Volume 19, No. 27
29 Adar II 5765
April 9, 2005
Robert & Hannah Klein
in honor of Jonathan & Arlene Groner
on the Groners being honored by
the Kemp Mill Synagogue (Silver Spring, MD)
Mrs. Helen Spector and family
in memory of husband and father
Avraham ben Nussan Nuta a”h
Abe and Shirley Sperling & William and Ruth Konick
on the yahrzeits of
Tzvi Dov ben Avraham a”h (Harry Sperling)
and Mindel bat Tzvi Dov a”h (Mildred Klessmer)
Daf Yomi (Bavli): Berachot 40
Daf Yomi (Yerushalmi): Shevuot 4
Our parashah begins with mitzvot associated with childbirth, including the commandment of brit milah, circumcising our sons on the eighth day after their births. Why is this mitzvah repeated here when it was already told to Avraham Avinu and recorded in Bereishit? R’ Zvi Yehuda Kook z”l (rosh yeshiva of Yeshivat Merkaz Harav; died 1982) answers as follows:
Rambam z”l writes (in his commentary to the last mishnah in Chullin chapter 7): “Know that the fact that we distance something or draw it close is only because Hashem commanded Moshe thus at Har Sinai, not because it was spoken to an earlier prophet [such as the Patriarchs]. . . We do not circumcise ourselves because Avraham circumcised himself and his household, but rather because Hashem commanded Moshe that we should do so just as Avraham did. . . This rule also is apparent from the Sages’ statement that: `613 commandments were given to Moshe at Sinai’.”
However, says R’ Kook, Rambam’s explanation appears to be contradicted by a midrash quoted in Sefer Menorat Ha’maor by R’ Yisrael al-Naqawa z”l (died 1391). That midrash quotes the pasuk (Devarim 33:4), “Moshe commanded the Torah to us, an inheritance to the congregation of Yaakov,” and asks: “Have we been holding on to the Torah since the time of Moshe? We have been holding on to the Torah since the time of the Patriarchs!”
In reality, there is no contradiction, R’ Kook answers. Our spiritual attachment to the Torah does date back to the Patriarchs. However, that is not why we observe the Torah’s laws. Rather, we observe the laws because Hashem commanded us at Har Sinai to do so. (Sichot R’ Zvi Yehuda: Vayikra p.104)
“On the eighth day, the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised.” (12:3)
It is customary at a brit milah / circumcision to express the wish: “Just as the young boy has entered the Covenant, so may he enter Torah study, marriage and good deeds.” The following story relates to this custom.
The future R’ Bezalel Hakohen of Vilna (19th century) was a child prodigy, and long before his bar mitzvah, matchmakers were vying for the privilege of arranging a shidduch for him. By the time he reached his twelfth birthday, he was already engaged.
At the engagement celebration, one of the local scholars said, “I have always wondered why we say, `so may he enter Torah study, marriage and good deeds’? Shouldn’t good deeds precede marriage? Now, I understand. We pray that the child should be so special that long before his bar mitzvah, before his good deeds begin to be counted in the Heavenly accounting books, he should already be pursued by marriage proposals.”
(Quoted in Ve’karata La’Shabbat Oneg)
“One for an olah-offering and one for a chatat-offering.” (12:8)
Rashi z”l writes: The Torah only mentioned the olah before the chatat so that the owner will set aside his birds in that order. However, when it comes time to sacrifice them, the chatat comes first.
Why did the Torah say that the olah should be set aside first? R’ Baruch Sorotzkin z”l (1917-1979; rosh yeshiva in the Telshe Yeshiva in Cleveland) explains: Why is the chatat sacrificed first? Our Sages explain that before one can give a present burnt to the king (here, the olah, which is entirely on the altar), one must appease the king (by bringing a chatat / sin offering). This means, says R’ Sorotzkin, that bring the chatat is merely a preparation for bring the olah.
When Hashem created the world, His purpose was to create man. In the words of Chazal: “The last in deed was the first in thought.” However, before man could be created, the rest of the world had to be created in preparation. Similarly, the chatat is the preparation for the olah, but since the olah is the ultimate goal, the last in deed should be first in thought.
“He [the metzora] is to call out, `Tamei, tamei!'” (13:45)
The Gemara (Shabbat 67a) explains that the metzora must bring his suffering to the public’s attention so others can pray for him. This, writes R’ Moshe Sternbuch shlita (rabbi in Johannesburg, South Africa and Yerushalayim and author of several popular works) is the source for the custom that the congregation prays for those who are ill. However, R’ Sternbuch adds, it appears from the Gemara that it is not enough for the congregation to know that someone is sick. In order to pray effectively, the congregation must know of the person’s suffering.
Why does the Torah teach the idea of praying for other in the context of a metzora? R’ Sternbuch suggests: Tzara’at is a punishment for speaking lashon hara. One who speaks lashon hara is separating himself from society. [As our Sages taught: A metzora’s punishment is to sit alone outside the city’s walls because his actions were anti- social, destroying marriages and friendships.] In contrast, prayer is most effective when it is done as part of a group. That is why Shemoneh Esrei is worded in the plural. It is fitting that the metzora, who behaved in an anti-social way, should be made to recognize the benefits of being part of society.
Why does the recitation of “Mah nishtanah” follow immediately after the recitation of “Hah lachma ania”? R’ Yosef Chaim of Baghdad z”l (died 1909) explains:
In Hah lachma ania we proclaim: “Whoever is hungry, let him come and eat! Who ever is in need let him come and share the Pesach sacrifice!” This confuses our children, so they ask: “Why is this night different from all other nights? On all other nights, you slam the door in beggars’ faces or leave them standing in the front hall. Why, tonight, are you are inviting them into the dining room?”
(Haggadah Shel Pesach Orach Chaim p.85)
A Pesach Parable
Why is Bedikat Chametz / the search for chametz carried out at night? Commentaries explain that chametz is a metaphor for the yetzer hara. Since the yetzer hara takes advantage of darkness, as explained below, it is in the darkness that we must seek it out.
Darkness causes two undesirable consequences. Firstly, it causes people to trip over unexpected obstacles. The yetzer hara also places unexpected obstacles in people’s way. Thus we read in Mishlei (4:19), “The way of the wicked is like darkness, they do not know upon what they stumble.”
Secondly, it causes even familiar territory to become confusing. In the dark, one may think that a door is a wall or a wall is a door, or that gold is iron or iron is gold. So, too, under the influence of the yetzer hara, one may think that a sin is a mitzvah or that a mitzvah is a sin.
There is a story popular among Yemenite Jews about a widow named Sadah who was very punctilious in her observance of mitzvot. When she heard that the prophets promise that the miracles of the future redemption will be equal to those of the Exodus, she concluded that mashiach will come on the Seder night. Throughout the Seder, which she observed at a neighbor’s house, she watched the door carefully, waiting for mashiach to enter and redeem all those assembled. Alas, he did not come by the time the Seder had ended..
In the meantime, Sadah drank four cups of wine, the hour grew late, and her eyelids began to grow heavy. She desperately wanted to sleep, but just as desperately, she wanted to stay awake to greet mashiach. Wearily, she made her way home and, fighting off sleep for a short while, she hit upon an idea:
Our Sages say that mashiach will arrive riding a donkey. Surely, if mashiach arrived while Sadah was sleeping, her donkey would prance and bray to greet its cousin bearing the redeemer. Realizing this, Sadah took a rope and joined her leg to her donkey’s leg. That way, when her donkey saw mashiach’s donkey, its movement would awaken her.
However, Sadah was not aware of another teaching of our Sages which says (Berachot 3a) that donkeys commonly prance and bray in the first third of the night. Sure enough, Sadah’s donkey took off running through town, all the while dragging the unfortunate widow behind it. This was painful indeed for Sadah, but in her heart she rejoiced, for surely mashiach had arrived!
All of the neighbors were awakened by Sadah’s screams of pain mixed with cries of joy. Quickly they reined in her donkey and helped her to her feet. Only then did she learn, to her dismay, that mashiach had not arrived.
What does this parable teach? It illustrates that sometimes we are seduced to perform what we believe to be a mitzvah, when in fact it is the yetzer hara that is motivating us. For a young yeshiva student, there might be a yetzer hara to learn Torah all night, forgetting that this causes one to sleep through the next morning’s prayers. For others, it is the yetzer hara to speak lashon hara about a neighbor who, we tell ourselves, is so evil it is a mitzvah to speak about him. About this the prophet says (Yishayahu 5:20): “Woe to those who speak of evil as good and as good of evil; who make darkness into light and light into darkness . . .”
The first step in eliminating this darkness is to light the candle of Bedikat Chametz. With it, one should search every nook and every corner until the trickery of the yetzer hara is rooted out.
(Quoted in Haggadah Shel Pesach Avoteinu Sipru Lanu p.11)
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. Text archives from 1990 through the present may be retrieved from http://www.acoast.com/~sehc/hamaayan/.
Hamaayan needs your support! Please consider sponsoring Hamaayan in honor of a happy occasion or in memory of a loved one. Did you know that the low cost of sponsorship – only $18 – has not changed in seventeen years? Donations to HaMaayan are tax-deductible.