Niddah 17b – So, What’s the Nimshal?

With lot’s of help, siyata di’shemaya, many years ago, when I was learning for semicha (rabbinical ordination), while learning the halachos of niddah (the menstruating woman) I was introduced to the very basic question of how Torah and halacha, on the one side, interact with reality and medicine on the other side.

The big problem in understanding this topic is that when our sages, ob”m, decided to teach this topic they did it using a mashal, (a parable). The parable, in the times of the Mishna, was well understood, and the sages of the time didn’t need any real explanation to know what the nimshal (the reality, that the parable was portraying) was. However, over the generations things got confused. Today, practically no-one knows how to translate the words of our sages into practice, and this bothered me greatly. With lots of hard work, (many hundreds of hours of study and thought), comparing, contrasting, and searching, I believe that I have found the most straightforward explanation possible. One caveat, however.

What I am going to present in the article, which is available for download after signing up to my site here, (it is, however, in Hebrew, with some Aramaic, as it is a Talmudic topic), is not the accepted halachic practice. In fact, it is extremely meikel (lenient) in some ways, compared to today’s halachic practice. Yet, despite this, I am presenting it for I believe with all of my heart that it is the pshat (the simple understanding) of the sugiya in the Gemara, and it alleviates all of the issues that are connected to this.

It is also a classic case of the science of the day causing confusion in the interpretation of the Gemara and the halacha.

Over the past 20 years, since I first wrote the article, I have found more evidence to back up my reading of the Mishna, I have shown it to many great Rabbonim, most recently HaRav Osher Weiss, shlit”a, whose weekly shiur I have been attending for many years now, and he was impressed by it. Unfortunately, I do not have the time to run after rabbonim to get haskomot on the matter. However, as this is not only a halacha l’ma’aseh issue but also a pshat Gemara issue, I, therefore, give it over to the tzibbur to learn it and either agree or disagree. If so, please explain to me why I am wrong. Thanks. B’ezrat HaShem, we should all be zocheh lilmod (to learn) u’le’lamed (and to teach) lishmor (to guard HaShem’s mitzvos) u’la’asos (and to do them).

The Path to Renewal. Am I missing out on my real life?

As I mentioned in a different blog there is a problem with things that are circular. Ostensibly they have neither a beginning nor an end. Life and time are like that as well. While it’s true that life has a definite beginning and a clear ending, our day-to-day life seems unending, one day leading into the next in a very long blur (for those of us who have merited to live as long as we have).

This problem, say our sages, ob”m, is echoed in the tradition to say to someone who sneezes “gesundheit!” or “sante” or “l’vriut” (in English “Good health” or “G-d bless you!”). According to our sages, a very long time ago it was not uncommon for people to live extremely long, young and healthy lives. To the extent that a person would be walking along the road one day, he would stop to sneeze… and die. There was no preparation for death, it followed the precursor of a sneeze. As a result, whenever anyone would sneeze people would pray for his/her health, in the hopes that this person wouldn’t immediately die.

This began to change with our forefather Avraham (Abraham) who prayed to HaShem that as a person gets older, he or she should show signs of aging. The reason our sages, ob”m, give for this request was to mark those people with greater life experience, so that if a father and son walk into a room together, everyone would recognize which of them was more deserving of the respect of age. It is for this reason that Avraham is the first person that the Torah calls old (zaken).

Things changed further with our father Yitzchak (Isaac), who requested of HaShem that before a person passes away, they should experience weakness and sickness so that they should recognize that the end is coming and prepare for it[1]. It is for this reason that the Torah says concerning Yitzchak that when he became elderly that he could no longer see.

Both of these things are looked at with horror in today’s society, and a great many billions (trillions?) of dollars are spent on products that alleviate both the aging (to some extent) and the sickness (also, only to some extent). I’m not raising these issues to discuss the topic or the accuracy of the stories, but rather to pointify the issue that I opened up with: left to our own devices we would let life slip by until it was too late to do anything about it, and a more positive way of looking at aging and the accompanying sickness.

If we let our life be a circle, if we live day-to-day with no thought about how we are using our lives, we will keep on going around and around in the merry-go-round that is life until – all of a sudden – the ride is over.

Another problem that arises, as a result, is the feeling of some amount of pre-destiny. The thought that “I woke up on the wrong side of bed” kind of accompanies us throughout the day, the week, the month, the year, and even possibly throughout life… if you are riding the aforementioned merry-go-round. “What can I do?” we say to ourselves “I got up on the wrong side of bed?” As if that predestines our entire life to follow some foreboding pattern.

In steps Rosh Hashana. It steps the Ten Days of Repentance.

During this time of the year, we are afforded the opportunity to break the cycle of life that we have been trapped in. We are told that it is a time where we are to be judged, we are told that Rosh Hashana is the date of the judgment and that we are then afforded time to make an appeal if we are in need of an appeal (and most of us are). However, to real question is do I have the fortitude to take a close look at my own life?

I probably mentioned this in a previous blog, but one of the core conversations (along with my Core Emunah series, of course!) that I have with my students, my children, and anyone else who listens is the one concerning life’s most fundamental question “What are you living for?” I’m not talking about in the cosmic scheme of things (although I did discuss that in 4 other blogs here, this, for example), I’m talking about this from a personal perspective.

“If you had no need for money at all, what would you do with yourself?” is a very fundamental question. Would you “spend” your time on shuffleboard, bridge, bowling and any other “sport” that catches your fancy? Go to the local bookstore (or maybe just download a whole bunch) to get books to read in an end-to-end read-a-thon? Would you watch all of the seasons of … whatever until your rear-end is black and blue from pressure wounds?

The reality is that most people don’t have this dilemma, because they are not among the mega-wealth. So, many of them say to me “That’s just a fantasy, Rabbi. I have to go to learn a trade/get a degree and get a job.” Ok. That’s true, and I am fine with that. The reality of life is that 90% of people need a job in order to get by. “But let’s put that in perspective,” I say to them. “What is your job for? In reality it has only one purpose: to get you the ability to pay for your daily existence. It doesn’t really matter what the job is. Its most basic function is that.” I think that we can all agree that this is true. Now, I don’t mean to say that a person shouldn’t look for a profession that interests him. As the saying goes “If you enjoy what you do, you never work a day in your life.” However, the reality of life is that the vast majority of people HATE their jobs. Whenever I have asked the question during a lecture “How many people here like their jobs?” very few hands go up. “How many hate their jobs?” I ask, and it looks like they are trying to do the “wave” at a baseball stadium.

“Now, let’s make a calculation” I then tell them. “Every day of your life is only 24 hours long (why the secular world doesn’t know. But I have a blog on the topic that you can find here). Out of your 24-hour day you have around 7 that you sleep, another 9 that you work, usually around another hour of commuting time (at least!) – that’s already 17 hours of your day gone. If we include the time that it takes to shower, go to the bathroom, and all sorts of other menial chores (which nobody really wants to do, but has to do it anyway) it turns out that you have 5 hours left in your day. These 5 hours are the “you” time, to do with whatever you want to do – how do you use them?” I ask.

The truth is that the difference between a person who has an entire day ahead of them and someone who has only 5 hours is only a matter of quantity. Perhaps some quality too. After all, if I have put in a long workday, it is only normal that I am tired. But this is the “moment of truth”! This is when I can use my time to do that which is important to me. BUT WHAT IS THAT?

Is it something that uses my time in a positive and constructive way, or is it something that allows the time to slip by painlessly? To put it bluntly, am I living my life, or am I waiting impatiently for my death to finally get here?

Rosh Hashana and the Ten Days of Repentance come once a year to force our hand. To make us, (please G-d!) think about our life and what we are doing with it. To make an accounting of how we spent the last year, and to reassess how to do it better in the coming year, if I am found deserving of such. They are one of the most powerful gifts that man is given, if only we use them, and use them well.

Utilized well, we are offered a new beginning, the chance to change my life and wipe the slate clean, as only real teshuva, real repentance can bring. Zeh hayom techilat ma’asecha, zikaron l’yom rishon, (This day is the beginning of your actions, in memory of the first day), say our sages, ob”m, in the liturgy of the prayers during these days.

Do you look back, and wish you had done things differently? Then grab this opportunity “by the horns”, because HKB”H is offering you a new lease on life. If we truly repent in front of HaShem, as is laid out in the Rambam’s Laws of Repentance, chapter 1:

If we have done all that, then we have done all that is humanly possible and have walked the path of teshuva. We are given a new lease on life and a new opportunity to do something and be something else.

Now, all you have to do is follow-through. Go live the life that you always wanted: a life of life!

[1] Rashi on this verse states that if a person reaches within 5 years of the age of either of his/her parents when they passed it is correct to start preparing for this eventuality. For maybe he’ll only make it to the age of the parent who passed at a younger age.

In G-d We… Trust?

One of the most difficult things about the ephemeral is that it tends to be unquantifiable. Case in point, (pointed out by the Chazon Ish, zt”l, in his book Emunah v’Bitachon) how much emunah do we really have in HaShem?

Go up to a business man who owns, for example, a print-shop, and ask him if he trusts in HaShem. “Of course!” he’ll say to you “How else does one get by day by day?” he’ll say. However, it’s really not possible to actually know what that means or if it is true until it is tested.

Many years ago, I was working for a place and had a pretty decent income (relative to what I was making in Kollel, of course) and, b”H, my paycheck would come like clockwork every month. One day, I was in the middle of writing something for my then-boss, (one of the many topics I was working on connected to emunah and bitachon) when a thought occurred to me “Do I really have emunah,” I asked myself “or is it really that “in my paycheck I trust”?” Well, only a few months later, when there was a tremendous economic slump, the place was forced to cut back on expenses and I found myself without a job. It was then that I realized my shortcoming, my bitachon was truly lacking. B”H, since then I have been working on bitachon and I feel that I have improved (but please, don’t test me HaShem!) however, the realization of the reality was embarrassing.

I was told a story by a good friend of mine, who grew up in Bnei Brak and actually knew the man in the story, that goes as follows. As above, the man owned a print-shop in Bnei Brak, and he, like all of us, claimed emunah v’bitachon in HKB”H until one day someone opened a print shop across the street from him. At first, he was furious. “How could this man so brazenly steal his livelihood?” he thought to himself. But then he remembered the words of our sages, ob”m, in two places in the Talmud. In Tractate Beitzah 16a chazal state that “all that a person is to earn this year is decided on Rosh HaShanna, with the exception of expenses he makes in honor of Shabbos (which also includes Yom Tov and Rosh Chodesh) and the amount that one spends for the sake of Talmud Torah for his children (hint, hint…)”. The second place is in Tractate Yuma 38b which states that “a person cannot affect that which has been prepared for his friend by even one hairsbreadth”. He put the two statements together and realized that he has nothing to fear from his competition, as HaShem already decided how much he would make this year and his competitor will not affect that in any way. He then went across the street and introduced himself. After the initial conversation, he then gave his competitor some business advice, where to buy the best (and cheapest! He was Jewish, after all!) paper products, what kinks in the machinery he should be wary of and more. When he was about to leave, his competitor turned to him in exasperation and asked the obvious question “Why are you helping me as your competitor?” and this Jew answered “Look, you can’t change the amount of money I’m supposed to make this year. So, if you take away some of my business, that means that I won’t have to work so hard to make the money that HaShem is going to give me!”

That’s real emunah and bitachon.

But to have that, it has to be clear that HaShem IS, that the Torah, His word, is absolute truth. This, we also say with varying levels of emotion, however the real question is – do we really believe it? Do we live with this as a reality in our day to day lives, or is HaShem just there for when we are down in the dumps and need a metaphysical “shoulder” to cry on?

Adaberah b’edosecha negged malachim v’lo evosh (I shall speak of Your witnessing in front of kings, and I shall not be embarrassed about it) says Dovid hamelech (King David) (Psalms 119), but many of us feel inadequate when speaking of the Torah and it’s laws in front of others, sometimes even our own family, but why would should we feel so about the truth?

Mah ahavti torasecha, kol hayom hee sichasi (Oh, how I love Your Torah (HaShem), the entire day it is what I speak about) he also says there (ibid). Do we also do that?

Havei ohz ka’namer (be hauty as a tiger) says the Mishna in Avos, which our sages, ob”m, explain (see Tur Orach Chaim 1) to mean that we will perform His mitzvos even if there are those present who taunt us, or deride us for doing so. Does my recognition of HaShem’s greatness and the necessity of His Torah drive me to perform (or abstain) His mitzvos even at this expense?

Ask yourself, do I live as I speak? Do I mean what I say and say what I mean? Or am I, in the words of our sages echad b’peh v’echad b’lev (I say one thing with my mouth and another with my heart)?

As we rapidly approach the Days of Awe, the Ten Days of Repentance, during which time we proclaim that HaShem is THE King, let’s work on our understanding of what that truly means, and with some thought and effort make that into more than just a proclamation, but a realization and the reality by which we live.

Connecting to the Beit Hamikdash, part 1.

When it comes to the topic of the Beis haMikdash (the Holy Temple in Jerusalem), especially around Tisha b’Av the problem that everyone faces is the question how to mourn for something that I never knew about? How can I connect to that which I don’t know?

The obvious answer is – go and learn!

However, although giving some direction (and, perhaps, a kick in the pants) is helpful, many times it isn’t helpful enough. So, with HaShem’s help, I would like to spend the next couple of blogs on this issue precisely. However, before we can do that in a helpful way, we first need to take an emotional “step back” in order to gain a little perspective on the issue of our mourning on this day, per se.

HaShem wants to have a positive and vibrant relationship with us (I mention this in book 1, get into it a little more in book 2, and – wH”h – I will elaborate on this in book 3. There are several blogs here on the topic as well). But relationships are a two-way street and they are only as powerful as the weakest of the two partners allow for.

However, the world is designed to allow us for only a finite amount of time to work on this relationship. This means that HaShem, to an extent, is “on the clock.” Even though He, Himself, has infinite time and patience to help us, we don’t. That is how the world is. We all know that we have a finite amount of time on this planet to achieve what we can. This is true generally of all people, but more specifically with the Jewish people.

As a result, HaShem clearly offered us the “carrot” and the “stick” when it comes to the creation of a relationship with Him. Several times in the Torah the two paths of “doing HaShem’s will” vs “ignoring HaShem’s will” are spelled out, using no uncertain terms. If we follow the Torah and keep His mitzvos the Jewish people will be greatly “rewarded” materialistically, which will, in turn, allow them to spend more time on the development of our relationship with HaShem. We would become a “Utopian” society that the rest of the world would see and want to emulate, thereby bringing about the world’s ultimate perfection. However, if we don’t follow the Torah, then we get the stick. And what a stick it is! Conquest of the land by our enemies, enactments that make our lives miserable, destruction and subsequent eviction from the land. Death, misery and more.

He then tells us that the ultimate choice is up to us. Moshe Rabbenu tells us (begs us) to “choose life.” …

Which path do you think we chose? Which path are we continuing to choose?

Are we still mourning the destruction of our potentially Utopian society? Are we still lacking the Beis HaMikdash? Are we still reading the kinnos (poetry about the calamities that occurred to the Jewish people throughout history), in an attempt to awaken something in ourselves to mourn the loss of the Temple and the way that things are supposed to be? [Editors note: It is worthwhile to read the kinnos in a language that you understand because otherwise of what meaning is it to you? Even those of us who read Hebrew have trouble understanding them because of their poetic nature!] Of course, we are!

Many people ask, “How can it be that HaShem does this to us?” or “how can a good G-d do bad things to people?” (for a blog on this topic – see here), but the truth of the matter is that we chose this ourselves! It’s written in black and white in the Torah for all to see, but we chose to ignore that until we come face-to-face with its reality.

Does the Torah describe the calamities of the destruction of the first and second Temples (with details)? Yes, it does! Did they happen, just as described? Yes, they did!

How did the wise-man say it? “Those that don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it”?

In this regard, perhaps there is no clear mention of a third expulsion from the land of Israel; however, when one reads from the prophets of Israel concerning the future, it becomes clear that we are still waiting for the future calamity of Gog u’ Ma’Gog to happen (for more on this see here or here (this last one is in Hebrew)) and, like all prophecies, happen it shall…

…unless we change.

On this, the Talmud (Bavli Tractate Sanhedrin 98a) tells us the story of Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Levi (RYB”L) who wanted to meet the Mashiach (the messianic King of Israel). He met with Eliahu the prophet (Elijah) and asked him, and he was told, “Go, and ask him yourself!” “Where can I find him?” asked RYB”L. “He can be found in the city of Rome” he answered (along with some other information which I don’t want to dwell on just now). RYB”L goes to Rome, finds the Mashiach, and asks him “When are you going to come?” “HAYOM (today)” answers Mashiach. RYB”L goes and finds Eliahu and tells him the good news. Together they wait the entire day for Mashiach to come… until it passed by, and nothing happened. “He’s a liar,” said RYB”L to Eliahu. “He said he was coming, but he didn’t” “You misunderstood him,” said Eliahu. “He said to you HAYOM, but it is a reference to the verse in Tehillim (Psalms) (95:7) “HAYOM (today) if you listen to His voice.”

The Gemara there goes on to describe that there are two times that we can “merit” the Mashiach. The long way is to keep doing what we have been doing, never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity, and then the Mashiach will come as a result of the terrible war of Gog u’Magog, or we can come back to Him today, be contrite, be remorseful, recognize that we haven’t been spending our most precious “coin,” our life, in a manner that was meaningful and powerful, and he will come today.

Our sages, ob”m, tell us that every day we should expect salvation. This is especially true for the day of Tisha b’Av, because even though up until now we have been “celebrating it” by wallowing in sorrow over what we’ve lost, and our calamities, it has the potential to turn into a real moed (festival) (which is why we don’t say the tachanun prayer today).

With this perspective in mind, hopefully, we will begin our journey of teshuva (which is the most important aspect of all of the fast days) and start on our way towards the transformation of this day to its true form.

Twas the Night Before Tisha b’Av…

Once again, I am sitting at my computer, contemplating the upcoming day and subsequent fast of Tisha b’Av, the 9th of Av. Every year it is accompanied by the same feelings of frustration and exasperation. Why are we doing this again? Why is this year, like so many years before it, a day and a time of sorrow and fasting and not a day of jubilation? Why are we, once again, going to sit on the floor and mourn the loss of the Temple in Jerusalem?

Why can’t we finally get it right?

As I mentioned in blogs on the ninth of Av from years past (here or here, for example) our sages, ob”m, tell it to us like it is:

Any generation which doesn’t merit seeing the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem it is as if it was destroyed in their days.

(Jerusalem Talmud, Tractate Yuma 1:1)

See, this is the thing: we don’t really need this time of the year to happen. It doesn’t have to come. The real problem is that we are not making the effort to overcome the problems that caused the destruction of the Temples. The real problem is – dare I say – that we are kind of comfortable with the world the way it is today. We have our Shabbos; we have our festivals; and… we have our days of mourning. Look! It’s right here on my daily planner! Pesach, Lag b’Omer, Shavuot, Tisha b’Av! So, right after Tisha b’Av let’s do this

We are, indeed, very comfortable with the way things are. However, we really, really shouldn’t be.

The day of Tisha b’Av is a strange one. It’s not just that the intensity of the fast changes, suddenly, at midday. Whereas until then, from nightfall the previous day we sat on the floor and mourned, we are now allowed to sit on chairs again. Whereas in the morning prayers we didn’t wear tefillin, in the afternoon, we do. There are even people who have the custom of cleaning the house and painting the walls in the afternoon of Tisha b’Av. Why is this? Because, if we use the day correctly, it has the potential to help us to overcome the problems that made this day into a fast day, and to transform it into a day of redemption. There is a lessening, a weakening of the mourning because we are meant to use the day powerfully and change it into the time of our redemption.

This is what is supposed to happen if we let the three weeks go by undisturbed and arrive at the day of Tisha b’Av.

But why did we wait?

We all knew – as of the 17th of Tammuz – that the three weeks were beginning. We all knew that they culminate in the nine days and ultimately with Tisha b’Av, so why didn’t we prepare then? We could have fixed all of our problems, rebuilt the Temple before the nine days even began, taken out the meat and wine and changed the nature of the month into one of feasting instead of fasting. So, why didn’t we do that? Is it that we like not shaving and getting our hair cut? Do we like minimizing our bathing? Do we enjoy watching the laundry pile up around the house? Is that it? I would think that, no, it’s not.

So, why didn’t we start preparing then?

My guess is because we are just running our lives on the daily routine, going through the daily motions until … the nine days came. We then said to ourselves “Shoot! OK, we still have the nine days left.” Only to discover that no. It passed quickly, as well. And here we are again, on the Eve of the Ninth of Av.

We are preparing to fast. We are trying to get into a mindset of the day. We are trying… to figure out what to do so that the fast passes by painlessly, so that we can “get on with our lives.”

That’s us, folks! As I always tell my students, paraphrasing the prophets in the time of Judges (Shoftim), that we, the Jewish people, have never missed an opportunity… to miss an opportunity.

As I have mentioned in previous years (see links above) many people feel a disassociation with the day. “After all,” they say, “how can I mourn for something that happened so long ago?” (Which I would like to paraphrase here as “How can I mourn something that I know nothing about?”) The answer – go and learn! If you feel disassociated from something, that is usually an indicator that you know nothing about it in general, and even less specifically. I’m not talking about going to learn about the measurements of the Temple (no, don’t go take out Tractate Middos or the book of Zecharia, both of which enumerate the measurements of the Temple). Don’t go and learn the Laws of Sacrifices of the Rambam, to learn about the details of how one offers a sacrifice. These things won’t help you so much on the day of the Ninth. What you need to ask yourself is what did the Temple do/mean for me? What did it do for/mean to the Jewish people? What did it mean to the world?

What was the world like when we had a Temple, and what became of it afterward?

These are things that we need to ponder very deeply on the Ninth of Av because it is only by recognizing this, that we can start to comprehend what we are mourning about, and why its loss is a disaster.

I hope that this gives you some reason and/or direction to focus on this Tisha b’Av. If HaShem allows, be”H, I will try and post some more with more information on Tisha b’Av (it’s late Friday afternoon, and Shabbos is coming!)

Here Fishy, Fishy!

This is another article that I posted under the “article” section. It deals with the issue of the kashrut of fish, and the truth of what our sages, ob”m, had to say on this topic.

Again, the article can be found here, enjoy!

This is an article that I wrote to refute the diatribe of a certain site, Da'at Sheker, that tries to feed the reader lies about the Torah and our sages, ob"m, to persuade them to abandon them. This is the second article in which I take apart the author's lies line by line. Please read and grow in your adherence to the Emmet.

What is a Kosher Animal?

This is an article that I shared on the site a while ago on the “articles” section, but was not given any exposure as the site doesn’t promote the “articles” section.

In any case the article can be found here, enjoy!

This article is a refutation of a pamphlet that was written to try and depreciate the words of our sages, ob"m. The source can be found in the document, however, as is readily apparent in the refutation, to the unlearned and/or unmotivated person, or for one who is unskilled in learning methodologies of the Talmud and our sages, who will not do more than read the poisonous words of the site that is quoted I would suggest NOT TO READ MORE ARTICLES FROM THAT SITE. With HaShem's help, I will slowly release more articles as time permits, to help people to understand how false and totally misconstrued the author/s of the site are.

The Exodus: History or Mystery?

As always, I ask myself what is the best use of my time (after I take away all of the time that I wasted… ☹). Should I blog? Should I write more or work more on translating my books? Should I learn more Torah? Should I answer more questions concerning topics that I have some knowledge in the hope that I can help someone come a bit closer to HKB”H? (Should I help my wife? Spend more time with my kids? Take out the trash…?) In any case, as has happened many times in the past my curiosity and hashgacha pratis (HaShem’s personal attention of me), and my excitement about the topics pertaining to emunah has – once again – gotten the better of me and led me to explore further into one of the topics that I touched upon in book 2 “G-d & Me”, the historicity (i.e. the correctness of the historical information) contained in the Torah and the TaNaCh.

One of the greatest controversies in the past century, but more specifically since the 1950s has been the historical verification of the information that the Torah writes in the books of Bereshis (Genesis) and Shemos (Exodus) concerning the time that the people of Israel spent in Egypt. We have been told for many, many years now that there is virtually no evidence for the stories related in the Torah, and as a result, many people have doubted the correctness of the information therein. I got put onto this from two different sources which “happened” (there is no happenstance in life, HaShem’s got it all figured out) to coincide, resulting in my being “set on fire” to investigate what is going on. One source was a question that was asked on (it can be found here) as to whether or not there is any mention of Moses in the hieroglyphs of Egypt. Another was a question on a facebook page asking whether there is any historical verification for the Exodus and if not, how does that affect your observance of Passover (Pesach). Reading through all of the various answers, addresses and sources kind of blew my mind. It was beyond me that any thinking, rational person can come to the conclusion that Moses and the Exodus are a myth and they wouldn’t, as a result, just throw out the whole thing! After all, if this story is wrong; and virtually everything that we do and/or celebrate in the Torah is “in memory of our Exodus from Egypt” then it’s all just a lie! SO, why keep any of it?

This also flies in the face of one of the major emunah principals of the Torah: that the whole thing is 100% unabashed, refined truth, just as its Author is. Ve’lo davar reik hu michem (It is not an empty thing from you) (Devarim (Deuteronomy) ??? ), which our sages, ob”m tell us that if you feel that it is empty – that’s all on you (don’t blame HaShem for your shortcomings and misunderstandings of His Torah!)

As always, what I have discovered is that this case, the verification of the Exodus and Moshe, is no different than any other issue that I have explored and investigated before. Therefore, I will begin with two qualifying statements:

  1. There are no absolute proofs in history more than there are in the sciences. It’s all about what the evidence presented is as opposed to the interpretation/explanation that is made based off of said information/evidence.
  2. The correctness/truth of information is not a popularity contest, nor is it a republic, where we would follow the majority opinion. It doesn’t matter, therefore, what the popular opinion is (or was). If the better explanation is the minority opinion then it is the correct one.

We, the children of Avraham, Yitzchak and Ya’akov have lived with these precepts our entire lives, as we have always been in the minority.

The biggest problem, it turns out, is that historians, for a number of reasons (which may, or may not justify the conclusion) are of the opinion that the Exodus took place during the reign of Ramesses the 2nd, who ruled over Egypt during around the period of 1250 BCE (one of the worst dating systems ever! I only refer to it as this is the chronology that we used today. I will say this, it’s certainly NOT a Jewish invention.) The problem with this is twofold. First of all, during that period of time, there is no evidence of anything having to do with the Exodus story, nor the history of the Jews in Egypt preceding it. Also, this creates tremendous problems with the dating of all of the sites of Yehoshua’s (Joshua, not the J-guy of the Christians) conquest of the land of Canaan. Ergo: The Exodus story must be wrong.

However, this chronology is not based on the TaNaCh, or on Jewish Tradition. Towards that end, I would like to put forward the following (incredibly short) timeline that is.

According to Jewish tradition, there is no way that the Pharaoh of the Exodus was Ramesses II, as the reign of Ramesses II was from 1279-1213 BCE, whereas according to Our Tradition the exodus happened at least 30-40 years before the beginning of his reign. But that’s not all. There are two clear archeological findings from the time of Ramesses II wherein he describes his victory over the country of Israel. One is the Merneptah Stele, which mentions his victory over “Israel”, which would only happen if Israel was a nation to conquer at the time[1]. The other artifact, although there is a dispute as to its exact dating, is called the “Berlin Pedestal”, which predates the stele above, and also mentions “Israel” as a place that was conquered by Egypt[2]. As that is the case, it is impossible that Ramesses II was the Pharaoh of the Exodus!

There are other issues with dating as well. It is well known that the “years” of kings are the earliest form of dating. However, there are at least three problems that exist when trying to actually create a chronology of the time.

  1. A “year” by kings of old is not what we call a year.

As the Gemara, at the beginning of Tractate Rosh ha Shannah tells us that even a day at the end of a year or one day into the next year is considered a year in dating purposes. As a result if a king lived like a king for only a week, of which one day was before the “New Year” and the rest after it, then all documents written that mention his reign will speak of “the second year of his reign”, whereas in reality only a week has gone by.

  • Not all succession is as clear as that which is spelled out in the Prophets.

Much of the information that is available today is piecemeal. Meaning, it is picked up from among the scraps of information available. The reality is that there is almost no complete history of any of the “kingdoms” or timelines. (More on this in a moment).

  • Not all of the historians quoted, nor the scribes who wrote the information were as reliable as we would like to believe.

Much of the histories, whether we are talking about Josephus, whose works are still in circulation, or Manetho, the Egyptian priest who wrote up the ancient histories for his masters the Greeks (and whose works didn’t survive) actually lived during the periods described. It is quite possible that much of their information is either dead-wrong or incredibly imprecise. Either way, this messes with the data and the dating as a result.

Lastly, I am not a fan of virtually all “scientific” dating methods that measure “deep time” (as opposed to short half-life measurements, which are accurate). All of them are based on presuppositions, and all of them have glaring flaws in both the logic behind them (as the math will lie if the initial integers are fantasy) and also in the science, as there are both problems with chaos theory that doesn’t properly allow for the precise calculation of a “half-life” (as I discussed in book 1, chapter 9 at length) and due to the fact that the more time goes on, the more it becomes clear that there are other factors that affect the half-life of radioactive isotopes, which could severely affect the half-life theory. Solar activity is one suggested issue. But this is not our topic here.

This doesn’t, however, solve the issues that I opened with. All it does is give real reasons to reject the accepted “scientific/historical” opinion that it was Ramesses II who was the pharaoh of the Exodus. However, we are still left with the question that I opened with. Is there any evidence of the Exodus? This brings us to what I wrote about in book 2, “G-d & Me” and in book 1, concerning Genesis, that the really important issue is the patterns of information, not the dating that is proffered as if it is ineffable truth. Is there any data available that follows the patterns laid out in books of Bereshis (Genesis) and Shemos (Exodus)? Over the years, there has been much discussion on this topic, of which some proofs were good, whereas others were not. However, during the thought process that was going on in answering the questions from Quora and Facebook, I discovered the most amazing little documentary that went ahead and did the work for me. It’s called “Patterns of Evidence: Exodus” by Timothy Mahoney, and, in my opinion, it is brilliant. There is, indeed, a whole lot of evidence, both actual and circumstantial, that back up the Exodus story, and it does so “play for play.” The following is a lecture, available on youtube (if you can watch it) wherein much of the information that is in the documentary itself is presented by a well-known (if off-the-wall agnostic) Egyptologist, David Rohl.

The documentary itself ends by mentioning that although the opinion presented is not the mainstream opinion and that it should be respected, however, it’s is impossible, at the same time, to ignore the evidence laid out in the film, and that there is room to “play with” the established timeline to the extent that the evidence and the dating fit “hand-in-glove”. I am assuming that, in order to not be controversial, didn’t make some of the claims that I brought earlier (carbon-dating), and it’s possible that the chronological issue of kings was not known to him. However, what seems clear is that the mainstream, although comprised of very intelligent people, is going to fight the opinions of Rohl and of Mahoney for two reasons:

  1. Because the amount of work that would be necessitated by reevaluating the dates would comprise a total overhaul of the works of the past 100 years. By this, I mean not only those pertaining to Egypt, but also the histories of most of the nations that were alive during the reign of Egypt as well, as much of their histories are substantiated from Egypt’s. Relegating it all, for all practical purposes to the garbage bin. And, more importantly;
  2. Because this would mean that they are wrong and that the Torah is correct, which would require the swallowing of massive egos, which, for most people, is an impossible task.

I, myself, am still working on the humility part. Moses, our great teacher, is the only one concerning whom the Torah says that he was “the humblest of men.” I would, and shall continue to trust the word of the humblest of men over that of hundreds, thousands, or even millions of scholars who think that they are smarter than G-d’s own word.

As always, Torah 1, historians/scientists 0.



It’s Hard Work to Keep Your Head on Straight

Parshas Korach 5779

Bamidbar 16:1

וַיִּקַּח קֹרַח בֶּן יִצְהָר בֶּן קְהָת בֶּן לֵוִי וְדָתָן וַאֲבִירָם בְּנֵי אֱלִיאָב וְאוֹן בֶּן פֶּלֶת בְּנֵי רְאוּבֵן

And Korach, son of Yitzhar, son of Kehat, son of Levi took, and Datan and Aviram, sons of Eliav, and On, son of Pellet, sons of Reuben.

This is one weird verse! What, exactly, did he (and they) take? This is a blatantly obvious problem with the verse, which virtually all of the mefarshim (explanations) address. But there is another issue which is a little less obvious: why the vav (and) at the very beginning of the verse? What does it signify?

There are three basic opinions of the mefarshim here:

  • Either he took himself, meaning he separated himself from the rest of the group (the Children of Israel) (Rashi and others, based on the translation of Onkelos);
  • Or he took other people, as the parsha goes on to speak about in the next verses (Rashbam, Ibn Ezra and others);
  • Or he took his heart, meaning that this was the conclusion of a thought process which ended with him making a decision.

However, I wonder if the vav might be an important factor in understanding the issue.

Pardon me while I wax technical for a moment. Although the mefarshim seem to hold that this is a linguistic “double-negative” rule, meaning that the vav is there to convert the word from future tense (יקח as opposed to לקח) into a past tense, it still begs the question: why not just write ולקח and be done with it? After all, this is something that happened in the past, so why use the “double negative form” here? Unless it is coming to tell us that this issue is connected, as vavs tend to do, to an issue that we saw previously?

Apparently, there was something that happened to Korach that made him take himself aside. It wasn’t just middle-age crisis. Here the Torah is stressing that as a result of that thing Korach took a new direction in life, which led him into conflict with Moshe, our Teacher.

Both Rashi and the Ramban agree that this story is listed in chronological order, that it happened after the sin of the spies, so there can be no doubt that the ban on the generation of Egypt from entering the Land was certainly involved here. However, our sages ob”m tell us that it goes even deeper than that. In truth, Korach had more than one gripe about the leadership of Moses. He was upset that he wasn’t picked to be the leader of the house of Kehat, rather his nephew Eltzafan was chosen in his stead (see Rashi ad loc).

In my humble opinion, the explanations of Rashi and Ramban are not all that different from one another. The end result was that Korach instigated a rebellion, but like all rebellions, it begins somewhere. If we are to follow the simple understanding of the verse – it says as follows:

And Korach took himself/his heart. This is the beginning of the whole story. It all really begins with Korach alone. He is jealous of the honor and respect that the tribe accords his nephew, Eltzafan. He truly wants his position, but he cannot figure out how to get it that doesn’t sound self-serving and haughty[1]. So, what is one in his situation to do? Very simple, find a better argument that is less self-serving that also is connected to Moshe, have that topic over-ruled and along the way “pick up” the thing that you have really wanted all along!

The argument begins…

So, he then gathers together his core-anti-Moshe group. First, he connects to Datan and Aviram, two important men from the Tribe of Reuben who are the first to instigate problems for Moshe. Then he adds On, son of Pellet to the group. Now, that it isn’t just Korach by himself, the time has come. Viva la Revolution! Which brings us to verse 2.

וַיָּקֻמוּ לִפְנֵי מֹשֶׁה וַאֲנָשִׁים מִבְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל חֲמִשִּׁים וּמָאתָים נְשִׂיאֵי עֵדָה קְרִאֵי מוֹעֵד אַנְשֵׁי שֵׁם

And they got up in front of Moshe, and two hundred and fifty men from the children of Israel, (who were) princes of the congregation, who call the moadim (festivals), men of a name (stature).

The operational word in the verse is ויקמו, “and they got up.” As the saying goes “something gets lost in translation.” In this instance, it is a small bit of information that doesn’t translate well. The word ויקמו isn’t the singular of the verb (which is ויקם), it’s the plural form. They got up in Moshe’s face many times, and eventually, they were joined by an additional 250 men of importance: princes, Rabbi’s, men who had made names for themselves.

What was it that Korach said when he “got up?” What was it that rallied all of these great men to the camp of Korach? Our sages, ob”m, tell us that it was din Torah. Korach was a master politician, he knew what spoke to his constituents and he played them like a fiddle. Our sages, ob”m, also tell us that Korach was the guy that “had it all.” He was smart, he was rich[2], he had yichus (lineage). All that he lacked was that one little thing that wasn’t his to have, but he wanted it and felt that he deserved it because of all of the above, yet he was given the short stick. And he couldn’t get over it.

“Not everything that Moses does is from HaShem!” he claimed. “He abuses his position, offering the most important positions in Am Yisroel to those who are close to him!” he shouted. “For example, the position of the Kohein Gadol he gave to his brother, Aharon, and his nephews!” This spoke to the upper echelons of the people, who had been given a taste of kavod (honor) and were ready for more. This spoke to the bechoros of the nation who were, originally, slated to be the kohanim of the nation, but lost that position because of the sin of the golden calf, and were always hoping beyond hope that they could somehow get that back. “Come with me,” said Korach “and I’ll prove it to you!”

The Midrash (Bamidbar Rabbah 18:2) says that he took all of his constituents, (the aforementioned group), dressed them up in talleisim (a 4 cornered overgarment) that were made entirely out of the color techeles (a blueish color) and they all walked into Moshe’s court. They didn’t go in with the tallis in hand, to ask the Rebbe, Moshe, whether this garment requires tzitzit (to tie strings on the corners, one of which should be a string of techeles, as mentioned at the end of last week’s parsha). They entered wearing them because they already “knew” the answer. “Does this garment require tzitzit, or not?” he asked of Moshe. “It requires tzitzit” was Moshe’s answer. At which point Korach began belittling Moshe’s ruling “How could it be? If by a regular four-cornered garment one string of techeles is enough, then even more-so if the garment is entirely made from techeles then no strings are required.” Following the same logic, he then asked Moshe a second question “A house which is full of sefarim (books of the Torah), does it require that one put a mezuzah on the doorpost or not?” Again, Moshe answered, “It requires a mezuzah.” To which Korach responded “How could that be? If a regular house is permitted by placing one parsha (chapter of the Torah that is written on it) on its doorpost, then this house which contains all of the parashios of the Torah in it, why should it require the one parsha?”

It cannot be said that there is no logic to Korach’s arguments. It’s not for a lack of logic that he is wrong. It’s because he didn’t want to accept that the strings of the tzitzit and the words of the mezuzah serve a different purpose. These arguments were made as the basis for Korach’s real point, which the Torah goes on to state in verse 3:

וַיִּקָּהֲלוּ עַל מֹשֶׁה וְעַל אַהֲרֹן וַיֹּאמְרוּ אֲלֵהֶם רַב לָכֶם כִּי כָל הָעֵדָה כֻּלָּם קְדֹשִׁים וּבְתוֹכָם ה’ וּמַדּוּעַ תִּתְנַשְּׂאוּ עַל קְהַל ה’

And that gathered together on Moshe and on Aharon, and they said to them “You have too much! For all of the congregation are holy, and HaShem dwells among them, and why should you raise yourselves above the congregation of HaShem?”

This reminds me of a story that I once heard (I believe from Rav Berel Wein) that took place around the time of the establishment of the state of Israel. The then Prime Minister of Israel, Ben Gurion, had his first meeting with the then president of the United States, FDR. At first, he gave the president a sefer Torah, which was the custom among many Ashkenazic Jews when meeting with great dignitaries. FDR is claimed to have looked at it with a surprised look (he probably had no idea what to do with it) and said “Thank you! I always wanted one of these!” The story goes, however, that during the course of their conversation Ben Gurion leaned over and allegedly said to FDR as follows. “Do you know, Mr. President, that I am truly envious of you!” “Is that so?” said FDR. “Yes, it is. Would you like to know why Mr. President? It’s because you have the merit to be the president of a country of two hundred million citizens, whereas I am the Prime Minister of a country with four million prime ministers!”

This is exactly what Korach was telling Moshe! Why should you be the leaders? What gave you the right to appoint yourselves? Ok! You, Moshe, I can’t really argue why you should be the leader. You did, after all, take us out of Egypt, led us through the Reed Sea, led us through the desert for all this time. You, I get. But you are not spreading around the power base well enough. You’re consolidating power within your family! Rav lachem (You are taking too much for yourselves)! Why should Aharon get to be the Kohein Gadol? (Why should your family “lord it up” over the nation?)

Learning point: It is based on this claim of Korach, coupled with the proximity to the parsha of tzitzit that our sages, ob”m, learned of Korach’s claims to Moshe in the Beit ha-Midrash. The claim of “if the entire people are holy why should we need leaders” is the same as “if the entire garment is techeles/full of books, why should we need the one string of techeles/mezuzah?”

Korach didn’t want to undermine Moshe as “King”, that was a position that he understood was necessary for the people to function as a nation and it was unquestionably Moshe’s by right. What he didn’t “understand” was why, in regards to holiness, to kedusha, there was a need for a singular “ruler” of the people? “We are all holy,” said Korach, “so why should you be the leaders regarding the matters of holiness as well?”

According to Rashi (verse 6) Moshe, in principle agreed with Korach’s argument. However, and this is the important part, Moshe understood that this is not something that is based on human logic. While Moshe, himself might agree, HaShem established it as a chok (a law for which no reason was given, or asked for) that in the service of HaShem there can be only one Kohein Gadol. He, therefore, informed all of the people who wanted to be Kohein Gadol that at the end of the “contest” there would be only one Kohein Gadol standing. He also tells them that it’s going to be the one who is already sanctified (i.e. Aharon).

As I mentioned concerning last week’s parsha, Shelach, the Kohein Gadol was the only one who was capable of wearing on his forehead the gold tzitz, upon which were written in bold words “Holy unto HaShem” (קדוש לה’), whereas the average man, not even the average Kohein could do so. This was because the job of the Kohein Gadol was the worship of HaShem on a daily basis, all day, every day, whereas the average man could not be as involved. It was for this reason that the average person would wear tzitzit (the little tzitz), which is a constant reminder that he, also has the potential to be holy. But there is only one Kohein Gadol at a time.

However, this doesn’t mean that the average person cannot strive for greatness and achieve it. Our sages, ob”m tell us that there are three crowns in the world (Avos 4:13) the crown of kings, the crown of priests, and the crown of Torah. However, the crowns of Kings and of Priests have already been taken and therefore are not available to just anyone (except for the descendants of David (kings) and Aharon (priests)), however the crown of Torah rests “in the corner” and anyone who wants to wear it may do so if they are willing to make the effort to be worthy of it. However, the Mishna states that there is a fourth crown olah al gabeihem “that fits well on any of the other ones” and that is the crown of a good name.

Another explanation of olah al gabeihem is that the crown of a good name is more important than any of the other three crowns. In the explanation of Rabbi Ovadiah mi’Bartenurah he states clearly that the meaning of the Mishna, the reason that it used this ambiguous statement in describing the crown of a good name is that the crown of a good name means both of the above explanations.

“Even though the Torah doesn’t ascribe to one who has achieved the crown of a good name (i.e. that people who know him only have good things to say of him due to his good deeds) that one must award him honor,  it is more important (in many ways) than the other three crowns, for the other three crowns, require it. For if he is a talmid chacham (one who has made the effort and acquired the crown of Torah, yet he hasn’t acquired the crown of a good name), and his deeds are spiteful it is permissible to be derisive of him. And if he is the Kohein Gadol (and yet lacks the crown of a good name)… [(I’m paraphrasing here) the people will give no respect to one who doesn’t act like a child of Aharon]. And if he is the king (and doesn’t have the crown of a good name) concerning him, the verse says (Shemos 22) “and a prince in your nation you shall not curse” as long as he behaves as one of your nation.”

The above are all positions of power and respect in Am Yisroel, but just because they have the position doesn’t mean that they deserve the “awards” of the positions. To deserve the awards of the positions you have to deserve them because of your work on your middos. Or in other words, it’s not the title that conveys the honor, but rather the middos of the title bearer that do.

There are many, many lessons here that need to be conveyed from the portion of Korach, but I would like to focus on a few:

  1. Don’t trust yourself until the day that you die (Tractate Berachos 28a)
  2. Work on one’s middos must be done consistently, every day. For on the days that we don’t work on our middos we slide.
  3. Don’t think too much of yourself. Despite it all, you’re really not all that great.
  4. Even if you have Torah, if you don’t constantly remember the above and work to internalize them, all of your Torah won’t save you.

A little bit of explanation:

  1. Don’t trust yourself until the day that you die

Korach was, despite his great wealth and the respect that he had, a great man. It wasn’t for a lack of greatness that he became what he became. As we mentioned earlier, he became what he became as the result of many things that happened in his “recent” past. Yet that was enough to lose it all.

He was not alone in this regard. There were a number of great individuals who lost everything despite the greatness, the sacrifice, and the effort that they had previously invested in themselves. Yerovam Ben Navat is a prime example of this, although there were many others throughout history.

  • Work on one’s middos must be done consistently, every day. For on the days that we don’t work on our middos we slide.

(HaShem shouldn’t test me!) Had Korach been working on his middos, he would have understood that everything that HaShem decides for him is for the best. If HaShem decided not to give him the position of the nassi – it was the best possible thing that could happen to him. I could think of two reasons, off the top of my head why this is true. First of all, because of what our sage, ob”m, say in Tractate Avos that jealousy, desire and kavod (honor) remove a person from this world. But even more so, as our sages teach us that public service shortens the lifespan of a man.

This is, of course, easier said than done. One prime example of just how difficult this is we learn from the story of Chonyo and his brother Istrabulous. These two were brothers, kohanim and great men; however, everyone knew that Chonyo was the greater of the two. When their father, the Kohein Gadol passed away the Kohanim wanted to appoint Chonyo as the new Kohen Gadol, but out of humility, he deferred to his older brother Israbulous. However, after the appointment, the desire for the position and the honor accorded to his brother as the Kohein Gadol became overbearing to Chonyo, and he began to try to get his brother ousted from the Beit haMikdash. To make the story short: Chonyo’s machinations were discovered and had to flee Israel for his life. So, obviously, even if you do the right thing it requires constant work on oneself and one’s emunah in order to stand up to the test, especially the test of kavod.

  • Don’t think too much of yourself. Despite it all, you’re really not all that great.

This is a prime directive in all of a person’s avodas HaShem. Beginning with our father Avraham, who said concerning himself (Bereshis 18:27) אנכי עפר ואפר, “I am as dust and soot” and going down through all of the great men of Israel, the rule is that as great as you are – you’re still not all that great!

The issue is not that a person should have an inferiority complex, but rather that I should understand that I really don’t have all that much to take pride in! If I am wealthy, despite all of my desire to think otherwise the truth is that I am that way because HaShem decided I was to be wealthy. If I am smart, I might have honed my wits, but I got the smart from HaShem! If I am strong, I might have worked at making myself stronger, but I get it from HaShem. Everything that I have in life I get as a gift. Even if I have become a great talmid chacham, guess what? In tractate Avos, our sages ob”m say “If you have learned a lot of Torah don’t hold yourself as “good” for this is what you were created for.” And if you are a talmid chacham and yet you have no yiras shamayim (fear of heaven) concerning you our sages say (Vayikra Rabbah 1:15) “a rotting corpse is better than you.”

The polar opposite of this is true, as our sages ob”m teach us (Tractate Chagiga 16b) “If your Rebbe is like an Angel of HaShem, the Lord of Hosts, then you should seek out Torah from him.”

One of the most fundamental works of mussar that is printed in virtually every siddur (prayer book) is the Igerret ha’Ramban (The Letter from the Ramban, which he wrote to his son, who was in Spain, after his forced exile to the Holy Land). One of the things that the Ramban specifies is that whenever you meet someone – you should treat everyone with respect and consider them to be your superior. Not because you don’t recognize your own capabilities, skills, and accomplishments, but rather because you recognize that you still have what to work on and that in G-d’s eyes perhaps this other person is greater than you.

  • Even if you have Torah, if you don’t constantly remember the above and work to internalize them, all of your Torah won’t save you.

That is the main lesson of Korach. If you let your self-importance get to your head, if you feel that you are more important than you are, if you demand respect of others then you are using the “clothing” of The King, as the verse says “HaShem is King, and He wears geyut (the language of respect)” (See Igeret ha’Ramban for more on this). And as our sages ob”m say in Tractate Avos (1:13) “One who (mis)uses the Crown (of Torah) will disappear.”

With HaShem’s help, topics like this and many others will be developed in my upcoming book, Core Emunah 3 “Me & My G-d”

[1] If one pays close attention to the words of Rashi on verse 19, where the Torah says that Korach gathered together the entire people and was speaking to them all night, saying “Do you think that I am doing this only for my sake? No! I’m doing it for your sakes! These people (Moshe and Aharon) are taking all of the power positions in the nation for themselves…”

[2] In Hebrew when one wants to say about someone that they are really wealthy, the saying always was “He’s rich, like Korach!” (עשיר כקורח). Our sages, ob”m, tell us that he became wealthy after discovering one of the hidden treasure stashes of Yosef, from the times of the famine, when Egypt supplied the entire known world with food (at a price).

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