Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Parshas Acharei Mos / Pesach

וידבר ד' אל משה אחרי מות שני בני אהרן בקרבתם לפני ד' וימתו (16:1)

The Gemora in Sanhedrin (52a) tells that while Moshe and Aharon were leading the way at Mount Sinai, Nadav and Avihu followed behind them and wondered aloud to one another when Moshe and Aharon might die so that they could assume the mantle of leadership. Hashem replied, “We’ll see who will bury who.” Rashi explains that the Gemora is coming to teach that it was for this act of seeking power that they died prematurely. This is difficult to understand for two reasons. First, the Torah gives an alternative reason for their death (10:1-2): they brought an offering which they weren’t commanded to bring. Second, nowhere do we find that the pursuit of power is a capital crime.

The Steipler resolves these questions based on a Gemora in Rosh Hashana (17a-b). The Gemora teaches that if a person acts humbly, Hashem overlooks his sins and gives him time to repent. The Steipler explains that the Gemora in Sanhedrin doesn’t mean to say that Nadav and Avihu were killed for seeking honor. Rather, it is bothered that Hashem normally gives a person a chance to repent and doesn’t punish him on the spot. Why were Nadav and Avihu immediately killed for their erroneous actions?

The Gemora answers that almost one year previously they expressed their jealous desire for power. As a result, they didn’t receive Divine mercy to give them time to repent. The actual cause of their deaths was the foreign sacrifice, as the Torah explicitly says. The reason that Hashem judged them so strictly was because they invited it upon themselves by coveting the leadership.

Based on the Steipler’s explanation, we may now resolve an apparent difficulty in אלקי נצור, the prayer said at the end of Shemoneh Esrei. Seemingly, the most important requests contained therein are פתח לבי בתורתך ובמצותיך תרדף נפשי – Hashem should open our hearts to His Torah and help us pursue the performance of mitzvos. If so, why don’t we begin the paragraph with these petitions?

The aforementioned Gemora in Rosh Hashana mentions that there is one other way to merit Divine leniency: to overlook wrongs done to us and not respond to insults. If Hashem grants our request to help us excel in our Torah study and mitzvos but judges them strictly, we don’t stand much of a chance. Many times they are performed without full concentration or for ulterior motives. We first ask for help in obtaining the two keys to eliciting Hashem’s mercy: ולמקללי נפשי תדום ונפשי כעפר לכל תהיה – To those who curse me, let my soul be silent, and let my soul be like dust to everyone. Only after we have the tools to merit Hashem’s compassionate judgment are we able to continue with our primary request.

בזאת יבא אהרן אל הקדש (16:3)

The Vilna Gaon quotes a fascinating Medrash (Vayikra Rabbah 21:7) which teaches that although all future Kohanim Gedolim were only permitted to enter the Kodesh Kodashim on Yom Kippur, Aharon was allowed to enter whenever he wanted as long as he performed the Yom Kippur service. This fact provides the key to resolve many difficulties regarding this section in the Torah.

The Vilna Gaon points out that the entire portion dealing with the Yom Kippur service repeatedly refers to Aharon and not more generally to “the Kohen Gadol” as one might have expected. Also, it concludes (16:34) by teaching that this service shall be a decree for the rest of the Jews once annually. The Chai Adam adds that with respect to other sacrifices, the Torah writes first the date and then details the appropriate sacrifice, whereas in our parsha, the date of Yom Kippur isn’t mentioned until the end (16:29) In light of the Medrash, we now understand that Aharon’s performance of this service was unrestricted, whereas for future generations it was indeed limited to once per year.

This Medrash also explains why the Gemora in Yoma (71a) teaches that the entire service should be performed in the order it is written in the Torah except for one verse (Rashi 16:23) which isn’t written in its proper place. The Gemora’s proof is that if the service was done in the order it is written, the Kohen Gadol would only have to immerse himself in a mikvah three times, which contradicts the Gemora in Yoma (30a) which teaches that he must do so five times. However, if we recognize that this section is addressing Aharon’s service on any day of the year that he chooses – when there is no obligation to immerse five times – we can understand that for Aharon, this verse is written in its appropriate place!

We may similarly explain another difficulty. At the end of this section, the Torah concludes (16:34) that Aharon did just as Hashem commanded him. Rashi, troubled by the fact that he was unable to do so since it wasn’t yet Yom Kippur, explains that Aharon performed the service when Yom Kippur arrived. However, according the Medrash, we may suggest that Aharon immediately entered and performed the Yom Kippur service, as only he was permitted to do, with great alacrity!

The Gemora in Gittin (60a) teaches that there are eight portions of the Torah that were taught on the day that the Mishkan was erected, one of which is Acharei Mos. Rashi is bothered by the fact that all of the other portions were immediately relevant and needed to be taught at that point, but the details of the Yom Kippur service seemingly weren’t applicable for six more months. Rav Yaakov Kamenetzky notes that according to the Medrash, we understand that it was relevant at that time, as Aharon was able to immediately enter the Kodesh Kodashim to perform the Yom Kippur service.

Finally, the Gemora in Yoma (53b) derives from 16:13 that if the Kohen Gadol leaves out one of the ingredients of the incense, he is liable to the death penalty at the hands of Heaven. The Shaagas Aryeh (71) questions why there is a need to derive this point from a verse discussing the Yom Kippur service, when we could alternatively learn it from the more general principle that because the Kohen Gadol made a forbidden fire on Yom Kippur, he is liable to the even more severe penalty of kares (spiritual excision). Citing the Medrash, the Steipler answers that this derivation is necessary with respect to Aharon, who was permitted to perform this service on days of the year when making a fire would otherwise be permitted, but improperly offering the incense in the Holy of Holies is not!

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

1) When a person dies, the impurity from his dead body is transferred to everything under the same roof (Bamidbar 19:14). According to the opinion of Rebbi Akiva, who maintains that Nadav and Avihu died inside of the Mishkan, why is no mention made of the entire Mishkan and its vessels becoming impure from their deaths and requiring a 7-day cessation of the Divine Service until they could be properly purified with the ashes of the red heifer? (Daas Z’keinim, Tur HeAruch, Panim Yafos Bamidbar 8:3, Pardes Yosef, Har Tzvi, Chavatzeles HaSharon Bamidbar 8:3)

2) How is it possible that a completely healthy person ate on Yom Kippur a quantity of food larger than the size of a large date in a normal manner and in less than two minutes, and yet he is exempt from punishment for eating on Yom Kippur (16:29)? (Orach Chaim 612:6)

3) The Torah concludes the portion dealing with the Yom Kippur service by stating (16:34) that it will effect atonement for the Jewish people מכל חטאתם – from all of their sins. The term חטא is used to connote a sin which is done accidentally, which implies that one is unable to receive forgiveness on Yom Kippur for sins committed intentionally. Is this the case, and if not, why does the Torah use such seemingly misleading wording? (Ibn Ezra, Kovetz Ma’amorim, Derech Sicha)

4) The Gemora in Sanhedrin (74a) derives from the words וחי בהם (18:5) – and (mitzvos) by which you shall live – that a person should transgress all of the mitzvos in the Torah rather than give up his life, with the exception of idolatry, murder, and forbidden relationships, regarding which the law is that a person should allow himself to die rather than transgress. How could it be that the words instructing a person to transgress rather than die aren’t applicable to the sin of forbidden relationships when they are specifically written together with those prohibitions? (M’rafsin Igri)

5) The Torah implies (18:28) that anybody contaminates Israel by imitating the abominable practices of its former inhabitants will similarly be expelled. Why do we find so many people living there and committing immoral acts without any apparent ramifications? (Taam V’Daas)

מה נשתנה הלילה הזה מכל הלילות שבכל הלילות אנו אוכלין חמץ ומצה הלילה הזה כולו מצה

The Rema rules (471:2) that matzo with which one may carry out his obligation to eat matzo on the night of the Seder (the 15th of Nissan) may not be consumed on the day before the Seder (the 14th of Nissan). The Magen Avrohom (471:6) infers from his wording that the prohibition is only on the 14th of Nissan, but it would be permissible to consume this matzo on the day of the 13th.

The Chok Yaakov understands that the Magen Avrohom only allows the matzo to be eaten on the day of the 13th, but maintains that it becomes forbidden on the night before the Seder (the night of the 14th), which presents a problem for those who wish to use matzo for the Friday night meal this year. The Chok Yaakov proceeds to disagree, quoting the Ran who explicitly argues and a number of other sources which would also appear to support his position.

Rav Chaim Soloveitchik offers a novel support to the position of the Chok Yaakov, who permits the consumption of matzo on the night of the 14th, from the well-known “Four Questions.” The first question asks why on all other nights we are permitted to eat chometz and matzo, but on this night we may only eat matzo. From the fact that the child asking mentions that on all previous nights we were able to eat both chometz and matzo, we may conclude that on the previous evening – the night of the 14th –we may indeed consume not just chometz but also matzo!

וגם את הגוי אשר יעבדו דן אנכי ואחרי כן יצאו ברכש גדול (בראשית 15:14)

דן אנכי בעשר מכות, ברכוש גדול בממון גדול (רש"י)

Rav Saadyah Gaon notes that all of the tremendous miracles involved in each of the ten plagues were all part of the fulfillment of a mere two words in the Torah – “I will judge” – as Hashem exacted vengeance on the Egyptians for the bitter enslavement to which they subjected the Jews. Similarly, the massive collection of wealth which the Jews received from the Egyptians and at the Yam Suf represented the realization of another three words of Hashem’s promise– “they will go out with great wealth.”

Rav Chatzkel Levenstein writes that a simple reflection upon the magnitude and extent of the fulfillment of each word in the Torah is overwhelming. When we recognize how many lengthy promises are repeated throughout Tanach regarding the reward in store for the performance of the mitzvos, we should find inspiration in the recognition that when translated into reality by being “multiplied” by the appropriate factor, the manifestation of the rewards waiting for the righteous is simply mind-boggling!

וילך איש מבית לוי ויקח את בת לוי ותהר האשה ותלד בן ותרא אתו כי טוב הוא (שמות 2:1-2)

At the time of Moshe’s birth, his parents are referred to generically as a man and a woman from the tribe of Levi. Their names are only mentioned for the first time in Parshas Vaeira (6:20), after Moshe had already been chosen to redeem the Jews. As his parents obviously possessed great merits and holiness in order to merit giving birth to such a special child, why are their names omitted until much later?

Rav Moshe Feinstein explains that when parents are blessed with a particularly gifted child, they naturally take tremendous pride in him. Because he seems automatically destined for greatness, they may feel less of a need to properly guide and educate him. The Torah teaches us that this approach is mistaken.

Our Sages teach that when Moshe was born, his soul was so great that he lit up the house. Nevertheless, his parents didn’t suffice with their recognition of his great potential, nor does the Torah give them any praise for merely bringing such a special child into the world. Only in Parshas Vaeira, when Moshe had grown up and matured to a level where Hashem selected him to be the redeemer of the Jews and receiver of the Torah, did the Torah mention the names of his parents to extol them for taking his tremendous raw potential and raising him in a manner which allowed it to be translated into action.

ויגדל הילד ותבאהו לבת פרעה ויהי לה לבן ותקרא שמו משה ותאמר כי מן המים משיתהו (2:10)

Pharaoh was warned by his astrologers that a redeemer of the Jewish people would soon be born, but his downfall would occur through water. Pharaoh therefore decreed that every male child born must be thrown into the river (Rashi 1:22). It was an incredible act of Divine Providence that Pharaoh’s own daughter brought a strange boy into his palace to raise as her own. The child’s name was Moshe, which indicates that he was drawn from the river, yet Pharaoh never asked any questions and it never occurred to him to suspect the implications of the baby’s origins. The Steipler points out that it was precisely his attempts to kill the future liberator of the Jews which set in motion the chain of events that ultimately brought that very savior into Pharaoh’s palace where he unsuspectingly raised him like a grandson.

Similarly, Yosef’s brothers were jealous of his dreams that they would one day bow down to him. In an effort to foil his rise to power, they schemed first to kill him and then to sell him into slavery. Unbeknownst to them, Hashem was pulling the strings behind the scenes, setting into effect a plan by which their very attempts to nullify Yosef’s dreams became the mechanism which ultimately led to their fulfillment. Man can scheme all that he likes, but if Hashem wills it otherwise, those who attempt to outsmart the system will see their grandest plans boomerang back upon them.

ויצא אל אחיו וירא בסבלתם (2:11)

נתן עיניו ולבו להיות מיצר עליהם (רש"י)

From the birth of Moshe until Hashem spoke to him from the burning bush, there are a mere 27 verses in the Torah. Precious little background information about Moshe’s childhood and his qualifications to serve as the redeemer of the Jews are given. The Darkei Mussar writes that the attribute which is repeatedly emphasized in these verses is his ability to be נושא בעול עם חבירו – compassionate in sharing in the suffering of others – which is one of the 48 methods by which the Torah is acquired.

Although Moshe had the good fortune to be raised in Pharaoh’s palace, he refused to exempt himself from sharing in the plight of his people. The Medrash relates that he voluntarily assisted them in their labor to lighten their load and identify with their suffering. We are also told of his pain at witnessing the merciless beating of a Jewish slave by his Egyptian taskmaster, which he reacted to by slaying the Egyptian (2:11-12). The Torah continues to relate that not only was Moshe pained by a non-Jew striking a Jew, but also by one Jew raising his arm to hit another Jew (2:13). His concern for others wasn’t limited to Jewish suffering, as he then came to the aid of non-Jews (Yisro’s daughters) who were being unfairly persecuted by other shepherds (2:17). The Medrash adds (Shemos Rabbah 2:2) that his sensitivity wasn’t just humanitarian, as he even had compassion on a tired and thirsty sheep in his flock, carrying it on his shoulder from the stream where it ran for a drink back to the pasture where the other sheep were grazing.

The common thread in these episodes is Moshe’s tremendous compassion for others. If these are the only snapshots we are given into his early life, it must be that he was chosen to redeem the Jews and receive the Torah for this attribute. In fact, his sensitivity was so great that even after being selected, he attempted to decline for fear that his older brother Aharon would be hurt at being passed over (Rashi 4:13). The Alter of Slabodka notes that even after being reassured that Aharon would rejoice at the good news, Moshe still didn’t immediately depart on his mission. He first stopped to receive permission from his father-in-law Yisro, to whom he felt gratitude for hosting him. Moshe was chosen precisely because he understood that a possible slight to even one person outweighed the Redemption of the entire Jewish people and if Yisro objected, a different mechanism for their salvation would need to be found!

הנה אנכי מכה במטה אשר בידי על המים אשר ביאר ונהפכו לדם (7:17)

לפי שאין גשמים יורדים במצרים ונילוס עולה ומשקה את הארץ ומצרים עובדים לנילוס (רש"י)

After tempting Chava to eat from the forbidden Tree of Knowledge, the serpent was cursed that it would travel on its stomach and eat dust all the days of its life (Bereishis 3:14). In what way does this represent a punishment, as other animals must spend days hunting for prey while the snake’s diet – dust – can be found wherever it travels? The Kotzker Rebbe explains that this point is precisely the curse. Other animals are dependent on Hashem to help them find food to eat. The snake, on the other hand, slithers horizontally across the earth. It never goes hungry, never looks upward, and is totally cut off from a relationship with Hashem, and therein lies the greatest curse imaginable!

Rashi writes that the first plague (blood) was directed against the Nile River, which was deified by the Egyptians due to the fact that it never rained in Egypt and their only source of water was the rising Nile. Rav Shimshon Pinkus symbolically explains that like the serpent, the Egyptians were a totally “natural” people. Because it never rained in their country, they never had to look skyward to see what the clouds foretold. As a result, their hearts never gazed toward the Heavens, which effectively cut them off from perceiving any dependence on or relationship with the Almighty. Everything which occurred in their lives could be explained scientifically and deceptively appeared to be completely “natural.”

In light of this, the Exodus from Egypt wasn’t merely a physical redemption from agonizing enslavement, but also represented a deeper philosophical departure. The book of Exodus, then, is the story of exchanging a worldview devoid of spirituality, through which everything is understood and explained according to science and nature, for one in which we confidently declare that Hashem runs every aspect of the universe and of our daily lives, and we are proud to be His chosen people.

וראיתי את הדם ופסחתי עלכם ולא יהיה בכם נגף למשחית בהכתי בארץ מצרים (12:13)

With the relatively recent proliferation of unprecedented weapons of mass destruction and talk of chemical and even, G-d forbid, nuclear warfare, it seems quite natural to fear for one’s own fate and that of the entire Jewish nation. With neighbors who would desire nothing more than its total annihilation, Israel certainly seems to be perched in a precarious position should such a war break out.

However, Rav Nosson Wachtfogel notes that for a believing Jew, this trepidation and anxiety is misplaced. The Torah tells us that throughout all of the plagues in Egypt, Hashem placed an artificial “wall” at the border of the Jewish region of Goshen and protected them from the various plagues. Even though the laws of nature dictate that frogs, lice, and hail shouldn’t discriminate within the Egyptian borders, even “nature” is subservient to Hashem’s commands.

He who declared that under normal circumstances animals shouldn’t differentiate between potential victims also decreed that during the plagues, an alternate set of laws of nature should govern which afforded miraculous protection to the Jews. Even the mass destruction caused by the plague of the slaying of the first-born completely passed over the Jews, killing an Egyptian attempting to hide in the house of a Jew but protecting a Jew who was in the house of an Egyptian (Rashi 12:13).

Similarly, it seems that with the tremendous destructive abilities of today’s bombs and missiles, there is nowhere to hide from the invisible radiation and chemicals which could be deployed by our enemies at any moment. Fortunately, the Torah teaches us otherwise. As long as we continue in the ways of our ancestors in Egypt, remaining separate from our non-Jewish neighbors and maintaining our Jewish customs and traditions, we remain above the “inviolable” laws of nature and have nothing to fear at all!

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

1) Why don’t we recite the שהחיינו blessing, which is customarily said when doing mitzvos which occur only at infrequent intervals, when performing the mitzvah of checking our houses for chometz on the night before Pesach begins? (Tur and Taz Orach Chaim 432, Shalmei Moed)

2) In the song אחד מי יודע – Who Knows One, each number from 1 to 13 is associated with something that has a unique connection to the Jews (e.g. Matriarchs, books of the Torah). The number 9, however, is used to refer to the 9 months of a woman’s pregnancy, which is ostensibly relevant to non-Jews as well. In what way is this concept distinctly connected to the Jews?

3) In the Haggadah, we say that whereas Pharaoh attempted to kill only the male Jews (1:16), Lavan wished to uproot the entire nation. Why is the Haggadah written in a way which seems to minimize Pharaoh’s wickedness and demonstrates that he could have been even worse?

4) Rashi writes (7:25) that each of the plagues lasted seven days, after which Moshe spent three weeks warning Pharaoh about the plague to come, such that each plague required a total of one month. The final plague, the slaying of the first-born, took place on 15 Nissan. Working backward, the seventh plague (hail) occurred in the month of Teves, which normally falls out in January. How was it possible that the flax and barley were stricken because they were already ripe and in their stalks (9:31), which certainly doesn’t happen in January? (Paneiach Raza)

5) Hashem commanded Moshe (10:1) to approach Pharaoh and warn him about the upcoming plague, explaining that “I have hardened his heart and the heart of his servants so that I can place My signs in his midst.” Why did Pharaoh deserve further punishment for continuing to refuse to free the Jewish slaves if Hashem hardened his heart and took away his free choice?

6) Although Rashi writes (12:15) that eating matzo is only obligatory on the first night of Pesach, the Vilna Gaon maintains that one who consumes matzo for the duration of Pesach performs a mitzvah. Similarly, eating bread in the sukkah is obligatory only on the first night and is optional for the duration of Sukkos. Just as a person who chooses to consume bread in the sukkah on the remaining days performs a mitzvah and recites a blessing over it, why doesn’t one also make a blessing when he voluntarily eats matzo during the remaining days of Pesach? (Baal HaMaor end of Pesachim, Meiri Sukkah 27b, Shu”t Binyan Tzion 2:46, Shu”t Chasam Sofer Yoreh Deah 191, Shu”t Maharsham 2:107, S’dei Chemed Ma’areches Chometz U’Matzo 14, M’rafsin Igri)

7) The Tosefta in Pesachim (10) rules that a person is obligated to discuss the laws of Pesach and the Exodus for the entire night of 15 Nissan. In the well-known episode recorded in the Haggadah about the five Sages in B’nei B’rak, what was so unique about the fact that they remained awake to discuss the Exodus for the entire night if every person is obligated to do so? (M’rafsin Igri)

8) The Gemora in Pesachim (3b) relates that a non-Jew was put to death for attempting to eat from the Korban Pesach, which Rashi writes (12:43) may be consumed only by Jews. Although he wasn’t supposed to eat it, on what legal grounds was this considered a capital crime? (Minchas Chinuch 14, Meromei Sadeh Pesachim 3b, Shu”t Yehuda Ya’aleh 55, Chasam Sofer)

9) The Medrash teaches that wherever the word ויהי appears, it connotes pain. Parshas Beshalach begins (13:17) ויהי בשלח פרעה את העם – and when Pharaoh sent out the (Jewish) people. Why did the Torah use the word ויהי in conjunction with the freeing of the Jews, something which should have caused joy? (Hadar Z’keinim, Darkei HaShleimus, Bishvilei HaParsha)

10) Was Hashem’s primary purpose in splitting the Red Sea (14:21) to save the Jewish people from their Egyptian pursuers or to punish the Egyptians? (Ibn Ezra 14:17, Rambam Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah 8:1, Chizkuni 14:22, Ayeles HaShachar 11:9 and 14:17)

11) In the blessing said in the morning following Krias Shema, we say וזדים טבעת וידידים העברת –and You drowned the wicked sinners, and You brought across Your dear ones. However, in the parallel blessing said in the evening following Krias Shema, the order is reversed: המעביר בניו בין גזרי ים סוף את רודפיהם ואת שונאיהם בתהומות טבע – Who brought His children between the split parts of the Red sea, while their pursuers and haters he caused to drown in the depths. In which order did these two events occur, and why is their order changed in the two blessings? (Siddur Rokeach Vol. 1 pg. 308, Ayeles HaShachar, M’rafsin Igri, Eebay’ei L’hu)

12) The Gemora in Sanhedrin (89a) teaches that no two prophets ever prophesy using the same words and expressions. How did all of the Jews at the Red Sea sing with Divine Inspiration the exact same song (15:1-19) using identical words? (Ohr Gedalyahu)

13) The Daas Z’keinim writes (15:1) that Shiras HaYam begins אז ישיר – and they sang – because the gematria of the word אז is eight, which hints to the fact that the Red Sea split in the merit of the mitzvah of circumcision, which is performed on the eighth day of a boy’s life. Why did it split specifically in the merit of this mitzvah, and what is the connection between them? (Zahav Sh’va)

14) There are four blessings which are recited exactly once annually (outside of Israel, where there are more because Yom Tov is observed for only one day), two of which are associated with this time of the year. How many of them can you identify?

© 2008 To subscribe or send comments, write to parshapotpourri@optonline.net