Open/Close


Parents as Creators

February 8th, 2007 by Yaakov Ellis

כבד את-אביך, ואת-אמך–למען, יארכון ימיך, על האדמה, אשר-יהוה אלהיך נתן לך

Honor your father and your mother, in order to lengthen your days on this Land that the Lord your God has given to you (Shemot 20:11)

In this, the fifth of the “Ten Commandments”, we are commanded to honor our parents. Why is this commandment located precisely at this point?

Ramban explains: Up to this point, we had been commanded on things that are בין אדם למקום – relating solely to God (Belief in God, no idols, do not swear falsely, remember the Shabbat). After this, the commandments are all relating to issues that are solely בין אדם לחבירו – between man and his fellow (No murder, adultery, theft, false witnes or coveting). The commandment to honor one’s parents is an appropriate segue between these two sections of commandments because one’s relationship with one’s parents has both of these aspects within it.

One the one hand, parents are called a “partner with God” in creating their children. Ramban understands Devarim 5:15 (the second time that the Commandments are given, in which the words
כבד את-אביך ואת-אמך, כאשר צוך יהוה אלהיך
are added to this commandment) to mean that just as God has commanded you to observe his honor, so to your are commanded honor the onw who “joined me in your being formed”. On the other hand, this mitzvah is towards another person, and is carried out in this world. So it embodies both aspects: towards God and towards man, and is thus appropriately placed in between the first set of commandments and the last.

10 Amot Tall

February 5th, 2007 by Yaakov Ellis

Rav Ally wrote about the Netziv’s explanation for why Moshe had to sit down in order that Aharon and Chur hold his arms (since we would have thought that Moshe would have remained standing). The answer given is that since according to Chazal, Moshe was 10 amot tall, he had to sit down in order for Aharon and Chur (who were presumably of a more regular height) to be able to reach up high enough to support his arms.

I decided to take a closer look into the exact measurements involved in this scenario. Continue reading ‘10 Amot Tall’

Sitting out the Battle

July 23rd, 2006 by Yaakov Ellis

Rav Gil from Hirhurim gives some aliyah mussar based on current events and a verse in Parashat Matot.

He cites the verse:

ויאמר משה לבני גד ולבני ראובן: האחיכם יבאו למלחמה, ואתם תשבו פה

And Moshe said to the sons of Gad and the sons of Reuven: Will your brothers go to war and you will sit here?

Bamidbar 32:6

In context, Reuven and Gad were presuming to remain on the Eastern side of the Jordan River, sitting out the battles for the conquest of the Land of Israel. Rav Gil related this primarily to Yeshiva exemptions from the army in Israel, and secondarily to people who live in chutz l’aretz. I would reverse the order though – the passuk here is talking of people volunteering to remain outside of the land of Israel instead of joining the rest of the Jews in Israel in the Land of Israel during their wars. The direct parallel today seems to be Jews remaining in Chutz L’aretz.

The comparison to exemptions from Yeshiva may be valid, but you definitely have to read into the passuk a little bit more to get it.

(Cross-posted on Aliyah Blog)

Bil’am the Flying Sorcerer

July 23rd, 2006 by Yaakov Ellis

Josh Waxman from parshablog (the one that is actually updated on a frequent basis) posts on the midrashim that talk about Bil’am flying through the air using his sorcery during the war between Israel and Midyan in Parashat Ma’asei. (He included a second post on the subject as well).

Clean Before God and Israel

July 23rd, 2006 by Yaakov Ellis

ונכבשה הארץ לפני ה’, ואחר תשבו והייתם נקים מה’ ומישראל, והיתה הארץ הזאת לכם לאחזה – לפני ה

And the land be conquered before God, and afterwards you will return; then you shall be clean before God and before Israel, and this land shall be unto you for a possession before God.

Bamidbar 32:22

A bargain was struck between Moshe and the tribes of Reuven and Gad: if they will come over the Jordan River and lead the army in conquering the Land of Israel, only after doing this will they be permitted to return to the Land that they desire to the East of the Jordan. Their participation in the conquest is a prerequisite for inheriting this Land.

As part of this condition, the Torah adds an interesting phrase describing what will be the result of these actions: והייתם נקים מה’ ומישראל – “and you will be clean from God and from Israel”. If the tribes of Reuven and Gad had not helped conquer the Land of Israel, they would have some kind of debt, their actions would have been in some way suspect by “God and Israel”. By helping with the conquest, they show that they really are dedicated to the national cause – so much so that they are willing to put their lives on the line to prove it. This dedication absolves them of any suspicion that may have been placed upon them, and makes them “clean from God and from Israel”.

This status – to be clean in the eyes of both God and Israel – is not something that was incumbent upon the tribes of Reuven and Gad, and no one else. Rather, it is an imperative for all Jews. While we live out daily lives, it is important that we be conscious of the way other people will view our actions. Even if what we are doing is something that is pure and true, we still have to be cognizant of what others will see and think. If other Jews might have a negative opinion or get the wrong idea based on our actions, it is upon us to rectify the situation.

We can see this expressed in the Mishna from Shekalim (3:2) that says that the Cohen in charge of bringing donations into the treasury chamber is not allowed to be wearing straps on his legs, shoes, sandals, tefillin or charms (pieces of parchment wrapped in leather). Why not? Because if he would become poor later on, people might suspect him that he stole some money from the treasury (concealing it within his shoes or under his tefillin), and he became poor as punishment from God for stealing money. Or maybe he will become rich, and people will suspect that he became rich because he stole money. The Mishna cites the verse above as proof for this.

It is important to note: the Cohen who is bringing in money is not someone who we would normally suspect of wrong-doing. He is a priest, a righteous person, working in the temple service. Yet still, he is forbidden to even wear tefillin because of the chance that someone might suspect that he used them as a hiding place for stolen money. It doesn’t matter what his intentions are, or how pure his heart. There is an obligation on the Cohen to make sure that both in the eyes of God, and in the eyes of his fellow Jews, there is no reason to suspect him of any wrongdoing.

This is the rule with the Cohen. All the more so for each and every one of us.

(Based on a shiur by Rav Eliyahu Sha’arvit)

The Conquests of Menashe

July 19th, 2006 by Yaakov Ellis

ADDeRabbi gives an interesting explanation regarding some difficulties with the sons of Menashe conquering the territory of Gilad.

Interestingly enough, the answer given in the end (from Rav Sa’adia Gaon) for the inconsistencies and questions raised is that the passage here in Bamidbar which talks about the Bnei Machir Ben Menashe conquering the area of Gilad is that this took place during the lifetime of Machir (the grandson of Yosef) while he was a general in the Egyptian army. This does answer all of the questions presented by ADDeRabbi, but I think that it raises some other points (that while they do not reject the answer, are still worth addressing):

  • Why is this recorded in Bamidbar? I know that this section is talking about the division of this land, but as is pointed out in the post, there is a different section in Devarim that deals with the conquering of (what seems to be) the same territory from Og. If this section (in our parasha) was referring back to the real Machir ben Menashe, then why does it say that Moshe gave the land “to Machir ben Menashe” (32:40) and not to “bnei Machir ben Menashe” as they are referred to in the previous verse.
  • Do we have any other records of people in Bnei Yisrael leaving Mitzrayim before Moshe, other than to bury Yaakov? The only other thing that I can think of is the incident when some members of Bnei Yisrael left 30 years before everyone else (coincident with the 400th anniversary of Brit bein haBetarim, thirty years before the birth of Yitzchak) only to be defeated (and presumably killed) when reaching Eretz Yisrael (since they left too early).

That aside (these questions are not too difficult to answer) – a very neat explanation for the pesukim.

Gifts from the Heavens

July 19th, 2006 by Yaakov Ellis

ומקנה רב היה לבני ראובן ולבני-גד עצום מאד; ויראו את ארץ יעזר, ואת ארץ גלעד, והנה המקום, מקום מקנה

And the children of Reuven and the children of Gad had very great multitude of cattle; and they saw the land of Ya’azer and the land of Gil’ad, and the place was a place for cattle

Bamidbar 32:1

When the children of Gad and Reuven saw the land east of the Jordan river, they realized that it would be the perfect place for them to go to in order to raise their cattle and livestock. So they went to Moshe and the elders of Israel and asked for this land (32:3).

At first glance this is may not be such a terrible request. These tribes were offering to give up their portions to the West of the Jordan in exchange for this land. They had no problem pushing this off for a few years, being in the vanguard of the army as it conquered the land (for the other tribes) West of the Jordan (32:17).

So why then does this request receive such a sharp reaction from Moshe (32:6-15)? More than that, why was their attempt at settling the land to the East of the Jordan ultimately unsuccessful (as they were among the first tribes ot be included in the Assyrian exile and for the most part have been lost to the rest of the Jewish People – Divrei haYamim A 5:26)?

There are a number of answers to this question. One of them is given by Midrash Rabba (32:7) on this verse. The midrash states that there were three types of gifts created in this world: wisdom, strength/might and wealth. Attaining any of them can lead to all of the goodness in the world. But when will these gifts result in such greatness?

אימתי? בזמן שהן מתנות שמים ובאות מכח התורה, אבל גבורתו ועשרו של בשר ודם אינו כלום

When? In the time when these gifts are from the God (lit. “from the heavens”) and come through the power of the Torah. But the might and wealth of man are nothing.

Bamidbar Rabba 32:7

The land to the East of the Jordan could very well have been intended for them. The tribes of Gad and Reuven should have gone to Moshe not to ask directly for the land to fulfill their personal needs. Instead they should have gone in order to find out what it was that God wanted them to do. They should have asked Moshe what, in his opinion, was the proper thing to do, in the eyes of the Torah. If through this context they had been granted the gift of the wonderful land to the East fo the Jordan, they would have been successful in their endeavors there. Instead, since they came with their requests not in the context of the Torah, but rather as a way of seeking to fulfill personal desires, these gifts were merely like “the wealth of man” and in the end amounted to nothing (and as the midrash says at the end, resulted in these tribes being the very first to be exiled).

(Adapted from Dvar Torah by Rav Avichai Katzin, Radio Kol Chai)

The Mighty and the Weak

March 20th, 2006 by Yaakov Ellis

ויאמר משה אל-בני ישראל ראו קרא ה’ בשם, בצלאל בן-אורי בן-חור, למטה יהודה…ולהורת נתן בלבו: הוא, ואהליאב בן-אחיסמך למטה-דן

And Moshe said to Bnei Yisrael, see God has called by name Betzalel son of Uri son of Chur of the tribe of Yehuda…And he put in his heart that he be able to teach, him and Ohaliav son of Achisamach of the tribe of Dan

Shemot 35: 30, 34

Over the last several weeks, the Torah has made it quite clear who is the main architect of the mishkan: Betzalel. He has the know-how, he has the lineage. He is the man.

Among all of the other craftsmen who are mentioned in connection with building the mishkan, only one other is mentioned by name: Ohaliav. The obvious question: what is so special about Ohaliav that he is receives such a distinction?

Rashi comments on the passuk above (35:34): Ohaliav is of the tribe of Dan, which is one of the lowest of the tribes (in stature) as Dan was the son of Bilha, hand-maiden to Rachel. Despite the fact that he did not have the pedigree of Betzalel, God has made him on equal standing with Betzalel, who comes from the mightiest of tribes (Yehuda; he is also a descendent of Levi through his grandmother Miriam).

The message: when it comes to doing the work of the mishkan, building a place for people to feel God’s presence more acutely in this world, one’s kavana (intentions) are what matter, not ones yichus (pedigree).

(It is also interesting to note that when Shlomo was building the first temple, he also chose a master craftsman, Hiram of Tzur, who was from the tribe of Naftali – brother of Dan, son of Bilha – Malachim 1, 7:13-14).

Back to Business

March 20th, 2006 by Yaakov Ellis

OK, its been about three months since I have made aliyah. If I don’t start posting to this site soon, it’s never going to happen…

Anti-Assimilation

December 23rd, 2005 by Yaakov Ellis

While going through Parashat Vayishlach there was one theme that stood out to me: the efforts of non-Jews to cause Jews to assimilate and the hard stance of the Jewish people against these efforts:

  • Yaakov fights the “man” (Bereishit 32:25-31). Chazal in midrashim (Bereishit Rabba cited by Rashi) say that this was the sar of Eisav. Thus this battle between Yaakov and the ish represented the overall struggle between the stength of Eisav, of worldliness, against those of Yaakov – of Torah and spirituality.
  • Yaakov meets Eisav. Instead of attacking Yaakov, Esav offers a partnership:

    ויאמר, נסעה ונלכה, ואלכה לנגדך

    And (Esav) said: let us travel and go, and I will go along with you

    Bereishit 33:12

    Esav offers to Yaakov that they (and by extension their children and descendents) would share a common future, going through the journeys of this world together. In the next passuk Yaakov declines.

  • Yaakov comes to the city of Shechem. After his Dinah is raped, he is offered by Chamor the father of Sh’chem that the people of Shechem and the children of Yaakov should intermerry and live together. Yaakov’s reaction is definitely in the negative (Shimon and Levi took this a step farther by killing all of the men in the city)

Common theme: the efforts of the non-Jews to assimilate the Jewish people into their midst, and the response of the Jews: no thank you! Something to keep in mind for those in Chutz La’aretz as we approach the climax of the “holiday season”.