Monday, May 17, 2010

Parshas Nasso (Shavuos is below)

ושמו את שמי על בני ישראל ואני אברכם (6:27)
The Brisker Rav was once praying the morning prayers in a synagogue. When the time came for the Kohanim to recite the Priestly Blessing (which is said daily in Israel), it was discovered that there were no Kohanim present. The Brisker Rav instructed somebody to go to Zichron Moshe, a large synagogue nearby, to bring Kohanim from there to give the Priestly Blessing.
Although the other synagogue was close, the entire process required close to 15 minutes of idle waiting. Some of those present grew impatient and began to complain that the wait entailed a legal difficulty since it is forbidden to delay longer than the amount of time required to say the entire Shemoneh Esrei. Additionally, they argued that the wait constituted an unnecessary burden on the congregation.
The Brisker Rav answered that legally, there were no grounds for concern since the Rema rules (Orach Chaim 65:1) that a lengthy delay is only problematic in the event that it is involuntary. In this case, there was technically nothing preventing them from continuing the prayers, so their voluntary choice to wait didn’t constitute a legal problem.
As for their second concern, regarding the significant inconvenience for the assembled, the Brisker Rav expressed astonishment at their argument. He noted that people regularly travel days and even weeks to request a blessing from a Chassidic Rebbe or other pious Jew. Upon their arrival, they often wait in line for hours until it is their turn to enter to receive a blessing which emanates from a mere mortal no matter how righteous he may be. In the case of the Priestly Blessing, regarding which Hashem writes in the Torah a guarantee that its proper recital will bring forth Divine blessing, isn’t it surely worth a short wait of 15 minutes!?

ויהי המקריב ביום הראשון את קרבנו נחשון בן עמינדב למטה יהודה (7:12)
The Gemora is replete with laws derived from seemingly superfluous words in the Torah, based on the principle that the Torah doesn’t contain even a single unnecessary letter. It is therefore difficult to understand why the Torah repeats at excruciating length the offerings brought by each of the 12 tribal leaders, when they were all identical to one another. Wouldn’t it have been much more concise to list the offering brought on the first day and to add that each subsequent leader brought the same offering on the succeeding days?
The Ramban explains that although their actions appeared identical on a superficial level, Hashem knows the inner thoughts motivating every action. He recognized that each leader had a unique intention behind his selection of the items brought in his offering. Because their personal motivations were unique, the Torah wrote out each one separately as if their offerings were completely different.
Rav Reuven Leuchter posits that because the Torah is the blueprint of the universe, the expression of any genuine concept can be found in the Torah. He suggests that the source for the idea of “creativity” may be found where one would least expect it – in the section recounting the offerings of the tribal leaders! The Ramban teaches us that although the Torah requires us to do certain concrete actions, we are still able to imbue them with our own individual perspectives and to find in them an expression of our own unique personalities.
Many people today complain that they feel constrained by the standard text of our daily prayers, which was established almost 2000 years ago. They feel that as our daily needs change, so too should our expression of them. However, the Ramban’s explanation can be extended to teach that we need not feel stifled by the repeated expression of our needs and entreaties using identical phrases.
Just as the tribal leaders brought identical offerings and still found room for creative expression by doing so with their own unique intentions, so too our Sages established the standard wording of the prayers with Divine Inspiration, articulating within them every feeling we may wish to express. Many times, in the midst of a difficult situation, we begin the standard prayers with a heavy heart, only to find a new interpretation of the words which we have recited thousands of times jump out at us. This newfound understanding, which has been there all along waiting for us to discover it in our time of need, is perfectly fit to the sentiments we wish to convey, if we will only open our eyes to see it and use our Sages’ foresight to express ourselves.

ויעתר מנוח אל ד' ויאמר בי אדוני איש האלקים אשר שלחת יבוא נא עוד אלינו ויורנו מה נעשה לנער היולד ... ויאמר מלאך ד' אל מנוח מכל אשר אמרתי אל האשה תשמר (הפטרה – שופטים 13, 13:8)
After an angel appeared to the heretofore barren wife of Manoach to inform her that she would give birth to a son and to instruct her to raise the child as a nazir, she proceeded to relate the good news to her husband. Manoach requested that Hashem send the angel back to instruct him how to raise his future son. The angel returned and reiterated to Manoach the pertinent laws of a nazir, which seemed to satisfy him.
This episode is difficult to understand. As Manoach’s wife had already informed him of the angel’s instructions regarding the nazirite status of their future son, what room was there for confusion? The laws governing the conduct of a nazir are clearly outlined in the Torah. Further, upon coming back, the angel simply repeated what Manoach had already heard from his wife without adding any new information. In what way was the angel’s return helpful?
The following humorous story will help us appreciate the answer to these questions. Rabbi Pesach Krohn tells of a teacher who caught one of his students stealing pencils from the other children. After reprimanding him, the behavior continued. Finally, after the student ignored repeated warnings from the teacher, he had no choice but to call the boy’s parents to discuss the issue. Much to the teacher’s surprise, after listening to the problem the boy’s father revealed the true source of the behavior by exclaiming, “Why in the world would he need to steal pencils!? I bring home more than enough from the office to supply the entire class!”
In light of this amusing lesson about the power of parents teaching by example, we can now appreciate the answer given by Rav Shimon Schwab to our original questions. He explains that Manoach’s confusion wasn’t related to the laws pertaining to his future son, which he could learn himself. His dilemma was of an educational nature. After hearing that his son would be a nazir, unique and different from his peers, Manoach was unsure how to properly raise a son who would have no role model from whom he could learn the behavior expected of him.
In response to Manoach’s query, the angel came back to give him the requested guidance. The angel acknowledged that his question was quite valid, and instructed him that the proper way to raise such a son was to give him an adult nazir as a role model – by Manoach becoming a nazir himself! The angel’s instructions to Manoach can be read, “Everything which I instructed your wife (regarding your future son), תשמר – you should observe” by becoming a nazir. The lesson to be derived from this beautiful explanation is that the only successful way to educate children is for the parents to serve as living role models of the values and priorities they wish to impart to them.

Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):

1) In dividing the tasks among the Levites, why were the most holy tasks – the responsibility for the Aron, Menorah, and Altars – assigned to the descendants of Kehas (4:1-20) and not to the children of Gershon, who was the oldest of Levi’s children? (Darkei HaShleimus)
2) The Gemora in Kesuvos (72a?) derives from 5:18 that a married woman is obligated to cover her hair. Is a bride required to cover her hair at her wedding, and if not, at what point does the obligation begin? (Shu”t Rav Akiva Eiger 2:79, Shu”t Shevus Yaakov 1:103, Be’er Heitev Even HaEzer 21:5, Mishnah Berurah 75:11, S’dei Chemed Vol. 6 pg. 359-362, Shu”t Yechaveh Daas 2:62, Halichos Bas Yisroel 5:8, Torah L’Daas Vol. 8)
3) Rashi quotes (6:2) the Gemora in Sotah (2a), which explains the juxtaposition between the portions dealing with the laws of the sotah and the laws of the nazir as coming to teach that one who sees the sotah in her degraded state should become a nazir and forbid to himself the wine which causes adultery. Why isn’t witnessing the degrading punishment and excruciating death suffered by the sotah sufficient to deter somebody from following in her footsteps even without abstaining from wine? (Me’Rosh Amanah, Noam HaMussar)
4) The Arizal teaches that Shimshon was a combination of the souls of Yefes and Eisav. What similarities and parallels can you find between them?

Answers to Points to Ponder:

1) Rav Shloma Margolis writes that the Torah is teaching us that it is incorrect to view certain actions as more important and others as less valuable. The assumption that it is more precious to Hashem to carry the vessels of the Mishkan, which Kehas did, than to transport the external curtains and coverings, as Gershon did, is a mistake. In reality, all forms of serving Hashem are equally important if performed for the sake of Heaven. He adds that the yeshiva in Kelm emphasized this concept by assigning the various cleaning tasks to the students, with the most senior students meriting the “lofty” position of cleaning the floors, which was intentionally done to teach them that there is no such thing as a degrading mitzvah.

2) The Mishnah Berurah quotes the opinion of Rav Akiva Eiger, who rules that a betrothed woman is required to cover her hair. Because we perform the legal equivalent of betrothal under the chuppah, this would require a woman to cover her hair prior to the wedding ceremony so that it will be covered at this time. Rav Ovadiah Yosef notes that the Rema maintains that the most important part of the wedding ceremony is yichud and suggests that according to this opinion, the bride only needs to cover her hair after she emerges from the yichud room. However, many women are lenient and follow the ruling of the Shevus Yaakov, who maintains that the obligation doesn’t begin until after the couple has had relations. For all questions of practical halacha, a competent Rav should be consulted.

3) Rav Shach suggests that Chazal are teaching us that if a person doesn’t establish concrete boundaries to govern his conduct, all of the intellectual insights that he may have had will be insufficient to prevent him from sinning at a time when his evil inclination tests him. The only hope that he has to remain strong is to create rules and limits before he finds himself in such a situation. For this reason, Chazal understood that witnessing the horrific punishment which befalls the sotah is insufficient unless the observer transforms his emotional reaction into practical terms. Rav Nosson Wachtfogel adds that this concept is alluded to by the Mishnah in Avos (3:9) which teaches that if somebody’s actions are greater than his wisdom, his wisdom will endure, but if his wisdom is greater than his actions, it will not last.

4) The Arizal explains that because Eisav didn’t bring wine to his father as Yaakov did (Bereishis 27:25), Shimshon was a nazir who was forbidden to drink wine. Because Eisav caused his father Yitzchok to become blind through the smoke of the idols worshipped by his wicked wives (Rashi 27:1), the eyes of Shimshon were gouged out and he became blind. Because Eisav was hairy from birth (25:25), the special strength of Shimshon was dependent on his hair not being cut. As a gilgul of Yefes, Shimshon killed a lion was to take revenge against the lion for scratching his “father” Noach in the ark (Rashi 7:23).

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ויען בעז ויאמר לה הגד הגד לי כל אשר עשית (רות 2:11)
Rus asked Boaz why she found such favor in his eyes, and why he was being so kind to her to encourage her to continue collecting grain in his field. Boaz responded by telling her that he had heard about all of the acts of kindness that she did for Naomi, and how she had selflessly left behind her family and her homeland to travel to Israel.
This is difficult to understand. If Boaz knew about the entire chain of events and realized that Naomi and Rus returned to Beis Lechem poor and in dire need of food, why didn’t he take his relatives into his house and support them until they could get back onto their feet? Additionally, the Targum writes (2:10) that Boaz told Rus that he was prophetically informed that kings and prophets would be descended from her. As a wealthy man and a leader of the generation, why didn’t he show more compassion to Rus if he realized how special she was?
The Iggeres Shmuel answers that the day on which Naomi and Rus arrived in Beis Lechem was the day on which Boaz’s wife died. The reason that he couldn’t help them was a very practical one: he was preoccupied with burying his wife and sitting shiva. At the conclusion of the week of mourning, he went out to his fields and there he discovered Rus.
Still, why didn’t Boaz take them in at that point? First, he assumed that Rus would not want to accept charity from him. Also, it would have appeared inappropriate for him to bring one or two women into his house the moment that he finished the week of mourning for his wife, and additionally, they were both widows and he didn’t yet know which one to choose.
Alternatively, the Akeidah answers that although Boaz was greatly impressed with all that he had seen and heard about Rus, he still wanted to check the sincerity of her conversion. If she arrived in Israel and was quickly taken in and assisted by her wealthy relative Boaz, there would still be no proof about the purity of her motivations. Therefore, just as Naomi had tested Rus and Orpah by encouraging them to return to Moab, Boaz continued the test by turning a cold shoulder to her plight and encouraging her to continue gathering in his field. If she had only returned to Israel in the hope that he would rescue her, she would now be revealed for her insincere intentions. However, the Megillah proceeds to record that she passed his test with flying colors.

ותדבק בנערות בעז ללקט עד כלות קציר השערים וקציר החטים (2:23)
The second chapter of Rus concludes by stating that Rus remained to glean in Boaz’s fields until the end of the wheat harvest. The Medrash teaches that the duration of the period from the beginning of the barley harvest until the end of the wheat harvest is three months. The Malbim explains that this seemingly trivial bit of information is in fact a critical introduction to the next chapter, which begins with Naomi telling Rus of her plan to try to get Boaz to marry her.
Until that time, she was unable to do so because the Gemora (Yevamos 41a) teaches that a convert must wait three months after converting before she may marry, to ensure that she isn’t pregnant with a child conceived prior to her conversion. Therefore, the Megillah records that three months passed, at which point Rus was permitted to get married and Naomi began her efforts in this regard.
The Chasam Sofer makes a brilliant calculation. Naomi and Rus arrived in Israel on 16 Nissan, the day of the offering of the Korban Omer. If so, the three months of the harvest season ended on 15 Tammuz, and on that day Naomi approached Rus with her plan for her to marry Boaz. On the following night, 16 Tammuz, Rus went to Boaz, and they married the next day, the day of 16 Tammuz. That night Rus conceived a child with Boaz, just before he died.

It is well-known that Chazal teach that on Tisha B’Av, the seeds of the redemption will be planted and Moshiach will be born. However, according to this calculation, the day of 17 Tammuz, which is also a fast day which is associated with great suffering and punishment, was also a day on which the beginning of the redemption was created through the conception of the Davidic line of kings.

ויאמר מי את ותאמר אנכי רות אמתך ופרשת כנפך על אמתך כי גאל אתה (3:9)
When Boaz woke up in the middle of the night, he was startled to discover Rus, and he asked her who she was. She responded by identifying herself and requesting that Boaz marry her since he was her redeemer. How is this to be understood, and in what sense was Boaz considered Rus’s redeemer?
In discussing the episode of Yehuda and Tamar, the Ramban explains (Bereishis 38:8) that when a man dies without children, his soul is in turmoil, as it has no continuation. The ideal way to rectify this problem is for his brother to marry his widow, but if he is unavailable, the custom used to be that the closest relative would marry her, which was also of benefit for his soul.
When the Torah was given, most of these close relatives were forbidden to marry the widow, but the Torah specifically permitted the brother of the deceased to perform the mitzvah of yibum since that is the ideal form of the mitzvah. In the case of Machlon, whose brother Kilyon also died, Rus decided to marry the closest remaining relative, her uncle Boaz, who was permitted to marry a niece. This does not provide the full rectification for the soul of the deceased, so it is not called yibum but redemption, and for this reason Rus informed Boaz that he was her redeemer. This is even more interesting in light of the fact that the Chida writes that Rus was a gilgul of Tamar.
As for the reason that Moshiach is interconnected with the concept of yibum, first through Yehuda and Tamar and later through Boaz and Rus, the Mishbetzos Zahav explains that when a man dies without children, it appears that he and his memory are eternally erased from all future generations. However, Hashem in His infinite mercy gave a mitzvah of yibum to give him a second chance and enable him to return from what seems like eternal oblivion.
This is a metaphor for the redemption that Moshiach will bring, as the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash and the sentencing of the Jewish nation to exile for so many hundreds of years would seem to indicate that all hope is lost and we are condemned to our plight, yet Hashem promises that just as yibum gives a second chance to a man who dies without children, so too will Moshiach, who came about through yibum, give Klal Yisroel a second chance.

וישי הוליד את דוד (4:22)
One of the reasons given for the custom of reading Megillas Rus on Shavuos (Shaarei Teshuvah 494:2) is that Dovid HaMelech died on Shavuos, and because the Gemora in Rosh Hashana (11a) teaches that Hashem fills the days and months of the righteous, we may assume that he was also born on Shavuos. Since Megillas Rus discusses the lineage of Dovid HaMelech, it is therefore appropriate to read it on the day of his birth. However, it is difficult to understand why the lofty Davidic line of kings specifically came about through a marriage involving Rus, a convert.
The Zohar HaKadosh explains that Jewish kings must possess a unique balance of compassion and vengeance. They receive their mercy from their paternal side, the Jewish side, and their cruelty from their maternal side, the non-Jewish side. The mercy is to be shown toward the Jewish nation, while the cruelty must be used when attacking the enemies of Hashem and the Jews. Rav Dovid Cohen adds that even the vindictiveness came specifically from Rus, who was the paragon of compassion and chesed, in order to ensure that it would be used solely for the sake of Heaven.
Alternatively, the Maharal explains that in order to make a new creation, Hashem must mix in outside sources and genes. Mixing and breeding any combination of people who are descended from the same source, as are all Jews who are ultimately descended from Avrohom Avinu, can by definition only result in more of the same.
When Hashem wanted to create Moshiach, He by necessity had to do so by mixing in converts who came from non-Jewish origins. Moreover, the greater the difference between the species being “crossbred” and the original species, the greater will be the likelihood of making a new creation. For this reason, Hashem specifically created Dovid through Rus the Moabite and Shlomo HaMelech’s successor Rechavam through his marriage to Na’amah the Ammonite because the Moabites and Ammonites are the two nations who are the farthest removed from Judaism, as they are the only two nations who are forbidden ever to intermarry into the Jewish nation. It was specifically the converts from these distant and removed nations who were able to facilitate the new creation of the Davidic line of kings.

Shavuos Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):

1) The mitzvah of counting the Omer requires one to begin counting the days from the second day of Pesach until the day before Shavuos, which is the 49th day. If one continues counting beyond that point (e.g. with Shavuos being the 50th day), does he violate the Torah prohibition (Devorim 4:2) against adding to the mitzvos? (Mikdash Mordechai Parshas Behaaloscha)
2) The Gemora in Avodah Zara (2b) relates that before giving the Torah to the Jews, Hashem first offered it to the other nations of the world, all of whom refused. The Gemora in Shabbos (89a) explains that the mountain on which the Torah was given is named סיני (Sinai) because it caused the non-Jews to hate (שנאה) the Jews for receiving Hashem’s Torah there. Why did they hate us for accepting something which they had been offered and declined? (Mishmeres Ariel)
3) The Gemora in Avodah Zara (2b) relates that before giving the Torah to the Jews, Hashem first presented it to the other nations of the world, all of whom refused to accept it. How could He offer the Torah to them when He promised our forefathers that He would give it to their descendants, and what would have happened had one of the other nations actually chosen to accept the offer? (Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh Shemos 19:5)
4) The Magen Avrohom writes (494) that the reason for the custom of staying up all night on Shavuos and learning is because the Medrash teaches that on the night before the giving of the Torah, the Jews slept too long and Hashem had to awaken them when the time came for the giving of the Torah. To prevent ourselves from making a similar mistake and to rectify theirs, we show our eagerness to receive the Torah and remain awake the entire night. How is it possible that all of the Jews “overslept” for the most monumental event in history? (Darkei HaShleimus)
5) The Gemora in Shabbos (88a) teaches that Hashem lifted Mount Sinai above the Jews like a barrel and threatened them that if they didn’t accept the Torah, they would be buried there. Did it remain like this for the entire duration of the giving of the Torah, or did it return to its natural state after they agreed to accept the Torah? (Ayeles HaShachar Shemos 19:17)
6) Rashi writes (Shemos 20:2) that Hashem said the 10 Commandments in the singular tense so that Moshe would be able to defend the Jews after the sin of the golden calf by arguing that they had thought that the mitzvos were given only to Moshe and not to them. As the 10 Commandments begin, “I am Hashem Who took you out of the house of slavery in Egypt,” and Rashi writes (5:4) that the tribe of Levi wasn’t subjected to the servitude there, how could Moshe claim that the people thought that the commandments were given to him and not to them? (M’rafsin Igri)
7) Why is bearing a false oath considered such a severe sin that the prohibition against doing so appears in the 10 Commandments (Shemos 20:7)? (Ibn Ezra, Rabbeinu Bechaye, Kli Yakar)
8) Rashi writes (Shemos 20:8) that regarding Shabbos, Hashem said both the positive commandment of זכור – remember – and the negative mitzvah of שמור – safeguard – at the same time. What was written in the Tablets? (Ibn Ezra 20:1, Ramban 20:8, Shu”t Radvaz 3:549, Shu”t Maharam Alshaker 102, HaEmek Davar Devorim 5:19 and 10:4, Emes L’Yaakov Devorim 5:12)

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