Friday, June 26, 2015

Once by Land and Once by Sea

The Chossom Sofeir points out that the day Moshe hit the rock to produce water was the same date as an earlier, more famous, incident involving Moshe and water. According to his calculation, Miriam died on the tenth of Nissan, they mourned until the 17th, and then went three days without water before complaining on the 21st of Nissan. Incidentally, the 21st of Nissan is well-known for another water-related incident that occurred on that day 40 years earlier: Kri'as Yam Suf.

There are countless explanations as to the precise nature of Moshe's sin at Mei Meriva (see for example here and here). Using the Chossom Sofeir's timetable, the Shemen Ha'Tov adds his own idea, pointing out what was lost when Moshe did not extract water from the rock as ordered. On the more famous 21 Nissan, in the year 2448, Hashem proved to the world that He can turn water into dry land. "U'vnei Yisrael halchu ba'yabasha bisoch ha'yam." Then, 40 years later, Hashem wanted to show that He can also reverse the trend, and turn a dry rock into fountains of water. Many magicians have been able to perform one-way tricks, transforming objects into new objects. Hashem asked Moshe to show Hashem's mastery over the world by creating opposite miracles on the same date; first He turned water to land, then he wished to turn land to water. In some small way, Moshe did not allow this perfect demonstration (see Rashi and other commentaries as to exactly how Moshe failed to achieve this goal).

With this, the Shemen Ha'Tov concludes by explaining a familiar paragraph from Tehillim (said as part of Hallel):
בצאת ישראל, ממצריים... מה-לך הים כי תנוס הירדן תיסוב לאחור.
ההופכי הצור אגם-מים חלמיש למעיינו-מים

The pasuk first poetically describes the water splitting when we left Egypt. But the last pasuk seems out of place: "He who turns rocks to water" seems irrelevant to the story of Yam Suf. But, explains the Shemen Ha'Tov, in light of his explanation, the pesukim flow perfectly. First, Dovid Ha'Melech alludes to the miracle of Kr'ias Yam Suf that occurred during yetzias Mitzrayim. Then, the paragraph concludes by describing Hashem's full range of "abilities," performing the exact opposite miracle on the same date.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Stay Away - Lessons from the Nazir

Commenting on the juxtaposition of two seemingly unrelated stories, Rashi shares the well-known wisdom of our Sages, "kol ha'ro'eh sotah b'kilkulah, yazir atzmo min ha'yayin," one who witnesses the disgrace of a sotah will abstain from wine. The parsha of sotah is followed by that of nazir because one who observes the gruesome sotah process will realize that alcohol was probably involved in the immorality that led to the process and will therefore abstain from alcohol consumption as a nazir.

One of the questions commonly asked about this simple wisdom is why a person who watched the entire episode unfold--an ordinary woman being humiliated, even removing her hair covering in front of the kohen--would need any extra assistnace in avoiding her route.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Living the Good Life - How to Help the Poor

When man was first created, he was described as possessing a “nefesh chaya,” a living soul. Onkelus famously defines this human soul as an ability to speak. Onkelus was clearly sensitive to the additional life granted to humans over animals. The Netziv, noting the same observation, writes a fundamental idea in defining the word “chaya,” life, in this context and many others.

Friday, March 20, 2015

You Are What You Eat - Insights Into Korbanos

As Pesach approaches, the topic of acceptable and unacceptable foods are on people's minds. Aside from Pesach, foods occupy an important part of this week's parsha.
Among the intricate laws surrounding the sacrifice service introduced in Sefer Vayikra, a few that stand out are the prohibition to bring honey or yeast as part of any sacrifice in addition to the requirement to include salt in every sacrifice. Clearly, these specific laws have meaning and many commentaries note that the meanings transcend the sacrifice service in the Temple; they are equally as relevant in contemporary times. What is the message that these required and prohibited ingredients are supposed to teach?

Friday, January 30, 2015

Sing for the Moment...and Eternity

In the two most famous words of the Shiras Ha'Yam, Moshe and the Jewish people begin their song with "Az yashir," "then [they] will sing." In addition to the many insights offered to explain the word "az," "then," the meaning of the second word, "yashir," or at least its future tense has perplexed many commentaries.

Rashi suggests that after witnessing the splitting of the sea, Moshe and the Jews contemplated beginning to sing, or as Artscroll translates, "Then Moshe and the Children of Israel chose to sing this song...". Rashi then cites a Medrash offering a different explanation. The future tense, "yashir," is indeed referring to a song to be sung in the future, and this pasuk alludes to the revival of the dead. In other words, in addition to the song that the Jews sang on that day, they will sing again another song at a later date, i.e. techiyas ha'meisim.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Which Came First - The Mitzvah or the Exodus?

On the way out of Mitzrayim, Moshe informs the people Jewish about many commandments surrounding their departure. He commands them to take matzah and sacrifice the korban Pesach, among others. He also commands them with the famous phrase, "v'higadita li'vincha," tell your children, the two words which serve as the basis for our annual Seder night.

The words which follow the commandment of "v'higadita li'vincha," the content of what to tell the children is a little less clear. "Ba'avur zeh asah Hashem li b'tzeisi mi'Mitzrayim," because of this G-d has acted on my behalf when I left Egypt (Artscroll). Rashi says that "zeh/this" refers to the mitzvos of korban Pesach and matzah. Seemingly, then, the pasuk is out of order; G-d has acted on my behalf, therefore I am performing these mitzvos.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Will You Will It? - Using Our Free Will Properly

One of the most famous theological questions that arises from the Chumash is based on a story which transpires in our parsha. Time after time, Moshe approaches Pharaoh requesting freedom for the Jewish people, and time after time, Pharaoh refuses. What makes Pharaoh's refusal unique, however, is the lack of choice he seemed to have had in the matter.

Even though Jews believe in free will as a prerequisite for reward and punishment (see for example the Rambam), Hashem repeatedly informs Moshe that "Ani ak'sheh es lev Pharaoh," I will harden his heart. As promised, throughout the ten plagues, the pesukim alternate between "chizak," "kaved," and "hikshah," different forms of stiffening Pharaoh's heart and ostensibly removing his free will. But how could it be?