Saturday, April 28, 2007

Emor 1 - R' Zechariah ben Avkulos defended

In the story of Kamtza and Bar-Kamtza (Gittin 55b-56a), the question of what to do with a korban sent by the Roman emperor that had a minor blemish was brought before the Sanhedrin HaGadol. The first proposal was to offer the korban, despite the prohibition of such stated in this week's parsha, due to the real political concerns that the Romans would take their refusal to be an act of rebellion. However, R' Zechariah ben Avkulos rejected the possibility, as people might not realize that the reason why the blemished sacrifice was offered was due to the extenuating circumstances that existed. After the gemara sets forth another proposal that R' Zechariah ben Avkulos shot down, Rabbi Yochanan sums up the incident by stating, "The humility of R' Zechariah ben Avkulos destroyed our Temple, burnt our sanctuary, and caused us to be exiled from our land"; because R' Zechariah was unwilling to take the bold step of suspending a halacha for reasons of national survival, disaster ensued.

What was R' Zechariah ben Avkulos thinking? He must have realized the danger that a rejection of the Roman sacrifice would cause!

R' Zalman Sorotzkin, in Oznayim LaTorah finds an answer to this question alluded to in this week's parsha. In explaining why one is not allowed to accept a blemished korban, the passuk states (22:25):
"ומיד בן נכר לא תַקריבו את לחם אלקיכם מכל אלה כי משחתם בהם מום בם לא ירצו לכם" -
"And from the non-Jew, you shall not offer the bread of your God from any of these (species of blemished animals) for their corruption is in them - a blemish is in them - they shall not be accepted for you". R' Sorotzkin suggests that the corruption and blemish referred to in this passuk is not the disfigurement of the animal, but rather the spiritual disfigurement caused by the sins of avodah zarah and murder (see Devarim 4:16 and Bereishis 6:11), and that the subject of the last clause of the verse is not the sacrifices being accepted by HaShem, but rather the attitude of the nation in question being positively inclined towards the Jew.

Hence, the verse can be read as a warning that one should not accept korbanos for political reasons from nations like Rome, as, even if the Jews were to weather one crisis by accepting a blemished sacrifice, it would still only be a matter of time until the Romans laid the land waste anyway, and this small respite would not provide sufficient reason to violate halacha.

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Thursday, April 19, 2007

Tazria-Metzora 2 - 4 Metzora'im

This week's haftara starts out with a setting of four metzora'im sitting at the gate to the city of Shomron. Rashi notes that the reason they were at the gate to the city was as per the prescription in this week's P' Tazria (13:46) that the Metzora is required to dwell outside of the city. According to Keilim 1:7, this law applies to any walled city, to which R"O miBartenura adds that it must have been walled from the times of Yehoshua bin Nun. This being the case, why was Shomron included in the restriction, being that we are told (Melachim I 16:24) that the mountain of Shomron was purchased by Omri (father of Ach'av and grandfather of the current king Yehoram) and built into a city, implying that it did not become a walled city until more than 5 centuries after Yehoshua?

R' Akiva Eiger (Keilim 1:7) notes that Targum Yonasan anticipates this question in his translation of the passuk. Rather than translating "har", mountain, as its usual "tura", he translates it as "k'raka", city. Hence, Omri purchased an already existing city, and merely increased its fortifications and developed it into his capital.

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Tazria-Metzora 1 - Haftaros

The haftara for P' Tazri'a, on the odd occasion that it is read alone, is the episode of Na'aman taken from Melachim I, chapter 5. The haftara for P' Metzora is taken from two chapters later, from the episode of the four metzora'im. The obvious connection between the two sedros and the two passages of nevi'im is the mention of metzora'im, but upon closer examination, the connection seems somewhat arbitrary. P' Tazri'a focuses primarily on the diagnosis of tzara'as and the defilation of the metzora, while the haftara deals with the purification of a metzora by Elisha - and a non-Jewish one, even. The first section of P' Metzora describes the purification of a metzora executed by a kohen who goes outside the city to the metzora, while the haftara describes four metzora'im who approach the city of Shomron in order to give news; nothing is said about their later purification. Additionally, the entire role of the metzora'im in the haftara to Metzora seems to be somewhat tangential.

Perhaps one can answer this question by looking at the context of the haftaros, as well as their relation to one another. At the end of the haftara of Tazria, in which Elisha healed the Aramean general, Na'aman, from his tzara'as, the prophet refused to accept any remuneration. Immediately following, Geichazi, the student of Elisha, chased after Na'aman and pretended that Elisha had changed his mind and now was willing to accept payment. After Geichazi returned from the grateful general, Elisha asked him where he had gone. When Geichazi lied in response to his inquiry, Elisha cursed him that the tzara'as of Na'aman should cling to him and to his offspring forever.

At the beginning of the haftara of Metzora, we are introduced to four metzora'im standing by the gate of the city of Shomron. According to the medrash (quoted by Rashi), these four men were Geichazi and his three sons. When the four men decide to surrender to the Aramean army besieging the city in an attempt to survive the resulting famine, they see that the camp has been entirely abandoned, with all of its supplies left intact. At first, the men satisfy their own hunger and greed by taking food and goods from the camp, but they then realize their mistake in not spreading the good news to the people of the city. The metzora'im then call to the gatekeepers of the city in order to pass the word to the king's palace.

Immediately following the end of the haftara, the navi relates that prior to the famine, Elisha had told the Shunemite woman whose son he had resurrected to flee to the land of the P'lishtim for the duration of the famine. When she returns and finds that her house and land has been taken over by squatters, she goes to the king for legal recourse. When she meets the king, he is talking to Geichazi about the great deeds that Elisha had done. Unless the king is standing outside the city and yelling at Geichazi from 4 amos' distance, this would seem to imply that Geichazi's tzara'as was healed after the events of the haftara, so that he was able to enter civilization again. One of the sins that can result in tzara'as is stinginess (tzarus ayin). Geichazi was initially smitten with tzara'as due to his inability to see Na'aman benefit from the generosity of Elisha for free. When the impropriety of his own actions in the abandoned Aramean camp dawned on him, he appears to have taken the first steps towards teshuvah. This being the case, perhaps his tzara'as had been healed as a result of the incidents in this haftara. Geichazi's tzara'as did not only have the effect of punishing him for his erroneous attitude, but also had an inherent positive impact on its own, in that it was only through his affliction that the Jews of Shomron learned of the windfall to be collected from the abandoned Aramean camp. This, too, is related to P' Metzora, in which tzara'as that appears on the walls of houses can be the cause of people learning of the windfall hidden within by their previous Canaanite inhabitants.

Going back to the original question, the episode discussed by the haftara of Tazria truly does show the affliction of tzara'as as applied to a Jew, and the haftarah of Metzora may allude to his rehabilitation and redemption - not in an incidental sense, but rather as a key feature of the storyline.

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Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Yehoshua 20 - Arei Miklat

In the chapter 19, Yehoshua concluded dividing the land amongst the tribes. In chapter 20, the Cities of Refuge for negligent murderers are designated. Yehoshua designated the three cities in Israel proper - Kedesh in the north, Shechem in the heartland, and Chevron in the south - and activated the three cities that Moshe had designated in Transjordan - Betzer in the south, Ramos in the central region, and Golan in the north.

The commentators discuss why the two disparate sides of the Jordan river were allocated an equal number of Cities of Refuge. Rashi (Bamidbar 35:14), quoting Makkos 10a, learns out from pesukim in Hoshei'a that Gil'ad - here apparently used to refer to Transjordan as a unit - was a land in which murder was more prevalent. Ramban (ibid.) suggests that this could either be a form of prophetic foreknowledge of the future or an acknowledgement that something about the land - perhaps its status as something of a frontier-country - made murders more likely.

Ramban deals with the objection that Cities of Refuge only worked for accidental murders, not willful ones, by suggesting that the murderers of Gil'ad tried to make their murders look accidental. Da'as Z'keinim notes the ma'amar on Makkos 10b describing a form of Divine justice in which one who accidentally kills without witnesses and one who purposefully kills without witnesses would happen to come to the same place where it would be brought about that the accidentally murderer would accidentally kill the purposeful murderer with witnesses, so that both parties would get what they deserved. Chizkuni points out that according to Makkos 9b, both accidental and purposeful murderers were exiled to the Cities of Refuge, from whence they would be retrieved and judged with the proper punishment.

Ramban alternatively suggests that the reason why Transjordan was alloted more cities was because of its greater land area.

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Saturday, April 07, 2007

Women, N'shika, and Prophecy

Daf Notes on Moed Katan 28 quoted the ma'amar which states that Miriam, like her brothers, also died through n'shika, which is usually alluded to in the Torah by the code words "al pi HaShem". In a comment there, I noted that this implies that HaShem has a tzad zachrus, and asked for clarification on this idea.

Ben, one of the ba'alei hablog, connected n'shikah to prophecy. I had never thought of making this connection before, but it seems to be a very logical understanding of death by n'shika, especially in light of a literal reading of the passuk, to say that it is a form of death that occurs when one is in the throes of prophecy, the greatest high that a physical human being is capable of (which makes the jump to absolute spirituality at the sh'as misa less jarring). He quoted a medrash* which says that HaShem never appeared to a woman, and even when He did, it was only through a pretense, as such would otherwise not be dignified. This seems, though, to turn back to my question of why HaShem is considered to have a tzad zachrus that would make an intimate interaction with a female undignified.

In a later comment there, I suggested:
I suppose that each individual difference between men and women can be understood in terms of one side or the other having some addition which the other lacks or having some deficiency which the other does not have. This being the case, one can, indeed, say (k'v'yachol) that HaShem combines everything that one side has and that the other doesn't - and in this sense, He would have a tzad zachrus. I don't know how to connect this directly to n'shika though.
Upon further thought, the answer would seem to lie in something regarding the merging of the whole and the deficient or the positive and the negative, but my grounding in the equivalent kabbalistic concepts is non-existent.
* Regarding the medrash itself, I'm not sure how to square it with the ma'amar Chazal that there were 7 prophetesses, especially Chuldah, who seems to be a regular intermediary with HaShem a la Yirmiyahu and Tzefaniah. Perhaps her prophecy was conducted in a different way through a second intermediary (maybe akin to that of Zechariah ben Berechiah?). Or perhaps the medrash is referring to envisioning HaShem through an aspaklaria ha-me'ira, in which case being that Moshe was male, the statement is automatically true. (One could perhaps bring up as a counterpoint the
medrash that says that the vision of a shifchah by kri'as yam suf (to connect it to inyana d'yuma) was greater than that of Yechezkel, but perhaps a public vision is different - or perhaps this is a different sort of vision altogether.)


Sunday, April 01, 2007

Darshening trop

Some months back, I plugged the book _Chanting the Hebrew Bible: The Art of Cantillation_, by Joshua Jacobson. The book describes the logic behind the trop in terms of how the syntax of the passuk governs the cantillation that is used to parse it. This is clearly seen by pausal t'amim like esnachta and zakeif-katon, but even with t'amim that indicate weaker pauses, such as pashta and tip'cha. On the other hand, there are a number of d'rashos made by gedolim of past generations regarding the trop. Two classic examples of this phenomenon are the GRA's drash of the trop of the first passuk of P' Vayigash ("Kadma v'azla r'vi'i zarka munach segol") as referring to Yehuda stepping forward for fear of losing his chelek in olam haba and the drashos made on the infrequent use of the "shalshelet" (Jacobson notes that the shalshelet serves the same purpose as a segol, despite their very different sounds, and is used whenever the segol phrase is too short to incorporate the mandatory zarka before it).

Rather than these two approaches being contradictory, I believe that one does not necessarily preclude the other. It seems to be true that the purpose of trop is structural. However, being that every word of the Torah was specially chosen by HaShem, we can say that one motivation behind His choice of wording could be to create the syntax necessary in order to possess the trops that display certain messages - e.g., the word Vayitmahmah in P' Vayeira is purposely a one-word phrase that would usually need a segol due to the structure of the rest of the passuk, so that it would carry a shalshelet that contains in it a given hidden meaning. These messages contained within a deeper layer of the text shed light on a different question that I've been long wondering about regarding what messages we can derive from the Torah's choice of words in cases in which the text itself does not seem to have any advantage in being phrased one way over another.

(The question would still exist in cases where there are different traditions as to the terms for a given trop - or, indeed, simply being that the names of the trop may arguably being artificial. Nevertheless, the names given to the t'amim - as well as their symbols - do reflect in some way their usage and their musical form, so that the specific date of the codification of the names of t'amim, or the lack thereof, need not cast aspersions on an attempt to darshen them.)


The use of cholanis in the mi-shebeirach for the cholim

There's a discussion over at the End The Madness message board about use of the word "cholanis" in the mi shebeirach for the cholim. (The thread is located in the Madness Watch forum, under the title "New Degree of Separation"). In a comment there, I posted:
In a discussion of the matter at mail-jewish (38:48) , someone quoted the Meiri on Kesubos 51b who explains that a cholanis is borderline sick (cholah v'ainah cholah) while a cholah is someone who's outright sick. On MJ 38:41, someone noted that Siddur Tefillah Yesharah (aka the Berditchever siddur) uses the word cholanis in the mi shebeirach, perhaps out of a desire not to say that someone is outright sick and therefore needs a greater yeshuah in order to be healed.

One can ask why they use the nonparallel terms of choleh and cholanis; perhaps cholani is never found in divrei Chazal, so the authors of this version of the mi shebeirach did not feel comfortable inventing it. (On a side note, I'd be curious to know when the original text of this mi shebeirach was composed, in order to determine how much of an innovation the word change from cholah to cholanis (or vice versa?) really was).

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