Posts Tagged ‘Midrash’

Midrash Eleh Ezkerah is a dramatized narrative describing (with poetic license) the tragic executions of ten of Israel’s greatest sages at the hands of the Romans. The story depicts these ten as having lived contemporaneously and having been executed more or less in the same time and place, though this was not actually the case.

Nevertheless, in this work, the body of the sage Rabbi Akiva is carried by Elijah the Prophet. Elijah meets Rabbi Yehoshua haGarsi, who asks Elijah how he could carry Akiva’s dead body when Elijah is a Kohen, and a Kohen is forbidden to come into contact with a dead body, lest he become tamei — spiritually contaminated. Elijah replies, “The bodies of the righteous do not render spiritual contamination.”

It appears that the author of this narrative was of the opinion that Elijah was a Kohen, and therefore would line up with the opinion that Elijah was in fact Pinchas.

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Yehoash did what was upright in the eyes of the Almighty all his days, as Yehoyada the Kohen taught him.”

Rashi:

‘All his days, as Yehoyada taught him’ — But once Yehoyada died, then ‘the officers of Judah came to prostate themselves to the king’ (II Chronicles 24:17), and they deified him. They said to him: ‘One who enters the Holy of Holies for even one moment is in danger of death, but you hid there for six years! You are fitting to be a god!’ ‘Then he listened to them’ (ibid).

Seder Olam Rabah 18:

After the death of Yehoyada the Kohen, Yoash made himself into a deity, as it says, ‘They prostrated themselves to the king… Then the king listened to them’ (II Chronicles 24).

Shemoth Rabah 8:3:

From where do we know that Yoash made himself into a deity? As it says: ‘And after the death of Yehoyada, the officers of Judah came and prostrated themselves to the king. Then the king listened to them’ (II Chronicles 24). What is the meaning of, ‘and they prostrated themselves to the king’? That they made him into a deity. They said to him: ‘If you were not a god, you would not have come out after seven years in the Holy of Holies.’ He said to them, ‘It is so!’ And he accepted upon himself to become a deity.

Matenoth Kehunah (comments to Sh”R):

‘After seven years’ – from his birth. But he was only hidden six years, for so it is written in II Chronicles 24.

‘You would not have come out…’ – As it is written, ‘And the stranger who approaches shall die,’ and even the Kohen Gadol (High Priest) would only enter on Yom Kipur (the Day of Atonement), and with incense, and prayer and immersion, and if you were not a god, you would not have been able to remain alive there.

B’Midbar Rabah 23:13 (also Tanchuma Masey 12):

You find as long as Yehoyada was alive, Yoash acted according to the will of his Creator, as it says, ‘Yoash did what was upright in the eyes of the Almighty all his days that Yehoyada the Kohen guided him.’ ‘After the death of Yehoyada, the officers of Judah came and prostrated themselves to the king. Then the king listened to them’ (II Chronicles 24), accepting upon himself to made into a deity.

See also Agadath B’Reshith 49

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Chapters 9 and 10 of the book of II Kings (Melachim II) detail the career of Yehu, a soldier turned renegade turned king, who, at the command of Elisha the Prophet, mounts a campaign to annihilate the house of the evil (former) King Achav (Ahab), whose son Yehoram then sat on the throne. Along the way, Yehu also kills Achazyah, the king of Judah, who, although Davidic by paternal lineage, was of the house of Achav through his mother’s side.

In Chapter 11, this mother of the house of Achav, whose name was Athalyah, upon the death of the king of Judah, commences exterminating the male offspring of the king so that she may succeed to the throne with no opponent. One child, Yoash, is rescued and hidden in the Temple for six years, guarded and attended to by the High Priest, Yehoyada. When the boy is seven years old, Yehoyada, together with a band of his loyal followers, brings the young heir out of hiding and announts him. Verse 12:

Melachim

They brought forth the son of the king, and they put upon him the crown and the testament, and they coronated him and anointed him, and they clapped hands and said, ‘May the king live!’

What is this “testament” that they “put upon him”?

Rashi offers two suggestions:

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The first is that “the testament” refers to the scroll of the Torah that a king is commanded in Deuteronomy (Devarim) 17:19 to keep with him and read daily.

The second suggestion is based on a fascinating opinion in the Talmud (Avodah Zarah 44A) that this crown would only fit upon the head of one who was fit to be the king. Here, a king’s crown miraculously fit itself to the head of this seven year old child, thus testifying that he was fit to be king of Judah.

Let us examine the origin of this crown more closely.

In II Samuel 12, we read of a military victory of Israel over Amon. Verse 30 tells of a remarkable crown among the spoils:

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[David] took the crown of Malkam (מלכם) from upon his head, and its weight was a kikar of gold, with a precious stone, and it was upon the head of David…

The translation of the Hebrew word “malkam” here is controversial. The word appears plainly to be a composite of the word “melech” (“king”) with the “-am” ending meaing “their.” The verse would then read, “He took the crown of their king from upon his head.” This makes perfect sense. Rashi, however, notes that “Malkam” is actually the name of the Amonite deity, synonymous with the false god Molech mentioned in the Torah that was commonly worshiped by local peoples in those days, including the people of Amon.

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If so, the crown would have been an adornment of an idol. This is the opinion of the Talmud (Avodah Zarah 44A).

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The crown is described as weighing a kikar. Well, how much is a kikar? According to this handy-dandy biblical measurement conversion table, a kikar weighs either 27kg or 34kg (depending on which scholarly opinion you follow). For us Americans, that’s the same as around 60lbs or 75lbs. To make it even more graphic, 60lbs is like 3 car tires or 5 bowling balls. 75lbs is about the weight of an 11 year old child, or 2 and 1/2 cinderblocks. If that was the weight of this crown, it is certainly not reasonable to think any human king actually wore this! Rather, it makes more sense to be an adornment for an idol, as the Talmud understands.

The next question, however, should be obvious. The verse in II Samuel says the crown was on David’s head! If it was so impossibly heavy, how could David have worn it!

The Talmud offers several possibilities:

1. The verse doesn’t literally mean that David wore it, but that David was so great as to be fitting to wear such a valuable crown.

2. The verse means that the crown was suspended over David’s head. Specifically, a magnet caused the crown to float above the throne so that when David sat it hovered above his head.

3. The crown did not actually weigh a kikar, but the value of the stone in the crown was the equivalent of a kikar of gold.

Finally, the Talmud tells of the miracle of the crown fitting itself to its bearer as a testament to the worthiness of said bearer. The crown served as a testament to David’s worthiness then, and once again as a testament to the worthiness of Yoash in our chapter. The implication is that all worthy royal descendants of David wore this crown.

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As a matter of fact, the Talmud goes on to relate that Adoniyah, the son of David who declares himself king at the end of David’s life in the beginning of I Kings, tried wearing this crown to prove his worthiness for the throne, but was unsuccessful; the crown would not for him.

But was this a “magical” property of the crown, or a unique miracle that G-d brought about for the sake of David and his righteous offspring?

The answer may lie in an episode from I Samuel.

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In I Samuel, Chapter 17, as David is about to confront Goliath, King Saul offers David his own implements of war, including his armor. Now, Saul was much larger than David, in fact, the text describes Saul as “head and shoulders” above the rest of the nation, i.e. he was very tall. How could the vestments of a much larger man fit on David? The hint is in v. 38. The word מדיו in Hebrew is translated as “his apparel,” as in, “Saul dressed David in his apparel.” But the word מדיו has the same root as the word מדה, meaning “measure.” The verse could then read, “Saul dressed David to his measure,” i.e. the vestments of Saul fit David, though they were not at all the same size.

Indeed, the Talmud in Yevamoth 76B, as well as the Midrash in VaYikra Rabah 26:8 and Tanchuma Emor 4 explain that this is exactly what happened. Rashi’s comments to I Samuel 17:38 reflect this view of our Sages.

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Rashi explains (in accordance with the view of the Sages in the above sources) that since David had been anointed by Samuel to be king, the king’s clothing miraculously fit themselves to David’s measure.

So returning to the crown, it appears that it was not the unique quality of this crown to “magically” choose its bearer based on whether or not that person was worthy to be king. Rather, it appears that it was the unique quality of the righteous Davidic kings that any clothing fit for a king miraculously fit them.

Let us end off on a beautifully positive note. Rabbi Yoseph Chayim of Baghdad, in his commentary to the agadic passages of the Talmud, Ben Yehoyada, connects the passage in Avodah Zarah to a section of Zachariah (4:7).

Zecharyah

Who are you, O great mountain? Before Zerubavel you will become a flatland. And he shall bring forth the even haroshah with shouts of, ‘Grace! Grace!’ for it.

The Hebrew words “even haroshah” here are usually translated as, “cornerstone,” “foundation stone,” “keystone,” or “top stone.” The prophecy is understood by many to refer to messianic times, meaning that not even the mightiest power will be able to stand in the way of the Messiah. Rather, he will bring forth the “even haroshah” as the Jewish people cheers on. If translated as above, the reference is to the construction of the Third Temple. However, Ben Yehoyada offers another understanding:
BenYehoyada

“Even haroshah” literally means “head stone” (not the kind that goes over a grave), i.e. “stone of the head.” Well, what kind of stone did we just learn about that goes on the head? It is the precious stone that featured prominently in David’s crown!

If so, the prophecy here is that this very same crown will be worn by the King Messiah, scion of David, for whom it will be a testament that he is the true Messiah! May we see this speedily in our days!

In the area of study known as Quantum Physics, there is a remarkable phenomenon known as “quantum entanglement.”

Without going into too much detail, the relevant information about quantum entanglement for the purposes of this post is to understand that particles that are part of a system react to a change that occurs to another particle in the system simultaneous with that change, without even the delay necessary for the information to travel at the speed of light from one particle to the other. In other words, you and I cannot know about anything that has happened anywhere else until the information reaches us. Then we can react. But this information takes time to travel. In quantum entanglement, particles that are part of a system react to one another IMMEDIATELY, without the necessary time it would take for the information regarding the change of one particle to reach the other particle(s) even if that information were travelling at the speed of light. Since faster than light travel is not possible, there must be some other factor that causes these particles to be “entangled” with one another at all times and places, despite the space between them. This is sometimes called, “spooky action at a distance.”

Here is a question someone emailed me:

Since TIME is one of the dimensions of the universe, shouldn’t entanglement not only be “spooky action at a (linear) distance”, but, also, “spooky action across expanses of time”?!  Cannot an action taken or decision made “now” impact events in the future — even the distance future?  Since, according to physics, the past, present, and future are not fundamentally different, could not an action taken in the “present” affect even PAST events?!!  Is it possible that a righteous act done today can mitigate the suffering undergone by someone in our distant past?  What do you think of this idea?  Did any of our Gaonim (sages) have similar thoughts? Am I way off the mark? or is this possible?
      I would like to propose that this is indeed plausable, based on an incident in the Tanach (Hebrew Bible), according to our Oral Tradition. Let us examine a passage in I Samuel 14:
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      At the end of a (successful) war against the Philistines, the Israelite army is famished and desperate to eat. They begin slaughtering animals for food, but word reaches King Saul that the people, in their haste, are not allowing the blood of the animal to drain sufficiently before eating it, thereby violating the prohibition against eating blood. Saul calls for the people to gather and he oversees the slaughtering of the animals to ensure no one eats meat before the blood is properly drained.
      Verse 34 contains a puzzle. Saul commands the people, “ושחטתם בזה,” meaning, “slaughter in this,” or “slaughter with this,” but the verse does not tell us what the “this” was that Saul referred to. Rashi offers that the plain meaning is either “in this place,” or “with this knife,” though it is peculiar that the verse leaves these specifics out of the narrative.
      Indeed, the Midrash (VaYikra Rabah 25) tells us that Saul referred to a knife, and the wording was chosen to hint that the word בזה — “with this” — is a description of the knife itself. How so?
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      The numerical value of the word בזה is 14. According to the Midrash, the knife Saul showed the people to use for slaughter was a knife 14 “fingerlengths” long (about 14 inches). Until the time, it was typical to use a smaller knife, which complicated slaughter and often caused problems that rendered the animal unkosher. Saul’s knife, however allowed the slaughter to be performed more easily and with less risk of botching the procedure. This knife-length was thenceforth embraced as standard Jewish halachic (legal) practice. According to the Midrash, Saul was the innovator of this improvement in the practice of kosher slaughter.
      The Midrash goes on to ask: “When was Saul rewarded by G-d” for this? The Midrash answers: On the day the Israelites went to war against the Philistines, and cites a verse at the end of Chapter 13:
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“And it was on the day of the war, there was no sword nor spear found in the hand of the entire nation that was with Saul and Jonathan, and it was found for Saul and Jonathan.”
      Without getting into too much analysis, on the face of it, the verse appears to contradict itself. At first it says no weapons were found for anyone, and then it says they were found for Saul and Jonathan. According to Rashi (apparently based on the above Midrash), the verse indicates a sequence of events. At first there were no weapons, but then, miraculously, weapons become found by Saul and Jonathan such that now the Israelite army could fight and defeat the Philistines.
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      According to the Midrash, THIS was the reward for Saul having upheld and enhanced kosher meat slaughter in the above incident. As a reward for using knives to uphold the Torah, Saul was rewarded with knives (swords, etc.) when he needed them.

      But there’s something MAJORLY difficult here. You may have noticed that the CAUSE of the reward (Saul’s actions in Ch. 14) come AFTER effect (the reward in Ch. 13). How is this possible?

Most classic commentaries choose to understand that the Midrash means to identify the incident with Saul and the knife as an example of many similar incidents in which Saul introduced this reform. The Midrash cites this one because this is where it appears in the text. But undoubtedly, there were many similar incidents to this prior to the one in Ch. 14 for which Saul was rewarded in Ch. 13. This resolves the apparent paradox.

However, the Etz Yoseph commentary shares a different and radical view.

EtzYoseph

According to Etz Yoseph, since G-d knows the future, in this incident G-d payed Saul the reward for his future merit, even though he had not yet performed the act for which he would merit the reward.

If we were to reword the Etz Yoseph‘s comments in the terminology of modern quantum mechanics, we might say that this is no paradox at all, since all moments in time are linked along a dimensional plane. That being the case, just as we find “entanglement” between two particles within a system across the dimension of space, the same could be said about events across an expanse of time (even “backwards” in time). So that Saul’s CAUSAL action in the (so-called) future produced an EFFECT in the past.

More on quantum entanglement in time, from a purely scientific (not religious) perspective here: http://www.fromquarkstoquasars.com/what-quantum-entanglement-means-for-time-travel/.

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We constantly hear in the media and from left-leaning individuals and groups, as well as from the United Nations and the spokespeople of the various world nations, about the evils perpetrated by the State of Israel any time it takes defensive actions against the groups or individuals that have sworn to destroy it. The enemies of Israel, which include terrorist organizations, various Arab countries, as well as radicalized Muslims within its borders, continually attempt Israel’s destruction through targeting, endangering and murdering its citizens through aggressive acts of war or terrorist attacks.

Yet the heat in the media and the world stage is always directed against Israel. She is always the culprit, the aggressor, the criminal, the abuser, the genocidal murderer. It has long been decried in the pro-Israel media the blatant bias and hypocritical double standard of Israel’s detractors. The same defensive actions by any other country are hailed, while vicious genocides taking place routinely in Muslim countries are ignored. It is only Israel that may not defend herself. It is only Israel that must turn the other cheek to its would-be slaughterer, and that evokes the anger, hatred and condemnation of the world for defending itself and overcoming its attackers.

Well folks, it may surprise you to know that this is NOT a phenomenon unique to the modern State of Israel or to our “civilized” age. Rather, so has it been from the very beginning of our history. Since the inception of the Jewish nation in ancient times, the ire and rage of the nations has been directed at Israel for the simple crime of not getting stomped underfoot by those who would destroy her.

Imagine my shock at finding this phenomenon articulated ever so openly in a midrash — an ancient Jewish oral tradition — concerning the events in this week’s Torah portion.

This week we read B’Shalach, in which, after the crushing cataclysm of the Ten Plagues destroys the once-mighty Egypt, the nation of Israel emerges, under Divine protection, and crosses the Red Sea amid indescribable miracles, even as their former oppressors pursue them to bring about a “final solution.” We all know the story — the Egyptians drown in the Sea, the Israelites are delivered safely upon dry land, and the scene climaxes with the simultaneous outburst of prophetic song known as “the Song of the Sea.”

In that song, the people of Israel declare, “The nations heard and became enraged (שמעו עמים ירגזון)!” Why would the nations become enraged when they hear of Israel’s miraculous delivery from Egypt at the sea? Wouldn’t they be awed? Inspired? Humbled?

The Midrash comments:

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‘The nations heard and became enraged’ — When they heard that G-d lifted Israel [above its enemies], they became angry. G-d said to [the nations]: ‘How many kings have been appointed among you, yet my children (Israel) did not become enraged? … How many sovereign governments have been established among you, yet my children did not become angry? … Now [that Israel is ascendant] you are angry? … I will give you cause to be angry that you do not desire!’

The midrash calls out the nations for their own devilish hypocrisy and shameful double-standard. Every nation has the right to independence, sovereignty, security — except the nation of Israel? Where was your indignation when they were an oppressed minority in Egypt? Now that the Egyptians are under the foot of Israel, you shout about “war crimes”? Have the actions of the nations ever held a moral candle to those of Israel or the Jewish nation? Can any nation claim a superior record of the defense of human rights or contributions to the betterment of the condition of humanity than the Jews? Turn your words toward yourselves, you hypocritical fiends! For when you defend evil and point the finger of blame at those who are just, you invite that evil upon yourself.

How sad for the world that the lessons of history continue to be ignored.

Some random chasidish kollel.

I recall a number of years ago, while learning in the kollel at Yeshivas Toras Moshe (for a time underneath the guidance of Rabbi Moshe Twersky, Hy”d), a conversation I had with another great sage who taught at the yeshiva, Rabbi Michel Shurkin. Rabbi Shurkin is famed as a close disciple of both Rabbi Yosef Dov (Joseph Ber) Soloveitchik and Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, both revered leaders of the Jewish people in their time.

While I initiated the conversation (I don’t recall about what), Rabbi Shurkin turned the topic toward myself, asking about myself, my background, etc. It came up that I was from a small Jewish community in Brooklyn in the neighborhood of Manhattan Beach, which I had been away from during my (at that point) five plus years studying in Israel. Yet, I related, the community had gone through a sort of renaissance under the leadership of its (then) new rabbi, Rabbi Moshe Plutchok, and that I had heard it continued to expand and expand since I had left it, particularly following the opening of a kollel in the neighborhood.

Rabbi Shurkin offered this sentiment in response to my remark about the kollel. “When I was young, ‘kollel’ was a dirty word. But today, everyone understands — kollel is the key!” I can still remember Rabbi Shurkin’s distinctive hand motion as he said those words, like he was turning an imaginary key in the air. In other words, Rabbi Shurkin was describing the modern phenomenon of the successful growth of Jewish communities correlating to the opening of “community kollelim.”

However, Rabbi Shurkin also referred to the negative sentiment toward kollel that was prevalent in his younger years, though it certainly still exists in great force today, even within communities of Jews who self-identify as Torah observant.

So what is the view of authentic Jewish tradition toward Torah scholars being supported by a stipend in order to continue Torah study? While this topic is too large to tackle all at once, let us catch a glimpse of the traditional position as I discovered it while continuing my daily Tanach study.

My chapter of Tanach for today was I Kings (Melachim Aleph) ch. 21. It describes the tragic story of how the abominable King Ahab (Achav), together with his irredeemably wicked wife Jezebel (Izevel), desiring the land belonging to his neighbor Navoth the Jezreelite, conspires to have Navoth framed for a capital offense and executed. Once this is done, Ahab confiscates Navoth’s land. The prophet describes the diabolical Ahab as follows:

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“Only there was none like Ahab, who sold himself to do wickedness in the eyes of the Almighty, who was led astray by his wife Jezebel” (21:25).

So it sounds like Ahab was THE WORST — “there was NONE like Ahab who SOLD HIMSELF to do wickedness in the eyes of the Almighty”!

Yet, the Talmud (Sanhedrin 102B) makes a surprising statement about this same Ahab:

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“Rav Nachman said: Ahab’s sins weighed equally to his merits.”

WHAT!?!?!? How can this be? This question is not lost on the Talmudic sages, who follow up this radical statement with just this question.

“Rav Yoseph challenges this: The person about whom it is written, ‘Only there was none like Ahab who sold himself to do wickedness in the eyes of the Almighty, whose was led astray by his wife Jezebel,’ and about whom we have learned (via oral tradition): ‘Every day she would weigh out golden coins to idols’ — and you say his sins weighed equally to his merits!”

Good question, eh? Now hear the Talmud’s astounding answer:

“Ahab was generous with his money, and since he benefited Torah scholars with his possessions, that atoned for half of his wickedness (so that he was considered half righteous).”

As I understand it, this means that just as Ahab allotted of his money to be donated to idol worship, he equally gave of his money to benefit the learning of Torah scholars. In other words, his monetary support of kollelim was a mitzvah of such great weight that it atoned for his great wickedness, about which the text is so emphatic.

In conclusion, it certainly seems that support for Torah study is a cause of the greatest merit, and should be valued by all Jews, even, or perhaps most of all, by those who have much to atone for.