Archive for November, 2005

Rivka’s Age II

November 15th, 2005 by Yaakov Ellis

parshablog responds to DovBear’s post about Rivka’s age with different insights to the midrashim at the root of the issue, as well as a comment on midrashim in general.

A choice quote:

One thing I have seen is that people in general have an unsophisticated view of midrash. Midrash is a close reading of text, which picks up on fine points, details and nuances. It often serves a homiletic purpose, or emphasises/exaggerates features that are in the literal story itself. It is also an art form.

Those who take every midrash absolutely literally are missing the point. Those who try to harmonize competing midrashim are missing the point. Those who are upset at the midrash and rail against it because they think it improbable or against a literal reading are also missing the point.

Well put. Midrashim are not there to be quoted willy-nilly to make whatever proof the reader wants to make. Each midrash is coming to address one specific aspect of a character, story, theme, etc. Most are not meant to be taken literally. And all must be viewed and studied in context in order to make sense.

How Old was Rivka when she Married Yitzchak?

November 14th, 2005 by Yaakov Ellis

DovBear discusses how old Rivka really was when she married Yitzchak.

Hint: there are some opinions out there that say that Rivka was older than three years old. (Don’t forget the comments)

How to Stand Like a Mensch

November 14th, 2005 by Adina

ויקח חמאה וחלב, ובן-הבקר אשר עשה, ויתן, לפניהם; והוא-עמד עליהם תחת העץ, ויאכלו
And he (Avraham) took butter and milk and the calf that he had prepared and placed it before them (the angels), and he stoof before them (lit. “over them”) under the tree, and they ate

Bereishit 18:8

In the verse cited above, what does the word עליהם – over them, imply? Why is Avraham standing over the angels?

The Kedushat Levi explains why Avraham is standing, “omed” in a beautiful way. He explains that it is part of hosting guests and performing the mitzva of hachnassat orchim, not to have airs, nor to put onself at a higher stature than one’s guest, so that the guests feel comfortable and welcome.

The Kedushat Levi goes on to explain that it is well known that a tzaddik (“righteous person”) is referred to as a “holech”, someone who walks, since he is continually moving, growing and raising himself up to higher levels from time to time. In contrast to this, a malach , or angel, is called an “omed,” one who stands, since the angel remains all the time at a fixed place of holiness. (In Kedusha of the repetition of the Amidah prayer, we try to emulate angels by keeping our feet together, maintaining a high level of holiness, but literally incapable of walking with a symbolic “regel achat,” one leg). This concept of walking versus standing can be seen in a passuk in Zechariah 3:7 – “And I have given you walkers among these who are standing (referring to the angels)”. Therefore, when the three angels came to Avraham he did not want to appear on a higher plane than them, so he acted as if on their level (the level of an angel), as an “omed”, one who stands. Avraham changed to become an “omed aleihem”, as the Kedushat Levi understands this phrase to mean that Avraham acted on their madregah, “bishvilam” – for them, for their comfort.

Another question for anyone brave enough to comment: Why are the angels under a tree? And not just any tree, but the tree…

She’s my Sister – Again!

November 14th, 2005 by Yaakov Ellis

Moshe shares some insights into Avraham’s strategy for protecting his wife, by twice (once Egypt, once by the Pelishtim) calling her his sister.

Double Vision

November 13th, 2005 by Yaakov Ellis

וישא עיניו וירא, והנה שלשה אנשים נצבים עליו; וירא וירץ לקראתם מפתח האהל, וישתחו ארצה
And he (Avraham) raised his eyes and saw, and behold there were three men standing by him, and he saw and ran to the door of the tent to greet them, bowing down to the ground

Bereishit 18:2

וירא בשכינה, וירא במלאכים…אמר אם רואה אני ששכינה ממתנת עליהם אני יודע שהם בני אדם גדולים.
And he saw – the Divine presence; And he saw – the angels…(Avraham) said: if I see that the Divine presence waits for them, I know that they are men of importance.

Midrash Bereishit Rabba 48:9

We read twice in the same verse that Avraham “saw”. Why is this verb repeated? According to Midrash Rabba (see above), the first time Avraham “saw”, he saw the Divine presence. The second time he “saw”, he saw the angels who were standing in front of him. Why is Avraham’s attention divided in this way?

(More on that very soon). The Midrash goes on after this to say that when Avraham was looking at the angels, he was examining them to see if they were really important men. Some of the commentaries on this passuk make point out that when Avraham went to take care of the angels (who appeared to him as three men) he was forgoing the Divine presence (the shechina for the sake of the mitzvah of hachnassat orchim – welcoming of guests. If this mitzvah was so important as to take precedence over the shechina, why would it matter whether the guests were men of importance or not? Whether or not the guests are men of importance, they are still nothing when compared to the shechina. Therefore, the fact that this mitzvah took precedence over the shechina should have been independent of who the guests were. So what was Avraham looking for?

The Netziv (Rav Nafatali Tzvi Yehuda Berlin) addresses these questions in his commentary HaEmek Davar. At first, Avraham was busy with welcoming the Divine presence. In addition to this giving Avraham great enjoyment (at least on the spiritual level), Avraham was also fulfilling the positive commandment of Loving God. This is a commandment that applies to all people at all times. However, if in the middle of fulfilling this mitzvah (or any other positive, non-timebound mitzvah) one is called to perform another mitzvah which must be performed at that time, the second mitzvah takes precedence. Thus, Avraham was obligated to stop performing the first mitzvah (Loving God) in favor of the second mitzvah (welcoming guests).

However, the halacha to stop performing one mitzvah for the sake of a second mitzvah only applies for a person when He is the very person who Must perform the second mitzvah. If the second mitzvah can be performed through an intermediary party, then one can continue to fulfill the first mitzvah, while sending off one’s messenger to fulfill the second.

Thus it was with Avraham. When the three men came along, he looked them over, examined them to see if they were important people. This was not to see whether or not they were worthy of being welcomed – the mitzvah of welcoming guests applies to every guest. Rather, it was to see whether they were so important that it would be insulting to them if anyone other than the host himself (Avraham) was the one greeting and serving them. Once he observed that the Divine presence would wait on their behalf, and observed the way that they treated one another, he saw that they were truly important people. For important people like that, it would not suffice to send a servant to welcome them. For guests like these, Avraham had to do the welcoming. And for this, the Shechina could (and did) wait.

Who Wrote the Bible (according to Ibn Ezra)?

November 11th, 2005 by Yaakov Ellis

ADDeRabbi writes about the different controversional)interpretations of Ibn Ezra’s comment on והכנעני אז בארץ in Bereishit 12:6.

I personally remember discussing this topic with my rebbi from Yeshiva. He related a story that he witnessed (or he heard from an eyewitness) where one of the previous Roshei Yeshiva from Yeshivat haKotel was asked by someone in a shiur about this Ibn Ezra, to which he responded that there is no way that Ibn Ezra could have meant that this was a later addition to the Torah. When the person wouldn’t stop asking his questions, the Rabbi in question stopped his shiur and was so angry at his perceived disrespect to Ibn Ezra that he wouldn’t continue the shiur until the questioner left the room.

Choose Your Neighbors Wisely

November 11th, 2005 by Yaakov Ellis

When Avram asked Lot where he wanted to live, Lot chose to live in Sodom, a place full of wicked people who were rebellious to God. Lot may have had good intentions in choosing to live in Sodom. He may have thought that he could do kiruv. He may have thought that he would not be affected by the environment in which he lived.

ויקחו את לוט ואת רכשו בן אחי אברם וילכו, והוא ישב בסדם
And they took Lot, the nephew of Avram, and his posessions and went, and he (Lot) was settled in Sodom

Bereishit 14:12

When the four kings kidnapped Lot and family and took his posessions, it was not despite the fact he lived in Sodom. Rather, Lot’s decision to live in Sodom was the very cause of his kidnapping (Rashi on 14:12). Lot decision to live in a wicked city had a direct affect on the the wellbeing of himself and of his family.

On the other hand, Avram chose to surround himself with those whom he could trust, his ba’alei brit.

ויבא הפליט ויגד לאברם העברי; והוא שכן באלני ממרא האמרי, אחי אשכל ואחי ענר, והם בעלי ברית-אברם
And the Palit came and told to Avram the Ivri (what had befallen Lot), and (Avram) was dwelling in Elonei Mamre the Emorite, the brother of Eshkol and the brother of Ever; and they were Avram’s allies/kinsmen

Bereishit 14:13

Although Avram’s decision to surround himself with friends (who according to some commentators are called the ba’alei brit because they are the ones who gave him suggestions on how best to fulfill God’s commandment of brit milah in the coming parasha) may not have been the cause of Avram’s righteousness – however it is certainly an indicator of Avram’s spiritual level. It shows that even someone on Avram’s level can benefit from living among kind, just people. It is as well a lesson for us, the descendents of Avram.

This has been codified into halacha by the Rambam:

דרך ברייתו של אדם להיות נמשך בדעותיו ובמעשיו אחר ריעיו וחבריו, ונוהג במנהג אנשי מדינתו. לפיכך צריך אדם להתחבר לצדיקים ולישב אצל החכמים תמיד, כדי שילמוד ממעשיהם; ויתרחק מן הרשעים ההולכים בחושך, כדי שלא ילמוד ממעשיהם
Man’s nature is to follow after the thoughts and actions of his neighbors and friends, and act in the way of his countrymen. Therefore one must attach himself to the righteous and constantly sit by the wise, in order to learn from their actions; And (one should) distance oneself from the wicked who walk in darkness, in order not to learn from their actions.

Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Dei’ot, 6:1

May we all merit to learn from both Avraham Avinu and Lot the way in which we should and should not act.

Going Over the Line

November 8th, 2005 by Yaakov Ellis

ולא נשא אתם הארץ לשבת יחדו כי היה רכושם רב ולא יכלו לשבת יחדו. ויהי ריב בין רעי מקנה אברם ובין רעי מקנה לוט והכנעני והפרזי אז ישב בארץ
The land could not support them living together; their wealth was so great that they could not stay together. Friction developed between the herdsmen of Abram’s flocks and those of Lot. The Canaanites and Perizites were then living in the land.

Bereishit 13:6-7

Why does the Torah mention two times that Avram and Lot could not dwell together? According to the Netziv, it is to emphasize that their inability to be in the same place was not because there was not enough arable land for the two of them. Rather, it was because their was a clash between their temperments and their spiritual levels.

Yet despite this, Avram did not make any proactive steps to separate himself from Lot until friction developed between their respective sheperds. Why did he wait so long?

The Netziv explains this in verse 7. Avram could have gone on for quite some time, maintaining his relationship with Lot to the point where they would not have to separate outright. However, he was prompted to take action by the Chillul Hashem that was going on. Avram was known far and wide for his righteousness and closeness to God. So what impression does it make on everyone around when Avram’s sheperds are getting into fights (even if they didn’t start it)? Especially when all of the neighbors, the Canaanites and Perizites were capable living together without getting into fights? It was to prevent this desceration of God’s name that Avram made sure that he no longer had anything to do with Lot.

(The implications of this for the meaning of Yishuv haAretz are important – perhaps we can say that one cannot fulfill this mitzva if he can’t get along with his fellow Jew. Additionally, it is evident from here that Chillul Hashem may be most accurately measured in how your non-Jewish neighbors view you. Things to think about…)

What a Short Famine

November 8th, 2005 by Yaakov Ellis

ויהי רעב בארץ וירד אברם מצרימה לגור שם כי כבד הרעב בארץ
And there was a famine in the land, and Avram went down to Mitzrayim to dwell there, for the famine was very harsh in the land

Bereishit 12:10

ויעל אברם ממצרים הוא ואשתו וכל אשר לו ולוט עמו הנגבה
And Avram went up from Mitzrayim, him and his wife and all that was his, and Lot was with him – to the Negev

Bereishit 13:1

Avram had to go down to Mitzrayim because there was a famine in the Land of Canaan. Regardless of whether or not Avram was justified in doing this this was still one heck of a famine – Avram would not have left otherwise. What happens next? He goes down to Mitzrayim, his wife is taken to Pharoah, a makah strikes Pharoah’s household, Pharoah tells Avram to take his wife and his possessions and get lost. Avram goes back up to Canaan and goes on to his next adventure.

So what happened to the famine? From the chronology of the pesukim, it does not seem like Avram was down in Mitrayim for too long of a time – yet, when Avram comes back up to Canaan, there evidently is enough food to go around (otherwise he wouldn’t have been able to come back). Where did all of the food come from? If it was an open miracle, this would probably have been mentioned in the Torah. If the food came back through natural means, how could this have happened so quickly?

A Justifiable Yeridah?

November 7th, 2005 by Yaakov Ellis

ויהי רעב, בארץ וירד אברם מצרימה לגור שם כי-כבד הרעב בארץ
And there was a famine in the Land; And Avram went down to Mitzrayim to dwell there, for the famine was very harsh in the Land

Bereishit 12:10

Commenting on this verse, Ramban writes: “…also, his leaving from the Land – upon which he had initially been commanded (to enter) – because of famine was a sin, for the Lord in famine will redeeem from death; And it was because of this action that exile to Mitrayim by the hands of Pharoah was decreed on his descendents”. This is not something that we could say today – that Avraham Avinu sinned – but since Ramban said it, is is something that must be taken into consideration.

The Netziv presents an opposite viewpoint. He asks: why is it that the famine is mentioned twice in the same sentence? It must be to show that the famine was so harsh that Avram had absolutely no choice about going down to Mitzrayim – that it came to the point where he had sold all of his posessions, and Avram came to the conclusion that it was the will of God for him to go down to Mitrayim. (Rashi also seems to be of the same opinion).