Monthly Archives: July 2017

Parshat בלק Bamidbar 24:2 – Damage Caused By Seeing

Bamidbar 24:2 –  Bilaam raised his eyes and saw Israel dwelling according to its tribes, and the spirit of God rested upon him.”

Gemora Bava Basra 80a – What did Balaam see? He saw that the doors of the tents [of the Bnei Israel] did not directly face each other. This caused him to say that that the they are fit for the Divine Presence to dwell amongst them.

Torah Temimah Colloquial Translation on Note #1:

This is to say that the placement of the tents was such that one person could not see what was occurring in the tent of his neighbor. This demonstrates a quality of modesty [privacy] that thus prevents the evil eye from seeing. The Rashbam states that the source of conclusion regarding this teaching is from the fact that the verse is soon followed by another verse with Bilaam’s praise “how goodly are the Tents of Jacob; the dwelling places of Israel.” Tosafot, on the other hand state that the source of this teaching is from the second part of the original verse which states “and the spirit of God was upon him.”

One can say [perhaps] that the Rashbam was being exact in his analysis of the verses. From the fact that that our verse is followed by the praise of the tents of Jacob shows that the order of the tents found favor in [Bilaam’s] eyes to the extent that he thought it appropriate for the Divine Presence to dwell amongst them. This is why the term “dwelling place” is used. Tosafot, on the other hand, think that the source of this teaching is from the second half of the verse. They, therefore, would read it not that the “spirit of God was upon him” but rather “and the spirit of God should be upon them”. That is to say, “they are fitting for the spirit of God to dwell amongst them”.

You should be aware that, based on this teaching, the Ramban, in his commentary on the beginning of Baba Basra, states that the prohibition of “hezek re’iah” [damage caused by seeing] is a direct biblical prohibition. The back and forth debate in the gemora is whether the damage is materially significant or not. The issue is not whether there is damage or not. Certainly, opening a window opposite another window or a door is certainly a biblical prohibition. Rather the debate in the gemora is on the particular details of the boundaries of the prohibition. For example, would it apply where a window faces a jointly owned courtyard or where two people want to jointly construct a shared courtyard, etc.

Also note that the Baal Atur on page 94 states that the distance that would be applicable for this prohibition of hezek re’iah has no set limit and is quite large.  This observation requires further analysis [and appears to be flawed.] Observe that in verse (Genesis 21:16) it states that Hagar stayed a distance of a ‘bow-shot’ away from Ishmael so that she would not be able to see the death of the child. From that verse we see that the distance of a bow-shot is [approximately] how far a human eye can see [accurately]. Midrash Rabbah on that verse explains that this distance is approximately 1,000 amot. One does need to say that this distance would vary from person to person. However, for Hagar, the distance was about the distance of a bow-shot.

For the halachic parameters of “hezek re’iah” that are currently applicable, see Choshen Mishpat Section 154.

Editor’s Note: My opinion is that the law of hezek re’iah should be reinforced and more widely taught. It seems to be a very significant teaching emphasizing that we should not be ‘busy-bodies’ involving ourselves in other people’s business.

Parshat חקת – Numbers 20:2 – In Whose Merit Was the Well?

Numbers 20:2 – The congregation had no water; so they assembled against Moses and Aaron.

Gemora Taanit 9a: It was taught in a Beraita as follows: Rabbi Yosi the son of Rabbi Yehuda said that the Well was given through the merit of Miriam. Therefore, when Miriam died, the Well ceased. This is proven by the verses that state “Miriam died and there was no water for the congregation.”

Torah Temimah Colloquial Translation on Note #8

Note also the Gemora in Baba Metzia 87b where it states that the Well was given due to the merit of Abraham’s stating to his guests “let a little water be brought [for you]” (Genesis 18:4). The Maharsha asks how can it say here in our Gemora that the Well was due to the Merit of Miriam? Also, what would it mean to refer to it as the Well of Miriam if it was given due to the merit of Abraham? The Maharsha’s response is that if God had considered only the merit of Abraham, the Well would have lasted only for a short period of time. It was only through the merit of Miriam that it lasted all forty years that they were in the desert.

These words of the Maharsha seem not to make sense. How could he possibly say that Miriam’s merit was greater than Abraham’s and say that Abraham’s merit would have sufficed only for the Well to last a short period of time?!

It appears to me that the explanation of the difference between these two Gemoras is that because of the merit of Abraham, the Jews merited to have a woman of Miriam’s qualities who then, in her merit, the Well would be given that would last forty years. In this same manner are we able to explain other examples where the Pillar of Fire and the Manna are also attributed to Abraham and Also to Aaron and Moshe respectively.

Editor’s Note: I appreciated the Torah Temimah’s solution that gives honor and glory to both Abraham and Miriam and does not diminish either one.