Balak 5784

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Pinchas’ justified suspicion causation[1]

וירא פינחס בן-אלעזר בן-אהרן הכהן ויקם מתוך העדה ויקח רמח בידו
Pinchas, the son of Elazar, the son of Aharon HaCohen saw, and he got up from the assembly and took a spear in his hand[2]

The end of this week’s parsha describes the tragic sin of Pe’or. The Midianite women came to the Jews in order to entice them to sin. There were thousands who fell for their scheme and succumbed to idol worship and illicit relations. Zimri, the leader of the tribe of Shimon, brazenly took one of the non-Jewish women and was together with her in a public fashion.

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Chukas 5784

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Rebellious fools[1]

ויקהלו משה ואהרן את-הקהל אל-פני הסלע ויאמר להם שמעו-נא המרים המן-הסלע הזה נוציא לכם מים
Moshe and Aharon gathered the congregation in front of the rock, and he said to them: “Listen now, you rebels! Will we really draw forth water from this rock?”[2]

The infamous episode of Mei Merivah, the waters of strife, is fraught with questions. One of which centers on a comment of Rashi[3]. When Moshe called the people “rebels” for requesting miraculous water in the wilderness, Rashi says his intent was “fools”. Now, the Jewish people are known as a “wise and understanding nation”[4]. Why then would Moshe call them fools?

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Korach 5784

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Moshe’s mechila measurement[1]

‏…רב לכם בני לוי
…It’s too much for you, sons of Levi![2]

This week’s parsha chronicles the tragic rebellion of Korach, the Levi, and his band of supporters. Korach claimed that the entire nation was Holy, and was against this whole caste system. Everyone is worthy to be the Kohen Gadol. He also challenged the leadership of Moshe, and the authenticity of his transmission of the word of G-d.

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Shelach 5784

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Mitzvah journey complications[1]

שלח-לך אנשים ויתרו את-ארץ כנען אשר-אני נתן לבני ישראל איש אחד איש אחד למטה אבתיו תשלחו כל נשיא בהם
Send for yourselves men who shall scout out the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the Jewish people. You shall send one person per ancestral tribe, the prince [of that tribe][2]

As the Jews were about to enter the land of Israel, they got the idea to send out spies to scout out the land. They wanted to see the quality of the land, and of the people. Hashem told Moshe that this isn’t the Divine will, but if the people insist, it’s up to Moshe[3]. Unfortunately, the mission ended in disaster. The spies came back and gave a slanderous report about the land, causing them to be punished with death, along with that entire generation. The Jews were sentenced to wander the wilderness for forty years. Their children were the ones who merited to finally enter the land.

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Beha’alosecha 5784

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Paschal passivity perplexion[1]

וידבר יקוק אל-משה במדבר-סיני בשנה השנית לצאתם מארץ מצרים בחודש הראשון לאמר: ויעשו בני-ישראל את-הפסח במועדו
Hashem spoke to Moshe in the wilderness of Sinai, in the second year since they left Egypt, in the first month [of Nissan[, saying: “The Jewish people shall perform the Pesach offering, in its right time”[2]

Sefer Bamidbar starts in the second month of the Jews’ second year in the wilderness[3]. However, this week’s parsha begins talking about what happened in the first month, Nissan. It describes how the Jewish people brought the Pesach offering in the wilderness. Rashi asks[4] the obvious question: Why wasn’t the Torah written chronologically? Why is this section written after the section describing the second month? He answers that really this description of bringing the Pesach offering is disparaging to the Jews. This is because for the entire forty years they were in the desert, this was the only Pesach offering they brought. Therefore, the Torah didn’t want to start Sefer Bamidbar on such a note.

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Nasso 5784

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Nazirite novelties[1]

וזאת תורת הנזיר ביום מלאת ימי נזרו יביא אתו אל-פתח אהל מועד
This is the law of the Nazir on the day that he completes his Nazirite vow. He shall bring him to the entrance of the Tent of Meeting[2]

A Nazir is someone who takes a vow to refrain from consuming grape products, coming in contact with the dead, and from cutting their hair. Upon completion of their vow, which can be for as short or as long as they want, they bring offerings to the Temple and resume a normal life. The Torah describes the Nazir as יביא אותו, “he will bring him” to the Temple. Who is bringing whom? Rashi tells us[3] that in fact, the Nazir is to bring himself. This is one of the three times in the Torah that אותו is interpreted to mean oneself[4]. If that’s the intent, why did the Torah write it this way[5]? Why not just write that the Nazir will go to the Temple?

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Bamidbar/Shavuos 5784

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Hashem’s students; Hashem’s children[1]

אלה תולדות אהרן ומשה ביום דבר יקוק את משה בהר סיני
These are the offspring of Aharon and Moshe on the day that Hashem spoke to Moshe on Mount Sinai[2]

Rashi notes[3] that our verse purports to introduce the offspring of Aharon and Moshe, but only mentions the offspring of Aharon. We learn from here that since Moshe taught Aharon’s children Torah, they are considered by the Torah to be his children as well. Anyone who teaches another Torah, it’s as if they birthed them. Now, the verse ends by mentioning the day that Hashem spoke to Moshe on Mount Sinai. If we connect this idea to the end of the verse, then it means they became considered like Moshe’s children on the day that Hashem first spoke to Moshe on Mount Sinai.

However, this requires investigation. We don’t have any indication that on the day that Hashem started speaking to Moshe, he had already taught Aharon’s children. Why then would they be considered his children, already on that day? Even if we suppose he did teach them, the verse is stressing the reason they were considered his children was because it was the day that Hashem started speaking to Moshe. It doesn’t mention because he started teaching them that day.

Our Sages teach us[4] that the prophet Shmuel was quite an intelligent child. Already at the age of two[5], he ruled on a matter of Jewish law. His teacher Eli, the Kohen Gadol, was present at the time. This was considered a violation of the principle of not ruling in front of one’s teacher. However, Tosafos ask[6] that this was the day that he first came to Eli. He hadn’t yet learned from him. Why then was this considered ruling in front of one’s teacher?

Tosafos answer that nevertheless, Eli was the greatest scholar of the generation, and Shmuel came before him to learn. Some understand[7] this to be really two answers. It’s enough for Eli to be the greatest of the generation for this principle to apply, despite not having yet learned from him. Or, since Shmuel came before Eli to learn from him, he was already considered his teacher. This is despite not yet having learned anything from him.

Now we can understand the children of Aharon. The day that Moshe went to Mount Sinai to accept the Torah, the children of Aharon were already designated to receive it directly from Moshe. Therefore, from that day on they were considered his students, and thus his children.

Before the Torah was given, the Jews famously declared, “We will do and we will listen”[8]. Since they preceded doing to listening, showing their unconditional devotion to Hashem, our Sages say[9] that they were called the firstborn children of Hashem[10]. According to the above principle, it sounds like the reason they were considered Hashem’s children was because Hashem had taught them Torah. But this was before they were taught the Torah! Based on what we already said, there’s no contradiction. Since they came before Hashem to receive the Torah, they were already considered His students, and thus His children[11].

Now, Rashi comments[12] that they were called Hashem’s firstborn because it was known before Him that they would eventually say, “We will do and we will listen”. Rashi was bothered that the verse which calls the Jews Hashem’s firstborn was said while the Jews were still slaves in Egypt. Whereas, they said, “We will do and we will listen” at Mount Sinai. To this, Rashi explains that it was known before Hashem that they would say this, even before the Exodus. As already explained, when a student comes before the teacher, they are already considered their child. Since Hashem knew they would stand before Him at Mount Sinai, even in Egypt they were considered His students, and thus His children.

We can say further that the whole purpose of the Exodus from Egypt was so the Jews could serve Hashem on Mount Sinai[13]. It comes out then that the Exodus was on the condition to accept the Torah. This is similar to what Tosafos wrote, that once a person goes to learn Torah, they are already considered a student. So too, the Jews were called Hashem’s children immediately when they left Egypt[14].

Good Shabbos and Chag Sameach

[1] Based on MiShulchan Rav Eliyahu Baruch to Numbers 3:1

[2] Numbers loc. cit.

[3] Ad. loc.

[4] Berachos 31b

[5] Maharsha ad. loc.; Moshav Zekeinim to Genesis 38:7. Note that the Chasam Sofer’s Toras Moshe parshas Nitzavim Drush L’Chaf Zayin Elul 5597 s.v. ויגמל quotes the Maharsha as saying he was seven years old. This is seemingly a typo. The correct quotation is in Derashos Chasam Sofer II p. 369 col. 1. In Derashos Chasam Sofer Hashalem ad. loc. note 1 they write that the derasha in Toras Moshe was clearly written by a student, based on an oral tradition

[6] Berachos loc. cit.

[7] Terumas HaDeshen 1:138, cited by Gilyon HaShas ad. loc. Tosafos Rabbeinu Peretz ad. loc. also implies its two answers. This is not like the Maharik § 169, who understands both reasons together are necessary

[8] Exodus 24:7

[9] Shabbos 89b

[10] Exodus 4:22

[11] See Sha’arei Teshuva 2:10

[12] Shabbos loc. cit.

[13] Exodus 3:12

[14] Although, Hashem called them His firstborn even before Moshe went to Egypt to free them

Emor 5784

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Priestly Parentage Problems and Prohibitions[1]

יאמר יקוק אל-משה אמר אל-הכהנים בני אהרן ואמרת אלהם לנפש לא-יטמא בעמיו: כי אם-לשארו הקרב אליו לאמו ולאביו ולבנו ולבתו ולאחיו: ולאחתו וגו’‏
Hashem said to Moshe: “Tell the Kohanim, the children of Aharon, and say to them: [The Kohen] shouldn’t contaminate himself by coming in contact with the dead in his nation. Except for his wife who is close to him, his mother, his father, his son, his daughter, and his brother. His sister…”[2]

It’s well known that a Kohen cannot enter a cemetery, or fully attend a funeral. An exception is made for close relatives. What’s interesting is when the Torah lists the exceptions, it lists the Kohen’s mother first, and then his father. Usually, the Torah lists males before females. Why was the order switched in this case? Some suggest[3] a historical answer. While, thankfully, it’s not the case these days, but women used to have a much shorter life expectancy than men. Women would often die in childbirth, and they often had other health problems[4]. As such, a Kohen’s mother was more likely to die than his father. Therefore, the Torah lists her exception first, and only then the father’s.

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Acharei Mos 5784

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The prohibition of a woman’s sister[1]

ואשה אל-אחתה לא תקח לצרר לגלות ערותה עליה בחייה
A woman, do not take her sister in marriage, to cause quarrelling, to reveal her nakedness upon her in her lifetime[2]

At the end of the parsha, we are taught a series of forbidden relationships, one of which is the prohibition of marrying one’s wife’s sister. However, the verse is expressed in a strange way. It says, “a woman, do not take her sister in marriage”. Now, the prohibition isn’t to marry any woman who is a sister. Only one’s wife’s sister. Why doesn’t it say don’t marry your wife’s sister? Or your sister-in-law?

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Shevii shel Pesach 5784

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Songs of praise, or storytelling?[1]

אפילו כולנו חכמים כולנו נבונים כולנו זקנים כולם יודעים את התורה, מצוה עלינו לספר ביציאת מצרים
Even if we are all Sages, all of us are people of understanding, all of us are elders, all of us know the Torah, it’s a mitzvah for us to recount the story of the Exodus from Egypt[2]

On Seder night, we are commanded to recount the Pesach story to our children. This is seemingly different than the regular daily mitzvah to recall the Exodus from Egypt. Perhaps we can suggest two reasons for the once-a-year mitzvah of recounting the story: (1) It’s purely expressing and acknowledging to our children all of the miracles that Hashem performed for us. This approach fits simply with the verse: “When your child will ask you on that day….you shall recount to him”.[3] It sounds like the mitzvah is simply a response to the child’s curiosity. (2) It’s a form of song and praise to Hashem, not simply a retelling of the story[4].

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