Archive for January 2017

Bo - Locust Plague

Saturday, January 28, 2017 · Posted in , , ,


וַיַּעַל הָאַרְבֶּה עַל כָּל-אֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם וַיָּנַח בְּכֹל גְּבוּל מִצְרָיִם כָּבֵד מְאֹד-לְפָנָיו לֹא-הָיָה כֵן אַרְבֶּה כָּמֹהוּ וְאַחֲרָיו לֹא יִהְיֶה-כֵּן

Vaya'al ha'arbeh al kol-eretz Mitzrayim vayanach bechol gvul Mitzrayim kaved me'od lefanav lo-hayah chen arbeh kamohu ve'acharav lo yihyeh-ken.
10:14 The locusts went up on the land of Egypt, and rested on all the Egyptian territory. It was very severe. Never before had there been such a locust plague, and never again.

There are seven types of locusts mentioned in Scripture:

  1. Arbeh (Arbeh is the only term found in this section. It is also counted as an edible, kosher insect in Vayikra 11;22.)
  2. Salam
  3. Chargol (Vayikra 11:22)
  4. Chagav (Vaykra 11:22)
  5. Gazam (Yo'el 1:4, 2:25; Amos 4:9)
  6. Yelek (Yo'el 1:4, 2:25; Yirmeyahu 51:14, 51:27; Nachum 3:15, 16; Tehillim 105;34)
  7. Chasil (Yo'el 1:4, 2:25; Melachim Alef 8:37, Devrei Hayamim Bet 6:28; Yeshayahu 33:4; Tehillim 78:46)
All these destructive species of locusts attacked Egypt at once. For this reason, the word "locusts" (arbeh) is mentioned seven times in this section. The Torah refers to the plague in general as arbeh, since this species was by far the numerous. (Bachya)

The Torah says that "never again" would there be such a plague referring to specifically to arbeh. Never again would there be so many arbeh all at once. there might be plagues of other types of locusts, and altogether they might outnumber the arbeh of Egypt. No single species, however, would ever outnumber these arbeh.

- Me'am Lo'ez, Bachya

VAYECHI PARDES - Efrayim and Menasheh

Monday, January 9, 2017 · Posted in , , , , , ,

Ya'akov Blessing Efrayim and Menasheh

וַיִּקַּח יוֹסֵף, אֶת-שְׁנֵיהֶם--אֶת-אֶפְרַיִם בִּימִינוֹ מִשְּׂמֹאל יִשְׂרָאֵל, וְאֶת-מְנַשֶּׁה בִשְׂמֹאלוֹ מִימִין יִשְׂרָאֵל; וַיַּגֵּשׁ, אֵלָיו
Vayikach Yosef et-shneihem et-Efrayim bimino mismol Yisra'el ve'et-Menasheh vismolo mimin Yisra'el vayagesh elav.
48:13 Yosef took the two, Efrayim in his right hand to Yisra'el's left, and Menasheh in his left, to Yisra'el's right, and he came close to him.

 וַיִּשְׁלַח יִשְׂרָאֵל אֶת-יְמִינוֹ וַיָּשֶׁת עַל-רֹאשׁ אֶפְרַיִם וְהוּא הַצָּעִיר וְאֶת-שְׂמֹאלוֹ עַל-רֹאשׁ מְנַשֶּׁה  שִׂכֵּל אֶת-יָדָיו כִּי מְנַשֶּׁה הַבְּכוֹר
Vayishlach Yisra'el et-yemino vayashet al-rosh Efrayim vehu hatza'ir ve'et-smolo al-rosh Menasheh sikel et-yadav ki Menasheh habechor.
48:14 Yisra'el stretched out his right hand and placed it on Efrayim's head [although] he was the younger one. His left hand [he placed] on Menasheh's head. He deliberately crossed his hands, although Menasheh was the firstborn.

Yosef presented them to his father in the proper order, Menasheh the older one on his father's right, and Efrayim the younger one on his father's left. Ya'akov realized that this was the order in which Yosef would place his sons before him. This is why he crossed his arms in order to place his right hand on the head of Efrayim and the left hand on the head of Menasheh. He possessed sufficient divine inspiration to foresee that historically Efrayim would be of greater significance than his senior brother Menasheh. This is why he said of Menasheh (v19) "he too will become a nation, however his younger brother will be greater than he."

According to Rabbeinu Chananel Ya'akov did not actually cross his arms but he placed his hands one on top of the other. What the Rabbi meant was that Ya'akov did not rearrange the position of the boys but the position of his hands. This does not seem right. We do not need Rabbeinu Chananel to tell us this as the Torah had already made it plain that the lads remained in their respective positions but that Ya'akov crossed his hands!

The correct interpretation of Rabbeinu Chananel appears to be that the words שִׂכֵּל אֶת-יָדָיו, "he crossed his hands" mean that relative to Yosef he rearranged his hands. When the Torah said "he stretched out his right hand and placed it on Efrayim's head," the meaning is that he rearranged the boys and placed them so that Efrayim was opposite his right hand, etc. He also rearranged the position of Menasheh so that he stood opposite Ya'akov's left hand. He did not rearrange his own hands at all. All he did was to rearrange the position of the boys. This is the correct meaning of the words שִׂכֵּל אֶת-יָדָיו, i.e. he rearranged them differently from the say Yosef had arranged them. The blessing took effect as a result of Ya'akov placing his hands firmly on the heads of the lads. We find something similar in Bamidbar 27:23 where Moshe placed his hands on Yehoshua and proceeded to bless him, making him his successor. The act of placing one's hands on the person one blesses is designed to facilitate the transfer of the ruach ha-kodesh possessed by the one conferring the blessing to the recipient of said blessing.

When the Sages of old ordained someone they also literally placed their hands on the head of the person so ordained. In the case of the kohanim blessing the people this was physically impossible. Instead the kohen spread his hands heavenwards in a gesture commanding G-d's blessing on those present. This is the deeper meaning of the words שִׂכֵּל אֶת-יָדָיו, the word שִׂכֵּל being derived from שכל, חכמה, "intelligence, wisdom." The ten fingers are to be the instrument which draws down blessings from its celestial source.

כִּי מְנַשֶּׁה הַבְּכוֹר
ki Menasheh habechor
although Menasheh was the first born.

Ya'akov ignored this biological phenomenon as the younger of Yosef's sons displayed signs of spiritual superiority. The use of the word כִּי in the sense of "although" is not unique. We find it being used in the same sense in Tehillim 41:5 רְפָאָה נַפְשִׁי, כִּי-חָטָאתִי לָךְ, "heal me although I have sinned against You." Another example of the use of the word כִּי in the sense of "although" is found in our daily prayer: "forgive us our Father although we have sinned." It would certainly not be logical to translate the words סלח לנו אבינו כי חטאנו, "forgive us our Father for we have sinned."

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


- Bachya, Me'am Lo'ez


VAYECHI PARDES - The End of Days

Sunday, January 8, 2017 · Posted in , , ,

Then Yaakov called for his sons and said, 
"Assemble yourselves and I will tell you what will befall you in the End of Days..." 
[art by Yoram Raanan]


וַיְהִי יְמֵי-יַעֲקֹב שְׁנֵי חַיָּיו--שֶׁבַע שָׁנִים וְאַרְבָּעִים וּמְאַת שָׁנָה
vayehi yemei-Ya'akov shnei chayav sheva shanim ve'arba'im ume'at shanah
Ya'akov's days, the years of his life, were 147 years.

This Parsha is "closed," i.e. we do not have the customary separation of words, lines or letters between the last portion and this one. There are two reasons for this:

  1. The exile was about to start and the hearts of the Benei Yisrael became "closed" due to the progressively increasing difficulties in their daily lives.
  2. Ya'akov wanted to compensate for their feeling that a deterioration in their lives was about to take place by revealing to them the glorious future in store for them after the redemption.
However, he was unable to do so. In other words, Ya'akov's channels of communication with the celestial regions had become "closed." H had announced that he would reveal to them "what will befall you in the end of days" (49:1). When when reading what follows it becomes clear that this is not what Ya'akov announced. The "end of days" Ya'akov had in mind was the exile in which we find ourselves now, not the exile in Egypt or Bavel. Seeing that Ya'akov was the third of the patriarchs it is reasonable that his life should have foreshadowed experiences of the Jewish people during their third exile, i.e. our exile. At any rate, G-d would not let him reveal these matters and even Dani'el (Dani'el 12:9 states that these matters remained sealed secrets until the end of that exile. Chazal felt that Dani'el had known about these developments and that is why the angel had to tell him to obscure the matter (Dani'el 12;4).

Yeshayahu said something similar in Yeshayahu 9:6 where we read: לםרבה הַמִּשְׂרָה וּלְשָׁלוֹם אֵין-קֵץ. The final letter ם (mem sofit) in the middle of the word לםרבה where we should have had a regular "open" letter מ (mem). is a warning that whatever the areas in which Yisrael excels, these will not be in evidence during their exiles. The prophet seems to be saying that even attempts to hasten the redemption through Torah-study, through establishing G-d's authority on earth, etc., will not affect G-d's timetable. It is interesting that we find exactly the reverse phenomenon in Sefer Ezra (Nechemyah 2:13) where an open letter מ (mem) appears at the end of a word, i.e. בְּחוֹמֹת יְרוּשָׁלִַם אֲשֶׁר הֵמ פְּרוּצִים, "the walls of Yerushalayim which are broken down." A Midrash comments on this verse that this is an allusion that whereas when the walls of Yerushalayim which are now "open," i.e. broken down, were still "closed," i.e. intact, such as during the period of the Temple, G-d's authority which had been "closed", i.e. not in evidence during that period, will re-emerge and reassert itself as a result of the Jewish people learning their lesson during a harsh exile. Just as the two letters  מ (mem) in the verses quoted from Yeshayahu and Nechemyah respectively contain allusions to maters hidden from us, so the unusual absence of a division between the two portions Vayigash and Vayechi also contain allusions to matters hidden from us, i.e. hidden from Ya'akov.

There is a Midrash according to which Ya'akov saw that the names of this twelve sons (the future Tribes of Yisrael) contained between them all the letters of the alphabet except the letters ח (chet) and ט (tet). He concluded that this was a hint that none of these sons were guilty of a sin (chet). This prompted him to reveal to them what he knew about the period preceding the final redemption. When he re-examined the letters in the names of the sons and realized that the letters ק (qof) and צ (tzadi) also did not appear in the names of any of them, he reconsidered and decided that his sons were not fit to have this information revealed to them. He therefore desisted, and this is why this portion is "closed."

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

- Bachya



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