Monthly Archives: January 2014

Parshat יתרו Shmos 20:1 – God Spoke All These Words

Exodus 20:1 – And God spoke all these words saying.

Gemora Chagiga: 3(b) [The reason why is says “all” of these words instead of just “these words” is] to instruct the Sages who sit together in groups and occupy themselves in Torah that even though some of them say “impure” and some say “pure”; or some say “invalid” and some say “valid”; or some say “forbidden” and some say “permitted”; nevertheless all of these opinions were given by the One.

Torah Temimah Colloquial Translation on Note #1:

Clearly the Gemora is being careful in its analysis of the word “all”. The text could have just plainly said “and God spoke these words, saying.” This topic is included in the topic of “these and these are the words of the Living God”. Rashi comments and considers in Gemora Ketubot (57a) that the reason why we say all of the opinions derive from the One is because sometimes one opinion is more appropriate while other times the other opinion is more appropriate depending on slight changes in the facts of the case.

Were it not for Rashi’s comment it would be possible to explain that it is precisely through various approaches that different opinions come into being. And through the different opinions [being considered] it is then possible to clarify the truth of a judgment. Were this not the case the sages would have fixed the halacha through their first, immediate intuition. [MUSKAL RISHON]; in this manner it is possible to make a mistake and to err.

This whole approach is according to the Gemora (Jerusalem Talmud: Sanhedrin: Chapter 11: Halacha 1) explanation of the verse in Ecclesiastes (12:11) “ The words of the wise are like spurs, and like nails well driven in are the sayings of the masters of collections, given from the One Shepherd.”  The Gemora there explains that the phrase “masters of collections” refers to the wise sages who sit together in groups and occupy themselves in Torah.

The idea is that through the give and take arguments and the different opinions that naturally occur; that the truth of an issue becomes clarified in a sound, fundamental and lasting manner. The value of the investigation and the discussion is like the well done plowing and the fundamental, lasting manner is analogous to the “nails well driven in”; and the whole purpose of the process is because all the opinions are given by the One Shepherd.   

This same idea is the reasoning for the statement in Gemora Berakos (63b) that the Torah can only be acquired with a group of people. When a wise sage occupies himself in Torah on his own, he becomes increasingly foolish. Also look in Gemora Taanis (7a). [R. Hama b. Hanina said: What is the meaning of the verse, Iron sharpneth iron?  This is to teach you that just as in the case of one iron sharpeneth the other so also do two scholars sharpen each other’s minds by halachah.] That is to say that it is impossible without the company of a fellow student or students to delve into the ultimate depths of an idea and the truth of a Torah teaching.

 We have more lengthy thoughts to say on this from an Aggadic standpoint, but here is not the place for lengthy comments.

DBS Note: This is a  fundamental theme of the Torah Temimah’s and he  never misses a chance to mention it. I also really enjoy when he speaks to the reader such as when he says he has more thoughts on this topic but now is not the place to mention them!

Lastly, again in this note, the Torah Temimah quotes Rashi’s opinion and then respectfully offers his own.

The summary of the Torah Temimah’s comment here is that while Rashi suggests that the reason for multiple opinions is that each is true in different circumstances, the Torah Temimah suggests that the reason for multiple opinions is that each person has a different mind, and therefore no individual can consistently arrive at the unitary truth on his or her own – it is only by comparing, contrasting, and debating the initial positions arrived at through our subjectively limited intuitions that we can discover the single objective truth of Torah. (Thanks to Rabbi Klapper for the succinct summary and to Rabbi Sendor for correcting a significant error I made in this note.)

Parshat בשלח Shmos 13:19 – The Nations of the World

Exodus 17:9 – And Moshe said to Yehoshua, select for us men and go out and fight against Amalek tomorrow; I will stand on the top of the hill with the Staff of God in my hand.

Mechilta: Moshe did not say “select for me” but rather “select for us”. From here we see that a student is as dear to a teacher as himself.

Torah Temimah Colloquial Translation on Note #5:

In Pirkei Avot (2:10) the phraseology is:” the honor of your friend should be as precious to you as your own”. Others have the text saying “the honor of your student should be as precious to you as your own”. From the Mechilta quoted above, it seems to be that the appropriate text in Pirkei Avot is: “the honor of your student”. Besides, it also says in Pirkei Avot (4:12) “the honor of your friend should be as precious to you as the honor of your teacher.” And also in the Mechilta here it separately and specifically addresses the issue of the “honor” of your friend. Additionally, please reference the Tosfot Yom Tov there and note that he, apparently, had not seen this Mechilta.

Note that the reason why Moshe assigned the task of fighting against Amalek to Yehoshua is mentioned is Pesikta Rabati and in the Midrash Raba here as follows: Why did Moshe assign this task to Yehoshua? Moshe said to him, “Your ancestor (Yosef) said “I fear God” (in parshat MiKetz). About Amalek on the other hand it is written (in parshat Ki Tetzei) “he does not fear God”. Let the descendent of the one who said “I fear God” fight against the descendent of the one who said “he doesn’t fear God”.

This aggada needs explaining. Do we not already know that Yosef feared God from other places besides where he makes the statement about himself? Are weren’t his brothers, who did not make this statement about themselves, also people who feared God? In what way exactly was Yosef’s level of fear of God higher than his brothers, [if any]?

Another amazing point about this midrash is that it is attributing Amalek’s principle sin to the fact that he was not a tribe that feared God!? Where do we find the phrase “feared God” as a description of other  non-Jews? In particular, we do find this phrase used for exceptional, special people such as Abraham (“Now I know that you fear God”) and Ovadiyahu (Kings I, Chapter 11) and Job (Chapter 1).

Therefore, it appears appropriate to conclude that this is exactly what the Mechilta is coming to teach; that non-Jews should also be people who fear God. It is incumbent upon them also and if they do not they are also liable for punishment. The proof of this is exactly from the story of Yosef when he says to his brother “I fear God”. Yosef says this while he was pretending to be an Egyptian. If it were not true that non-Jews also fear God, how could Yosef have said such a thing without giving away that he was of the tribe of Israel?

What we learn from Yosef’s saying this about himself is that it is expected that non-Jews also be people who fear God. Also we see that Amalek is liable for punishment since he says of himself that he does not fear God.

So from here we can conclude that it is perfectly appropriate for the descendent of one who said “I fear God” to be the one who fights against Amalek. It was exactly because without Yosef’s having said this, I would not have known a source for this principle that the nations of the world are [equally] liable and responsible for fulfilling the commandment to fear God.

DBS Note: I think the Torah Temimah chose this Mechilta because it points out that Jews and non-Jews are both obligated to fear God. This viewpoint is not commonly expressed. Also, notice that the Mechilta that was selected really has nothing to do with explaining the posuk. Again, the Torah Temimah is going out of his way to teach us something from Jewish tradition that is not commonly taught.

Parshat בשלח Shmos 13:19 – Good Deeds Get Rewarded

Exodus 13:19 – Moshe took the bones of Yosef with him because he had made the Children of Israel swear saying that when God will visit you, take out my bones from here with you.

Gemora Yerushalmi Sotah: Chapter 1, Halacha 10: Rabbi Kruspi said in the name of Rabbi Yochanan: Why does it say “with him” [isn’t that superfluous]? It is to teach “with your own self you are doing it.”

Torah Temimah Colloquial Translation on Note #74:

This interpretation depends on the earlier interpretation on this same sentence. Because Moshe personally dealt with the matter of bringing Yosef’s bones out of Egypt, Moshe himself then merited to have God himself bury Moshe’s bones. In other words, due to this mitzvah of Moshe, he then merited to the huge honor of having God himself bury him.

Behold, even though we’ve already explained in our commentary in Genesis 46:4 that when God says “I will surely bring you up” [in Hebrew the idea of surely is conveyed by repeating the word: BRING YOU UP]. The word is repeated to teach that the bones of all of Yosef’s brothers were also brought out of Egypt by the Jews when they left. If so, why does Moshe receive a special reward for personally bringing up Yosef’s bones? The answer, as explained in the Gemora Yerushalmi quoted above is that the Egyptians refused to let the Jews take the bones of Yosef.  Perhaps their reason for this was because of what is noted in the Gemora Sotah 13(a) that the Egyptians had placed the casket of Yosef into the Nile River in order that the river be thereby blessed. Also in the Gemora Yerushalmi Avodah Zarah Chapter 3, Halacha 2 it mentions that the people of Kut used to observe a Yosef Festival because God had blessed the House of Egypt on Yosef’s behalf.

So, only Moshe merited a special reward for bringing up Yosef’s bones from Egypt because it involved this extra effort due to the Egyptians refusal to let him do this.

DBS Note: May we all merit large and small rewards for the extra efforts that we put forth in the world.

Parshat בא Shmos/Exodus 12:27 – What Exactly Can a Convert Say at the Seder?

Shmos  12:27 – You shall say, “It is a Pesach feast offering to HaShem, Who passed over [pasach] the houses of the Children of Israel in Egypt when He smote the Egyptians”

Gemora: Pesachim 147(b): R. Gamliel used to say: Whoever does not mention these three things on Passover does not fulfill his obligation. They are: the Passover Offering, Unleavened Bread and Bitter Herbs[Pesach, Matzoh and Marror]. The Passover Offering is [sacrificed] because HaShem passed over the houses of our fathers in Egypt. As [our] posuk says: “You shall say ‘it is the sacrifice of the Lord’s Passover, because He passed over the houses…”. The Unleavened Bread is [eaten] because our fathers were redeemed from Egypt, as it is said, “And they baked unleavened cakes of the dough which they brought forth out of Egypt”. The Bitter Herb is [eaten] because the Egyptians embittered the lives of our fathers in Egypt, as it is said, “And they made their lives bitter”.

Torah Temimah Colloquial Translation on Note #203:

It is explained that the phrase “You shall say…” means that this is not the response to the son who is asking a question. Rather, it is an entirely separate mitzvah on its own that you should say [these three things aloud.] We’ve already written in the previous note why this is not a response to the son’s question. Further, these particular three items are chosen because they are the fundamental, foundational aspects of the enslavement to and redemption from Egypt.

Additionally, note that the Mishna in Bikurim (1:4) says that a convert does bring bikurim butdoes not read the “vidui bikurim”because he is not able to say “…the land which HaShem swore to our forefathers to give to us.” The convert cannot say this because he is not of the seed (i.e., a biological descendant) of Israel. Tosafot explain Gemora Baba Kama 81(a) the opinion of Rabbenu Tam is that we follow this position as halakhah, and that because of this Rabbenu Tam also did not allow a convert to say the standard text of the blessing after a meal since the convert is not able to say the phrase, “…. for the land that you caused our forefathers to inherit”. Rabbenu Tam was relying on the Mishnah of Bikurim mentioned above, and he added further that when the convert is praying by himself, he should say “the God of the forefathers of Israel” and when he is in synagogue he should say “the God of your forefathers”.

Amazingly, according to this it becomes apparent that the convert would not be able to fulfill the commandment of retelling the exodus from Egypt using the prescribed language since he is unable to say all of these key phrases:   “…because HaShem passed over the houses of our fathers in Egypt”, “because He redeemed our forefathers”and “because the Egyptians embittered the lives of our forefathers.” Yet saying that a convert is forbidden from saying these phrases in the Passover seder would be a totally new, unheard of opinion.

Consider that regarding the posuk in Parshat “Lech Lecha” describing Abraham as a ‘father of a multitude of nations.” the opinion of both the Rambam and Rabbi Yitzchak the Tosafist is that we do not follow the position of the above-cited Mishna in Bikurim as halakhah.  Rather,their opinionis that a convert does bring bikurim and reads the vidui bikurim exactly because Abraham was the forefather of a multitude of nations. This is also the one of the opinions expressed in the Jerusalem Talmud. According to them this would also apply to the commandments of Passover night, i.e. that a convert says the Haggadah just as a born-Jewish person would.

Additionally, it is amazing that the standard halachic decision makers do not mention this at all.

DBS Note: The final sentence of the Torah Temimah’s note says it all. Not only does he strongly feel that a convert would observe Passover exactly as any Jewish person would, but he feels it is an oversight that this commonly accepted opinion is not publicized more in the classical halachic literature.

Also, huge thanks to my neighbors Ploni Almoni and HaMaivin Yavin who are Torah Temimah enthusiasts. They provided significant editorial assistance in the background for this note.