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What was special about Nachel (Wadi) Zered? Print E-mail
Wednesday, 21 June 2023

In Honor of Sharona and Josh Halickman’s 28th Wedding Anniversary

Nachal Zered is mentioned in both Parshat Chukat and in Parshat Dvarim.

Let’s take a look at the first passage (Bamidbar 21:11-12):

They (B’nai Yisrael) journeyed from Ovot and encamped in the ruins of the passes in the wilderness facing Moav, towards the rising sun. From there they journeyed and encamped at Nachal Zered.

The second passage is in Dvarim (2:13-14) where Moshe tells B’nai Yisrael what God commanded them and gives us more details:

Now, arise and cross Nachal Zered.” And we crossed Nachal Zered. The time that it took us to go from Kadesh Barnea until we crossed Nachal Zered was 38 years, until the end of the entire generation...

Sforno explains that since B’nai Yisrael could not cross through Seir (Edom) or Moav to enter the Land of Israel, in order to get to the Jordan River they were ordered to cross at Nachal Zered which is outside the territories of Seir and Moav.

What made Nachal Zered a unique location is that it was a turning point for B’nai Yisrael. This was their last destination in the wilderness. After crossing Nachal Zered, they were finally headed in the direction of the Land of C’naan. From there they went to conquer the Emori and began to inherit the land.

According to Tvuot Haaretz, the exact location of Nachal Zered is unknown. However, Professor Yoel Elitzur (Places in the Parsha p. 492) points out:

Based on the information that we have in the Tanach, Nachal Zered is located in the northeast part of Moav. It should be identified with Wadi Nukheile or Wadi Tafawiyye, which discharges into Wadi Nukheile...

Professor Elitzur is convinced that Wadi al-Hasa, which serves as the border between Moav and Edom, is not Nachal Zered even though most scholars and maps identify it as such. His reasoning is that according to the Torah it is in the northern part of Moav.

While most scholars and maps do not agree with Professor Elitzur, his reasoning makes sense. Wadi al-Hasa is too far south to be Nachal Zered.

If you happen to visit Jordan, keep this information in mind so that can have a more accurate understanding of where B’nai Yisrael were standing when they were told that they finally concluded their punishment of wandering in the desert due to the sin of the spies and were now ready to enter the Land of Israel.

What is the reason for the history lesson? Print E-mail
Monday, 27 June 2022

Sponsored by Sharona & Josh Halickman on their 27th Wedding Anniversary

In Parshat Chukat, Moshe sends messengers to the king of Edom (Esav’s descendant) to see if he will let B’nai Yisrael pass through his land. Before the messengers make the request, they start off with a history lesson as we see in Bamidbar 20:14-16:

From Kadesh, Moses sent messengers to the king of Edom: “Thus says your brother Israel: You know all the hardships that have befallen us;  that our ancestors went down to Egypt, that we dwelt in Egypt a long time, and that the Egyptians dealt harshly with us and our ancestors.  We cried to God who heard our plea, sending a messenger who freed us from Egypt. Now we are in Kadesh, the town on the border of your territory…”

Rashi asks why it was necessary for the messengers to mention brotherhood here. His answer, based on Midrash Tanchuma, was that Israel and Edom are brothers, grandsons of Avraham to whom God said in Breisheet 15:13 “Know for sure that your descendants will be foreigners in a land that is not theirs. They will enslave them and oppress them for 400 years.” We are both responsible in fulfilling that obligation and paying that debt.

Midrash Tanchuma Chukat 12 states:

It was us (B’nai Yisrael) who have been enslaved in Egypt while you (Edom) are free. This whole subject is comparable to two brothers, against whose grandfather a promissory note appeared. One of them arose and paid it. One day, he asked a favor from his brother, and he said to him, “You know that debt was incumbent on both of us, but it was I who paid it. Do not refuse any of my favor that I am asking.”

Rashi explains that due to the “hardship”, Esav separated from Yaakov as we see in Parshat Vayishlach, Breisheet 36:6:

Esav took his wives, his sons, his daughters, all the people of his household, his livestock, his animals, and all his possessions that he acquired in the Land of C’naan, and went to a land away from his brother, Yaakov.

There Rashi writes that “away from his brother, Yaakov” refers to Esav getting away from the bill of indebtedness implied in the decree: “Your descendants will be foreigners,” that was imposed on the descendants of Yitzchak. He therefore thought, “I will leave here, I want no share in the gift- this Land which has been given to him- nor in the payment of the bill of indebtedness.

Unfortunately, Moshe’s plan didn’t work. The king of Edom was not impressed by the fact that they were family or by the history lesson that the messengers gave him. He did not allow B’nai Yisrael to pass through his land and even threatened them that he would go against them with the sword if they tried.

We see from here that some people are just impossible to talk to, have no mercy and really just don’t care. Although the messengers tried a second time, it still did not help. Then, Edom tried going after them with heavy force. At that point, Israel got the message and turned away from them. With some people, you just have to cut your losses.

The other “Az Yashir” Print E-mail
Friday, 18 June 2021

After B’nai Yisrael were saved by the splitting of the sea, Moshe and B’nai Yisrael sang “Az Yashir” to praise God for miraculously delivering them from the hands of the Egyptians. “Az Yashir” is recited daily as part of the Shacharit service. According to the Zohar, one who recites “Az Yashir” with proper intent will merit to praise God for future miracles as well.

There is another “Az Yashir” which praises God for the well that provided B’nai Yisrael with water during their 40 years in the Wilderness but since it is not part of our daily prayer service it is therefore less familiar. It can be found in Parshat Chukat, Bamidbar 21:17-20:

Az Yashir, Then Israel sang this song: “Come up, O well, sing to it!

The well dug by princes, that the nobles of the nation excavated, through the lawgiver with their staffs; from the Wilderness a gift-

The gift traveled to the valley and from the valley to the heights.

And from the heights to the valley that is in the field of Moav, at the top of the peak that overlooks the wastelands.

You may have noticed that neither Moshe nor God are mentioned in this Song of the Well.

Midrash Tanchuma explains that Moshe is not mentioned since he was punished on account of the water.

According to Michtav Me’Eliahu, the Song of the Sea was led by Moshe who helped B’nai Yisarel understand the extent of the miracle. In the Song of the Well, since B’nai Yisrael sang without Moshe, they did not reach the same spiritual levels.

Why did they sing about the well but not about the Manna?

According to Or HaChaim, the well and water refer to the Torah. We see this in the Talmud, Taanit 7a:

Rav Yehuda said: The day of rain is as momentous as the day which the Torah was given; As it said (Dvarim 32:2): “My teaching (lekach) shall drip down like rain,” and here the word “lekach” refers to the Torah as it says (Mishlei 4:2): “For I (God) have given you a good teaching (lekach tov); do not abandon my Torah.”

Or HaChaim continues:

Torah has frequently been compared to a well of water. It is called "well" because it originates with God, the ultimate well from which all springs forth. It is also called "water" as it symbolizes water and its life-giving properties. When the people sang "arise o well," this was not a reference to the physical well and the waters beneath the earth's surface, but to a celestial well.

Chidushei HaRim explains:

In Mishlei 3:18 we read:

It is a tree of life for those who grasp it and its supporters are happy.

The more one grasps onto it, the more life it gives. This can be compared to a rope that is thrown into the water to save someone who is drowning. The stronger he grasps onto the rope, the more likely he will be to save his life.

The more we grasp on to the Torah, the more we will benefit from it.

It is not a coincidence that we recite these verses from Mishlei as we put the Torah away:

Ki lekach tov natati lachem, Torati al ta’azovu (For I have given you a good teaching; do not abandon my Torah).

Etz Chaim hi lamachazikim bah, vetomcheha meushar (It is a tree of life for those who grasp it and its supporters are happy).

Dracheha darchei noam, vechol netivoteha shalom (Its ways are ways of pleasantness and all its paths are peace).

May we appreciate the Torah which, like water, we cannot live without.

Why Israel’s borders were closed to Moshe Print E-mail
Wednesday, 24 June 2020

In Honor of Sharona and Josh Halickman’s 25th Wedding Anniversary

In Parshat Beshalach (Shmot 17), one month after B’nai Yisrael left Egypt, they camped at Refidim and complained that they wanted water. God told Moshe to take some of the elders of Israel as well as his staff. God promised to be at a rock in Chorev which Moshe would strike with his staff and water would come forth for the people to drink. Moshe followed God’s instructions and water poured out of the rock. He called the place Masa u’Meriva because of the contention of B’nai Yisrael and because of their test of God.

Nearly thirty-eight years later, in Parsha Chukat (Bamidbar 20), we see a similar story: B’nai Yisrael arrived at Kadesh where Miriam died and the community was without water.

In Bamidbar 20:3-5, the people quarrelled with Moshe saying, “If only we had perished when our brothers perished before God. Why have you brought God’s congregation into the wilderness for us and our beasts to die there? Why did you make us leave Egypt to bring us to this terrible place, a place with no grain or figs or vines or pomegranates? There is not even water to drink!”

Moshe and Aharon fell on their faces before God at the entrance of Ohel Moed. God told Moshe (verse 8), “You and your brother Aharon, take the staff and assemble the community and speak to the rock before their eyes that it shall give its waters. You shall bring forth for them water from the rock and give drink to the assembly and to their animals.”

Rashbam points out that God did not command Moshe to take the staff in order to strike the rock as he did in Shmot 17:6. He only commanded Moshe to display the staff to remind them that they had again been very obstinate. The water was to be produced merely by speaking to the rock.

Unfortunately, Moshe and Aharon err (verses 9-11);

Moshe took the staff from before God, as He had commanded him. Moshe and Aharon assembled the congregation in front of the rock; and he said to them, “Listen you rebels, shall we get water out of this rock?” Moshe raised his hand and struck the rock twice with his rod; abundant water came forth and the assembly and their animals drank.

Rashbam comments that Moshe struck the rock twice and then angrily asked them “Did you really think that we would produce water from this rock?” Moshe said this because he harbored doubt; seeing that God had instructed him to take the staff with him, he did not think that speaking to the rock was meant to result in the rock yielding up its water, but that striking it may be required, just as he had done in Refidim.

Although God allowed the water to flow from the rock even though Moshe did not carefully follow His instructions, God said to Moshe and Aharon (verse 12): “Because you did not believe in Me to sanctify Me in the eyes of B’nai Yisrael, therefore you will not bring this congregation to the Land that I have given them.”

Rashi explains why the Torah reveals Moshe and Aharon’s transgression. If it had not been for this single sin (of hitting the rock), Moshe and Aharon would have entered the Land of Israel. God wanted to make sure that nobody would say: “Like the transgressions of the rest of the generation of the desert (complaints, spies etc) against whom it was decreed not to enter the Land- so was the transgression of Moshe and Aharon.”

Rashbam adds that God employs more stringent rules when dealing with the righteous such as Moshe than He applies to ordinary mortals. That is why his punishment is so much more severe.

Although we are not on the level of Moshe and Aharon, we have been blessed with the opportunity to enter the Land of Israel.

Unfortunately, due to Covid-19, the borders of Israel are temporarily closed to tourists and Jews around the world who would like to visit can now empathize with Moshe and understand his heartbreak in not being able to even briefly enter the Land. In our case, we are hoping that this momentary situation will end soon and all of the tourists will be able to come in. With Moshe, there was greater despair knowing that due to one mistake he would never have the opportunity to set foot in the Land of Israel.

Brotherly Love Print E-mail
Sunday, 07 July 2019

In Parshat Chukat (Bamidbar 20:22-29), we read about the death of Moshe’s brother, Aharon. God informs Moshe that Aharon is about to die. Moshe is instructed to take Aharon and his son Elazar to the top of Hor HaHar. At that point, Moshe takes off Aharon’s vestments and dresses Elazar in them. Aharon dies there.

This must have been a traumatic moment for Moshe as he was very close to Aharon.

Moshe and Aharon’s relationship is described in Midrash Tanchuma, Shmot 27 to be very different from the other sets of brothers in the Torah:

In the Torah, you find that all sets of brothers hated each other. Kayin hated Hevel, as it is said: And Kayin rose up against Hevel his brother and he killed him (Breisheet 4:8). Yishmael hated Yitzchak, as is said: And Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne unto Avraham, making sport (Breisheet 21:9). Making sport implies, in this instance, that he wanted to kill him, as it is said: Let the young men, I pray thee, arise and make sport before us (II Shmuel 2:14). Esav hated Yaacov, as is said: And Esav said in his heart, “The mourning days for my father are approaching. I will then kill my brother, Yaakov” (Breisheet 27:41). And the tribes hated Joseph, as it is said: His brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, and they hated him. They could not speak to him peaceably (Breisheet 37:4).

Moshe and Aharon were different. Like it says: Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity (Tehilim 133:1). They loved and cherished each other. At the time that Moshe took the kingship and Aharon the kehuna (priesthood), they bore no resentment toward each other. In fact, they rejoiced in each other’s exalted role.

The midrash continues:

A proof of this is that when the Holy One, blessed be He, told Moshe to go to Pharaoh as His messenger, he replied: O Lord, send, I pray thee, by the hand of him whom You will send (Shmot 4:13). Put out of your mind the thought that Moshe was distressed because he was not willing to go. That is not so. He actually was concerned about Aharon’s prestige. Moshe said: Before I was designated (to go), my brother Aharon prophesied in Egypt for eighty years, as it is written: And I made known to them in the land of Egypt (Shmot 20:5). How do we know that Aharon prophesied for them in Egypt? We know this from the verse: And there came a man of God unto Eli and said unto him: “Thus says the Lord: Did I reveal Myself unto the house of your father, when they were in Egypt?” (I Shmuel 2:27). It was for this reason that Moshe said: Throughout all these years my brother prophesied, and if I should now intrude into his area (of service) he will be deeply distressed. That is why Moshe did not wish to go. The Holy One, blessed be He, replied to Moshe: Aharon will not be offended. In fact, not only will he not be displeased, but he will rejoice. You know this is so, for He said to him: And also, behold, he comes forth to meet you; when he sees you, he will be glad in his heart (Shmot 4:14). It does not say “he will be glad with his mouth” or simply “he will be glad,” but rather, he will glad to see him, in his heart.

The midrash concludes:

Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai said: The heart that rejoices in the importance of his brother will ultimately rejoice in his own role, and as it is said: And you shall put on the breastplate of judgment, the Urim and Tummin; and they shall be put upon Aharon’s heart (ibid. 28:13). Therefore, Behold, he comes forth to meet you implies that when he told him that (Aharon would be glad) he agreed to go. Immediately the Holy One, blessed be He, revealed Himself to Aharon and said to him: Go into the wilderness to meet Moshe. Hence, O that you were as my brother (Shir HaShirim 8:1) refers to the kind of brothers Moshe and Aharon were to each other. When I would find you without, I would kiss you (ibid) indicates that he met him at the mountain of the Holy One, blessed be He, and kissed him.

We see from here that Moshe and Aharon had a special relationship as they actually got along! Neither brother wanted to step on the other brother’s toes. Unfortunately, their relationship was the exception as most of the biblical brothers were jealous of each other and worried about losing out on their role as leader or inheritor.

May we learn humility from Moshe and Aharon and the deep respect that they had for one another.

Moshe’s work is never done Print E-mail
Friday, 22 June 2018

In Parshat Chukat (Bamidbar 20:7-8), God asked Moshe to speak to the rock so that it may bring forth water. However, Moshe hit the rock instead of speaking to it. In verse 12, God said to Moshe and Aharon, “Because you did not believe in Me to sanctify Me in the presence of B’nai Yisrael; therefore, you will not bring this congregation into the land that I have given them.”

This is a heartbreaking moment for Moshe whose mission was to bring B’nai Yisrael into the Land of Israel. However, Moshe does not slow down. Immediately after this incident (Mei Meriva, Waters of Dispute) Moshe forges on. As we read in verse 14, “Moshe sent emissaries from Kadesh to the King of Edom…”

The Midrash, Bamidbar Raba states:

When a person is slighted by their business partner, he wishes to have nothing to do with them; whereas Moshe, though he was punished on account of Israel, as it is stated: “They angered him at the waters of Meriva, and it went ill with Moshe because of them”, did not rid himself of their burden but: “sent messengers.”

According to Nehama Leibowitz, the Torah mentions that the messengers were sent while B’nai Yisrael were still in Kadesh to emphasize Moshe’s adherence to his mission of bringing the people to the Land , even after his rebuff, in spite of the fact that he had been explicitly excluded from it. And when his first deputation failed, he sent messengers a second time.

It is clear from here that not only did Moshe not give up on his job, he put more than 100% effort into continuing his mission. Even after the King of Edom refused to let them through, he continued to try to negotiate with him.

Moshe felt that his assignment to make sure that B’nai Yisrael would arrive in the Land of Israel was not complete and he continued to work on getting them there until the last day of his life.

In Parhat Chukat, both Miriam, Moshe’s sister and Aharon, Moshe’s brother pass away. The fact that Moshe continued to live may have been a push for him to try to accomplish as much as possible during his lifetime.

God’s unwavering protection of a united Jewish nation Print E-mail
Thursday, 29 June 2017

In Honor of Sharona and Josh Halickman’s 22nd Anniversary

The prayer “Az Yashir”, “The Song of the Sea” (Shmot 15:14-15) which was sung by B’nai Yisrael after the splitting of the sea and which we recite each morning describes how all of the nations were afraid:

The peoples have heard, they tremble;

Convulsive terror gripped the inhabitants of Philistia.

Then the chieftains of Edom were confounded;

Trembling gripped the powers of Moav;

All of the inhabitants of C’naan dissolved.

Thirty nine years later, Rachav, who was in Jericho, reiterated to the spies that everyone was blown away by the splitting of the sea (Yehishua 2:9-11):

I know that God has given you this land,

And that fear of you has fallen upon us,

And that all the inhabitants of the land have dissolved because of you.

For we have heard how God dried up the water of the Red Sea before you…

And what you did to the two kings of the Amorites…

And as soon as we had heard it, our hearts melted, no spirit remained in any man because of you…

Parshat Chukat (Bamidbar 21:1) states: “The C’naanite King of Arad heard-who lived in the south- that Yisrael had come by the route of the spies; he attacked Yisrael and he took from them a captive.”

What did the king hear and why did he choose that moment to wage a war against Israel?

The Talmud, Rosh HaShana 3a answers:

He heard that Aharon died and that the clouds of glory had departed and he thought that permission had been granted to fight against Israel.

The Talmud, Taanit 9a explains that the well which disappeared after Miriam died and the clouds of glory which disappeared after Aharon died returned in the merit of Moshe. When Moshe died, they all (the well, the clouds of glory and the manna) disappeared.

The C’naanite King of Arad had the wrong idea when he thought that it was now ok to attack B’nai Yisrael. God was still protecting them. They vowed to God (Bamidbar 21:2): “If You will deliver this people into my hand, I shall consecrate their cities.”

In Bamidbar 21:3 we read: “God heard the voice of Yisrael and He delivered the C’naanites into the hand of Yisrael and Yisrael destroyed them and consecrated their cities; and the region was named Chorma (consecration).”

We see that when B’nai Yisrael made the vow they were united. God listened to their united voice and helped them destroy their enemies. Even after Moshe passed away and Yehoshua took over, God continued to help B’nai Yisrael conquer the Land of Israel and inherit it.

In order to merit God’s protection from our enemies, the Jewish people must join together in unity. 

The Daughter of Yiftach Phenomenon Print E-mail
Sunday, 17 July 2016

In the Haftara of Parshat Chukat, which was read last Shabbat in Israel and which will be read this Shabbat outside of Israel, we read the beginning of the story of Yiftach  (Jephte) the judge and his famous vow (Shoftim 11:30) “If you will indeed deliver B’nai Yisrael into my hand, then it shall be that whatever emerges- what will emerge from the doors of my house- toward me when I return in peace from the children of Ammon, it shall belong to God and I shall offer it up as an elevation offering.”

The sad ending to the story is that Yiftach’s daughter is the first to exit the house. Yiftach mistakenly thinks that he can’t annul his vow and believes that he is obligated to sacrifice his daughter.

She requests (11:37) two months to “wail upon the mountains.”

Radak quotes Midrash Tanchuma which explains that the word “mountains” is a euphemism for the Sanhedrin (High Court). She asked her father for permission to ask the court whether the vow could be annulled. He permitted her to do so. Yet we don’t see the Sanhedrin intervening to try to cancel the vow and save her from being sacrificed.

In 11:39 we read: “At the end of two months she returned to her father. He carried out with her the vow that he had vowed and she never knew a man.”

According to Da’at Mikra, the plain meaning of the text would lead us to believe that Yiftach actually sacrificed his daughter. Even though he was a judge, a leader of the generation, Yiftach didn’t understand that human sacrifice is an abomination since it was common for the idol worshipping population which surrounded them to sacrifice their children to their gods.

Where was the Sanhedrin? Where was Pinchas who was both a Prophet and Kohen Gadol (High Priest)? Where was the community? Why didn’t anybody protest?

According to Vayikra Raba, Yiftach felt that Pinchas should have come to him and Pinchas felt that Yiftach should come to him. Due to the stubbornness on both sides, they did not get together to try to annul the vow and because of their pride, a young woman was sacrificed.

Both men were punished for their behavior which resulted in the death of Yiftach’s daughter. Pinchas was deprived of his exalted positions and Yiftach contracted a disease where his limbs fell off of his body one at a time. However, these punishments did not bring back Yiftach’s only daughter.

Rashi states that the “chok”, “practice in Israel” which is mentioned is sentence 39 is that they decreed that no man should ever sacrifice their child again. All Yiftach needed to do was discuss it with Pinchas and the vow would have been annulled.

Today, we unfortunately still have the “Yiftach’s daughter phenomenon” where rabbis allow women to be mistreated and abused even though there is no reason for it within the Halacha. Although some are screaming out, it is not enough to make a change.

Where does this manifest itself? One place is the problem of the agunah, where a woman’s husband refuses to give her a Jewish divorce and the rabbis don’t protest. If the rabbis would take action, many agunot would be freed. Rabbi Simcha Krauss who formed an International Beit Din is working within Halacha to annul marriages where the husband refuses to give a get. We need to insure that both rabbis and the general population stand behind Rabbi Krauss and support him.

When the conversion by Rabbi Lookstein was not recognized by the Israeli Rabbinical court in Petach Tikva, 250 people went out to protest including Natan Sharansky, MK Yehuda Glick, MK Aliza Lavie, MK Elazar Stern and Dov Lipman. But where was everyone else? Why is the community silent?

If we want to make sure that we don’t have more daughters of Yiftach on our hands, women sacrificed due to the negligence of others, then we as a community have to start making some changes.

Why hasn't the Mashiach arrived? Print E-mail
Sunday, 17 July 2016

While teaching a class this week I was asked the following question: "Why hasn't the Mashiach (Messiah) arrived yet?"

I explained that the process of the geula (redemption) according to Rav Kook is a slow process which unfolds gradually in small steps. Part of the process of redemption is the ingathering of the exiles.

For the past 100 years, groups of Jews have steadily been returning to the Land of Israel. It would be very difficult if all of the Jews in the world decided to make aliya on the same day so as long as small groups continue to arrive- as a group of 56 people (including my friend Rachel) arrived from the USA this week, we are on the right path.

Although we may be heading in the right direction, we have an issue which may be holding up the coming of the Mashiach and that is the fact that many of the Jews in Israel (who originate from many different countries and who belong to different denominations) are having trouble getting along with one another. Unfortunately, often their differences are not respected and chaos ensues.

Today, I saw "religious" men at the Kotel climbing on chairs in order to yell at the Women of the Wall on the other side of the mechitza and throw things at them. This is a desecration of God's name. The only reason why women sometimes stand on chairs at the Kotel is when they are trying to get a glimpse of the Bar Mitzvah boy over a mechitza that is higher than it needs to be. These men have no business even looking at the women's section and distracting the hundreds of women (many of whom are not even part of Women of the Wall) who are trying to pray with kavana (intent) at the Kotel. This type of behavior will certainly not bring us closer to the redemption.

Another issue that is holding us back is the fact that the Chief Rabbinate of Israel is not making enough of an effort to recognize converts from abroad. This is making it very difficult for converts to marry in Israel and make aliya. Even when they are finally accepted, it is after a long and stressful process which could cause many brides and grooms to just give up and leave with a bad taste in their mouths pushing people away who would otherwise have made aliya.

If we really want to bring about the coming of the Mashiach, we need to remember that each of us has a part in the process of redemption and we must do everything that we can to make Israel a pleasant and welcoming place for the entire Jewish people.

We can not tolerate abuse! Print E-mail
Friday, 26 June 2015

In the Haftara for Parshat Chukat we read the story of Yiftach (Jephte), Shoftim Chapter 11.  In sentences 30-31 Yiftach makes a vow: Yiftach declared a vow to God and said, “If you will indeed deliver the Children of Amon into my hand then it shall be whatever emerges- what will emerge from the doors of my house- toward me when I return in peace from the Children of Amon, it shall belong to God and I shall off it up as an elevation offering.”


The story continues through the end of Chapter 31, beyond what we read in the Haftara. Yiftach returns from the war victorious, his daughter is the first one out of the house to greet him, he tears his clothing in a sign of mourning and says that he can’t go back on his vow. She asks him for two months to go out with her friends to the mountains to cry over her virginity. Yiftach allows her to go away for two months and when she returns (11:39-40) Yiftach “carried out with her the vow that he vowed and she never knew a man. This became the practice in Israel: From year to year the daughters of Israel would go to lament with the daughter of Yiftach the Gileadite, four days of the year.”


It is not clear from the text how Yiftach sacrificed his daughter. Midrash Tanchuma Bechukotai 7 as well as the Ramban say that Yiftach mistakenly sacrificed (killed) his daughter due to the fact that he did not learn enough Torah to know that there are ways to be released from a vow especially if the first one to exit his house was not a kosher animal.


According to Radak, Yiftach didn’t kill his daughter. Rather, the sacrifice was that he forced her to remain celibate for the rest of her life. He placed her in a house to be separated from people and divorced from society. The whole year she lived in complete seclusion like a hermit aside from the four days that the daughters of Israel were allowed to make a pilgrimage to see her and comfort her. This custom was kept during her whole life.


Abravanel adds that the Christians may have learnt from this to make convents in which women enter and never leave and see no man.


How was Yiftach able to get away with such abuse (actually killing her or secluding her for the rest of her life)?


Why didn’t Pinchas the prophet and Kohen Gadol tell Yiftach who was unlearned that he was mistaken for trying to carry out the vow?


Vayikra Raba 37:4 states that God punished both Pinchas and Yiftach. Pinchas was deprived of his exalted opinions and Yiftach contracted a disease.


Unfortunately today as well there are children who are being abused yet the rabbis are not standing up to help them.


Maybe the reason that we don’t know the name of Yiftach’s daughter is because abuse can happen to anyone and we must learn from the story of Yiftach that abuse of any kind is unacceptable and our leaders must do everything that they can to prevent it.

Israel is Strong! Print E-mail
Friday, 27 June 2014

In Parshat Chukat, Bamidbar, 21:1-3 we read: “And the Cnaanite King of Arad who lived in the Negev (South) heard that B’nai Yisrael had come by the route of Atarim, he fought against Yisrael and took some of them as prisoners. Yisrael made a vow to God and said: ‘If you will deliver this people into my hand, I shall consecrate their cities.’ God heard Yisrael’s voice and he delivered the Cnaanim into their hand and he (Yisrael) destroyed them and consecrated their cities; the region was called Chorma.”


I have two questions about these verses:

Why did the Cnaanim specifically go to attack B’ani Yisrael even before they reached the land of Cnaan?

Why weren’t the Cnaanim afraid to attack B’nai Yisrael, knowing that God rescued them from Egypt and split the Red Sea for them?


According to Ibn Ezra, the word Atarim is a variation on the word tarim (the spies) with an extra alef, meaning that Atarim was not a literal place but rather the route of the spies.


Ramban states that the Cnaanim followed the spies back to the camp of Israel.


According to Nehama Leibowitz, B’nai Yisrael showed their lack of confidence and fear of the future by sending the spies. The Cnaanim fortified themselves with the knowledge of Israel’s sense of weakness and inferiority. The lowering of Israel’s morale was followed automatically by the rising morale of their enemies.


The spies said (Bamidbar 13:33) “And we were in our own sight as grasshoppers and so we were in their sight.”


Nehama Leibowitz continues, B’nai Yisrael showed a lack of trust in God by sending the spies. The result was that the Cnaanim lost their dread of the Chosen People and attacked them at the first opportunity.


Today, we must keep up our morale and continue to give the world the impression that the State of Israel is strong. If we don’t show that we are tough and self reliant, then others will not be afraid to attack us. With our powerful army and God on our side we must remain confident that we will triumph over our enemies.


Shabbat Shalom and Chodesh Tov from Yerushalayim!

May we hear good news from the State of Israel!

If the King Was So Powerful We Would Know His Name Print E-mail
Friday, 14 June 2013

In Honor of Sharona & Josh Halickman’s 18th Anniversary (5th of Tamuz)


In Parshat Chukat, Bamidbar 20:14-21, Moshe sent emissaries from Kadesh to the King of Edom (the descendents of Esav) asking him if B’nail Yisrael could pass through their territory. Edom refused to let B’nai Yisrael pass through and even threatened them.


Ramban points out that the king of Edom’s name is not mentioned. In the stories of Sichon the king of Emori and Og the king of Bashan we do know the names of the kings.


Why wasn’t the name of the king of Edom mentioned? Sichon and Og were well known for their strength and were well known among the nations. It is clear that the king of Edom was not in the same category.


Every Shabbat and holiday morning in the Psukei D’Zimra as well as at the Pesach Seder, we praise God saying Psalm 136 which begins with the words: “Hodu L’Hashem ki Tov ki L’Olam Chasdo, Hodu L’Elokei HaElohim ki L’Olam chasdo…”, “Give thanks to God, for He is good, for his steadfast love endures forever…” In sentences 17-20 we read: “To Him that smote great kings; for His mercy endures forever…Sichon the king of the Emori, for his mercy endures forever and Og, King of Bashan, for His mercy endures forever.


In the book of Yehoshua (10:5) as well, there were five kings of the Emori that were listed. The other kings who were not known for their strength were not specifically listed.


We can see from here that the king of Edom was not one of the more powerful kings. In fact, he wasn’t even the one who said that they can’t pass through.  Rather it was the Edomite nation as a whole who would not let them pass through as it says in Bamidbar 20:21: “Edom refused to allow Yisrael to pass through its territory…”

Did B’nai Yisrael Stop for Bathroom Breaks in the Desert? Print E-mail
Friday, 29 June 2012

In Parshat Chukat, Bamidbar 21:5, we read: “The people spoke out against God and Moshe, ‘Why did you bring us out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no food and no water, and we are disgusted with this lechem haklokel (rotten bread).’”


According to Rashi, they called the manna lechem haklokel because it was absorbed in the limbs. They said, “The manna will eventually swell in our stomachs. Can anyone born of a woman take in food and not expel it?”


Gur Aryeh points out that they were afraid that the rotten waste materials would accumulate in their stomachs.


In Tehilim 78:25 the psalm says: “Man ate lechem abirim (the bread of angels): he sent them provision to the full.”


Was the manna rotten bread as B’nai Yisrael described it or was it bread of angels as the psalm indicates?


In Masechet Yoma 75b we are told that at first the manna was like the bread of angels and miraculously absorbed into the limbs so there was no need to go to the bathroom. Once B’nai Yisrael called it lechem haklokel and started complaining that it would have no refuse and would swell their stomachs then God removed the miracle and made it a food that would have refuse. After that they would have to walk behind the camp three parsaot (8000 amot) each time that they would need to go to the bathroom.


So the answer is no and yes. At first there was no need to use the bathroom and B’nai Yisrael didn’t realize how good they had it. After that they had to suffer the consequences and go to the back of the camp.


Of course, in those days there were no bathrooms and that is why it says in Devarim 23:13-14: “You shall have a place outside of the camp where you shall withdraw yourself and you shall have a spade among your weapons and it shall be that when you sit outside you shall dig with it to cover your excrement.”


We are lucky to be living at a time where there are public restrooms available and usually in close proximity. We often take bathrooms for granted until we are out camping and then we understand how much B’nai Yisrael must have been kicking themselves after they complained about the manna.


The Holiness of Modern Hebrew Print E-mail
Friday, 01 July 2011


Sponsored by Sharona and Josh Halickman in Honor of their 16th Wedding Anniversary


Living in Israel we get used to speaking Hebrew. After a while, we begin to take the Hebrew language for granted. Of course there is a Hebrew word for bicycle, doll, ice cream and laundry but how many of these words are originally from the Torah?


Let’s take laundry for example. Nobody likes it (except for the Laundromats, Dry Cleaners, appliance stores and detergent companies) but everyone has to do it.


The word for laundry in Hebrew is “kvisa”. Where does the word originate from? Believe it or not the words “yichaves begadav”, “he shall wash his clothing” are mentioned often in the Torah especially in relation to ritual purity.


In Parshat Chukat, Bamidbar 19:7-8 we see that both the Kohen as well as the person who burns the red cow should wash their clothing.


A Laundromat in Modern Hebrew is a Michbasa. Both kvisa and michbasa come from the biblical word “yichaves”.


We have Eliezer Ben Yehuda (1858-1922) to thank for reviving the Hebrew language.


Ben Yehuda felt that whatever words he could find in the Torah he would use for Modern Hebrew and whatever he could not find in the Torah he would create by borrowing words from other languages.


Ben Yehuda insisted on giving his children Hebrew names as well as only speaking Hebrew to them. Although they were first looked at as outcasts (since the religious community felt that he was not being respectful to the Jewish religion by taking words from the Torah), eventually some of his friends joined him in speaking Hebrew and helped him develop Modern Hebrew as we know it today.


One of my students in a Jerusalem senior residence named Adina told me that her father was friends with Eliezer Ben Yehuda. When she was born, her father tried to give her a Modern Hebrew name and when he was called up to the Torah for her naming, the Gabbai insisted that she be named a more traditional name, Sara so she ended up with two names (Adina Sara). Today, thanks to the work that their generation did to develop Modern Hebrew, names like Adina are very common, almost as common as Sara was one hundred years ago and now many Israelis choose to give their children names which are even more modern, actually just words such as Tal (dew) or Shaked (almond).


Thanks to Eiezer Ben Yehuda we were able to revive and continue to revive the Hebrew language. As technology continues to advance, there will always be more words that will need to be created.


When you speak Hebrew, even doing your laundry becomes holy!

Jephte’s Daughter Print E-mail
Friday, 18 June 2010

In the Haftara for Parshat Chukat, we read the story of Jephte (Shoftim 11:1-33), a Judge who made a neder, a vow to God saying (Shoftim 11:30): “If you will indeed deliver B’nai Yisrael into my hand, then it shall be that whatever emerges- what will emerge from the doors of my house- toward me when I return in peace from the Children of Ammon, it shall belong to God and I shall offer it up as an elevation offering.” Jephte ends up defeating Ammon and the Haftara ends with the words: “and the children of Ammon were subdued before B’nai Yisrael.”


What happens next is not included in the Haftara, the disturbing story of the fate of  Jephte’s daughter (Shoftim 34-40) “Jephte arrived at Mitzpe, to his home and behold! His daughter was coming out toward him with drums and dances- and she was an only child; he did not have a son or a daughter from her. When he saw her, he tore his clothes and said, ‘Alas, my daughter you have brought me to my knees and you have joined those who trouble me. I have opened my mouth to God and I cannot recant!’ She said to him, ‘My father, you have opened your mouth, since God has wreaked vengeance for you against your enemies, against the children of Amon!’ But she said to her father, ‘Let this thing be done for me: Let me be for two months and I shall go and wail upon the mountains and weep over my virginity, I and my friends.’ He said ‘Go!’ and he released her off for two months. She went with her friends and wept in the mountains. At the end of the two months she returned to her father. He carried out with her the vow that he had vowed and she never knew a man. This became a practice in Israel: From year to year the daughters of Israel would go to lament with the daughter of Jephte the Gileadite, four days of the year.”


Was Jephte’s vow valid, and what happened to his daughter?


In Breisheet Raba 60:13, Rabbi Yochanan states that Jephte was required to set aside the monetary value for his daughter for the purchase of offerings. According to Rabbi Shimon Ben Lakish, the vow applied only to valid animals but not to a human being or an invalid animal, so his vow actually had no legal effect on his daughter.


Tanchuma, Bechukotai 5 says that the Rabbis harshly criticized Jephte for being too proud to seek Halachic guidance.


Pinchas, the greatest man in the generation is also criticized for not taking the initiative to absolve Jephte of his vow.


Eben Eza, Radak, Ralbag and Mbabane state that since human sacrifice is forbidden, Jephte fulfilled his neder by building her a house where she could live in solitude and seclusion, devoting herself to prayer except for the four days that her friends would visit her and bemoan her fate (figuratively she was an “offering”).


Since Jephte was too embarrassed to ask if the vow could be annulled, he cost his daughter a normal life.

What Does the Red Cow Have to do with Honoring Our Parents? Print E-mail
Thursday, 25 June 2009

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Parshat Chukat (Bamidbar, Chapter 19) begins with a “Chok”, decree from the Torah which is beyond human understanding, the chok of the Para Aduma, the Red Cow. The Para Aduma is a cow that is entirely red and has never been used for any work. The cow’s ashes were used in the purification process of people or objects who became “tamei”, ritually impure from a human corpse. Since such cows were very rare, the community was willing to pay a great sum of money for one.


The Gemara in Kidushin 31a teaches us about the connection between the mitzvah of Kibud Av VaEm (honoring your parents) and the Para Aduma:


Rav Ulla was asked: How far does the mitzvah of honoring one’s father and mother extend? Rav Ulla answered: Go and see what Dama ben Netina (a non-Jew) did in Ashkelon. It once happened that the sages went to buy certain merchandise (according to Rabbi Eliezer it was precious stones for the Ephod- garment worn by the Kohen Gadol’) from Dama ben Netina at a price that would give him a profit of six hundred thousand gold dinars, but the key to the chest that contained the merchandise was lying under his father’s pillow. His father was sleeping at the time and Dama ben Netina did not want to disturb him so he did not sell them the merchandise.


The next year, God gave Dama ben Netina his reward and a Para Aduma was born in his herd. The Sages of Israel went to him to purchase the Para Aduma. Dama ben Netina said to them: I know you, if I would ask from you all of the money in the world, you would give it to me. However, I ask from you only the amount of money that I lost as a result of honoring my father.


According to the Maharsha (Avoda Zara 24a) Dama ben Netina was a righteous gentile and he wished to receive his reward in the World to Come rather than in this world.


The Gemara in Kidushin 31a continues: Rabbi Chanina said: If one who performs a mitzvah without having been commanded to do so receives such a reward, then one who performs a mitzvah having been commanded to do so--- how much more so does he receive reward! One who performs a mitzvah having been commanded to do so is greater than one who performs a mitzvah without having been commanded to do so.


In 1997, a red cow was born in Kfar Chasidim, Israel. At first, a big deal was made and Rabbis came from all over Israel to check out the cow. Unfortunately, they found some white hairs in its tail, making it not completely red and therefore not a true Para Aduma.


I guess that we will have to keep looking for a true red cow. In the mean time, it doesn’t hurt to follow in Dama ben Netina’s footsteps and teach the next generation to honor their parents to the best of their abilities.

From Moshe to Moshe Print E-mail
Thursday, 03 July 2008
In Parshat Chukat we see Moshe’s tireless efforts to make peace with the nations surrounding the Land of Israel.

First Moshe sent messengers to ask the king of Edom if B’nai Yisrael could peacefully pass through their land. Edom’s response was (Bamidbar 20:18) “You shall not pass through my land, lest I go against you with a sword.” When B’nai Yisrael asked if they could pass through Edom responded (20:20) “Do not pass through!” And then Edom came to confront B’nai Yisrael with a massive number of people and a strong hand. In 20:21 “Israel turned aside from him (Edom)”.

Yisrael also sent messengers to Sichon, the king of the Emori asking if they could pass through. In 21:23-25 “Sichon did not allow Yisrael to pass through his territory; Sichon gathered all his people and went out against Yisrael in the wilderness… Yisrael defeated him with the edge of the sword and took possession of his land…Yisrael took all of these cities; Yisrael settled in all of the cities of the Emorite”.

In both accounts Moshe Rabbeinu is making an effort to make peace while the other nations are looking for a confrontation.

Since Edom is family (Esav’s descendents), B’nai Yisrael walked away. B’nai Yisrael were not looking for a fight and the land of Edom was not part of the land of the seven nations that was promised B’nai Yisrael. As it says in Devarim 2:5 “Do not incite them (Edom) for I will not give you of their land as much as a footstep, because for Esav’s inheritance have I designated Mt. Seir”.

The Emori on the other hand was one of the seven nations whose land the Jewish people would eventually inherit. As it says in Devarim 7:1 “When HaShem your God brings you into the Land that you are going to inherit, He will cast out many nations before you- the Chiti, Girgashi, Emori, C’naani, Prizi, Chivi and Yevusi- seven nations more numerous and more powerful than you. God will defeat them before you and will smite them. You must surely annihilate them. Do not make a treaty with them and do not favor them.” We see from here that it was actually a mitzvah for B’nai Yisrael to defend them selves, fight back and inherit their land.

In thousands of years not much has changed. Israel is still trying to make peace with our neighbors despite the fact that most of the time our neighbors would rather wage war upon innocent civilians. We unfortunately saw this today during the terrorist attack in Jerusalem where a bulldozer killed three people and wounded sixty six others.

Thanks to Moshe Plesser, the religious Zionist yeshiva student/ off-duty soldier who killed the bulldozer-driver terrorist, more damage was avoided.

We must follow in the footsteps of Moshe Rabeinu and Moshe Plesser and know when to stand up for ourselves and for our Land.





Anger Won't Get You Anywhere Print E-mail
Thursday, 21 June 2007

After Miriam’s death, there was no more water left for B’nai Yisrael to drink. B’nai Yisrael complained to Moshe. God told Moshe to take his staff and assemble the community and speak to the rock and the rock will give forth water. Moshe took the staff and assembled the community before the rock. However, instead of speaking to the rock, Moshe said (Bamidbar 20:10-12) “Listen, you rebels! Can we extract water from this rock for you?” And Moshe raised his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice; water rushed out abundantly, and the community and their livestock drank. God said to Moshe and Aharon, “Because you did not believe in Me to sanctify Me in the presence of B’nai Yisrael; therefore you will not bring the congregation into the land that I have given them.”

According to the Midrash (Sifrei) because Moshe was angry he made the mistake and hit the rock.

Rambam says that Moshe’s transgression was that in his anger he said “Listen you rebels”.

In the Talmud, Masechet Pesachim 66b, Reish Lakish said: Concerning any person that becomes angry: if he is a wise man, his wisdom deserts him; if he is a prophet, his prophecy deserts him. In other words, when a person gets angry the Shechina, Divine Presence leaves him.

Because of that one angry moment, Moshe lost his chance to enter the Land of Israel.

The following Mishna is taught in Pirkei Avot (Ethics of Our Fathers) 4:18: Rabbi Shimon Ben Eleazar said: Do not appease your friend at the hour of his anger…

Every human, even Moshe gets angry and damage done while a person is angry may be impossible to undo.

Living in the year 2007, when each of us has the opportunity to be in Israel, we should not let anger keep us away. Of course, there are a lot of things that can make us angry: crazy drivers, cultural differences, corrupt politicians, poor work ethic, poverty and the threat of terrorists. However, the there are many good things that outweigh the bad and should make us happy and proud to be here such as being able to live our lives according to the Jewish calendar, having Judaism at our fingertips and having the opportunity to walk the Land that Moshe Rabenu would have given anything to touch.

The Legacies of our Three Greatest Leaders Print E-mail
Thursday, 29 June 2006

In Parshat Chukat we read about the deaths of both Miriam and Aharon.

Miraim's death is recorded in Bamidbar 20:1: "The entire community of B'nai Yisrael came to the wilderness of Tzin in the first month. They settled in Kadesh and Miriam died and was buried there."

Aharon's death is recorded in Bamidbar 20:28: "Moshe removed Aharon's vestments and dressed Aharon's son Elazar in them. Aharon died there on top of the mountain and Moshe and Elazar descended from the mountain. The entire community saw that Aharon died and they wept for Aharon thirty days, the entire house of Israel."

The Gemara in Taanit 9a states: Rabbi Yossi the son of Rabbi Yehudah says: Three excellent leaders arose for Israel. They are: Moshe, Aharon and Miriam. Because of them, three excellent gifts were bestowed upon Israel: The well, the pillar of cloud and the manna. The well was provided in the merit of Miriam, the pillar of cloud in the merit of Aharon and the manna in the merit of Moshe.

What exactly was this well? According to Rashi on Taanit 9a, the well was a rock that produced water and rolled along with B'nai Yisrael during their travels in the desert.

When Miriam died the well disappeared as it says in Bamidbar 20:1 "And Miriam died there". Immediately following that pasuk it says "and there was no water for the community to drink."

The well returned in the Merit of Moshe and Aharon. According to Rashi, the rock from which Moshe was able to produce water was the same rock that had served as the well during Miriam's lifetime.

The Gemara continues: When Aharon died, the ananei hakavod, clouds of glory disappeared as it says in Bamidbar 21:1 (the pasuk immediately following the account of Aharon's death) "And the Canaanite King of Arad heard.and fought against Israel". What report did he hear that prompted him to attack Israel? He heard that Aharon had died and that the clouds of glory had disappeared and he thought that he was free to wage war against Israel.

The Gemara continues: The well and the clouds of glory returned in the merit of Moshe. When Moshe died, the well, clouds of glory and manna disappeared.

Our three greatest leaders never had the opportunity to enter the Land of Israel, yet they left their legacies behind for future generations. We must all make a conscious effort to recognize Israel's importance and appreciate any opportunities that we may have to spend time here.