The Midrash Rabbah cites the verse in our parashah, "If a bird's nest
happens to be before you," and asks: What is the halachah regarding a boy
who is born circumcised? Must he be circumcised? The midrash answers:
Our Sages taught, "If a boy is born circumcised, blood must be let from
the place of circumcision because of the covenant with Avraham Avinu."
The midrash continues: Why is a baby circumcised on the eighth day?
Because Hashem has compassion on him and waited until the baby has gained
some strength. And, just as Hashem has compassion on mankind, so He has
compassion on animals, as it is written (Vayikra 22:27), "When an ox or a
sheep or a goat is born, it shall remain under its mother for seven days."
Further, it is written (Vayikra 22:28), "An ox or a sheep, you may not
slaughter it and its offspring on the same day." And, just as Hashem has
compassion on animals, so He has compassion on birds, as we read here,
"Send away the mother and take the young for yourself."
Why is a halachah regarding brit milah mentioned here? R' Yitzchak
Ze'ev Yadler z"l (1843-1917; Yerushalayim) explains: Since the midrash is
going to expound at length on the mitzvah of sending away the mother bird
before taking her offspring, the midrash wanted to open by mentioning
Hashem's compassion on humans, i.e., that He instructs us to wait until
the baby gains some strength before circumcising him.
Why is the midrash uncertain whether a boy who was born circumcised
requires further circumcision? R' Yadler explains that the inquiry is
whether the purpose of brit milah is simply to remove the impurity of the
orlah / foreskin--which this child does not have--or to perform an
affirmative act to enter the covenant. The midrash answers that the latter
is correct. (Tiferet Zion)
"If a man takes a wife . . ." (22:13, 24:1 and 24:5)
Our Sages frequently use a "wife" as a metaphor for the Torah. R'
Yitzchak Isaac Chaver z"l (1789-1852; rabbi of Suvalk, Lithuania, and a
prolific author in all areas of Torah study) explains that just as one
creates physical progeny together with his wife, so one creates spiritual
progeny - Torah novellae and good deeds - through his Torah study.
Moreover, just as one's wife is an "ezer k'negdo" - i.e., she is
supportive when her husband is meritorious and is an obstacle when her
husband is not meritorious - so the Torah is an "elixir of life" to those
who study it with pure motivations, but a poison to those who misuse it.
Shlomo Ha'melech wrote (Mishlei 5:18), "Rejoice with the wife of your
youth." R' Chaver comments: The real wife of one's youth is the Torah,
for it was his companion in the womb. The Gemara (Sotah 2a) teaches that
forty days before a child is conceived, a heavenly proclamation announces,
"The daughter of so-and-so is destined for so-and-so." This also is a
metaphor for Torah. Just as the Torah was given to Moshe Rabbeinu over a
period of forty days, so preparations are made for forty days to give each
person his true portion - the Torah that he will learn over his entire
lifetime. (Quoted in Otzrot Rabbi Yitzchak Isaac Chaver p.9)
"You shall not see the donkey of your brother or his ox falling
on the road and hide yourself from them; you shall surely stand
them up, with him." (22:4)
Rashi z"l explains the last two words of the verse to mean that you
are not obligated to assist the falling animal if its owner sits idly by.
You are only obligated to help "with him." R' Yehoshua Horowitz z"l (the
Dzikover Rebbe; died 1912) explains this verse and Rashi's comment
allegorically as follows:
The future redemption will be brought about as a result of our
teshuvah / repentance. It will come about through what kabbalists refer
to as "Itaruta de'le'tata" / "awakening from below." On the other hand,
our Sages teach that if Hashem did not help us to overcome our yetzer
hara, we could never do it on our own.
Our Sages say there will be two meshichim (messiahs) to herald the
redemption--one from the tribe of Yosef, the other from the family of King
David. The ox in our verse alludes to Mashiach ben Yosef (see Devarim
33:17); the donkey to Mashiach ben David (see Zechariah 9:9). "You shall
surely stand them up," our verse says. Do your part to support the
arrival of Mashiach ben Yosef and Mashiach ben David.
However, your actions must be "with Him." Hashem must help us
overcome the yetzer hara, thus doing His part to bring mashiach. (Ateret
"Beware of a tzara'at affliction . . ." (24:8)
R' Yisrael Isser of Ponovezh z"l (Lithuania; mid-19th century) writes:
One of the forms of tzara'at is manifested by skin that appears healthy on
the surface, though underneath the area is full of pus. The Torah
(Vayikra 13:11) says of a person who has such a blemish, "The kohen shall
declare him contaminated." This teaches that a person who acts as if his
motivations are pure, though in reality they are not, is tamei. For
example, when one is offended and he reacts negatively, he may say, "I am
not angry for my honor, but rather for the honor of the Torah that I have
studied. Of course, I am not so vain as to think that I am a Torah
scholar, but compared to the person who offended me . . ."
How can a person who lashes out "for the Torah's honor" measure
whether his motivations are pure? Let him examine how he reacts when he
sees a Torah scholar other than himself being offended. Also, how does he
react when he sees a volume of a Torah work being treated disrespectfully?
Finally, does this person who considers himself a minor Torah scholar
defame the honor of the Torah by acting inappropriately himself?
(Menuchah U'kedushah p.83)
"[W]hen you were faint and exhausted, and did not fear G-d."
R' Yitzchak Eliyahu Landau z"l (Vilna; 19th century) writes: One who
truly has yirah / fear and awe of G-d is happy to perform mitzvot. The
more the effort that is required and the greater the expense, the greater
pleasure he feels from the mitzvah. Such a person does not feel faint or
exhausted from doing G-d's Will.
On the other hand, if a person does feel faint or exhausted from
performing mitzvot, this is a sure sign that his yirah is incomplete.
Thus, when Bnei Yisrael started complaining about their circumstances in
the desert and asking (Shmot 17:7), "Is Hashem among us or not?" - it was
a sign that their yirah was lacking. [Ed. The quoted verse from Shmot and
our verse are parallel accounts of the same event - the attack by Amalek.]
R' Landau continues: In this light we can understand the verses in
Yishayah (58:3-4), "Why did we fast and You did not see? Why did we
afflict our souls and You did not know? Behold! On your fast day you
seek out personal gain . . ." The Jewish People ask Hashem: "`Why did we
fast and You did not see? Why did we afflict our souls and You did not
know?' We fasted on Yom Kippur. Why did You not answer our prayers?"
Hashem answers: "Your own words prove that you did not fast for the
sake of Heaven, for you say, `Why did we afflict our souls?' Clearly, `On
your fast day you seek out personal gain,' rather than to serve Me, for if
your motives were proper, you would not feel afflicted." (Chumash
Patsheggen Ha'dat: Kiflayim Le'Tushiah)
Come Early, Stay Late!
"Seekers of Hashem, seed of Avraham His beloved, who delay
departing from Shabbat and rush to enter." (From the Friday
night zemer, Kol Mekadeish)
The phrase, "offspring of Avraham His beloved," is an allusion to the
verse in Yeshayahu (41:8), "But you, Yisrael, My servant, Yaakov, whom I
have chosen, offspring of Avraham who loved Me." Rashi z"l explains that
Avraham did not seek Hashem as a way to escape suffering, nor because his
parents taught him about G-d. Rather, Avraham sought G-d because he loved
R' Nachum Eisenstein shlita (Lakewood, N.J.) quotes R' Yaakov Emden
z"l (died 1776), who writes that our zemer is teaching us how we can earn
the title "Seekers of Hashem, seed of Avraham His beloved." One who
strictly observes the laws of Shabbat, lighting candles at exactly the
right moment and reciting havdalah at exactly the right moment has
fulfilled his legal obligation, but he is not a "Seeker of Hashem." One
who loves Hashem as Avraham did will delay departing from Shabbat and will
rush to bring Shabbat in early.
Why does the author of the zemer mention the end of Shabbat before the
beginning? R' Eisenstein suggests that bringing Shabbat in early is less
of an indication that one loves Hashem than is ending Shabbat later. This
is because a person might bring in Shabbat early for his own convenience,
as many people do in the summer. (Rinat Yaakov Al Zemirot Shabbat p.80)
Our Sages teach that the mitzvah of Shabbat was originally taught to
Bnei Yisrael before the Torah was given, at a place called "Marah"
(literally, "bitter"). R' Aharon Perlow of Karlin z"l (1802-1872) writes
in the name of his father, R' Asher of Stolin z"l that when one first
experiences Shabbat with all of its restrictions, it may very well be
"bitter." With time and experience, however, one comes to know the
sweetness of Shabbat, and then he will hurry to bring it in and delay in
leaving it. (Quoted in Zemirot Shirin Ve'rachshin p.151)
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
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