Archive for December 2014

Asarah b'Tevet (10th of Tevet)

Wednesday, December 31, 2014 · Posted in , ,

Fast begins Thu, 01 January 2015 at dawn and ends at nightfall (full dark).

In 424 BCE, Babylonia King Nebuchadnezzar began his siege of Jerusalem. Actually, there was little damage on that first day and no Jews were killed, yet it began a chain of disasters which ended with the destruction of the Holy Temple. The 10th of Tevet is still observed today by Jews as a public fast day, as mentioned by the prophet Zechariah (8:19). One year after Nebuchadnezzar's siege, on this date in 423 BCE, Jeremiah purchased a field and prophesized that "Houses, fields and vineyards will yet again be bought in this land" (Jeremiah 32:15). This gave hope to generations of Jews for a return to the Holy Land -- a prophecy that we have seen fulfilled in modern times. (Aish)

MIKETZ PARDES - The Ten Martyrs

Monday, December 15, 2014 · Posted in , , , ,

עֲלוּ לְשָׁלוֹם אֶל-אֲבִיכֶם
alu leshalom el-avichem
go in peace to your father.

The fact that this Parshah concludes with the words "go in peace to your father," is a reference to the ten martyrs who were tortured to death by the Romans supposedly because the brothers had never paid the penalty prescribed by Jewish law for kidnapping. The words "in peace to your father" refers to "your father in heaven." Yosef meant that once the brothers had been cleansed of their sin against Yosef they could one more fact the G-d in heaven upon their deaths and take their place in the hereafter.

The entire Yosef tragedy began when his father Ya'akov made a colored coat for him which Yosef wore as a sign of distinction. The fact that the brothers dipped the colored coat of Yosef in the blood of a male goat which they specially slaughtered for that purpose telling their father, "this is what we found," was considered an act of great cruelty on their part. This is why their punishment which involved their bodies commenced immediately after Yosef's death. Eventually, during the the time of the Romans and after the destruction of the second Temple (which was destroyed due to an excess of groundless hatred between Jew and Jew.) the ten martyrs paid the last installment of the penalty with their deaths.

It is important to realize that contrary to a perception that all the ten martyrs listed in our prayers commemorating their death as martyrs occurred at one and the same time, this is simply not so. We find the following text in Pirke Heychalot:

"Rabbi Yishma'el said that the decree to torture these sages to death came out on a Thursday. News came from the capital in Rome that Emperor Lupinos had ordered the execution of four of the outstanding Jewish scholars. They were rabbi Shimon ben Gamli'el, Rabbi Yishma'el ben Elisha, Rabbi Ele'azer ben Dama, and rabbi Yehudah ben Baba. Many thousands of other scholars in Yerushalayim offered to take the place of those condemned. When Rabbi Nechunyah ben Hakanah realized that this decree was irrevocable he inquired about it from Suri'el the Sar Hapanim (of the angels close to the Attribute of Justice). He was told that actually, in the books of G-d (Attribute of Justice, there was a list of ten scholars whose lives had been handed over to Sama'el (the angel of death) the guardian angel of Esav. The instructions which this guardian angel of Esav had received at the time were to destroy among the leaders of Yisra'el every "good cut of meat" and throw it into the cauldron." The purpose of this decree was to complete the expiation needed for the sin of the brothers who had sold Yosef at the time, and who had violated the prohibition in Shemot 21:16 "if someone steals and sells a person and the party concerned is found in his hands, he is to be executed." This decree, i.e. application of this penalty, could be delayed all the time until "In the day, Hashem will punish the host of heaven in heaven and the kings of the earth on earth" (Yeshayahu 24:21). This expiation could occur by means of the goats and sheep on Yom Kippur.

Rabbi Yishma'el said that Sama'el had heard all these threats and conditions and that he had said that he accepted them. As a result he chose 10 f the outstanding scholars of Yisrael to be that unexpired expiation, "scape-goat," for what had been done to Yosef. When G-d heard about these resolutions of Sama'el, i.e. the Romans to kill ten outstanding Jewish scholars, He was so angry that He immediately wrote down decrees which would afflict the entire Roman Empire, each one for six months at a time. As a result of all the afflictions that will strike the Romans at that time, one individual will say to another that if he were offered the entire Roman Empire in exchange for a minor copper coin he would decline to make such a purchase."

One of the amazing statements in in that passage concerns Rabbi Chanina ben Tradyan who supposedly was exchanged for Emperor Lupinos who was burned in his stead. Similar statements appear concerning the other martyrs on that famous list. Concerning such far-out statements, I have heard that they must be understood as analogous to the binding of Yitzchak. Once Avraham was irrevocably committed to slaughtering Yitzchak, and the latter had accepted the decree, he was replaced by the ram Avraham found which had been caught in the thicket (Bereishit 22:13). According to that view something similar occurred with all the ten martyrs. Seeing that they had submitted to G-d's decree it became possible to exchange them for Romans and others. The point is that once the lives of these scholars were spared they were in effect reborn. It is therefore no contradiction to say that they had indeed died a martyr's death. These scholars had all "tasted" death so that the sin for which their lives were meant to expiate had been wiped out once and for all.

When the Torah wrote: "and place each man's money at the mouth of his feeding back," this was an allusion that the Torah treats the life-force נפש (nefesh), of a person as equivalent to minted silver whereas his body is compared to a feeding bag seeing it contains the soul (silver). This allusion can be carried a little further by looking at 43:10 when Yehudah said, "we could have returned already twice."  He may have hinted at something we find in Iyov (based on the concept of a soul's repeated return to life on earth in order to cleanse itself of sins committed in a former life). In Iyov 34:36 and 33:29 the point is made that in order to deal finally with some sin, retribution may have to be spread over several installments. (Rabbi Moshe Alshich makes this point more clearly when explaining why G-d did not wipe out Pharaoh with a single plague. His sins were such that a single act of retribution would not have sufficed to punish him. He had to have relief between one affliction and the next in order to absorb and suffer the next installment).

Iyov 33:29 "two or three times with a man," may be a reference to the need for someone to be reincarnated repeatedly in order to expiate for sins committed in a previous incarnation. The words וישובו העירה (vayashuvu ha'irah) describing the return of the brothers to the capital of Egypt (44:13) may be an allusion to Yehudah's feeling on the matter. All the Torah had needed to write was וישובו מצרימה (vayashuvu mitzraymah), "they returned to Egypt." The use of the word העירה (ha'irah - the city) suggests a meta-physical aspect of the matter. Compare the use of the word עיר (ir - city) as a hyperbole in Kohelet 9:14) This is the reason that the Parshah concludes with the words.

וְאַתֶּם עֲלוּ לְשָׁלוֹם אֶל-אֲבִיכֶם
ve'atem alu leshalom el-avichem

and you return and make your peace with your father (in heaven).

Menashe could simply have said, "go on your way in peace." Seeing that the Torah focuses on the ten brothers and the grievous wrong they had done to their brother Yosef, it is not surprising that the Torah also uses this opportunity to hint at the historical consequences of the brothers' behavior at the time. Chazal in Pesachim 50 go so far as to say that the acceptance of G-d's decree by the ten martyrs who died a cruel death at the hands of the Romans for a crime committed over fifteen hundred years earlier put these people into a class by themselves, one that could not be matched in piety/faith by anyone else previously. We can apply to them the verse in Yeshayahu 64:3: "Such things have never been heard or seen. No eye has seen them O G'd, but You, Who acts for those who trust in Him."

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

- Chazal

Parashat Miketz

VAYESHEV PARDES - The Dynasty of King David

Saturday, December 6, 2014 · Posted in , , , ,

Bereishit 38:30
וַיִּקְרָא שְׁמוֹ זָרַח
vayikra shemo Zarach
he called his name Zerach.

The name Zerach (shines) symbolized the sun, whereas the name Peretz (interruption) symbolized the moon. The sun shines uninterruptedly,, daily, whereas the moon is ineffective towards the end of the month and at its beginning. The kingdom of David stemmed from Peretz whose dynasty symbolized the moon and its ups and downs. We know that the moon's orbit is completed every 29 days. This is why you will find that there were 29 righteous people descended from him listed in the Scriptures from the time of Peretz until the last king of the Davidic dynasty, Tzidkiyahu. They are:


They were followed by:


These comprise a total of 29 men corresponding to the days in the lunar orbit; the lunar "sun" sets after such a period of time. The dynasty of David underwent a similar decline after Tzidkiyah and this is why the Temple was destroyed during the lifetime of Tzidkiyah who was the twenty-ninth scion counting from Peretz.  The reason we do not count from Yehudah who was promised Royalty by his father may be that Peretz was Royalty already, his mother having been the daughter of King Malki Tzedek, identical with Shem. If you find it strange that our author lists Menashe as a righteous king when Sefer Melachim described him as the worst heretic ever, the reason many be that he became a penitent and G-d restored him to his throne as reported in 2Divrei HaYamim 33 something not mentioned in the Sefer 2Melachim 21.

However, in Shemot Rabbah 15:26 the calculation is described differently, and the month is given as having thirty days during the first half of which the moon is progressively becoming more powerful, whereas after that it declines visibly. According to the author of that list the first 15 days of the month are characterized by the leaders of the Jewish people from Avraham to Shlomo, whereas the last 15 days symbolize the decline of the Kingdom of Yehudah after the division of the country between Rechavam and Yerovam. This is based on Shemot 12:1. G-d is supposed to have told the Jewish people already prior to their departure from Egypt that the kingdom would not last for than thirty generations, hence the words, "this month (moon) is for you..." The Midrash lists verses in the Tanach to back up the contention that the early ancestors of the Jewish people such as Avraham and Yitzchak are already part of these 30 generations. It quotes a verse in which Avraham is described as "shining," such as Yeshayahu 41:2. It similarly is at pains to prove the same for Yitzchak and Ya'akov. Starting with Yehudah, there is no need for such proofs anymore. The author of the Midrash, aware that most of the Kings of Yehudah actually worshiped idols, does not describe them as an unending string of righteous people but lumps them together as part of the decline of the Davidic dynasty, in spite of the exceptions such as Chiskiyah and Yoshiyah to name but two. According to this Midrash, the prayers of the patriarchs on behalf of their errant children helped to persuade G-d to continue to let that Kingdom exist beyond the time it had a legal right to exist. The Midrash continues for several pages and I have decided to condense it in the interest of brevity. One of the more important points of the comparison between the orbit of the moon and the thirty generations of ascending and descending Jewish political power is the fact that King Tzidkiyah had his eyes gouged out by Nevuchadnetzar, King of Bavel. His subsequent blindness is taken by the Midrash as symbolic of the light of the Jewish "moon" having been extinguished.

Kabbalistically, the verse speaks of two births, two new human beings. There is a profound mystical dimension in this, something of great impact on the dynasty of the house of David. I will reveal to you a small part of that mystical dimension and I ask you to concentrate on what I am about to reveal. We know that the name אלו-הים (Elo-him), with which the Torah describes G-d during the report of the Creation of the universe describes Him as the King of the universe. This Name is identified with the concept תשובה (teshuvah), another name for the emanation בינה (Binah). In plain English, the Attribute with which G-d created the universe is that which is active in the emanation בינה (Binah), the third emanation counting from the highest emanation, i.e. כתר (Keter), down. We acknowledge this Attribute especially on Rosh Hashanah, the "birthday" of the universe, (creation of man) and the days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur when we conclude the third of the blessings in the Amidah prayer by saying, "the Holy KING," or, "the KING who dispenses justice," instead of, "the Holy G-d," or "the King who loves rightesousness and JUSTICE." There is no King without a people or man that He can be King over.

When the Torah reports G-d's directive (Bereishit 1:3) as, "let there be LIGHT and there was LIGHT," this light came into existence by means of the power of the Kingdom of Heaven and Earth which is also known as אלו-הים (Elo-him). The repetition of the word אור (ohr - light) in that directive and the report that it had been carried out, suggests that there were TWO kinds of light. You do not find the subject of the directive repeated when the Torah reports of the directives G-d issued concerning the other days you only find the expression ויהי כן (vayehi-chen - and it was so) to indicate that the universe had responded to G-d's directive.

You should realize that though the Torah appears to speak of two kinds of light, the meaning is not that there were actually two entirely different kinds of light. What is meant is that this light embodied two sources of power, of energy. One of these forces is essentially male, the other essentially female. The creation of the original light, however, was the product of a single source of energy, one which combines within it both male and female elements.  The original light later on enabled the sun, the moon, and the stars to be derived from it and to be concretised.  The original light was independent of any physical matter, sunlight is not. It requires the sun, i.e. a physical body, in order to dispense it. The sun was endowed with the male properties of the original light, whereas the moon was endowed with the female properties of the original light.

Having absorbed this knowledge, we can understand what occurred in the case of Yehudah, Tamar, and these two children born to Tamar and Yehudah respectively.  By means of these two individuals, Peretz and Zerach, we can gain a better understanding of the whole process of Creation.  This is what Chazal had in mind in Berachot 55 when they said, "the kingdom on earth is essentially similar to the kingdom in the celestial regions." Yehudah's name יהודה, gratitude, as we know from Le'ah's feelings of gratitude to G-d meant that by having born more children for Ya'akov than any of his wives he would be appreciative of this. (compare Bereishit 29:35). Seeing that Yehudah was the fourth of the twelve sons who were to make up the Tribes of Yisrael, G-d's Holy Name is part of his name. His Tribe became the leading Tribe in Yisrael and the Kingdom of Yisrael was ruled over by a king from his Tribe, i.e. David and his descendants. It was therefore appropriate that Tamar, herself descended from Royalty, should be married to him. The name Tamar reflects the fact that the original light contained both male and female properties, seeing that תמר (Tamar), a date or date-palm, contains both male and female elements, or rather that the name for both a female palm and a male palm is the same. The לולב (lulav), palm branch, is indicative of the male element in the palm, whereas the fruit, the product of the female palm tree goes by the same name, i.e. תמר (Tamar). It is male on the outside wheres its גרעין (gar'in), its pit, is female. This is something unique, not found in any other kind of tree. It was therefore appropriate that Peretz and Zerach be mothered by Tamar. Zerach corresponded to the element sun, and the male element, the sun which shines without interruption, whereas Peretz corresponded to the element moon, the female element, a light which is uneven, sometimes stronger sometimes waning completely such as the light of the moon. It was therefore almost a historical must that the dynasty of King David be the product of Peretz rather than Zerach, seeing that he, Peretz, as indicated by his name already, represented the type of light we get from the moon, i..e. light which fluctuates constantly in intensity as does the light of the moon.

When the verse is examined intelligently we find that just as the sun is always aligned with the moon just like twins, so Zerach and Peretz were aligned in the womb of their mother, i.e. they were twins. This concept of their being twins was carried so far that even at birth each of them could be taken for the firstborn depending on whether you consider the emergence of the hand or the emergence of the head as determining which one is the firstborn of the two. The Torah describes Zerach as the firstborn seeing that his hand emerged first from Tamar's womb. It says "for he emerged first." On the other hand, the Torah continues with "it was as he was about to pull back his hand (inside the womb)." Note that the Torah did not say that he had actually completed the act of pulling back his hand. Peretz became the firstborn y reason of forcing his way out of the birth canal of his mother past his twin bother Zerach. This is why the Torah writes "after that, his brother, the one who had the red string tied to his hand, emerged." In other words, when we consider the emergence from the womb of the entire baby, as the dominant criterion, Peretz was the firstborn even though Zerach had first put his hand out of his mother's womb. The Torah determined that for halachic purposes emergence of a whole baby from the mother's birth canal first determines who is the true firstborn (Bechorot 46). This is why when the Torah revealed the names of these two twins it first gives us the name of Peretz. You will find an interesting verse in Tehillim 89:28, "I will also appoint him firstborn, highest of the kings of the earth." G-d is on record that He considers David, who biologically was the youngest of his brothers, as a firstborn. Seeing that the kingdom of the house of David is derived from Peretz, and Peretz in turn has been likened to the moon, Chazal formulated the words, David King of Yisrael is alive and endures," when we recite the monthly benedictions welcoming the arrival of the renewal of the light of the moon.

When we look at the plain meaning of that statement it means simply that the moon is equated with David, (in name), seeing David is descended from Peretz who has been compared to the moon. Furthermore, seeing that the moon has been described in the Torah as the "small luminary" (Bereishit 1:16), we find that the adjective "the small one" has also been applied to David (compare 1Shmu'el 17:14). When we say the words חי וקיים (chai vekayam - alive and well), in the recital of יקדוש לבנה (Kiddush Levanah), the sanctification of the new moon, the thought we entertain is that the moon has become visible again this month.

On a more mystical level, these words are a reference to the latent power of the moon which is also known as דוד מלך ישראל (David Melech Yisrael - David, King of Yisrael), in that the word ישראל (Yisrael) is a reference to כנסת ישראל (Knesset Yisrael), the mystical entity called Yisrael in the celestial regions. This is why this entity is described as חי וקיים (alive and well), enduring forever. Dani'el 7:9 alludes to this when he said, "until the thrones were set up." There were two such thrones. In Chagigah 14 Chazal have revealed to us how they understood this verse in Dani'el. "Some hold that one of these thrones was reserved for G-d and the other for David. A second opinion holds that one of these thrones would be used by G-d when He employed the Attribute of Justice, whereas he would use the other throne when employing the Attribute of Charity. A third opinion, that of Rabbi Ele'azar ben Azaryah, contends that one of the 'thrones' was for sitting on, whereas the other served as a footrest." It appears in that folio as if Chazal  of the first view disagreed with the view expressed by those who old that one throne was reserved for David. Actually, Chazal do not disagree with the basic concepts underlying all this. We know this as they derive their opinion from the verse, "and they will seek HASHEM their G-d and David their king." The words "and David their King" are a reference to this concet of K'nesset Yisrael. Concerning the moral/spiritual power represented by K'nesset Yisra'el, Chazal expounded (Zohar Terumah 175) that legally speaking the Benei Yisrael were not slated for exile from their land ever. The decree to exile them was not decided until they had rejected both the Kingdom of Heaven (G-d) and the Kingdom of David. This is based on 2Shmu'el 20:1 "we have no portion in David nor in any inheritance of the son of Yishai. Every man to their tents!" (a proclamation by Sheva ben Bichri, a dissident and heretic, arousing the people to oppose David..

It is important to realize that the word "David" and the words "the son of Yishai" are not a repetition referring to one and the same person as those commentators who concentrate on the plain meaning of the text would have us believe. The meaning of the verse is that Shea ben Bichri and his supporters declared their severance of allegiance to both the kingdom of heaven and the celestial aspect of the kingdom on earth as represented by David in his capacity as the son of Yishai. These people served idols instead. This is why he said, "each one to his god!" Chazal inverted the letters in the word לְאֹהָלָיו (le'ohalav), "to their tents," to read "to their gods," i.e. לאלהיו because the separation of Yisrael from the house of David was regarded as a necessary transition to idolatry; it was looked upon as leaving G-d and the sanctuary for the worship of idolatry in tents. The verses reporting the birth of Zerach mention the word יד (yad) "hand," four times, i.e. וַתִּקְשֹׁר (vatikshor),  עַל-יָדוֹ שָׁנִי (al-yado shani), וַיְהִי כְּמֵשִׁיב יָדוֹ (Vayehi kemeshiv yado), אֲשֶׁר עַל-יָדוֹ הַשָּׁנִי (asher al-yado hashani). These four expressions parallel the four times עכן בן זרח (achan ben zerach), stretched out his hand, i.e committed a trespass against loot captured by the Jewish people in their wars since their departure from Egypt. He hid and retained such loot from the battle against Amalek, against Sichon and Og, from the battle against the Kena'anim and from the capture of Yericho (which was not preceded by a battle in the usual sense of the word) (compare Bereishit Rabbah 85:14).

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

- Chazal

Parashat VaYeshev

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