Sunday, 19 November 2017

Parsha: Miketz and Vayeitzei, "Parsha breaks"

All things considered, it's a wonderful thing to live in the United States, a society with the right to Freedom of Speech. Unlike driving an automobile, there is no license required. Just find a soap-box and start speaking. One of the consequences is that since speech is therefore 'free," sometimes 'you get what you pay for it." 
Lately, I've realized how much absolute nonsense can be passed off as "Torah" and how many speakers present "facts" that are really misquotes or half-truths.

I've worked in data processing for many years.  Whether a program, design, or documentation, quality control was a major part of any product. At any rate, most errors were readily discovered by users, often accompanied by embarrassing results.

One of the early mis-steps I heard years ago. A member of my old Congregation [viz. COS] would fill me every Friday night on our way home from shul. He attended a local parsha class and would share with me some of the thoughts of the weekly speaker. This one week, he told me a D'var Torah re: Vayetze that it was the ONLY Weekly Sidrah that had no [i.e. zero] Parsha breaks. I exclaimed: "That is no true! Parshas Mikketz ALSO has zero parsha breaks!" FWIW, Mikketz was my friend's own bar-mitzvah Sidrah! The D'var Torah would have probably worked even if were not the ONLY exception but I was disappointed that the speaker was not more meticulous with his facts.
Fast Forward to this past Friday Night. The speak said an excellent D'var Torah all around, but at the end he inserted a very mis-leading interpretation. He stated [as per Rashi who quotes the Midrash Rabbah] that Vayishkav Ya'akov bamakom hahu meant Ya'akov had not slept his entire 14 years at Yeshivas Sheim vo'ever. I corrected the speaker later on, in private. I explained that Rashi/Midrash meant he had not "LIED DOWN to sleep" not that in fact had never slept! The implication is quite far different. Never sleeping for x number of days is an impossibility as per the Gmara re: Nedarim. OTOH, not lying down for a period of time merely presents Ya'akov as an ascetic not as a magician! After all, my own rebbe, R. Moshe Heinemann related to us that he slept in a sofa-chair for a period [a year or so?] whilst attending Lakewood. Sleep - Yes; lying down - No. Today, I confirmed that the Midrash Rabbah Hamevo'ar specifically interprets lack of Shechiva as meaning he did not lie down in a bed any sheinas keva. This can be further confirmed by the lack of Midrash on Vayalen SHAM. Point? A story of Ya'akov's p'rishus and hasmaddah is changed to a kind of Hassidic miracle story by lack of attention to the details!
But I'm not off MY soap box yet! In another faulty transmission, a noted Rav and Talmid Chacham was discussing the reading for Shabbos Hol Mamo'ed Sukkos. In his speech, he claimed that unlike the first luchos, Moshe himself WROTE the second set! Well the passuk says: "Pesal LECHA … v'chaszvTI" that God tells Moshe to CARVE the Luchos and God will write the 2nd set! I avoided correcting this rabbi because I had corrected him in the past and I did not wish to become a pest! But it is a shame the his audience may be unaware of his transmission error.
I was just informed a few hours ago that someone had given a D'var Torah asserting that the argument between Ya'akov with Shim'on/Levi was that Ya'akov was in favor of assimilation while Shim'on/Levi were opposed. Even the audience found that one shocking! While we can question Dinah's motives "lir'os bivnos ho'oretz" as possibly wishing to incorporate local fashion into her wardrobe, attributing assimilation to Ya'akov himself is quote a stretch.

Maybe Torah Authors and Speakers should have their writings go through quality control first. In the meantime, caveat emptor.


Parallels Between Sulam Yaakov and Migdal Bavel

Guest Blogger: R Shaul Robinson

* * * * *
In Israel last week I bought the Sefer "Parshut' of Rav Chaim Navon. I am a big fan of the 'pshuto shel mikra / inter textual analysis' of Chumash...

One of the ideas he discusses on the parsha was a real eye opener for me because I'd never heard of it before - the textual similarities between Ya'akov's dream and the Tower of Bavel. The examples are very persuasive - Rosh bashamayim pen nafutz vs ufaratzta - Bavel as 'Gate of G-d' vs Sha'ar Hashamayim, going to and from Kedem etc...

After reading as much as I could about this (and sites like vbm , Bar Ilan all have a number of shiurim on these parallels) I was left with the following question. None of the Rishonim from what I can see, noted this parallel. Neither, more significantly, it would appear did Chazal (at least from checking Torah Sheleimah - and , one can often find a lot of the 'new' style of p'shat interpretation anticipated in Midrashim) ... So what do we conclude from this complete absence in traditional sources of something that seems textually compelling? That it must be wrong / irrelevant because Chazal would have pointed it out? I.E. its 'outside the masorah' of exegesis..or that the links are there, but the Masorah is that it's not important, because we are supposed to draw other lessons from the story of Ya'akov's dream? Or that even though the Rishonim never said it, its a completely valid form of interpretation that one can in good conscience teach as the Emet of Torah

Kol Tuv,

Parsha: Vayetzei, "Reflecting upon Quality Control"

All things considered, it's a wonderful thing to live in a Free Society here in North America. People are free to talk and say what they want. Unlike driving an automobile, there is no license required. Just find yourself a soap-box, then speak. 
One consequence of this freedom of speech is that  you sometimes 'get what you pay for it!" I've lately realized how much absolute nonsense can be passed off as "Torah". Perhaps more insidious, how many inaccuracies are passed off by speakers as 'fact" when they are really misquotes or half-truths
I worked for many years in data processing. Usually some kind of quality control went into a product. Rarely was anything written without testing or some kind of peer review.  At any rate, users easily found most errors, often with embarrassing results.

Many years ago, I heard a mistake. A member of my old Congregation [viz. COS] attended a local parsha class. He would share some of the weekly speaker's thoughts with me every Friday night on the way home from shul. One week, he told me a D'var Torah about Vayetzei, claiming it was the ONLY Weekly Sidrah without any Parsha breaks. 
I exclaimed: "That isn't true! Parshat Mikketz ALSO has zero parsha breaks!" In fact, Mikketz was my friend's own bar-mitzvah Sidrah! The D'var Torah would have probably worked even if it weren't the ONLY exception but I felt disappointed that the speaker wasn't more careful about his facts.

Fast Forward to a subsequent Friday Night. Although the speaker's Dvar Torah was mostly excellent, he inserted a very misleading interpretation at the end. He stated that Vayishkav Ya'akov bamakom hahu meant Ya'akov hadn't slept during all of the 14 years he spent studying at Yeshivat Sheim V'Eiver. (Rashi, quoting Midrash Rabbah
I privately corrected the speaker later on, explaining the implication is something very different. Rashi, quoting the Midrash, had meant that he had not "LAIN DOWN to sleep" not that, in fact, he had never slept!  The Gemara, Nedarim, states that it's impossible to to never sleep for x number of days.  
OTOH, not lying down for a period of time just shows Ya'akov as an ascetic, not as a magician! After all, my own rebbe, R. Moshe Heinemann, related to us that he slept in a sofa-chair for a period [a year or so?] whilst attending Lakewood. 
Did Yaakov sleep? Yes. Did he lay down? No. 
Today, I confirmed that the Midrash Rabbah Hamevo'ar interprets lack of Shechiva to mean that Yaakov didn't lay down in a bed any sheinas keva. This can be further confirmed by the lack of Midrash on Vayalen SHAM
What's the point?  A story of Ya'akov's p'rishut and hatmaddah is changed to a kind of Hassidic miracle story through a lack of attention to the details!

However, I'm still on my soap box! Once, a noted Rav and Talmid Chacham was discussing the reading for Shabbos Hol Mamo'ed Sukkos. He claimed that unlike the first luchos, Moshe himself WROTE the second set! The passuk says: "Pesal LECHA … v'chaszvTI"  God tells Moshe to CARVE the Luchot and God will write the 2nd set! I avoided correcting this rabbi because I had corrected him in the past; I didn't wish to become a pest! But it's a shame that his audience may be unaware of his error.

Just a few hours ago, I was informed of another mistake. Yesterday, someone had given a Dvar Torah claiming that the argument between Yaakov and Shimon/Levi concerned assimilation; Yaakov was in favor, while Shim'on/Levi were opposed. Even the audience was shocked! Even though we may question Dinah's motives "lir'ot bivnot ha'aretz" as a possible wish to to assimilate local fashion into her wardrobe, it is quite a stretch to attribute assimilation to Ya'akov himself.

Maybe Torah authors and speakers should have their writings go through quality control before they present them. In the meantime, caveat emptor.


Sunday, 12 November 2017

Parsha: Toldot, "Quid Pro Quo?"

It's often assumed that Esav exchanged his Bechora for Yaakov's bowl of lentil soup, "Lechem unzid adashim." (Beraishit: 25:30)

Well, I question that premise! The passage does lend itself to that interpretation, but IMHO that is a bit imprecise.

Look at Esav's reaction. It shows him dismissing Yaakov's proposal, not giving his consent. Esav doesn't seem to say, "Deal!" Esav seems to say, "Take the Bechorah and shove it. I'm starving! Feed me. " 

Given Esav's reaction - what was Yaakov's proposal? 

My interpretation is simple. Yaakov was only proposing to negotiate for the Bechorah over dinner. He delayed Esav's dinner in order to induce Esav to enter into negotiations. Esav, however, completely dismissed these negotiations. Since he thought the bechorah worthless, he gave it to Yaakov.  Only then did Yaakov begin to feed Esav

Go over and parse the P'suqim carefully and see which model you prefer.

To "quid pro quo" Or NOT to "quid pro quo"

Did Esav swap a dish of lentils for his Bechorah? Or did he simply refuse to bother with any haggling while starving, and so just tossed the Bechorah aside?

To be fair to the usual assumption, Yaakov did take advantage of Esav's condition, and Esav might have had "seller's remorse" after sating his appetite.  The bottom line may seem a "quid pro quo" anyway.


Pick Your Parshanut Preferences - Yaakov and Esav

Originally published on Nishmablog on 12/21/10, 9:13 am.

Which approach do you prefer?

A. Choice #1. Genesis 25 / Hebrew Bible in English / Mechon-Mamre
27 And the boys grew; and Esau was a cunning hunter, a man of the field; and Jacob was a quiet man, dwelling in tents.
28 Now Isaac loved Esau, because he did eat of his venison; and Rebekah loved Jacob.
29 And Jacob sod pottage; and Esau came in from the field, and he was faint.
30 And Esau said to Jacob: 'Let me swallow, I pray thee, some of this red, red pottage; for I am faint.' Therefore was his name called Edom. 31 And Jacob said: 'Sell me first thy birthright.'
32 And Esau said: 'Behold, I am at the point to die; and what profit shall the birthright do to me?'
33 And Jacob said: 'Swear to me first'; and he swore unto him; and he sold his birthright unto Jacob.
34 And Jacob gave Esau bread and pottage of lentils; and he did eat and drink, and rose up, and went his way. So* Esau despised his birthright.
* new JPS has "Thereby"


B. Choice #2. FREE Online Youngs Literal Translation. Genesis Chapter 25:1-34.
GEN 25:27 And the youths grew, and Esau is a man acquainted `with' hunting, a man of the field; and Jacob `is' a plain man, inhabiting tents;GEN 25:28 and Isaac loveth Esau, for `his' hunting `is' in his mouth; and Rebekah is loving Jacob.GEN 25:29 And Jacob boileth pottage, and Esau cometh in from the field, and he `is' weary;
GEN 25:30 and Esau saith unto Jacob, `Let me eat, I pray thee, some of this red red thing, for I `am' weary;' therefore hath `one' called his name Edom `Red';
GEN 25:31 and Jacob saith, `Sell to-day thy birthright to me.' GEN 25:32 And Esau saith, `Lo, I am going to die, and what is this to me -- birthright?'
GEN 25:33 and Jacob saith, `Swear to me to-day:' and he sweareth to him, and selleth his birthright to Jacob;
GEN 25:34 and Jacob hath given to Esau bread and pottage of lentiles, and he eateth, and drinketh, and riseth, and goeth; and Esau despiseth the birthright.

Kayyom - do you prefer "first" or "to-day"?
Vayivez do you prefer "And Esau" vs.
C. How does Yaakov come across differently across the 2 translations?
D. How does Esau come across differently across the 2 translations?


Parsha: Toldot, "Sometimes a Concordance is better than a Dictionary"

Quite a while ago, a friend asked me, what does "gadalta" mean in Tehillim: 104:1?
Why does it say that Hashem is very great? If Hashem cannot be defined by SIZE, then how can Hashem grow bigger or older?
In order to answer my friend's question, I picked up a Concordance.


One of the first entries for the word, "gadalta," is found in Parshat Toldot at the start of shlishi, the third aliyaBereishit: 26:13Vayigdal Ho'ish ...
In this context, Yitzchak Avinu wasn't growing spiritually. Instead, his r'chush - possessions, property, and portfolio - were all increasing! Yitzchak was becoming a "billionaire."
Let's look back at Tehillim:104:1. It's talking about the tz'va hashamayim; the wonders of the heavenly bodies.
Here, the words of praise mean that,  Hashem, YOU possess a magnificent portfolio of astronomical proportions. The words are praising Hashem's possession, not His Self or His Middot.  Hashem is GDL, great, in the sense of "Koneh Shamayim va'aretz." His property is Heaven and Earth.


Tangentially, this peirush directly relates to the piyyutim found in Birkat YotzeirKeil Adon and Eil Baruch GD'oL dei'ah. Through reciting this magnificent "Kapittel" on Rosh Hodesh, we remember the Creator and His creation.
In summary:  we've illustrated what I call the "Concordance Technique for Parshanut" and have learned how to parse Psalm 104.

Years ago, I learned this technique from Rashi, Z"L. He often uses the TaNa"Ch itself as a resource when he explains a difficult word without using the TalmudMidrash or Targum.  Through this technique, Rashi both presents a peirush and teaches us how to create our own original peirushim
BE"H I will illustrate Rashi's usage and a few of my own based upon following Rashi's methodology


Parsha: Toldot, "Be Careful of What You Pray For, Your Wish may be Fulfilled!"

 Yitzchak's Tefilla & Unintended Consequences. 

וַיֵּעָתֶר לוֹ ה' וַתַּהַר רִבְקָה אִשְׁתּוֹ. 

"We see that it is possible for a tefilla to be answered even when, unbeknown st to the mispallel, the desired answer is ultimately injurious. The one who is praying knows nothing about the collateral effect of the answer to his tefilla. He is only doing what the Torah teaches- when you need something, pray. But if he davens well enough and hard enough and long enough, sometimes the tefilla is answered as he desires, and this sets into motion a cascade of unintended and unexpected and unwanted consequences.
It's like Robert Merton's law of unintended consequences. a widely quoted admonition that intervention in a complex system always creates unanticipated and often undesirable outcomes. Does this sound reasonable to you?" (Havolim)



Saturday, 4 November 2017

Parsha: Hayyei Sarah & Toldoth, "Navi vs. Halachah"

There is a story told in Y'shivot

Hossid will give you
15 answers to a single question
Litvak will give you 
a single answer to 15 questions.

Here are two related knotty problems.

In Hayyei Sarah, Avraham assigns Eliezer to find Yitzchak a mate. The Talmud admonishes us that we should not act the same way since Eliezer's technique involved "Nichush."  If so, then how could Eliezer use this means to select a proper shidduch? Alternatively, how can it be that Yitzchak's great match was manifested through such "under-handed" means?

Similarly, in Toldot, Yaakov "usurps" the brachah from Esav via deception.One may not excuse Yaakov's behavior on the grounds that he was obeying his mother, since one may not violate Halachah on the say so of a parent. So how was Yaakov permitted to engage in such a masquerade?

My approach is similar and simple. In each case, the alleged offense was committed under the instruction of a Prophet/Prophetess; Scripture actually makes this quite clear on a P'shat level

Avraham told Eliezer that a Malach will accompany him and that Hashem will cause him to succeed. Given this CONTEXT, his Nichush was under Divine Providence and therefore did not involve superstition or "dark forces"

Similarly, Hashem told Rivka [directly so - if we set aside Rashi] that "Rav Yaavod Tsa'ir." Given that this n'vuah is also in the text, her command to Yaakov is therefore that of a prophetess and not simply that of a Mom. Yaakov is therefore engaged to commit this deception in this extraordinary circumstance.

This also explains why the text orders these Prophetic pronouncements just before the questionable behaviour. It does so to set up a proper context so that we would understand the dynamic here and not learn the wrong lessons about Nichush and deception


Parsha: Hayyei Sarah, "Sh'nei Hayyei"

The pun on Sh'nei Hayyei Sarah offers much in the way of Drash when read as "Sarah led [past tense] TWO lives"
Here are some of my favourites...
  1. A life here in Olam Hazzeh, and another life in Olam Habba.
  2. A life as a wife, and another life as a mother.
  3. A life as a public figure, and another life as a private figure, for example, as both mother and wife.
  4. Similar to #1 a Life as a real alive human being, and a postmortem life as a Matriarch and iconic legacy for the ages.

Parsha: Hayyei Sarah, "K'turah"

This came from another list:
This past Shabbat, totally out of the blue, a congregant came up to me and asked me a question. Apparently, I must have missed that class. I didn't know the answer. Forgive me as I post my ignorance, but as I do not have the answer, I turn to you...

When Sara hears that she will become pregnant, her response includes the fact that she says Abraham is old. She implies that he is not exactly the stallion he may have been in his younger years.

Much later on, we discover that Abraham has married Ketura and had more children. How did he do it?


Here are two approaches:
  1. Both Abraham and Sara had a rebirth/rejuvenation (reJEWvenation?) when their names got changed because of the principle that a Convert is like a newborn [ger shinisgayer kekatan shenolad dami].

  2. Ein mukdam um'uchar batorah. This story is out of sequence. It's just here as part of a flashback sequence to fill us in on the old news that Abraham had previously married another woman named Keturah.  It's placed right next to Abraham designating Isaac as his successor (excluding Isaac's half-siblings) before Abraham's own death.


Sunday, 29 October 2017

P V'a'yeira: Hagar's Eyes Open

Originally published 11/5/09, 4:18 pm.

This question has bothered students of Torah for many generations:
How could Avraham Avinu, the epitome of Hessed, fail to provide adequate water for his son and estranged wife?

The commentaries address this using several approaches. Some maintain that that Avraham was generous to Hagar after all.
Let's look at the text and see.

It says that Hagar's Canteen ran out of water. And she gave up - so to speak - and fell into melancholy.
After Yishma'el's prayer, it states that Hashem opened Hagar's eyes - and behold, there was a well!

Well!  Perhaps all was well all along. Maybe Avraham had given them sufficient water to make it to a well, but when Hagar ran out of water, her emotions overtook her and she suppressed her own ability to see the well in front of her. In response to her prayer, Hashem removed Hagar's self-imposed blinders and she could see the well all ended well!
All along,  Avraham had well-planned the rationing of the water, anticipating that Hagar would reach that well. But Hagar was not emotionally well enough to see well.


Vayeira Destroy What Needs To Be Destroyed

Guest Post:
Cantor Richard Wolberg
Adapted from an article by Rabbi Noson Weisz.
* * * * *

In the conversation between God and Abraham where God informs Abraham that he is about to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham challenged God's justice and demanded Divine mercy with a ferocity that leaves the reader astonished at his sheer audacity. Abraham then proceeds to demand mercy in terms that are almost as insistent, declaring, "Behold now, I desired to speak to my Lord although I am but dust and ashes. What if the fifty righteous people should lack five? Would You destroy the entire city because of the five?" [Gen. 18: 27-28]
How does such a ringing challenge emerge from the mouth of a person who regards himself as no more than a pile of dust and ashes?
To appreciate the utter impossibility of this conversation, remember that we are not Abraham. For us, God exists only in the abstract: He is a being we have never personally met and in whose existence we only vaguely believe. But to Abraham, God was a Being he knew and spoke to. Imagine that the Almighty Himself came to inform you about His decision to destroy Sodom and Gomorra on account of the great evil that He discovered there. Would you presume to challenge His judgment, and with such force?
The point here is that God came to inform him about His decision to destroy Sodom. If the proposed destruction was none of his business, God didn't have to tell him about it in advance. So the fact that God told Abraham, then that was Abraham's cue to respond.

Whereas your or I might have said to God: "Great! Destroy those evil people. Who needs them? All they are is trouble." Abraham was on a much higher level, so he asked for God's mercy, indicating a tremendous sensitivity to all of God's creatures. In His great wisdom, however, the Almighty did what needed to be done.

Parsha: Vayeira, "Aqeida, and Masorah - Rabbis Soloveichik and Rosenfeld"

I serve as a rotating Shabbat Chaplain for CareOne nursing center in Teaneck. I've become friendly with one of the residents whose daughter and son-in-law visit her nearly every Friday Night.

It so happens that this son-in-law is none other than Rabbi Harvey Rosenfeld! We have chatted many times. I was quite pleased to see his d'var torah in our local Jewish Paper "The Jewish Standard". Given Rabbi Rosenfeld's background, both the content of the d'var torah and its appearance here on this blog is a bit unconventional.

Enjoy R' Rosenfeld's d'var torah anyway! I'm confident you will.


Parsha: Vayeira, "Is Seeing What's Already There a Miracle?"

I Witnessed A Small Miracle
Mark, Your friend was just under a lot of stress and likely "misplaces things" typical of someone with ADD/ADHD. When objects like wallets re-emerge from what I call "small object purgatory" (despite looking in that place before, sometimes compulsively looking again & again in that same place) as in your friend's experience, it is likely stress and his subconscious intervening so he literally can't see/find it. He had a subconscious hidden agenda for not seeing it, such as not wanting to spend the money, etc. This used to happen to me when I really did not want to date someone anymore, I'd misplace my wallet or my car keys just before going out, then they would appear right where I "knew" I'd left them. Your friend may have hit the nail on the head about it falling off the chair. (F.Lee Billy's comment on Emotional Times, September 27, 2010.)

Does this explain "Vayiphtach Elokim et eineha, vateira b'eir mayyim"? (Vayeira 21:19) If the well had always existed in that spot, then the miracle was noticing it.

Is it possible that Avraham knew the well was there? Could depression have clouded Hagar's vision until, via prayer, Elokim lifted it?

Could this unexpected appearance of the well be the "miracle" of simply seeing what was already there? 


Parsha: Vayeira, Lot's Lot

Rabbi Y Seplowitz: 
«Lot was a man of contradictions.  He moved to Sodom to get away from his uncle Abraham.  He didn’t want to live near his uncle; Abraham was too . . . “religious.”  (“I can’t tolerate Abram or his G-d!” — Rashi’s commentary on Genesis, 13:11)

Yet, he adhered to many of the practices he had learned in his uncle’s home.  Abraham placed great emphasis on the Mitzvah of entertaining guests.  Although hospitality was actually outlawed in Sodom, Lot risked his life by inviting strangers to his home.  He served them Matzah, since it was Passover.  (He had learned from his uncle, who was, of course, a prophet, that there would some day be such a holiday  at that time of year.

Lot chose to live among the Sodomites; he was attracted by the material wealth the city had to offer.  The fact that it was a hotbed of evil and immorality didn’t faze him.  In fact, he seems to have preferred the decadent lifestyleof his neighbors over the restrictive morals of his uncle’s home.  Given the choice of Jerusalem vs. San Francisco, Lot chose ‘Frisco!»
“The Most Powerful Force on Earth”
To further our understanding re: Lot - a thought once popped into my head about Lot's Middah k'neged Middah. Lot had proposed that Anshei S'dom could do what they want with his 2 daughters. And it turns around, that's what happened to Lot himself, he wound up having relations with them shortly after having been mafkir them.

The Torah text is subtle, yet upon reflection, the juxtaposition of these texts does suggest a literary connection.

Shalom and Best Regards,

Parsha: Vayeira, "Tiqqun Soferim"

 "Avraham is still standing in front of Hashem" (Vayeria 18:22)
Take a look at the Rashi on that passuq.

Due to Tiqqun Soferim it got switched around, even though the opposite is the case. This was not, however,  literally done by some "editor" who changed the text. EG see Iqqar siftei Hachamim 1.(Any such idea of an editorial change could be deemed a perfect mis-understanding.)

IIRC R Dr. MS Feldblum explained that tiqqun sof'rim is an idiomatic expression simply meaning "euphemism". This is only a slightly different interpretation than the Iqqar Siftei Hachamim's. The sentiment is similar. It's not an editorial change to the text, but rather a LINGUISTIC change to say one thing but mean another.


Saturday, 21 October 2017

Parsha: Lech Lecha, "Leaving Israel"

In  Mishna Torah: Hilchot Melachim: 5:9, the Rambam writes that:

"Even though it was a famine and one is permitted to leave Israel [nevertheless] "einah middat hassidut" ... [It is not the mark of a pious character]
And because of that Machalon and Kilyon - 2 "gedolei hador" [great ones of their generation] ..left and were liable to destruction by "the Maqom".

1. If it's Halachically permitted to leave the land of Israel, then who cares about "Middat Hassidut"?

2 If all Jews are on the same level of obligation and liability, then how does being a "Gadol Hador" change someone's level?

3. If even the Rambam concedes that Machalon and Kilyon's leaving Eretz Yisrael was Halachically permitted, then why did he say they were punished? 

4. In Lech L'cha, Avraham Avinu left the Holy Land under similar circumstances - and he seemed to be rewarded and not punished! How does this Rambam address that case?

For further sources

  • Torah Temimah on Lech L'cha 12:10 quoting Bava Qama 60b
  • Note 13 quoting Bava Batra 91a

Shalom, RRW

Parsha: Lech Lecha, "Skin-Garment-House"

An interesting linkage is made on the first verse in Parshat Lech Lecha (Beraishit: 12:1)
"A person has 3 protective casings:
The Bassar, the Begged, and the Bayit.

-  New translation P. 288, RSR Hirsch

This point dovetails completely with the 3 forms of afflictions listed in Tazria-Metzora:
  • afflictions of the Skin, surface, dermatological
  • Garments
  • Houses
In the cases in Vayiqra, the afflictions [Nega'I'm] proceed from the inner to the outer.I don't see any explicit connection made by R. Hirsch in Lech Lecha itself, but the parallel is more than skin-deep!

When Avraham leaves Haran he is asked to leave his:
  • Country
  • Birthplace
  • House of your Father

Or from outer to inner. This is highly counter-intuitive. It is also a major salient point in R. Hirsch's brief essay


Lech Lecha: The Involvement of Self

From the archives of Nishma's Online Library at, we have chosen an article that relates to the week's parsha, both to direct you to this dvar Torah but also for the purposes of initiating some discussion.

This week's parsha is Lech Lecha and the topic is the self. We invite you to look at an article on this topic at

Lech Lecha: The Personality of Blessings

From the archives of Nishma's Online Library at, we have chosen an article that relates to the week's parsha, both to direct you to this dvar Torah but also for the purposes of initiating some discussion.

This week's parsha is Lech Lecha and the topic is blessings, specifically what blessings say about the person being blessed. What one considers a blessing tells us much about that person. For a further discussion on this idea, see

Parsha Lech Lecha - "Pere Adam"

Chofetz Chaim on Lech Lecha 16:12
Kol Tuv,

Abra(ha)m Received An A+

Guest Post:
Cantor Richard Wolberg
* * * * *

We all know that Abram, the progenitor of the Jewish people, was told to "Go forth," etc. The question everyone asks is why is "lamed chof" repeated twice. Once would have been enough. "Lech" — "Go forth".

Many different explanations have been advanced for the double "lamed chof" to which I'll add another.  What is the best score one can receive? One hundred percent. "Lamed chof" equals fifty (lamed=30 and chof=20). Lamed chof  twice is 100. 

Abraham passed the various tests of God with flying colors.  A midrash interprets the use of the double word to mean "Go forth to find your authentic self, to learn who you are meant to be". So the use of the double lamed chof informs us that he received one hundred percent!

Kol Tuv / Best Regards,
Rabbi RichWolpoe

Parsha: Lech Lecha, Galut Mitzrayim - 400 Years or 210 Years?‏

Here is a simple approach to what appears to be a big s'teerah between the 400 years in Mitzrayim as per Torah Shebichtav, vs. the 210 years as per TSBP.
[Note: I'm not addressing the case of 430 years, but one can extrapolate an answer from this approach]

Rashi [Lech Lecha 15:13] suggests that the 400 years in a "Land not theirs" commences with the birth of Yitzchak, and that the actual descent to Mitzrayim actually comes 190 years later.

Extrapolating from Rashi here is my approach:

There are "2 dinnim" re: Egypt

1. The physical Land of Egypt
2. The extended Empire of Egypt.

Modern Archaeologists consider the Ancient Land of Canaan during that era as under the influence [Suzerainty] of the Egyptian Empire, perhaps similar to Poland used to be when it was under the Soviet Sphere of influence.

So, in a sense, during those first 190 years, the Avot were not in the physical Land of Egypt, yet the galut of the Empire of Egypt indeed did start earlier on - because Canaan was under the Social and Political Influence of Egypt, and by extension they were in a "Spiritual Galus Mitzrayim."

And so both figures work.
210 years in Physical Egypt
400 years as subject to Egyptian Social Mores.

Kol Tuv,

The "Oat Brit" Linguisitic Pattern

The "Oat Brit" [Os Bris] Pattern

First - please see these sections

P B'reishis     R'vii 4:15
P. Noach     Hamishi 9:5-17
P. Lech Lecha     Shishi-Sh'vii 17:2-21
P. Ki Tissa     End of Rishon 31:13-17
In the last 3 Oat and Brit [Os and Bris] appear in tandem, often repeatedly. Re: Kayin, only "Oat"

Have any "Parshanim" connected all of these dots together?
EG the number of times Oat and Brit are used? The sequencing?

For a limited example -
See Torah Temimah on Lech Lecha 17:11 quoting a Meimra from Rav Nachman bar Yitzchok in TB: Shabbat 132a, concerning "Meelah docheh Shabbos" which addresses a small subset of this pattern.

Kol Tuv,

Saturday, 14 October 2017

Parsha: Noah, "Community and Individual; Ayn Rand and RSR Hirsch"

When is egotism a legitimate expression of moral indignation and when is it just conceit, arrogance and unholy defiance?

Although RSR Hirsch highly praises community elsewhere, I understood how this same community could be evil when reading his observations on Dor Haflagah. Migdal Bavel, though the paradigm of a peaceful co-operative community, set itself up in defiance of the Divine. Foreshadowing both Fascism and Communism, it sought to sacrifice the individual on the altar of the greater whole.

This suppression of the individual rightfully sparks the ego's rebellion  Why rightfully? When it suppresses the individual, any collective without sanction of the Almighty is inherently evil.

No wonder Ayn Rand flew from Godless Bolshevism. Her nature impelled her to rebel. Given the frightening parallels between Migdal Bavel and the Stalinistic 5-Year plans, her flight was well-justified! (Whether her alternative passes muster is another matter.)

R. Hirsch emphasizes that the praiseworthy community and culture is the one built around preserving and perpetuating Torah Tradition. He himself led a paradigmatic community in Frankfort when he broke with the local Heterodox Community there. It remains, although in reduced numbers, in Washington Heights. B"H, it is not the sole community based upon Torah Values.

Any community whose mission is "Hirschian" in nature deserves the deference of the individual. On the other hand, any community designing to compete against G-d deserves the defiance of the repressed individual soul.  The gray area today, dear reader, is the society that is neither culturally devoted to G-d nor out to defeat G-d. This apathy leaves us a conundrum.

Take for example, the United States circa WWII. There was no question of a society and culture which opposed Marxist Atheism in favour of a common non-denominational service to the Al-Mighty and compassion for mankind. This society had the common focus of G-d only in the most general terms, eschewing barriers between sects.

Now that Secularism is replacing this non-denominational common-denominator service to the Creator, this society is slipping off of its pedestal, teetering ever so closely to a Godless tilt, Heaven Forbid. It remains to be seen if we can restore a society that supports a common Deity in a compassionate and mutually supportive fashion as we did over sixty years ago.

Should we veer too far away, individuals will arise and break away to form tiny independent communities re-dedicated to the ideals and traditions that once made us a truly "Great Society". A new Austritt Gemeinder will have to appear to preserve a Torah life-style amid the deterioration of what was once the ideal, just as Avraham ho'Ivri crossed over to oppose the Dor Haflagah in his own day.


Parsha: Noach, "The Question of Dual Moralities"

This week's parsha is Noach. The topic is the Noachide Code. Most individuals believe this Code to be an abbreviated form, a subset, of the Taryag Code that applies to Jews. In fact, the Noachide Code is a fully independent system. At times it even yields conclusions that are in conflict with the Halacha that Jews are supposed to follow.

One example of this is found in the rules of judgement and justice. The noted Insight investigates this surprising reality;  how can two moral systems originating in the Divine have such distinctions?

We bring forth the article,  The Question of Dual Moralities from Nishma's Online Library in order to initiate some discussion.

Shalom, RBH

Parsha: Noah, "Fathers and Sons; RSR Hirsch on 9:24"

Years ago, I came up with a cute idea:

Poqeid Avon Avot al Banim refers to visiting the sins of the parents through, or by means of, the children. This constitutes a serious warning, "Honour your father and your mother, lest you be punished though your children."
- Rabbi S.R. Hirsch, new edition, p. 243 on Bereishit: 9:24

Rabbi S.R. Hirsch applies this to Noah's curse of Ham. Sins that children commit against their parents will be punished by the manner in which their own children, in turn, will deal with them. K'na'an's actions would be the mechanism through which Ham's dishonour of his father Noah would be punished.

This is my own P'shat on Poqeid Avon Avot al Banim. Baruch Shekivanti!



Parsha: Noah, "Noah's Missing Year"

According to the Torah:
  1. Noah lived for 950 years.
  2. Noah was already 600 years old before the Flood happened.
  3. The Flood lasted for 1 full solar year according to Rashi and the text.
  4. Noah lived for another 350 years AFTER the flood.
  5. Noah's total life-span is 950 years.
  6. However, if 600 + 1 + 350 = 951, Then Noah SHOULD have lived 951 years!
One person, basing his reasoning on text and on the Rashi that the seasons were suspended, has asserted that time stood still for one year. I rejected this attempt at an answer because the text notes all the dates, and  Rashi's point about one solar year would be senseless if time stood still.
Where is Noah's missing year? Which commentaries deal with this?
Why did the Torah:

1) Increase Noah's Age by 1 year from BEFORE the Flood until After the Flood?
2) One attempted answer is that time stood still for that year of the flood. If so, then why does the Torah give a chronicle of 1 solar year replete with starting and ending dates? - Viz. 17th of the 2nd month until 27th of the 2nd Month
3) How did Rashi presume 1 year based upon the text?
4) List Time expended such as 40 days, 150 days, 1 week [3 separate times] etc.?
5) Give Noah's total age when embedded  in this calculation was suspended immeasurable time?

B'nei Elokim - Machloqet RaSHbY and Zohar

There is a dispute on B'reisheet 6:2 re: the definition of "B'nei Elohim".
Are they angels?
children of the "judges"?

[Note Onkelos has a third read - viz. children of the "powerful"]

It turns out that Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai comes out on both sides of the dispute!

First, See Torah Temimah on B'reisheet 6:2 Ot 2

The TT quotes Yoma 66b re: "Azazeil" etc. and the Rashi on that passage, which favours the first defintion, and then TT says it is "mashma m'forash b'Zohar"

However, B'reisheet Rabba on THIS Passuq quotes RaSHbY that
«B'nei Elohim elu b'nei dayyana» and that RaSHbY would curse anyone who would say they were angels [B'nei Elohaya]

This contradiction is noted by the TT himself.

The TT supports the read of the Talmud and Zohar from Avot d'Rabbi Nathan ch. 31 that mentions a grave sin was a LACK of judges during that era.

This conclusion may be somewhat disputed by Onkelos' definition above that they were neither children of Judges nor angels, but children of the "mighty"


Parsha: Noah, "R.S.R. Hirsch, Inuits, and Vegetarianism"

There is a lot of discussion about the desirability of vegetarianism.  It was the original antediluvian ideal etc.

Yet the Torah unambiguously permits consuming flesh.
"Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you; as with the green herbs have I given you all these"
Hirsch, Bereishit 9:3, New Edition P. 222.
The Torah simply equates flesh and herbs. There isn't any hierarchy of preference.

R. Hirsch elaborates as to what changed to make this so. Certainly "Eskimos" [Inuit], would find it difficult to  become vegetarians. Any cold climate could present a similar challenge

Shalom, RRW

Parsha: Noah, "The Rainbow Covenant"

There are several approaches to the OT Brit found in the Keshet in Parshat Noah. (B'raishit: 8: 21-22)
  1. The more "mystically" inclined will read that Hashem created the rainbow just to signify the Covenant. They will think the rainbow a brand new phenomena. 
  2. The more "rationally" minded will think that while rainbows had long predated Noah. Hashem was only now investing the Rainbow with new meaning and new significance through the covenant.
As per Hashqafah #2 we create Holy artifacts by sanctifying them. For example, a mundane piece of gold is endowed with holiness when dedicated to the Sanctuary or the like. Humanity's role is therefore not just to  "complete" the existing creation, but to sanctify it as well.