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Parshat בשלח Shmos 15:26– Don’t Spit During Prayers  

Shmos 15:26 –  And He said, if you hearken to the voice of the Lord, your God, and you do what is proper in His eyes, and you listen closely to His commandments and observe all His statutes, all the sicknesses that I have visited upon Egypt I will not visit upon you, for I, the Lord, heal you.

Gemora – Sanhedrin 90a: One who whispers on a wound and says “All the sicknesses that I have visited upon Egypt I will not visit upon you” has no portion in the world to come.

Torah Temimah Colloquial Translation of Comment #44:
The Gemora in our chapter (101a) notes that Rabbi Yochanan states that the Gemora is speaking of a situation where someone spits; this being forbidden because it is not proper to mention God’s name while spitting. Rashi there explains that it is the way of whisperers to spit prior to their whisper. In other words, based on Rashi, first they spit and then they say the verse with God’s name in it, “For I, the Lord, heal you.” However, the Tur in Yoreh Deah Section 179 states that the custom of whisperers is to say the verse first [with God’s name in it] and then spit.

Thus, according to the Tur, there would be support for the custom of those who spit during the Alenu prayer before they mention God’s name. The only prohibition being the opposite, namely to mention God’s name first and then spit. This would be prohibited because it would appear as though one is disparaging God’s name. But, if one follows the opinion of Rashi that spitting even before mentioning God’s name is also forbidden, then the custom of spitting during Alenu would be difficult [to support].  

That which the Tur writes in the above noted section that in those instances where it is obvious that one intends to honor God in spitting [as in the Alenu prayer] then it would be permitted, that doesn’t appear to be applicable. The case brought in our Gemora of one who is whispering upon a wound also does not mean to disrespect God, but rather the opposite is true in that he is honoring God by saying a verse that he hopes will cause healing. Nevertheless, the Gemora makes it clear that even in such a case it is still prohibited because it is just not honorable to mention God’s name in connection with spitting.

In summary, if one follows Rashi’s understanding of the Gemora, it is better to not spit during the Alenu prayer. This is how I have seen great men of our generation acting and I have followed their example.

 Editor’s Note: The bottom line is that the Torah Temimah is pointing out that it seems inappropriate to spit during prayers, no matter what.


 

Parshat בשלח Shmos 14:20 – The Angels Weren’t Able to Sing

Shmos 14:20 –  And he [the angel] came between the camp of Egypt and the camp of Israel, and there were the cloud and the darkness, and it illuminated the night, and one did not draw near the other all night long.

Gemora – Megila 10b: Rabbi Yochanan asked, what is the meaning of the verse “and one did not draw near the other all night long”? [It means] that the Ministering Angels wanted to sing, but God said to them, “the work of my hands is drowning in the sea, and you want to sing?”

Torah Temimah Colloquial Translation Of Comment #9:
The phrase “the work of my hands” is reference to the Egyptians, who in spite of everything, are still God’s creations just like any other person. The [grammatical] reason for Rabbi Yochanan’s comment is that in the previous verse the word “camp” is referenced in the plural while in our verse the word “camp” is referenced in the singular. Thus the verse should have stated “and they [the Egyptian camp and the Israelite camp] did not draw near to each other all night long”. This change is the reason why it is taught that the verse is referencing the Angels not coming near to each other – one Angel for the pillar of file that went before them and the other Angel for the pillar of cloud that went behind them. This is in accordance with the verse in Psalms 104:4 “He makes winds His messengers [angels], burning fire His ministers [angels].

Now since the Jews had stopped traveling and stopped, it is obviously that the two pillars [and their accompanying angels] did not, at that point, draw near to each other. Thus, why would the verse even state that they did not draw near to each other? The reason is to teach the fact that they did not even draw near to each other in a spiritual manner, meaning that even for singing they were not allowed to come spiritually near to each other. This teaching relies on the phrase “did not come near” as being a reference to the verse in Isaiah 6:3 – And one called to the other and said, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory.” The angels joined together to say [sing] God’s praises because the natural way for song is to sing in a group.

Look further at the Beis Yosef on Orach Chaim Section 490 who quotes the Midrash “Harninu” the reason why we don’t say [sing] a full Hallel on the intermediate and last days of Passover is because of the this reason that “the work of my hands is drowning in the sea”. This idea, however, requires further investigation. Behold, we see that Moshe and [all of] Israel themselves sang on the seventh day [of Passover] and we also [in synagogue service] say the Song of the Sea. Rather it is clear that the caution against singing is [only] at the actual time of the drowning and prior to that. However, after the fact, singing God’s praises is allowed.

This approach is alluded to in the Gemora’s discussion on this topic in Sanhedrin 39b. The teaching is that the caution against singing is only at the time of the drowning [and beforehand]. This is also stated in the Mechilta (16:1) that on the seventh day of Passover, the angels sang. This would all be in accordance with the approach that we stated above. This is also the way to explain the Gemora Berachos 9b in referencing the Hallel that King David sang upon the downfall of the evildoers – the singing was not at the actual time of their downfall but rather afterwards.

In addition to these above listed reasons, I don’t know what the halachic commentators and the Midrash Harninu are forced to say in regard to the Gemora Arachin 10b where it explains that the reason why we don’t pray the whole Hallel on the Intermediate and Latter Days of Passover is because there is no unique sacrificial offerings on those days. This is in contrast to the holiday of Succos where we do offer unique sacrificial offerings each day and where we do pray the whole Hallel each day. It seems also that this explanation is more logical. After all, if the reason we don’t pray the whole Hallel is due to the Egyptians historically drowning during this time, then what logical distinction would there be between praying the whole Hallel and praying half-Hallel?

One point that can be derived from this discussion is a comment on what the Chavos Yair writes in his Responsum Section 225. There he writes that we do not follow the custom of saying Yotzrot [special additional prayers] on the Seventh Day of Passover. The Chavos Yair states that the reason why we don’t relates to the fact that God did not permit the angels to sing Hallel. [I think] this reason does not make any sense at all. According to that which we have written above, the command to the angels only applied at the night before the Seventh Day but that actual during the day Moshe, the Bnei Israel and the angels all did sing songs [of praise.]

 Editor’s Note: This midrash is popular in certain Jewish groups. It is interesting to see the Torah Temimah take a more learned approach.

Parshat בא Shmos 12:9 – Where are the Waters of Tiberias Located?

Shmos  12:9 – “And it shall be to you as a sign You shall not eat it rare or boiled in water, except roasted over the fire its head with its legs and with its innards.

Gemora: Pesachim 41(a) – Rav Hisda says: [One who cooks/boils] a Pesach sacrifice that is cooked in the hot waters of Tiberias is guilty of a sin because the verse states that it must be roasted.

Torah Temimah Colloquial Translation on Note #89:

The phrasing of the Gemora is not exact – if so, what would be the difference between cooking it in the waters of Tiberias and cooking it in any other hot water? The meaning of the Gemora is that one who roasts the Pesach sacrifice above the waters of Tiberias is liable.  [using the hot air emanating from the waters of Tiberias.] This is a sin because the verse requires that it be roasted over a fire. This is exactly what Maimonides writes in Chapter 8, Halacha 10 of the Laws of Pesach, “one who roasts it above the hot waters of Tiberias transgresses since it must be roasted over a fire.”

Note what is written by the Marei Kohen that is appended to the Vilna Shas. The Marei Kohen quotes the Chacham of Jerusalem as asking: how could it be that one is cooking the Pesach sacrifice in the hot waters of Tiberias? Behold, it is forbidden to eat the Pesach sacrifice outside of Jerusalem. Additionally, if one were to bring it to Tiberias, one would be liable for transgressing the prohibition of “taking it out” [of Jerusalem]. Also, if one were to bring the waters of Tiberias to Jerusalem, they would already have cooled down. Further they would be a “kli sheni” and it would not technically be cooking.

The Marei Kohen states that the Sage of Jerusalem did not propose an answer to his question. The Marei Kohen suggests that the Gemora is discussing a time when bamot [small alters for ‘light’ sacrifices] were permitted throughout the land of Israel.

If that were the case, then why would the Gemora discuss it? Something that was in the past, was in the past. Additionally, bamot will never be permitted again the future (as mentioned in Gemora Zevachim 113b). Lastly, Maimonides also mentions this law regarding the waters of Tiberias and his way, in general, is not to discuss bamot for the above reasons. For these reasons and others, the answer given by the Marei Kohen seems unlikely.

On the other hand, I am amazed that the comments by Rashi on this issue are not mentioned. Rashi interprets “waters of Tiberias” as being “boiling waters”. On the surface, this comment of Rashi’s seems superfluous. Everyone knows what the waters of Tiberias are. Rather, the point of Rashi’s comment is to state that “waters of Tiberias” refers to boiling waters, in any location. Thus, if one were to find hot springs in Jerusalem, the laws applying to them would be the same as those applying to the waters of Tiberias. Now everything is understandable, the above Gemora Pesachim is referring to boiling waters, wherever they may be found.

In fact, a good proof that the Gemora is accustomed to referring to boiling waters as the “waters of Tiberias” can be found in the aggada of helek (Sanhedrin 108a). That Gemora is as follows: “Rabbi Yochanan states that 3 [types of waters] survived from [Noah’s] flood. “  One of them is the waters of Tiberias. Rashi explains there that the waters of Noah’s flood were boiling and the waters of Tiberias are from those waters. Now, the rabbi stating this view is Rabbi Yochanan and he, himself, states in Gemora Zevachim 113a that the flood did not cover the land of Israel. Since Tiberias is in the land of Israel, it is surprising that Rabbi Yochanan would make this statement. Rather, what we see is that Rabbi Yochanan was using the phrase “waters of Tiberias” to refer to hot springs wherever they might be found throughout the world.

Editor’s Note: The Meshivas Nefesh, a commentary on the Torah Temimah, points out that the Gemora in Pesachim 8a discusses “why are there not found ‘waters of Tiberias’ in Jerusalem?” He also mentions that the Yalkut Shimoni in Parshat Baalotcha discusses why there are not ‘waters of Tiberias’ in Jerusalem.  I think he does this as a critique of the Torah Temimah statement that if there were to be found such waters in Jerusalem it would be forbidden to cook the Pesach sacrifice using their heat. It seems to me, though, that these quotes actually prove the Torah Temimah’s point that ‘waters of Tiberias’ is a generic phrase referring to hot springs anywhere.

Parshat בא Shmos 13:9 – Tefillin on Chol HaMoed

Shmos  13:9 – “And it shall be to you as a sign upon your hand and as a remembrance between your eyes, in order that the law of the Lord shall be in your mouth, for with a mighty hand the Lord took you out of Egypt.”

Gemora: Menachos 34(b): We learn in a Beraitha, Rabbi Akiva said, “You might think that perhaps one should put on tefillin on Shabbos and Holidays. However, the verse states [tefillin] should be a sign – meaning for when you need a sign. This excludes Shabbos and Holidays that are themselves referred to as signs.

Torah Temimah Colloquial Translation on Note #33:

Rashi explains and cites the verse in Shmos (31:13) that explicitly states that Shabbos, itself, is a sign. However, Rashi doesn’t mention a proof for the Holidays also being a sign. It seems though that since Holidays are also often referred to as Shabbos; therefore, they also are a sign. This is shown in a variety of verses. Vayikra (23:15) “You shall count, starting the day after Shabbos…” which refers to the holiday of Passover as is explained in the Gemora Menachos (65b). Regarding the holiday of Succos, the verse states (Vayikra 23:39) “the first day of the holiday shall be a Shabbos and the eighth days shall be a Shabbos”. Also, note the Gemora Shevuos (15b) where the rabbis deduce that building the temple needs to be suspended on holidays because of the verse in Vayikra (19:30) “You shall surely guard my Shabbos and my temple shall you fear.” Also, in the Mechilta (on Parshat BeShalach) the rabbis deduce that one may not reap on holidays from the fact that the verse (Shmos 16:26) “Six days shall you reap and on the seventh day (Shabbos) not”. The reason all of these cite describe Holidays as a form of Shabbos is easy to understand. The word Shabbos means resting and ceasing from work – since this is also true of Holidays, we can then see that it is logical to refer to Holidays with the word Shabbos.

Tosafot here writes a [different] reason why Holidays are referred to as a sign. They state that for Passover, the “sign” consists in the prohibition of eating leaven baked goods. On Succos, the sign consists in the dwelling in the succah and in the shaking of the lulav.

But according to this reasoning, one would have to ask what the sign would be for the holiday of Shavuos and Shmini Atzeret? One cannot say, regarding these holidays, that the sign consists of the special sacrifices that are brought on these days. If that were the case, then Rosh Chodesh [the first day of each month], would also be a sign and one would not be obligated to wear tefillin on Rosh Chodesh. [However, one is obligated to wear tefillin on Rosh Chodesh.] Thus, if one does not deduce Holidays as being a sign from the prohibition of work, there are some logical inconsistencies. Further, from the phraseology of Tosafot, it is clear that these two opinions of why Holidays are referred to as signs are mutually exclusive. In Tosafot’s opinion Holiday is referred to as a sign because of its unique observances, not because of the cessation from work.

The halachic ramification of this opinion is regarding the question of whether one needs to put on tefillin during the intermediate days of the holiday [chol ha’moed]. If the reason is because of the prohibition of leaven bread or the obligation to eat in a succah, then one would not be obligated to put on tefillin during chol ha’moed. If, however, the reason is because of the prohibition of doing work – then according to those opinions that one is allowed, biblically speaking, to do work on chol ha’moed, then one would be obligated to put on tefillin during chol ha’moed. This enables us to understand the Rashba who states explicitly that one is exempt from putting on tefillin during chol ha’moed. The Rashba is being internally consistent as he explains in his work (section 600) that it is prohibited bibilically to do work on chol ha’moed. This is as is written by the Beis Yosef. Thus one would not be obligated to put on tefillin during chol ha’moed.

Behold, much has been written by the Rishonim and the Acharonim regarding this issue of obligation or exemption from putting on tefillin during chol ha’moed. Therefore it does not appear appropriate to expound at length regarding this topic here. However, let us shed some light on the issue of putting on the tefillin but without a blessing in order to [seemingly] fulfill all the various opinions on this matter. My opinion is that this idea does not seem to make sense. The fact that saying a blessing does not in any way impact the performance of the mitzvah shows that even without a blessing one has completely fulfilled the mitzvah. [So in what manner does this meet the opinion of one who says that we do not wear tefillin on chol ha’moed?!]

Perhaps the logic here is similar to the logic in the Gemora Rosh HaShana (28b). In that Gemora there is a discussion regarding the prohibition of “don’t add to it”. [This is the prohibition against creating new mitzvot or new prohibitions.]  The Gemora raises the issue of one who sleeps in the succah on Shimi Atzeres is liable for lashes because he has transgressed the prohibition of “adding on”. Many have asked why the Gemora mentions one who sleeps in the succah [after the holiday is over] instead of the [more likely] scenario of one who eats in the succah [after the holiday].

The explanation for the Gemora’s choice of scenario is because on all the days of the actual holiday, we make a blessing before eating in the succah. Thus, if one were to eat in the succah after the holiday and NOT make a blessing, it would be immediately recognizable that one was eating there due to a doubt [is it still the holiday or isn’t it?] not due to a desire to add to the requirements of the mitzvah. This is not the situation with sleeping in the succah, however. Even during the holiday, one never makes a blessing before sleeping in the succah. Therefore, there is no way to recognize that one is NOT sleeping in the succah with the intent of adding on the holiday.

Based on this example we see that since on all normal weekdays of the year, we do make a blessing before putting on tefillin, if we put on tefillin during chol ha’moed and we don’t make a blessing – we thus demonstrate that we are doing so out of a doubt [as to whether one should put on tefillin during chol ha’moed or not]. This is the reason why putting on tefillin without a blessing is the way that satisfies both points of view.

Editor’s Note: This may be the most complex note that we have translated so far. However, the clarity of the Torah Temimah’s logic, I think, does make the note intelligible even to one not familiar with the method of Jewish Talmudic reasoning.

 

Rav Shagar – Chapter 1

I’m excited about a new book that I recently bought. It is called “Faith Shattered and Restored: Judaism in the PostModern Age”. It contains excerpts from Rabbi Shagar’s writings. Reading the introduction, it is clear that the intent is to speak to people for whom the “old” ways of being religious don’t work – but can’t find a new way.

Chapter 1 deals with the Akeda. The title of the chapter is: “Uncertainty as the Trial of the Akeda”. Rav Shagar does not focus the question of the Akeda as Abraham’s being asked to obey an ostensibly unethical divine command. Rather, his focus is on the injustice of God ordering a trial involving the sacrifice of one’s son. “Can God act unjustly?” is the question the Midrash asks. The question begs comparison to Job, whose ordeal was caused by Satan. Would it be correct to assume the same of the Akeda?”

Rav Shagar quotes the Gemora Bava Batra 15b as follows: Greater praise is accorded to Job than to Abraham. For of Abraham it is written “For now I know that you fear God”. Whereas of Job it is written “That man was perfect and upright and feared God and eschewed evil”.

Additionally, Rav Shagar notes that “the Rishonim (including the Rambam) used the Akeda to prove the absolute certainty of prophesy. Abraham never would have been willing to slaughter his son, they posited, were he not absolutely certain of the authenticity of the divine command. In many ways, such a portrayal of the ordeal renders it irrelevant to us, for we have not been granted the privilege of prophecy.”

Rav Shagar notes, however, that the Akeda is saved from irrelevance because many midrashim portray Satan as being the one who commands Abraham; or at least Satan claiming to Abraham that it was his idea. “Hazal’s approach is far from simplistic, eschewing the view that God’s voice is clearly apprehensible and that the focal point of the ordeal is Abraham’s willingness to obey it. The question of Abraham’s capacity to know whether it is indeed God’s voice speaking to him – and that he must obey – or whether it is Satan’s, is posed in all its starkness. Perhaps that is the essence of the ordeal – the ability to distinguish between the two voices.”

So, what is God saying and what is Satan saying? How did Abraham react to injustice and how did Job react? Job protested while Abraham did not. Which reaction is preferable? Rav Shagar quotes Gemora Sanhedrin 89b which, says Rav Shagar, implies that God preferred Job’s reaction.

Rav Shagar says “The lesson is clear: A conceited, all-knowing religious stance renders the trial, and with it the entire religious endeavor, a sham. The trial, along with a religious lifestyle and a connection to God, can exist only in the context of a humble personality that is content in not knowing. A conceited stance stems from pride, and it is the voice of Satan. The trial will forever be associated with a subject who by nature is in the dark.”

Parshat ויגש – Bereishit 46:1 – Is There a Commandment to Honor Grandparents?

Bereishit 46:1 And Israel and all that was his set out and came to Beer Sheba, and he slaughtered sacrifices to the God of his father Isaac.

Midrash Raba: It doesn’t say “to the God of his father Abraham”. Rabbi Yochanan said regarding this that a person is obligated to honor is father more than the obligation to honor his father’s father. The Rama states in his commentary on Yoreh Deah (Section 140) that we see from here that a person is obligated to honor his father’s father, but the obligation to honor is father is greater.

Torah Temimah Colloquial Translation on Note #1:

The above quote is the opinion of the Rama. The Mahari has the opposite opinion: a person is not obligated to honor his father’s father. Many later commentators wrestled with this question and brought proofs for each of the opinions. The Gra, in his commentary on Yoreh Deah writes a new idea on this topic. The Gra states that the grandson is certainly not obligated to honor his mother’s father. The Gra brings a proof from Midrash Bereshit Raba (Section 98) where it states explicitly that the sons of one’s daughters are not referred to as one’s children.

I have doubts, however, whether the Gemora itself agrees with the Midrash Raba on this question. Note that there are many places in the Gemora where it states explicitly that one’s daughters’ children are referred to as one’s children. For example, in the Gemora Yevamoth 66b the Gemora explains the verse in Deuteronomy 33:9 “Nor did he know his children” as referring to his daughter’s children.  Another example is in the Gemora Yevamoth 70a where it comments on the verse in Leviticus 22:13 “if the kohen’s daughter has no children…” and states that it is understood that the verse must include “children’s children”. There it is explicitly discussing a daughter’s children. Another example is in the Gemora Kedushin 68b where it discusses the verse in Deuteronomy 6:4 “if he will turn your son from following Me…” and concludes that this includes the children that your daughter may have even with a non-Jewish father. There are many other Gemoras that prove the same point. We additionally see the same with Lavan’s statement in Genesis 31:43 that “the sons are my sons” when speaking about his daughters’ children. Therefore, it seems probable to say that the Gemora disagrees with the Midrash Raba quoted above. The Gemora’s opinion is that the children of one’s daughters are referred to as one’s children. Thus, the view of the Gra would have to be investigated further in terms of its halachic ramifications.

Consequently, in general, it is logical to state that one is obligated to honor one’s father’s father. We see that the father’s father is [himself] obligated equally to the father. As it states in Gemora Kedushin 30a “how do we know that a grandfather is obligated to teach his grandchildren Torah? From the verse in Deuteronomy 4:9 “But beware and watch yourself very well, lest you forget the things that your eyes saw, and lest these things depart from your heart, all the days of your life, and you shall make them known to your children and to your children’s children”.

If so, the logical conclusion is that since the father’s father has the strictness of the obligation regarding educating his grandchildren, similarly the grandchildren have the strictness of the obligation regarding giving him honor.

There is, in actuality, nothing new in this conclusion. We find similar statements by the Rif and the Rosh and other halachic commentators in their comments on the Gemora Kedushin 44a regarding the obligation of a person to make a blessing if a miracle occurs for him. The commentators state that this obligation occurs not only if the miracle happens to the person himself, but also to his children and his children’s children. The reason for this derives from the Midrash Raba’s statement regarding the verse in Genesis 21:23 [And now, swear to me here by God, that you will not lie to me or to my son or to my grandson; according to the kindness that I have done with you, you shall do with me, and with the land wherein you have sojourned.”] The Midrash Raba comments there that father’s have mercy onto their children up to the 3rd generation of descendants. If so, then the reverse is also true that the son and the son of the son have mercy on their father and grandfather. Thus, since according the measure of feelings of the son of the son and the father of the father are the same and we obligate them equally to make a blessing with God’s explicit name, so to it is logical to obligate them to honor [the father’s father].

Editor’s Note: In this note, the Torah Temimah disagrees with the Gra (The Vilna Gaon) and states that it is an obligation to honor one’s father’s father. Additionally, the Torah Temimah digresses slightly to show that the Gemora and the Chumash consider one’s daughter’s children to also be included.

 

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”.

Parshat בראשית – Genesis 17:13 – May a Woman Perform a Circumcision?  

Genesis:  17:13 –Those born in the house and those purchased for money shall be surely circumcised (המול ימול), and My covenant shall be in your flesh as an everlasting covenant.

Babylonian Talmud – Avodah Zara 27a: – It was taught as follows: From what verse do we know that it is invalid for a non-Jew to perform a circumcision on a Jew? From the verse that states “shall be surely circumcised…”

Torah Temimah Colloquial Translation on Note #36:

It is possible that the exegesis is from the word “ המול” and is taken to allude to the idea of  “מהול“– one who is circumcised. This is done by swapping the first two letters of the word with each other as we find is sometimes done in rabbinic discussions. Thus, the meaning would be “one who is circumcised should perform the circumcision”. In a previous verse (Genesis 17:9) a similar lesson is learned from the phrase “And you, my covenant shall you keep” – “you and people similar to you”. See there for a fuller explanation.

The Gemora explains that there is a practical halachic ramification that depends on which verse is used as the source. The halachic difference being whether women are allowed to perform circumcisions or not. If you deduce the rule from the verse “And you, my covenant shall you keep” – then a woman would not be allowed to perform circumcisions because she isn’t included in the “covenant of circumcision”. However, if you deduce the rule from our verse of “shall be surely circumcised (המול ימול)” – then the principle of “woman are considered as circumcised” would apply. Look over there are the pertinent Gemora and Tosafot.

Note that we hold as a matter of law that women are permitted to perform circumcisions. This is the conclusion of the Gemora based on the verse in Exodus 4:25 “Tzipporah took a sharp stone and cut off the foreskin of her son”. (Note that according to those of the opinion that women are not allowed to perform circumcisions, they understand this verse to mean that Tzipporah began the circumcision, but Moshe completed it.)

In Yoreh Deah section 264 [Yosef Karo] states explicitly that a woman is permitted to perform circumcisions with the condition that if there is a Jewish man of greater stature who knows how to perform circumcisions, then that person would have preference. The Ramah [famous Askenazic early halachic authority] states there, “there are those who say that a woman should not perform circumcisions and our custom is to seek a man to be the mohel.” The Shach and the Gra wonder about the comment of the Ramah and believe that his comment was self-evident and wonder why he commented.

It appears that the intent of the Ramah’s comments is that one is obligated to seek a man to be the mohel even if there is not one close by. This would be in contrast to the opinion of Yosef Karo who would only give precedence to a man if he were present and able to perform the circumcision but there would be no obligation to seek out a man as a mohel.

The logic of the Ramah is that he [essentially] was of the opinion that a woman is not allowed to perform circumcisions. However, the obligation of performing the circumcision on the 8th day takes precedence since the core halacha is that a woman is allowed to perform the circumcision. In spite of this fact, the Ramah’s opinion is that one should seek out a man to perform the circumcision in order to comply with the stricter opinion that a woman may not perform the circumcision.

Additionally, regarding the Shach’s comment that the Ramah stated an obvious fact “we are accustomed to seek a man to perform the circumcision” since a woman is not commonly found who can perform circumcisions, that is not a valid critique by the Shach. If it were decided that a woman is allowed to perform circumcisions even in a situation where a competent male was present, then it is probable that then more woman would learn this skill. From the decision that they are not allowed to perform circumcisions, that is why they have not learned this skill.

Translator’s Note:  I appreciated the Torah Temimah’s analysis of the Shach’s observation that there are very few women who have this skill.