Sunday, July 31, 2016

Audio and Essays Parashat Masei (and Matot)

Audio and Essays Parashat Masei (and Matot)

Welcome back to those who dwell in the Diaspora…(Parashat Matot is below)

New Essay:
The Holy Lands of Israel


Parshat Masei

Parshat Masei / Traveling


Walking in Circles

Audio and Essays Parashat Matot

Echoes of Eden Project:


Thought, Speech and Action

Parshat Matot / The war against Midian, and flying sorcerers

Parshat Matot / the power of a vow

Parshat Matot

“Shall Your Brothers Go To War While You Sit Here?”

A Lush Land

Thought, Speech and Action


Reuben and Gad

Half of Menashe

Monday, July 25, 2016

Parashat Matot 5776 - Word

Echoes of Eden
Rabbi Ari Kahn
Parashat Matot 5776

The winds of war were blowing; the Israelites were to prepare to fulfill the word of God and take vengeance against the Midianites. The Moav/Midian incursion had left 24,000 Jews dead, and the time had come to settle the score. Moreover, the plan of attack employed by the Moavites and Midianites had introduced idolatrous practices into the Israelite camp; revenge was to be meted out not only to avenge their losses, but also to counter the affront against God. Interestingly, a close reading of the text indicates that God’s primary concern was for the honor of nation; He calls for the vengeance of Israel (B’midbar 31:2). Moshe, on the other hand, speaks of taking vengeance for the honor of God (B’midbar 31:3).

God spoke to Moshe, saying, 'Take revenge for the Israelites against the Midianites. Then you shall [die and] be gathered to your people.' Moshe spoke to the people, saying, 'Call up from among you men for armed service against Midian, so that God's revenge can be taken against the Midianites. (B’midbar 31:1-3)
This touching display of mutual concern aside, the reader is troubled by the sequence: Why is the narrative interrupted with certain laws, as opposed to proceeding directly to the battle itself, the much-anticipated and richly deserved revenge? Surely there must have been a more appropriate place to insert these laws into the Torah; the Moav/Midian incident is recounted back in chapter 25, and at the end of that chapter God first instructed Moshe to take vengeance. A census is conducted, which is understandable – both in terms of damage assessment and as a preparation for battle. The detailed results of the census are followed by laws of offerings, primarily holiday offerings, and then by laws of vows. Only then does the narrative return to the matter at hand – the Midianites.

This strange progression of topics – seemingly haphazard or disjointed – leaves the reader with two choices: Either we may view these laws as an interruption of the narrative, randomly inserted at this juncture and therefore unrelated to the issue at hand, or we may attempt to analyze these laws in order to determine if, in fact, they are logically, intrinsically connected with the narrative.

In fact, a common denominator connects these two sets of laws: Bilam.

Bilam was hired by the Moavite king to curse the people of Israel. To the modern reader, the entire concept involved in such a curse seems absurd, foreign. It is difficult for us to relate to the underlying belief in the power of words. Curses and blessings are often seen as “mumbo-jumbo” connected to a primitive, superstitious world. Therefore, we are somewhat surprised that God Himself intervenes to foil the curses that Balak hires Bilam to cast - not merely to deflect them but to transform them into blessings.

…and because they hired against you Bilam the son of Beor of Petor of Mesopotamia, to curse you. Nevertheless, the Lord your God would not listen to Bilam; but the Lord your God turned the curse into a blessing for you, because the Lord your God loved you. (Dvarim 23:5-6)

Returning to the beginning of Parashat Matot and the laws regarding vows, the connection to the narrative becomes clear: The larger context is the struggle with Moav/Midian and their proxy, Bilam.[1] Their weapon of choice was curses – words - and they were fully aware of the potency of this weapon: God Himself is the source of the power of words. Words create reality; indeed, the creation of all that exists is the result of Divine speech. For this reason, it was not enough to simply deflect Bilam’s curses; God’s love for the Jewish People caused the curses to be turned into blessings – words, to be sure, but words that have power far beyond what we might otherwise have imagined. The laws regarding vows reflect this same underlying truth: Words have power. We have the ability to shape reality with words, with vows, and it is therefore our obligation to honor our vows. The Torah carefully lays out, specifically in the aftermath of the confrontation with Balak and Bilam, laws that reinforce this underlying truth, by creating guidelines for making vows and cancelling them – neither of which is to be taken lightly. In turn, these laws – inserted specifically at this juncture – help us appreciate God’s role in transforming Bilam’s curses into blessings.

The other group of laws that “interrupts” the narrative relates to sacrificial offerings. Most of the laws of offerings were taught in the book of Vayikra; at first glance, the laws that appear in our present parashah would be best placed there as well. However, we would do well to recall the tactics Bilam employed against us: In his attempt to cajole God into allowing him to curse the Jews, Bilam instructed Balak to build a series of altars, and to bring offerings to God.

There is a certain irony in all of this: Eventually, the Moav/Midian conspiracy led the Jews to worship Baal Peor, but along the way Bilam and Balak brought offerings to the God of Israel, the creator and sustainer of the universe; perhaps their being dragged into the service of God is what inspired them to drag the Israelites into the service of their deity. Whether this was their inspiration or not, the ad hoc anti-Israelite coalition appealed to the God of Israel for assistance – or at least permission – to destroy us. And while we can say with absolute certainty that Balak’s offerings were ineffective in terms of swaying God, we cannot know whether they did have some type of impact, perhaps creating some positive merit for these adversaries of Israel.[2] If that is the case, we may better understand why laws regarding offerings and vows are introduced as we prepare to face the Midianites in battle. These are not random laws, nor is this an interruption of the narrative; quite the contrary. These particular laws have everything to do with the narrative. The laws of vows express the power of the spoken word, and the laws regarding the “additional” or mussaf offerings give us a tool for approaching God. These laws enable us to counter the negative impact of the Moavites and Midianites. Only when these particular laws are internalized, only when the lessons of the confrontation with Moav and Midian are learned, only when we are given laws that enable us to counter the spiritual effects of that confrontation, will we be ready to face our enemies in battle, and, with God’s help, to be victorious.

For a more in-depth analysis see:

[1] In the battle that preceded the appearance of Bilam, the Jews used the vow as a part of their gesture to implore God to provide them with victory. See B’midbar 21:2.
[2] The Talmud in Sanhedrin 105b, and Sotah 47a, Nazir 23b discuss the power and impact of these offerings.

                                           Echoes of Eden 

Audio and Essays Parashat Matot

Saturday, July 23, 2016

flying on a fast day - סוף זמן תענית ציבור בנוסע במטוס

שו"ת אגרות משה אורח חיים חלק ג סימן צו
ובדבר שינויי היום בין המדינות ובנסיעה בעראפלאן /במטוס/ מגיע בזמן קצר למדינות הרחוקות שלפעמים נמצא שהיום ארוך לו ביותר ולפעמים קצר ביותר קשה להשיב בזה כי אין ע"ז מקורים ממשיים מדברי רבותינו וצריך לדון בזה רק מסברא. אבל עכ"פ אשיב הנראה לע"ד בסברא שלענין תענית מתענה בין לקולא בין לחומרא עד צאת הכוכבים שהוא במקום שנמצא אז, ואף שלפעמים הוא רק שעות מועטין משום שלא נקבע התענית על שעות אלא על יום שהוא עד צאת הכוכבים, וכן בתענית של תשעה באב אף אם יזדמן שמתחלת תעניתו עד הגמר לא יהיה כ"ד שעות נמי א"צ להתענות יותר מצה"כ של אור לעשירי.
ובדבר שבת אינו נוגע נוגע /תיבת נוגע כפולה/ למעשה כי יראי ה' לא יסעו בעראפלאן בשבת כי אף אם אין תחומין למעלה הרי לאחר שיגיע העראפלאן על הקרקע נוסעים העראפלאנס שטח גדול יותר מתחום שבת על הארץ ממש שיש כבר איסור תחומין, וגם יהיה אסור לירד וגם הא אין שום אדם נוסע בלא חפצים, וגם הא ליותר מי"ב מיל אסור להרמ"א מדין תחומין אף למעלה מעשרה מאחר דהוא ספקא דאורייתא ובלא כל זה נמי אין לשומרי תורה ליסע בעראפלאן בשבת אף אם יכנס לשם בע"ש ויצא משם אחר השבת וממילא אין נוגע זה למעשה. ולפלפולא בעלמא ודאי אין צורך בלא הוכחות מגמ' ופוסקים.
ולענין תפלה כשנסע ממקומו בלילה תיכף כשיתחיל להאיר אף שעבר רק זמן מועט הוא יום אצלו, ואם יתאחר מלהאיר לא יותחל היום אצלו אלא כשיאיר ואז יתפלל ואין בזה שום נידון. וחשבון הג' שעות לזמן ק"ש וד' שעות לזמן תפלה לא שייך אצלו כי נידון למעלה בעראפלאן איך הוא אז באותו מקום שם למטה שמשתנה זה בזמן קצר לכן יתפלל תיכף כשתנץ החמה. ידידו מברכו בחג שמח, משה פיינשטיין

תשובות והנהגות כרך ד סימן קכב
סוף זמן תענית ציבור בנוסע במטוס ממקום למקום
נשאלתי מאחד הנוסע במטוס בתענית ציבור מאירופא לאמריקא או איפכא, והשעות הלוא משתנים, אימתי הוא חייב לסיים צומו, אם כזמן שיצא מאירופא, א"ד כיון שעתה נמצא באמריקא יצטרך לחכות כפי צאת הכוכבים באמריקא, וד"ז אינו מבורר להדיא. והאריכו האחרונים בזה. מיהו למעשה הוריתי לחלק בין ג' צומות שיסודם מנהג בעלמא תופס תמיד לקולא, והיינו כשטס מאירופא יגמור התענית כפי צאת הכוכבים במקום שיצא, וכשבא מאמריקא יגמור כפי המקום שבא. אכן במקרה כזה ראוי לו לכוין במנחה ערב התענית שמקבל לשמור לקולא, כדי שלא ייכנס לספק דדלמא מונח בדעתו להתענות מחר כפי המקום שיבוא לשם לחומרא, ובמנחה אפילו במחשבה חל התענית.
כל זה שכתבנו היינו לענין תעניות ציבור, אבל לענין צום תשעה באב, יש לדון דשמא בעינן שיצום לפחות כ"ד שעות, והבא מאמריקא לאירופא צריך להתענות עד כ"ד שעות אף אחרי שתחשך. אמנם ליותר מכ"ד שעות נראה מסברא דאפילו בת"ב יש לצדד שלא נהגו ולא קיבלו צום יותר מכ"ד שעות, ולכן כשנוסע לאמריקא אינו חייב להמשיך לצום יותר מכ"ד שעות. ואמנם לא ברירא מלתא, ומה גם דסו"ס הו"ל כהולך ממקום שאין מתענים למקום שמתענים דהרי"ז מתענה עמהם, ועל כן המחמיר תע"ב. [ומש"כ להקל בכל הצומות אף שמקילין, צריך עכ"פ יותר משש שעות צום בפועל, שבפחות מזה לא נקרא צום כלל וכמשי"ת בסי' הבא].

אבל למעשה נראה דהנוסע מאמריקא לאירופא כיון שאינו ת"ב שמה, יש להקל גם בתענית ת"ב וכדעת שו"ת חבצלת השרון ח"א סימן מ"ג שהוכיח שאין למצוה אלא מקומה ושעתה, וכיון שבמקום שנמצא כבר מוצאי ת"ב שפיר אין צריך לצום יותר. ועיין עוד ב"נחל אשכול" בדיני תענית.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Parashat Pinchas 5776 - Like a Princess

      Echoes of Eden
Rabbi Ari Kahn
Parashat Pinchas 5776
Like a Princess

Last week’s parashah ended in chaos: Promiscuity, idolatry, and death had somehow overrun the Israelite camp. To be sure, throughout the forty years in the desert there had been episodes of spiritual backsliding, but this episode was different, both in character and in scope: Twenty-four thousand people lost their lives as a result of this disaster.

It began with trysts with the women of Moav, and soon escalated into idolatry. A plague sweeps through the camp, wreaking havoc and death. In the midst of this anarchy, a leader of the tribe of Shimon named Zimri, who ostensibly should have been a part of the solution, takes a Midianite woman and joins the sinful revelry. Pinchas heroically confronts the sinners and stops them in their tracks.

God then commands that revenge be taken against Midian. We are left somewhat perplexed by this verdict: The main culprits were daughters of Moav, who seduced thousands of Israelite men into sin. Kozbi, Zimri’s partner in crime, appears to have been the only Midianite involved in the entire episode. Why, then, are her people, the entire Midianite nation, singled out for retribution?

Balak, the King of Moav, was the primary instigator of the original plan to foil the Israelites’ advance: It was he, the King of Moav, who commissioned a seer of some repute, Bilam son of Beor, to curse the Jews - a plot foiled by God Himself, who turned the curses into blessings. The Moavite king reached out to his erstwhile adversaries, the Midianites, and invited them to join the fray. (B’midbar 22:2-4) Once again, Balak and his people, the Moavites, were the instigators of both strategies; it is they, and not the Midianites, who should have been the most harshly punished.

The verses themselves, as well as some of the commentaries on the parashah, lead us to several conclusions: Moav was situated in the direct path of the Israelites’ advance, and the Moavites were scared.[1] They wished to preserve their way of life and to retain possession of their lands, and they saw the Israelites as a direct existential threat. Their behavior, though preemptive, was defensive. Not so the Midianites: When summoned to join forces against the Jews, they did so with enthusiasm, despite the fact that they themselves were not threatened: Their land was not under threat of siege, their way of life was secure. Had they not sought out contact with the Israelites, the conquest Canaan would have remained for them a news item from abroad and nothing more. Their involvement was ideologically motivated: They joined the Moavite attack not out of love for their homeland, not as a response to an imminent threat, but out of pure hatred for the Jews.[2]

There are additional elements that point to a vast difference between the motivations of the Moavites and the Midianites: The Torah is not clear as to who initiated the contact between the Moavite women and the Israelite men; was it the daughters of Moav, perhaps as per Bilam’s advice, or was it the Israelite men who first approached these young women?[3] Either way, the sin of adultery soon ballooned into idolatry as well. Be that as it may, the identity of Zimri’s Midianite partner, Kozbi the daughter of Zur, a prince or king of Midian, indicates the Midianites’ ideological bent: This was no “simple” affair. A member of the royal family of Midian was sent to conduct a demonstrative act of defiance against the religious, social and political mores of Israelite society.

There are those who would characterize the decree to destroy Midian as a “disproportionate response;” God does not agree. The Midianites, and not the Moavites, are to be eradicated. The battle against Midian is ideological. It is a battle against those whose war against us was born of religious zeal and hatred, hence the extreme response.[4] Perhaps the lesson is that when a battle is based on conflicting claims to land, property, or resources, an arrangement and understanding can eventually be reached, but when the strife is based on ideology and religious hatred, achieving an understanding is much more difficult.

Careful consideration of the Torah’s attitude toward Moav supports this insight: Moav is held accountable for hiring Bilam to curse the Israelites. (D’varim 23:5) Somewhat surprisingly, the entire issue of the adultery and the resultant idolatry into which the Moavite women led the Israelite men is not mentioned. We may therefore surmise that the interaction between Moav and Israel began with an absence of malice on belligerence. Perhaps Moav abandoned their plans of confounding the Israelite conquest and sought instead to take the road of cooptation or cooperation. The Israelite men, and not the Moavite women, initiated the illicit contact between them; for this reason, no mention of any sexual or idolatrous cabal is mentioned in the final account of the events.

Yet this scenario seems at odds with a different aspect of the Torah’s attitude toward Moav: Moav is one of the tribes with whom the Torah forbids intermarriage even after conversion to Judaism. The Talmud (perhaps motivated by the precedent of a famous Moavite named Ruth, who converted and married into the Jewish community) clarifies that the limitation applies only to Moavite men, but not women; the latter may convert and marry into the Jewish people. The Talmudic understanding of this law arises from a Torah verse:

An Ammonite or Moavite may not enter the congregation of God. This is because they did not greet you with bread and water when you were on the way out of Egypt, and also because they hired Bilam son of Beor from Petor in Aram Naharaim to curse you. (Dvarim 23:4-5)

The Moavites are held accountable only for their attempt to curse the Israelite nation; they were not guilty of seducing the Israelites, either to adultery or to idolatry. They were, however, guilty of an additional sin, a sin of omission: They failed to greet the Israelites with bread and water. This seems a strange accusation indeed: Is it realistic to have expected this nation to greet the Jews with open arms and open hearts, to share valuable resources with them and assist them on their journey to the Promised Land? In fact, this is precisely what the Torah expects of them: The Moavites are the descendants of Lot, our forefather Avraham’s nephew. Lot grew up in Avraham’s tent,[5] where he learned the virtue of hospitality. This sensibility should have been passed on to his descendants.[6] Instead, they behaved selfishly, even brutally, toward a tribe with whom they shared a common patriarch; they extended them no aid in their time of need, and hired a powerful spiritual force to curse them.

This being so, we might ask why the prohibition against intermarriage with Moavites makes a distinction between men and women. Surely, they all failed to extend a helping hand to the Israelites. The Talmud[7] cites a verse in Tehilim to explain why the law forbids marriage only with the men of Moav: Only the men were expected to meet the Israelites with food and drink, because “The dignity of a daughter of the king is within” (Tehilim 45:14)

While this verse might be understood as referring to modesty or regal bearing, the Talmud understands the verse in terms of geography: The daughters of the King of Moav remained inside their homes. We might contrast their behavior with that of Kozbi, the princess of Midian who seduced Zimri into a public display of sexuality that was, for all intents and purposes, a revolt. Although the common girls of Moav became involved with Israelite men, it was the daughter of the prince of Midian who used her body as a weapon in the war against the Jews.

The women of Moav were not judged harshly for failing to offer bread and water; they were friendly – if anything, they were too friendly. For this reason, they are permitted to marry into the Jewish people. On the other hand, Kozbi, the daughter of Midianite nobility who behaved in a most ignoble manner, brought shame and death upon her people.

For more in depth study see:

 Echoes of Eden

[1] Hizkuni 25:17
[2] Rashi, B’midbar 31:2; Shalal David by Rabbi Yosef David Sinzheim, B’midbar 25:17.
[3] Both the Ramban (B’midbar 25:18) and the Kli Yakar (B’midbar 25:17) insist that the idea originated with Midian.
[4] The Rabbis learn from this episode that if someone rises to kill you, you can take a preemptive strike, see B’midbar Rabbah  21:4.
[5]  Midian also grew up in the tent of Avraham; see Bereishit 25:2.
[6] D’varim 2:9.
[7] Talmud Bavli Yevamot 77a.