Archive for June 2014

Parashat Balak

Saturday, June 28, 2014 · Posted in , , , ,

BaMidbar 22:2 - 25:9

Parashat Summary

  • Balak, the king of Moav, persuades the prophet Balaam to curse the Benei Yisrael so that he can defeat them and drive them out of the region.  Balaam blesses the Benei Yisrael instead.
  • Balaam prophesies that Yisrael's enemies will be defeated.
  • G-d punishes the Benei Yisrael with a plague for consorting with the Moavi women and their god. 
  • The plague is stayed after Pinchas kills an Hebrew man and his Midiani woman.

Video Shiur by Rabbi Pinchas Winston on Parashat Balak

Rabbi Winston discusses the reason why Balak and Bilaam were compelled to stop the Jewish people from entering Eretz Yisrael even though Moav and Midyan were not part of the nations destined to be conquered.

Video Shiur by Rabbi Daniel Glatstein on Masechet Berachot: The Desire to Put Parashat Balak into the Shema'

Women's Shiurim

Video Shiur by Rabbinit Iris Odani Elyashiv on Parashah Balak

Parashat Chukat

BaMidbar 19:1 - 22:1
Rosh Chodesh Tamuz

[Parah Adumah - Red Heifer]

Parasha Summary

  • The laws of the Parah Adumah (Red Heifer)
  • The people arrive at the wilderness of Zin. Miriam dies and is buried there
  • The people complain that they have no water. Moses strikes the rock to get water for them 
  • G-d tells Moshe and Aharon they will not enter Eretz Israel
  • After Aharon's priestly garments are given to his son Ele'azer, Aharon dies
  • The Benei Yisrael are punished for complaining about the lack of bread and water
  • The Benei Yisrael repent and are victorious in battle against the Amori and the people of Bashan

19:1 vayedaber HASHEM el-Moshe v'el-Aharon lemor
HaShem spoke to Moshe and Aharon, saying,
2 zot chukat hatorah asher-tziva HASHEM lemor daber el-benei Yisrael v'yikchu eleicha fara aduma t'mima asher ein-ba mum asher lo-ala aleiha ol
This is the statute of the Torah which HaShem commanded, saying; speak to Benei YIsrael that they shall take to you a completely red cow without a blemish, upon which no yoke was laid.

The Torah here reveals the law of the Red Heifer.  G-d commanded that a red heifer, perfect in its redness, be brought to the Anointment Hill - Mount of Olives, directly facing the Temple.  There it would be slaughtered and burned.  Its ashes would be mixed in a special container with spring water, and sprinkled on any one who was ritually impure (tamei).

This water, called Niddah Water, had the special property of purifying those who were tamei, and rendering ritually impure those who were pure (tahor).

This commandment is one of the very deep secrets of the Torah that cannot be investigated, nor can its observance be explained. It is to be fulfilled as a divine edict, in awe and love of G-d. The secret of the Parah Adumah was revealed to our teacher Moshe alone as indicated in the word "you" ("take to you a completely red cow"). That is, only to "you" was this explained, not to anyone else. Even King Shlomo, whom the scripture calls the wisest of all men and expert in every realm of knowledge, did not penetrate the secret of the Parah Adumah. He says in Kohelet (7:23), "I said, I will be wise; but it was far from me." In other words, he is saying that he thought he would become wise enough to fathom the secret of the Parah Adumah, but "it is far from me," the words "Vehi rechokah," being numerically equivalent (441) to the words "parah adumah," Red Heifer.

A non-Jew once challenged Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai, saying: 
"All those things you do in connection with the Parah Adumah seem to me like witchcraft. You take hold of a cow, you burn it; then you take its ashes and place them in water, and after sprinkling them a number of times upon someone who has been defiled by a corpse, you declare that he is clean. Does that make sense?"  
"Has your body ever been invaded by a foul spirit?" asked Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai.  
"But have you ever seen anyone who was so affected?"  
"And what medical treatment was this man given?"  
"An aromatic root was placed under the man, and when water was sprinkled upon him the foul spirit fled."  
"Then let your ears heed what your mouth speaks," exclaimed the sage. "The very same thing applies to the Parah Adumah: the condition of ritual impurity is that foul spirit which affects a person who has been defiled by a corpse. Just as it is written, "And the impure spirit I will remove from the land" (Zecharya 13:2) - which means when the Mashiach comes, the spirit of impurity will disappear from the land - so too the sprinkling of the water in which ashes of the Parah Adumah have been mixed accomplishes the same purification."  
This explanation found favor in the eyes of the non-Jew and he went his way. 
But then the disciple turned to Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai. "That pagan you fended off with a straw. But what explanation would you give us?" 
He replied, "That of which the Torah speaks here is a divine law, a commandment that encloses a great secret. Therefore, do not try to fathom it for it is a law that G-d has mandated, a decree issued that you are not permitted to question. 
The Parah Adumah cost a great deal of money since it had to be completely red, and two white or black hairs were sufficient to render it unfit. Preferably, it had to be three to four years old, although a greater age was not in itself a disqualification. It could not be bought as a young heifer and raised since the Torah specifically states, "Have them bring you a completely red heifer;" that is, at the time of purchase it already had to be grown. If only a calf was to be found, the purchase price would be agreed upon with the owner, and it would remain in his possession until it matured and was taken away. One could also buy the Parah Adumah from a non-Jew.

The animal had to be flawless. For just as a blemish renders an offering unfit, it also renders unfit the Parah Adumah even though it is not offered as a sacrifice.

A further constraint on the admissibility of the Parah Adumah which was not applicable to an offering, was that any work it performed rendered it unfit. Even if only a yoke was harnessed to it without the animal having done any plowing, it was nonetheless disqualified. For the scripture says, "and which has never had a yoke on it."

It was rendered unfit also when used very slightly; for example, if it was ridden upon, used for crossing a river, if a garment was placed over it, or if one only leaned against it.

If one bridled the Parah Adumah in order to prevent it from moving about and becoming injured, the animal was not disqualified. Not so, however, if it was bridled for reasons other than to safeguard it, in which case it was rendered unfit. If a covering was placed over it to protect it from flies, the animal was not disqualified since that had been done for its benefit. Generally speaking, anything done to the animal for its own needs did not disqualify it. Only that which was performed for the benefit of the owner or others rendered it unfit.

The Torah reveals that the first Parah Adumah that Moshe commanded to bring was burned by the assistant to the Kohen Gadol (High Priest); thus the verse says, "Give it to El'azar, the kohen." He was the assistant to Aharon, the Kohen Gadol, who was still living.

It was not necessary, however, that the Cow be slaughtered by the Kohen. Even a non-Kohen could do it, provided it was done in the presence and under the supervision of the Kohen since the scripture says, "It shall then be slaughtered in his presence." Anyone could slaughter it in the presence of the Kohen, El'azar, who then collected the blood. He did not, however, collect it in a vessel, but into the palm of his left hand. He then sprinkled it with his right forefinger seven times in the direction of the Tent of Meeting entrance, keeping his eyes on the entrance to the Tent of Meeting while doing so. Thus the verse says, "and sprinkle it toward the Tent of Meeting."

After the Kohen concluded the sprinkling, he wiped his hands on the body of the Cow. He would then kindle the fire, place the Cow upon it, and taking cedar wood, some hyssop, and some crimson-dyed wool weighing five shekels (four ounces) exclaim three times before those present: "Behold this cedar wood, behold this cedar wood, behold this cedar wood." They in turn would reply: "Yes, yes, yes." He would then say, "Behold this hyssop, behold this hyssop, behold this hyssop," and they would answer "Yes, yes, yes." The same thing was repeated for the crimson wool. He would say, "Behold this crimson wool, behold this crimson wool, behold this crimson wool!" and be answered "Yes, yes, yes."

This triple calling-out ceremony served the purpose of drawing attention to the particular cedar wood, hyssop and dye extract specified by the Torah. This was necessary because there are seven different species of cedar and four species of hyssop; and as for the red dye, some use extract of the madder or of some other herb, while others use the tola'at which the Torah mentions here. These refer to deep-red grains that resemble carob seeds and are round like the fruit of the sumac plant; the tola'at itself was a species of small gnat found inside those grains. The hyssop referred to is oregano, which is eaten by men of means and also used as a condiment.

The Torah further specifies that the hyssop and the cedar wood were to be tied with the crimson wool and then cast into the entrails of the burning Cow. This was to be done after a large part of the animal had already caught fire but prior to it becoming nothing but ashes. If the animal was thrown into the flames before this point of the ceremony, it was rendered unfit.

When the burning was completed and the animal actually turned into ashes, its remains were beaten with sticks and a sieve was then used for sifting it out from the firewood. Blackened and charred pieces that could be crushed into soot were retained and used with its ashes for purifying those who were ritually contaminated. The residual ashes were divided into three parts. One part was placed in the Chail, the wall facing the Women's Gallery of the Temple; another part was deposited on the Anointment Hill, the Mount of Olives; and the third part was distributed to those on guard duty outside the enclosure of the Temple, to be used for purifying anyone who was ritually contaminated.

The ashes on Anointment Hill were reserved for purifying the Kohen-priest who had performed the burning of the Parah Adumah. This was necessary in order to enable him to perform the same service again.

Just as the Kohen Gadol would be separated from his home and his wife for seven days prior to Yom Kippur, the Kohen performing the burning of the Parah Adumah would also go into retreat for seven days prior to that ceremony. The chamber that was prepared for him for this purpose was located in the Azarah and was called the Stone Chamber. On each of the seven days preceding the ceremony, he would be sprinkled with purification water that had been prepared by using the ashes kept on Anointment Hill.

The ashes in the Chail were not used at all but held there for safekeeping in accordance with G-d's command that "They shall be a keepsake for the community of Yisrael." (BaMidbar 19:9) 

A person rendered ritually impure by a corpse would remain in this condition for seven days. On the third day and the seventh day he would be sprinkled with the aforementioned purification water, or Niddah Water, which, as we have explained, was prepared by mixing the ashes in a vessel containing spring water. It was also called sprinkling water and Sin-Offering Water.

This water was sprinkled not only on the contaminated person but also on any garments or vessels that were ritually defiled as a result of having been in the same tent with a corpse.

The sprinkling was not done directly by hand, however. The ritually clean person, the Kohen, would take three hyssop roots, each branch with a single bud on it, tie them together and dip the tips of these buds in the Niddah Water. The Kohen then pointed the branches toward the man or the vessels requiring purification, and then sprinkled the water on the ritually impure person or objects. This was done on the third day and on the seventh day, after sunrise. If the sprinkling was done earlier but after the onset of the morning light, that was also effective. For the sprinkling to achieve its intended purpose, it was sufficient for the water to fall on any part of the person or the vessel requiring purification; it was even enough for a drop to touch the tip of a finger or lip.

Everyone involved in handling the Parah Adumah at any stage of the ceremony became ritually impure both the person and their robes. To become ritually clean again, they had to immerse themselves in a mikvah and have their garments washed.

The incomprehensible profundity of the commandment of the Parah Adumah is a source of perplexity that the nations of the world have exploited against the Jewish people. For how can this mitzvah make sense, they contend, if it involves a contradiction: on the one hand of purifying the ritually impure, and on the other hand defiling those who are ritually pure?

It is for this reason indeed that the scripture says, "The following is declared to be the Torah's decree." It does not say, "The following is declared to be the teaching Torah" but rather, that it is an unexplained decree and should not be pondered.

Accordingly, if any non-Jew asks for an explanation of this matter, he is to be told that it is a decree-by-fiat of the Torah, a commandment given without explanation. Thus, the Torah says, "The following is declared to be the Torah's decree as commanded by G-d, saying, "leimor." That is, when speaking to the nations on this matter, you should be saying to them the following and no more: It is a decree of the Torah.

Although we have just said that the deep reason for this commandment is hidden from us, our sages have provided a clue to its secret by telling us that it is related to the sin of the Golden Calf: the Parah Adumah was an atonement for that sin as the cow is mother to the calf.

The son of a servant girl once soiled in a palace whereupon those present said, "Let the mother come and clean up the feces." It is the same here. G-d said, "Let the Cow atone for the sin of the Calf."

This also explains why the Cow had to be red for sins are compared by the prophet Yeshayahu to the color red: "Though your sins be like scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be white as wool." (Yeshayahu 1:18)

That the Cow had to be complete in its perfection is also related to the fact that the Benei Yisrael were in a state of perfection before being flawed by the sin of the Golden Calf. Accordingly, an unblemished cow was involved in returning them to their condition of perfection.

Moreover, since they had thrown off the yoke of Heaven in worshiping the Golden Calf, the regulation required that the Parah Adumah must never have had a yoke placed upon it.

That the first Parah Adumah was to be given to El'azar the Kohen rather than to Aharon himself, is explained as follows: the populace had assembled before Aharon and demanded that he make them the Calf, which he proceeded to do. An accuser [or witness for the prosecution] cannot become an advocate for the defense.

The burning of the Cow recollects the burning of the Calf.

That the cedar wood, the crimson wool, and the hyssop - three items - were combined together contains an allusion to the 3000 people who died on account of the Calf. These particular three things were taken because the cedar is the tallest of all trees and the hyssop is the most lowly. The Torah thus teaches us that anyone who is excessively proud should learn to see himself as lowly as a tola'at, worm; as King David declared, "But I am a worm (tola'at) and no man." (Tehillim 22:7) When a man demeans himself, his sins will be forgiven.

Furthermore, just as the sin of the Calf would be transmitted throughout the generations as it is written, "When I grant special providence to the people, I will take this sin of theirs into account" (Shemot 32:34), so did G-d command the ashes of the Cow to be kept for all generations: "They shall be a keepsake for the  community of Yisrael."

The reason why the Parah Adumah contaminated anyone who came in contact with it is indicated in the Torah law that states that any object of idol worship renders ritually impure by carrying contact. The Talmud declares: "What is the proof that an idol renders tamei by contact like a niddah? Because it says, 'You shall defile also the silver plating of your carved idols and the gold binding of your molten images: You shall cast them away as a menstruous thing.'" (Yeshayahu 30:22) In other words, just as a menstruating woman (niddah) renders ritually impure by contact, so does an object of idol worship defile by contact. Since the Golden Calf idol defiled all who were involved with it, the Parah Adumah renders impure all who come in contact with it.

Conversely, just as the Benei Yisrael were purified by the ashes of the Calf that Moshe burned and ground up, so do the ashes of the Parah Adumah purify those who are ritually impure.

The Midrash relates that when Moshe went up to Heaven, he heard the voice of G-d teaching the angels this chapter on the Parah Adumah; it was saying, "My son Eliezer declares that a cow is two years old."

That is, the opinion of Rabbi Eliezer was quoted to the effect that the animal is called a cow only at age two.

Whereupon, Moshe exclaimed, "The entire universe is under Your dominion, yet You quote the ruling of one who is mere flesh and blood?"

And G-d answered, "Let it be known to you that a righteous man will arise in the future whose words will begin the tractate dealing with the laws of the Parah Adumah, the tractate of Parah."

"May it be Your will that this man be a descendant of mine," said Moshe. And so it was for Rabbi Eliezer the Great was of the progeny of Moshe.

A prophetic allusion to this fact can be found in the Portion of Yitro, where the scripture says, "The name of the one was Eliezer" (Shemot 18:4). By omitting the word "other"- even though he was the second or "other one" of Moshe's sons - the Torah deliberately stresses that Eliezer will be that "one" bearing the distinction of descent from our teacher Moshe.

Why did Moshe specifically ask that Rabbi Eliezer be of his descendants? After all, G-d had revealed to Moshe all the generations and its sages, and He had no doubt also revealed to him the views of many others of the sages on this question of the age of a cow, so why did he settle on Rabbi Eliezer specifically? This is all the more puzzling when we consider that the accepted view is not the one quoted in the name of Rabbi Eliezer, but that of Rabbi Meir who says that [the animal is designated as] a "cow" when it is three and a half years old. Should not Moshe, then, have asked that Rabbi Meir, whose opinion prevails be of his descendants?

The answer can be found by recalling what our sages said on the meaning of the Parah Adumah in telling us that it atones for the sin of the Golden Calf. This clue means that all the detailed regulations affecting the ceremony of the Parah Adumah have some bearing on the episode of the Calf. Rabbi Meir was among those who maintained this connection between the Parah Adumah and the Golden Calf, and the reason was that he had not penetrated to the true secret of the commandment of the Parah Adumah. He considered that the natural age for a cow to bear a calf is between three and four years, and in accordance with the view linking the episode of the Golden Calf and the Parah Adumah, held that the Cow had to be between three and four years old.

Rabbi Eliezer, on the other hand, maintained that it was two years old for he knew the true secret of the Parah Adumah, which had nothing to do with the link to the Golden Calf.

Moshe therefore expressed the wish that Rabbi Eliezer should be of his progeny.

The Parah Adumah in History

Altogether nine Parah Adumah were burned from the time of our teacher Moshe until the destruction of the Second Temple. The first was that of Moshe, the second was burned by Ezra the Scribe; two by Shimon HaTzaddik; two by the High Priest Yochanan; the seventh was burned by the prophet Eliyahu; the eighth by Chanamel the Egyptian; and the ninth by Yishmael, son of Piabi. The tenth one will be burned by the Anointed King (the Mashiach) who will be purifying all of the Jewish people that will have become defiled by their transgressions.

21:6 vayeshalach HASHEM ba'am et hanechashim haserafim vayenashchu et-ha'am vayamat am-rav miYisrael
HaShem sent against the people the consuming snakes, and they bit the people, and many people of Yisrael died.
We must now explain why, when G-d dispatched snakes into the midst of the people, they were described as ha-nachashim ha-serafim "poisonous snakes" or "snakes and fiery serpents," while when the Benei Yisrael pleaded before Moshe to rid them of the snakes, they mentioned only the term nachash; "Take the snakes away from us."

Moreover, when G-d instructed Moshe to make a copper snake, He told him to make a "seraf," but when Moshe proceeded to make the copper snake it says that he made a copper "nachash" rather than a seraf.

The Torah is teaching us here that G-d is more severe with those who insult or otherwise cause injury to a righteous man than with those who are irreverent toward Him. Thus we find that when the seer Ido came to Yerav'am with an evil prophecy and Yerav'am reached out to grab him, his hand dried up. (1Melachim 13:4) Notwithstanding that Yerav'am worshiped idols, he remained hale and untouched. When he wanted to harm the prophet, however, his hand dried up.

The Benei Yisrael were guilty here of two transgressions, and on account of these, correspondingly, G-d sent against them the nachashim, snakes, and the serafim, seraphs. For speaking rebelliously against G-d, they were afflicted with the snakes, that having been also the sin of the original serpent. The seraphs, or "fiery" snakes, were sent as retribution upon the Benei Yisrael for having maligned Moshe, whom the scripture calls an angel or seraf. Thus, it says, referring to Moshe, "He heard our voice and sent a representative (malach, literally, angel) to take us out of Egypt" (BaMidbar 20:16), a malach being called, interchangeably, a seraf, as it is written, "Serafim stood above Him..." (Yeshayahu 6:2)

That the punishment for insulting a Torah sage is to be bitten by a seraf-snake is reflected in the statement of the Talmud: "Be circumspect in relation to Talmidei Chachamim (Torah scholars) for their hiss is the hiss of a seraf."

Accordingly, when the Benei Yisrael came to Moshe they asked him to rid them of the snakes, not mentioning the seraf. They were saying, "We know you for a man of humility and, therefore, that you have forgiven our irreverence towards you. But we ask you to plead for us before G-d for our having profaned Him, the punishment for which is snakes."

When Moshe prayed on their behalf, however, G-d said to him, "I regret more the insult to you than to Me; you are therefore to make the image of a seraf." But Moshe showed his humility by making a snake rather than a seraf as if to say, "The injury to my honor I have forgiven, and it is for the honor of Heaven solely that I grieve."

Similarly, we find elsewhere in the Torah [a discrepancy between G-d's instructions to Moshe and his ensuing actions. At the exodus from Egypt,] G-d commanded Moshe regarding the preparations for the Passover celebration, saying, "They [the Benei Yisrael] must take the blood and place it on the two door posts and on the beam above the door of the houses in which they will eat." (Shemot 12:7) The two door posts represent Moshe and Aharon, and G-d refers to them first, indicating that it was only on their account that the Benei Yisrael were found worthy of deliverance. The beam above the door symbolizes G-d, who acted with loving-kindness toward the Benei Yisrael.

On his part, however, Moshe later mentions the beam over the door first: "Touch the beam over the door and the two door posts with some of the blood in the basin" (BaMidbar 12:22) This indicates that the redemption was due primarily to G-d's grace with the merit of Moshe and Aharon being only a contributory factor.

We note that by his prayer on their behalf, Moshe had caused the attribute of Mercy to replace the attribute of Law or Judgment that was to be applied to the Benei Yisrael. The manner in which this is conveyed is the same as is indicated in the Book of Ester; the Scripture first alludes to the Tetragrammaton in a reversed sequence, and then by a proper sequence of words. The Tetragrammaton symbolizes the attribute of Mercy, and its obverse, the attribute of Judgment.

When the decree for the destruction of the Jewish people in the time of Queen Ester was issued, the Tanach writes, "v'chol zeh ainenu shoveh li," "Yet all this avails me nothing, as long as I see Mordecai, the Jew, sitting at the King's gate." (Ester 5:13) Taking the last letters of the words in reversed order, we get the Tetragrammaton, which tells us that the Attribute of Judgment prevailed.

But after Mordechai and Ester had spent three days in fasting and prayer, the Attribute of Judgment was replaced by the Attribute of Mercy. Then it says, "yavo hamelech v'haman hayom," "if it seems good to the King, let the King and Haman come this day to the banquet that I have prepared for him." (BaMidbar 5:4) The first letters of the words taken in order form the Tetragrammaton.

Similarly, in the present instance, the verse says (BaMidbar 21:9), "Vay'samayhu al hanes," instead of, "Vayasem oto al hanes." The explanation is forthcoming, however, once we notice that "Vay'samayhu" provides the letters Yod Heh Vav, which when combined with the letter Heh that begins the following word (hanes), gives the Tetragrammaton. It means that through the prayer of Moshe, G-d's Name, signifying the Attribute of Mercy, was set right. This is conveyed by the Torah then writing, "Whenever ("v'hayah," literally, "When it was that") a snake bit a man..." That is, before Moshe had offered his prayer, if a man was bitten by a snake, the Attribute of Judgment---"vahayah" the letters of the Tetragrammaton in improper ordering prevailed.  (The natural consequence of being bitten by a snake, as determined by the laws of nature - Judgment or Law - then inevitably following.)  After Moshe's prayer, however, the Attribute of Mercy prevailed.

The Copper Snake in History

The copper snake that Moshe made lasted a long time, serving to remind successive generations of the harsh punishment incurred by those who spoke maliciously - whether against G-d or against the prophets. During the reign of King Chizkiyahu, however, when idolatry was widespread, many fell into the error of regarding the copper snake as an object of idol worship. They reasoned that since Moshe had made the snake at G-d's bidding and that since it could heal any victim of snake bite who just looked at it, the copper snake must itself be a source of power. Whereupon the king pounded the copper snake into dust as it is written, "He... broke in pieces the copper serpent that Moshe had made: For until that time the Benei Yisrael burned incense to it; and he called it Nechushtan" (2Melachim 18:4)

That is, King Chizkiyahu ridiculed it by calling it "Nechushtan," a mere block of copper (nechoshet) that could not possibly have any intrinsic powers. This action of King Chizkiyahu was one of the six things that he did. For three of them the sages acclaimed him; but of the three others, they did not approve.

The Six Acts of King Chizkiyahu (Hezekiah)

King Chizkiyahu's father Achaz was a thoroughly wicked man, a heretic who committed every conceivable crime. When he died, his son Chizkiyahu refused to afford him the customary honorable funeral and instead humiliated his remains by having them dragged to the grave on a travois. His purpose, on the one hand, was to obtain forgiveness for his father; on the other hand, it was to set an example for the wicked to take to heart lest they suffer the same kind of humiliation.

Chizkiyahu's second act was the aforementioned destruction of the copper serpent, to prevent people from worshiping it.

His third act was to conceal the Book of Medications that King Shlomo had authored. The book dealt with every illness, and whenever anyone fell ill, if he consulted it, he would be healed.

When King Chizkiyahu saw, however, that no sick man would now humble himself by asking G-d for mercy, instead placing his trust in this book, he hid the book away so people once again would place their trust in G-d, the true Physician. (Berachot, Chapter 1; Pesachim, Chapter 4)

One view has it that this Book of Medications relied on astrological considerations in effecting a cure. The patient would be healed by having him draw a designated figure at a given hour corresponding to a particular constellation. Such pagan methods were forbidden, and its author had not intended it to be used in this way but as a text for acquiring theoretical knowledge.

Accordingly, when King Chizkiyahu saw that the book was proving to be a bad influence on the people, he concealed it.

In addition to the above three actions for which he was commended by the sages, the following three did not meet with their approval.

When the Assyrian King, Sancheriv, attacked Yerushalayim and lay siege to the city, Chizkiyahu became frightened and tried to appease him with enormous gifts of silver and gold, even taking down the golden doors of the Sanctuary of the Temple and sending them to the Assyrian monarch.

When Sancheriv besieged Yerushalayim a second time, however, Chizkiyahu, after consulting with his advisors, stopped up the water of the Gichon Spring to deprive the enemy of water. Thus it is written, "He took council with his princes and his mighty men to stop the water of the springs which were outside the city: and they helped him" (2Divrei HaYamim 32:3) The sages did not approve of this action, concluding that he should have put his trust in G-d instead.

They also objected when he did not act in time to declare a leap year by intercalating a second month of Adar, but waiting until the onset of Nissan before naming it Adar II. (Rashi, ad. loc.)

21:10 vayisu benei Yisrael vayachanu b'ovot
Benei Yisrael traveled on and camped in Ovot.
The Scripture here omits to mention the two intervening encampments, Tzamonah and Punon, where the people wre bitten by the snakes, (Targum Yonatan, Masai) between their leaving Hor Mountain and arriving at Ovot.

These are listed in Parashat Massei where all the journeys are recorded.  Here, however, only those places where miracles were performed for the Benei Yisrael are listed. (Abarbanel)

Another reason for mentioning those places and no others, is that these four particular place names - Ovot, Iyyei HaAvarim, Nachal Zared, Ever Arnon - serve as reminders of what the Benei Yisrael has perpetuated. Thus, Ovot is generic with oiyev (an enemy):  they became enemies of G-d.  Iyyei HaAvarim conveys that they were full of sin (averah).   The words of Nachal Zared allude to the fact that because of their sins, in all those 38 years they covered only a palm-sized distance, the word zared recalling the word zeret - a span of the hand.  Finally, Ever Arnon refers to their having repented and passing beyond (over) their sins, thus deflecting away G-d's anger. (Tanchuma; Yalkut Shimoni; Bachya)

21:11 vayisu me'ovot vayachanu b'iyei ha'avarim bamidbar asher al-penei mo'av mimizrach hashamesh
They traveled from Ovot and camped in the wasteland passes in the wilderness, facing Moav, eastward of the sun.
12 misham nasau vayachanu b'nachal Zared
They traveled from there and camped in the valley of Zered.
13 misham nasau vayachanu me'ever Arnon asher bamidbar hayotze migvul ha'emori ki arnon g'vul Mo'av bein Mo'av uvein haEmori
They traveled from there and camped opposite Arnon, in the wilderness, extending from the Emori border; Arnon being the Moav border between Moav and the Emori.

A strip of Amori territory extended from the mainland of the Amori to the border of Moav.  The Benei Yisrael confined themselves to this strip; they did not tresspass over the border of Moav, since the Moavi, too, had refused them passage.  Arnon was the boundary separating Moav and Emor. (Rashi)

Since G-d had commanded the Benei Yisrael, "Do not attack Moav and do not provoke them to fight: (Devarim 2:9), the Torah here tells us that although the Benei Yisrael were about to enter the land of Yisrael and were close to the cities of Moav, they did not capture these cities but moved on, taking only those cities that had at one time belonged to Moav but subsequently came under the rule of Sichon, the king of the Amori.  Thus, their conquests by the Benei Yisrael was permitted.  Arnon, however, was not of those cities that Sichon had conquered and placed under his dominion, so the Benei Yisrael could not occupy it.  The Territory conquered by Sichon extended up to Arnon, but did not include Arnon itself; therefore, the Scripture says here it became the Moavi border, separating Moav from the Amori.

As indicated in the following verse, Arnon was situated on waterways along the coast of the Dead Sea, and it remained unconquered Moavi territory. (Ramban; Abarbanel)

21:14 al-ken ye'amar b'sefer milchamot HASHEM et-vahev b'sufa v'et-hanechalim arnon
Concerning this will be told in the Book of the Wars of HaShem, "I have given [you] at the Reeds [Sea] the valleys of Arnon."
In this Book of the Wars of HaShem it is written that the wise men of the age would keep books where they recorded great battles and wondrous events.  These people were known as ministers (moshlim) or writers of parables, for they would write down everything in the form of parables and metaphors.  This particular book was called the Book of the Wars of HaShem (Book of G-d's Wars), since everything that happens in all wars is the work of G-d.

This and many other of the books written by those people of renown were lost with the onset of the exile.  Among them was the book of the prophet Natan and the prophet Eido, the chronicles of the kings of the Yisraeli Kingdom, and the poems and the parables of King Shlomo. (Ramban; Abarbanel; Ibn Ezra)

21:15 v'eshed hanechalim asher nata l'shevet ar v'nishan ligvul Moav
And the spillage in the valleys when it turned to dwell at Ar, and then leaned on the border of Moav.
The following was the great miralce that G-d performed for the Benei Yisrael at the streams of Arnon.  We noted earlier that the Benei Yisrael found themselves in the strip of Amori territory that lay between the country of Emor proper and the boundary of Moav, including the Moavi border town of Arnon.  This patch of land, which the Amori king had permitted the Benei Yisrael to enter, was hedged between two mountains, one on the Moavi side directly facing another one on the Amori side.  The slope of the former was marked by many caves, while directly opposite on the Amori mountain were many projections directly in line with those caves.  A very deep valley of about 7 mil across separated the two mountains, and there the river Arnon flowed.  In order to reach the land of Yisrael, the Benei Yisrael had to cross this valley.

Just as they were approaching the vicinity of the city of Arnon, the seven kings of Kenaan massed there untold numbers of army divisions, some of them in the valley directly in line with the advancing Benei Yisrael, and some of them concealed in the caves of the Moavi mountain.  Since the Benei Yisrael had to pass through this valley on their way to the land of Yisrael, the Kenaani's strategy was for some of their armies to attack the Benei Yisrael frontally, while their other armies would be in the caves, utilizing the advantage of their position to hurl down upon the Benei Yisrael boulders and arrows to annihilate them all.

Miraculously, however, G-d prepared another route for the Benei Yisrael.  Just as they were approaching the point of ambush, He uprooted the mountain on the Amori side and joined it to the moutain on the Moavi side.  Its projections penetrated the cave openings, crushing and squashing the armies of the enemy trapped inside.

That the Amori mountain was shifted towards the other mountain, and not the other way around, can be understood if we think of the Benei Yisrael as returning beloved son who is met in welcome outside the city by a servant.  The Benei Yisrael were coming to the land of Yisrael and a mountain of the land of Yisrael came forth to greet them.

When the two mountains came together, there was no longer any height or valley visible there, only a level throughway which the Benei Yisrael traversed. They did not know that it was not always thus, and were unaware of the great miracle which G-d had performed for them.

Then, however, the mountains returned to their original positions, it being G-d's will to reveal to His children what He had done for them. The well that accompanied the Benei Yisrael thereupon overflowed into the caves and, through the strong suction of the waters, drew forth human organs, heads and limbs. (BaMidbar Rabbah; Rashi; Bachya; Mizrachi)

The Benei Yisrael, who had known nothing of this, now went looking for the well of which they had lost sight, and suddenly beheld this great waterfall sweeping along heads and arms and legs.  This is conveyed by the verse that follows. (Rashi;  Tanchuma; Yalkut Shimoni)

21:16 umisham b'era hiv habe'er asher amar HASHEM l'Moshe esof et-ha'am v'etna lahem mayim
From there, [the Benei Yisrael traveled] to the well; this is the well of which HaShem said to Moshe, 'Gather the people and I will give them water.'"
This verse is not to be interpreted as saying that the Benei Yisrael received their well at this point. The well had been with them ever since the Exodus, when they began their travels forty years earlier, and did not appear now, at the end of the forty years.  That is, the Scripture is not saying that the Benei Yisrael traveled fro mthere to the well, but that a stream of blood reached from there up to this well, causing them to become aware of the miracle that was performed for them.

Accordingly, they began to chant: "It was then that Yisrael sang the song: 'Rise, O well respond...'" (21:17)

We can now also offer an alternate rendering: "Therefore speak in the book, as wars are for G-d..." In other words, G-d is saying to the Benei Yisrael, "You need not occupy yourselves with war; be preoccuped with the Torah and I will then wage war for you."  Thus, too, had G-d advised David that if he was taken up with the Torah, He would wage war for him. (Yalkut Shimoni; Yalkut Reuveni, quoting Yalkut Shimoni on Tehillim)

21:17 az yashir Yisrael et-hashira hazot ali v'er enu-laIt was then that Yisrael sang this song: "Arise , O well, sing to it!
18 b'er chafaruha sarim karuha n'divei ha'am bimchokek b'mishanotam umimidbar matana
The well dug by princes, that the nobles of the nation excavated, through the lawgiver, with their staffs; from the wilderness a gift.
19 umimatana nachali'el uminachali'el bamot
The gift [traveled] to the valley, and from the valley to the heights.
20 umibamot hagay asher bisde Mo'av rosh hapisga v'nishkafa al-p'nei hayeshimon
And from the heights to the valley that is in the field of Mo'av, at the top of the peak that overlooks the wastelands."
Of that well they sang in thanksgiving to G-d which had floated the splintered bodies of their enemies.

"The well dug by princes" - a well carved out by Moshe and Aharon with their staffs. They had not actually dug this well, of course, since G-d had made it available in the desert and there was no need to dig or to do anything else.  What the Toarh is telling us is that the well continued to serve them in the merit of Moshe and Aharon. (Rashi; Mizrachi)

According to another interpretation, "princes" is an allusion to the Patriarchs; as it is written, "He opened the rock, and the water gushed out; it ran in the dry places like a river. For He remembered His holy promise to Avraham His servant" (Tehillim 105:41, 41). (Tanchuma; Yalkut Shimoni

"that the nobles of the nation excavated":  Whenever the Benei Yisrael traveled, the well would follow them; and when they camped, the peoples' leaders would seat themselves about the well and use their staffs to indicate the direction in which the waters should flow in order to reach the individual families and tribes.  Whereupon the waters would pass before every tent, and thus make it unnecessary for anyone to have to go to the well for their water.  Moreover, if a woman wanted to pay a visit to a friend in another tent, she did not have to walk but would be taken to her destination by passing dinghies.

Yalkut MeAm Lo'ez

Video Shiur by Rabbi Pinchas Winston on Parashat Chukat

Rabbi Winston points the centrality of Miriam in the redemption from Egypt and why her death is in this week's parshah, and the reason for Moshe not to enter Yisrael.

Video Shiur by Rabbi Daniel Glatstein on Parashat Chukat: The Last Sighting Of The Parah Aduma

Parashat Korach

Saturday, June 14, 2014 · Posted in , ,

BaMidbar 16:1-18:32

Parashat Summary

  • Korach and his followers, Datan and Aviram, lead a rebellion against the leadership of Moshe and Aharon
  • The chief of each tribe deposits his staff inside the Tent of Meeting
  • Aharon's staff sprouts, produces blossoms, and bears almonds
  • The Kohanim and Leviim are established and assigned the responsibility of managing the donations to the Sanctuary
  • All of the firstborn offerings shall go to the Kohanim and all the tithes are designated for the Leviim in return for the services they perform

Video Shiur by Rabbi Pinchas Winston on Parashat Korach:

Video Shiur by Rabbi Daniel Glatstein on Parashat Korach

Video Shiur by Rabbanit Iris Odani Elyashiv on Parashat Korach (also includes information for reading Perek Shirah)

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