Did the Skinny Cows Really Eat the Fat Ones?

Sometimes you find a pshat that turns everything you thought you knew about a story on it’s head.  Here, I refer to the strange dreams of Pharoah in this past week’s Parsha.  Pharoah tells Yosef that he dreams of seven skinny cows eating seven fat cows, and then that he saw seven unhealthy stalks of grain eating seven healthy ones. I always assumed that the fact that cows don’t eat cows, and grain doesn’t eat at all, was not a problem.  After all, this was a dream.

However, several commentaries, both classic and modern, challenge this interpretation.   Continue reading Did the Skinny Cows Really Eat the Fat Ones?

Women’s Learning – A Perspective from Slabodka

I happen to come across a piece from Rabbi Avraham Grodzinski (see here), a Mashgiach in Slabodka.  He is in the middle of a piece elaborating on the place of the human intellect in religious life and its status as a source of obligation.  In that context, he has  footnote why he thinks that women are obviously, to an extent, obligated in Talmud Torah, even if they are not formally included in the obligations derived from pesukim.   Continue reading Women’s Learning – A Perspective from Slabodka

A Rejection of God, not Land

Throughout the time in the desert, the Jews complain. They complain about the lack of water, the lack of food, the type of food, and then finally in Sh’lach, they complain about G-d’s desire to bring them to Eretz Yisrael. This seals their fate – they will not live to see the land; rather, they wander in the desert until each adult male between the ages of twenty and sixty perishes. What was so egregious about this complaint? Was it just that they rejected G-d’s land? Had they just challenged G-d one time too many? Or, perhaps, was there something particularly insidious about this rebellion? Continue reading A Rejection of God, not Land

You Can’t Be the Rabbi in Your Own Community

It is often hard for people to view their own children as adults, and to a lesser extent, the same is true for the children that grew up in their community.  When they have known people since they were born, seen all the things they did as immature children, recognizing that now they are now “all grown up” is hard.  I have often heard people say that this is why rabbis cannot be rabbis in the community they grew up in, as their friend’s parents are going to have a hard time going from seeing them as (insert name) to Rabbi.

I found it fascinating that this is one of the reasons that Ibn Ezra believes that Moshe had to grow up in the palace, away from the Jewish people.  Otherwise, no one would have taken him seriously.

אבן עזרא שמות פרק ב פסוק ג

ומחשבות השם עמקו, ומי יוכל לעמוד בסודו, ולו לבד נתכנו עלילות. אולי סבב השם זה שיגדל משה בבית המלכות להיות נפשו על מדרגה העליונה בדרך הלימוד והרגילות, ולא תהיה שפלה ורגילה להיות בבית עבדים. הלא תראה, שהרג המצרי בעבור שהוא עשה חמס. והושיע בנות מדין מהרועים, בעבור שהיו עושים חמס להשקות צאנן מהמים שדלו. ועוד דבר אחר, כי אלו היה גדל בין אחיו ויכירוהו מנעוריו, לא היו יראים ממנו, כי יחשבוהו כאחד מהם.

Of course, there are exceptions, as I gave a shiur that incorporated this passage in my parent’s shul, where the assistant rabbi did grow up in the shul.  I guess there are exceptions to every rule.

Ein Gozrin Gzeira L’Gzeira – Really?

For I long time, I have wondered about the rule of אין גוזרין גזירה לגזירה.  While Rashi (Beitzah 2b) and others in his Beit Midrash (Machzor Vitri Avot 1) make it clear that this is a biblical rule, and many Achronim follow suit, it is far from clear that the Gemara felt that way.  In some places (Chullin 104a-b) it is basically explicit that there are cases when we can make decrees to protect decrees.  Even when the Gemara says that we do not, it seems like Chazal did not, rather than they could not.  Finally, many Rishonim and Achronim thought that we do make decrees to protect decrees in certain circumstances (ex. Karet, as the Beit Yosef notes in several places, such as Yoreh Deah 183).   Continue reading Ein Gozrin Gzeira L’Gzeira – Really?

The Holiness of the Mundane

After the tragic deaths of Nadav and Avihu, the children of Aharon, G-d
issues a command to Aharon: “Do not drink wine, nor intoxicating drink (alt.wine which is intoxicating, see Keritut 13b), you or your children, when you enter the Tent of Meeting, so you do not die; this is an eternal decree throughout your generations. To distinguish between the sacred and non-sacred, and between the impure and the pure. And [so] you may instruct the Children of Israel in all the decrees that G-d has spoken through
Moshe.” (Vayikra 10:9-11)
It is not immediately clear why this law is presented here.

Continue reading The Holiness of the Mundane

“Violate One Shabbat”

“Ve-shameru Benei Yisrael et ha-Shabbat, la-asot et ha-Shabbat le-dorotam berit olam – And the Children of Israel shall guard the Sabbath, to make the Sabbath for all their generations an eternal covenant.” (Shemot 31:16)

The Talmud (Yoma 85b) offers this verse as one of the sources for the rule that if necessary, one can violate Shabbat to save a life. “Violate one Shabbat so that he can keep many Shabbatot.” Whether this is derived from word “ha-Shabbat” (that it is more important to maintain Shabbat the entity than ensure a single Shabbat is kept at the cost of human life), or the desire for the Shabbat to last “for all their generations” (Or HaChaim), the import is the same. At least when it comes to Shabbat, we are instructed to not only look at our actions narrowly, but to take the bigger picture into account. It is better from the perspective of Shabbat for a single Shabbat to be desecrated than lose the valuable life of a Jew who will guard the message of Shabbat for a lifetime.  Continue reading “Violate One Shabbat”

The Kapara of the Bigdei Kehuna

The Gemara in several places (Zevachim 88b, Arachin 16a) claims that the special garments of the Kohanim help the Jewish people achieve atonement.  The Chatam Sofer has two insights that add meaning both to the meaning of this Gemara in general, as well as to one of the begadim in specific.

In general, one wonders whether the garments really achieve atonement “magically” as it were.  My preference, whenever possible, is to say that they help achieve atonement by encouraging people to repent and do the correct thing.  The Chatam Sofer argues that this is the case, at least for some of the begadim.   Continue reading The Kapara of the Bigdei Kehuna