Monthly Archives: October 2016

Parshat תולדת – Bereishis 25:21 – Whose Prayers Does God Listen To?

Bereishis 25:21 – And Isaac prayed to the Lord opposite his wife because she was barren, and the Lord accepted his prayer, and Rebecca his wife conceived.

Gemora Yevamos 64a: It should have said that the Lord accepted “their” prayer. Why does it say that the Lord accepted “his” prayer? To teach that the prayer of a “righteous person” who is the child of a “righteous person” is more listened to than the prayer of a “righteous person” who is the child of an “evil person”.

Torah Temimah Colloquial Translation on Note #14

See what is written in the Shulchan Aruch, Orach Hayim Section 53 and also in the Taz sub-section 3 in the name of the Bach; and in the Maharshal who deduced from this teaching that it is better to look for a prayer leader who is the son of a righteous person. Note that the Taz disagrees with this because of the general principle that “God desires the heart.” It is amazing that the Taz does not reply at all to the above teaching from the Gemora that [indeed] the prayer of a righteous person, the son of a righteous person is preferable.

Rather, it seems to me, that a person who has better personal qualities is more preferable even if he may be the son of an evil person. Therefore, it is better to give such a person preference [in choosing a prayer leader] over a “righteous person the son of a righteous person” who doesn’t have as many good personal qualities.

It appears that a proof to this opinion can be brought from the Gemora Taanis 25b where it relates a story about Rabbi Eliezer who led the congregation is prayers, but nevertheless rain did not fall. Rabbi Akiva then led the prayers and subsequently it rained. The [other] rabbis were murmuring concerning the slight that had occurred to the honor of Rabbi Eliezer since his prayers were not answered. Suddenly a voice rang out from heaven and stated: “It was not because this person (Rabbi Akiva) is greater than this person (Rabbi Eliezer) but rather it is due to the fact that Rabbi Akiva has conquered his natural tendencies while Rabbi Eliezer has not needed to conquer his natural tendencies.”

Behold, it is well known that Rabbi Akiva is the son of converts. Thus, in relation to him, Rabbi Eliezer is a “righteous person, the son of righteous people”. Nevertheless, it was Rabbi Akiva’s prayer that was answered because of the personal characteristics that he had which Rabbi Eliezer did not have.   

Editor’s Note: I think many people instinctively respond the same way as the Torah Temimah to the idea that “the prayer of a righteous person the child of a righteous person is more listened to than the prayer of a righteous person the child of an evil person”. Our instinctive response is that “God desires the heart” and it should not matter who a person’s parents were. The Torah Temimah then goes on to prove that this is a view supported by our tradition by citing the Gemora Taanis 25b.


Parshat חיי שרה Genesis 24:1 The Lord blessed Abraham with Everything

Genesis 24:1 – And Abraham was old, advanced in days, and the Lord blessed Abraham with everything.

Gemora: Baba Basra 16b – Rabbi Meir explained the meaning of “everything” as meaning that he did not have a daughter. Rabbi Yehudah explained it as meaning that he did have a daughter. Others explain that her name was “Everything”.

Torah Temimah Colloquial Translation on Note #6:

It appears that the disagreement between Rabbi Meir and Rabbi Yehudah is the same as the disagreement between Rabbi Yochanan and Resh Lakish that appears in this section of the gemora. Rabbi Yochanan states that when a daughter is born, abundance [רביה] is multiplied in the world. Resh Lakish states that when a daughter is born strife [מריבה] is multiplied in the world. (Note a relevant explanation in Bereshis Chapter 6, Verse 1.) Thus, Rabbi Meir would be of the same opinion as Resh Lakish and Rabbi Yehudah would be of the same opinion as Rabbi Yochanan.

There is an opportunity to explain more fully this aggadah. Actually, the commentators have already written much on this issue. Further, the purpose of this book is not to explain at length aggadah.

Also, there is to note that Rabbi Meir is being internally consistent with his other stated opinions. Rabbi Meir established the daily prayer [said by men each morning] “Blessed are You, God, Lord of the Universe, who has not made me a woman”. This is as explained in Gemora Menachos 42b. It is possible to say that Rabbi Meir had this opinion because he did not hold women to be of high value because of the dictum that their thinking was “light”. This is as explained in Gemora Avodah Zarah 18b [where it recounts the fact that Rabbi Meir fled to Babylonia due to his shame regarding the incident with Beruria, his wife.] Additionally, [Rabbi Meir’s low opinion of women] was due to the fact that he, himself, stumbled through a particular woman as is explained in the book “Seder haDorot”

For this reason, [I] relied on the accurate text reading in Menachos stating the opinion of Rabbi Meir and not Rabbi Yehudah as is shown by the commentary Mesoras HaShas.

Editor’s Note: In this note it seems amazing that the Torah Temimah attributes Rabbi Meir’s low estimation of women as stemming from the fact that Rabbi Meir himself stumbled in a sin relating to women.

Parshat לך לך Genesis 14:23 – Sanctifying God’s Name

Genesis 14:23 – Neither from a thread to a shoe strap, nor will I take from whatever is yours, that you should not say, ‘I have made Abram wealthy.’

Gemora Sotah 4b: Rava derived from this verse that as a reward for not taking neither a thread nor a shoe strap Abraham children merited two mitzvot as rewards. For not taking a thread, they merited the blue thread of the tzitzit. For not taking a shoe strap, they merited the straps of tefillin.

Torah Temimah Colloquial Translation on Note #19:

Rashi explains that the reward was due to the fact that Abraham totally avoided [even a hint of] theft. At first glance, this explanation does not seem to make sense.  How can this be called a great act by Abraham in just avoiding theft? Also, it is difficult to understand what type of theft is involved here. Lawfully, Avraham was entitled to the spoils of the war. This is in accordance with the general principal that ‘he who saves something from an idol worshipper or from robbers, it is his to keep’. Therefore, it seems that one must say that Abraham refused to take any spoils of the war in order to sanctify God’s name. That being the case, then it would be necessary to return all property, no matter what the circumstances. This is also in accordance with Choshen Mishpat Section 267 – ‘in a place where there is an opportunity to sanctify God’s name, one must return lost property to an idol worshipper even if he has already despaired of ever finding the lost object’. Since Abraham, in this situation, wanted to sanctify God’s name, he was obligated by law to return the spoils of war. This was the action that deserved the reward: since he wanted to sanctify God’s name, he caused an obligation upon himself that could have been avoided.

[The above explanation satisfies and fulfills the comments of Rashi.]

Were it not for Rashi’s comments, it would be possible to explain the merit of Abraham in a different manner, as follows. Abraham won this war in a supernatural means with only 318 soldiers, or as some say with only one soldier – Eliezer.  Additionally, as is explained on verse 15, an angel and the stars of the night fought on his behalf. All these point to the fact that Abraham’s victory was a miraculous one. As it notes in Gemora Taanit 24a, it is forbidden to materially benefit from miracles. This then would explain why Abraham merited a reward. From the fact that Abraham refused to benefit from the spoils of the war shows that he attributed the victory not to his own strength and power of his hand, but rather he attributed the victory as a miracle of God. That was why he declined to benefit from the spoils of the war, because one is forbidden to benefit materially from a miracle.

[By the way], note that Rashi and the Rambam disagree on one particular in the law of tzitzit. Rashi’s opinion is that two of the four threads should be blue. The Rambam’s opinion is that only one of the four threads should be blue. Behold, even though one can’t bring clear halachic proofs from aggadic stories, nevertheless, the simple meaning of the phrase ‘Abraham merited the thread of blue’ shines forth supporting the view of the Rambam. This supports the view that, by law, there should only be one thread of blue in the tzitzit.

Regarding Rashi’s view that there are two threads of blue, perhaps Rashi also realized the implication of the phrasing in the verse and the midrash. That would explain why Rashi noted that the thread in the verse alluded, in general, to the commandment of tzitzit. For the Rambam, however, the phraseology is more forcefully specific.

Note also that in the Yalkut and in the Tanchuma this braita is phrased slightly differently: the shoe strap is associated with the shoe of the halitzah ceremony rather than with the strap of tefillin. Perhaps this version of the braita is this way because the author did not feel that a ‘shoe strap’ in the verse aligned well with the ‘strap of tefillin’. (Their only common feature is that they are both made of leather.) On the other hand, the author of our version quoted above did not feel it appropriate to associate the reward with the shoe of halitzah since the shoe of halitzah is essentially used as a punishment. That being the case, it would be unusual to associate that with the idea of something that was given as a reward.

Editor’s Note: I chose this note because of the idea mentioned in the initial section. Since Abraham wanted to sanctify God’s name, he did not accepted even lawful gains from the war. The Torah Temimah notes that we too, if we want to sanctify God’s name, should not act in the strict accordance with the law but rather go beyond the letter of the law.

Parshat האזינו Deuteronomy 32:47 – Why Does It Feel Empty to You?  

Deuteronomy 32:46 – For it is not an empty thing for you, for it is your life, and through this thing, you will lengthen your days upon the land to which you are crossing over the Jordan, to possess it.

Gemora Yerushalmi Peah – 1:1 – Rabbi Mana said: “It is not an empty thing, and if it is empty, from you it is empty”. Why is this so? Because if you had worked hard in it [you would have understood it.] This teaches that any issue that a Court works hard at to understand, [the issue] will ultimately be fulfilled through them.

Torah Temimah Colloquial Translation on Note #91:

The reason for this interpretation of the verse is clearly the extra word “from you”, this word seems to be superfluous. It could have simply said “For it is not an empty thing.” That is the reason why the rabbis deduced this additional teaching from the verse. That is, if you find that an issue cannot be understood, know that it is just ‘empty’ [not understood] from you; you have not toiled sufficiently to delve into the matter to find the explanation. However, if you do toil [put forth the effort], you will find [the explanation.] answer. This is according to the expression [in Chapters of the Fathers]: “if one says he has toiled but not found, don’t believe him.”.

Therefore, it is clear from this that any issue that the Court exerts much effort [puts their soul into] in clarifying and searching for the truth, that issue will ultimately be clarified and fulfilled through that Court. That is to say, according to their intent will it be understood. In the Jerusalem Talmud it uses the phrase “as though it had been given on Mount Sinai”. That phrase though is an exaggeration just meant to emphasize their intent to arrive at the true truth of the matter.

The specific phrase used “puts their soul into” finding out the truth of the matter, is used because all Courts desire to delve into the source and central issue for any given topic and they metaphorically give over their souls through their effort and toil. This fulfills the well-known expression: Torah cannot be  [totally] fulfilled except by someone who [metaphorically] kills himself over it. Look over at my note in the beginning of Parshat Pekudei for a similar observation on the verse “As God had commanded Moshe”.

Editor’s Note: It seems to me that the central lesson of this note is: “no pain, no gain”. If something in the Torah is inexplicable to you, spend significant effort seeking to understand it. The rabbis are teaching that if you put in the effort, you will learn the wisdom that you need to know.