Archive for November, 2005

The First FFB

November 30th, 2005 by Yaakov Ellis

ADDeRabbi protrays Yitzchak Avinu as the first Frum From Birth Jew.

He makes an interesting point about the difference between Yitzchak (FFB) and Rivka (comes from a non-Orthodox home). Chazal portray them as Tzaddik-ben-Tzaddik (Yitzchak, who was righteous was the son of Avraham who was also righteous) and Tzadik-bat-Rasha (Rivka, who was righteous was the daughter of the wicked Betu’el). It is for this reason that Yitzchak’s prayers are answered (and not Rivka’s). One might have thought that this is a pretty shvach reason for the prayers of one person to be “better” than the prayers of another. Don’t our prayers depend on who we are and our kavana, not on our yichus?

ADDeRabbi points out that “It’s no small matter for a person to become a ‘tzaddik ben tzaddik’.” This very process of becoming a tzaddik when one is expected to be one, and is always in the shadow of another tzaddik is very difficult.

…interior growth with no external manifestation is very, very, difficult to affect and engenders constant insecurity with one’s own religious state. The verb ‘to pray’, in Hebrew, is reflexive. Jewish tradition has understood prayer as a process of self-discovery and self-judgment. The prayer of a tzaddik ben tzaddik is indeed a potent prayer.

Thus, for Yitzchak to become an actual tzaddik was itself a journey of self-improvement, one that enabled him to end up on a higher level than his wife. It is not the mere fact that Yitzchak was a tzaddik-ben-tzaddik that enabled his prayers to be answered. It was what it had taken to reach that point.

Different Types of Twins

November 29th, 2005 by Yaakov Ellis

ויאמר ה’ לה, שני גוים בבטנך, ושני לאמים ממעיך יפרדו, ולאם מלאם יאמץ ורב יעבד צעיר. וימלאו ימיה ללדת, והנה תומם בבטנה

And God said to her: there are two nations in your womb, and two governments will separate from within you, one government will be stronger than the other and the greater one will serve the younger one. And the days of her pregnancy were completed, and behold there were twins in her womb

Bereishit 25:23-24

If Rivka had already received a prophecy (through Shem) that there were two nations growing within her womb, why does the Torah need to point out to us in the very next verse that “behold, there were twins in her womb”. Was this such a surprise?

Something else that is out of the ordinary here: in the second verse above (25:24), the word that is used for twins is תומם. Normally this is spelled תאומים. Why the change here?

Rashi explains that the word for twins is spelled differently here (without the alef) to signify that in this case one of the children was righteous and one wicked (in distinction to the case with Tamar a few weeks down the line, where both of her children were righteous and thus the normal spelling of תאומים is used). The spelling is changed because they were not twins in every way.

The Netziv takes this idea one step farther: he says that Rivka expected that her two children would be very different – this is obvious from the prophecy that she received (25:24). However what she did not expect was that this difference would be noticeable while her children were still in utero. The differences between her children were already developed and present at the time of their birth (see the next two verses, 25:25-26).

(Question: whatever happened to yir’at shamayim being in the hands of the person? Was Esav destined for wickedness?)

Still here

November 29th, 2005 by Yaakov Ellis

Sorry for the lack of posting on the parsha…in the middle of preparations for aliyah…(lift in 6 days, flight in 27)

When She Doesn’t Want to Make Aliyah

November 23rd, 2005 by Yaakov Ellis

Pinchas cites the Torah’s recommendations on what to do if the girl you want to go out with doesn’t want to make aliyah

Pluperfect Verbs

November 22nd, 2005 by Yaakov Ellis

Josh explains how one verb (יֹשֵׁב) can take on different meanings based on context and conjugation

Eulogizing vs. Crying

November 22nd, 2005 by Yaakov Ellis

ותמת שרה בקרית ארבע הוא חברון בארץ כנען, ויבא אברהם, לספד לשרה ולבכתה

And Sarah died in Kiryat Arba – which is Chevron – in the land of Canaan, and Avraham came to eulogize for Sarah and to cry for her

Bereishit 23:2

The Torah here describes Avraham’s actions upon arriving in Chevron. First he eulogized his wife. Then he cried over her death. Why does the Torah emphasize these two actions? And why specifically in this order?

The Netziv explains that the primary purpose for a eulogy is to praise the person who had died, to speak of there greatness and of their accomplishments. On the converse, one cries for the dead in sorrow over one’s loss. Crying is a way of expressing one’s personal anguish and mourning.

When the loss of the person who has just been niftar is something that affects one in a very severe way, and one’s grief over one’s loss is more powerful than any praise that could be given for the decease, then it is appropriate to cry before reciting a eulogy. However, if the loss does not cause one’s world to be turned upside down, and the praise one can give for the dead person is the more powerful feeling, then one should first eulogize and then cry. The stronger emotion should lead one to action.

Although Sarah’s death was tragic, it did not turn Avraham’s world upside down. He already had a son, Yitzchak, through Sarah. His mission of spreading the word of God throughout the world was still active, and his next task was to marry off his son. Thus Avraham did not feel compelled to cry for Sarah immediately upon arriving at the scene of her death. The more powerful sentiment was to praise Sarah for who she was and what she had accomplished: a woman who in some ways had a closer connection to God then did Avraham (see Rashi on Bereishit 21:12), a woman who regained the beauty of her childhood just as she reached the climax of her life and who was as sinless as a youth on the day that she died.

There was much to praise about Sarah’s life and much to learn about the ways in which she conducted herself. Thus Avraham first eulogized his wife. Only afterwards did he cry for his loss.

Rashbam on the Akeida

November 20th, 2005 by Yaakov Ellis

ADDeRabbi posts a different take on the Akeida based on the commentary of the Rashbam.

Life & Death

November 18th, 2005 by Yaakov Ellis

ועתה, השב אשת האיש כי נביא הוא, ויתפלל בעדך וחיה; ואם אינך משיב, דע כי מות תמות, אתה וכל אשר לך
And now, return the man’s wife for he is a prophet and he will pray for you and you will live; and if you do not return (he), know that you will surely die, you and all that is yours

Bereishit 20:7

Here God tells Avimelech two things:

  1. If you do not return Sarah to Avraham, you and all that is yours will surely die
  2. If Avraham prays for you, you will live

Logically then, if Avimelech returns Sarah to Avraham but Avraham does not pray for Avimelech, then Avimelech will not die (because he returned Sarah) and also will not live (because Avraham did not pray for him). Kind of paradoxical, isn’t it?

I think that the answer to this at the end of the incident with Avimelech. (This is my own interpretation. If anyone has seen this or a different explanation please share…):

ויתפלל אברהם אל האלהים, וירפא אלהים את אבימלך ואת אשתו ואמהתיו וילדו. כי עצר עצר יהוה בעד כלרחם לבית אבימלך, על דבר שרה אשת אברהם
And Avraham prayed to the Lord and the Lord healed Avimelech and his wife and his slave girls, and they had children. For God had sealed up every womb in the house of Avimelech, because of Avraham’s wife, Sarah

Bereishit 20:18

Before Avraham prayed for Avimelech, the entire royal household had become sterile. No one could have children. As a result of Avraham’s prayers they were all healed and were once again able to have children (and did). Without Avraham’s prayers, they would not have died; They would have remained alive, and childless. Or to put it another way, they would not have really been able to live. The Torah here is making a value judgement on having children – if one has children, it is as if he is alive. If one does not have children, one may be breathing, but one is not truly living (or is even thought of as being dead – see Nedarim 64b)

The Sin of Sodom

November 18th, 2005 by Yaakov Ellis

ADDeRabbi posts about the real sin of the city of Sodom. He writes that the sin was primarily the motivations, rather than the actions, of the citizens of Sodom.

(However, most of the commentaries on the passuk do not go this far, but rather define the primary sins of Sodom as inappropriate sexual behavior and love of theft/robbery)

Rushing to Perform a Mitzva

November 17th, 2005 by Yaakov Ellis

ותשקין את אביהן יין בלילה הוא; ותבא הבכירה ותשכב את אביה, ולא ידע בשכבה ובקומה
And on that night they gave their father wine to drink; and the first born (daughter) came and slept with her father, and he was not aware of her lying down nor of her getting up

Bereishit 19:33

When first addressing the actions of Lot’s daughters, it is hard to view them as anything other than depraved acts. They got their father drunk in order that each would be able to sleep with him and have a child through him. However, when taking their motives into account, Chazal view their actions in a different light. The daughters of Lot should not be viewed as sinners. Instead, their actions should be viewed as positive deeds.

א”ר חייא בר אבין א”ר יהושע בן קרחא: לעולם יקדים אדם לדבר מצוה שבשביל לילה אחת שקדמתה בכירה לצעירה זכתה וקדמתה ארבע דורות בישראל למלכות
Rav Chiya bar Avin said in the name of Rav Yehoshua ben Karcha: a person should always strive to perform a mitzva first, for because of the one night that the older daughter preceeded the younger daughter, she merited to have her line join the progeny of the Jewish kings by four generations

Talmud Bavli Nazir 23b

Rav Baruch haLevi Epstein in his commentary Torah Temima, on this passuk, footnote 21 explains that Lot’s daughters had good intentions in what they were doing. To them, the entire world had been destroyed. They did not know if there were any other people left in the world – if there were none, then it was up to them to ensure that man would continue. So they each slept with their father in order to keep the world going. This act, which under any other circumstance would be a grave sin, is deemed to be a positive act on their part (called a dvar mitzva by the Gemara above).

And as their actions were positive ones, we have what to learn from their zeal in performing this mitzva. The older daughter was the more zealous of the two. She made sure that she was the first one to perform this mitzva (and as the Gemara states, merited that her descendents joined the Davidic line four generations earlier than the descendents of her younger sister: Oved – son of Ruth the Moabite, descendent of Lot’s older daughter – Yishai, David, Shlomo, Rechav’am – son of Na’ama the Amonite, descendent of the younger daughter of Lot.

A sinful act worthy of distain has transformed into a prime example of זריזים מקדימים למצוות – the zealous strive to perform mitzvot as soon as they can – and of the rewards granted for such zealousness.