Saturday, October 27, 2007

A Vayeira Joke

I don't recall where I first heard this - possibly in a comment thread on Hirhurim. For some reason, no one to whom I told it today understood it. Anyway...

What's the name of the book that Yitzchak Avinu wrote about Lot's wife?


_My Cousin, the Netziv_.

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Thursday, October 18, 2007

Random Thoughts on Lech Lecha

1) Isn't it interesting how in the passuk immediately after HaShem grants Avram the powers of active and passive blessing, he is joined by Lot, a person whose name in Aramaic means curse? (And Lot himself was an Aramean by birth, making it even more significant). Rashi on 13:14 points out that Lot was not a rasha at this point, as HaShem was still "on speaking terms" with Avram a few pesukim later, but it's still curious how Lot got such a name and what its greater significance may be.

2) Although when HaShem commanded Avram to traverse the land along its length and width he merely shifted his tent ~20 miles south from between Beth-el and Ha-ai to Chevron, it may be that he fulfilled the former part of the command when he later pursued the forces of Kedarlaomer to Dan (14:14) and when he settled in what he would later call Be'er Sheva (21:31), and that he fulfilled the latter part of the command through his activities with Sodom, near what would later become the Dead Sea, and with Gerar, near the western coast.

3) When the 5 cities rebelled against Kedarlaomer, why did he react by first smiting the Refaim, Zuzim, Emim, Chorim, inhabitants of S'deih HaAmaleki, and Emori of Chatz'tzon Tamar who ostensibly were not part of the battle? Perhaps the 5 cities had turned to these nations for help in their rebellion (The Refaim and Emim are listed in Devarim 2 as having been mighty, giant nations).

4) What's the significance of Malkitzedek and Avram's usages of the term "Keil Elyon" to refer to HaShem following the War of the 4 Kings? This seems to have been the first time that "HaShem's army" took to the field against other armies, as opposed to His fighting against nations through supernatural means, so perhaps now He could effectively be called the "highest Power", having been compared to the other powers on their own terms.

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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Lech Lecha: Chazak!

I've heard many people poke fun at Avraham Fried's famous song "Chazak", which comes from this week's haftarah. The song is taken primarily from Yeshaya 41:6, which states: "איש את רעהו יעזרו ולאחיו יאמר חזק" - "Each man helps his friend, and to his brother says, 'Be strong!'" The alleged irony is that the context of the passuk in the haftara is the idolatrous nations preparing for war against HaShem by constructing their idols.

It should be pointed out, though, that Avraham Fried's choice of this passuk is probably based on Midrash Rabbah (I have written down 44:8, but according to this edition, it's 43:3), which expounds the episode as a reference to Avraham's battle against the four kings. I recall the specific passuk in question as being expounded as a reference to Malkitzedek and Avraham, but I don't see this in the Midrash Rabbah.

If one wishes to point out an irony in a song, one would do better to look at the Shabbos song of "Yom Shabbason", in which the second part of the chorus, "V'sham yanuchu yegi'ei cho'ach" - "And there shall rest the weary", is taken from Iyov 3:17, where Iyov uses the pronoun "sham" to refer to the grave.

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Sunday, October 14, 2007

Base-10 Gematria

A chaveir on the Avodah mailing list (24:1:7) posted a vort regarding the first two words of this week's parsha, noting that the term "Lech Lecha" is well-suited to the theme of Avraham's tests, being that each word has a numerical value of 50, so that the sum is 100, symbolizing that Avraham passed his tests with a score of 100%. I'm not really a fan of gematria-vorts (unless the discoverer is someone on the madreiga of R' Yaakov ben HaRosh) but to each his own.

Another chaveir (24:2:10) challenged the vort, noting that the decimal system is an arbitrary convention, and that in Judaism, 60 is used to represent completion rather than powers of 10.

I responded to the objection, noting that gematria itself utilizes a base-10 system in which powers of 10 represent levels of completion, i.e., (10^0)x, (10^1)x, and (10^2)x. For argument's sake, one could as easily conceive a gematria system using a base of 7 - another "whole" number in Judaism - in which the values are 1,2...7,14,21...49, 98, etc.

Having written this, I began to wonder: why is gematria apparently unique within Judaism in its basis on the number 10?


Update, 10/16: Other posters noted that the entire numerical system of the Torah assumes base-10, weakening my question regarding gematria, but I still believe that 10 - and its powers - show precedent in referring to levels of completion. Dib'ra Torah k'lashon B'nei Adam, after all.


Monday, October 08, 2007

Trivia: Beheimos asher Einenos Tehoros

Parshas No'ach mentions animals which are t'mei'os in the kashrus sense, but how is it possible to have a live animal which is tamei in the more common sense of the word, in which it is capable of transmitting tum'a to another object?

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