh is a predicate for Naaseh, and therefore Kal vochomer must precede any Nishma.
So the sequence is
Mitzva
Performance [Naaseh]
THEN
Nishma!
So what is the definition of that term Nishma?

Nishma simply may be defined as Torah Lishmah. In fact, it is Torah WITHOUT any pragmatic ramification!
So when we learn Shulchan Aruch in order to Observe Shabbat, that is NOT a function of Naaseh, it is a preparation, a "hechsher mitzvah" for Naaseh.
Nishma goes beyond Observance. It is deeper. It is unique to Israel to go beyond the Divine Command.
As such, there are many implications to this. Most reserved for an upcoming post
The simplest and most straightforward Implication is that Men AND women have an equal obligation in [most of] Naaseh. Thus any "Torah" that teaches practical Halachah is equally required for both genders
However, Nishma is purely a Masculine Obligation of "Torah Lishma"
-----------------

To briefly expand the question of whether this theoretical Torah lishma is merely Optional to or Off-limits to women is the subject of debate.
At any rate, this is the essence of the d'var Torah - that Torah studied BEYOND that which is a prerequisite for Performance THAT is Nishma.
BEH in upcoming posts I will
•.Expound on some of the other ramifications
• Offer some alternative understandings of "NISHMA"

Shalom
RRW

Choosing to be Chosen - Rabbi Steven Saks

 Haftarah of Vayeishev is Amos 2:6-3:8

Originally published 4/19/10, 1:00 pm.
Choosing to be Chosen
By Rabbi Steven Saks

Jews have often been criticized for referring to themselves as “the chosen people.” After all, the referring to oneself as chosen does sound pompous and elitist.
The idea of choice is central to the holiday of Shavuot. God chose to reveal himself at Mount Sinai to the Israelites and the Israelites chose to accept the Torah. The Israelites when offered the Torah accepted with enthusiasm responding naaseh v’nishmah literally meaning we will do and we will listen. In other words the Israelites were so eager to accept the Torah they pledged to fulfill its precepts before they had the opportunity to hear them. It’s like signing a contract first then reading it. Regardless, the Israelites accepted upon themselves God’s mitzvoth commandments as spelled out in the Torah.
Through the performance of the mitzvoth the Israelites were to become a Goy Kodosh a holy nation. In other words simply being an Israelite does not make one a holy person. Rather the Israelite becomes holy by acting in a holy manner, by performing the mitzvoth. The idea that the Israelite is holy simply because he is a member of the chosen people is firmly rejected by the prophet Amos.
Bible Scholar Bernard Anderson points out that the prophet Amos repudiated the idea that the God of Israel was a national God that Israel could mobilize in the service of the nation’s own interest. According to Amos, being chosen by God did not entitle Israel to special privilege and protection rather it meant that Israel had accepted upon herself the responsibility to serve God. According to Amos, God is a universal God who is active in the histories of all nations as demonstrated by Amos 9:7.
Are you not like the Kushites to me, O people of Israel? Says the Lord. Did I not bring Israel out of the land of Egypt? And the Philistines from Caphtor, and the Arameans from Kir?

The other nations have not realized this because they have not shared the intimate relationship with God that Israel has been allowed to.
Rabbi Hertz in his commentary on the Bible explains that two teachings are enunciated through Amos 9:7. The first is that God has guided all other nations as well as Israel. All races are equally dear to him, and the hand of providence is evident not only in the migration of Israel but in every historical movement. The second teaching is that God’s special relationship with Israel rests on moral foundations. A degenerate Israel is of no more worth to God than other immoral nations.
Amos is believed to have prophesized between the years 765-750 B.C.E during the reign of Jeroboam the Second, a time of great affluence for the northern Kingdom of Israel. The prophet condemns the people for engaging in hallow religious ritual while failing to care for the poor.
So we see that choosing to be “the chosen” means accepting additional responsibility. In part, potential converts are discouraged from converting to Judaism because of this added responsibility. Yet, one can chose to become a member of “the chosen people” if he or she desires.
The Rabbis teach that the Torah was given in the dessert, in a barren area, because it is hefgar unclaimed property. In other words anyone can accept the yoke of the Torah upon him or her self. The Book of Ruth which is read on Shavuot tells the story of Ruth, the Moabite who is considered the quintessential convert to Judaism. Many female converts choose Ruth as their Hebrew name. Ruth did not have yichus an impressive lineage. The Moabites were enemies of Israel and descended from the incestuous relationship between Lot and his eldest daughter as detailed in Genesis 19.
Yet, Ruth chooses to follow her mother in law Naomi back to Israel and becomes an Israelite. Ruth is not shunned for becoming an Israelite; rather Jewish history views her as an exalted figure. Ruth is the great grandmother of King David from whom the Messiah will emerge. So we see that the Messiah will be a descendant from a woman who was born a non-Jew.
Anyone who believes that he/she is superior to others because of his/her Jewish birth misses the message of the Book of Ruth. Being chosen does not confer any sort of genetic superiority rather, being chosen means that we choose to develop our relationship with God.
As we celebrate the giving of the Torah lets us choose to strengthen our relationship with God by climbing the ladder of mitzvoth. No matter what we consider ourselves, Reform, Conservative, Orthodox or other, we can climb the ladder of mitzvoth by increasing our ritual observance (such as attending services more often). Just as importantly we can climb the ladder of mitzvoth by increasing our observance of laws which govern our relationships with fellow human beings (such as giving charity and conducting business honestly).
By climbing the ladder of mitzvoth we are ascending the heights of Mount Sinai and in the process become better individuals. May we all reach new heights this Shavuot.

* * * * *
Note: Rabbi Saks is one of my students - Rabbi Rich Wolpoe

Saturday, 28 April 2018

Parshat Emor - Ayin Tachat Ayin, etc.

originally posted May 7, 2015

ויקרא פרק כד

יז ואיש, כי יכה כל-נפש אדם--מות, יומת.  יח ומכה נפש-בהמה, ישלמנה--נפש, תחת נפש. 
יט ואיש, כי-יתן מום בעמיתו--כאשר עשה, כן יעשה לו. 
כ שבר, תחת שבר, עין תחת עין, שן תחת שן--כאשר יתן מום באדם, כן ינתן בו. 
כא ומכה בהמה, ישלמנה; ומכה אדם, יומת



Given:
ומכה נפש-בהמה, ישלמנה--
נפש, תחת נפש.

It seems obvious in context that when someone destroys another's OX that beit din does not destroy his OX!! Rather the damager pays comcpnesation.

And so too, it would seem from context - davar hallameid mai'inyono - that the rest of ayin tachat ayin addresses compensation, too!

And that the lone exception is explicit, namely murdering a fellow human, where execution is specified.

Kol Tuv,
RRW

Parsha: Emor, "Is Sefirat ha'Omer One Mitzva or Two?"

originally posted August 9, 2015

The Rambam firmly construes Sefirat Ha'Omer as one MitzvahSefer HaHinuch concurs with the Rambam's read. Abbaye, however, affirms in the Talmud that just as it is a Mitzva to count days – so it is a Mitzva to count weeks. 

These passages strongly suggest two separate MitzvotIn Parshat Emor we read, "Tisp'ru Chamishim YOM" (Vaykira:  23: 16), while the text states in Parshat R'eih, "Sheva Shavuot Tispar Lach" . (Devarim: R'eih: 16:9Doesn't it seem obvious that the two verses in the Torah describe two separate but equal actions?

Problem: How can an individual nowadays simply argue with the Rambam - especially without any further support? Furthermore, must I not construe the silence of so many peer reviews that as implicit acquiescence? 

A rabbinic intern recently provided an informative answer in his shiurRabbeinu Yerucham considers Sefirah as two separate MitzvotHe also posits that as well. My hypothesis now has supporting evidence.

I asked the speaker how he had found this relatively obscure source. He had noted that the new edition of the Minhat Hinuch has this source cited in the footnotes. This indicates that the matter assumed to be a slam dunk by the Hinuch is, in reality, a matter of dispute. Rabbeinu Yerucham had already articulated this voice of opposition, so I need no  longer be concerned about the silence of the peer review.


Case Closed


-------------------------------------------------


Comment On Original Post.

Aside from a bit of Talmud Torah - why did I post this comment?

Sometimes we see something and we assume it to be axiomatic, mutually agreed upon. In attempting to master rational thinking, I came across the concept of "not jumping to conclusions".  After all, if Jews are always questioning,  why was the Rambam's ruling of only one mitzva never questioned? It seemed likely that seeing it as two mitzvoth was an equally good read.

Failing to research this myself, I humbly concluded that Rambam won by acclamation. Case Closed. QED. 

However, after attending a Shiur in which the rabbi found a source that did challenge this Rambam, I had to recant.  Now I realized that my question - my observation - had some validity in classic sources.  It was just unnecessary for other sources to question the Rambam once Rabbeinu Yerucham posed his challenge. I could no longer construe their silence as acquiescence to the Rambam's decision.

In fact, I could now conclude nothing. Although, I now suspect that the silence is possible confirmation that both reads are about 50-50. and therefore no one needs to enter the fray to reject either side as off-target.

This is an important principle to realize: just because we have not seen a competing source does not mean it is not there! I must also confess to not researching the matter in depth. It therefore has also taught me a bit of humility.

Shalom,

RRW

Saturday, 21 April 2018

Parsha: Kedoshim, "Kedusha - Beyond the Spiritual"

We chose an article from Nishma's Online Library archives  that relates to the week's parsha, both to direct you to this dvar Torah and to initiate some discussion.

This week's parsha is Kedoshim. The topic is kedusha. We invite you to look at a
Spark of the Week 5756-15: Kedusha: Beyond the Spiritual on this topic. 


Shalom,

RBH

P. Acharei-Mot, K'doshim - A Novel perspective on Arayyot

originally posted April 25, 2015

The Traditional perspective in the various Arayyot taboos are that they are a function of indivdual Q'dushah. In other words, these laws promote Holiness in the INDIVIDUAL person by a demanding code of highly moral behaviour, etc.

The Preamble in Acharei-Mot discusses avoiding Egyptian and Canaanite Behaviour. I suggest that the Torah is suggesting that we as a Torah society not emulate those societies. The clincher? V'nichr'tu Han'fashot ha'osot.

Shloymie: Let's say you're correct - Just how does this societal taboo work?

RRW: Let's assume that humans have a libido. And that this tempts humans to "objectify" targets in a predatory manner.

Left unchanneled, a man's Mother, Sister Daughter, might be subjected to predatory behaviour. Even boys and animals could become objectified via Mishkav Zachar or Bestiality.

This society creates a sense where a child has no safety at home. Nor could a child bathe or shower safely with members of the same gender. It is a society of predatory objectification.

Taboos to the Rescue

By imposing deep-seated taboos, the children are given a safety net. Girls need not fear their brothers or even fathers. Children may feel safe in same-gender showers or wash-rooms.

Take away this safety-net, and Egyptian-style objectification may run amok. Sisters grow up to be their brothers's spouses. They grow up as targets from an accepting society.

To my way of thinking, these taboos are targeted at creating a society of reduced objectification.

L'havdil it's analogous to Burkas in Moslem cultures

We take taboos against incest for granted because Xtian Societies have already adopted much of this from Leviticus.. Before mattan Torah, no one could take it for granted.

Shalom,
RRW

Re: [Avodah] Acharei Mot "What Happens After Develops From What Happened Before"

originally posted April 25, 2015

On Mon, Apr 14, 2008 at 7:38 PM, Cantor Wolberg <cantorwolberg@cox.net> wrote:

Acharei Mot is the only Torah portion with the word "death" in its title.  As we know, death in Judaism is associated with tamei.
However, as everything must be taken in context, so too, should death.  The portion "Acharei Mot" is followed by "Kedoshim".

So the context is much more optimistic than at first appearance. "Acharei Mot"  "AFTER death", is "Kedoshim", holiness.

Death is not the finality; holiness is.

ri


Also the cute quip
Acharei mot
Kedoshim emor

After one dies call them holy [iow don't hold any grudge after death]


--
Kol Tuv / Best Regards,
RabbiRichWolpoe@Gmail.com
see: http://nishmablog.blogspot.com/

Saturday, 14 April 2018

Tazria/Metzorah: Childbirth and Circumcisions

To many, the insertion of the mitzvah of mila, circumcision, in the presentation of the laws of the yodedet, the woman who gave birth, may just seem to be a narrative coincidence. Once the Torah was taking about the birth of a boy, it also mentioned mila. The commentators, however, find it bewildering. What does one have to do with the other?

Rabbi Hecht addresses this issue in an Insight from 5756 available at http://www.nishma.org/articles/insight/spark5756-14.html

P. Tazria - "Uvayom Hashmini"

Short version:

Questions
1. How is it that a woman giving birth to a Zachar makes her Tum'ah for only seven days while birthing a N'qievah lasts a fortnight?
2. What is uvayom hashmini yimol b'sar orlato doing here?

Answer:
The Brith Millah on the 8th day shortens the woman's condition either due to:
A. The Torah gave her dispensation to attend the Brit
B. The healing power of the mal'ach habbrit mitigates the damage she suffers, thereby "commuting her sentence to time served."

Shalom,
RRW

Saturday, 7 April 2018

Parsha: Shemini, "Asher Lo Tsivah"

Pick your preferred parshanut.  

Parshanut suggests three translations of the phrase, "Asher Lo Tzivah" (Vayikra: 10:1) There is basically a 2-way split concerning Nadav and Avihu (N&A) and their eish zara. The first two schools may help start a future Nishmablog poll, BE"H, though the third school is kinda' tangential.

  1. "They were commanded NOT"  N&A were actually seeking to grow spiritually through transgressing the commandment NOT to bring such an eish zarah [Tur et. Al.] It literally went up in flames  Don't serve Hashem by violating protocol
  2.  "They were NOT commanded" - N&A added on an extra embellishments. They acted excessively "frum"  and their zeal was their sin in their spiritual approach. This idea is very popular among Left-wing circles. Don't be mosif "humrot". [Bal tosif. Al t'hee tzaddiq harbei
  3. This explanation can work for either side of the split. Since N&A brought ersatz K'toret, they were left unprotected to eish Hashem and vulnerable to a form of spiritual "radiation."  Their action was not so much a sin as a failure to use real Ketoret. It was what they failed to do which allowed them to get burnt. [See Haforah of Uzah]. Genuine Ketoret was tantamount to a radiation suit; don't play with the rules lest you risk exposure.

Let me tell a related story.  

There once lived a woman looking to add a spiritual dimension to her avodah. A Great Gadol, "Moshe," asked her to experiment by wearing a four-cornered garment without tzitzit. She felt exhilirated. 

Moshe exclaimed, "For three months, you have been wearing a garment without any religious or halachic value, it is thus clear that your feeling comes from a source outside of the Mitzvah", and he [Moshe] did not grant her permission to wear a Talit " [Source?]


To which Avodah's R Micha Berger protested:

We do many things that come from sources outside the mitzvah. "Hinei Keil yeshuasi" before Havdalah, for example. The particular patterns of hand washing most qehillos use for neigl vasr or before hamotziQabbalas Shabbos. Etc, etc, etc... Why is this woman wanting to do something that makes her feel connected to the Borei valueless just because it is non-halachic? Would this Gadol "Moshe" have given the same advice to NCSY and tell them to stop doing kumzitzin or a pre-havdalah "ebbing" for an hour? [Source??]

This offers us a segue towards a poll on valid paths to spirituality in Judaism. Which guidelines are permitted or desirable?

Shalom
RRW

Parsha: Shemini, "Olam Chesed Yiboneh"


Another D'var Torah from Cantor Wolberg--
Shalom,
RRW

---------------------------------------
There's a verse in Parshat Shemini (Lev. 11:13) which states: "These shall you abominate from among the birds, they may not be eaten; they are an abomination..." In other words, fowl that are cruel are not eligible to be kosher. One will not always find cruel fowl necessarily exercising cruelty (we see this in the human species as well). It would therefore have been impractical and impossible to have positively identified a specific bird as being unfit. Therefore, the Torah must list all the fowl that are unsuitable for eating.

There is an overriding concept in the laws of kashruth that the characteristics of what we eat somehow have a great influence on the way we behave. The old saying: "You are what you eat." We do not want to associate ourselves for instance with cruelty, therefore we are forbidden to eat cruel animals, and in this case, some species of fowl. Among the fowl that are listed as being non kosher is the chasidah, the white stork. You may ask what cruel character trait does the stork possess. Rashi mentions that the reason it is called a "chasidah" is because it does chesed only with its friends regarding the food it finds. On the surface this seems strange. If the stork acts kindly with its food, why is it disqualified as being kosher?

A beautiful explanation to this difficulty has been given by the Chidushei Harim, in which he explains the nature of the stork. He says that the fact the stork only shows its kindness with its friends defines its cruelty. A fowl who is not in the circle of the stork's good buddies is excluded from getting any help from the stork in finding food. In other words, the stork is very selective in its kindness. This type of kindness is misleading. We, as Jews, are commanded even to help our foes. If we come across someone we dislike intensely who needs help, we are commanded to help. The stork, on the other hand, helps only his inner circle of friends. It is this character trait of differentiating between close friends and others when it comes to providing food that makes the stork non-kosher.

Chesed means reaching out altruistically, with love and generosity to all. The process of maturing involves developing our sense of caring for others. This is crucial for spiritual health. The Talmud likens someone who doesn't give to others as the "walking dead." A non-giving soul is malnourished and withered. It is only through unconditional love that our successful future will be built. In the words of King David (Psalm 89:3): Olam chesed yiboneh - "the world is built on kindness." The more this kindness dissipates and degenerates, the more danger of the foundation collapsing.

- Cantor Wolberg

Parsha: Shemini, "Punishment or Consequences?"

Let's start with Acharei Mot. What does "v'lo yamut" imply?

Coming into the proximity of the Qodshei Qodshim requires protection . For Aharon, that meant a proper Q'toret. An improper Qktoret - even b'shogeig - could have left the Kohen Gadol without his "radiation suit." He would risk death through exposure to an overwhelming dose of Q'dusha, not through his transgressions. Like an electrician with a  faulty rubber glove, the shock would be overwhelming.

Back to Nadav and Avihu. Fire consumed them mainly because their ersatz Q'toret failed to protect them. Therefore Aharon was commanded how to avoid such a similar catastrophe.

And as for Uzah - in the Haftara of Sh'mini - he wasn't punished. He lacked protection from the aron's overwhelming  Q'dusha.

Electricity, radiation and high places all entail physical risk. It's like a child sticking his finger in an exposed socket. Hashem is not punishing the kid. We are fixated on the concept of seeing din as punishment. Din isn't "punishment," but natural consequences.

Shalom,
RRW

Sunday, 1 April 2018

Parsha: BeShalah, "Mah Titz'aq Eilai?"

originally posted January 16, 2016

See Shmot: Beshalah: 14:15


Rashi cites a Midrash explaining why Hashem tells Moshe to stop praying. He offers two reasons. 

A No time to lengthen prayer if people are suffering
B. Hashem is asking, "why Bother ME? It's in Your hands!"


This reminds me of a wise statement about Prayer and Action:
PRAY as if everything depends upon G-d,
ACT as if everything depends upon you!

Shalom, RRW

Saturday, 24 March 2018

Parsha: Sh'mot, "The Risks of Political Partisanship"

originally posted on Dec. 26, 2015

As the popular hypothesis goes - the Hyksos Pharaohs [the so-called Shepherd Kings] allied themselves with the Hebrews. Then, when the Hyksos' dynasty was overthrown, the Hebrews were left high and dry - especially since native Egyptians detested shepherds. [Miqqetz 43:32]

There are hints in Vayigash and Sh'mot that support this. In Vayigash, Pharaoh seems interested in tying Joseph's family to his own interests. He asks the brothers about becoming his personal Royal Shepherds [47:6]. However, we see that a new King [dynasty?] arose that knew not Joseph [1:8] in Sh'mot.

If this is true, then there is a pragmatic lesson here:  "Don't put your [political] eggs in one basket." Although Joseph and his brothers enjoyed ascendancy when allied to that Hyksos dynasty, they were subsequently exiled to the political wilderness when their patrons were removed from power.

Simply said, since the Hebrews were unanimously allied to one single party, they were powerless when that party lost power.

Something to think about when making "political bedfellows"

Shalom,
RRW

Parsha, Vo'eira, "Koveid Leiv Par'oh"





Originally posted January 2, 2016  
Pick your Parshanut Preference:
  1. Koveid or Hazak are two words which BOTH refer to Pharaoh acting stubbornly. The classic commentators seem to use the two words interchangeably.
  2. Koveid could mean something else entirely, such as, "heavy".
Background:
In Egyptian Mythology, a human's heart was weighed at death. 
This was done by weighing one's heart (conscience) against the feather of Maat (truth and justice)... Anubis weighs Hunefer's [humann's] heart against the feather to see if he is worthy of joining the gods in the Fields of Peace. Ammut is also present, as a demon waiting to devour Hunefer's heart should he prove unworthy.  (The British Museum)
If a person's heart were light as the feather of the goddess Maat, then that person earned "Heaven." Otherwise, his soul would be devoured by another Egyptian goddess, Ammut.
Thus a HEAVY heart might mean an evil person and not a stubborn one. 

This p'shat might have some advantages
  1. It is more literal
  2. It matches what we know about Egyptian Culture
  3. It places Israel in Egypt at the Exodus despite the "critics"
  4. It distinguishes the 2 terms
Disadvantage:
  1. It's NOT traditional
Pick your preferred approach.


Shalom,

RRW

Parsha: Bo, V'yameish Hoshech Onkelos, Rashi and Sinai"

originally posted January 9, 2016

Bo 10:21 "V'yameish Hoshech"

Rashi says that, "k'mo v'ya'ameish...V'Onkelos Tirgeim l'shon hassarah k'mo
'Lo yamish'. "

If Targum Onkelos is miSinai, then how can Rashi argue that, "Ein hadibbur m'ushav al havav"
If Rashi MAY argue - then what does it mean to say Onkelos is MiSinai?


Shalom,

RRW

Parsha: Bo, "Makkat Hoshech and Posh'ei Yisra'el"

originally posted January 9, 2016

See Bo 10:22, and Rashi's words about the phrase, "Vayhee Hoshech..."


Rashi notes that  "Posh'ei Yisra'elwere purged during Hoshech. I've always been troubled by this statement. If all the reshaim died during Makkat Hoshech, then how did ones like Datan and Aviram survive?

A clue lies in Rashi's own words. Rashi wrote that ONLY those "shelo hayyu rotzim latzeit" were killed. 
IOW, only the ones who wanted to stay in Egypt were killed. It seems that while only one SUBSET of Posh'im were purged, other "nudniks" seemed to survive. These may be the ones we see causing trouble in the Midbar later


Shalom,

RRW

Parsha: Vo'eira, "Y'hee l'Tanin"

originally posted January 2, 2016

 Y'hee l'Tanin (Vo'eira 7:9)

Pick your Parshanut Preference

1. Rashi states that the tanin is a SNAKE
2. R' Hirsch and others call the tanin a CROCODILE.

Advantages to #1
Advantages to #2
  • In Parshat Sh'mot, it SAYS Nachash - but here says it's a Tanin. Given the use of two words, we naturally expect a distinction!
  • Crocodiles were symbols of Egypt, so this would have been more symbolic. As Haftarah Vo'eira [EZE 29:3] says TaniM that is HaRoveitz. Crocodiles crouch, snakes don't
  • If you read Taninim in Parshat Breishit 1:21 as great lizards, this matches it a bit better
Pick your preferred approach.

Shalom,

RRW

Parsha Bo - The Zohar - Obtaining Ultimate Freedom

originally posted January 9, 2016

Paraphrase

The Israelites first had to throw off all the higher forces ruling them, until they entered the domain of the Holy One, and tied themselves to GOD alone

Only then were they rescued from Egyptian Bondage when all forces subjugating them had been discarded and GOD alone had become MASTER.

See Zohar Bo 40a
Hoq l'Yisro'el - Bo Day 2

Kol Tuv,
RRW

Parsha: Vo'eira, "Modifying P'shat of Text Based upon a Contradiction"

originally posted January 2, 2016

See Rashi on  Vo'eira 6:18.

Basing himself on the phrase, "Hayyei Qehat," Rashi asserts that the text here can't be taken literally. A logical reading of other passages shows that it would have been difficult, if not impossible, for Bnei Yisrael to have spent 400/430 years in Egypt. Then the issue remains, what to do with the 400/430 years!?

It seems to me that Rashi could have gone the other way. That is, why not say the Yichus was not literal instead? Why not say that generations were skipped and so that literally was the number of years!

The response to that is that Hazal have deemed that period as 210 years. It has been adopted AFAIK by Seder Olam

This same issue is in a previous NishmaBlog poll re: may we set aside a literal reading of text when Hazal themselves have not chosen to do so? (For the results of that poll, see http://nishmablog.blogspot.ca/2011/01/results-of-poll-on-parshanut-how.html)


Shalom,

RRW

Parsha: Bo, "Rashi on P'shat and D'rash"

originally posted January 9, 2016

Rashi D"H V'im yim'at habbayyit...(Bo 12:4 )

First, Rashi says, "X l'fee f'shuto..." 
Namely, if there aren't enough people to completely eat the Pesach lamb, and they will come to have Nottar, then these people are to join their neighbors.

V'od yeish bo Midrash: "That following 'shenimnu' they may still withdraw whilst the lamb still lives". Rashi does NOT force the P'shat to conform to D'rash EVEN when that D'rash is Halachic and not Aggadic.

Thus, P'shat of a phrase can be independent of the Halachot derived from it . Even though the p'shat here IS influenced by Halachah. It conforms to an explicit text concerning Nottar. Although we can't be certain, it doesn't seem to CONTRADICT halachah either! 

Summary:

While Rashi does suggest that P'shat conforms with Halachah,  he also mentions that Halachic D'rash adds a dimension that goes well beyond P'shat.


Shalom,

RRW

Saturday, 17 March 2018

Tzav: The Challenge of Unity

From the archives of Nishma's Online Library , we have chosen an article that relates to the week's parsha, both to direct you to this dvar Torah but also for the purposes of initiating some discussion.

This week's parsha is Tzav.

We invite you to look at an article on this topic here.
http://www.nishma.org/articles/insight/insight5760-36.htm