Monthly Archives: June 2017

Parshat חקת – Bamidbar 20:1 – Did Miriam Die for Our Sins?

Bamidbar 20:1 – The entire congregation of the children of Israel arrived at the desert of Zin in the first month, and the people settled in Kadesh. Miriam died there and was buried there.

Gemora Moed Kattan 28a: It was taught in a Beraisa as follows: Rabbi Ami asked why is the narrative of the death of Miriam adjacent to the narrative of the Red Cow? He answered: to teach that just as the Red Cow atones for sins, so does the death of the righteous atone for sins.

Torah Temimah Colloquial Translation on Note #2

One needs to ask why the narrative of Miriam’s death is adjacent to the story of the Red Cow, specifically, and not next to many of the other ceremonies that also are meant to achieve atonement such as sacrifices or the clothing of the high priest. Perhaps one can explain the answer according to that which is stated by Rashi in the previous chapter (19:22) that the Red Cow is meant to atone for the sin of the Golden Calf. This is analogous to the mother coming and atoning for her child. In other words, the mother cow (Red Cow) is atoning for the calf (Golden Calf). Then with a slight linguistic change, one can say that this is similar to the death of Miriam in her role as the mother to the Jewish People.

[On the other hand] it is not clear what is meant, in general, by the statement that the death of the righteous people [somehow] cause an atonement and what would be the reasoning behind such a statement. Perhaps the answer is in accordance with the statement in Pirkei d’Rabbi Eliezer (Chapter 17) when it discusses the death of Shaul (in Samuel 2, Chapter 21) where it states

“And they buried the bones of Saul and Jonathan his son in the country of Benjamin in Zela, in the sepulcher of Kish his father; and they did all that the king commanded. And God was entreated for the land after that.”

Pirkei d’Rabbi Eliezer states that since God saw that the Jewish people dealt kindly [appropriately] with Shaul’s body [after his death] in that they fasted and cried and eulogized him, God then was filled with mercy towards the Jewish people. This is the meaning of the phrase “And God was entreated for the land after that.”

Thus, it is clear from here that it isn’t the death, itself, that causes the atonement. Rather, the mourning and the honor that are given to a great person who has passed away is what what causes God to [in a corresponding way] look kindly on the Jewish people because the honor that the people are showing to the great person is, essentially, showing honor to God.

Editor’s Note: The idea that the death of a righteous person somehow, magically, causes atonement to the living is a foreign concept to Judaism. The Torah Temimah is pointing out, in this note, that it is not the death itself that causes God to show mercy to the living; rather it is the kind manner and loving mourning for the deceased that arouses God’s mercy.

 

Parshat במדבר Bamidbar 15:24 – Should Judges Have a Retirement Age?

Bamidbar 15:24 – If because of the eyes of the congregation it [the sin] was committed inadvertently, the entire congregation shall prepare a young bull as a burnt offering for a pleasing fragrance for the Lord, with its prescribed meal offering and libation, and one young he goat for a sin offering.

Gemora Horayot 4b – [If such a case happened and] the Sanhedrin taught an erroneous halacha but it was found that one of the members of the Sanhedrin was a convert, or a bastard or a “Natin” or an elderly person who cannot bear children, then this law does not apply. This is proven by the word “congregation” in our verse. In our verse the word “congregation” is used and it is also used in Numbers 35:24. Just as in that verse it means a congregation (court) where all members are appropriate to be judges so too in our verse it must mean a congregation (court) where all members are appropriate to be judges.

Torah Temimah Colloquial Translation on Note #64:

See also what [I have written] at length on this topic in Vayikra 4:13 (note 69) regarding a Great Court that makes an error in judgement that causes the Jewish People to sin unintentionally.  

Note also that the phrase in our verse “the eyes of the congregation” is an expression alluding to the Great Court (Sanhedrin) because, in effect, the Court acts as the eyes of the Congregation. Additionally, the Court enlightens the eyes of the Congregation through their teaching and their judgements.  Reference those notes in Vayikra to understand the Sages’ necessity for their explanation and their statement that every single member of the Court must be found to be fitting to be on the Court.

In regard to the specific phrase: “an elderly person who cannot bear children”, Rashi states “it is unclear to me why such a person is unfit to be a judge”. These words of Rashi are astounding. It states explicitly in Gemora Sanhedrin 36b that one should not appoint as a judge an old person, a eunuch or one who does not have children. The reasons for these disqualifications are that such people are not [generally] merciful.

Additionally, an elderly person, even though he had children when he was younger, nevertheless, he has forgotten the trials and tribulations of raising children and he will not be merciful. See also the commentators on the Mishna.

It is virtually certain that there is a textural error in his words or perhaps he had a different text. Certainly, the text that we have in front of us is problematic in that it combines two separate issues into one with the phrase “an elderly person who can’t bear children”. These are actually two separate, distinct issues. 1) An old person 2) One who cannot bear children (even if he is a young person.)

Note that, in fact, the Rambam in Chapter 13 Halacha 1 of Unintentional Sins writes the words “either an elderly person or one who does not have children”. Certainly, this is the correct and accurate text.

 

Editor’s Note: The idea that being elderly would disqualify someone from being a judge was a new concept for me. Being married and having children is a requirement. It seems, based on this Gemora, that a certain requirement for retirement beyond a certain age is also appropriate.

Parshat במדבר Bamidbar 1:51 – Who Is a Stranger?

Bamidbar 1:51 – When the Tabernacle is set to travel, the Levites shall dismantle it; and when the Tabernacle camps, the Levites shall erect it; any outsider [non Levite] who approaches shall be put to death.

Gemora Shabbos 31a – A non-Jew asked Hillel, “Who does this verse refer to? Hillel responded: Even to King David”

Torah Temimah Colloquial Translation on Note #2:

The Gemora here mentions this story as a continuation of the story of the non-Jew who approached Hillel and asked to be converted on the condition that he be appointed as the High Priest. Hillel responded, “first go and learn the whole Torah.”

The non-Jew went and studied and when he reached this verse he asked what type of ‘stranger’ the verse is referring to. Hillel responded that this law regarding non-Levites [a type of hereditary priesthood] applies even to King David.

The reason for Hillel’s mentioning King David is multi-fold. First of all, perhaps this is an allusion to the Gemora Kritot (6b) where it discussed the verse in Ki Tissa regarding forbidding ‘strangers’ from deriving benefit from the anointing oil in the temple. In that particular situation the word ‘stranger’ does not apply to a King because, actually, a King is one of the people who is anointed with that oil. Nevertheless, here, however, Hillel wanted to emphasize that the word ‘stranger’ would apply to any non-Priest.

An additional reason for mentioning King David is because of the fact that King David is descended from converts [from Ruth the Moabite]. Even though it is well known that converts are especially beloved before God and even though he is King, still this verse’s severe punishment for a stranger applies even to him. Therefore, the implication is that Hillel was obliquely telling the convert that he has no chance of becoming High Priest [but that this doesn’t indicate that he is any less beloved or of a low stature.]

It is also possible that Hillel decision to choose King David as an example is a reference to the verse in Chronicles (15:2) “Thus said David that only the Levites will carry the Ark of the Lord because God has specifically chosen them for this task…”

Thus we see that King David himself was aware not to participate in a service that had been assigned to the Levites and certainly would have not desired to participate in a service assigned to the High Priest.

Editor’s Note: The idea that the law forbids someone who is not descended from the Cohanim to officiate in the temple is not meant to be an insult or any lack of stature for the non-Priest. In fact, the Torah teaches that there are 3 crowns: the crown of Priesthood, the crown of Kingship and the crown of Torah; the crown of Torah being the greatest one of all.

Additionally, for me, the message is that we are all strangers, in one way or another.

Parshat שפטים  – Deuteronomy – 17:1 – Can a Murderer Bless Others?

Deuteronomy:17:1 – You shall not sacrifice to the Lord, your God, an ox or a sheep that has in it a blemish or any bad thing, for that is an abomination to the Lord, your God.

Sifri: We learn in a beraisa that Rabbi Shimon said: One might think that just as an ox or a sheep become invalid for being used as a sacrifice if it was used for immoral sexual relations, so too a Cohen would become invalid. However, since the verse states “it is an abomination to the Lord” we see that the animal becomes invalid but not a Cohen.

Coloquial translation of Note 6:

See also the Mishna in Bechoros (7:7) where it lists reasons why an animal would become invalid yet would not apply to a Cohen. In the list, it includes animals that were used for sexual immorality and also animals that killed a person. The Tosfot Yom Tov states that in some editions of the Mishna it excludes the phrase “that were used for sexual immorality and also that killed a person”. The Tosfot Yom Tov states this because of what it says in the Gemora Bechoros (32a) that Rabbi Yochanan states that a Cohen who has killed someone is forbidden to participate in the communal blessing ceremony. A logical deduction would be that he is also forbidden from participating in the service in the temple when it was standing. This is also true of a Cohen who committed sexually immoral acts.

However, the Sifri explicitly disproves his comments. The Sifri state that a Cohen who commits sexually immoral acts would still be allowed to participate in the communal blessing ceremony. Further, the Tosfot Yom Tov’s observation that it would be a logical deduction to ban such a Cohen from the temple service would only be a [optional] stringency not the strict letter of the law.

In Numbers (6:27) regarding the verse “and I will bless them”, I show that the Jerusalem Talmud Gittin (5:8) explicitly states that a Cohen who has committed sexually immoral acts or who has killed someone is permitted to participate in the communal blessing ceremony.

Translator’s Note: Not only does the Torah Temimah mention his view on this once, he mentions it twice; once in Numbers (6:27) and once here. I think this indicates that he feels very strongly about this issue.

 

Parshat נשא Bamidbar 6:27 – Can a Murderer Be One Who Blesses?

Numbers 6:27 – They shall bestow My Name upon the children of Israel, so that I will bless them.

Jerusalem Talmud, Gittin Chapter 5, Halacha 8: “From which verse do we know that a person should not say ‘this man is immoral or is a murderer and yet he is blessing me?’ God says ‘Who is it who is blessing you? It is Me, God, who is blessing you’. This is shown by our verse in the phrase ‘so that I will bless them.’”

Torah Temimah Colloquial Translation on Note #159:

Contrast this Gemora in the Jerusalem Talmud with the Gemora Berachos in the Babylonian Talmud (32b) where it states “Rabbi Yochanan states that any Cohen who has killed a person cannot participate and offer blessings in the communal blessing ceremony. This is proven by the verse in Isaiah (1:15) ‘And when you spread out your hands, I will hide My eyes from you…your hands are full of blood. Wash, cleanse yourselves, remove the evil of your deeds from before My eyes, cease to do evil.’”

Apparently, this section of the Babylonian Talmud disagrees with the above section in the Jerusalem Talmud.  The Beis Yosef explains this apparent contradiction by stating that the opinion in the Jerusalem Talmud (permitting participation by a Cohen who had killed someone) as dealing with the case where there is only a suspicion of the Cohen’s guilt. People in the community were suspecting that he was guilty. Therefore, the Gemora teaches that a suspicion of guilt is not enough to remove a person’s presumption of innocence. The Rambam agrees with this reasoning. To me, however, this does not appear to be a good explanation of the different opinions in the two Gemoras since it assumes that the Jerusalem Gemora is dealing with a situation that is actually not explicitly stated there.

Rather, it is possible to follow instead the opinion of the Tosafot in Sanhedrin (35b) who state that the Babylonian Talmud (forbidding a participation by a Cohen who had killed someone) is actually stating a stringency that is not the core legal opinion.

Alternatively, one can say that the lenient opinion of the Jerusalem Talmud is due to the fact that it is dealing with a case where the Cohen has repented. The would explain the specific phraseology used in the Talmud there. However, the Rambam in Chapter 15:3 of the Laws of Prayers stretches to say that even if a Cohen had repented, he still cannot participate and offer the communal blessings. He quotes the above verse from Isaiah to support this view. To me, this view is very astounding. Doesn’t the verse immediately follow with the advice: “Wash, cleanse yourselves, remove the evil of your deeds from before My eyes, cease to do evil.”?  This verse shows that repentance does, in fact, help and would make a difference.

See also Tosfot Yom Tov (7:7) in Bechoros where it lists the various types of people who are permitted to participate and offer the communal blessings. He bases his opinion on the words of Rabbi Yochanan in the Babylonian Talmud without quoting at all the Jerusalem Talmud nor the Tosafot that I mention above nor the Beis Yosef. See also my comments in Devarim 17:1, Note 6.

Editor’s Note: Here the Torah Temimah is explaining to us the sources for his opinion that a murderer who has repented may participate and offer God’s blessings in the communal blessing ceremony.