QUOTI OF THE DAY
"?אם האדם לא יעורר נפשו, מה יועילוהו המוסרים"
Pain, n. An uncomfortable frame of mind that may have a physical basis in something that is being done to the body, or may be purely mental, caused by the good fortune of another.
I wish to discuss a few issues pertaining to the history of Tisha Be-av, which might possibly be of halachic significance.
"I'm being showcased on the bench. They have me sitting where people can see me."
Where does the Kohein aliya end this week? While many Humashim indicate that it ought to end following verse 11, based on my rather limited experience it seems to me that the custom is to halt after verse 10, in order not to begin the Levi aliya with the words “eikha essa levaddi…”. This is a relatively new phenomenon – it appears mainly in newer Humashim, those printed in the past twenty years or so. Older Humashim, such as the Soncino or any of the ones printed in Europe in the earlier part of the twentieth century, will conclude Kohein with verse 11.
I have already discussed elsewhere (P’ Korach of last year) the question of whether Divine punishment is delivered for those who sin while between the ages of 13 and 20. The Midrash Rabbah (B’midbar Rabbah 16:23) tells us that even those people under the age of twenty – provided they were at least bar mitzvah age - were punished for the sin of the spies. But whereas those who were over twenty were punished whether they were involved with the smear campaign against the Holy Land, those who were underage were only deemed guilty if they had taken an active role in the anti-Israel attacks.
Along the way into the Land of Israel, the Jews passed around three kingdoms: Edom, Mo’av, and Ammon. In each instance, they were commanded not to wage war with those peoples. With Edom, the command reads, “You shall not incite them” (D’varim 2:5); by Mo’av it says, “Do not distress Mo’av, and do not incite war against them” (2:9); and regarding Ammon, “Do not distress them and do not incite them” (2:19). The reason given for these obligations is that the lands held by these peoples had already been promised to others.
The Mishnah (Hagigah 1: 8) states that the source for the nullification of vows “flies in the air”, there being only the slightest allusion to this concept in the Written Torah. The Talmud lists a number of rabbinic attempts to find such a hint, and concludes that the most likely candidate is the verse in this week’s first sidra, which reads “he shall not nullify his word; he shall do according to that which leaves his mouth” (Num. 30:3) The verse is taken to imply that while one may not absolve oneself of one’s own vows, no such limitation is placed on others. הוא אינו מיחל אבל אחרים מוחלין לו, as the gemara puts it.
After commanding the Jews to conquer and distribute the Land of Canaan, God tells the Moshe: “Command the Children of Israel and say to them: Behold, you are coming to the Land of Canaan. This is the land that shall fall to you as a territorial inheritance, the Land of Canaan according to its boundaries. And the southern boundary shall be…” (B’midbar 34:2-3). What exactly is the nature of this “command”? Where is the imperative mood here; what are the Jews being asked to do? Most commentaries seem to overlook this textual difficulty; but there are at least a couple of approaches to be found.
Rashi appears to understand this commandment as referring to the various mitzvos dependent on the boundaries of the Land, such as the various priestly tithes. Knowledge of Israel’s frontiers is a prerequisite for the fulfillment of other “real” commandments, and is thus demanded of us in the form of an obligation, “tzav”.
The Netziv adds that the word “tzav” is to be taken at its broader understanding, as being a general directive towards vigilance (see Sifra at the beginning of P’ Tzav). Because of the many laws applicable only within the boundaries of Israel, we are obligated to know “with precision” the extent of Israel’s territory.
The Meshech Chochma, in a similar vein, writes that this commandment is providing the details of the obligation of Re’uven and Gad to fight alongside their brethren before returning to their homes in Transjordan. Until the boundaries mentioned in our parasha were secured, they were not free to go home.
Basically, everyone agrees that the commandment is to gain knowledge of Israel’s frontiers. A similar argument could easily be made regarding the 42 stops made by the Jews on their way to Israel, if we accept the oft-cited rationale of the Rambam for this passage: in order to appreciate the magnitude of what happened in the desert, we need to know something of the geography of
these places. So pull out your maps, sit down with your chumashim, and start studying!
The story of the Jewish war with the Midyanites is disturbing to the modern reader. After the Jewish warriors return from battle, having mercifully spared the women and children, Moshe reacts angrily, and orders them to massacre all but the young girls. Frankly, nowadays this would be called genocide. How are we to relate to this sort of story?
One of the recurrent themes in this week’s parshiyos is the family of Menashe. In P’ Mattos, part of the tribe of Menashe asks to inherit its territory on the eastern bank of the Jordan; and at the very end of P’ Mas’ei, the issue of whom the daughters of Tz’laphchad are allowed to marry becomes an issue, lest they intermarry with another tribe and cause the loss of part of the ancestral lands.
Out-of-Doors, n. That part of one's environment upon which no government has been able to collect taxes. Chiefly useful to inspire poets.
Outcome, n. A particular type of disappointment. By the kind of intelligence that sees in an exception a proof of the rule the wisdom of an act is judged by the outcome, the result. This is immortal nonsense; the wisdom of an act is to be judged by the light that the doer had when he performed it.
Must we believe that spontaneous generation of lice occurs, or that it did, at least, during Talmudic times? Many claim we must; not only those who assert Chazal's scientific infallibility, but also others (see, for example, Rabbi Shlomo Fisher, Derashot Beit Yishai, siman #47, fn. dalet) who point to the fact that in this specific instance, there is a drasha (kind of; see Shabbat 107b) that discusses spontaneous generation, and we can't invalidate a drasha. Some (I believe Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, for example) suggest Chazal really meant just that the reproduction of lice is not visible to the naked eye, and therefore is not recognized from a halachic perspective; but that they were not, in fact, contradicting the modern understanding of how a louse forms. I'm uncomfortable with this explanation; how are lice different from other insects in this regard? Also, the fact that the entire ancient (and medieval) world believed in spontaneous generation is quite suggestive.
"Hitters get to scratch themselves only once per at-bat."
"If you keep making bad jokes, I'm going to beat the crap out of you, Crapman, and then your name will just be 'man'."
Ostrich, n. A large bird to which (for its sins, doubtless) nature has denied that hinder toe in which so many pious naturalists have seen a conspicuous evidence of design. The absence of a good working pair of wings is no defect, for, as has been ingeniously pointed out, the ostrich does not fly.
Orthography, n. The science of spelling by the eye instead of the ear. Advocated with more heat than light by the outmates of every asylum for the insane. They have had to concede a few things since the time of Chaucer, but are none the less hot in defence of those to be conceded hereafter.
Orphan, n. A living person whom death has deprived of the power of filial ingratitude - a privation appealing with a particular eloquence to all that is sympathetic in human nature. When young the orphan is commonly sent to an asylum, where by careful cultivation of its rudimentary sense of locality it is taught to know its place. It is then instructed in the arts of dependence and servitude and eventually turned loose to prey upon the world as a bootblack or scullery maid.
Optimist, n. A proponent of the doctrine that black is white.
Following the dramatic actions taken by Pinhas in order to quell the outbreak of yet another plague amidst a sinful Israelite nation, God tells Moshe that Pinhas will consequently be granted “a covenant of eternal priesthood” (Num 25:13).
Following the enumeration of the tribes, and the rather cryptic description of how the Land of Israel was to be divided among them (which I had hoped to make the topic of this week’s email, but failed, for want of time), the Torah proceeds to provide us with a brief census of the tribe of Levi as well. Ramban (26:57) is puzzled by this additional information, and cannot account for why it was provided.
The daughters of Tzelophchad are fascinating characters, upon whom the partisan reader might project any number of modern values. Whether to view them as intellectually daring proto-feminists, reacting against a testosterone- fuelled theocracy, or as submissive, uxorial Bais Yaakov-types who ultimately get married and had lots of babies, is really beside the point, for of course they were neither.
"Have I changed, Shanon? No. Same funny guy."
"Americans, when they think they're behind, they create something new, you know."
"How about when a number increases excrementally?"
Offensive, adj. Generating disagreeable emotions or sensations, as the advance of an army against its enemy.
"What is my minhag? What difference does it make what a little guy born in Petach Tikva some forty plus years ago does...?"
Occident, n. The part of the world lying west (or east) of the Orient. It is largely inhabited by Christians, a powerful sub-tribe of the Hypocrites, whose principal industries are murder and cheating, which they are pleased to call "war" and "commerce." These, also, are the principal industries of the Orient.
I have made [what I consider to be] major improvements to the format of my post "Sources Indicating That Chazal Did Not Possess Perfect Scientific Knowledge." Suggestions for further improvements are always appreciated.
In his article entitled "The Myth of Scientific Objectivity" (The Jewish Observer, May 2006), Rabbi Yonoson Rosenblum quotes the following sentence from the brochure for the British Museum of Natural History's 1981 exhibit on Darwin:
There are many important theological issues embedded in this week’s parasha. One of the more interesting questions raised in P’ Balak is the relationship of non-Jews to God. In their entreaties on behalf of the beleaguered Moabite nation, Balak and Bilam appealed not to their indigenous idols, but to the unitary God of the Jews; and yet, they seem not to have considered Him as the proprietary “Jewish God”, but rather as a more universal God, a God who could, in theory, heed the pleas of a well-intentioned non-Jew even at the expense of His supposedly Chosen People. What are we to make of these efforts of non-Jews to relate to God outside of, or even in antagonism towards, the Jewish viewpoint?
This week’s parasha is basically about death. From the Red Heifer to the laws of impurity to the deaths of Miriam and Aharon, every passage seems to remind us of our mortality, and it can be a tad depressing to read. And yet, there are certainly some lessons here on how we ought to relate to death.
The Sifrei on this week’s parasha (#131) cites an interesting argument between Rabbi Akiva and Rebbi. Commenting on the juxtaposition of the verse dealing with the separation of Bilam from Balak and the beginning of the incident of Ba’al P’or, Rabbi Akiva explains that there is surely a connection between the two passages. “Any parasha which is juxtaposed to another is related to it in some way, and we can learn something novel from the arrangement,” is what Rabbi Akiva says, to which Rebbi responds that “there are many parshios which are written next to one another, and are as far from one another as East is from West.”
“And the people saw that Aharon had died, and all of Israel cried for Aharon for thirty days” (B’midbar 20:29). What did they see? Didn’t Aharon die at the top of a mountain? The gemara provides us with an answer: the saw nothing. “Rabbi Abbahu said: do not read it ‘va’yiru’ but rather…” (Rosh Ha’shannah 3a).
Oath, n. In law, a solemn appeal to the Deity, made binding upon the conscience by a penalty for perjury.
"Baseball is the only game left for people. To play basketball now, you have to be 7'6". To play football, you have to be the same width."
"My theory is 'principles (-als?) - who needs them'."
Nose, n. The extreme outpost of the face. From the circumstance that great conquerors have great noses, Getius, whose writings antedate the age of humor, calls the nose the organ of quell. It has been observed that one's nose is never so happy as when thrust into the affairs of another, from which some physiologists have drawn the inference that the nose is devoid of the sense of smell.
I hadn't checked the blog in quite a while so I just noticed the new format. I like it better this way because there are fewer (and maybe smaller) image files to download every time I reload a page over my dial-up connection. Thanks to whoever changed it.
Look at http://hirhurim.blogspot.com/2006/07/afikei-mayim-vi_04.html and examine carefully the links within the post.
Newtonian, adj. Pertaining to a philosophy of the universe, invented by Newton, who discovered that an apple will fall to the ground, but was unable to say why. His successors and disciples have advanced so far as to be able to say when.
For those of us who used to go to Sens games years ago, remember there was this crazy guy who used to dance in the aisles? Everyone should remember...his name was Jon-E Shakka. Anyway, I came across his website, and thought I'd share it with you guys. It's...
God tells Aharon (Num. 18:8) that he has entrusted him with the various priestly gifts so that they should be a source of nobility (“le-mosh-ha”, as glossed by Sifrei and Ibn Ezra). This condition of the portions allotted to the kohanim is mentioned explicitly in the Talmud as the source for several laws pertaining to the eating of kodashim; it is also used by the medieval commentaries to explain several other details whose scriptural basis is not immediately apparent. What follows is a preliminary (i.e. Friday afternoon) analysis of the parameters of this requirement that the priestly gifts be “le-mosh-ha”.
hi ds, long time no speak. not too many people posting, so i decided to drop in, not read anything, but at least say hello : ) [instead of working on my essay] so, when are you coming to TO? gaby has a new place, maybe you should come and visit it. or perhaps it's time that you tried sharon's shabbat cooking. i can think of many people and places to invite you to [without their permission] but instead i'll just say that i hope to see you again soon.
"I didn't understand why the Americans called bathrooms 'restrooms', until I came to New York and realised that that was the only place they ever took a break."
Neighbor, n. One whom we are commanded to love as ourselves, and who does all he knows how to make us disobedient.
"Fyx ptrq wyr inu ynar tur mvrnqw nup ynzl n crusq?"