A large part of this week's parashah is devoted to the laws of the
festivals - Pesach, Shavuot, Sukkot, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Hakippurim.
These laws are introduced by the verse, "G-d's appointed festivals that
you are to designate as holy convocations." This verse teaches, the
Gemara comments, that "you" - the bet din - are to designate when the
festivals will occur. (This was done by hearing the testimony of the
witnesses who saw the new moon and declaring which day would be Rosh
Chodesh.) Even if the bet din were to miscalculate and declare Rosh
Chodesh to be on the wrong day - even if bet din were to intentionally
declare Rosh Chodesh on the wrong day - its declaration would be binding.
This halachah is reflected in a number of Midrashim. They record, for
example, that the angels ask G-d, "When is Rosh Hashanah?" "I do not
know,"G-d responds. "Let us all go down to the bet din and see what they
have decreed." This is reflected also in our Yom Tov prayers, in which we
recite the blessing, "Who sanctifies Yisrael and the festivals," showing
that G-d sanctifies Yisrael, and Yisrael sanctifies the festivals. In
contrast, the parallel blessing on Shabbat is simply, "Who sanctifies the
Shabbat." Yisrael is not mentioned because we have no role in determining
when Shabbat will occur.
R' Joseph B. Soloveitchik z"l (1903-1993) notes that G-d has literally
given some of His dominion to us. Rosh Hashanah is the day when He judges
us, yet we decide when Rosh Hashanah will be! In what other court system
does the defendant enjoy that privilege? This power of the Jewish people
sheds light as well on the Jewish view of kedushah / holiness, says R'
Soloveitchik. Kedushah is not some magical force that appears on its own;
it is something that we create through our deeds. Man can imbue time with
kedushah and man can imbue objects with kedushah. Without our mitzvot,
there would be no kedushah.
(Divrei Hashkafah pp. 138-142)
From the Parashah . . .
"You shall count for yourselves -- from the morrow of the rest
day, from the day when you bring the Omer of the waving -- seven
weeks, they shall be temimim / complete." (Vayikra 23:15)
Midrash Rabbah records: Rabbi Chiya taught, "`Seven weeks, they shall
be complete.' When are they complete? When Yisrael does the will of
R' Moshe Zvi Neriah z"l (1913-1995; founder of the Bnei Akiva yeshiva
network and youth movement) explains: Whether time fulfills its purpose is
entirely dependent on whether Hashem's will has been done. Time which is
used in a manner contrary to Hashem's will is not "complete"
but "blemished." [The word used by our verse, temimim, can mean
either "complete" or "unblemished."] There is a popular expression in the
secular world, "Time is money." In contrast, we recite the blessing
[after reading the Torah], "He has implanted everlasting life in us."
[This blessing reflects the Torah-observant Jew's conception of the value
and purpose of time.]
From the Haftarah . . .
"A widow or divorcee they [kohanim] may not take for themselves
for wives, only never married women from the offspring of the House
of Yisrael; but a widow who is the widow of a kohen he may take."
The above verse is the most blatant example of the many verses in our
haftarah which seem to contradict the Torah. We read in our parashah that
a kohen (except for the Kohen Gadol) is permitted to marry a widow. The
Torah does not restrict a kohen to marrying the widow of another kohen.
How then could the prophet Yechezkel write that such a restriction exists?
In light of this and similar contradictions (for example, a
description of the Temple services that differs from the Torah's
description), the Gemara (Shabbat 13b; Chagigah 13a) relates:
Rav Yehuda said, "May that man - Chananiah son of Chizkiyah - be
remembered for a blessing. If not for him, the Book of Yechezkel would
have been hidden away because its words contradict the Torah. What did he
do? He took 300 barrels of oil [for light] and sat in the attic
interpreting [the Book of Yechezkel].
The Gemara does not tell us how Chananiah ben Chizkiyah resolved the
contradictions he found in the book of Yechezkel. Why?
R' Yigal Ariel shlita (rabbi of Nov, in the Golan Heights) writes: We
don't know Chananiah ben Chizkiyah's answers. They are not his legacy.
Rather, his legacy is his determination to find answers.
(Lev Chadash p.357)
How can the above verse (regarding the kohen and the widow) be
reconciled with the Torah?
Rashi z"l (and before him the Aramaic translation, Targum Yonatan)
punctuates the verse so that it reads as follows: "A widow or divorcee
they may not take for themselves for wives, only never married women from
the offspring of the House of Yisrael; but a widow who shall be widowed,
some Kohanim [i.e., to the exclusion of the Kohen Gadol] may take."
R' David Kimchi z"l (Radak; 1160-1235) suggests: The prophet Yechezkel
is speaking here of the times of mashiach [as he does in much of his
Book]. At that time, every aspect of holiness will in fact move up one
notch so that laws that previously applied only to the Kohen Gadol will
apply to all kohanim.
R' Moshe Feinstein z"l cited the above Gemara in a letter to a certain
rabbi who wished to publish a Torah commentary that was attributed to the
medieval sage R' Yehuda He'chassid z"l (author of Sefer Chassidim; died
1217). After observing that most of the manuscript might well be genuine,
R' Feinstein contended that the work contained blasphemous statements that
were obviously forgeries and could not have come from the pen of R' Yehuda
He'chassid. R'Feinstein's correspondent argued that the work deserved to
be published nevertheless because the good that would come from
publication outweighed the potential harm.
Not so, wrote R' Feinstein. We see from the above Gemara that our
Sages were prepared to hide all of the copies of the Book of Yechezkel -
one of the books of Tanach - because just one chapter seemingly
contradicted the Torah.
(Igrot Moshe: Yoreh Deah III No.115)
R' Yaakov Emden (1697-1776) is well-known for his notes on the Talmud,
his halachic writings, and his siddur commentary. One of R' Emden's lesser
known works is his autobiography, Megilat Sefer, from which we present
another excerpt this week. In this selection, R' Emden further describes
his attempts to collect debts owed to his father, R' Zvi Ashkenazi
(the "Chacham Zvi"), after the latter's early death in 1718. What is
significant about his story is the light that it sheds on the
participation of even religious Jews in Great Britain's colonial
activities in the early 18th century.
At that time [after failing to collect debts in Hamburg or to sell
many copies of his father's sefer], my sights were already set on
returning home, when the news came from London that Mordechai Hamburger
had returned home from abroad - from India in the east - where he had been
for ten years. He had gone there empty-handed, poor and destitute,
leaving his home empty except for a pregnant wife and nine children. His
return made a great tumult and was considered a wonder such as was unheard
of - that a man should leave our cold climate and travel by sea for a year
to the hot climates, stay there for such a long time, and succeed to such
an extent that he earned great wealth and returned home alive with his
fortune! [Moreover,] despite his initial poverty, not one of his children
died in the interim; to the contrary, he left home with nine children and
returned to find ten, all healthy and whole. He brought with him many
gems, in particular a large and valuable diamond such as had never
been seen in the land. He also brought desirable golden vessels such as
had never been seen, in particular their specific shade of color. This
news was published in all the newspapers, and word of it reached even
Frankfurt-an-Main while I was staying there. A letter reached R' Bendet
Hamburger, brother-in-law of [the traveler] Mordechai. This man, R'
Bendet, had befriended me a great deal and he immediately sent a large cup
of wine to inform me of the happy news. R' Bendet encouraged me with all
forms of persuasion not to return home, but rather to go to London,
because R' Mordechai had been a partner with his brothers, R' H.A. and R'
N.D. [who owed money to R' Emden's father], and also was an admirer of my
father and teacher z"l. [R' Emden goes on to describe how he traveled to
London but was not able to collect the debt owed his father by R'
The editors hope these brief 'snippets' will engender further study
and discussion of Torah topics ('lehagdil Torah u'leha'adirah'), and
your letters are appreciated. Web archives at Torah.org start with 5758 (1997) and
may be retrieved from the Hamaayan page.
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