Friday, June 06, 2008

Moshe and Ba'al Pe'or

Rabbi Chama b’Rabbi Chanina says (Daf Yomi: Sotah 14a): Why was Moshe buried by the house of Pe’or (an idol)? In order to atone on what happened by Pe’or (the Jewish men were enticed by the Moabite women into depravity and idolatry).

Why was Moshe chosen to be buried there to atone for this sin? What level in greatness did Moshe possess that was being used as the counterbalance to Pe’or?

Reb Chaim Shmuelewitz states that the idolatry of Pe’or is the attribute of wantonness. It indicates that a person has no restraint and the feelings or rights of others do not concern him. [The procedure of serving this Avodah Zarah involved defecating before the idol.] He is solely interested in himself. This is why Moshe Rabbeinu was buried opposite Pe’or. Moshe is the epithet of what it means to be interested in his task and mission of leading Klal Yisroel, and his own personal concern is the farthest thing from his mind. Moshe is the faithful servant that Hashem has complete trust in him.

This is why he can receive the “klil tiferes,” - the crown of glory on his head. A king, when he temporarily removes his crown from his head (due to its weight or on account of the heat), will not place it on the head of his vice-minister for several reasons. If someone would walk in and observe that the king’s crown is on his head, they would assume that he is indeed the king. Furthermore, the vice-minister himself would entertain those feelings. The king, therefore, would place it on a “hook on the wall.” No one will consider that the hook became king. The Holy One, Blessed be He, can place His “crown of glory” on Moshe’s head, for he is the ultimate faithful servant. Moshe will not suppose that he became the king, and nobody who sees the crown on his head will think that way.

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Miriam's Steadfastness

It is written: Miriam the prophetess, sister of Aaron, took (her drum in her hand). The Gemora (Daf Yomi: Sotah 13a) asks: Was she the sister of Aaron, but not the sister of Moshe? Rav Amram said in the name of Rav, and others say that it was Rav Nachman in the name of Rav: This teaches us that Miriam was saying prophecy while she was only the sister of Aaron (before Moshe was born), and she said, “In the future, my mother will be giving birth to a son, who will save Klal Yisroel.” And once Moshe was born, the entire house became filled with light. Her father stood up and kissed her on her head. He said, “My daughter, your prophecy has been fulfilled.” But when Moshe was thrown into the water, he said to her, “My daughter, where has your prophecy gone?” And that is what’s written: His sister stood at a distance to find out what would happen with him. She wanted to know what would happen with her prophecy.

It was through this that Miriam merited that the entire Jewish people waited for her for seven days.

The commentators ask: What was so significant about waiting around to see how the matter would resolve itself? Wouldn’t any curious person wait around to see what might transpire?

Another question is asked: Why didn’t Yocheved, Moshe’s mother wait there as well to see what would happen with the prophecy?

Reb Meir Bergman writes that even with greatness of Yocheved, her faith in Hashem and her fear of God, at the time that Moshe was cast into the river; she thought that Moshe would certainly die there. This is why the Medrash says that Yocheved, after Moshe was thrown into the river, also asked Miriam, “where is your prophecy now?” According to the natural law, Moshe would not be saved and the river was destined to be his end. As a matter of fact, it took an unusual miracle for Moshe to be saved.

Miriam, on the other hand, was strong in her beliefs and she refused to budge. She received a prophecy that Moshe would be the savior of the Jewish people, and although the odds were not favorable, she knew that somehow, he would survive.

This is why she was rewarded so greatly. She was steadfast in her belief in Hashem that nothing could sway her.

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Thursday, June 05, 2008

The Consumption of Non-Kosher Food Causing “Timtum”

The Gemora states (Daf Yomi: Sotah 12b): And his sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and call for you a wet-nurse from the Hebrew women?” The Gemora asks: Why was it necessary to summon a Hebrew woman? The Gemora answers: This teaches us that they handed Moshe to all the Egyptian women, but he would not nurse from them. He said: “Shall a mouth that is destined to speak with the Shechinah nurse from something which is not kosher?”

The question is asked: Why does the Gemora state this reason with respect to Moshe, when the halacha clearly rules that all Jews must refrain from having an idolater nurse their child, if a Jewish nurse is available (Rama Y”D 81:7)?
Maharatz Chayos suggests that this halacha only applied after the Giving of the Torah, for then many of the foods consumed by non-Jewish women are forbidden to Jews. Since this reason was not applicable to Moshe in Egypt, it was necessary to provide a different explanation for his refusal to be nursed by an Egyptian woman.

Shulchan Aruch rules that a Jewish baby is permitted to have a non-Jewish wet nurse; however it is not preferable because the non-kosher food will harm the baby spiritually. The Rama adds that a Jewish woman who must eat non-kosher food for health reasons should not nurse her baby because the non-kosher food will be detrimental for the child.

The Gra cites our Gemora that Moshe refused to nurse from an Egyptian woman because he was destined for prophecy, so it would be improper for him to consume non-kosher food. It would seem that the non-kosher food would have affected his soul, and disqualify him to be the Prophet that he became.

Reb Micha Berger gleans from here that non-kosher food is intrinsically harmful for a person’s soul even if it is permissible to eat.

He cites a Ran in his Drashos (11) that states this explicitly. In his discussion as to why halacha is decided by the Chachamim and not by the Prophets, he asks the following question: If a sage errs and permits a forbidden food, it is like a doctor who makes a mistake and gives a patient poison instead of medicine. In both cases, the person is harmed. Accordingly, wouldn’t it be preferable for the Prophets to decide halachic matters, and then, there would be no mistakes?

He answers that prophecy is not always available. He then adds that even though eating non-kosher food is harmful, the mitzvah of listening to our sages may offset the harmful effects. It is however evident from the Ran that the consumption of non-kosher food is objectively poison, and detrimental to one’s soul even if it is done permissibly.

The Abarbanel (Devarim 17:4) disagrees with the Ran. He maintains that it is impossible for harm to befall a person if he is following the Chachamim. If the food is permitted, it cannot be harmful. Reb Micha explains that it would seem from the Abarbanel that he maintains that the consumption of non-kosher food is not intrinsically harmful; rather, it is harmful only because it is prohibited. If for some reason, there is no prohibition, then it is not harmful.

Reb Moshe (O”C 2:88) quotes the Chasam Sofer where he was discussing a handicapped girl in the following situation: If she would remain at home, she would not develop properly and remain ignorant her entire life. However, if the parents would send her to a special school, they claimed that she would then reach the potential of a teenager. However, the school was in a non-Jewish area, and there was no possibility of providing kosher food. The Chasam Sofer ruled that it is permitted to send her there, but he recommended against sending her, for the following reason: If they send her to that school, she will become intelligent enough to be obligated in mitzvos. The non-kosher food that she will consume will affect her heart, and she will probably violate Torah and mitzvos. It is therefore preferable for her to remain in her present situation. (He concludes: Her present situation is more preferable than being “b’timtum” before the Holy One, Blessed is He for one moment.)

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Wednesday, June 04, 2008


The Gemora (Daf Yomi: Sotah 11b) cites a braisa: “Shifrah” is Yocheved; and why was her name called Shifrah? It was because she straightened the limbs of the baby. Another explanation of Shifrah is that the Jewish people were fruitful and multiplied in her days. “Pu’ah” is Miriam; and why was her name called Pu’ah? It was because she would coo to the child. Another explanation of Pu’ah is that she used to cry out through the Divine Spirit and say, “My mother will bear a son who will be the savior of Israel.”

The Maharal (Gur Aryeh) asks: Why does the Torah refer to Yocheved and Miriam as Shifra and Pu’ah, rather than referring to them by their actual names? He explains that prior to the birth of Moshe, the Torah did not want to give any recognition to his family members, especially his parents, because that would indicate that Moshe’s parents were responsible for who he was. Although normally the merits and contributions of the parents form the child, and without these specific parents, the child will not exist; by Moshe, this was not the case. Moshe’s existence was not dependent on Amram and Yocheved as his parents. Moshe was already set and destined from the six days of creation to lead the Jews out of Egypt. That is why the Torah doesn’t even mention Amram and Yocheved when describing Moshe’s birth.

The Chasam Sofer (Torah Moshe), with Reb Avi Lebowitz’s (Heoros – Insights on the Daf) elucidation explains that Pharaoh specifically requested of the Jewish women to murder the children, rather than asking the non-Jewish midwives, because he realized that the Jewish woman do not receive capital punishment for performing an abortion, whereas the non-Jewish woman do. Pharaoh wanted them to use the sign of “stones” to determine when the labor will begin, so that they can be present, and then use the dependable sign of which way the child is facing to determine if it is a boy or a girl, and to abort all the boys before the head comes out while it still has a status of a fetus. Pharaoh’s applied the following logic: Normally one is not allowed to commit murder to save their own life because “who says that your blood is redder than the other one?”, but this would only apply to a murder of a “life.” For an idolater, even the fetus has the status of “life,” since they receive capital punishment for performing an abortion, and the logic of “who says etc.” would apply equally to murder and abortion. But for the Jewish women, the fetus was not considered a full “life,” since they are not liable for abortion, and therefore they should be able to determine that their lives are more precious than that of the child. They would therefore abort the fetus to fulfill the command of the king and save their own lives. However, when confronted by Pharaoh for not following through with this partial birth abortion, their claim was that by the time they arrived, the fetus was fully born, and they were not allowed to kill a born child, even if it would cost them their own lives.

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Preventing Intermarriage

It is written: And they were disgusted because of the Children of Israel. This teaches us that the Jewish people were like thorns in the eyes of the Egyptians (when they saw that the Jewish people were increasing).

It is noteworthy that when we read this portion from the Torah on Mondays and Thursdays, we conclude one of the aliyos with this verse.

The question is asked that the halacha is that we do not end an aliyah on a bad note. Why therefore would we conclude with this verse, which demonstrates the hatred that the Egyptians had for the Jewish people?

The Mattersdorfer Rav, at an Agudah Convention, once answered that on the contrary! The fact that the Egyptians despised the Jews was a blessing. It was through this that the Jews were able to maintain their Jewish identity, and ultimately, this is what brought about the redemption. The Jewish people were able to keep their distance from the Egyptians. This prevented assimilation. When the idolaters befriend the Jews and begin mingling with them, this can have catastrophic results.

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