Monday, July 31, 2006


I will tentatively be giving a shiur on Tish'a B'Av night at the Hillel. I was originally thinking about reworking a shiur that I gave one Shabbos afternoon as an undergrad several years back on the narrative of Gedaliah in Yirmiyah, but am now leaning towards talking about the life and times of Yirmiyahu. In an attempt to organize myself, I reviewed the book of Yirmiyah, and will probably read through whatever midrashim I can get my hands on tonight. I probably won't post the shiur here, unless there are any especially interesting midrashim that I find, but here's a quick summary of the book of Yirmiyahu that I jotted down. It might not be so intelligible unless one has learned the sefer before.
The Life and Times of Jeremiah

Introduction: 13th year of Yoshiyahu, Yehoyakim until end of 11th year of Tzidkiyahu, galus
1) Call to prophecy – image of almond rod, boiling pot. Encouragement.
2) Kindness of youth – why rejection? Why reliance on Ashur and Egypt? Idolatry, murder of innocent.
3) Unfaithful wife. (v.6 – Yoshiyahu) Israel, Judah. Shuvu!
4) Return! Else, prepare for invasion.
5) Find one man. Susim m’zuyanim. I shall bring a nation upon you. Persecution of poor, false prophecy.
6) Prepare for attack. Shalom, shalom – v’ein shalom.
7) (Gate of BH”M) Impove your ways! Do not trust in heichal Hashem, etc. Rather, improve your ways! Steal, murder, oppress poor, idolatry, swear falsely. Shiloh. Do not pray for this nation. Tophet. V’hishbati kol sasson, etc.
8-9) Sin, punishment
10) Idolatry
11) (v.1) Punishment. (v.21) Punishment of Anasos.
12) Complaint of Jeremiah. Destruction, opportunity to return.
13) Linen belt
14) Re: droughts. Do not pray. False prophets
15) Even Moshe and Shmuel. Four kinds. B/c of Menashe. Complaint of Jeremiah.
16) Do not marry or bear children here. Do not go to house of mourning, house of feasting. Removal of joy of chasan, etc. Egypt and lands of north.
17) Iron pen, point of diamond. Trust in man/God. Personal prayer. (v. 19) Shabbos.
18) Potter’s house. (v. 18) Plots.
19) Bottle. Break bottle.
20) Pashchur ben Immeir hits Jeremiah, imprisons him. Prophecy to Pashchur, complaint.
21) Tzidkiyahu asks about Bavel – negative reply.
22) Prophecy to king – do justice, or else. Punishments to Shallum, Yehoyakim, Konyahu.
23) Against shepherds. Redemption – Tzemach tzaddik. Egypt, north. Against false prophets. Against use of word “masa”.
24) Vision of figs.
25) (4th year of Yehoyakim – 1st of NN) Repent! B/c not… Kosh Cheima to Israel, nations.
26) Beginning of Yehoyakim. Debate over killing Yirmiyahu. Achikam intervenes.
27) Beginning of Yehoyakim. Send bands and bars to Judah and neighbors – under Bavel. Vision against keilim.
28) Beginning of Tzidkiyahu. Prophecy of Chananya ben Azzur – break yoke. Yirmiyahu – Amen! Iron yoke. Death.
29) Letter to Bavel – build house, dirshu es sh’lom ha’ir. Return after 70 years. Prophecy to Achav ben Kolaya and Tzidkiya ben Ma’aseiah. To Shemaya haNechelami.
30) Record in book. Redemption.
31) Redemption. Rachel. Ephraim. New covenant.
32) 10th year of Tzidkiyahu – in prison. Chanam’el
33) 2nd vision in jail – redemption. Everlasting covenant with AIJ
34) Invasion. Prophecy to Tzidkiyahu. Slaves.
35) Yehoyakim. Reichavim.
36) 4th year of Yehoyakim. Scroll – Baruch reads in BHM. Second scroll.
37) Tzidkiyahu reigns. Sends to Yirmiyahu – pray for us – not in prison. Bavel leaves b/c of Egypt, but shall return. Arrested by Iriah ben Shelemya ben Chananya – accused of treason, imprisoned. Recalled by Tzidkiyahu. Complaint to Tzidkiyahu – transferred from dungeon to guardhouse.
38) Shephatya,, get permission to arrest Yirmiyahu, throw into pit of mud.
Saved by Eved Melech. Summoned by Tzidkiyahu**
39) Teivet, 9th year of Tzidkiyahu – siege. 9 Tammuz – breach in wall. Tzidkiyahu flees, but is captured. House burned, people taken captive. Poor left in land. Yirmiyahu given to Nevuzar’adan, given to Gedaliah. Prophecy to Eved Melech.
40) Nevuzaradan speaks to Yirmiyahu. Gedaliah. Warning of Yochanan.
41) Assassination by Yishmael. Massacre of Shechemites. Yishma’el defeated – people retreat to Gerut Kimham.
42) Advice from Yirmiyahu – prophecy. Stay in land.
43) Rejection of Yirmiyahu’s words – flee to Egypt – prophecy against Egypt.
44) Prophecy against Jews of Egypt – rejection of his words.
45) 4th year of Yehoyakim – prophecy to Baruch.
46) Against Egypt.
47) Against Phlishtim.
48) Against Moav.
49) Against Ammon, Edom, Damascus, Kedar/Chatzor, Elam.
50) Against Bavel.
51) Against Bavel. Throw prophecy of Bavel into Euphrates. Ad heina divrei Yirmiyahu.
52) Copied from Melachim II. Tzidkiyahu reigns. 10 Tevet, 9 Tammuz, capture of Tzidkiyahu, destruction of BHM, exile. Details of destruction of keilim. Execution of Seraya kohein gadol and other leaders.
Epilogue: 37th year of exile of Yehoyachin - Yehoyachin released from prison by Evil- Merodach, set above other captive kings, given daily food allotment.


Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Sh'liach Mitzvah money

The ADDeRabbi has an interesting post on Sh'liach mitzvah money, in which he notes its likely origin in the ma'amar on Pesachim 8a that "Shluchei mitzvah einan nizokin", messengers sent to do a mitzvah do not come to harm, but questions some of the methods in which this custom is observed nowadays, most notably how it is only applied in the case of people traveling to Eretz Yisroel.

In a comment on the post, I noted:
My impression was that, when it comes to the priorities of giving tzedakah, the aniyim of one's own community come before the aniyim of anywhere else, with the exception of aniyei E"Y, who are on the same level of priority. If this is true, a Jew in NY could use someone traveling to E"Y to be his shaliach to give tzedaka there, but if the traveler is going to Los Angeles, he could not do so, because the sender's obligation would be to distribute the money in his own town, rather than in another town.

Granted, I haven't heard of people nowadays being makpid not to support aniyim of cities in Chu"L outside their own, but perhaps this could still explain the reason why, when the "laws" of sh'liach mitzvah money were codified, only travelers to E"Y were included.

Alternatively, perhaps the practice of sh'liach mitzvah money was initiated at a time when the community there was experiencing significant financial struggles (i.e., any time before the late 1800s). If this is the case, perhaps the practice of sh'liach mitzvah money, which as you mentioned is only tangentially based on the gemara in Pesachim, was innovated specifically to save the Jews living in E"Y at the time.

In a later comment, I asked for the earliest mention of this practice in the halachic literature.

Several posters challenged my post's implication that one who goes against the order of priorities is doing something wrong. One noted that the order of priorities is not an order of precedence, per se, but rather is ultimately translated into a fractional disbursement of one's funds (and further noted that aniyei E"Y are on a second level between aniyei ircha and aniyim of other cities). Taking these into consideration, one can still posit that if one is sending money anywhere, it makes more sense to be sending it to E"Y than to a city in Chu"L.

Upon further thought, though, the practical origin of the practice suggested by my second answer seems to me to be more likely than the halachic origin suggested by my first answer (It seems to me that this is a k'lal which can often be successfully applied in understanding contemporary Jewish practices whose origins are unclear). Ben Bayit in a comment there noted that the Gra and Chida are recorded in the "pinkas Eretz Yisroel" kept by the Jewish community of Amsterdam to have been given funds for their personal use in traveling to (back to, for the Chida) E"Y and for disbursement in the community there.


Monday, July 24, 2006

B'nos Tz'lofchod

Last Shabbos, my friend David F. asked me how I understood the dikduk of the following passuk (Bamidbar 36:6):

זֶה הַדָּבָר אֲשֶׁר-צִוָּה יְהוָה, לִבְנוֹת צְלָפְחָד לֵאמֹר, לַטּוֹב בְּעֵינֵיהֶם, תִּהְיֶינָה לְנָשִׁים: אַךְ, לְמִשְׁפַּחַת מַטֵּה אֲבִיהֶם--תִּהְיֶינָה לְנָשִׁים.

"This is the matter which HaShem has commanded regarding the daughters of Tz'lofchod, saying: Let them be married to whom they think best; only into the family of the tribe of their father shall they be married".

The issue that he brought up was how the verse uses the masculine possessive term "בְּעֵינֵיהֶם" to refer to the b'nos Tz'lofchod.

Shortly before, I had been browsing through the Oznayim LaTorah, and noted that he also asked this question, answering regarding the importance of not relying too much on one's own opinion in deciding on a proper shidduch, as strong feelings of love can blind one towards problems that a third party would see. Even though the b'nos Tz'lofchod did not have a father, nor brothers, they should still seek out the advice of others before making their decision. This idea is expressed by the usage of the masculine term, rather than the feminine one. ad can tamzis d'varav.

Even if one uses the answer of the Oznayim LaTorah, though, one still can ask about the usage of the masculine term "אֲבִיהֶם" at the end of the verse. The simple answer that I wanted to give is that the Torah doesn't always care about proper grammar. We also see masculine pronouns used to refer to the B'nos Tz'lofchod in 27:7:

כֵּן, בְּנוֹת צְלָפְחָד דֹּבְרֹת--נָתֹן תִּתֵּן לָהֶם אֲחֻזַּת נַחֲלָה, בְּתוֹךְ אֲחֵי אֲבִיהֶם; וְהַעֲבַרְתָּ אֶת-נַחֲלַת אֲבִיהֶן, לָהֶן.

"The daughters of Tz'lofchod speak right; you shall surely give them a possession of an inheritance amongst their father's brothers, and you shall pass on the inheritance of their father to them.

This verse is particularly interesting in that it starts out with the masculine "לָהֶם" and "אֲבִיהֶם", but then changes over to the feminine "אֲבִיהֶן" and "לָהֶן". As a further data point, the nun at the end of the word "מִשְׁפָּטָן" in 27:5 is written large, which may or may not have significance to the discussion at hand.

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Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Divrei Yirmiyahu

Last year, Josh Waxman at parshablog made an interesting post (which he reposted this year) in which he suggests that Yirmiyahu's complaint "Lo yadati dabeir ki na'ar anochi" - "I cannot speak, for I am a child" is not merely a figurative statement that, because he is young and from the countryside, he does not have the necessary speaking skills needed to be a prophet, but rather it is a literal statement that he is physically unable to speak - in other words, that is a young infant who is physically unable to speak. See there for the full post.

In a comment there, I provided both an additional support and an attack on his contention. On the one hand, Yalkut Shim'oni Yirmiyahu 1:262 mentions a prophecy that Yirmiyahu delivered immediately after his birth:

"My mother! You have not conceived me like the normal way of women, and you did not bear me like the normal way of childbearing women. Perhaps you are like a wayward woman, and you have set your eyes upon another man, like a Sotah? Why do you not drink the accursed waters of the Sotah? You have been very brazen!"

When his mother protested her newborn son's false accusations (especially in light of that he shouldn't be speaking at all at this age), he responds that he is referring to Tzion and Yerushalayim, not to her, his physical mother.

Hence, we see a Midrashic source which supports the possibility that Yirmiyahu's call to prophecy was when he was in utero (as opposed to his merely being designated as such at that time, as in v. 5).

However, I'm not sure how well this reading of the verse in Yirmiyah works. My impression is that the word na'ar refers more to a lad or a teenager - examples of the word's usage include Yishma'el (at age 14, when he was sent away by Avraham) and Yosef (at age 17). The word is used by Moshe when he was found by Bas-Par'o (Sh'mos 2:6 - va-tiftach va-tir'eihu es ha-yeled v'hinei na'ar bocheh), but there, Rashi comments on the strange usage of the word, and explains that, while he was only a yeled, his cries were stronger, like those of a na'ar; this implies that the word usually refers to an older child.

I do not have a concordance handy (is there a good Hebrew one online?), but one possible argument against this contention of mine is Yeshaya 7:16: "For before the lad knows to reject evil and choose good, the land which you fear shall be abandoned of its two kings". Here, it would seem that na'ar can also refer to a very young child, although it would seem to still be one who is able to talk.

Update: In a response to my comment, Josh W. quoted the Ramban on the above verse in Shmos, who brings several clear proofs that na'ar, indeed, can refer to a newborn child, as well as to an older child.

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Monday, July 17, 2006

Mas'ei 1 - Elidad and Kemu'el

According to the Midrash Tanchuma in P' Beha'alos'cha, the new nesi'im of the tribes of Binyamin and Ephrayim, Elidad ben Kislon and Kemu'el ben Shiftan respectively, were actually Eldad and Meidad, the men who did not respond to Moshe's invitation to take part in a lottery to determine who would become the 70 zekeinim, but who became nevi'im nonetheless (and apparently nesi'im, even). How can this be understood in light of the statement in last week's parsha (26:64) that no man who was part of the census of Moshe and Aharon was part of the census of Moshe and Elazar (besides Yehoshua and Kaleiv)?

The Oznayim LaTorah (ibid.) asks the same question regarding Machir and Yair b'nei Menashe, and quotes the Rashba in Tosfos on B.B. 117, who says that the verse refers only to those who should have rightfully died due to the decree of the spies by virtue of their being of military age, such as Kaleiv, who was 40 at the time (Yehoshua 14:7) and Yehoshua, who was 44 at the time (as calculated from his age at death of 110 (ibid. 24:29) less his reign of 28 years and less the 38 years of sojourning in the desert), while Machir and Ya'ir were by now much older, as they were alive during Ya'akov's lifetime, so therefore were not included in the decree.
A similar answer could be given for Eldad and Meidad, that by the time that they were appointed to be zekeinim, they were also beyond the age of 60, so therefore were not included in the decree.

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Monday, July 10, 2006

Pinechas 1

This week's parsha is the first time that Yocheved's name is mentioned in the chumash (26:59). One medrash says that she was born "bein ha-chomos" when Yaakov's family went down to Egypt, another says that she is identical to the midwife Shifra (although Yalkut Shim'oni Yehoshua 2:9 quoting Medrash Tadshei says otherwise), and this parsha is mochi'ach that the "bas Levi" who gave birth to Moshe was, indeed, Yocheved, but she is not mentioned explicitly by name until here. This is somewhat remniscent (only even more curious) of how Eliezer, Moshe's second son, is not mentioned by name until P' Yisro, even though he was the son whose circumcision delay nearly caused Moshe to be killed in P' Sh'mos.

Update, 2/19/08: No, this is wrong. She's actually mentioned in Shmos 6:20, when the pesukim are delineating the lineage of Moshe and Aharon. I don't think that I had a point, anyway.


Sunday, July 02, 2006

Balak 1

Chukas/Balak - the only double parsha whose appearance is strictly symptomatic of the double vision experienced by chutznikim when it comes to the calendar.

It is interesting to note the variation in the terms used to describe the men who carried Balak's message to Bil'am. To look at the parsha from the beginning:

a1) In 22:2, Balak is the protagonist and the subject of the first word of the parsha "Vayar", he saw. Either he is the one who sees something deeper, something dangerous about the Israelite military victories until this point that no one else saw, or he is the only one whose sight in this context is important, perhaps because of some reaction that he is the most qualified to take. The land of Mo'av was not part of the land promised to Avraham's descendants at this point in time, but was there any way for Mo'av to know this? In this verse Balak is not referred to by any title - he is simply Balak ben Tzippor, a man who sees.

a2) In 22:3, the nation of Mo'av is referred to twice on the communal level - "Vayagor Mo'av" and "Vayakotz Mo'av". Using the first possibility mentioned in the previous note, once Balak sees, the nation as a whole fears and becomes willing to take action. Alternatively, while Balak sees and plans internally, the nation is gripped with fear, leaving only Balak as being capable of taking charge. As a third possibility, perhaps the term Mo'av here is synonymous with Balak, as the nation's leader, assuming that he was, indeed, a leader at this point.

a3) 22:4a - Mo'av points out the Jewish threat to the elders of Midyan. The assymmetry of this verse is notable in contrast to 22:7, which refers to both ziknei Mo'av and ziknei Midyan. This would support the third possibility of the previous note, that "Mo'av" here refers to a central leader, which the Midyanites lacked (indeed, in 31:8, we are told that Midyan had five kings).

a4) 22:4b - "And Balak ben Tzippor was king of Mo'av at that time". Rashi comments on the last words of the verse that at that time he was king, despite his unworthiness of the position from his own merits, as Mo'av appointed him king after Sichon was killed. [He then notes further that Balak was actually one of the princes of Midyan, to which the Mizrachi adds a Medrash that Balak was Tzur, the father of Kozbi, which would answer the question of why Balak appears to escape the whole scenario scot-free]. Based on what we said earlier, it seems like Mo'av appointed him as king because he was the one who "saw" and knew how to react, while the nation as a whole trembled in verse 3 (according to either of the first two understandings).

1) In 22:5, it calls the men that Balak sent "mal'achim", messengers, without elaborating on who exactly is being sent. Perhaps calling them messengers is merely the most concise way of expressing the importance who these men are in this parsha. [As a side note, it says that Balak sent the messengers to Bil'am to P'sor, "the land of his people", which Rashi understands as referring to Balak. Understood in this manner, Balak was originally of Aramean birth, but eventually rose to become a prince of Midyan, and finally the supreme ruler of Mo'av (a prophecy which Rashi attributes to Bil'am).]

2) In verse 7, it calls them "elders of Mo'av and elders of Midyan". "Elders" has a connotation of being a meritocratic position, rather than a political one, in that the word refers either to age or to wisdom, rather than to connections. Hence, it would seem like these elders dated back from the pre-Balak era. When it came to making the decision on whether hiring Bil'am would be a strategically sound move, it makes sense that Balak, the thinking leader, would send the men who were most qualified to make this judgement.

3) In verse 8, after Bil'am tells the messengers to lodge overnight, only "sarei Mo'av" stay. Rashi on v. 6 says that once Bil'am pushed them off, the elders of Midyan took this as a sign that he would not be of any use to them, so left, while Ibn Ezra on v. 13 says that the elders of Midyan were not mentioned because Balak was the initiator and the primary mover - but why have the elders of Mo'av suddenly transformed into officers? Perhaps "sarim" are more impressive than "z'keinim", so they emphasized this position in order to entice Bil'am, he with the archetypical ruach gavohah, to come with them.

4) In verse 13, Bil'am responds to "sarei Balak" - the officers of Mo'av have now become the officers of Balak himself. Here, they are standing strictly in Balak's stead, not contributing anything on their own, but rather just passively absorbing a message to transmit.

5) In verse 14, when they report back to Balak, they become "sarei Mo'av" again.

6) In verse 18, when Bil'am responds to Balak's emissaries a second time, their status takes an even more surprising turn, as they become "avdei Balak", servants of Balak. This is especially interesting in light of that these emissaries are different that the first set, and are referred to as more honorable than the previous set (v. 15). Perhaps this can be understood in light of Bil'am's response, in which he mentions that he could not transgress God's word even were Balak to give him all of his wealth. On the one hand, it might just be a more normal way of speaking to refer to an individual's wealth than a nation's wealth, but the implication can also be that Mo'av's wealth is Balak's wealth and that Mo'av's nobles are no more than Balak's lackeys - it is not difficult to see Bil'am attempting to pull rank in his communications with the sarei Mo'av using this technique.
Alternatively, one can theorize a second difference between the two sets of emissaries. If the members of the first set were the elders of Mo'av who predated Balak and who obtained their positions through merit, then on the one hand, their authority would not derived from him, but on the other, they may have lost some of their importance when the new king was appointed. The second set, while given positions and titles of greater honor, were perhaps appointed by Balak due to personal considerations, and thus were more subservient to him.

7) In v. 21, they revert back to "sarei Mo'av", which seems to be their default status.

To sum, the title used for the emissaries changes from mal'achim to z'keinim to sarim, and at times are also referred to as sarei Balak and avdei Balak. The significant changes can either be attributed to the different contexts or to the innate differences between the two sets of messengers.