Archive for October 2014

LECH LECHA PARDES - Sarai to Sarah

Sunday, October 26, 2014 · Posted in , , ,

The Hebrew letter י (yud), whose gematria (numerical value) is 10, HKB"H took from the name of the Matriarch Sarah was divided. Half, i.e. one ה (heh), whose value is 5, was given to Sarah when her name was changed from שָרַי (Sarai) to שָרָה (Sarah), and half, the other ה (heh) to Avraham when his name was changed from אַבְרָם (Avram) to אַבְרָהָם (Avraham). (Yerushalmi Sahedrin 2:6)

There were four beautiful women in the world, Sarah, Rachav, Avigayil, and Ester (Megillah 15a).  Yiskah (Bereishit 11:29) is also Sarah. Why was she called יִסְכָּה (Yiskah). This was because she was so beautiful that everyone would gaze סָכָה (sachah) at her beauty. (Rashi; Taanit; Bava Metzia). There was another reason that she was called Yiskah; she was a prophetess, and with divine inspiration she could gaze (sachah) into the future. 

Since the name signifies a person's essence, the fact that Sarah has two major names teaches us that she has a dual nature. As Avraham's wife performing the will of her husband, she is called Sarah; as the prophetess who sees with prophetic spirit, she is called Yiskah.

Yiskah is a childhood name, which changes when the young woman understands tzniut (modesty) and she no longer allows people to admire her. The name she chooses for herself is Sarai. Interestingly, Rashi writes that “alternatively, Yiskah is an expression denoting princedom (n’sichut) just as Sarah is an expression of dominion (s’rara) [from Talmud, Megillah 14a].”

Bereishit 12:11
הִנֵּה-נָא יָדַעְתִּי כִּי אִשָּׁה יְפַת-מַרְאֶה אָתְּ
hineh-na yadati ki ishah yefat-mar'eh at
Behold, I am well aware  that you are a woman of beautiful appearance.

The word הנה (hineh) usually appears as an introduction to something new as in Bereishit 19:20 where Lot introduces his request to spare the town of Tzo'ar by saying, "behold, after all, is this city which is nearby." Another example of a new subject being introduced with the word "hineh" appears in Bereishit 22:6 when Yitzchak prefaces his inquiry about where the lamb for the sacrifice is with the word "hineh."

On the other hand, the word נא (na) is usually an expression introducing a request which appeals to the goodwill of the other party as that particular request cannot be justified legally. The person making the request uses the word נא to put his opposite number in a forgiving mood, a state of mind in which it is easier to grant the request about to be made of him. When Avram wanted to get Sarai's approval to tell a white lie he prefaced his request by complimenting her physical attractiveness. According to Bereishit Rabbah 40:4 what Avram meant was that although under normal circumstances travel and the strains experienced on a journey detract from a woman's beauty, at least temporarily, he found that Sarai's beauty had not only not been diminished but appeared to have been enhanced further by that experience. This proved to be an unexpected source of danger to his life; hence he made this request that she should tell a white lie.

Tanchuma on Lech Lecha 5 claims that Avraham had never looked at Sarai in a way that made him notice her beauty as he had made a promise to his eyes not to use them in a manner which would arouse his desire for physical gratification. A reference to such conduct is found in Iyov 31:1, I have covenanted with my eyes not to gaze at a maiden." It is not unusual to find that the righteous enter into such "covenants" with a number of their organs in order to ensure that these organs would not cause them any harm. This is similar to someone make a treaty with a former enemy that he would not harm him. The Torah urges us, "do not make a treaty with them or their god" (Shemot 23:32) - the Gentile nations resident in the land of Kenaan. Chazal in Bava Batra 16 commented on this that there is no ememy who causes as much harm to another person as do his own deeds.  Chazal on the same folio comment, "earth in his mouth." They ridiculed what appeared to be Iyov's superior piety by saying, "granted Iyov had undertaken not to look at other maidens but he had not denied himself the pleasure of admiring the beauty of his own wife." Avram, however, had not even looked at the beauty of his own wife prior to his arrival at the border of Egypt.

The simple meaning of the verse is ‘the time has come when we must be concerned about your beauty. I have known already for a long time that you are of fair appearance, but now we are coming among the brothers of Kushim, and they are not accustomed to a [fair and] beautiful woman.’

Bereishit 17
וַיֹּאמֶר אלוקים אֶל-אַבְרָהָם שָׂרַי אִשְׁתְּךָ לֹא-תִקְרָא אֶת-שְׁמָהּ שָׂרָי כִּי שָׂרָה שְׁמָהּ
Vayomer ELOKIM el-Avraham Sarai ishtecha lo-tikra et-shemah Sarai ki Sarah shemah
G-d said to Avraham, "Sarai your wife, do not call her by the name Sarai, for Sarah is her name.

The name change is connected with their ability to have children. The Hebrew words for man and woman are ish and isha. The letters that distinguish them are yud and heh. Kli Yakar explains that Hashem exchanged the masculine letter  י (yud) of Sarai’s name with the letter ה (heh), in order to empower her with feminine energy and enable her to give birth. Hashem created the world with the letter ה  (heh). Therefore this letter is endowed with the power of procreation (See Rashi on Bereishit 2:4).

“The  י (yud) has the numerical value of ten whereas the ה (heh) is equal to five. Thus the  י (yud) in Sarai’s name equals the sum of both the ה (heh) for which it was exchanged and the ה (heh) that was added to Avram’s name. The heh with its birthing power was added to Avram’s name from the י (yud) of Sarai to indicate that it was Sarah’s merit that caused both of them to give birth to the progenitor of the Jewish people.”

While Avraham was the father of many nations, Sarah alone was selected to be the mother of the Jewish people. From this we learn that Jewish descent follows the mother.Chava is the prototype of all women, Sarah is the prototype of all Jewish women. 

At her death, Sarah is not given the title of “The wife of Avraham.” She is simply mentioned in her own right, as the verse reads, “Sarah died in Kiriat Arba” (Bereishit 23:2). When she left this world, having fulfilled her life, she did not need to stand in the shadow of her husband; her individual perfection and merit stood alone. This is Yiskah, the true Jewish princess. From her, we learn that every Jewish woman, aside from being her husband's right hand, must develop her own spiritual connection with Hashem. This level of holiness enables her to become “a woman of valor [who] is a crown to her husband” (Mishlei 12:4).

May HASHEM continue to enlighten us with the Light of His Torah.

- Chazal

LECH LECHA PARDES - Go Away from Your Land

Avraham was born in the year 1948 from Creation during the reign of Nimrod, who ruled over almost all of civilization. (Pirkei D'Rabbi Eliezer 11) Avraham's father Terach was one of Nimrod's nobelmen. Avraham grew up in a society where everyone, including Avraham himself worshiped idols. (Maimonidies, Mishneh Torah, Laws of Idolatry 1:3)

As a mere child of three (Nedarim 32a), Avraham began to think incessantly about the nature of the world, its origins and what power was behind it all (Mishneh Torah, ibid). Avraham continued his search throughout his early years, gradually distancing himself from the idolatrous practices of his generation, as he began to formulate a pure monotheism (Mishneh Torah, ibid., regarding the different stages of his philosophical development).

At age 25 (Tana D'vei Eliyahu Rabbah 18; Yalkut Shimoni 78) he married his niece (Sanhedrin 69b) Yiskah also known as Sarai, and later named Sarah. This happened around the time that Nimrod began building the Tower of Bavel. Avraham, who, according to some, participated in building the tower in its initial stages (Rabbi Avraham Ibn Ezra to Bereishit 11:1) but turned vehemently against the project. He took it upon himself to repeatedly rebuke those involved (Pirkei D'Rabbi Eliezer ibid).

When Avraham was 48 years old, in the year 1996, G-d gazed upon the great tower that was still under construction. Turning to the seventy angels that surround His Throne (meant metaphorically), He said, "They are one people, and they all have one language...Let us go down, and there confound their language, that they will become seventy nations with seventy languages" (Bereishit 11:6-7; Midrash)

The Midrash then tells how G-d and the seventy angels cast lots to see which angel would be charged with which language and nation. When G-d's lot was Avraham, He proclaimed, "Portions have fallen to Me in pleasant places; seen the lot pleases Me" (Tehillim 16:6)

This is the earliest instance of Avraham's life in which he is described as being "chosen" by G-d.

Later, Avraham returns to his father's house, he destroys his father's idols, and is arrested for heresy. According to Seder Hadorot, Avraham was 50 years old at this time. Holding steadfast to his faith even in the face of death, he is thrown into a fiery furnace, but G-d performs a miracle and he survives.

Everything up to this point is recorded in Talmudic and Midrashic sources. Now we finally meet Avraham in the Torah, when G-d commands him to...

Bereishit 12:1
וַיֹּאמֶר הי אֶל-אַבְרָם לֶךְ-לְךָ מֵאַרְצְךָ וּמִמּוֹלַדְתְּךָ וּמִבֵּית אָבִיךָ אֶל-הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר אַרְאֶךָּ
Vayomer HASHEM el-Avram lech lecha me'artzecha umimoladetecha umibeit avicha el-ha'aretz asher ar'eka
HASHEM said to Avram, "Go away from your land, from your birthplace, and from your father's house, to the land that I will show you."

When Avraham was told to "go away from your land," he became distinguished by that mission from all others of his time. Avraham devoted his who life to spreading the truth to a completely pagan world about the One True G-d (Nedarim 32a).

"He who walks with scholars will become wise; he who keeps company with fools will come to grief" (Mishlei 13:20)

Basically, this verse in Mishlei describes the damage which results from keeping company with fools and the advantage which accrues to a person from the company of scholars.  It is  fact that while someone who mingles with the scholars will benefit by such an association, the scholar will not suffer by it at all. this is the reason the Torah has been compared by David to  a light (candle), seeing that an unlimited number of people can get light from this candle without light of the candle becoming dimmed. This is the meaning of Tehillim 119:108 "Your word is a lamp at my feet, a light for my path."

Chazal, in Yalkut Shimoni comment on this verse in Mishlei that the matter may be compared to someone who enters a perfumery store. His clothing will absorb some of the fragrances in that store although he did not make a purchase of any of the products that are for sale there. In other words, the owner of that store provided a service for the browser without making a sale. Similarly, the mere fact that one is in the presence of scholars results in something rubbing off on those who make a point of being in such company. Shlomo describes that the opposite is true when one frequents the haunts of fools. Not only is their presence not beneficial, but it is even harmful to those who are not of their ilk.

Avraham faced the dilemma of keeping away from wicked people, people who were the cause of truly free choice of worship having become impossible. Once you have become a true heretic (Maimonides Hilchot Teshuvah) you are not given a chance to repent. This is why G-d tole him to move away from such people so that he would not become infected by them. G-d sent him away fraom his land, his birthplace to a land which He was going to show him once he had set out to leave his home. 

G-d said to Avraham, "remove yourself from them and do not become dirtied by them." This is the meaning of the words לך לך (lech lecha), i.e. "it is time that yourself." The repetition of the letters לך לך allude to the word לכלך (lichluch), dirt. G-d did not want him to become dirtied by his surroundings.

The commandment of which the Torah speaks here at the beginning of Chapter 12 was issued while Avraham was in Charan as this was his country and his birthplace. Concerning that place Avraham said later, when he instructed Eliezer to get a wife for Yitzchak, "but go only to my country and to my birthplace!" (23:2). It was certainly a great trial for him to leave his country and the place he had been born and raised in, the place where he had dwelled with his whole family, and to go to an entirely unknown country. This was the first of ten trials Avraham had to undergo and he successfully coped with all of them.

וְאֶעֶשְׂךָ לְגוֹי גָּדוֹל
Ve'e'escha legoy gadol
I will make you into a great nation.

Chazal (Bereishit Rabbah 39:15) explain that being a traveler, a nomad, brings in its wake three negative phenomena. It results:

1) in a decrease of one's fertility
2) a decrease of one's financial resources
3) and in a decrease of one's standing among one's peers.

G-d promised Avraham that he would not suffer from these negative phenomena. By saying, "I will make you into a great nation," G-d told Avraham that his ability to procreate would not only not suffer but would be enhanced. By adding, "I will bless you," G-d hinted that Avraham would prosper financially. But further adding, "I will make your name great," He countered Avraham's concern that his standing among his peers would decline due to his becoming a nomad.

The deeper meaning of the words "legoi gadol," "to a great nation," is a reference to the Jewish nation which is described in Devarim 4:8 as, "and who else is a great nation which has righteous decrees and ordinances?" The words, "I will make you into a great nation," are alluded to when we refer to G-d as the G-d of Avraham," the words "I will bless you," are alluded to when we refer to G-d as "the G-d of Yitzchak;" the words "and I will make your name great," are alluded to when we speak of G-d as "the G-d of Yaakov." 

The words והיה ברכה (veheyeh berachah) "and be a blessing," prompted Chazal when they formulated the first benediction in the principal Amidah prayer to conclude with reference to Avraham only when we say מגן אברהם (magen Avraham), "the shield of Avraham" at the conclusion of that benediction.

The deeper meaning of these words והיה ברכה (vheyeh berachah) "and be a blessing," is that G-d had said, "up until now when I created My universe and it needed My blessing in order to endure I blessed Adam and Chavah as we read (1:28), 'G-d blessed them.'" This was repeated when Noach and his family required G-d's blessing after the deluge in order to rebuild mankind. At that point (9:1) the Torah wrote, "G-d blessed Noach and his sons, etc." From here on is the power to bless was entrusted to Avraham who could use it to bless whomever he saw fit to qualify for a blessing.

וַאֲבָרְכָה מְבָרְכֶיךָ וּמְקַלֶּלְךָ אָאֹר
Va'avarechah mevarachecha umekalelecha a'or 
I will bless those who bless you, and he who curses you, I will curse.

This implies that the people of Ur Kasdim were cursing Avraham and that had prompted G-d to tell him to move to a land He would show him. There he would become a source of blessing instead of the recipient of curses. G-d would henceforth curse those who cursed Avraham, be they individuals or groups of people. This is Nachmanides' interpretation of the verse. He adds that the Torah did not want to elaborate on the causes why Avraham was so disliked, just as it had not spent many words on describing the religious arguments which went on during the time of Enosh.

G-d added, "and I will bless those who bless you, and he who curses you, I will curse" to underline that only G-d Himself is the source of BOTH blessings and curses. The only power in the universe which is able to influence events in our lives in either direction is the Creator Himself who has created the other forces to act as His agents. This is what the prophet meant when he said, "not like this is the portion of Yaakov; for it is He who formed all things" (Yirmeyahu 10:16). He meant that both good and evil emanate only from Him. This is also why Yeshayahu said, "I HASHEM do all these things" (45:7).

An homiletical approach (Tanchuma Lech Lecha) sees in the words, "and I will bless those who bless you," a reference to the Kohanim who extend G-d's blessing to the Benei Yisrael seeing that after the Torah commanded the Kohanim to bless the Benei Yisrael, the Torah concludes with the words, "let them place My Name upon the Benei Yisrael, and I shall bless them" (BaMidbar 6:27). This is equivalent to G-d saying, "I will bless this tribe." G-d said, "in this world the Tribe of Levi will bless you, whereas in the World to Come I will bless you directly." This is also more directly alluded to in Yirmeyahu 31:23, "HASHEM bless you, abode of righteousness O holy mountain."

Midrashic interpretation (Bereishit Rabbah 39:19) of these words, "the dew and the rain will be due to your merit." The words וְנִבְרְכוּ בְךָ (venivrechu vecha), "THROUGH YOU WILL BE BLESSED all the families of the earth," were first fulfilled when Yaakov blessed Pharaoh and the famine ended. They were fulfilled when Yosef revealed the meaning of his dream to Pharaoh, enabling him to take measures to insulate his people against the devastating effect of seven years of famine. Similarly, Dani'el interpreted Nevuchadnetzar's dream with beneficial effects for him whenever the Gentile nations experience troubles they will turn to the Jews for advice and blessings and we will reveal to them what to do.

A Kabbalistic approach sees in the words וְנִבְרְכוּ בְךָ (venivrechu vecha) a message that the blessing will filter down from above, seeing that Avraham represents the highest emanation, so that he will be the first one to receive it from G-d, and he will channel it through the lower emanations. All blessings the Gentile nations receive will come to them only via Avraham. This is also why David said (Tehillim 117:1-2) "praise Him, all you peoples,... for great is His steadfast love for us and His faithfulness endures forever." The structure of these two verses indicates that Jews and their relationship to G-d are the only reason that G-d suffers the existence of the other nations at all. (Bamidbar Rabbah 1)

May HASHEM continue to enlighten us with the Light of His Torah.

NOACH PARDES - The Tower of Bavel

Sunday, October 19, 2014 · Posted in , , , , ,

Bereishit 11:4
וְנַעֲשֶׂה-לָּנוּ שֵׁם
vena'aseh-lanu shem
so that we can make a name for ourselves.

According to the peshat (plain meaning) of the text, all these people wanted was to settle in one single location on earth in order to stay together. However, they did not find a location other thant he valley of Shinor in which to do this. This is why they wanted to build a city and a tower which could accommondate all of them. The purpose of the tower was to serve as a beacon so thaat people all over the earth would be able to see it and to orient themselves by means of it. They themselves would all live in a single city. This is the reason the Torah quoted them as saying "lest we will scatter. This is why G-d punished them by scattering them to teach them that they had contravened His commandment to fill the earth with their presence (v9:1). Yeshayahu 45:18 pointed out that G-d had made the earth in order for it to be settled by mankind.

From an homiletical point of view the operative clause in the verse are the words "let us make a name for 'ourselves.'" This is an oblique reference to idolatry. The word שם (shem) "name here and the same word in Shemot 23:13 "and you must not mention the name (שם) of any other deity," mean the same thing. We also have a Midraschic comment in Midrash Tehillim 1, that the word הבה (havah), introduces an evil thought, an evil intention as it does in Shoftim 20:7 "come up with a plan here and now!" Furthermore, we have a tradition that the word עיר "city" is reference to a deity as we find in Dani'el 4:10 that the words עיר וקדיש (ir vekadish) refer to a destructive angel (ha-satan or similar). According to one Midrash on the Ten Commandments, these people proposed to take spades planning to invade heaven to flood it and drain it in order to ensure that another deluge could not originate from that source. They wanted to take large chunks of heaven and to engage in war with the King of the heavens. The Tower had seventy steps in an easterly direction and seventhy steps in a westerly direction on its opposite side. G-d descended those seventy steps accompanied by seventy angels and He confused their language and their dialects. Thus far that Midrash.

In Bereishit Rabbah 38:6 it writes that these people said, "we do not agree that G-d should have exlusive right to heaven whereas we have only been assigned earth. Let us make war against Him."

Looking at this story from a rational point of view, the words "and let us make a name for ourselves," must be understood as follows: The people of that generation were very advanced in matters of philosophy and even technology. However, they used their intelligence in a sinful manner. They constructed the city and Tower to protect themselves against a deluge of fire (seeing tht G-d had promosed not to again bring a deluge of water). This is what the word "war" in the Midrash refers to. They prepared to contend with the heavenly forces, such as angels, against the will of HASHEM. They tried to isolate and tame the power of fire in order to neutralise its deadly effect so that it could not engulf their city.

There was another reason which motivated them. They had been witness to the fact that G-d had decreed death on Adam, while they perceived themseles as physically powerful and enjoying a much longer life span than the 120 years G-d appeared to have decreed. They thought that they were all powerful (G-d Himself in v6 questioned whether their power should not be curtailed). They planned to scale heaven wie alive and well in order to overcome the impediment to this imposed pon them by their mortality. Their principal aim was to overcome the decree issued against Adam which made all of them mortal also. all of their planning in building the Tower was designed to achieve immmortality. The reaon G-d had to scatter them was because they planned to nullify His world order. The Torah has worded its report in such a way that it did not spell out these people's evil intent in detail. Whereas the Torah revealed the sin of the generation of the deluge, it did not spell out the sin of the generation of the Tower.

The Torah did want us to know that basically, their sin was of the same category as that of the first man. This is why the Torah refers to the people in this paragraph as בני האדם (ben ha'Adam) "Adam's sons", to hint that what they did paralleled what Adam had done.  The extra letter ה (heh) before the word אדם (adam) stresses that they behaved not like ordinary human beings but like the first human being, Adam (as opposed to 5:1 where the Torah describes "this is the Book of the generations of man," without the letter ה in front of the word אדם.

The words "ben ha'Adam" are a hint that these people were like the first human being and the Torah had indicated that the people of the deluge had sinned by denying that there is something higher than the emanation "Keter", which had led to their destruction in the "lower universe." The word שם (shem - name) in this instance is reference to the highest emanation "Keter". They were under the mistaken impression that that emanation is the absolute highest level of heaven, i.e. celestial force which exists. The Attribute of Justice, even when in a dominant role, is always accompanied by some aspect of the Attribute of Mercy as represented by שם the Ineffable Name YKVK. In the case of the deluge, the principle of midah keneged midah (measure for measure) operated in such a away that as punishment for that generation's refusal to recognize anything beyond the emanation שם=כתר, they experienced the full impact of the unrelieved Attribute of Justice so that even the earth they had lived on was destroyed. The earth had been the creation of the Attribute of Justice, i.e. אלוקים (ELOKIM). The Attribute of Mercy, i.e. השם (HASHEM), had been "co-opted" only at the time when the Torah reported the creation of Adam (2:4) as a functioning human being.

Basically, man had tried to separate the role of the Attribute of אלוקים from the role of the Attribute of שם, or YKVK. G-d demonstrated to them that such an attempt if successful spells disaster both for them and for the earth they lived on. They had wanted only "nature," as represented by the Attribute of אלוקים.

It is quite possible that prior to the deluge such considerations had not had a philosophical basis, had been mostly based on an emotional resentment of authority from an extra-terrestrial force. At this time, it had been developed to a philosophy by highly intelligent people, people who had already learned of the value of co-operation, unity, working towards a common goal. This was why their newly developed approach was so dangerous.

G-d scattered them, i.e. separated them from their unity all over the globe as retaliation for their attempt to "scatter," i.e. separate His Attributes from one another. They had calculated the precise number of steps needed to ascend to heaven - 70. According to Pirke de Rabbi Eliezer, the number reflects 70 miles, a mile per step. The number may also allude to the 70 representatives of the 70 nations in the celestial spheres. According to tradition, Nevuchadnetzar, who was also from Bavel (though it was renamed Babylon) introduced the golden image of Baal into the remnants of the Holy Temple to symbolize that this philosophy had triumphed. In Yirmeyahu 51:44 the prophet predicts the eventual humiliation of that idol and that of the people who worshiped it. Dani'el 3:1 speaks of a huge gold image Nevuchadnetzar had put up in the valley of Dura in the land of Babylon. this valley may be identical with the valley described here in this chapter where the Torah described these people as וימצאו בקעה (vayimtzeu vik'ah), "they found a valley." All of this is part of the aforementioned hints the Torah provided concerning the sins of that generation.

May HASHEM protect us from committing similar errors.

The confusing of their languages was an example of the principle of the punishment fitting the crime, midah keneged midah (measure for measure). Their sin consisted of the words they spoke, i.e. "they said, 'Let us build a city for ourselves...'" Seeing they had put the power of speech to improper use, their power of speech now became impaired so that they no longer could understand each other.

The descendants of Noach who had numbered seventy at that time, were now divided into seventy nations, each with a distinctive language.

There are seventy "princes," i.e. representatives in the celestial spheres who represent these seventy nations before the throne of G-d. They correspond to the respective kings or heads of these nations here on earth. Each one of these seventy celestial "princes" is a part of the nation he represents, unlike Yaakov (Yirmeyahu 10:16) of whom the prophet said "unlike these is the portion of Yaakov, for it is He Who forms all things." Just as the Jewish people do not need intermediaries before G-d but have direct access to Him, so the Hebrew tongue is superior to all the other languages in the world. It is G-d's own language and as such it is as superior to other languages as is G-d Himself to any of the agents He has appointed in this world to do His bidding. It is the duty of Jews to draw the help from celestial sources by means of the Holy Tongue, Hebrew. Unless they are capable of praying in Hebrew their prayer loses in effectiveness.

May HASHEM continue to enlighten us with the Light of His Torah.

-Bachya; Chazal

NOACH PARDES - Noach's Ark & The Flood

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Bereishit 6:14
עֲשֵׂה לְךָ תֵּבַת עֲצֵי-גֹפֶר קִנִּים תַּעֲשֶׂה אֶת-הַתֵּבָה וְכָפַרְתָּ אֹתָהּ מִבַּיִת וּמִחוּץ בַּכֹּפֶר
Aseh lecha tevat atzei-gofer kinim ta'aseh et-hatevah vechafarta otah mibayit umichutz bakofer
Make yourself an ark of gopher wood. The ark should be divided into compartments. Caulk the inside and outside with pitch.

"Gopher" is an especially light weight kind of wood. Onkelos translates the word as a kind of cedar-wood. G-d instructed Noach to make for himself an Ark out of this well-known wood and to bring into it two specimens, male and female, f all the domestic and free roaming animals in order to keep these species alive as well as seven pairs of each of the pure species of birds in order for some to serve as sacrifices after the deluge. G-d informed Noach beforehand that he was going to bring the deluge in order to wipe out all flesh on earth which had the breath of life in it.

Noach knew there was a need for only ten righteous people in order to ensure the survival of the world as it was. He based this tradition on the ten directives G-d employed to create the universe. He reasoned that if there were indeed ten righteous people alive at that time G-d would not have instructed him to prepare for the deluge by building the Ark. Under the prevailing circumstances, only eight people had been commanded to enter the Ark - Noach, his wife, his three sons and their respective wives, proof that at that time there were already no ten righteous people left on the earth. (Avraham had also stopped praying when he realized that there were fewer than ten good people in Sedom.) Seeing that there were no ten good people left on earth it was clear to him that the generation did not merit survival on account of the remaining eight good people. Under the circumstances, the most that G-d was willing to do was to save Noach seeing he was the first member of the tenth generation of mankind. G-d accommodated Noach by also saving his immediate family. The fact that Avraham himself did not bother to implore G-d to save the city of Sedom for the sake of few than ten righteous people proves that Noach cannot be faulted for not having prayed when told to tke only seven additional human beings into the Ark with him. In fact, Noach was not even allowed to pray when he knew here were fewer than ten good people. In addition, as opposed to the people of Sedom, the people at the time of Noach had been given 120 years warning. The people of Sedom had not been given any kind of warning by G-d prior to Avraham being informed of their impending doom. G-d is not in the habit of decreeing doom unless the potential victims had been warned (Yuma 81).

וְזֶה אֲשֶׁר תַּעֲשֶׂה אֹתָהּ שְׁלֹשׁ מֵאוֹת אַמָּה אֹרֶךְ הַתֵּבָה חֲמִשִּׁים אַמָּה רָחְבָּהּ וּשְׁלֹשִׁים אַמָּה קוֹמָתָהּ
Vezeh asher ta'aseh otah shelosh me'ot amah orech hatevah chamishim amah rachbah ushloshim amah komatah
This is how you shall construct it: The ark's length shall be 300 cubits, its width 50 cubits, and its height 30 cubits.

G-d commanded Noach the measurements of the Ark. When one considers the many types of species Noach had been asked to bring into the Ark, these measurements appear to be totally insufficient. In fact, according to the number of species of animals and birds in our world today, even ten times as many Arks of that size would not be able to accommodate them all. There can therefore be no doubt that the entire operation was possible only by means of G-d's miraculous intervention. G-d demonstrated to Noach and his family that even a physically small space can accommodate a great number of creatures when G-d so decrees it.

There was an additional reason why G-d had commanded Noach to spend 120 years of his life to build the Ark even when G-d could have had a number of other alternatives once He had decided to invoke miracles. He had hoped that when people would watch the vast amount of time and energy which Noach and his sons put into constructing this huge Ark that he must have known what he was doing, and that at least some people would take his warning of the impending deluge to heart to repent and change their lifestyle. If they would nonetheless ignore such warnings they were obviously irredeemable sinners and would deserve whatever G-d decreed for them.

כִּי לְיָמִים עוֹד שִׁבְעָה
Ki leyamim od shive'ah
For in another seven days.

In addition to the 120 years which G-d had given mankind to repent and to mend its ways, He now gave them another seven days. Chazal (Sanhedrin 108) say that these seen days were the days of mourning for Metushelach (Noach's grandfather), who had died at 969 years of age. He had lived the life of a righteous man and G-d had held back with bringing on the deluge on his account. This is why the Torah (7:10) wrote the apparently superfluous words, "it was after these seven days that the waters of the deluge were upon the earth."

According to Nachanides the timetable of the deluge ran as follows:

Rain descended on earth for forty days continuously from the date the fountains of the deep broke open. During those forty days the waters on earth rose to a level of fifteen cubits above the highest peaks. At the end of the forty days the rain stopped but the fountains of the deep remained open and the "windows" of heavens also remained open so that the atmosphere was extremely moist. The entire globe was full of water none of which dried off during that period. This condition continued until the end of 150 days after the rain had started falling. At that point G-d made a strong wind blow in the atmosphere and on earth and the fountains of the deep closed. The waters which had flooded earth from below returned to the interior of the earth where they had been before the deluge started. At that point the "windows" of the heavens were closed also and the air of the atmosphere began to dry up. As a result, the level of water on earth became drastically reduced so that the Ark which had previously been about two or three cupbits deep in water managed to "land" on the mountain range of Arrarat. Some 73 days later the tops of the mountains became visible on the first day of the tenth month, i.e. on the first of the month of Tamuz. Another forty days later, on the tenth of the month of Av, the dove left the Ark for good. Another thirty days later Noach removed the cover of the Ark.

וְהִנֵּה עֲלֵה-זַיִת טָרָף בְּפִיהָ
vehineh aleh-zayit taraf befiha
and here it had torn off an olive leaf with its beak.

Where did the dove find even such a leaf since the destruction of vegetation on earth had been so thorough that Chazal in Bereishit Rabbah 28:3 claim that even the lower millstones had been thoroughly destroyed. This may be based on Iyov 14:19, "the waters wear away even stones."  Rabbi Levi (Midrash) claims that the leaf came from Mount Olives in Yerushalayim, seeing the deluge had not touched the Holy Land. He claims that G-d had said to Yechezkel (22:24) "Ben Adam, say to her, 'You are a land that has not been cleansed; she had not been rained upon on the day of fury." The words לא מטהרה (lo metohara - not cleansed) refer to the fountains of the deep beneath the Holy Land not having opened at the time of the deluge, whereas the words לא גשמה (lo gushmah - nor rained upon) mean that no destructive rain fell on the Holy Land during the period of the deluge. Nonetheless, it is fair to assume that the waters of the deluge which had flooded neighboring countries also spilled over into the Holy Land. After all, the Torah testifies that the waters of the deluge "covered all the high mountains beneath the whole sky" (7:19). Seeing that no rain had fallen on the Holy Land which would have uprooted and broken the trees in that land, the waters which spilled over into that land did not have such a destructive effect. It is quite plausible therefore that the dove took the leaf from Mount Olives.

בְּשִׁבְעָה וְעֶשְׂרִים יוֹם לַחֹדֶשׁ
beshive'ah ve'esrim yom lachodesh 
on the twenty-seventh day of that month.

This was the month of Marcheshvan. Earlier the Torah had spoken of "on the seventeenth of the month the fountains of the 'deep' broke open" (7:110, whereas now the Torah says that on the twenty-seventh day of that month the earth had dried out completely. This teaches that the deluge lasted exactly one full solar year (365 days). We know that ordinarily the solar year is 11 days longer than the lunar year, i.e. 12 months. This is why Chazal in Ediyot 2:10 stated that the period during which the people of that generation were judged lasted for 12 months. According to Rabbi Shlomoh ben Aderet we have to add the eleven days of the difference between the solar and the lunar years so as to avoid the Mishnah in Ediyot being in conflict with the Torah. We are also told in that same Mishnah that the judgment of the Egyptians in Egypt (the ten plagues) lasted 12 months and that Iyov's afflictions lasted for 12 months. Finally, the Mishnah states that the judgment experienced by the nations taking part in the final assault on the Jewish people under the kingdoms of Gog and Magog will last for 12 months.

May HASHEM continue to enlighten us with the Light of His Torah.

-Bachya; Chazal

NOACH PARDES - Corruption

Bereishit 6:12
וַיַּרְא אלוקים אֶת-הָאָרֶץ וְהִנֵּה נִשְׁחָתָה כִּי-הִשְׁחִית כָּל-בָּשָׂר אֶת-דַּרְכּוֹ עַל-הָאָרֶץ
Vayar Elohim et-ha'aretz vehineh nishchatah ki-hishchit kol-basar et-darko al-ha'aretz
ELOKIM saw the earth, and here it had become corrupt. All flesh had corrupted its way upon the earth.

At this point the Torah reverts to G-d's Name "Elokim" to indicate that the Attribute of Justice enters the picture at this stage. Seeing that the sins of that generation were so great the Attribute of Justice was poised over them.

וְהִנֵּה נִשְׁחָתָה
vehineh nishchatah
and here it had become corrupt.

What precisely did this "corruption" consist of? "All flesh had corrupted its way upon the earth." They were all destroying their own seed. They did not want to prcreate and used sexual union for pleasure only. This is what is meant by Yeshayahu 57:5 "the ones who slaughter their children." Chazal (Niddah 13) comment on this that a preferable reading to this passage would be "they squeezed out their semen before impregnating their wives." Seeing that they had become guilty of destroying semen which becomes a fetus after forty days, they were punished with a deluge which poured rain on them for forty days (based on Pirke de Rabbi Eliezer, Chapter 22).

Actually, the people of that time were guilty of four sins:

1) idolatry
2) sexual licentiousness including incest
3) murder
4) gratuitous violence

The reason for the forty days of rain may be broken down as follows: Thirty days of continuous rain descended because of their idolatry, i.e. they worshiped the sun for thirty days; however seeing the sun's influence on earth commences already five days before it becomes visible to us and it continues for five days after it has ceased to be visible, it was proper that they be punished on account of sun-worship for forty days. Whatever is true of the visible effect of the sun as well as its invisible effect, applies equally to the stars so that in respect of every form of worship of celestial constellations the number forty represented midah keneged midah (measure for measure) "the punishment fitted the crime." Similar considerations apply to the sin of sexual licentiousness and murder as in both instnces the gestation period of the human being was forty days before it became a real fetus. As to the violence, their fourth sin, the number forty is approprite for the duration of the days of rain as the Torah containing this legislation was given to Moshe after he had spent forty days on Mount Sinai.

The sin of corruption did not only include human beings but it had also corrupted the behavior of the animals. This is why Chazal (Sanhedrin 108) explained "the ones who had become guilty of wasting hot semen were punished by a deluge of hot water." This fact is based on the words used at the end of the deluge in v8:1 "and the waters cooled off."

וַתִּשָּׁחֵת הָאָרֶץ לִפְנֵי האלוקים
vatishachet ha'aretz lifnei ha'ELOKIM
the earth had become corrupt in the presence of ELOKIM

This is in reference to idolatry practiced by man. The Torah alluded to the fact that the sins of mankind included both trespasses against G-d as well as trespasses against society. They corrupted religion and they corrupted the basics of procreation. These latter sins also included indiscriminate robbery among the people. The Torah refers to this by writing, "the earth became filled with violence," and the repetition, "for the earth is filled with violence through them." Seeing that the Torah reports G-d's decision to bring on the deluge in connection with the report of the violence it is clear tht this sin weighted most heavily and that the decree to destroy mankind was not sealed until G-d had reviewed the indiscriminated violence on earth (Sanhedrin 108). There is support for this view in two verses in Sefer Yeshayahu. In Yeshayahu 54:14 it reads, You shall keep away from oppression [do not engage in it] and you shall have no fear, and from ruin and it shall not come near you." Teh same prophet had said a few verses earlier, "that this is like the deluge to Me..." (v9). In other words, the prophet, in the Name of G-d, warns the people that the deluge had been due to the violence and oppression practiced by people against each other. The reason that this was the "straw that broke the camel's back," i.e. the most critical sin was that it is a trespass against common sense. If there were no G-d at all, mankind would have to legislate laws controlling violence as otherwise civilisation would collapse of its own. A society which did not even observe such a code of laws could not expect to endure.

The very occurrence of the deluge is proof positive that the universe was a creation and that a Creator presides over it and watches it; it proves tht he same Creator punishes those who are guilty and saves the ones who deserve to be saved such as Noach and his family. It proves further that G-d's supervision is not limited to the celestial spheres but that it extends to our "lower" world also. Just as Adam was the ancestor of all human beings after him, so Noach became the ancestor of all human beings after the deluge. Just as Adam had three sons, Kayin, Hevel, and Shet, so Noach had three sons, Shem, Cham, and Yafet. Just as two of Adam's sons were his mainstay whereas the third one was cursed, so you find that one of Noach's sons was cursed. Just as Adam's third son was the one who became the link to posterity so Noach's third son is the true link to posterity as only the descendants of Shem are the ones who will qualify for resurrection. [According to Rashi, Shem was indeed the third, i.e. the youngest son of Noach.]

May HASHEM continue to enlighten us with the Light of His Torah.

-Bachya; Chazal

Noach Pardes - Noach


Bereishit 6:9
אֵלֶּה תּוֹלְדֹת נֹחַ נֹחַ אִישׁ צַדִּיק תָּמִים הָיָה בְּדֹרֹתָיו אֶת-האלוקים הִתְהַלֶּךְ נֹחַ
Eleh toldot Noach Noach ish tzadik tamim hayah bedorotav et-ha'Elokim hithalech Noach
The are the generations of Noach; Noach was a righteous man, perfect in his generations; Noach walked with G-d.

The word תּוֹלְדֹת (toldot) refers to "happenings"; it is what is described in Mishlei 27:1 as "for you do not know what the day will bring." The explanation is based on the verse following in which Noach is described as וַיּוֹלֶד נֹחַ (vayoled Noach - Noach begot). These words are read as belonging to what the first verse told us, i.e. the three virtues which Noach practiced as opposed to his peers:

1) being a צַדִּיק (tzaddik - a righteous person) meant not engaging in violent means to gain one objectives.  The Torah reports in v11 that his generation was guilty of random violence

2) he was תָּמִים (tamim - perfect), that he was consistent and thorough in the way he practiced his virtues. The Torah applies the term "tamim" to the Para Adumah (Red Heifer), i.e. a cow that has uniformly red hair. Even two hairs of a different color disqualified such an animal from fulfilling its dsignated purpose. In other words, an animal "which is without blemish" (BaMidbar 19:2).  In the case of human beings, the term מוּם (mum - blemish) describes a character defect. This is why the Torah describes Noach as "tamim," free from blemish. Tehillim 119:1 lauds such people by referring to them as "hail to those whose way is blameless." In order to contrast Noach's virtues with those of his contemporaries the Torah writes, "for all flesh had corrupted its way upon the earth" (6:12).

3) Noach's third virtue is described by the words, "Noach walked with G-d." This virtue of "walking with G-d" is something so exceptional that we find it mentioned only very rarely. Only select individuals ever attain such a lofty spiritual level and only after having become outstandingly righteous people. In order to highlight Noach's achievements in this sphere the Torah testifies to this with the words that, "Noach indeed walked with G-d." This "walking with G-d," meant that after he had gained insight into the existence and supervisory activity of G-d through his study of astronomy enhanced by his virtuous life style, he drew the proper conclusions. He did not believe in astrology, i.e. he knew that all these phenomena do not represent independent forces in the universe. In this way he was poles apart from his peers who all believed in teh sun, i.e. the solar system as a supreme cause.

The first person who is created with having attained this level of perfection was Chanoch, and the Torah wrote of him, "Chanoch walked with HASHEM" (Bereishit 5:24). This was remarkable because he lived during a time when Enosh had introduced idolatry and all the people of his time had begun to worship the sun and other planetary constellations. Chanoch investigated the laws of nature and concluded that there must be a primary causes which is responsible for the regular orbits of the stars, the sun, etc. The very fact that he is described as having spent 365 years on earth, a number which corresponds to the number of days in the sun's orbit, is the Torah's way of hinting to us something about the nature of his superior knowledge. As a result of his investigations of nature Chanoch cleaved to G-d, i.e. to the primary Cause. The time we find the Torah mentioning the concept of "walking with" or in front of" of G-d, is in connection with Avraham in Bereishit 17:1. There too the expression "walk in front of Me," is followed by the words "and become perfect," to show that walking with G-d is an indication of one's "perfection."

May HASHEM continue to enlighten us with the Light of His Torah.

-Bachya; Chazal

Noach Pardes - The Tower of Bavel

BEREISHIT PARDES - Nishmat Chayim - Living Soul

Monday, October 13, 2014 · Posted in , , , , , ,

Bereishit 2:7
וַיִּפַּח בְּאַפָּיו נִשְׁמַת חַיִּים
vayipach be'apav nishmat chayim
He blew in his nostrils a living soul.

The nose is an instrument of the soul. The soul enters man by way of his nose and it leaves him by the same route. This is why Chazal (our Sages) in Yoma 85 have stated that if someone takes a fall that one has to examine him including his nose. This is based on Bereishit 7:22, "all who had the spirit of a living soul in their nose...died." It is one of he wondrous phenomena of the creation of man that the letter ש (shin) associated with this instrument (organ), the fact that the nose is divided makes it appear like the letter ש. This is an allusion to the Name of G-d שדי (Shakkai), which in this manner is engraved on the body of every human being who has been circumcised. This is the mystical meaning of Iyov 32:8, "the breath of Shakkai that gives them understanding."

We know that the nose is the organ by means which we smell and that the soul derives pleasure from certain fragrances This is the reason the Talmud Berachot 51 prohibits us from even smelling incense or other fragrances intended for idolatrous purposes. The smell of any fragrance leaves behind a memory. We have it on the authority of the Torah in connection with the sacrificial offerings VaYikra 6:8 that smell acts as a reminder. "Its pleasant fragrance is a memorial (portion) unto HASHEM," i.e. the person in whose name this frankincense has been offered will be remembered by G-d as having accumulated merit.

Maimonides in his introduction to Pirke Avot, Chapter 1, claim that the soul is a single force which however has three sub-categories:

1) the category which houses our desires, something we have in common with the animals.
2) the source of growth, something possessed both by animals and all manner of plants.
3) the ability to think coherently, the soul of wisdom.

All these functions are part of a single soul.

Avraham Ibn Ezra in his commentary on Kohelet 7:3, claim that there are three distinct souls operating within man all of which are distinct from one another. The intelligent souls is an entity of its own, the potential to grow is an independent force. The animal kind of soul, which is the seat of all desires, i.e. the desire to eat, drink, procreate or simply indulge in sex, as well as the desire to sleep, area all part of the animalistic soul in man and constitute a separate soul. They are part of what man has in common with the animal kingdom. The seat of that particular soul is the liver. This "soul" is called on occasion נפש (nefesh), and on occason רוח (ruach). Its seat is in the liver. In Devarim 12:20 it is called nefesh when the Torah writes, "when your soul desires to eat meant..."

The נפש הצומח (nefesh hatzomeach) is the force that enables man to grow physically. He shares such a force with all the trees, etc. Just as trees possess such built-in powers, man too possesses such a growth potential. As distinct from the seat of all desire which is presumed to be in the liver, this force does not have a specific location but is present in all parts of man's body. It remains active until a certain point his life. The soul of intelligence is something exclusive to man, something he shares with beings in the higher worlds, beings which live forever in their sacred domains. The seat of this soul is in man's brain, and it is generally referred to as נשמה (neshamah) This is what the Torah described as the נשמת חיים (nishmat chayim which G-d "blew" into Adam's nostrils. Also in Yeshayahu 42:5 writes, "He gives a soul (neshamah) to the people on it [earth]." There are numerous similar verses throughout the Scriptures.

According to the view of the philosophers who believe that each person has three separate souls, we find support for Chazal in Sanhedrin 65 who report that the famous teacher Rava created a human being (Golem). When he brought this creature before Rabbi Zeyra, Rabbi Zeyra spoke to him whereas the creature could not answer back. Thereupon Rabbi Zeyra said to the Golem, "You are man-made; go back to the dust you have been made of." This passage in the Talmud is proof that man has three distinct souls. Rava, who was familiar with Kabbalah, and had studied the Sefer Yetzirah, had infused this creature with the "soul" which governs motion. He was unable, however, to provide his creature with the power of speech. The power of speech stems from the soul called חכמה (chachmah).

However, our verse (2:7) here is proof that there is only one overall soul, but that it contains three different potentials without these different abilities having different origins. The reason is that Adam, as distinct from subsequent human beings, was merely a clod of earth; this is why the Torah states, 'G-d fashioned man dust from the earth" (2:7), as soon as Adam's form had materialized G-d "blew" into him this soul of which it is said, "man then became a living creature," i.e. he became able to move just as the fish and the animals of which the Torah had said that they had been "a swarm of living creatures. This is the meaning of the word חיה (chayah) that thanks to this "soul" Adam became a living creature whereas originally he had been inert unable to move, just like a stone.

Regardless of which view one has of the soul, all Jewish Sages and philosophers are agreed that the part of the soul which survives physical death is the נפש החכמה (nefesh hachachmah), "the soul which is rooted in the emanation chachmah." The body has absolutely no share in the mental and spiritual development of a person except that it serves the as the vessel, the container within which such mental and spiritual forces are able to function and to make it the base of their operations.

Dead people do not possess any mental or spiritual energy. The existence of such mental and spiritual energy is exclusively due to the living. It is clear then that what we have called נפש (nefesh), or נפש חיה (nefesh chayah), is a phenomenon that lives only within what we call "nature," for it is certainly true that this "natural soul" is able to absorb wisdoms of a variety of degrees. When the body dies it dies as part of "nature," and "nature" is unable to receive any input from such a dead body, i.e. the wisdom it used to possess.

Two remarkable principles has thus been established:

1) man is composed of two major components or essences. Part of man's essences lives as an integral part of "nature," in fact due to the existence of "nature." Without nature that part of man simply could not exist.

2) The second part of man's essence dies through the very fact that it is bound to "nature." This second part is the body. The reason both the soul and the body share such experiences is that they have been joined together so that (to a limited degree) each one has to share the experiences of the other. The body gets an inkling of what live's potential is all about because it has become joined to the soul. The soul experiences what death is all about because it has become tied to the mortal body. Death may be considered as a punishment for the soul who has allowed itself to be misled by the body. It follows that essentially the soul is suppose to live forever; its death is incidental. The reverse is true of the body which essentially is mortal but lives temporarily by merit of the soul it hosts.

Once body and soul part company, each one resumes its natural destiny, i.e. the body dies and the soul lives on forever. In both cases this separation means that a temporary, unnatural union or partnership has been broken up, each partner returning to its essential habitat.

The major foundation of our beliefs remains our holy Torah which is the source of our life. All true philosophers derive their wisdom only the Torah. True wisdom is always the fruit, i.e. the product of profound Torah study. The matter of the survival of the soul after the death of the body is made plain by the very fact that the soul G-d infused in Adam was called נשמת חיים (nishmat chayim), "a soul of life." This means the soul was "hewn" from the very source of life. The reason is that we know that the soul is derived from the source of wisdom, the emanation chachmah. The word "chayim" when part of the term "nishmat chayim," reminds us of Iyov 32:7-8 "I thought: 'let age speak; let advanced years declare wise things. But, truly it is the spirit in men.'" We find that in Iyov the words חכמה (chachmah) and רוח (ruach) appaer side by side. The author is telling us that רוח, "the spirit, the soul," is the source of חכמה (chachmah), wisdom. If our verse saw fit to call the soul שמת חיים, this is an allusion to Kohelet 7:12, "and wisdom [the emanation of wisdom] preserves the life of those who possess it." This is also what G-d assured the prophet of when He told him to promise the High Priest Yehoshua that his soul would be in the company of the angels if he would observe G-d's commandments (Zecharyah 3:7). The wording is "and I shall enable you to be able to walk among these who are stationary." The angels are spiritually stationary as they do not possess an evil urge the defeat of which would enable them to make spiritual progress.

The words ויפח באפיו (vayipach be'apav), "He blew into Adam's nostrils," are to alert us to the fact that this soul was not part of the basic four elements the terrestrial universe is made of, although רוח (ruach), "wind or spirit" is one of those four elements.  Man's soul shares five characteristics with G-d (Berachot 10). It is similar to G-d in all its virtues, at the same time being superior to the soul of the angels. The reason is that the soul of man was created on the first day of creation as compared to the angels who were created only on the second day. It is an accepted rule that phenomena which were created sooner are superior to those which were created later. We have an explicit statement in Sanhadrin 93 that the righteous are superior to the angels.

Whatever man's mouth can tell about the attributes (virtues) of G-d to the extent that He is the Creator is possible only because the soul of man is a direct creation of this Creator. Thus a famous quote: "Know your souls so that you may gain knowledge about your G-d."

וַיְהִי הָאָדָם לְנֶפֶשׁ חַיָּה
vayehi ha'adam lenefesh chayah
man became a living creature

During the entire report about the creation you will not find that the word ויהי (vayehi) was applied directly to something which had not been created, except to Light and to man. The message is that man's soul will endure forever just as the original Light will endure forever as both had been created on the first day. This fact inspired the liturgical poet Rabbi Yehudah Halevi in a poem commencing with the words, "G-d's established the souls together with the original Light, the first of G-d's creative activities." The meaning of the whole verse is, "the main purpose of the existence of human beings is on account of their spiritual soul."

May HASHEM continue to enlighten us with the Light of His Torah.



Bereishit Pardes - Creation
Bereishit Pardes - Gan Eden
Bereishit Pardes - Etz HaChayim - Etz HaDaat Tov vaRa

BEREISHIT PARDES - Etz HaChayim - Etz HaDaat Tov vaRa

Bereishit 3:24
לִשְׁמֹר אֶת-דֶּרֶךְ עֵץ הַחַיִּים
lishmor et-derech etz hachayim
to guard the path of the Tree of Life

Torah observance is referred to here as "the path of the Tree of Life." We have other verses in Scripture which refer to Torah and the observance of its statues as the "Tree of Life," such as Mishlei 3:18 "she is a Tree of Life for those who take hold of it."

וַיְצַו הי אלוקים עַל-הָאָדָם לֵאמֹר מִכֹּל עֵץ-הַגָּן אָכֹל תֹּאכֵל
vayetzav HASHEM ELOKIM al-ha'adam lemor mikol etz-hagan achol tochel
HASHEM ELOKIM commanded Adam, "You may surely eat from every tree of the garden"

Adam was commanded two separate commandments here, a positive as well as a negative commandment.

Positive: "You shall eat from every tree of the garden."
Negative: "but from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil you must not eat" (v17)

These verse also contain what are known as the Seven Noachide Laws, i.e. the seven laws applicable to all mankind (enumerated in Sanhedrin 56).

The prohibition of:

1. idolatry
2. bloodshed (murder)
3. incestuous sexual relations of certain categories
4. blasphemy
5. robbery
6. consumption of living tissue from an animal
7. institution of judiciary to deal with violators of these commandments

The laws are derived from the text as follows:

vayetzav refers to idolatry. The word צו (tzav) is synonymous with idolatry, "because he has gone after futility" (Hoshea 5:11)

HASHEM alludes to blasphemy. The Torah states,"and he who curses the Name of HASHEM shall be put to death" (VaYikra 24:16)

ELOKIM refers to the establishment of a judiciary system, אלוקים לֹא תְקַלֵּל (ELOKIM lo tekalel) "you shall not curse a judge."
al ha-adam is an allusion to the prohibition of bloodshed, murder. The parallel verse is found in Bereishit 9:6, שֹׁפֵךְ דַּם הָאָדָם בָּאָדָם דָּמוֹ יִשָּׁפֵך (shofech dam ha-adam ba-adam damo yishafech) "he who spills the blood of a human being shall have his own blood spilled by a human being."

lemor alludes to forbidden sexual relations. The reference is based on Yirmeyahu 3:1,
לֵאמֹר הֵן יְשַׁלַּח אִישׁ אֶת-אִשְׁתּוֹ וְהָלְכָה מֵאִתּוֹ וְהָיְתָה לְאִישׁ-אַחֵר הֲיָשׁוּב אֵלֶיהָ עוֹד-הֲלוֹא חָנוֹף תֶּחֱנַף הָאָרֶץ הַהִיא (lemor hen yeshalach ish et-ishto vehalchah me'ito vehaitah le'ish-acher hayashuv eleihah od halo chanof techenaf ha'aretz hahi) "to say, 'If a man divorces his wife, and she leaves him and marries another man, can he ever go back to her? Would not such land be defiled?'"

mikol etz-hagan achol tochel, "from every tree of the garden you shall surely eat," is an allusion to the prohibition of robbery, i.e. man requires G-d's express permission to partake of matters in this world.

ume'etz hada'at tov vara lo tochal mimenu, "but you must not eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil," is an allusion not to eat a living animal's tissue. The lesson derived from the words of this verse is, "from a certain object you must not eat part thereof."

So it is seen that the basic Seven Noachide Laws are all alluded to in some form or other in these two verses.

וּמֵעֵץ הַדַּעַת טוֹב וָרָע לֹא תֹאכַל מִמֶּנּוּ כִּי בְּיוֹם אֲכָלְךָ מִמֶּנּוּ מוֹת תָּמוּת
ume'etz hada'at tov vara lo tochal mimenu ki beyom achalcha mimenu mot tamut
but from the Tree of Knowledge of what is Good and Evil you must not eat, for on the day you eat from it, you will surely die.

The words in this verse do not mean that Adam, or anyone else, would die immediately on the very day he would eat from the tree; rather the meaning is that as soon as he would eat from that tree man would become mortal, would forfeit his right to live on earth indefinitely.

According to Chazal in Shabbat 55, man had been meant to live forever just like the angels.

מוֹת תָּמוּת
mot tamut
you will die twice

The Torah repeats the reference to death to tell us that from that moment on man would be subject to two kinds of natural death.  1Shmu'el 26:10 is clearly detailing this, "and HASHEM Himself will strike him down, or his time will come and he will die, or he will go down in battle and will perish." When David spoke of "or his day will come," he referred to natural death.

Chazal state unequivocally that if Adam had not sinned he would have lived forever. This view is supported by Tehillim 82:6, "I (HASHEM) said that you are divine beings and that all of you are sons of the Most High." The remarkable thing in that Psalm is that Assaf did not quote G-d as saying, "you are like a divine being," or "like the sons of the Most High." He referred to an actual divine quality possessed by Man (Adam) i.e. his immortality.  Scripture contains many other verses along the same lines.

on the day

The Torah emphasizes the word beyom to refer to a day in G-d's calendar, i.e. 1000 years in terms of our calendar. In order that G-d's word, when He created Adam, should not have been wasted, He granted Adam a "day" of His own calendar, and Adam lived close to 1000 years. He was only 70 years short of G-d's day when he died, but in terms of our lives nowadays these 70 years represented a whole lifetime, so that he died on the day he ate, i.e. being deprived of a life span.

Adam had bequeathed 70 years of his life expectany to David whom G-d had shown him as destined to die at birth (Midrash Yalkut Tehillim 843)

The SOD (Kabbalistic meaning) of this verse concentrates on the repeated appearance of the word "death" when the Torah spoke of mot tamut.  It is understood as the warning of two deaths, a physical death of the body and a spiritual death of the soul. We find a repetition of the word "died," when the Torah reported the death of Aharon's two older sons, Nadav and Avihu (VaYikra 16:1). We also find similar repetition (implication) of the word "death" when Moshe prayed for Re'uven in his final blessing (Devarim 33:6), especially when the translation of that verse by Onkelos is translated as follows, "let him not die a second death."

כִּי יֹדֵעַ אלוקים כִּי בְּיוֹם אֲכָלְכֶם מִמֶּנּוּ וְנִפְקְחוּ עֵינֵיכֶם וִהְיִיתֶם כֵּאלֹהִים יֹדְעֵי טוֹב וָרָע
Ki yode'a ELOKIM ki beyom acholchem mimenu venifkechu eineichem viheyitem ke'Elokim yod'ei tov vara
For Elokim knows that on the day you will eat from it, your eyes will be opened, and you will be like Elokim, knowing good and evil.

From this it would appear that prior to his sin Adam did not possess the ability to distinguish good from evil. If that were true, then what happened here would violate a Talmudic principle, i.e. that a sinner should not be allowed to benefit by his sin.  It is clear that one must not understand the verse to mean that Adam did not know the difference between right and wrong prior to his sin any more than do the animals. The meaning of the words, "you will be like Elokim," is appropriately translated by Onkelos who render these words as "you will become possessed of superior wisdom knowing what is good and what is evil." There can be no question that at the time G-d created man He had equipped him with a superior intelligence, "He created him in the image of Elokim." The word tzelem (image) in that verse is a reference to intelligence.

If G-d commanded man not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge, the reason He did so was precisely because man was intelligent enough to distinguish between truth and untruth. G-d is not on record as commanding animals what to do as they have no intelligence.

The problem is that knowledge of good and evil is not something within the realm of intelligence. Prior to his sin, Adam's intellect was totally spiritually oriented; it was not concerned with matters of the body. He was not even familiar with such matters. He was completely unaware of the carnal implications of nudity, etc. He considered his genitals as organs no different from all his other organs. Once he had sinned, and suddenly experienced the sex drive as an instrument of physical gratification, i.e, "he saw that the Tree was good to eat and a pleasurable experience for the eyes," he was immediately punished by being stripped of his ability to use his intellect objectively; from that moment on, considerations such as physical desire, appreciation of physical beauty or ugliness clouded his previous pure intellect. This is why the nachash (serpent) spoke of "you will become intimate (an alternate meaning of yode'a) with good and evil." The nachash had been careful not to say, "you will know truth and falsehood," or words to that effect.

Pay special attention to the wording of verse 7, וַתִּפָּקַחְנָה עֵינֵי שְׁנֵיהֶם וַיֵּדְעוּ (Vatipakachnah einei shneihem vayede'u) "the eyes of both of them were opened..." The Torah deliberately did not write that as a result of this opening of their eyes ויראו (they saw) but it wrote וידעו (they knew) that they were naked. What they suddenly "knew" they had already "seen" previously. The Torah wanted to emphasise that they now "saw" something they had been aware of previously in a totally new light. What had previously not been shameful had suddenly become something shameful. The reason was that they had overstepped the boundaries and displayed a tendency to derive physical pleasure from something G-d had denied them. They had displayed a desire to be more animal-like in their cravings. As a result, their punishment consisted in their being allocated animal-like food as we find in v18 "you will eat the grass of the field." Previously, they had been allocated only the kind of herbs which produced self perpetuating seeds, as distinct from the food allocated to the animals (1:29).

וַתֵּרֶא הָאִשָּׁה כִּי טוֹב הָעֵץ לְמַאֲכָל
Vatere ha'ishah ki tov ha'etz lema'achal
the woman saw that the Tree was good for food.

Chazal disagree as to the exact nature of this tree (Berachot 40). Some say it was a fig tree and they base themselves on the fact that immediaely after eating from the tree Adam and Chavah are describe as covering their genitals with fig leaves (v7). They feel that this shows that the very thing which had become their downfall now had become the instrument of their rehabilitation.

Other Sages believe that the Tree in question was the grapevine. This is why we read in Bereishit Rabbah 19:8 "Chavah squeezed the juce from the grapes and brought it to her husband." Seeing that its appearance was red like blood, their blood would be spilled and the blood of the whole universe, measure for measure, the punishment fitting the crime. The blood of the female of the species which would be spilled at regular intervals is the menstrual blood. This is also the mystical dimension of Devarim 32:14, "and the blood of the grapes you will drink as if it were delicious wine." The Torah called the grape "blood," seeing that grapes had brought blood into the world.

Still another view is that of Rabbi Abba from Acco in Bereishit Rabbah 15:8 who believes that the Tree in question was the Etrog tree, the citron fruit. From the Kabbalistic point of view, the Tree was indeed the Etrog tree something which is hinted at in the words וְנֶחְמָד הָעֵץ לְהַשְׂכִּיל (venechmad ha'etz lehaskil) "and the Tree was a desirable means to gain insights." Onkelos translates these words as, "that the fruit was exceptionally beautiful and desirable." The nature of that fruit was that it excited and dominated one's intellect. This is also why the Targum translates VaYikra 23:40 again using the word אתרוג (etrog) to describe an especially beautiful fruit. We may thus understand v18 where the curse (punishment) for eating from such a beautiful tree is that henceforth the earth will sprout forth thorns and thistles as another example of punishment fitting the crime.

וְכִי תַאֲוָה-הוּא לָעֵינַיִם
vechi ta'avah-hu la'einayim
and that it was a delight for the eyes.

Originally man was a totally intellectually oriented creature. The Torah wanted to remind us that at that stage (before the sin) whatever motivation prompted Chavah and Adam to eat from this Tree was the desire to gain further insights (lehaskil). This would correspond to Tehillim 38:10, "You G-d are aware that (nearness) to You is the objective of all my desire." According to this interpretation it was the intellect which dictated to them to eat what G-d had withheld from them.

Whatever his or her motivation, the fact remains that Chavah (and Adam) violated G-d's will as expressed by His prohibition. Just as his intellect had told him that the fruit of the that Tree held promise of further insights, the same intellect had also told him that the acquisition of such insights was clearly against G-d's will, else why would He have forbidden its fruit? At this stage the yetzer hara, the force within man which moves him to assert his independence, was in the shape of his wife, Chavah. He was misled into believing that what he did was in order.

After having eaten from the fruit of that Tree Adam began to experience a new sensation altogether, a sensation which became an integral part of him from then on. This was the sex drive which is a drive originally inspired by the commission of a sin.

The question may be asked, if indeed this drive was and is responsible for sinning and Adam and Chavah did not yet have it before they ate from the tree, how did they come to sin? The fact is that even angels who most certainly do not have a sex drive and are motivated purely by intellectual considerations also sin on occasion. One example is found in Bereishit 19:13 where the angels who had been commanded to destroy Sedom and to save Lot described themselves as if it were they who were destroying Sedom and not G-d. They told Lot, "for we are about to destroy this place."

and he ate

At this point Adam sinned seeing G-d had warned him previously, "and you must not eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil" (2:17). The one warning applied to earthly matters such as not to eat from the fruit in order not to ingest the ource of the evil, carnal desires, etc. The other warning pertained to celestial matters, that as a result of eating from the Tree and obtaining new insights he should not speculate about the origin and essence of G-d. From a practical point of view the word "mimenu" (3:5) also included the prohibition not to use the branches of that Tree to plant a duplicate.

Philosophically speaking, Adam was not to make the mistake made later by the generation of the Tower who thought that there was no one beyond the heavens.

Inasmuch as his spiritual image in the celestial regions received its input from the "left" part of the emanations, the seat of the attribute of Justice, it became necessary for him to offer an ox with only a single horn as expiation after he had done teshuvah in order to demonstrate that he recognized the Unity of G-d and did not believe that G-d had partners, i.e. that there was a power-sharing arrangement between the various midot (attributes) of G-d. In order for Adam to learn this lesson G-d especially made available to him an ox which had a unicorn on its forehead. The word קרן (keren) "horn" in Hebrew is equivalent to כח (ko'ach) "power." The strength of an ox is concentrated in its horns. The unicorn was in the center of that ox's forehead, the center of its body, in order to symbolize the קו האמצעו (center line, mid-line - a Kabbalistic concept pertaining to the diagram of the emanations). The purpose of that "line" is to unify the "lower" and the "higher" regions. This is the meaning of the enigmatic though well known Midrash based on Tehillim 69:32 "that will please HASHEM even more than the ox, i.e. bull whose horns protruded beyond its hooves."

The verse from Tehillim contains a double entendre as the word מקרין though spelled with the letter י (yod), is read as if it were written without the letter yod.  The first (regular) spelling would symbolize the strength radiated from the animal, whereas the defective spelling, i.e. the way we read the word suggests that the ox in question had only one horn, mi-keren. When the Benei Yisrael sinned in the desert and they made the golden calf they had to sacrifice an ox in atonement for their sin as we know from VaYikra 9:3 "take a he-goat for a sin-offering; a calf and a lamb,...and an ox and a ram for a peace-offering..."

From that time on, the Benei Yisrael were commanded to take the four species including the Etrog in the month of Tishrei, the month in which man was created, in order to combine all these species. These four species were a symbolic offering atone for the first sin man had committed around that time of the year. In all other instances of publicly paid for sin-offerings on the festivals, a bull or bulls are included in the Torah's list of such offerings. The same applies to the sin-offerings on Rosh Chodesh (New Moon). All of this was to teach that when doing penance it is appropriate to use the instrument with which one had sinned to effect forgiveness.

May HASHEM continue to enlighten us with the Light of His Torah.

- Chazal


Bereishit Pardes - Creation
Bereishit Pardes - Gan Eden
Bereishit Pardes - Nishmat Chayim - Living Soul

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