The morning light
למנצח על אילת השחר מזמור לדוד
For the conductor, regarding a morning doe, a song of David
Our Sages understood the twenty second chapter of Psalms to have been composed by Queen Esther. It starts off describing a אילת השחר, literally translated as a morning doe. What is this referring to? We are taught that just like the morning is the end of the night, so too the story of Esther and Purim is the end of all miracles. This comparison seems counterintuitive. Miracles convey a revelation to the Divine. Presumably, this would be allegorized as light. Yet, we are comparing the end of miracles with the beginning of the daytime, which is obviously associated with an increase in light, not a decrease. How are to make sense of this comparison?
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Igniting the flames of the past
ברוך אתה יקוק אלקינו מלך העולם אשר קדשנו במצותיו וציונו להדליק נר (של) חנוכה…שעשה ניסים לאבותינו בימים ההם בזמן הזה
Blessed are you Hashem, our G-d, King of the Universe, who sanctified us with His commandments, and commanded us to ignite the light of Chanukah…Who performed miracles for our ancestors in those days, at this time
The Sefas Emes makes an interesting observation regarding the blessing we say when we light the Chanukah candles. We say אשר קדשנו במצותיו וציונו להדליק נר (של) חנוכה, Who sanctified us with His commandments, and commanded us to ignite the light of Chanukah. If we were composing the text of the blessing, what would it say? Probably something more like וציונו להדליק נרות בחנוכה, that He commanded us to light candles on Chanukah. What does it mean to ignite the light of Chanukah? It sounds like there’s some pre-existing light of the festival of Chanukah, and we’re somehow tapping into it…Another question we can ask is on the second blessing, which says that Hashem performed miracles for our ancestors in those days, at this time. Why do we end with the phrase “at this time”? What does that add to the blessing?
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וירם משה את-ידו ויך את-הסלע במטהו פעמים ויצאו מים רבים ותשת העדה ובעירם
Moshe raised his hand and struck the rock twice with his staff. A lot of water came out and quenched the thirst of the congregation and their animals
The episode of Mei Merivah is one of the more famous episodes in the Torah, and one of the most difficult to understand. The whole story is only a few verses long, and describes the Jews’ thirst for water, Hashem commanding Moshe to speak to a rock, and Moshe’s sin of instead hitting this rock. The commentators struggle to understand what exactly he did wrong. Despite Moshe’s sin, the people got the water they requested. Hashem miraculously brought forth water from a rock, just because Moshe hit it. The verse says that a lot of water came out. This extra benefit would seem to be something positive, but perhaps there’s more to this miracle than meets the eye.
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The end of all miracles
למנצח על אילת השחר מזמור לדוד
For the conductor, regarding a morning doe, a song for David
We are taught that Psalms Chapter was recited by Esther. It starts off by referring to a morning doe. The gemarra explains why she decided to start her composition this way. She wanted to inform us that just like the morning is the end of the night, so too the miracles of Purim were the end of all miracles. To this, the gemarra retorts that Chanukah also had miracles. The gemarra says that Chanukah wasn’t recorded in Tanach, unlike Purim. While this may be true, its still misleading to say that Purim was the end of all miracles. What was Esther trying to convey? As well, what’s the significance of saying that the morning is the end of the night? One could just as easily say that the night is the end of the day.
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Two types of sukkos
למען ידעו דרתיכם כי בסֻכות הושבתי את-בני ישראל בהוציאי אותם מארץ מצרים אני יקוק אלקיכם
In order that your generations shall know that I placed the Jewish people in sukkos, when I took them out of the land of Egypt; I am Hashem your G-d
The verse explaining the purpose of dwelling in sukkos has an anomaly. The word סֻכות is written in full, instead of more the concise סֻכֹת, as it’s spelled when the Torah actually commands us to dwell in them. Why is this so? This is to hint to the two opinions as to which kind of sukkos we are meant to recall when we dwell in our personal sukkos. One opinion focuses on the fact that the Jews were surrounded by Hashem’s Clouds of Glory during their travels in the wilderness. We are to recall this (temporary) Divine shelter by dwelling in our temporary sukkos. The other opinion is that the Jews themselves dwelled in temporary huts called sukkos, during their battles in the land of Sichon and Og . If the word סכת was written concisely, it would look like it’s referring to one sukkah. Written out in full refers to multiple sukkos, and thus alludes to these two opinions.
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A kiss from above
והנה אורחת ישמעאלים באה מגלעד וגמליהם נושאים נכאת וצרי ולט הולכים להוריד מצרימה
…behold an Arab caravan was coming from Gilad, and their camels were carrying spices, balm, and lotus; they were taking them to Egypt
The gemarra asks the innocent question: What was the miracle which prompted the establishment of the holiday of Chanukah? It answers that the Greeks, after they conquered the land of Israel, entered the Holy Temple and defiled all the oil that was to be found. When the Jews defeated them, they searched all around for sanctified oil to be used for the Menorah. All they could find was a single vessel that was still sealed. However, there was only enough oil in the vessel to last for one day. They used it anyways, and a miracle happened where the oil lasted for eight days. The following year they established that time of year as a season of rejoicing, with songs of praise and thanks.
Continue reading “Vayeishev and Chanukah 5779”
A fortunate chain of events
וירדף אחריו דרך שבעת ימים וגו’ וישג לבן את-יעקב וגו’
[Lavan] chased after [Yaakov] a seven-day journey…and Lavan caught up to Yaakov…
After Yaakov was scammed and abused by his uncle Lavan for over twenty years, he decided to flee with his family back to his homeland. Instead of informing his uncle of their departure, he decided to leave without notice. He was a six-day distance from Lavan before the latter realized what had happened. Lavan chased after Yaakov on the seventh day, and on that very day managed to catch up with him. This is seemingly miraculous. How did Lavan travel so far in one day, something which took Yaakov much longer? This tells us that a miracle happened, and the Earth contracted so that Lavan would catch up to Yaakov. Why didn’t this same miracle happen for Yaakov, so that he would arrive home before Lavan could catch up? Also, why would such a miracle be performed for Lavan, who’s intention was to kill Yaakov?
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Surrounded by walls of water
הים ראה וינס הירדן יסב לאחור
The Reed Sea saw and ran away, the Jordan River turned backwards
On the seventh day of Pesach, we commemorate the day of the great miracle of the splitting of the sea. On the Jew’s seventh day of their Exodus from Egypt, the sea’s splitting allowed them to escape the Egyptians once and for all. As an expression of their thanks to Hashem for saving them, they sang what is known as the Song of the Sea. One of the chapters of Psalms describes the miracles that occurred during this monumental event. The verse unusually describes the sea as running away. Why didn’t it use the more appropriate term: that the sea split?
Continue reading “Pesach 5778 #2”