Archive for April, 2014

Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 101:4:

One may pray in any language one wishes…

Mishnah Berurah, ad loc:

This applies only on a non-permanent basis, however is completely forbidden to establish as permanent practice [to pray in a language other than Hebrew] and to appoint a prayer leader (שליח ציבור) [to lead the service in a language other than Hebrew], and [thereby] to cause the Holy Tongue to be completely forgotten among Israel. This stands in counterpoint to the new sects that have arisen… that have translated the entire text of prayer into a gentile language. One transgression leads to another, for they have omitted the blessing regarding the ingathering of the exiles, and the blessing “And to Jerusalem, your city” (regarding the rebuilding of Jerusalem), and just as they desire to cause the memory of Jerusalem to be forgotten, so do they desire that the Holy Language be forgotten from Israel, lest they be redeemed in the merit of not deviating from their [Hebrew] language. May the Holy One Blessed is He protect us from such heretical thoughts!


We have already written here of the righteous King Asa and his bold acts to restore the glory of G-d to Judah after it had fallen into idolatry. He certainly built a legacy as one of Judah’s greatest and most righteous kings. However, the prophet nevertheless records (I Kings 15:23):

…but in the time of his old age [Asa] became ill in his legs.

Why did G-d visit this unpleasantness upon the righteous Asa? The Talmud (Sotah 10A) explains:

Why was Asa punished? Because he forced the Sages into [national] service, as it says (I Kings 15:22): ‘And the king, Asa, called up [into service] all of Judah; none were excused’ …even a groom from his chamber and a bride from her wedding canopy.

As the debate rages in Israel over the drafting of yeshiva students into the army, and legislation moves forward to make the induction of budding scholars into the military a reality, those of us who study the past shake our heads in sad disbelief as a society repeats its past mistakes that may lead, G-d forbid, to a set of harsh consequences. I hope our legs stand firm through this.

For more on this topic, see this post, and this one.

In the book of Melachim (Kings), we are told the sad story of the descent of the Kingdom of David, from its original grandeur under righteous kings such as David and his son Shelomoh (Solomon), to the split during the reign of Shelomoh’s son Rechavam, when ten tribes of Israel seceded to form a new kingdom under the rule of the once righteous, turned wicked king Yeravam ben Nevat. Yeravam leads the Kingdom of Israel into idolatry, as do the subsequent kings of Judah, until the rule of Asa. We are told:

“Asa did what was upright in the eyes of Ha-Shem (the Almighty), like David his father (i.e. forefather). He caused the harlots to pass from the land and removed all the idols that his fathers had made. Even Maachah his mother, who made an abominable image (‘miphletzeth’ — מפלצת) for an asherah, he removed from her position of power. Asa cut down her abominable image and burned it [and cast its ashes] into the brook of Kidron.” (I Kings 15:11-13)

An asherah is a tree that was worshipped by idolatrous cults in ancient times. Maachah, Asa’s mother seems to have gone one step further, making a “miphletzeth” for her asherah. What is a miphletzeth? The translation here, “abominable image,” I took from the JPS Tanakh and appears to be the understanding of Radak. But miphletzeth is an extremely rare term in Tanach and its meaning is mysterious. In modern Hebrew, the word is used to mean “monster.”

Rashi, to explain the word miphletzeth, quotes the Talmud in Avodah Zarah (44A). The Talmudic sages viewed the word miphletzeth as a compound word based two Hebrew roots: פ-ל-א (P-L-A), meaning “wondrous,” and ל-צ (L-Tz), meaning “scoffing.” As such, they explained the above verse to mean that Maachah acted “exceedingly scoffingly” (מפליא ליצנותא) with her asherah. How so? The Talmud goes on to say that she fashioned (presumably carved) for her asherah a male genital appendage and would have relations with the idol daily.

How did the Talmudic sages know that this bizaare behavior is what is intended here? Was this purely an oral tradition or is there a more clear textual clue?

I wonder if this understanding is based on a perceived linguistic linkage between the פ-ל-צ root of ‘miphletzeth’ and the Latin “phallus” or Greek “phallos” (meaning the same); indeed in some traditions the letter tzadi (צ) is pronounced ‘s’ (‘sadi’) rather than ‘tz’ as in the Ashkenazic tradition. Some research (i.e. “googling”) has yielded that indeed wooden carvings of the phallus were used in cultic worship of deities such as Dionysus. This type of worship, known to the Talmudic sages, may have been a clue regarding the nature of Maachah’s worship here.

See this earlier post for a primer on Lilith.

More on Lilith:

After the murder of Adam’s son Hevel (Abel) by Adam’s older son Kayin (Cain), Adam and Chavah (Eve) do not have any more children until they are 130 years old, at which time they procreate once again “in their image,” having a son they name Sheth (Seth). See Genesis (B’Reshith) 5:3.

Why the gap between their first two children and the third? According to Jewish tradition, the murder of one of their sons by the other caused Adam and Chavah to reconsider having children, and therefore separated from one another for an extended period.

Jewish tradition further asserts that while Adam did not procreate “in his image” during that time, he did procreate in a diminished image, namely creating ‘shedim’ — demons.

How so? Some sources indicate that during this period of separation from Chavah, Adam cohabited with a spirit or spirits (against his will), and from this union came the race of demons.

In Samuel (Shemuel) II 7:14, G-d tells Nathan the prophet to announce to David that he will have a son who will sit on the throne after him, and that his dynasty will be everlasting:

“I (G-d) will be for him a Father, and he will be for Me a son, that when he sins, I shall rebuke him with the rod of men, and with the blows of the sons of man (ובנגעי בני אדם).”

According to Rashi, the sons or “children” of “man” here refer to the non-human (demon) offspring of Adam produced during the 130-year separation from Chavah during which time “spirits” engaged with Adam and reproduced from him. The prophet’s words here foreshadow when a powerful demon named Ashmedai will dethrone David’s son Shelomoh (Solomon) for a time, as recounted in the Talmud in Tractate Gitin.

According to those commentaries that understand Lilith to be the mother of the demons (see earlier post), she was the being with which Adam cohabited during this period.

A reference to this is seen by Rabbi Avraham Aharon Friedman in his commentary to the Passover Hagadah, Chochmath Aharon.

He cites the verse in Amos 2:6, “For their sale of the righteous for silver, and the destitute because of [a pair of] shoes,” a reference to the sale of Joseph (Yoseph; “the righteous”) by his brothers, and the accompaniment of the Divine Presence (“the destitute”) in Yoseph’s descent to Egypt.

R’ Friedman explains, according to the Arizal, that the central reason for the descent of Israel to Egypt was to “harvest” the “holy sparks” that “fell” from Adam during the aforementioned 130 years. The sale of Yoseph initiated the eventual descent of Israel to and subsequent exodus from Egypt, thereby redeeming the holy sparks that had been trapped there.

Rabbi Friedman explains the verse in Amos in this light. The sparks are the “silver” for which Yoseph was sold. The numerical value of “because of [a pair of] shoes” (בעבור נעלים) is 480, the same as “Lilith” (לילית), hinting that she was the cause of Adam’s “fallen sparks” that necessitated the sojourn in Egypt.

Since childhood I have been taught (in school, though at home we were not religiously observant enough to uphold this practice) that when searching out leaven (‘chametz’) in one’s home the night before Passover, one does so with three props: a candle, a feather, and a wooden spoon.

The reason for the candle was clear: one searches at night with a candle so the candlelight is able to illuminate even small crevices in case pieces of chametz have become hidden there.

But I never quite understood what the feather and spoon were for. As I grew into an adult, and married into a family more religiously observant than the one in which I was raised, I found that even in my wife’s family the purpose of the feather and spoon was something of an unknown. It was conjectured that upon finding chametz, one was meant to “sweep” it with the feather into the spoon, whereupon it could be carried to “safety” to be burned during the ceremonial “burning of the chametz” the next morning. But this whole feather-spoon procedure was awkward and ineffective, in fact, rather counterproductive. It was easier to simply pick up the chametz or sweep it with a traditional brush and dustpan.

Nevertheless, from year to year, Judaica stores continued to sell the “Bedikas Chametz” (“Searching for Chametz”) kits, complete with candle, feather and wooden spoon. Invariably, we searched with the candle and discarded the feather and spoon.

Even in halachic (Jewish legal) sources, I was unaware of the mention for a need for these items. Both the Mishnah and Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law) made no mention of feather or spoon.

Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 431:1) states:

At the onset of the night of the 14th of Nisan, we search for chametz by candlelight…

No mention of feather or spoon.

However, to my great satisfaction, I finally found the following in Mishnah Berurah, perhaps what is considered the most authoritative commentary on Shulchan Aruch. In comment 46 to Orach Chayim 433 he writes:

During the search, it is customary to take feathers and sweep thoroughly in holes and crevices to remove from them the chametz with the feather.

Now if we can just figure out what the spoon is for.