Wednesday, August 31, 2016

starting off on the right foot

Rashi comments on “v’limadtem osem es bneichem l’daber bam…” that when a child can speak a father must teach him “Torah tzivah lanu Moshe….” (The Chayei Adam adds a few other things, like bentching – see Emes l’Ya’akov). The difficulty in the pasuk that Rashi is trying to address is the switch in verbs from limud – “v’limadtem” – to dibur – “l’daber bam.” If not for Rashi, you might have argued that “l’daber” qualifies “u’lemadtem,” i.e. the kiyum of talmud torah must be through speaking. The Beis Yosef, unlike the GR”A, holds that there is no birchas haTorah said over thoughts of Torah – you have to articulate your learning to be able to say a bracha on it. While the M.B. writes that this is a din in bracha and not a din in the geder hamitzvah of talmud torah, perhaps one might suggest otherwise based on our pasuk, namely that limud is defined as an act of duibur. Rashi precludes this whole reading. The Torah is not telling us how to fulfill limud, but rather is telling us a new concept, that dibur qua dibur is important. When a child gains the ability to speak, he needs to consecrate that new ability. The way to do so is by immediately using the new skill for Torah.  When you are given a new gift by Hashem, you need to start off on the right foot and use it for good.

Rashi in last week’s parsha also tells is that you get credit only if you complete a mitzvah and do the whole job, “kol hamitzvah.” Based on this din, Maharal in Gur Aryeh writes that you can’t have one person do milah and another do priya since milah absent priya doesn’t count for anything – it’s only a partial mitzvah. Maharal then hedges his bets and says maybe his chiddush is not correct. We find by korbanos that even though there is one mitzvah to bring a korban olah, for example, the work of bringing the korban can be divided among different kohanim, e.g. one person (even a zar) might do shechitah and another do kabbalah and zerikah. If there is no credit for doing part of a mitzvah, wouldn’t it be better for one person to do the whole job, start to finish? Apparently in some cases doing a partial job does count for something. So what’s the geder hadin – when does it count and when doesn’t it?  Something to think about…

Last but not least, Rashi (10:12) quotes the gemara (Kesubos 30) that “ha’kol b’yedei shamayim chutz m’yiras shamayim.” Maharal explains this based on the law of noncontradiction (A and not-A cannot be simultaneously true). By definition, emotions come from within – they cannot be imposed from without. If Hashem were to force someone to have yiras shamayim from without, it would by definition not be true yiras shamayim. (He has another hesber as well.)

Thursday, August 25, 2016

the fruits of Eretz Yisrael

The parsha promises a bounty of brachos that will come to Klal Yisrael when they conquer and settle in Eretz Yisrael.  Sefas Emes asks: schar mitzvah b'hai alma leika?  You could answer by distinguishing between the yachid and the tzibur, but the S.E. answers (5648) by distinguishing between Eretz Yisrael and everywhere else.  Just like Shabbos is mei'ein olam ha'ba in time, Eretz Yisrael is mei'ein olam ha'ba in space.  You can't get schar mitzvah in hai alma, but Eretz Yisrael already touches another world.

"V'achalta v'savata u'beirachta..."  We understand that the eating and enjoying is a benefit Hashem is promising to give us.  Shouldn't the pasuk end "u'tevareich," commanding us to say a bracha?  Why is it phrased as if too is part of what Hashem is giving us?

The Sefas Emes answers that u'beirachta is in fact part of the promise.  When one partakes of the food of Eretz Yisrael and enjoys its bounty, one is inevitable inspired to bracha.  It doesn't have to be commanded -- it is a natural outcome.

However, if you read the pesukim that follow, "Hishamer lecha pen tishkach es Hashem..." they are filled with admonitions and warnings to stay in line.  Chasam Sofer explains that enjoying the fruits of Eretz Yisrael is not a positive end in itself like S.E. seems to suggest.  The fruits of Eretz Yisrael have value only if they are used properly to give one strength for avodas Hashem and learning -- they are the means to an end.  There has to be a "hishamer lecha" to make sure the gift is used for the right purpose because doing so is not an inevitable, natural outcome.

This machlokes echoes a machlokes betweeh the Tur and the Bach.  The Tur (208) writes that when one says a bracha mei'ein shalosh, one should omit the words "v'nochal m'pirya v'nisba m'tuva," as there is no inherent value in just enjoying the fruit of Eretz Yisrael.  The gemara rhetorically asks, "Did Moshe Rabeinu want to enter Eretz Yisrael just to eat its fruit?"  The assumption is that to say so would be ludicrous.  The Bach disagrees.  He writes that the fruits of Eretz Yisrael are nourished by the Shechina itself, and by eating, we connect with G-d. 

I would like to suggest another parallel.  The Rosh writes that the nusach of the bracha of bareich aleinu should read "v'sabeinu m'tuvecha..."  We are asking for Hashem to bestow his goodness upon us for rain, good crops, parnasa.  The GR"A, however, writes that the correct nusach is "v'sabeinu m'tuvah," that we should enjoy the fruit of Eretz Yisrael.  (I checked two popular siddurim and found that the Artscroll follows the nusach of the Rosh; the Koran R' Sacks siddur follows the GR"A.  Neither note the other variant nusach.)  Why are we sticking in a request to enjoy the bounty of Eretz Yisrael in the middle of a bracha for our parnasa?  The answer comes from our parsha as well.  "Eretz asher Hashem Elokecha doreish osa" -- Chazal ask: isn't Hashem doresh every land, all over the world?  They answer that of course Hashem does, but it is through Eretz Yisrael that that derisha occurs.  The affairs of the entire world are seen kavyachol by Hashem through the lens of Eretz Yisrael.  Therefore, by asking "v'sabeinu m'tuva," wherever we are, we will partake of bracha as well.

Perhaps the Rosh's point is that if we can ask to connect to Hashem and receive m'tuvecha, why not ask for the end goal and not m'tuvah, which is the means.  And perhaps the GR"A in turn holds like the Bach, like the Sefas Emes, that enjoying the fruits of Eretz Yisrael is an end, is a way to connect with the Shechina directly.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Chasam Sofer takes on Copernicus

An interesting tidbit in the Chasam Sofer on last week's parsha here.  He heard that there is a chacham in the umos ha'olam called Copernicus who came up with the idea that the earth revolves around the sun rather than it being the other way around.  Chasam Sofer presents the logic as follows: it is unreasonable for the great, powerful sun to serve in orbit around puny earth. 

The Chasam Sofer being the Chasam Sofer engages in a little pilpul: if you shoot an arrow straight up and the earth is moving, then shouldn't the arrow land in a different spot than the point from which you shot it?  The tietutz obviously is that not only is the earth moving, but its atmosphere, including the arrow, moves along with it.  Everything moves together, so the arrow comes back to the same spot.

Chasam Sofer goes on to say that the assumption of Copernicus makes sense only if you are one of the umos ha'olam.  L'shitaseinu, the earth's diminutive size relative to the sun doesn't matter -- earth is the tachlis ha'bri'ah, the telos of all creation.  The whole universe exists only for us.  Therefore, it's not so strange that we should be at the center of it all, the point around which all else revolves.

He weaves this into derush in the pasuk and a pshat in a gemara in Baba Basra that you can take a look at.  What I find interesting is that the C.S. lived long after Copernicus, and even long after Galileo.  I wonder why he refers only to Copernicus and not Galileo?  Could he have never heard of the latter, or maybe he saw Copernicus as the father of heliocentrism and therefore credits him?  In either case, did the Chasam Sofer really think the earth was the center of the universe?

Thursday, August 18, 2016

va'eschanan -- matnas chinam and the gift of Eretz Yisrael

Al zeh ha’ya daveh libeinu…” (Eicah 5:17) D”VH = gematriya 15, the corruption of the midah of hod=15. Like an algebraic equation, if something happens on one side of the scale, it has to be balanced on the other side. “Lo hayu yamim tovim k’T”u b’Av” (Ta’anis 26) = 15 Av, gematriya of K-h.

If the seesaw tips to one side, it eventually will tip back the other way, and like a seesaw, the greater the dip in one direction, the greater the movement back the other way. It’s davka after cheit ha’eigel, a tremendous low, that Moshe asks, “Hareini na es kvodecha” and “V’niflinu ani v’amcha.” It’s davka after the low of 9 Av that we have the greatest of yamim tovim, 15 Av.

(For more on 15 Av, see my wife's Times of Israel blog piece.)

On to the parsha...

Of the many possible words to use for prayer (the Midrash tells us that there are 10), the Torah uses the not very common term “va’eschanan” in describing Moshe’s tefilah. Rashi interprets “va’Eschanan” as related to the term “matnas chinam,” a free gift. Rashi tells us that even though tzadikim have a right to stake a claim for rewards based on their zechuyos, they don’t do that – they instead ask for and view what they receive as a gift, not as something they’ve earned.

Maharal in Gur Aryeh asks: but don’t we find by Chanah (Shmuel I 1:10), “Va’tispalel el Hashem?” Don’t we find by Chizkiyahu (Melachim II 20:2), “Vayispallel el Hashem?“ If tzadikim only ask for matnas chinam, a free gift, as Rashi says, then shouldn’t all the tefilos of tzadikim use the expression “va’eschanan?” Why is it only here, in connection with Moshe’s tefilah, here that the Torah uses this term?

Maharal answers that Moshe’s tefilah is the binyan av, the paradigm. One you know that tzadikim are only asking for matnas chinam, as we learn from Moshe, then all the other expressions of tefilah are simply additional icing on the cake. They complement the request for a matnas chinam, but do not supplant it.

The Sefas Emes connects the use of va’eschanan davka here with a gemara (Brachos 5a) quoting RsHb”Y that there are three gifts, matanos, which Hashem has given the Jewish people. One of the three is Eretz Yisrael. There are certain things that are so great and so holy that they cannot be earned -- there is no price in spiritual “currency” that can be placed on them. The only reason we have them is because Hashem chooses to bestow them as gifts.

Chazal compare Moshe Rabeinu to the sun and Yehoshua to the moon. Moshe was the source of light – he was a giver. Yehoshua was the ultimate talmid, soaking up and receiving everything his rebbe could give him. When you are a giver like Moshe, by definition being on the receiving end of gifts is not in your character. It’s a contradiction to your whole essence.

The is the shakla v’terya between Moshe and Hashem. Moshe used the expression “va’eschanan” = matnas chinam davka here because he knew that Eretz Yisrael could only be received as a matanah. Hashem’s response was “rav lach…,” you are too great -- you are beyond receiving gifts and cannot assume that role. Yehoshua, the talmid, the mekabeil, he is the one who can fulfill that mission.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

odds and ends

 "Va’ta’anu va’tomru eilay chatanu la’Hashem…” (1:41) Why did Hashem not accept Bnei Yisrael’s teshuvah for the cheit ha’meraglim? HaKsav v’HaKabbalah answers that the key is one word: EILAY. Bnei Yisrael should have expressed their regret directly to Hashem. Instead, they came to Moshe and proclaimed their remorse to him.  It's like saying sorry to the Rabbi if he sees you doing wrong.  It's not the Rabbi you need to apologize to -- it's his "boss" you need to talk to. 

Since I mention the HaKsav v’HaKabbalah, I have to point out his take on the “shiv’im lashon” Torah was written in (see Rashi 1:5 “be’er heitev”). It does not mean, he explains, that the Torah was translated into 70 languages. When you learn gemara and there are two versions of a statement, the gemara calls one the “lishna kamma” and one the “lishna basra.” That means there are two interpretations, two explanations, of what was said – not that the Amora spoke two languages.  Here too, the “shivi’im lashon” means seventy different interpretations.
Rashi quotes a Midrash that "Rav lachem sheves ba'har ha'zeh" (1:6) is a bracha -- you gained so much at Har Sinai: you made a Mishkan [I don't know why this comes first], a menorah [I don't know why menorah is singled out], kelim, received the Torah, and appointed the members of Sanhedrin..."  The Kli Yakar, however, sees this as the first tochacha given by Moshe.  "Rav lachem" means you have tarried too long around the mountain.  The mission is to conquer and settle Eretz Yisrael, to live Torah.  Remaining fixed in place at the mountain, even at the mountain where mattan Torah occurred, is a rejection of that Divine plan.
No time to write more, but if you are baffled by what the description of Og's bed at the end of the parsha is all about, take a look at the Chizkuni for a mechudash peshat.

Sunday, August 14, 2016



From daughter #2 who was emailed this by a friend

That friend commented, "I really want to be in Eretz Yisrael again."

So do I and so should we all. 

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Eicha yashvah BADAD = B'chol Derachecha Da'eyhu

Since it is Shabbos Chazon I wanted to point our a Maharasha in Chiddushei Aggados on Baba Basra 60b that's worth taking a look at.  He explains the pasuk, “Im eskacheich Yerushalayim tishkach y’mini tidbak leshoni l’chiki im lo ezkireichi,” as follows: If I forget to make a zecher l’churban in those areas that the halacha demands, e.g. leaving a small area of a new house unpainted, then let the whole paint job be bad – let it look like I painted the house with my left hand instead of my right. That will then serve as the reminder. However, continues the pasuk, that’s not enough. As R’ Soloveitchik explains, aveilus is a kiyum b’lev, the actions halacha demands are a means to engender certain thoughts and feelings. Maharasha writes, “Efshar she’yizaheir adam b’kol zeh V’AIN KAN ZECHER SHE’LO YARGISH HA’ADAM…”  Someone can be scrupulous in leaving that little area unpainted, but accomplish nothing because there is no thought behind it. Does this person who lives in a palatial home really feel any pain because there is no beis hamikdash, or is it just going through the motions? Let my tongue stick to my throat, says the pasuk, if I can’t and don’t verbalize this reminder. I would say it doesn’t necessarily have to be articulated to others, but it has to at least be articulated to oneself – one has to express a sense of loss.

Eichah yashvah BADAD…” We are isolated and alone, but in truth, we are never really alone. The Torah tells us in Parshas Ha’azinu, “Hashem badad yanchenu…” (32:12) Ramban explains, “Hashem yishkon b’yisrael betach BADAD,” Hashem himself, to the exclusion of the sarei ha’umos, tends to our needs, “ki hu chelko v’nachalaso,” because we belong to his portion alone. Sefas Emes explains that the word “badad” is roshei teivos of B’chol Derachecha Da’eyhu, know Hashem in all of your ways. Sometimes it’s a derech of simcha, sometimes it’s a derech of m’ma’atin b’simcha, but in either case, B’chol Derachacha Da’eyhu. 

ho'il Moshe -- a new beginning

We read right at the beginning of Devarim that in that 40th year, the final year in the desert, “ho’il Moshe be’er es haTorah ha’zos,” Moshe began (Rashi: ho'il = started) to explain the Torah to Klal Yisrael.

 He just began teaching Torah then? What had Moshe been doing for the past 40 years? 

A few week's ago
I contrasted the generation that heard Hashem’s words directly at Sinai with this new generation in year 40 who was expounding and explaining Torah through derashos and Torah she’ba’al peh, through their own initiative and process of discovery. There would be no Moshe to dictate answers to them in the future; answers would have to come through their own learning. Sefer Devarim is the boundary marker between the old and the new. Moshe is still there, but he is speaking with his own voice, not merely transmitting what G-d dictated. Moshe created a beginning – a starting point for the process of talmud Torah that we have been engaged in and continuing for over 3000 years since.  He began teaching again in a different way, to a different people than the one's he took out of Egypt.  (Sefas Emes)

The Midrash Tanchuma connects the  אֵלֶּה הַדְּבָרִים  of our parsha with a pasuk in Yeshayahu 43:16  אָשִׂים מַחְשָׁךְ לִפְנֵיהֶם לָאוֹר וּמַעֲקַשִּׁים לְמִישׁוֹר אֵלֶּה הַדְּבָרִים עֲשִׂיתִם וְלֹא עֲזַבְתִּים...:  Just as G-d performed miracles for us in the desert, the "eileh ha'devarim" of our parsha, in the time of the future geulah G-d will do those same miracles, turning darkness to light and bending twisted paths straight, "eileh ha'devarim asisim v'lo azavtim." 

What miracles is the Midrash speaking about that we see in the words "eileh hadevarim?" 

It's the miracle of revealing Torah as it had never been revealed before. 

The end of that pasuk in Yeshayahu is written in past tense, not the future tense (see Rashi).  Shem m'Shmuel quotes the Midrash as explaining that the pasuk is referring to the miracle of Torah being revealed by Rabbi Akiva and his colleagues.  The miracle Yeshayahu is talking about already happened!  It's Torah which transforms darkness to light and guides us on the straight path.  Even Moshe Rabeinu himself was in awe of the brilliance of R' Akiva's learning (Menachos 29) -- it was a miraculous phenomenon. 

It's the same miracle which the "Eileh hadevarim" of our parsha is referring to -- our parsha is the beginning of that miracle unfolding, as Moshe began revealing Torah, giving us insight into how to expound and explain, of how to engage in learning Torah she'ba'al peh.      

We are not Moshe Rabeinus, but we should learn from his life.  The Torah he learned in year 40, the last year of his life, was not the same Torah he learned earlier.  The generation he spoke to needed to hear a different message, be given different hadracha. The way he taught Torah in year 40 was different than the way he taught earlier.   The world around us changes; the people around us change; we need to change as well.  Why should we?  Because that's the only way we can communicate with the next generation and make our message heard.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016


(Picture taken from here - it is a real animal.  No, this post is not meant to be taken seriously.) 

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

simcha from having a thorn in our side

Last week's parsha warns us that if we don't drive the Canaanim out of Eretz Yisrael, "V'haya asher tosiru meihem l'sichim b'eineichem u'l'tzeninim b'tzideichem," they will be like splinters in our eyes and thorns in our side. 

Chazal tell us as a general rule that when a sentence or parsha starts with the word "v'haya" it portends good tidings -- "ain v'haya elah lashon simcha."  What's the simcha in our pasuk?  What kind of simcha is it to be poked in your eye or side?

R' Tzadok haKohen (Pri Tzadik, Matos #5) quotes the Pesikta on the haftarah which explains that when Bnei Yisrael entered Eretz Yisrael, they left alive Rachav, who in turn (through her family) produced seven prophets, among them Yirmiyahu haNavi.  It is the words of Yirmiyahu haNavi that are the thorn in our side!  It is his tochacha and mussar that are painful for us to hear.  Bnei Yisrael were so upset by Yirmiyahu's words that they threw him into a pit to get rid of him.

At the same time, "v'haya," there is great simcha in shamayim from those words, because it is through those words of tochacha that we will eventually get out of galus.  Had they penetrated back when they were delivered, maybe there would not have been a galus, but even if we didn't listen then, we've had 2000 years to hear them again and again, and eventually they will sink in.

Monday, August 08, 2016

parshas nedarim -- closure on Moshe's life

Why is the parsha of nedarim placed at the end of Sefer BaMidbar? Ramban explains that the previous parsha, which deals with the korbanos musafim of the yamim tovim, ends with a mention of nidrei gavoha, the korbanos that a person voluntarily pledges to bring (29:39). The Torah now tells us that there are additional nedarim, nidrei hedyot, that don’t pertain to korbanos and which have their own laws.

Abarbanel suggests that these last few parshiyos in BaMidbar all involve things Moshe had to do before leaving this world. Moshe was the chief justice, and in that capacity was the go-to man when people needed a neder absolved. He now had to teach the roshei ha’matos, the leaders, the halachos of nedarim to empower them to fill that role.

I would like to follow in the Abarbanels footsteps – the parsha relates to Moshe's impending exiting of the scene – but in a different way than he suggests.

In the very next parsha Moshe is given the command to take revenge on the Midyanim, “V’achar tei’asef el amecha,” after which he will die.  Why did G-d include this detail?  Was it a challenge to see if Moshe would fulfill the mitzvah even knowing that doing so would bring about his own end?  Ksav Sofer answers that this was not the case.  It was not a test, but rather an opportunity. Hashem wanted to give Moshe a chance to redeem his past sin at Mei Merivah, and in doing so, be able to die in peace. Moshe's error at Mei Merivah was in not showing empathy to Klal Yisrael. He responded to the people’s request for water with anger instead of compassion. Here, Hashem commanded, “N’kom nikmas Bnei Yisrael,” avenge the Jewish people. Show that you feel their pain at being dishonored, and in this way, undo the damage done earlier.  This way you can leave the world with a clean slate.

Perhaps the parsha of nedarim is also a rectification of the Mei Merivah episode and a means of bringing closure to Moshe's past. By hitting the rock instead of speaking to it Moshe failed to teach the people the power words can have. Teaching the parsha of nedarim gave Moshe the opportunity to convey that lesson.  “Lo yacheil devaro” – words cannot be treated lightly. 

Later in the parsha, when the Bnei Gad and Reuvain promise that they will make pens for their sheep and cattle and build homes for their children, Moshe accepts their word, but is reiterating the promise, he  reverses the order --- first, a home for the children, then a place for the sheep. Moshe concludes, “v’ha’yotzei mi’pichem ya’asu.” R’ Shaul Yisraeli writes that this is not just a warning to the Bnei Reuvain and Gad to keep their word – it’s an explanation of why the seemingly trivial detail of the order of their words mattered. What difference does it make if the Bnei Gad and Reuvain first spoke about the sheep and then their children or the other way around?  Either way, they would have to take care of both?  The answer is that how a person speaks influences what they do and who they are.  How you put it is important because, "v’ha’yotzei mi’pichem ya’asu," a person does, acts, becomes, what comes out of their mouth.

Thursday, August 04, 2016

why hold the kohen gadol responsible for other's crimes?

Someone who murders b’shogeg must stay in an ir miklat until the death of the kohen gadol. The Mishna writes that the mothers of the kohanim would deliver food to the arei miklat to prevent those inside from praying for their son’s demise . What does the kohen gadol have to do with the plight of the murderer? The gemara explains that the kohanim are to blame for the murderer being there, as they should have davened for rachamim.

How does the gemara know that the kohen did not daven? Maybe the kohen did his part and davened, but it's the zechuyos of the murderer and/or the nirtzach that are wanting? If I daven all day for the Mets to win, it could be that they lose because my davening is not good enough, but it could also be that the Mets just don’t have anyone on the team who can hit or field! (Yankee fans, please substitute Yankees in that sentence.) 

Secondly, the gemara says that even if the kohen gadol is appointed just before the verdict on the murderer is announced, he is still to blame for not davening that the court rule in the murderer's favor.  What good will his prayers do at this point?  It’s like a kid in school who takse a test and then davens that he/she will get a good grade. The answers are on the paper already – tefilah is not going to change the facts. Beis din has to pasken based on the events that occurred. Is the kohen supposed to daven for beis din to make an error and rule incorrectly?

The underlying assumption of these questions is that beis din works like a computer – you plug in the facts, and out comes the psak based on some formula. It doesn’t work that way. The Mishna in Makkos writes that R’ Akiva and Rabbi Tarfon boasted that they could completely do away with capital punishment.  They would ask detailed questions of the witnesses that they would inevitably be tripped up and have their testimony impugned.  Rabban Gamliel responded that this approach would inevitably encourage crime.  Surely R' Akiva would not want to free the guilty and surely Rabban Gamliel did not have in mind that the innocent should be handed a death sentence!  R' Shaul Yisraeli explained the machlokes here based on Tosfos' view that in addition to the required derishos v’chakiros, beis din has a right to further question witnesses.  The witnesses are not bound to answer these additional detailed queries, but if they do, they must answer correctly.  There is no machlokes between R’ Akiva and the other Tanaim – it is a matter of what circumstances allow for.  Where society was as a whole ethical and crime, especially a heinous crime like murder, was an aberration, beis din could seek to avoid capital punishment knowing that this would not lead to an increase in immoral behavior.  But when society was plagued by social and moral ills,  a tough stance on crime was needed and beis din could not afford to not mete out capital punishments.

The kohen gadol, as a leader in Klal Yisrael, is responsible for the moral state of society as a whole.  That is what he should be davening for and working to improve.  Had society been more just and more ethical, it would be possible for beis din to interrogate the witnesses more fully and see that no penalty of ir miklat or capital punishment is ever carried out.  But because society is not on that level, the murderer must suffer a more severe penalty for his deeds.

(Side note: isn't R' Akiva's position fascinating?  Even though there is a clear mandate of u'bi'arta ha'ra mi'kirbecha and testimony to incriminate the wrongdoer, he uses a loophole of sorts [that's probably too charged a word to use] to circumvent the seemingly inevitable outcome of death because of his belief that justice would not be served in that way.  Isn't that allowing a subjective value judgment of what the "right" outcome should be to enter into the equation?  Isn't that deliberately tilting the scales one way?  Something to ponder.
Side note #2: see Michtav m'Eliyahu vol 3 p. 87 for a different approach to understanding the power of the kohen's tefilah and his responsibility.)

On a completely different note, apropos of the 9 days, the Tiferes Shlomo derech derush comments on the pasuk describing the boundaries of Erertz Yisrael, "V'hisavisem lachem l'gevul keidmah...." (34:10), literally translated, "You will turn the border..." that perhaps the word "v'hisavisem" is an allusion to the word "ta'avah," desire.  We have to have a ta'avah for Eretz Yisrael -- to want to be there, to want the Shechinah to return there.

Wednesday, August 03, 2016

ki na'ar anochi -- is there an age requirement to becoming a navi?

In the haftarah to Parshas Pinchas, Yirmiyahu says to Hashem that he is unfit to be a prophet because he is a “na’ar.” Most of the translations I’ve seen render this as “a lad” or “young boy“ or something similar. There are two problems with this translation:

Binyamin is called a na’ar by his brothers, but when he appeared before Yosef he was already married and had 10 children. Yosef is called a na’ar (“v’hu na’ar es bnei Bilha v’es bnei Zilpah…”) even though at that time he was a teenager. Yehoshua (“u’meshorso Yehoshua bin Nun na’ar lo yamish m’toch ha’ohel”) must have been a middle aged man and he is still called a na’ar.

Even granting the possibility that na’ar here means young man, why should Yirmiyahu’s age have been a barrier to nevuah? Radak points out that Shmuel was able to receive nevuah when he was very young -- why not Yirmiyahu?

Radak explains that the word na’ar means an apprentice or someone in training. Yehoshua was Moshe’s apprentice; Yosef may have been serving his older brothers, bnei Bilha and Zilpah. Yirmiyahu’s argument was not simply that he was too young to be a navi. What he was saying is that he was still merely an apprentice navi – there was someone above him, greater than him, who G-d should have chosen. This echoes Moshe’s argument that since Aharon was an experienced, established navi, there is no reason to select him to deliver G-d’s message.

I wanted to just add that this may not just be a practical argument, but it may be a halachic argument. The gemara (Meg 14b) asks how Chuldah could prophesize while Yirmiyahu, who was a greater navi, was around. (I’m not 100% sure I understand the gemara’s question – if G-d starts speaking to you, how can you not prophesize, regardless of how much greater others may be? I assume what the gemara means is that receiving nevuah requires some kind of prior preparation. If there is someone greater already acting as a navi, that bars others from making those necessary preparationsto receive nevuah themselves.) The gemara answers that since she was a relative of Yirmiyahu’s, he was mochel. It sounds like there is a din similar to that of moreh halacha b’makom rabo with respect to nevuah. Maybe this is what was bothering Yirmiyahu – as a talmid, or apprecntice navi, he was in a similar position as Chulda and al pi din had to defer to the greater navi.