Friday, September 04, 2009

maharal on why 39 malkos

The end of Mes. Makkos discusses the halachos of giving malkos. The Ramban in last weeks parsha explains that "arba'im yakenu", the 40 lashes given, correspond to the 40 days it takes for an embryo to be considered fully formed and the 40 days of mattan Torah. The obvious question: Chazal understood the pasuk to mean only 39 lashes are given, not 40?

Maharal has a beautiful explanation. In each of the first 40 days starting from conception there is some aspect of a person which comes into this world, until at day 40 a fully formed embryo exists. On the first day it is the shoresh haneshama of the person, the core essence of a person's being, which is brought into the world. On all subsequent days various aspects of the body which clothe that core essence are added.

Each lash of malkos heals an aspect of the person which sin corrupted. There is, however, a limit to the damage sin can do. Every aspect of a person that comes into the world can become corrupted, but the shoresh haneshoma always remains pristine and pure. Therefore, only 39 lashes, never 40, are all that is needed to correct the flaws of cheit.


  1. R' Aryeh Kaplan's explanation is that the 40 is the 40 stages of maaseh bereishis. 10 maamaros times 4 from "כֹּ֚ל הַנִּקְרָ֣א בִשְׁמִ֔י וְלִכְבוֹדִ֖י בְּרָאתִ֑יו יְצַרְתִּ֖יו אַף־עֲשִׂיתִֽיו׃" (Yeshaiah 43:7). That same pasuq is the source of the notion of four olamos; but back to RAK's explanation...

    Of those 40 stages, man can only do 39 of them. Creation יש מאיו isn't a possibility. Therefore...

    Miqvah, where a person is being recreated, is 40 se'ah. The mabul, another recreation of man -- 40 days. The formation of the body -- also 40 days.

    However, when it comes to a human being doing the creation, we use arba'im chaseir achas -- 39 melakhos on Shabbos, 39 windings of tzitzis (if the ideal is 13 kerichos or if we're explaining Ashkenai minhag),

    and 39 malkos.

    I do not think that R' Kaplan's "chaseir achas" is necessarily different than the Maharal's. The shoresh haneshamah is the initial yeish that springs from the ayin...


  2. This fits beautifully with the Maharal. Very nice!

  3. Jewish history is easily divided into periods of approximately four hundred years, as in the gzeira of Mitzrayim, the time from entering Israel to binyan habayis, (or, shoftim and melachim,) bayis rishon, bayis sheni, the tekufa of amora'im, geonim, rishonim, and, ending in the year two thousand, the tekufa of European Gadlus in Torah. Obviously, there is an interregenum between periods, but the idea is still more than a memory aid. I once began writing a book on this topic, but never finished it.

  4. chaim b.4:51 PM

    See my BIL's sefer Bigdei Sheish on Baba Basra (don't tell me you don't have a copy : ) siman 2 on aggadah in the back where he breaks down Jewish history into 300 year blocks between major calamities based on a Midrashic reference to 300 parsa between waves. He then adds that the Ritva's girsa in the same Midrash is 400 parsa and the breakdown can be made by 400 year segments, but he does not elaborate further. Makom hinieach lecha l'hisgader bo to complete the picture.

  5. YOWZA!
    That is phenomenal. I have been using that system because I have a memory like a sieve, and it was convenient, and it gives depth to the observation of the difference between Rav Rudderman, Reb Moshe, and the like vis a vis the great men of our time who are somehow different, though certainly great.

  6. Very nice idea.However, how can it be that the core neshama is not corruptible? If that were true than shouldn't every Jew have olam haba no matter what? This can't be true because we know that certain people do not receive olam haba, specifically those mentioned or described in sanhedrin.

  7. Barzilai

    You would have to cheshbon WWI in the greatest, arguably, klop to Judaism

  8. >>> If that were true than shouldn't every Jew have olam haba no matter what?

    No, because you have to pay a price for corrupting the other 39 aspects of your being.

  9. but what happens to the core that is incorruptible then. If it is truly incorruptible then how can it not be allowed to go to olam haba? It was corrupt. Maybe there will be less, but there should be something if that 1/40 is incorruptible. Otherwise, in what way is it incorruptible?

  10. that should be it was (not) corrupt.

  11. chaim b.6:56 PM

    The neshoma is like a chain starting from its connection with Hashem and extending down into the material world. If the bottom links become corrupt, the top link which remains davuk to Hashem drops the bottom links. See Nefesh haChaim I:19 who explains: amnam b'bechinas neshoma...sham ain ma'aseh tachtonim magi'im klal l'kalkelam...elah she'yecholim ligrom b'ma'aseihem histalkusam heimenu.

  12. I know the Maharal says this and I always like his ideas. However, I am just at a loss here. I can't understand how this part of the neshama is part of man and incorruptible. Maybe, according to the Maharal, it is the link between G-D and man and not actually part of man himself. Otherwise, if man's sin does not affect this part of the neshama at all, in what way is it part of man?

    Maybe we could say that the 40 malkus is indicative in the 40 steps in creation of man. It just can't be that these are 40 parts of man that are being rectified, otherwise all 40 would be subject to kilkul. It must be that this 40th thing is only faintly connected and not part of the man's essence. What do you think?

  13. All you seem to be saying is that you can't believe something can be part of one's essence and also be uncorruptable, but this is exactly what the seforim are telling us. See also Tanya, Iggeres haTshuvah end of ch 5, Resisei Layla #19 and #28 (R' Tzadok has this in many places). This uncorrputable piece is the heart of a Jew, which is why af al pi she'chatah (and deserving of punishment) still yisrael hu --

    אפ׳ בלב המשקע מכל מיני תאוות וזוהמא שהם הנקרא בלשון הכתוב טומאה, מ״מ חלק ה׳ עמו ואע״פ שחטא ישראל הוא שרשו דבוק הוא בהי״ת וקדוש שרוי בתוך מעיו ובמעמקי לבו הנעלם

  14. If that is true then there should be no way for a Jew to get kares or lose his position in olam haba. I don't think you can have it both ways.