Monthly Archives: November 2017

Parshat תולדת – Genesis 28:9 – When We Don’t Have to Listen to Our Parents

Genesis:  28:9 – So Esau went to Ishmael, and he took Mahalath, the daughter of Ishmael, the son of Abraham, the sister of Nebaioth, in addition to his other wives as a wife.

Babylonian Talmud – Megila 17a: From the fact that the verse mentions that Mahalath was the daughter of Ishmael, we already know that she was the sister of Nebaioth. What is the purpose of telling us this fact that is already known? To teach us that immediately after Ishmael betrothed her to Esau, he died. It was then Nebaiot who completed the marriage process [in Ishmael’s place].

Torah Temimah Colloquial Translation on Note #4

Look at Rashi’s commentary on this verse as it pertains to the above quoted Gemora.

Also note that Rabbi Yosef Karo in Section 167 and also cited by the Ramah in Yoreh Deah (section 140) in the laws of honoring one’s parents that in matter of marriage, the duty of honoring one’s parents does not apply. That is to say, if the father is pushing his son not to marry a specific woman, the son is not obligated to obey him. See also the Vilna Gaon’s comments on this issue.

If this is so, this entire Torah section requires further explanation. How could Yitzchak then command Yaacov to not marry a wife from the daughters of Canaan? (Genesis 28:1) If the law is that Yitzchak does not have the ability to command his son in this matter, how could he command Yaacov? Perhaps he could have used the phrase “request” but certainly not the phrase “command” as was actually the case.

Perhaps there is room to say that if a father commands his entire household not to marry into a certain family (as was the case with Yitzchak) then he would have authority. We find similarly in the Gemorah in a variety of issues that the children of a family can be pressured not to change the custom of their family. In this case, here, the family of our forefathers were commanded not to marry from the daughters of Canaan. As Abraham said to Eliezar (Genesis 24:3) “don’t choose a wife for my son from the daughters of Canaan”. As the Gemora in Pesachim states, Abraham was warning Eliezar regarding Yitzchak not to select a wife from the daughters of Canaan. Thus, it is clear that there was a tradition [in their family]. This is the reason why Yitzchak had authority to command Yaacov regarding his family custom/tradition.

It is a wonder that no halachic authorities have pondered this question [in terms of its ramifications for our time].

Translator’s Note:  It seems clear that the inference from the Torah Temimah’s note is that, as a rule for our times, parents do not have the authority to dictate to their children who they can or cannot marry.


Parshat תולדת – Genesis 27:1 – Why Were Isaac’s Eyes Weak?

Genesis:  27:1 – It came to pass when Isaac was old, and his eyes were too dim to see, that he called Esau his elder son, and he said to him, “My son,” and he said to him, “Here I am.”

Babylonian Talmud – Megila 28a: Rabbi Eleazar said, “ Anyone who stares at the face of an evil person will cause his eyes to be damaged. This is shown by the verse: It came to pass when Isaac was old and his eyes were too dim to see”.  This was due to Isaac’s staring at Esav, the evil one.

Torah Temimah Colloquial Translation on Note #2

See above in Parshat Vayera (Genesis 20:16) that Abimelech cursed Sarah that she should have children with weak eyes. This curse was fulfilled through Isaac. The Gemora asks was it through looking at Esav or due to the curse of Abimelech. The Gemora responds that both reasons contributed.

Prior to this discussion, the Gemora discusses the point that one is forbidden to stare at the face of an evil person. It must be that the phrase “forbidden” is not precise; rather, it is not a good personality trait to stare at the face of an evil person. The proof that it is not literally “forbidden” is from the story that the Gemora tells relating to this issue. The story is that Rabbi Yehoshua ben Karcha is asked “In what merit have you earned to live a long life?” Rabbi Yehoshua replied that he had never stared at the face of an evil person. Note that if it were literally forbidden, what would be special about not having committed that particular sin?

 Also, do not be concerned about the phrase “forbidden” that is used in the Gemora. We find many examples of similar exaggeration. For example, the Rosh writes at the end of the first chapter of Avodah Zarah that it is forbidden to have a [business] partnership with a non-Jew. Behold, this is not at all forbidden, not even rabbinically. Rather the Rosh meant that it is praise worthy trait. Also see Tosafot’s comments in Gemora Bechorot 2b.

As a general observation, also note that the word “stare” refers specifically to depth and emotional looking not to superficial “seeing”. The proof for this is that we have a well know law that one who sees a rainbow should make a blessing upon seeing it. How would this law be possible given that we also state in the Gemora (Chagiga 16a) that anyone who stares at a rainbow will damage his eyes. One must conclude that “staring” and “seeing” are two different levels of looking at something.

 We see the same point from the Gemora there regarding the saying that anyone who stares at the face of a prince, will cause his eyes to be weakened. On the other hand, the law is that when a prince passes by, one should stand up and look at his face with awe (Horayot 12a).

Translator’s Note:  This note stood out to me because the Torah Temimah states that sometimes when the Gemora or later rabbinic texts state “forbidden”, it is not literally forbidden.

Parshat ויצא – Genesis 28:19 – The Mountain of God Is a House

Genesis:  28:19 –And he named the place Beth El, but Luz was originally the name of the city.

Babylonian Talmud – Pesachim 88a: – Rabbi Eleazar said: what is meant by the verse, “And many people shall go and say: ‘Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, To the house of the God of Jacob’” (Isaiah 2:3)? Why does it say the God of Jacob, but not the God of Abraham and Isaac? But [the meaning is this: we will] not [be] like Abraham, in connection with whom ‘mountain’ is written, as it is said, As it is said to this day, “In the mount where the Lord is seen” (Genesis 22:14). Nor like Isaac, in connection with whom “field” is written, as it is said, “And Isaac went out to meditate in the field in the evening” (Genesis 24:63). But [let us be] like Jacob, who called Him “home”, as it is said, “And he called the name of that place Beth-El [God is a home]” (Genesis 28:19).

Torah Temimah Colloquial Translation on Note #19

The Beth-El referred to here is not the same Beth-El referenced in Hoshea Chapter 7. Rather here is a reference to Jerusalem. Jacob called it Beth-El due to the fact that in the future the House of God would be built there. This is the same location referred to as Mount Moriah where Abraham prayed (Genesis 22:14). It is also the same location as the field that is mentioned where Isaac prayed (Genesis 24:63). Thus, the statement in the Gemora is that by referring to the location as a ‘house’ the intention is to contrast it with ‘mountain’ and ‘field’ which are open, non-status laden locations. Rather, the intent is to refer to it as a ‘house’; a location that is well-guarded and status laden.

What is stated just above is the general explanation given by the classic commentators, but the matter is not entirely clear to me. Behold, we find many places where a mountain is referenced as a very high, lofty location. There are references to “the Mountain of God” (Isaiah 2:3), to “Mount Zion” (Psalms 48:3), “the Holy Mountain” (Isaiah 27:13), etc. Why, here, are they denigrating the term “mountain”?

Therefore, were it not for the prior explanations offered by the commentators, I would state that this Gemora is referring that what which is stated in the Zohar in the section on Parshat Yitro (Section: 69:2). The Zohar there states: Why did Abraham refer to it as a mountain and Jacob refer to it as a house even though they are referring to the same place and represent the same [spiritual] level?  It is a mountain because a mountain is in reference to the nations of the world and represents a place for them to come under the wings [of the Divine Presence]. [Its holiness is open to everyone, whoever wants may come and receive it[1].  So too, the holiness of this mountain is open to all.]  On the other hand, it is called a home in reference to the Jewish people being in relation to God as a husband and a wife together joyfully in their home or as a mother bird laying on her nest. [End quote from the Zohar.]

Thus, we see that the advantage of a house over a mountain is not related to status. Rather, mountain is a [universal] symbol directed at the nations of the world while house is a [more intimate] symbol directed at the nation of Israel.

Translator’s Note:  The Torah Temimah is explaining why the same location is called both a house and a mountain. Instead of the explanation given by the classic commentators, he chooses an explanation in the Zohar.

[1] This addition is from the fuller text of the Zohar as pointed out by the commentary “Meshivas Nefesh”.