Showing posts with label megillah. Show all posts
Showing posts with label megillah. Show all posts

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

ויהי ביום השמיני and how it parallels Maaseh Bereishit

I've been learning through some Torah Temimah on the parsha every week. What he does is first bring down a large collection of derashot on each phrase in each pasuk, and then discuss in detail what each derasha means and how they might have gone about deriving it.

Here, I'll present the first Torah Temima on parashat Shemini, the derasha and his discussion. And I will use that as a jumping off point for my own discussion of the derasha, and how I might bolster it.

So first, the pasuk, derasha, and comment of Torah Temima.

The pasuk is Vayikra 9:1:

וַיְהִי בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁמִינִי קָרָא מֹשֶׁה לְאַהֲרֹן וּלְבָנָיו וּלְזִקְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל

"And it was on the eighth day that Moshe called to Aharon and his sons and the elders of Israel."

This was the eighth day of the miluim, such that the Mishkan and the kohanim are finally being inaugurated.

The derasha he cites from Megillah 10b, where it is embedded within a discussion of the word וַיְהִי, and whether it always has negative connotations. וַיְהִי בִּימֵי אֲחַשְׁוֵרוֹשׁ was certainly negative but the inauguration of the Mishkan is surely positive, as the derasha makes clear:

והכתיב (ויקרא ט, א) ויהי ביום השמיני ותניא אותו היום היתה שמחה לפני הקדוש ברוך הוא כיום שנבראו בו שמים וארץ כתיב הכא ויהי ביום השמיני וכתיב התם(בראשית א, ה) ויהי (בקר) יום אחד

"But it is written: 'And it was on the eighth day' and it was taught in a brayta: That day there was joy before Hakadosh Baruch Hu like the day on which heaven and earth were created. It is written here (Vayikra 9:1) ויהי ביום השמיני and it is written there (Bereishit 1:5) ויהי (בקר) יום אחד."

Torah Temima end the quote with just the citation of ויהי בקר, which doesn't single out a specific day.

In his commentary on the derasha he writes:
א) נראה באור הדרשה ע״פ מ״ש בב״ר פ״ג שבעת
 הקמת המשכן אמר הקב״ה נדמה בעיני כאלו
 באותו יום בראתי את עולמי, ומבואר שם הטעם
 מפני שמחחלת בריית העולם נתאוה הקב״ה ליחד
 שמו וקדושתו בעולם ע״י המשכן, וזה גופא יתבאר
 ע"פ מ״ש במגילה ל״א ב' אלמלא מעמדות לא
 נתקיימו שמים וארץ, ומעמדות היינו בקיום ביהמ״ק
 וקרבנות, כנודע [עי לפנינו בפ' פינחס בר״פ
 קרבנות], ולאשר שביום השמיני למלואים היה גמר
 הקמת המשכן, לכן דריש שגדלה ככיכול שמחתו של
 הקב״ה כיום בריאת שמים וארץ, יען דבבריאת
 שמו״א היתה רצונו ומחשבתו כביכול לברוא את העולם
 לתכלית המעמדות, ובהקמת המשכן נתקיים רצונו
 בזה, ולסמך וסימן לדבר נתן שווי המלות ויהי
 דכתיבי בשניהם
"It appears that the derasha is based on that which is written in Bereishit Rabba parasha 3 (3:9), that at the time of the erection of the Mishkan, Hashem said, 'it seems to me as if today I have created my world'. And it is explained there the reason, that from the beginning of creation Hashem desired to associate/designate [ליחד] his Name and his holiness in the world via the Mishkan. And this itself is explained via that which is written in Megillah 31b, 'if not for the Maamadot the Heavens and Earth would not have been established'. And the Maamadot were in the establishment of the Bet Hamikdash and korbanot, as is known. [See earlier, in parashat Pinchas, at the beginning of the parasha of korbanot.] And since on the eighth day of the Miluim were the completion of the erection of the Mishkan, therefore they darshened that it was as if the happiness of Hakadosh Baruch Hu was as great as the creation of Heaven and Earth, since at the creation of Heaven and Earth, His Will and Though were as if to create the world for the purpose of the Maamadot, and with the erection of the Mishkan His will was fulfilled in this. And as a support and sign to the matter the [author of the midrash] noted the equivalence of the words וַיְהִי which were written by both of them."

So, he explained the intent behind the Midrash as well as how the derasha is working.

I would note that as gezeira shavas go, this seems way too common of a word. How many places does the word וַיְהִי occur? Aside from its frequency, why specifically associate these two instances? Maybe if it is a mere mnemonic, but the idea is already established from elsewhere, as the Torah Temima establishes it.

I'd also note that in the Bereishit Rabba which the Torah Temima cited, the derasha about the Divine purpose in creation uses a different pasuk, which has Vayhi, Yom, and Rishon:

ט [תכלית הבריאה היא השראת השכינה בעולם

אמר רבי שמואל בר אמי: מתחלת ברייתו של עולם נתאוה הקב"ה לעשות שותפות בתחתונים. 

מה נפשך? 
אם לענין החשבון, לא היה צריך למימר אלא אחד שנים שלושה, או ראשון שני ושלישי, שמא אחד שני שלישי אתמהא?! 

אימתי פרע להם הקדוש ברוך הוא? 
להלן בהקמת המשכן, שנאמר: (במדבר ז) ויהי המקריב ביום הראשון את קרבנו, ראשון לברייתו של עולם. 
אמר הקב"ה: כאילו באותו יום בראתי את עולמי. 

עשר עטרות נטל אותו היום ראשון למעשה בראשית.
ראשון למלכים,
ראשון לנשיאים,
ראשון לכהונה,
ראשון לשכינה, שנא' (שמות כה) 
ועשו לי מקדש. ראשון לברכה,
ראשון לעבודה,
ראשון לאיסור הבמה,
ראשון לשחיטה בצפון,
ראשון לירידת האש, שנא' (ויקרא י) 
ותצא אש מלפני ה' וגו'. 
We find a parallel to the midrash as it appears in the gemara as it appears in the Sifra. The gemara again:

והכתיב (ויקרא ט, א) ויהי ביום השמיני ותניא אותו היום היתה שמחה לפני הקדוש ברוך הוא כיום שנבראו בו שמים וארץ כתיב הכא ויהי ביום השמיני וכתיב התם (בראשית א, ה) ויהי (בקר) יום אחד

And the Sifra can be read here, 15-16. This despite the word כתיב, which is Aramaic, and could have suggested to me that this is a post-Amoraic editor offering the derasha. In the Sifra, it is כאן הוא אומר instead. And there are surrounding supports there for the joy, from צאינה וראינה בנות ציון.

Within the give-and-take of the gemara, the particulars of the derasha do not matter. The point was just that here the word ויהי is used, and we see from this other Tannaitic source that this was a day of great joy.

If I wanted to bolster the derasha, I would do so in a different manner. We already see from elsewhere that there is ambiguity, argued within Chazal in the phrase וַיְהִי בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁמִינִי. Does this mean the eighth day of the miluim? The eighth day of Nissan? One of them? Both of them? Earlier context helps clarify that the miluim was meant, but that does not necessarily mean the eighth of the miluim exclusively.

So here is another interpretation of וַיְהִי בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁמִינִי, that it is the eighth day to Creation. There were six days of creation, all the way until וַיְהִי-עֶרֶב וַיְהִי-בֹקֶר, יוֹם הַשִּׁשִּׁי. And then there was the seventh day, on which it was finished, וַיְכַל אֱלֹהִים בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי. And now, skip all of the intervening Chumash and pick up here with the eighth day, in which we encounter the purpose of all of creation.

So it is not (just, or perhaps even) the single word וַיְהִי. Rather, it is how the phrase is reminiscent of the days listed in Maaseh Bereishit, and how Maaseh Bereishit left off on day seven, where here we are encountering day eight.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

How did Vashti grow a tail?

Check out for a whole slew of questions and answers pertaining to Purim.

Here is a question I answered just the other night:
In מגילה דף יב it gives two reasons as to why Vashti did not go to Achashveirosh when he requested her to the party. The first reason is that Vashti had Tzarat (a metaphysical skin affliction). The second is that גבריאל (the angel) made her have a tail.
I have a few questions:
1) What is the difference between these two answers? They appear to be some physical affliction that prevented her from going. If I have one, I don't need the other.
2) How does a person grow a tail? Why would the Malach choose to make her have a tail? Is there some significance?
3) Is this to be taken literally?
4) Why in the second answer is גבריאל mentioned? Why didn't he bring about the Tzarat?
Here is the text of the גמרא:
תלמוד בבלי מסכת מגילה דף יב/ב
מאי טעמא לא אתאי אמר רבי יוסי בר חנינא מלמד שפרחה בה צרעת במתניתא תנא בא גבריאל ועשה לה זנב
My answer:

1) Indeed, if you have one midrash, you don't need the other. This is likely a disagreement, rather than an assertion that both happened.
Rabbi Yossi ben Hanina, the one who stated that it was tzaraat, is an Amora of Eretz Yisrael. As Tosafot notes on the daf, in the parallel Yerushalmi, we find out that this is a derasha on the word nigzar in Esther 2:1:
וְאֵת אֲשֶׁר-נִגְזַר עָלֶיהָ
The word nigzar also occurs by Uzziah, a king who brought ketores, though he was not a kohen, and was stricken with leprosy.
Meanwhile, the brayta presumably derives the tail from some other source. According to Tosafot HaRosh, it is the word עָלֶיהָ in the same phrase. Written with an aleph instead of an ayin, it would be read alya, which means a tail.
2) A person grows a tail suddenly as a result of a miracle. While I'm sure some people explain the significance of specifically a tail, I would personally note that the rules of midrashic interpretation will restrict the details of the midrash to specifically that which can be deduced from the pasuk via midrashic rules. This was a means of suddenly marring her beauty, such that (based on the context of the gemara) though she would normally have loved to lewdly display her naked body, here she was embarrassed.
3) It depends. I would say yes, the rabbis who wrote this did intend them literally, though we do not have to agree that it historically occurred. Alternatively, it is meant metaphorically. See my discussions of this here and here.
4) I don't know. Different midrashic authors might mention different details. I don't know what specifically brings Gavriel in here, or if there is a running tradition of Gavriel secretly guiding all sorts of events in the megillah. For example, see Megillah 16a, where Shamshai the scribe erased what Mordechai had done to save the king from Bigtan and Teresh, but the angel Gavriel came and rewrote it. Note also that the entire second answer is in square brackets in our gemaras. I am not sure what that means, or what alternate girsa exists there.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Why did the Sages change חֲמוֹר to chamud, in the Septuagint?

Summary: My thoughts, that it is of course a scribal error, and the braysa which says otherwise is making a nice derasha based on existing facts. The Chasam Sofer has a detailed explanation, based on whether Moshe Rabbenu was entitled to a share in the spoils, and if not, at least a donkey to help carry the bones of Yosef.

PostAlso see this post, this post, and this post.

Consider Shemot 16:15:

טו  וַיִּחַר לְמֹשֶׁה, מְאֹד, וַיֹּאמֶר אֶל-יְהוָה, אַל-תֵּפֶן אֶל-מִנְחָתָם; לֹא חֲמוֹר אֶחָד מֵהֶם, נָשָׂאתִי, וְלֹא הֲרֵעֹתִי, אֶת-אַחַד מֵהֶם.15 And Moses was very wroth, and said unto the LORD: 'Respect not Thou their offering; I have not taken one ass from them, neither have I hurt one of them.'

In the Septuagint {=Targum Hashivim}, instead of Moshe indignantly saying that he has not taken anyone's chamor, they have:
15 καὶ ἐβαρυθύμησε Μωυσῆς σφόδρα καὶ εἶπε πρὸς Κύριον· μὴ πρόσχῃς εἰς τὴν θυσίαν αὐτῶν· οὐκ ἐπιθύμημα οὐδενὸς αὐτῶν εἴληφα, οὐδὲ ἐκάκωσα οὐδένα αὐτῶν.
15 And Moses was exceeding indignant, and said to the Lord, Do thou take no heed to their sacrifice: I have not taken away the desire of any one of them, neither have I hurt any one of them.

and the Samaritans have an identical error, swapping the daled for a resh, with the Samaritan text on the left side.

This is a clear error, and we have confirmation when Shmuel echoes Moshe, in I Shmuel 12:3:

ג  הִנְנִי עֲנוּ בִי נֶגֶד ה וְנֶגֶד מְשִׁיחוֹ, אֶת-שׁוֹר מִי לָקַחְתִּי וַחֲמוֹר מִי לָקַחְתִּי וְאֶת-מִי עָשַׁקְתִּי אֶת-מִי רַצּוֹתִי, וּמִיַּד-מִי לָקַחְתִּי כֹפֶר, וְאַעְלִים עֵינַי בּוֹ; וְאָשִׁיב, לָכֶם.3 Here I am; witness against me before the LORD, and before His anointed: whose ox have I taken? or whose ass have I taken? or whom have I defrauded? or whom have I oppressed? or of whose hand have I taken a ransom to blind mine eyes therewith? and I will restore it you.'

Note shor set opposite chamor.

While this seems to be a mere textual error, Megillah 9a-b sets it up as a deliberate change:
ותניא א"ר יהודה אף כשהתירו רבותינו יונית לא התירו אלא בספר תורה ומשום מעשה דתלמי המלך דתניא מעשה בתלמי המלך שכינס שבעים ושנים זקנים והכניסן בשבעים ושנים בתים ולא גילה להם על מה כינסן ונכנס אצל כל אחד ואחד ואמר להם כתבו לי תורת משה רבכם נתן הקב"ה בלב כל אחד ואחד עצה והסכימו כולן לדעת אחת וכתבו לו (בראשית א, כז) אלהים ברא בראשית (בראשית א, א) אעשה אדם בצלם ובדמות (בראשית א, כו) ויכל ביום הששי וישבות ביום השביעי (בראשית ה, ב) זכר ונקבה בראו ולא כתבו בראם (בראשית יא, ז) הבה ארדה ואבלה שם שפתם (בראשית יח, יב) ותצחק שרה בקרוביה (בראשית מט, ו) כי באפם הרגו שור וברצונם עקרו אבוס (שמות ד, כ) ויקח משה את אשתו ואת בניו וירכיבם על נושא בני אדם (שמות יב, מ)ומושב בני ישראל אשר ישבו במצרים ובשאר ארצות ארבע מאות שנה (שמות כד, ה) וישלח את זאטוטי בני ישראל (שמות כד, יא) ואל זאטוטי בני ישראל לא שלח ידו  (במדבר טז, טו) לא חמד אחד מהם נשאתי (דברים ד, יט) אשר חלק ה' אלהיך אתם להאיר לכל העמים (דברים יז, ג) וילך ויעבוד אלהים אחרים אשר לא צויתי לעובדם וכתבו לו את צעירת הרגלים ולא כתבו לו (ויקרא יא, ו) את הארנבת מפני שאשתו של תלמי ארנבת שמה שלא יאמר שחקו בי היהודים והטילו שם אשתי בתורה:
Or, in English:
"And it goes on to state, ‘R. Judah said: When our teachers permitted Greek, they permitted it only for a scroll of the Torah’.14 This was on account of the incident related in connection with King Ptolemy, 15 as it has been taught: ‘It is related of King Ptolemy that he brought together seventy-two elders and placed  them in seventy-two [separate] rooms, without telling them why he had brought them together, and he went in to each one of them and said to him, Translate16  for me the Torah of Moses your master.17 God then prompted each one of them and they all conceived the same idea and wrote for him, God created in the beginning,18 shall make man in image and likeness,19 And he finished on the sixth day, and rested on the seventh day,20 Male and female he created him21 [but they did not write ‘created them’],22 Come let me descend and confound their tongues,23 And Sarah laughed among her relatives;24 For in their anger they slew an ox and in their wrath they digged up a stall;25 And Moses took his wife and his children, and made them ride on a carrier of men; 26 And the abode of the children of Israel which they stayed in Egypt and in other lands was four hundred years, 27 And he sent the elect of the children of Israel; 2And against the elect of the children of Israel he put not forth his hand;29 I have taken not one valuable of theirs;Which the Lord thy God distributed to give light to all the peoples;And he went and served other gods which I commanded should not be served.They also wrote for him ‘the beast with small legs’ and they did not write ‘the hare’,because the name of Ptolemy's wife was hare,lest he should say, The Jews have jibed at me and put the name of my wife in the Torah."
If I recall correctly, very few of the changes listed here do we find in the Septuagint, but this is one of them. Despite this testimony, I am not convinced that this was not a mere scribal error, with the braysa speaking on a homiletic level. After all, it seems unlikely that the deliberate change, when translating into Greek, would also reflect a single change in letter, between ר and ד, which look extremely alike, and which the Samaritans indeed in their corrupted Hebrew text.

The Chasam Sofer writes about this topic as follows:

Chasam Sofer
"I have not taken away the ass of any one of them -- they changed it for Talmay the king into חמד (Megillah 9b). There is to say that חמור is not to be understood in its simple sense, but rather as Chazal said (in Pesachim? Bechorot 5b)
Moreover, they [the asses] helped the Israelites when they departed from Egypt, for there was not an Israelite who did not possess ninety Libyan asses laden with the silver and gold of Egypt.
And Moshe Rabbenu turned away to fulfill the oath to Yosef, and did not take anything. And so he rightfully could have requested from them the carrying of a single donkey, at least, for behold the oath was upon them, for 'he had certainly imposed the oath upon the Bnei Yisrael' {Shemot 13:19} upon all of them. And Chazal said (Sotah 9b) in our Mishnah at the end of the first perek, that upon the Gadol it was fitting to engage with Yosef. 



Upon this he said {in the continuation of the pasuk}  וְלֹא הֲרֵעֹתִי, אֶת-אַחַד מֵהֶם, 'neither have I hurt one of them'. Meaning, was there any of them who wished to engage, and I wronged him, saying 'you are not fit, and only I am fit'? And this was not so, but rather he was like a meis mitzvah, where there were none engaged with him, and I engaged with him. If so, by all rights, I should have borrowed from you a single donkey, and I did not take this from you. This, it appears to me, is the explanation of the verse.

However, it is known that the residents of Alexandria, of Egypt, complained about Israel before Alexander the Macedonian, and requested that Israel return to them the spoils of Egypt. And they {=the Israelites} answered that they owe them the wages of 600,000 for 400 years, see there, in perek Chelek {in Sanhedrin 91a}. 

On another occasion the Egyptians came in a lawsuit against the Jews before Alexander of Macedon. They pleaded thus: 'Is it not written, And the Lord gave the people favour in the sight of the Egyptians, and they lent them [gold and precious stones, etc.]20  Then return us the gold and silver which ye took!' Thereupon Gebiha b. Pesisa said to the Sages, 'Give me permission to go and plead against them before Alexander of Macedon: should they defeat me, then say, "Ye have merely defeated an ignorant man amongst us;" whilst if I defeat them then say, "The Law of Moses has defeated you."' So they gave him permission, and he went and pleaded against them. 'Whence do ye adduce your proof?' asked he, 'From the Torah,' they replied. 'Then I too,' said he, 'will bring you proof only from the Torah, for it is written, Now the sojourning of the children of Israel, who dwelt in Egypt, was four hundred and thirty years.21  Pay us for the toil of six hundred thousand men whom ye enslaved for four hundred thirty years.' Then King Alexander said to them, 'Answer him!' 'Give us three days' time,' they begged. So he gave them a respite; they sought but found no answer. Straightway they fled, leaving behind their sown fields and planted vineyards. And that year was a Sabbatical year.22

It comes out, according to this, that the aforementioned is not so, for behold, Moshe was not in the work of Mitzrayim, such that not a peruta of the spoils was due to him. And since he could not rightly ask for silver and gold vessels, he went and engaged in the bones of Yosef. And so it was like a case of this one benefits and this one does not lose out.

However, it is known that this answer was only to push off the Egyptians with straw. For the spoils were not the wages of the work. And furthermore, they did not work for 400 years {but rather only were in Egypt for 210}. And if was only the spoils of war, such that it was for Moshe to take a portion at the head. (Like a king he takes a portion at the head of the spoils and conquered items.) And well did he say לֹא חֲמוֹר אֶחָד מֵהֶם. And yet, before Talmay king of Egypt, they were not able to reveal this secret, for then he would say, 'if it was not the wages of work, then I require it of you that you return to me those spoils, for behold he was the king of Egypt. Therefore, they changed it for him into 'not a single חמד did I take from them'. (One needs to say, as above, that a single chamor from them means that he did not take from those chamorim which they took out of Egypt laden with spoils.)"

I never had understood the claim in the gemara in Sanhedrin that it was wages for work. Rather, that it was a counterclaim, and that if the Egyptians would open up with this complaint, the Jews could respond and be owed much more money. Nevertheless, this is a very nice construction and interplay between sugyos.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Precedence of a talmid chacham and a kohen gadol

Towards the start of parashat Emor, we read:

8. You shall sanctify him, for he offers up the food offering of your God; he shall be holy to you, for I, the Lord Who sanctifies you, am holy.ח. וְקִדַּשְׁתּוֹ כִּי אֶת לֶחֶם אֱלֹהֶיךָ הוּא מַקְרִיב קָדֹשׁ יִהְיֶה לָּךְ כִּי קָדוֹשׁ אֲנִי ה מְקַדִּשְׁכֶם:
The Tur records, lehalacha, the following gemara in perek Bnei HaIr, the fourth perek of Megillah {28a, here, in one location}:

"We learn in perek Bnei HaIr: Rabba bar Bar Chana cited Rabbi Yochanan: any talmid chacham who blesses before him, even an ignorant kohen gadol, that talmid chacham is liable to death at the hands of Heaven, for it is written {Mishlei 8}:

לו  וְחֹטְאִי, חֹמֵס נַפְשׁוֹ;    כָּל-מְשַׂנְאַי, אָהֲבוּ מָוֶת.36 But he that misseth me wrongeth his own soul; all they that hate me love death.'

Read not מְשַׂנְאַי but rather masni'ay {'those who cause me to be hated}. But a kohen who is a Torah scholar, one needs to give him precedence, for it is written {in Emor, above} וְקִדַּשְׁתּוֹ, for every matter of holiness, such as to open first {presumably, for an aliyah}, and to bless first. And if he wishes to give permission to an Israelite to bless, he may."

Rashi explains that by the Torah scholar allowing the ignorant kohen gadol to go first,
משניאי - שגורמין לבני אדם לשנאותו שהרואה תלמיד חכם שפל לפני עם הארץ אומר אין נחת רוח בתורה:
he causes people to hate Him, for one who sees a Torah scholar degraded before an am haaretz will say that there is no nachas ruach in the Torah.

See analysis of this topic in Torat HaTur.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

How could Noach drink wine of Orlah?

Summary: if he was able to figure out the Torah? Rav Chaim Kanievsky asks and answers. Well, who says that he felt obligated to keep it? Or maybe he actually did keep the Torah, and waited to drink the wine.

Post: After Noach emerged from the ark, he planted a vineyard, and later, he drank of the wine and became drunk. Thus, from perek 9:

20. And Noah began to be a master of the soil, and he planted a vineyard.כ. וַיָּחֶל נֹחַ אִישׁ הָאֲדָמָה וַיִּטַּע כָּרֶם:
21. And he drank of the wine and became drunk, and he uncovered himself within his tent.כא. וַיֵּשְׁתְּ מִן הַיַּיִן וַיִּשְׁכָּר וַיִּתְגַּל בְּתוֹךְ אָהֳלֹה:

According to the Book of Jubilees, this was all done in accordance with halacha, so that he would not violate the laws of orlah. He waited a sufficient number of years before drinking of the wine. Thus:

(According to scholars, this is not entirely in accordance with the Temple scroll at Qumran, and so this may reflect some rabbinic tradition, as it accords with rabbinic halachah.)  But, if we ignore the book of Jubilees, and don't read in a pause into the pesukim, then it appears that Noach drank of the wine immediately. (And perhaps there it a midrash to that effect; I don't know.)

Rav Chaim Kanievsky asks how Noach could have consumed orlah if he learned the Torah. Thus, he writes in Taama deKra:

"There is to consider how Noach drank wine which was Orlah. For we say that Noach learned (הגה) Torah (Yerushalmi Megillah, perek 1, halacha 11). And there is to say that Noach erred and thought that that which came from grapes was just "sweat", and just as Adam HaRishon erred in this, as we say (Bereishit Rabba perek 19) 'she squeezed grapes and gave to him'. And this is what is stated in Sanhedrin 70a:
The Holy One, blessed be He, said unto Noah: 'Noah, shouldst thou not have taken a warning from Adam, whose transgression was caused by wine?' 

All in all, a nice construction. Of course, that need not be the intent of the gemara in Sanhedrin, that Noach sinned by consuming orlah. (Rav Kanievsky undoubtedly knows that this is an elaborate construction which can be disassembled.)

To consider the Yerushalmi, which appears in Yerushalmi Megillah 15a:
טהורים אבל לא טמאים מניין ר' אבא בריה דרבי פפי ר' יהושע דסיכנין בשם ר' לוי הגה נח תורה מתוך תורה אמר כבר נאמר לי (בראשית ט) כירק עשב נתתי לכם את כל לאיזה דבר ריבה הכתוב בטהורין לקרבנות 
"Pure species [may be offered on a private altar] but not impure. From where? Rabbi Abba son of Rabbi Papi, Rabbi Yehoshua of Sichnin in the name of Rabbi Levi: Noach derived Torah from Torah. He said: It was already said to me (Bereishit 9), '[Every moving thing that liveth shall be for food for you;] as the green herb have I given you all.' To what purpose to the Torah include pure species [here, that he should bring seven of each to the ark]? For sacrifices."

Translated and elaborated upon in accordance with Korban HaEidah. Now, this Yerushalmi does not state that Noach kept all of the commandments, like the Avos kept the commandments. All it says is that he learned Torah from Torah. And it is a very restrictive 'Torah'. He is not darshening basing on pesukim in Shemos. He is darshening based on 'Torah' which had already been commanded to him, the statement Hashem said to him, 'Every moving thing that liveth shall be for food for you; as the green herb have I given you all.'. And he reasoned based on that. This does not mean that he kept all 613 mitzvos, plus derabbanans and minhagim.

If we grant this assumption that Noach would keep all 613 mitzvos, then perhaps there are other outs. For instance, the Avos generally only kept the Torah in Eretz Yisrael, while Mt. Ararat is in Turkey. Where did he plant this vineyard? Let us run with a chutz la'aretz theory. The Mishnah in Orlah states that Orlah is forbidden in Chutz LaAretz as a matter of halacha. And,
The amora'im debated the meaning of the term halakha in this context: Rav Yehuda in the name of Shemu'el claimed that the law is something that the Diaspora communities took upon themselves, while Ula argued in the name of Rabbi Yochanan that it is a halakha le-Moshe mi-Sinai, part of the Oral Tradition that Moshe received from God at Sinai. 
If it is just a custom taken upon by the Diaspora communities, then perhaps Noach would not be subject to it, living before the acceptance by these communities. He would presumably be bound by a halacha leMoshe miSinai. But then, perhaps he would not know it, since a halacha leMoshe miSinai would not be something he could derive by being הגה תורה מתוך תורה.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Rav Yaakov Emden's Eight-Legged Camel

On daf 18a of masechet Megillah, we learn the following:

והלועז ששמע אשורית יצא וכו
והא לא ידע מאי קאמרי מידי דהוה אנשים ועמי הארץ מתקיף לה רבינא אטו אנן האחשתרנים בני הרמכים מי ידעינן אלא מצות קריאה ופרסומי ניסא הכא נמי מצות קריאה ופרסומי ניסא:
That is, in the following pasuk, we don't really know what haAchashteranim benei haramachim means:

י  וַיִּכְתֹּב, בְּשֵׁם הַמֶּלֶךְ אֲחַשְׁוֵרֹשׁ, וַיַּחְתֹּם, בְּטַבַּעַת הַמֶּלֶךְ; וַיִּשְׁלַח סְפָרִים בְּיַד הָרָצִים בַּסּוּסִים רֹכְבֵי הָרֶכֶשׁ, הָאֲחַשְׁתְּרָנִים--בְּנֵי, הָרַמָּכִים.10 And they wrote in the name of king Ahasuerus, and sealed it with the king's ring, and sent letters by posts on horseback, riding on swift steeds that were used in the king's service, bred of the stud;

Rav Yaakov Emden has a rather colorful explanation of just what these animals were. He writes (unfortunately, the text was at the edge of my gemara, so this is a bit smudged):
The smudged Hebrew words at the edge are:

Thus, to translate to English, the text reads:
"I have seen in the words of the chroniclers of countries that they are still known and found in the land of Persia, and they are a type of camel with two humps on their back (which a man rides between them, just as on a saddle), and they have eight legs, and they are extremely swift racers, and it appears that certainly they were recognized and known to the authors of the Talmud Bavli (and so too it is apparent that they were known to the Tanna of Eretz Yisrael, as is written (in Kelaim perek 8 mishna 5) {Mishna:} "The Ramach is permitted" -- they are achashteranim benei haramachim.) And without a doubt, the gamla parcha mentioned many times in the gemara is one of them. If so, that which they said {in the gemara} "do we know?", perforce the explanation is that we don't know the words achashteranim benei haramachim, to know why they were called by these names {J: that is, their etymology}, what language they were coined from and what their implication is."

Now, we know that there is no such thing as an eight-legged camel, and I would guess that there couldn't be an eight-legged camel. As Rabbi Gil Student wrote on Hirhurim when he discussed achashteranim:
R. Yaakov Emden, in his glosses to Megillah 18a, says that he saw in Persian history books that this is a unique breed of camels with two humps and eight legs, that run very quickly. I'm not sure what books he was reading.

Can we identify what sort of camel Rav Yaakov Emden was discussing? I think we can. I believe he was referring to the Sarabha. From Essays on Indo-Aryan Mythology (and thus that of Persia):

Thus, the word Sarabha was used for real animals, such as peacocks, wild buffalos, young elephants, and camel. There is also the "fabulous" Sarabha, which is ashtapad, having eight legs, four of which are upward.

I don't know if in any of these texts, it is both eight-legged and a camel. It is certainly possible; it is also possible that Rav Yaakov Emden was relying on some text that conflated the normal Sarabha, a camel, and the fabulous Sarabha, which was eight-legged. Or else it spoke of Sarabha in different contexts and Rav Yaakov Emden put two and two together.

Here is a dictionary entry in a Sanskrit-English dictionary for Sarabha. What does the Sarabha look like? Here is one depiction, to the right. I don't think it used the extra four legs to run. They were facing upwards.

I think, therefore, that Rav Yaakov Emden was misled, and that this creature is surely not the same one as in the pasuk in Esther. This is one of the pitfalls of Torah UMaddah -- where the madda fails, the peshat fails as well.

He is likely on the right track, though, in saying that this is some sort of camel. After all, the typical Sanskrit word for camel is ushtra. Compare with achastranim. This is therefore likely some sort of fast camel, bred for its swiftness.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Missing the beginning of megillah reading

On Purim I heard of two incidents of people missing the beginning of megillah reading. In the first, a woman arrived just a bit late for the night reading, and had to have a private reading later that night. In the second, a woman arrived ahead of time for shul for the day reading, but immediately before the baal koreh was to start, her baby was in sudden dire need of a diaper change. And as a result, she had to have a private reading later in the day. This is probably a fairly common. So I wondered how much halachic wiggle room there is.

It turns out, not much.

The Mishna states (second perek, Megillah 19a):
ומהיכן קורא אדם את המגילה ויוצא בה י"ח ר"מ אומר כולה ר' יהודה אומר מאיש יהודי רבי יוסי אומר מאחר הדברים האלה:

We might think that in a dispute between Rabbi Meir and Rabbi Yehuda, we should rule like Rabbi Yehuda. This is the usual order of things.

But this general rule of pesak is superseded by a statement attributed to Rav, in the gemara on that daf:
א"ר חלבו אמר רב חמא בר גוריא אמר רב הלכה כדברי האומר כולה ואפי' למאן דאמר מאיש יהודי צריכה שתהא כתובה כולה

Rav Chelbo cited Rav Chama bar Guria who cited Rav that the halacha is like the one who says all of it must be read. {Then, switching to Aramaic from Hebrew:} And even according to the one who said "from Ish Yehudi," it needs to all be written.

"The one who says all of it must be read" is Rabbi Meir. And absent any opposing Amora, we abide by this ruling. And this is how we rule in Shulchan Aruch, etc. The halacha is like Rabbi Meir. And so if someone missed the very beginning and cannot read themselves to catch up, they must hear the whole megillah again.

Perhaps the Tosefta, and or the Yerushalmi can add some more data to this picture.

The Tosefta states:
ב,ה  מצות מגילה מתחלתה ועד סופה דברי רבי מאיר ר' יהודה אומר מאיש יהודי ר' יוסי אומר (אסתר ג) מאחר הדברים האלה ר"ש בן [אלעזר] אומר (אסתר ו) מבלילה ההוא אבל הכל מודים [שמצותה לגמור עד סוף].ש

Not much help. Yes, it is a machlokes. We get this extra picture that that which they all agree to is that it must be read until the end.

The Mishna in Yerushalmi does not significantly differ. There are only dialectal differences:
דף כ,א פרק ב הלכה ד משנה  מאיכן קורא אדם את המגילה ויוצא בה ידי חובתו ר"מ אומר כולה ר' יודה אומר מאיש יהודי ור' יוסי אומר מאחר הדברים האלה:

But there are some nice extra details in the gemara in Yerushalmi:
דף כ,א פרק ב הלכה ד גמרא  ר' אבהו בשם ר' לעזר מ"ד כולה על כן על כל דברי האגרת הזאת מ"ד מאיש יהודי ומה ראו על ככה מ"ד מאחר הדברים האלה ומה הגיע אליהם ר' סימון בשם ריב"ל מ"ד כולה וכל מעשה תקפו וגבורתו מ"ד מאיש יהודי ופרשת גדלת מרדכי ומ"ד מאחר הדברים האלה אשר גדלו המלך ר' יוסי בי ר' בון בשם ריב"ל תוקף כל תוקף את כל תוקף תוקף זה תוקפו של המן כל תוקף זה תוקפו של מרדכי את כל תוקף זה תוקפו של אחשורוש
תני ר"ש בן יוחי אומר מבלילה ההוא ממקום שהיתה מפלתו של המן משם היתה גדולתו של מרדכי
ר' בא רב ירמיה בשם רב הלכה כר' מאיר דהוא אמר כולה ר' זעירה בשם ר' יוחנן בעירובין ובתענית ציבור נוהג הכל כר' מאיר ר' יעקב בר אחא בשם ר"י אף במגילת אסתר נהגו הכל כר' מאיר ר' חלבו רב מתנה יוסי בר מניישא בשם רב בין כמ"ד כולה בין כמאן דאמר מאיש יהודי בין כמ"ד מאחר הדברים האלה ובלבד מספר שלם

Thus, after giving reasons for each position, we get a brayta that Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai that it is from balayla hahu, what the reconstructed Tosefta attributes to Rabbi Shimon ben [Eleazar].

The statement of Rav about needing to read all of it does not come from Rabbi Chelbo. Rabbi Chelbo only provides the additional information in Rav's name that regardless of whom we pasken like in this matter, the written megillah needs to have the complete megillah text.

But we do have such a statement attributed to Rav, from Rabbi Abba, via Rabbi Yirmeyah, that the halacha is like Rabbi Meir. So is the position of Rav.

But Rabbi Yochanan's position is possibly different. Rabbi Zera cites him as saying that (possibly only) by Eruvin and Taanis Tzibur do all act (noheg) like Rabbi Meir. That is, the Chachamim maintain that either an eruv chatzeiros or a shituf mevuos is needed, while Rabbi Meir requires both. (Possibly to make sure that the halachos are not forgotten.) By a public fast day (with Mincha and Neilah), Rabbi Yossi (and the Chachamim) maintained that one does not have birchas kohanim by Mincha and Neila, but Rabbi Meir maintains that one should. And Rabbi Yochanan is saying that in practice, all act like Rabbi Meir in these two.

From Tosefta Taanis:
ג,א  בשלשה פרקים נושאין כפיהן ד' פעמים ביום [בשחר] בחצות במנחה [ובנעילה] דברי ר' מאיר וחכמים אומרים במנחה ובנעילה לא היה שם נשיאת כפים שנאמר (דברים יח) לעמוד לשרת בשם ה' הוא ובניו מקיש בניו [לו] מה הוא מעומד ונשיאות כפים בבוקר אף בניו מעומד ונשיאות כפים בבוקר.

And Rabbi Yaakov bar Acha cited Rabbi Yochanan that he extended this even to this dispute regarding how much of the megillah to read.

Assume for a moment that there is a dispute between Rabbi Yochanan and Rav? Like whom do we pasken? The rule of pesak is that in case of such a dispute, we rule in accordance with Rabbi Yochanan. (See here.)

(Of course, the general assumption is also that we rule like Bavli over Yerushalmi, for since it was finished at a later date, the savoraim had a chance to view the Yerushalmi, and if they did not include some position, it was because one should not rely upon it. But I am not convinced that this assumption is true.)

Is there a difference between saying that the halacha is like Rabbi Meir and saying that everyone is noheg like Meir? I am not certain, but there might be. This might be saying that common practice established and defined the halacha. But this might be a way of explaining how the custom resolved itself, such that lechatchila, this is how one should act in practice. But when push comes to shove, the halacha is the halacha. I can understand that the whole world is noheg to read the megillah in its entirety. This is what we all do in shul. But maybe in a pinch, if one missed the very beginning, then bedieved we may consider that the halacha is actually like Rabbi Yehuda. And so one who heard from that point and on would have fulfilled.

This all depends on what נהגו הכל really means. And of course, do not act based on this post, or almost anything you see on the blogosphere. Consult your local Orthodox rabbi. This post is just a means of exploring some of the texts involved in the ultimate halachic conclusion.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Poor Vashti

Poor Vashti! Such was the topic of conversation this Purim. Someone expressed pity for Vashti, who after all simply stood up for herself to her husband, and was executed as a result. The midrashim, which paint her as a bad guy, as oppressing Jewish women and for being too sexually open, were no help, because those were midrashim, and not the Biblical text itself.

I pointed out in response that the Biblical text itself also does not claim that Vashti was executed. That is, rather, a Rashi:
that Vashti did not comeand therefore, she was executed.
The pasuk itself merely states:

ט  אִם-עַל-הַמֶּלֶךְ טוֹב, יֵצֵא דְבַר-מַלְכוּת מִלְּפָנָיו, וְיִכָּתֵב בְּדָתֵי פָרַס-וּמָדַי, וְלֹא יַעֲבוֹר:  אֲשֶׁר לֹא-תָבוֹא וַשְׁתִּי, לִפְנֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ אֲחַשְׁוֵרוֹשׁ, וּמַלְכוּתָהּ יִתֵּן הַמֶּלֶךְ, לִרְעוּתָהּ הַטּוֹבָה מִמֶּנָּה.19 If it please the king, let there go forth a royal commandment from him, and let it be written among the laws of the Persians and the Medes, that it be not altered, that Vashti come no more before king Ahasuerus, and that the king give her royal estate unto another that is better than she.

That is, the decree, that shall not be altered, is that Vashti should no more come before the king, and that her estate/position be given to someone better than she. And she could not be restored to her position, because the law may not be altered, a plot point that comes up again later in the megillah.

It then seems that this pasuk is often interpreted in another way. Despite the imperfect tense of tavo, it is read as: "because she did not show before the king Achashverosh, her royal estate should be given to another who is better than she." The vav is then not "and" but introduces the consequence, and asher is because. And it fits nicely into Vashti's offense. (The translation above, in Rashi, of the dibbur hamatchil in Judaica Press seems to match this; although it is interpretable another way, that the way in which she would never come before him is by being executed.) Then, the punishment and her disappearance from the scene are left relatively unspecified, and one can interpret into this an execution.

Some people were surprised at my alternate reading, in which not showing up before Achashverosh was part of the punishment, but when considering it, liked it as a strong possibility.

(I see now that an early French exegete, I think Rav Yosef Kara (page 5), said like me, and added further that of course she was not executed, for if so, why would they need to write any law in the lawbooks of Paras and Maday?!)

Friday, February 26, 2010

What makes a gadol?

What makes a gadol? According to recent post on Emes veEmunah, it is the following traits:
I’ve written in the past about what I think the qualifications should be for that. They include but are not limited to encyclopedic knowledge of Shas, Rishonim, and Halacha and at least a working knowledge of Mada. They must also have a high level of Yiras Shamayim, a refined character, and highly developed degree of personal ethics.

Additionally they should have leadership capabilities, a certain type of wisdom that usually comes with age, and the willingness to unselfishly serve Klal Yisroel with great humility. Perhaps the most important characteristic of all is acceptance by their peers and their people - Klal Yisorel.

Occasionally one can become a Gadol without some of these traits - or at least greater strength in one area over another. But in the vast majority of cases all of the above traits are found in Gedolim at some level - perhaps excelling in one or two of them.
This reminds me of a midrash (? in Yitro ?) contrasting the lists of traits for a judge with what Moshe eventually took. Yachdus takes exception to the requirement to be an expert in madda, writing:
Yet, when making his own list from the past,

Rav Moshe Feinstein (pictured), Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, Rav Ahron Soloveichik, Rav Aharon Kotler, Rav Yaakov Kaminetsky, Rav Avroham Pam, Rav Yitzchak Hutner, Rav Yoel Teitelbaum, and Rav Menachem Mendel Schneersohn.
he seems to be omitting something. Yes, some of these very Gedolim had little working knowledge of Mada. The Satmar rebbe and Rav Aharon Kotler both come to mind.
I don't see this as a contradiction. After all, Rabbi Maryles did write that "Occasionally one can become a Gadol without some of these traits" -- and presumably, they could consult with an expert, when it came to madda. So perhaps one could say that the Gadlus of the Satmar Rebbe and Rav Aharon Kotler were lacking because of their unfamiliarity with madda. 

I kid, I kid! Seriously, why is he so certain that the Satmar Rebbe was unfamiliar with madda? Sure, he did not have a formal science education, but the gemara tells us "Sod Hashem Liyre'av"! Indeed, that is why, while other people (such as Rav Yaakov Kaminetzky) were fooled by the hoax that was the moon landing, the Satmar Rebbe saw right through it, since it went against the beliefs of the Jewish religion (either something about the fiery nature of space, or else what we say in kiddush levana, ve'eini yachol lingoa bach). And apparently many of his followers believe him, and likewise know this truth.

{Update: According to Anonymous, in a comment below: nowhere does the satmat rav write that and he neve said that-rmmk was reffering to a different rebbe }
{Further update: In the comment section, Yosef Greenberg/Yachdus provides possible confirmation that it was the Satmar Rebbe: 
IIRC, it was the Satmar Rebbe who believed so but withheld comment after R' Yonason Shteiff who discouraged him from doing so. Depending on your belief, either because he would make a fool of himself, or he actually convinced him that it did happen.
But then, see Anonymous' response. Anonymous commenters, please at the least choose a pseudonym. Even better if you keep that pseudonym consistently. It makes it easier to track different people in a discussion, and lends further credence to your words as you build a reputation.

And Rav Aharon Kotler was able to solve a complex mathematical problem which the head of the Kovna Gymnasia was unable to solve. Certainly, he could have rivaled the Chazon Ish in skills at neurosurgery, despite how the latter read medical journals.

Really seriously, now, it depends what the role of the Gadol is, in his particular community. Certainly for pesak halacha, knowledge of metzius seems to me to be rather critical (though knowing how to competently consult and understand an expert is the real skill); but for other roles, and particularly for a community that has chosen to shut out the outside world, it might well not be critical.

And as Yachdus writes:
Who recognized your list as Gedolim, R' Harry? Is it possible that the conferral of the title happened simply by acceptance?

I think that the title of Gadol is limited only to people who are wholly accepted by a large segment of klal Yisrael. Regardless of the specifics noted above.
Yes, indeed, one definition of Gadol is someone accepted by the community as a Gadol. Probably the truest definition for this concept. But there might be different definitions of a Gadol, one being a leader who is truly worthy of being a leader in klal Yisrael.

I saw an interesting thing in Shiluv HaMasorot, by Rabbi Yekusiel Aryeh Kamalhar (b. 1871, d. 1937) -- a devar Torah touching on masorah, Tetzaveh, megillat Esther, and the question of why our modern day religious leaders cannot have this broad secular knowledge, like the luminaries of the past possessed, while still being religious leaders.

ונשמע ג׳ במסורה:
ונשמע קולו בבואו אל הקדש (שמות כח — לה)ש
ונשמע פתגם המלך (מגילת אסתר א — כ.)ש
נעשה ונשמע (שמות כד — ז.)ש
רבים שואלים, על מה לפנים היו רבנים גאונים, וחכמים בכל חכמה וקרובים
למלכות ויחד עם זאת היו צדיקים גמורים, כמו האברבנאל, ר״ש וורטהיימר• ור״ש
אפנהיימר וכו׳ ובזמן הזה, מי שאך טועם מעץ הדעת! נעשו חכמים להרע ורחוקים
מהצדקה ומצדקות ה'. ועוד שאלה בפיהם: מפני מה בעבר לא רחוק לפני ששים
שנה עוד היו בישראל צדיקים, פועלי ישועות בקרב הארץ והי׳ בבחינת ״צדיק
גוזר והקב״ה מקיים״ והיום פסו אמונים וגמר חסיד. על שתי השאלות הללו יש
חירוץ פשוט לשתיהן: כל שמעשיו מרובין מחכמתו, למה הוא דומה לאילן ששרשיו
מרובין וענפיו מעטין, שאפילו כל הרוחות שבעולם אין יכולים להזיזו ממקומו וכל
שחכמתו מרובה ממעשיו וכו׳ (פרקי אבות), כן הדבר גם בצדיקים ופועלי ישועות,
שהראשונים היו מוסרים את נפשם בעבדות ה׳ (ברכות כ:) ועל ידי המעשים
הכבירים שעשו למעלה מכח אנוש במסירות נפש, זכו לעשות נפלאות ודבריהם
נשמעו בשמים.
ובכן באה המסורה ושואלת: לפנים היה מרדכי בלשן ויודע שבעים לשונות
והיה ראש הסנהדרין ועם זאת היה יושב בשער המלך והיה קרוב למלכות ״ונשמע
פתגם המלך אשר יעשה״ והיום אין למצא איש כזה? לפנים היו צדיקים שקולו של
כל אחד ואחד היה נשמע בשמים ״ ונשמע קולו בבואו אל הקודש״ להתפלל• 
על ישראל והיום שומע אין להם התשובה היא, כי צריכים להקדים ״ נעשה״
כלומר ״עשיה לשמועה״ — להיות המעשים מרובים מהחכמה ומעשים ממש
כבירים, במסירות נפש כנ״ל.
The masorah notes that the word venishma (with a sheva under the yud) only appears three times in Tanach (though once with a kametz and twice with a patach under the mem). Shiluv HaMasoret makes this into a derasha, or drush. The three pesukim are as follows. Once in Tetzaveh:

לה  וְהָיָה עַל-אַהֲרֹן, לְשָׁרֵת; וְנִשְׁמַע קוֹלוֹ בְּבֹאוֹ אֶל-הַקֹּדֶשׁ לִפְנֵי יְהוָה, וּבְצֵאתוֹ--וְלֹא יָמוּת.  {ס}35 And it shall be upon Aaron to minister; and the sound thereof shall be heard when he goeth in unto the holy place before the LORD, and when he cometh out, that he die not. {S}

Once in Mishpatim:

ז  וַיִּקַּח סֵפֶר הַבְּרִית, וַיִּקְרָא בְּאָזְנֵי הָעָם; וַיֹּאמְרוּ, כֹּל אֲשֶׁר-דִּבֶּר יְהוָה נַעֲשֶׂה וְנִשְׁמָע.7 And he took the book of the covenant, and read in the hearing of the people; and they said: 'All that the LORD hath spoken will we do, and obey.'

And once in megillas Esther:

כ  וְנִשְׁמַע פִּתְגָם הַמֶּלֶךְ אֲשֶׁר-יַעֲשֶׂה בְּכָל-מַלְכוּתוֹ, כִּי רַבָּה הִיא; וְכָל-הַנָּשִׁים, יִתְּנוּ יְקָר לְבַעְלֵיהֶן--לְמִגָּדוֹל, וְעַד-קָטָן.20 And when the king's decree which he shall make shall be published throughout all his kingdom, great though it be, all the wives will give to their husbands honour, both to great and small.'

He notes: "Many ask why in earlier times there were rabbanim who were geniuses, who were scholars in every discipline and who were close to the government, and together with this were complete tzadikim, such as Abarbanel, Rabbi Shamshon Wertheimer,  Rabbi Shmuel Oppenheimer {thanks again to Yosef Greenberg for providing these identities, of his ancestors}, etc., yet in these days, anyone who merely tastes of the tree of knowledge becomes a scholar for bad and are distanced from righteousness and from the righteousness of Hashem? And another question in their mouths: Why, no more than 60 years ago, there were in Israel tzaddikim who performed wondrous yeshuot within the land and were in the category of "The tzaddik decrees and Hakadosh Baruch Hu fulfills", yet today the godly man ceases and the pious is finished? {See Tehillim 12:1.} Upon these two questions, there is a single simple answer: Anyone whose deeds are greater than his wisdom, to what is he compared? To a tree whose roots are many and its branches are few, where even if all the winds in the world blew they would not be able to move it from its place. And anyone whose wisdom is greater than his actions, etc. (See Pirkei Avot). So is the case by tzaddikim and those who perform wondrous salvations. For the early ones would be moser nefesh in serving Hashem (Berachot daf 20, the case of R' Ada bar Ahava ripping the red clothing off the woman). And based on the great actions that they did, greater than human capacity, in mesirus nefesh, they merited to perform wonders and their words were heard in Heaven. 

And therefore the masorah comes and asks: In past times, Mordechai was Bilshan {בלשן}, and he knew the 70 languages, and was head of the Sanhedrin. And with all this, he sat in the gate of the king and was close to the government -- "and he heard the kings decree which shall be done." And today, there is no man like this? In past times, there were tzadikim whose voice, each and every one was head in heaven -- "and his voice was heard when he entered the Holy place" to pray for Israel -- and today, no one hears for them? The answer is that they need to put first the naaseh, that is to say, the action, to the hearing, such that the actions will be greater than the wisdom, and the actions truly great, like the aforementioned ones with mesirus nefesh."

A nice derush. But I wonder how much is nostalgia, and also believing the many made-up miracle stories of years past. Also, perhaps the nature of the broad knowledge changed. For Abarbabel at least, one could be expert in the various sciences and disciplines and still maintain one's faith. And one could be a man of faith and reason. With the rise of haskalah, and the rise of certain modern sciences, perhaps knowledge of these other disciplines led, in many cases, to a dismissal of religious beliefs. Or perhaps this was just a social trend, part of the zeitgeist. Or perhaps society changed, such that one who possessed this sort of broad knowledge was not considered a Gadol, or religious leader. And so those who gained this broad knowledge would not be considered religious, and those who started out with a religious upbringing would avoid the broad knowledge (such that certain yeshivot banned the study of Tanach with Malbim). Of course, I don't know enough about the author's time period to make such speculation. But I am thinking aloud in terms of our own. (Except of course that I do know of some who developed this sort of broad knowledge. They are not chareidi Gedolim, though.)


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