Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Qoton Qlassic: The Happiness of Yom Kippur and Succos

I have updated one of my favorite Qoton Qlassic's about the happiness of Yom Kippur and Succos and the correlation and differences between the two holidays. There are changes throughout the essay, but the main new addition is the following paragraph:

Perhaps one can explain the happiness on Succos is a result of the sealing of one’s fate on Yom Kippur. A popular Hebrew dictum states, “There is no happiness like the answering of a doubt”. Indeed, the feeling of doubt is potentially the most negative and destructive emotion. Uncertainty can cause one to resort to drastic measures as a means of achieving closure. In fact, a famous Hassidic lesson related in the name of the Ba’al Shem Tov, Rabbi Yisroel ben Eliezer (1698-1760), explains that the numerical value of the Hebrew word for doubt (safek/safeq) is equivalent to that of the word “Amalek” because just as Amalek, the grandson of Esau can attack a person and adversely affect one’s sanity through his venom, so does a doubt hit at the core of a person’s functionality to destroy him from the inside. Accordingly, it serves to reason that there can be no greater feeling than the feeling of relief in answering a doubt. The Talmud states that on Rosh HaShannah those who are completely righteous are written and sealed with a favorable judgment, and the those who are completely wicked, the opposite, but everyone in between is in a state of limbo until Yom Kippur at which time they are judged and, according to their actions, are written and sealed. This state of limbo stands as an indecision of one’s fate is surely the worst situation in which one can be, therefore one can understand that on Yom Kippur when sins are forgiven, one can revel at the happiness of knowing that his destiny has been finalized. This serves as the underlying reason for the happiness of Yom Kippur and the subsequent days including Succos. To answer the question of the Ritva, one can explain that the happiness of Succos and Yom Kippur are indeed one and the same, and indeed they are the same as Tu B’Av. The joy of Tu B’Av originated in the fortieth year of the Jews’ travels in the Sinai Desert when until then every year on Tisha B’Av, all the Jews slept in a grave and a segment of those who sinned by accepting the Ten Spies’ false slanderous testimony about the Land of Israel died. However, in the fortieth year, every person woke up on Tisha B’Av, no one died that year. The Jews assumed that they must have miscalculated the date, and performed the same rite the next day. Yet, even the next night, no one died. They again assumed that they erred in calculating the date, and this continued until they saw the full moon on the fifteenth of the month at which point they know with certainty that Tisha B’Av had passed a no one died. This was the cause for celebration on Tu B’Av, the fifteen of Av. Indeed this explanation also conveys the idea of being happy at resolving an uncertainty for each night until Tu B’Av every man who slept in a grave was uncertain whether the next day he would wake up, but from Tu B’Av and onwards, he knew that he would. Therefore, the root of the happiness on Yom Kippur and Succos is the same as the basis for the happiness of Tu B’Av.

Other posts that are relevant to issues discussed in this essay include this one, this one, this one, and this one.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Qoton Qlassic: Ruste Taurus

Although this essay was once previously a Qoton Qlassic, I chose to feature it again in honor of this week's Parsha, Parsha Chukas. This Qoton Qlassic discusses the Red Heifer, known in Hebrew as the "Parah Adumah". Enjoy!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Qoton Qlassic: Moses' Black Wife

This post was actually once a Qoton Qlassic before, but due to its popularity, it has been chosen to be the Qoton Qlassic for this week, Parshas Beha'aloscha! This post explores whether the characters described in the Bible were "Black" or not despite their apparent African heritage. Included in this discussion is an intricate layout of the opinions concerning the origins of Moses' wife, Zipporah.


Sunday, May 02, 2010

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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Qoton Qlassic: Abominable Relations

This Qoton Qlassic is a post which discusses the prohibition of homosexuality in the Torah and debunks some of the often repeated rationale for those who try to justify the performance of this sin


Sunday, April 04, 2010

The Splitting of the Red Sea

The Splitting of the Red Sea

In describing the Egyptian pursuit of the fleeing Jewish Nation, immediately preceding the Splitting of the Red Sea and following the Israelites’ Exodus from Egypt, the Bible states, “These did not approach near those the entire night.”[1] The Talmud[2] exegetically interprets this verse as referring to the ministering angels in Heaven who wanted to sing of G-d’s praises on the night of Kriyas Yam Suf (Splitting of the Reed Sea), but G-d countered rhetorically “The works of My hand are drowning in the sea and you request to speak of songs?” Essentially, the Talmud is explaining that because the Egyptians were drowning in the sea, the ministering angels were forbidden by G-d from singing of His praise. Based on this Talmudic passage, Rabbi Yosef Kairo (1488-1575) explains[3] that on the latter days of Pesach one does not recite the Hallel in its entirety, rather one merely recites “Half-Hallel” because the Splitting of the Sea occurred on the Seventh Day of Passover[4] and therefore the full Hallel should not be sung for the same that the ministering angels were forbidden from singing of G-d’s praises at the Kriyas Yam Suf. That is, as G-d said, because ““The works of My hand are drowning in the sea and you request to speak of songs?” However, the question arises, according to Rabbi Kairo, why the Jews sing Hallel in its entirety on the First Night of Passover, if historically on that night the ancient Egyptians were massacred by the Plague of the Firstborn, thus, just like one refrains from saying the complete Hallel on the Seventh Night of Passover because that Egyptians drowned in the Red Sea, one should also do so on the First Night of Passover because many Egyptians died in the Plague of the Firstborn.

Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveitchik (1820-1892) writes[5] that the Ten Plagues in Egypt which afflicted the Egyptians were mainly to punish the Egyptians for their unfair enslavement of the Jewish Nation. He reasons that one cannot say that the main purpose of the plagues was to facilitate the Jewish redemption from Egypt because Rashi writes that G-d commanded the Jews to offer the Korban Pesach (Pascal Offering) and perform the Bris Milah (Ritual Circumcision) so that they could merit being deemed worth of redemption. This implies that prior to their fulfillment of those two commandments, the Jews were “bare of commandments” (as Rashi says) and had no value in Heaven by which to merit being saved. Accordingly, reasons Rabbi Soloveitchik, one must conclude that the Ten Plagues which occurred prior to the fulfillment of these commandments (or concurrently with them in the case of the final plague) were primarily brought by G-d in order to punish the Egyptians—not to save the Jews, for at that point, the Jews were not yet worthy of being saved. In contrast, Rabbi Soloveitchik writes that the Kriyas Yam Suf happened primarily as a means of allowing the Jews to traverse the Sea on dry-land and escape their Egyptian pursuers to continue en route to Israel. Thus, the primary purpose of the splitting of the sea was to save the Jews, while the secondary purpose was to punish the Egyptians who met their watery graves there. In summation, Rabbi Soloveitchik feels that the plagues in Egypt were primarily to punish the Egyptians, while the act of the splitting the sea was primarily to save the Jews.

However, if one understood contrary to the explanation of Rabbi Soloveitchik then the aforementioned question on the explanation of Rabbi Yosef Kairo can easily be resolved. If the raison d'être of splitting the sea was to drown the Egyptians as a means of punishing them for their cruelty, one can clearly discern the difference between the First Night of Passover and the Seventh Night of Passover. The Ten Plagues represented by the First Night of Passover were primarily aimed at delegitimizing the Egyptian deities in the eyes of the Egyptians[6], and only tangentially did the plagues kill Egyptians; therefore, when the Jews sing the praises of G-d on the First Night of Passover, they recite the Hallel in its entirety. However, on the Seventh Night of Pesach, G-d split the Red Sea allowing the Jews to cross the sea as a means of luring their pursuers into the sea to kill them, the motive behind the miracle was to punish the Egyptians, not to save the Jews. Therefore, on the Seventh Night of Passover, when the Jews commemorate the splitting of the Red Sea, they do not recite the entire Hallel because the purpose of the miracle was to kill the Egyptians, and as mentioned above, G-d rhetorically asks, ”The works of My hand are drowning in the sea and you request to speak of songs?” Therefore, only the “half”, abridged, version of Hallel is recited.

Although this idea that the principle reason for splitting the sea was to punish the Egyptians stands contrary to the words of Rabbi Soloveitchik, it is actually implicit in the writings of Maimonides. Maimonides writes[7] that Moses did not perform miracles to form a basis for the Jewish belief system in G-d, because a faith which is based solely upon miracles is flawed because one can always attribute the performance of a miracle to magic or sleight of hand. Rather, explains Maimonides, Moses performed each miracle because certain circumstances necessitated the performance of each miracle. For example, the Jews had nothing which to eat, therefore Moses performed the miracle of raining Manna from the Heavens. The Jews had nothing which to drink, therefore Moses performed the miracle of “bursting open” a rock in order to bring forth water, et cetera. Included in his list of examples, Maimonides writes that G-d needed to drown the Egyptians, so He split open the Sea and sunk the Egyptians. From these words, one can infer that Maimonides understood that the purpose of splitting the sea was to drown the Egyptians, and the fact that the Jews crossed the geographical location of the sea on dry-land was only a secondary facet of the miracle, but not its key objective. Furthermore, Rabbi Eli Baruch Finkel of Yeshivas Mir in Jerusalem (d. 2008) points out[8] that the entire content of Oz Yoshir—spontaneously sung by the Jews upon the splitting of the sea to celebrate the miraculous event—records only the Egyptians drowning in the sea and the world reaction to the event, but does not even mention the Jews’ crossing the sea on dry land. This important omission seems to imply that the reason behind splitting the sea was to insure the deaths of the Egyptians, not to save the Jews.

Immediately juxtaposed to the song Oz Yoshir is a verse in the Torah which states[9], “When the horses of Pharaoh, his chariots, and horsemen came into the sea, G-d turned the waters of the sea upon them, the Children of Israel walked on dry land amid the sea.” Rabbi Abraham ibn Ezra (1089-1167)[10] asks why the Torah first mentioned the Egyptians drowning in the sea and only afterwards mentioned the Jews’ crossing of the sea, if chronologically, first the Jews crossed the sea, which lured the Egyptians to follow in pursuit, and only afterwards did the Egyptians drown in the sea. Ibn Ezra answers that one is forced to explain that some stragglers from amongst the Jews delayed in crossing the sea until they ended up crossing the sea at the same time as the Egyptians were drowning in their attempt to mimic the feat performed by the Jews in crossing the sea. Therefore, the Bible mentions the Egyptians drowning in the sea before the Jews crossing the sea even though the Jews began crossing the sea before the Egyptians began to drown in order to allude to the magnitude of the miracle performed that that some Jews were still crossing the sea concurrently with the Egyptians drowning in the self-same sea. Rabbi Simcha Maimon of the Brisker Kollel[11] writes that one is not necessarily forced into accepting this novel interpretation of the Ibn Ezra; rather, he reasons that according to the above-cited idea implied by Maimonides that the Splitting of t he Sea was chiefly to punish the Egyptians and only tangentially were the Jews saved, the Bible legitimately mentioned the Egyptians drowning before the Jews crossing because the Bible was not recording the chronology of the event, rather it was explicating the reasons behind the event. Therefore, the Bible first mentioned the main reason, that is, to punish the Egyptians by drowning them in the sea, then afterwards, the Torah mentioned the secondary reason of allowing the Jews to cross the sea on dry land[12].

[1] Exodus 14:20

[2] Megillah 10b

[3] Beis Yosef to Tur Orach Chaim §490

[4] The question arises as to why this event which occurred on the Seventh Day of Passover affects the type of Hallel said on every day of Passover after the first two days. This question requires further analysis.

[5] Beis HaLevi to Parshas Beshallach

[6] The Bible repeatedly records that G-d said that the plagues were “so that they [the Egyptians] should know that I am HaShem”, (e.g., see Exodus 7:17; 8:6, 8:18, 9:14, 9:29, 10:2, et al.)

[7] Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah 8:1

[8] Birkas HaPesach, pg. 145

[9] Exodus 15:19

[10] In his commentary ad loc.

[11] Simchas Yehoshua to Parshas Beshalach

[12] Alternate routes through the Sinai Desert could have brought the Jews to Israel without necessitating the splitting of any waters. The Suez Canal was obviously not built at that point in history. Furthermore, Rabbi Simcha Maimon points out (Shiurei Chumash to Exodus 15:22) that the Chizkuni writes (Exdous 15:22) that the Jews exited from the sea to the same side from which they entered the sea, they merely traveled a semi-circle within the boundaries of the sea, but did not actually transverse the sea. This proves that splitting the sea was not necessary for the Jews’ to escape from Egypt.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Pesach and Zugos: Double Trouble

The Talmud[1] questions how the Rabbis could have instituted the rabbinic commandment requiring one to drink four cups of wine on the Night of Passover, if doing so is dangerous because four, as a multiple of two, alludes to pairs and thus renders one susceptible to attacks from dangerous spirits, known as Mazikin. Concerning the Night of Passover, at the apex of the Jews’ Exodus from Egypt, the Torah says[2], “It is a night of guarding for HaShem, to take them from the Land of Egypt. This night is to HaShem as a protection for all the Israelites for their generations. The Rabbis hermeneutically expounded[3] this verse to refer to the fact that the night of Passover is to serve as “protection” from dangerous spirits, known as Mazikin. Therefore, to answer the above-mentioned question, the Talmud quotes this interpretation. However, the Talmud does not explain why “pairs” (known in Hebrew and Greek as Zugos) makes one vulnerable to attacks from these damaging apparitions. Furthermore, the Talmud neglects to explicate the protective powers allotted to the night of Passover in negating the effects of these spirits.

Rabbeinu Bachaya (a thirteenth-century commentator) asks[4] why the Torah writes concerning each day of creation that HaShem saw that that which was created on that day was “good”[5], yet on the second day, the Torah does not record that HaShem saw that what was created was “good”. To answer this, Rabbi Bachaya writes that on the second day of creation, G-d created the Heavens and all spiritual Heavenly bodies including angels and the like; collectively all of this is known as the Olam Elyon, or “Higher World”. By omitting the fact that HaShem saw that this Higher World was “good” the Bible is teaching us that the Higher World on its own does not stand to exist, for the raison d'être of existence is humanity, whose physical creation is alluded to in the creation of the corporeal Earth on the third day of creation (even though Man himself—Adam—was created on the sixth day of creation). Therefore, since Man and the physical world created to serve him are the foci of existence, the Torah leaves out the “good” which HaShem saw in the Higher World, and rather mentioned twice[6] the “good” which He saw in creation of the tangible, “Lower World” on the third day. Since the material land is the pinnacle and core focal point of creation, and not the immaterial spiritual world, the Torah did not mention HaShem looking at the “good” of the spiritual world. Rabbeinu Bachaya continues to cite another reason as to why on the second day of creation, the Torah omitted HaShem seeing the “good” of His creation[7]. He explains that the Midrash[8] says that “Ki-Tov” was not written concerning the second day of creation because on that day “dispute” was introduced to the world by HaShem separating between the waters[9]. He reasons that the number two is the source for all discrepancies and differences. That is, since without something with which to compare it, one does not reveal the differences of something (for a difference can only be measured between two givens), the duality of a pair creates the divergences between the two. This is the source of all arguments[10]. From the second day of creation and onward, the elements “argued” with HaShem in His master plan of creation[11]. Because the number “two” is the source of all arguments and is the catalyst for rebelling against the singular united divine plan of HaShem, this number is a represent the dangers of duality—especially in the form of dualism and bitheism (or ditheism). Therefore, the demons were given power to assail humans who associate themselves with the number two.

In a similar vein, Rabbi Judah Loew, The Maharal of Prague (1525-1609), explains[12] that there are two types of creations, namely, that which is created for itself and that which is created for others. Even within the physical world, which was created for the sake of itself, exist elements which were not created for the sake of themselves, rather for the sake of creation in general. The Maharal cites worms as an example to such a concept, for worms were not created for the sake of themselves, yet are included in the physical world for the good of the world in general; similarly, within the realm of the meta-physical and supernatural, exist creatures which were not created for the sake of themselves, but rather to serve the physical world which stands at the center of creation. Included in these creatures are demons and other spirits, who lack a physical form, yet possess powers that can affect the physical world. These types of spirits are not the prime factors of existence; rather, they are secondary to the existence of the common Lower World as a whole. As secondary beings, their dominion only spans that which is associated with duality and the number “two”. With this fundamental understanding, the Maharal explains the phenomenon of these dangerous spirits harassing those linked to pairs.

The first day of Passover is referred to in the Torah as “the First Day[13]”. This Biblical appellation is especially noteworthy because Passover also falls out during the first month (the month of Nissan), which serves to intensify the association of Passover with being the “first”[14]. Therefore, the first day of Passover in particular is associated with the number one, to the exclusion of every other day on the calendar. Because of this, reasons the Maharal[15], the Mazikin lack power and dominance on the night of the first day of Passover. Accordingly, because of the protection afforded by the night of Passover itself, the Rabbis were able to institute the drinking of four cups on the night of Passover, even though four, being an even number, usually leaves one vulnerable to attacks from Mazikin.

The Talmud says[16] that one who recites Krias Shema at his bedside is as if he holds a double-edged sword in his mouth, for the Psalmist says[17], “The high praises of HaShem are in their throats, and an edged (plural) sword is in their hands”. Rashi explains that the advantage of a double-edged sword is that it can kill Mazikin. The Maharal explains that since these damaging demons only hold dominion over that which is linked to the plurality of the number “two”, when one recites Kris Shema, which includes the declaration of the uniqueness of HaShem, one counteracts the effects of these Mazikin which renders them powerless against him. In explaining the Talmudic analogy to a double-edged sword, the Maharal writes that a double-edged sword is completely sharp, unlike a traditional sword which is only sharp on one side. This double-edged sword rightfully represents the oneness of HaShem because while there exist other “ones” in the world (e.g. a king may be the sole sovereign of his country and may possess all executive powers there), those “ones” are only unique in certain aspects (in the above example, even this king is the only ruler in his country and in that facet he is unique, he is still not less common than any other human being because of his humanity), but HaShem is wholly unique under all terms. According to the above, reciting Krias Shema as protection against Mazikin should be redundant on the Night of Passover because on that night the Mazikin are powerless against Jews, for the holiday of the Passover itself shields and defends one from the damaging demons. Indeed, Rabbi Moshe Isserles (1520-1572) writes[18] that the prevailing custom is not to recite Krias Shema at one’s bedside on the night of Passover because one is already safeguarded from Demonic attacks through the supernatural protective powers of the night of Passover[19].

[1] Pesachim 109b
[2] Exodus 12:42
[3] Rosh HaShannah 10b
[4] Rabbeinu Bechaya to Genesis 1:4
[5] See Genesis 1:4,10,12,18,21, 25,31
[6] Genesis 1:10 and 1:12
[7] He also cites Pesachim 54a which says that the flames of Hell (Gehennam) were created on the Second Day of Creation. See also Maharsha to Pesachim 110a who discusses this at length.
[8] Bereishis Rabbah 4:8
[9] Genesis 1:6
[10] Perhaps this meant by the popular contemporary idiom, “It takes two to tango”.
[11] See Rashi to Genesis 1:11 that Hashem intended for the trees to taste equal to their fruits, but the trees defied this detail in their creation on the third day. See Rashi to Genesis 1:16 that the Sun and Moon were originally created equal in size, yet the Moon complained to HaShem that it wanted to serve as king of the heaven and was shrunk on the fourth day. And on the fifth day, G-d had to kill the female Leviathan and castrate the male Leviathan because they threatened to destroy the world (Bava Basra 74b). On the sixth day, Adam and Eve famously sinned by eating from the forbidden fruit.
[12] Be’er HaGolah, Beer 2 (page 28 in the Jerusalem print)
[13] Numbers 28:18, Exodus 12:16
[14] Additionally, when all three festivals are mentioned, Passover is always listed first (e.g. Exodus 23:15, Deuteronomy 16, especially 16:16).
[15] Gevuras HaShem, chapter 38
[16] Berachos 5a
[17] Psalms 149:6
[18] Ramah to Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim §481:1
[19] See also Pri Megadim and Aruch HaShulchan who write that this custom applies even to the second night of Passover in the Diaspora.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Vayikra—Positively Burnt

The original post on this topic was posted under the title Positively Burnt three years ago.

In explicating the process of offering a wholly burnt-offering (Korban Olah), the Torah says[1] of the owner of said offering “and he shall lean his hands on the head of the burnt-offering and it shall become acceptable for him, to atone for him”. This implies that the Olah offers forgiveness for some sort of sin. Rashi[2], citing the Midrash[3], explains that the methods of repentance for inadvertent sins which, if done purposely would be punished by execution in Beis Din, spiritual excision (Kerisos), Heavenly death, or lashes in Beis Din, are taught elsewhere, so the Olah does not atone for those sins in their inadvertent forms. The general rule in the Talmud[4] is that a Sin Offering (Korban Chatas) is brought if one inadvertently committed those sins for which one is executed in the Earthly court or is punished with divine ex-communication when committed with criminal intention. Nachmanides explains[5] that the inadvertent performance of an act for which one would be punished with lashes or death from the Heavenly court, had it been done on purpose, does not require an atonement at all, and therefore the Torah prescribes no offering. Therefore, the Olah must have been an "appeasement" for some other type of sin.

Rabbi Shimshon ben Avraham of Sanz (1150-1230) asked[6] why the Midrash did not entertain the possibility that the Olah sacrifice atones for a sin committed intentionally for which one is usually punished with death, but was exempt from punishment for whatever legal technicalities[7]. Rabbi Moshe Yosef Moldaver answered[8] that an action for which one is obligated for a specific punishment, but is not punished because of a technical reason, is not halachikly considered a new type of action, which would necessitate a new punishment or sacrificial obligation for the transgressor. Rather, this action is totally considered a sin punishable with the first punishment. Halachikly[9], one not only cannot be punished a second time for the same action (whether an act of ritual prohibition or civil) that one was already punished for. The Talmud derives[10] from Exodus 21:22 that even if one's punishment cannot practically be carried out, the exemption from a second punishment still apply. This is analogous to the contemporary legalistic procedure known as "double jeopardy", which exempts one from a second punishment for the same sin even if he was practically not punished with the first punishment.

Rashi, quoting the Midrash[11], explains that an Olah sacrifice is an atonement for one who violates a positive commandment or for one who violates a negative commandment and fails to perform the positive commandment that is supposed to rectify the negative commandment[12]. Rashi explains[13], in a point further explained by Nachmanides[14] and Rabbi Yaakov Ettlinger (1798-1871)[15], that one is never obligated to bring a Olah as an atonement, rather, if one does, he attains his atonement.

Tosafos write[16] that after bringing an Olah one’s atonement is “floating. Rabbi Meir Lublin (1558-1616)[17] explains that the Tosafists mean that an Olah offering only atones for lenient sins, not for the more strict and severe sins. Rabbi Shlomo Luria (1510-1574) explains[18] that the atonement is “floating” inasmuch as the atonement does not occur automatically when one offers an Olah sacrifice, rather one must first perform Teshuva (repentance) and return to G-d before the offering of the sacrifice will complete its powers of atonement. His words echo that of Rabbi Yaakov ben Asher (1269-1343) who explains[19] that the Olah only serves as atonement for failing to perform a positive commandment or violating a negative commandment which is to be repaired by a positive commandment, if one repents from one’s sin. Other Tosafists write[20] that the Olah offers an atonement for one who sinned and never knew of his sin. According to this explanation, obviously one cannot be obligate to being an Olah for such a sin, because if he never knew about his sin, how can he be obliged to offer a sacrifice to atone for it? Rather, if one brought an Olah offering, then it atones for sins unbeknown to him, but if he did not bring one, he is not required to do so. Another Midrash says[21] that an Olah is an atonement for one who thinks about sinning and thus has sinned with his intellect, not for one who violates a positive commandment.

The Bible relates that upon King Hezekiah’s ascension to the throne of Judea, he repealed the idolatrous practices of his father and predecessor, King Ahaz. He reinstituted the sacrificial offerings in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, and the Scriptures tell, “They slaughtered the Pesach offering on the fourteenth of the second month, and the Kohanim and Levites felt humiliated and sanctified themselves and brought burnt-offerings to the Temple of HaShem”[22]. Rashi explains[23] that the Kohanim felt humiliated because of their lack of enthusiasm and zeal in re-establishing the services in the Holy Temple, as evidenced from the fact that they only offered the Pascal offering on the fourteenth day of the second month (Iyyar), instead of in the first month (Nissan) as is Biblically ordained[24]. Therefore, Rashi explains that the Kohanim and Levites felt embarrassed because of their indolent behavior. The Bible records that in response to this sense of remorse, they offered burnt-offerings in the Holy Temple. Why was the offering of burnt-offerings the reaction to their admission of guilt? Rabbi Simcha Maimon (of the Brisker Kollel in Jerusalem)[25] explains based on the above-mentioned concepts that the Kohanim and Levites wished to achieve atonement for their sin of delaying the offering of the Pascal Lamb in its optimum time (which is a positive commandment), therefore, after showing regret for their failure to carry out the positive commandment, which is a show of penitence for that sin, they brought Olah offerings in order to complete their atonement. This is because, as explained above, an Olah offering, coupled with repentance, offers atonement for one who fails to perform a positive commandment[26].

[1] Leviticus 1:4

[2] To Leviticus 1:4

[3] Toras Kohanim 4:8

[4] Kerisos 2a, Horayos 8a, Yevamos 8b, etc...

[5] Ramban to Leviticus 1:4

[6] Rash MiShantz to Toras Kohanim 4:8, however see Tosafos HaChadash there

[7] Such as a lack of witnesses, warning, a unanimous verdict (which disqualifies the verdict), etc…

[8] Shabbos, Parshas Vayikra 5767

[9] Bava Kamma 35a

[10] Kesuvos 35a

[11] See also Yoma 36a and Zevachim 6a

[12] For example, Leviticus 19:11 outlaws stealing with a negative commandment, while Leviticus 5:23 says that if one sinned by committing the prohibition of stealing, one can rectify his sin by performing the positive commandment of returning a stolen object. Accordingly, Rashi is saying that one who stole and did not return the object can achieve his atonement for his sin by offering an Olah sacrifice. (Although this merely exonerates one in the eyes of HaShem, nonetheless, in this situation, the thief must still offer monetary compensation to his victim, see below.)

[13] Erachin 21a

[14] To Leviticus 1:4

[15] See Aruch L'Ner to Makkos 17b

[16] Bava Basra 48a

[17] Maharam to Bava Basra 48a

[18] Maharshal, Chochmas Shlomo to Bava Basra 48a

[19] Pirush HaTur to Leviticus 1:4

[20] Da’as Zekanim to Leviticus 1:4

[21] Leviticus Rabbah 7:3 quoted in Ramban to Leviticus 1:4

[22] II Chronicles 30:15

[23] Ad loc.

[24] See Exodus 12:6

[25] Simchas Yehoshua to Parshas Vayirka

[26] However, Gersonides (II Chronicles 30:15) explains that the burnt-offerings were brought as part of the daily Tamid sacrifices as described in Exodus, end of Chapter 29.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Qoton Qlassic: Worshipping Idols

Here is the revised edition of a Qoton Qlassic entitled Worshipping Idols:

The laws by which Noahides are bound are quite distinct in nature from the laws of the Torah, and even when the same law exists in both codes, the applications of the laws are different. These not-so-slight variations are readily discernable in practical situations—especially concerning the forbidden relations and degrees of murder as they relate to a Jew and non-Jew. However, due to the secular nature of contemporary society, many are not aware of (or, under the guise of atheism, chose to ignore) the existence of G-d and the implications of His presence in respect to the daily lifestyle of humanity. The most fundamental of the positive Sinaitic commandments is the obligation to believe in the existence of G-d, as it is written[1], “I am HaShem, your G-d.” Rabbi Yosef Babad (1801-1874)[2] does not explain the basis of this commandment as he does by all other commandments, rather he merely asserts[3], “the root of this commandment does not require an elucidation. It is widely known to all [people] that this belief [in G-d] is the foundation for religion and those who do not believe in this are rejecting the principle creed and have no portion or merit within Israel.” Maimonides writes[4] that belief in G-d is so fundamentally important in life because all things are dependent on and are directly influenced by one’s theistic belief (or lack thereof). The converse is also true; the most severe negative commandments is the prohibition against believing in any other foreign gods besides the One and Only G-d as the Bible unequivocally warns[5], “You shall not have other gods in addition to Me.” Nachmanides explains[6] that this divine edict prohibits one from merely believing in false gods in his heart without even actually committing a physical act of idolatry.

In explaining the historical precedent for idol worship, Maimonides describes[7] that in the times of Enosh, humankind made a grave mistake in that they decided that they required the use of intermediaries to express their praise and thanks to G-d; they therefore created physical idols to represent the His honor and conveyed their appreciation to them. Eventually, however, they began to think of these physical icons as the Creator Himself and forgot about the actual existence of a Higher Authority. Rabbi Elazar Segal-Landau of Prague[8] explains[9] that this is alluded to in the Holy Scripture which, about the times of Enosh, states[10], “Then, calling in the name of HaShem became profane” because the contemporaries of Enosh profaned the name of HaShem by attaching it to physical statues. Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Chajes (1805-1855), in his glosses to Maimonides’ magnum opus[11], points out that this is referenced in the Talmudic hyperbole of “committing idolatry like Enos”[12]. While Maimonides explains the historical background behind the birth of idolatry, he seemingly neglects to explain the wickedness and wrongness of its beginnings and why its performance warrants a death sentence. In lieu of an explanation directly from Maimonides, Rabbi Yosef Rosen (1858-1936) explains[13] this omission that since the people in the generation of Enosh showed equal honor to a power in addition to G-d, while in the presence of G-d—for everything is within His realm— they were considered rebelling against the King of the World and were thus liable for punishment like any constituent who commits treason against his royal sovereign. Rabbi Rosen, The Rogatchover Gaon, proves this assumption that showing honor to someone else besides the King while in the King’s presence is considered revolting against the kingdom from a Talmudic passage[14] which asserts that Uriah the Hittite was liable for a punishment of death because he referred to Joab as his “master” [15] in the presence of King David[16]. Idolatry, since its very inception, has always been considered especially heinous is because by committing idolatry one denies the Creator and His powers. The heretical instigators of Enosh’s day felt that G-d was too high, too distant, and too great for them to relate to, so they needed a liaison. Eventually, this situation begat false prophets, who professed to relate the will of G-d by establishing new forms of worship and various sanctuaries and temples. In declaring G-d as too inaccessible to them, the troublemakers “set limits” on G-d’s abilities, thereby denying His eternal infiniteness.

To both Jews and non-Jews alike, committing idolatry is forbidden. Since Maimonistic Law axiomatically maintains[17] that G-d is one and only one, He, therefore, cannot be considered a unification of various forces and/or personalities, as that constitutes idolatry[18]. A Jew’s prohibition of idolatry applies to an even greater degree than a non-Jew’s, because a Jew is even forbidden to believe in “partnerships” between the Supreme G-d and other entities, while for a non-Jew, such a belief—although certainly heretical—does not constitute idol worship. According this, Catholicism, which is essentially Tritheistic, and other such branches of Christianity, who believe in a combination of deities (represented variously by a “Father”, “Son”, and “Holy Ghost”) may not necessarily be considered idolatry for a gentile; while for a Jew, according to Maimonides, they are[19].

Rabbi Menachem Azaria de Fano (1548-1620) enumerates[20], the thirty laws that a Noachide must uphold (based on the opinion of Ulla[21]), each of which is included in one of seven main categories. Because of this, the title “Ben Noah”[22] can only be conferred upon one who upholds all seven categories of Noahide Laws. A small sect practices what is deemed “Judeo-Paganism”, which is a mixture of Jewish and polytheistic/pagan practices and theology. Some of those practices involve honoring (or remembering) divinities that were among those previously rejected by the prophets of the Tanach (e.g., Molech, Ba'al, Asherah, Ra’, Daggah, Tammuz, etc…). Such superstitious adherences and rituals are actually quite contrary to the Torah and Noachide laws. In fact, avodat elilim (vain worship) encompasses more than one prohibition in both the Torah and Noahide laws. Those prohibitions[23] preclude passing a child through a fire to worship Molech, stick divination, divining of auspicious times, interpreting of omens superstitiously, witchcraft and sorcery, charming with incantations, consulting with mediums and oracles, and necromancy.[24]

Additionally, Maimonides rules[25] that one who conducts himself according to these Noahide principles merely because they appeal to his intellect, logic, or sense of justice, is not fulfilling them properly, and is thus not considered a “ben Noach.” Rather, Maimonides writes, a non-Jew must believe that he is following the Noahide laws because G-d has commanded him to do so, just as G-d commanded the Jews to follow their own code of laws at the Sinaitic Revelation (and a Jew must have these proper motives, as well). Rabbi Meir Simcha HaKohen of Dvinsk (1843-1926) explains[26] that the Rambam maintains the opinion that all commandments are followed because of their origin at Mount Sinai, and not because of any pre-Sinaitic prophecies, institutions, or practices. Indeed, Maimonides wrote exactly this in his commentary to the Mishnah[27] concerning the prohibition for a Jew to consume the sciatic nerve (gid hanasheh) that although the prohibition dates back to the days of the forefather Jacob[28], it is presently extant only because it was repeated at Mount Sinai. However, the above opinion of Maimonides is not universally accepted, for it can be implied from the Rabbi Yom Tov ben Avrohom Asevilli, a thirteenth century Talmudist, that any gentile who merely fulfills his or her obligation as a moral monotheist can be called a “son of Noah” despite whatever intentions the gentile has[29]. This implies that one needs only to submit to his or her natural moral inclination, without believing in the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, in order to be called a righteous gentile. Furthermore, the Maimonides himself seemingly contradicts his own ruling because he stated elsewhere[30] that the Jews kept every commandment as it was given in its own historical context, for he explains that circumcision was instituted from Abraham’s time, tithing from Isaac, refraining from eating an animal’s sciatica from Jacob… and the rest of the Torah from the time of Moses. This implies that a gentile is not necessarily required to keep his laws because of the Sinai Revelation, rather it suffices to follow the letter of the law merely because of its acceptance into moral society eons ago in history.

Rabbi Yaakov Ettlinger of Germany (1798-1871) understood[31] that the Noahides of present days are exempt from observing the Seven Noahide Laws. He understands this based on Rav Yosef[32] who expounds, based on Habakkuk 3:6, that because the gentiles did not conform to the rules that HaShem imposed upon them, He exempted them from keeping those laws. However, this understanding of the passage in the Talmud is not quite justified, because the Talmud in the very same passage continues to explain that He only made it so that they receive reward for fulfilling the commandments as if they were not commanded to do so but they were still commanded to follow the laws. This is considered a punishment because the reward one receives for carrying out a good act that he was commanded to do is far greater than the reward for a good act that one was not commanded to do[33]. In any case, the moral repercussions of a society that flatly disallows for belief in G-d are serious. In addition to implicating such a society for eventual punishments from G-d Himself, such a society will degrade into a unilaterally immoral state. In rejecting G-d and His Torah, one thereby removes the cause of morality from the world and thus people would be free to do as they please (and do what pleases them). This will eventually bring further punishment as such a society will adopt prohibited practices as the norm –or at least as tolerable. The lack of such a fundamental belief in a society will produce harmful results to its constituents, which will further criminalize them for not following the innate human tendency for morality (i.e. the Seven Noahite Laws) and will cause more evil sin to run amuck in the world. The Noahide Laws offer a solution: Everyone is required to contribute to the establishment of morally upstanding courts, which properly monitor and care for the moral standing of the local populace.

[1] Exodus 20:2

[2] Sefer Minchas Chinuch #25

[3] §25

[4] Maimonides, Laws of Foundations of the Torah 1:6

[5] Exodus 20:3

[6] Ad loc.

[7] Maimonides, Laws of Idolatry 1:1

[8] Grandson of the Noda B’Yehuda, Rabbi Yechezkel Landau (1713-1793), Chief Rabbi of Prague

[9] Yad HaMelech to Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah

[10] Genesis 4:26

[11] Hagahos Maharitz Chayos Ad loc., (Frankel ed.)

[12] E.g., see Shabbos 118b

[13] Tzafnas Paneach to Maimonides ad loc.

[14] Kiddushin 43a

[15] Samuel II 11:11

[16] However, the Gaon points out that there are those who argue with this assertion (see Tosafos in Yoma 66b) and in this argument, which has halachik ramifications regarding showing honor to a student in the presecence of his teacher, Maimonides remains consistent with the above-cited assertion.

[17] Maimonides, Laws of Foundations of Torah, Chapter 1

[18] Much has been written to reconcile this idea with the Kabalistic concepts of the Ten Sefiroth and of the Thirteen Attributes of G-d’s Mercy. Those writings are beyond the scope of this essay.

[19] The ruling that gentiles are permitted to believe in “partners in creation” only reflects the simple understanding of Tosafos (Brachos 2b) and the Rema (Orach Chaim §156:1), however, responsa Me’il Tzedakah §22and Pri Megadim (Orach Chaim ibid. Eshel Avrohom §2 and Yoreh De’iah §65, Sifsei Da’as §11) write that even according to Tosafos such a belief is forbidden to any person.

[20] Asarah Ma'amaros, Ma'amar Chikur Din 3:21

[21] Chullin 92a

[22] “Son of Noah”, who was deemed righteous by G-d, See Genesis 6:9

[23] Many of which can be found in Leviticus 19 and 20 and are repeated numerous times through the Torah

[24] Even the 30 laws as enumerated by Rabbi Shmuel ben Chofni, Gaon of Sura/Baghdad, as discovered in the Cairo Genizah, include most of those pagan prohibitions (see A. Greenbaum, “Thirty Commandments According to Rabbi Shmuel ben Chofni” Published in Hebrew, Sinai, 1973).

[25] Maimonides, Laws of Kings 8:14

[26] Ohr Somayach to Maimonides, Laws of Sexual Prohibitions 14:7

[27]Pirush HaMishnayos (end of Chullin, chapter 7)

[28] Genesis 32:33

[29] See Chiddushei HaRitva to Makkos 9a

[30] Maimonides, Laws of Kings, 9:1

[31] Aruch L’ner to Makkos 9a

[32] Bava Kamma 38a, Avodah Zarah 2b

[33] The difference is because reward for fulfilling a commandment is based on the effort which one exerted in performing the commandment, and only when one is commanded to fulfill a certain commandment does its fulfillment require special exertion in order to battle the Evil Inclination who only tempts one to sin and/or refrain from fulfilling commandments when one is bound by that law.

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