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Parshas Acharei Mos / Pesach - Vol. 9, Issue 29
Compiled by Oizer Alport


B'zos yavo Aharon el ha'Kodesh (16:3)

The Vilna Gaon quotes a fascinating Medrash (Vayikra Rabbah 21:7) which teaches that although all future Kohanim Gedolim were only permitted to enter the Kodesh Kodashim on Yom Kippur, Aharon was allowed to enter whenever he wanted throughout the year as long as he performed the service of Yom Kippur. This amazing fact provides the key to resolve many difficulties regarding the section in the Torah that describes the Yom Kippur service. The Vilna Gaon points out that the entire portion dealing with the Yom Kippur service repeatedly refers to Aharon and not more generally to "the Kohen Gadol" as one might have expected. Also, it concludes (16:34) by teaching that this service shall be a decree for the rest of the Jews once annually. In light of the Medrash, we now understand that Aharon's performance of this service was unrestricted, whereas for future generations it was indeed limited to once per year. This Medrash also explains why the Gemora in Yoma (71a) teaches that the entire service should be performed in the order it is written in the Torah except for one verse (Rashi 16:23) which isn't written in its proper place. The Gemora's proof is that if the service was done in the order that it is written, the Kohen Gadol would only have to immerse himself in a mikvah 3 times, which contradicts the Gemora in Yoma (30a) which teaches that he must do so 5 times. However, if we recognize that this section is addressing Aharon's service on any day of the year that he chooses - when there is no obligation to immerse 5 times - we can understand that for Aharon, this verse is written in its appropriate place.

In light of this Medrash, the Chayei Adam adds that we may also understand why with respect to all other sacrifices, the Torah writes first the date and then details the appropriate sacrifice. In our parsha, the date of Yom Kippur isn't mentioned until the end (16:29) because for Aharon these sacrifices weren't limited to Yom Kippur. We may similarly explain another difficulty. At the end of this section, the Torah concludes (16:34) that Aharon did just as Hashem commanded him. Rashi, troubled by the fact that he was unable to do so since it wasn't yet Yom Kippur, explains that Aharon performed the service when Yom Kippur arrived. However, according the Medrash, we may suggest that Aharon immediately entered and performed the Yom Kippur service, as only he was permitted to do, with great alacrity.

The Gemora in Gittin (60a) teaches that there are eight portions of the Torah that were taught on the day that the Mishkan was erected, one of which is Acharei Mos. Rashi is bothered by the fact that all of the other portions were immediately relevant and needed to be taught at that point, but the details of the Yom Kippur service seemingly weren't applicable for six more months. Rav Yaakov Kamenetzky notes that according to the Medrash, we understand that it was relevant at that time, as Aharon was able to immediately enter the Kodesh Kodashim to perform the Yom Kippur service.

Finally, the Gemora in Yoma (53b) derives from 16:13 that if the Kohen Gadol leaves out one of the ingredients of the incense or if he doesn't cause the incense to create smoke, he is liable to the death penalty at the hands of Heaven. The Shaagas Aryeh (71) questions why there is a need to derive this point from a verse discussing the Yom Kippur service, when we could alternatively learn it from the more general principle that because the Kohen Gadol made a forbidden fire on Yom Kippur (since it wasn't for the sake of doing the mitzvah properly), he is liable to the even more severe penalty of kares (spiritual excision). Citing the Medrash, the Steipler answers that this derivation is necessary with respect to Aharon, who was permitted to perform this service on days of the year when making a fire would otherwise be permitted, but improperly offering the incense in the Holy of Holies is not.

Ki bayom hazeh y'chaper aleichem l'taheir eschem (16:30)

The Gemora in Kesuvos (103b) relates that when Rebbi - Rav Yehuda HaNasi - passed away, a piece of paper fell from Heaven. On the paper was written that all who were present at the time of his death would merit a share in the World to Come. Although Rebbi's level of holiness and spirituality was tremendous, why don't we find similar episodes in conjunction with the deaths of other righteous individuals?

Rav Yitzchok Elchonon Spektor answers that the Gemora in Yoma (85b) records a dispute between Rebbi and the other Sages with respect to the atonement effected by Yom Kippur. The Sages maintain that Yom Kippur is only effective together with confession and repentance for one's misdeeds, but Rebbi maintains that the Holiness of the day intrinsically causes atonement and forgiveness for all. It is also known that the death of the righteous is compared to Yom Kippur in its ability to effect atonement (Gur Aryeh Bamidbar 20:1). Although the law is decided in accordance with the majority of the Sages, in deference to the honor of Rebbi his death was treated in accordance with his opinion, and all who were present received forgiveness, even if they didn't repent.

Mah nishtanah halaylah hazeh mikol halaylos

Shortly after beginning the Maggid portion of the Seder, one or more of the children asks the Mah Nishtanah, a series of four questions highlighting atypical actions that we perform during the Seder. The Abarbanel points out that there are several other unusual features of the Seder that are not mentioned. For example, why don't we ask about the fact that at every other Shabbos and Yom Tov meal, we begin eating immediately after Kiddush, while at the Seder there is a lengthy delay? Why don't we also inquire about the four cups of wine, which we are unaccustomed to drink on other occasions, or about the saying of Hallel, which is not a part of any other meal and is not normally recited outside of the synagogue?

The Abarbanel explains that change can occur in one of three ways: Something can be added, something can be removed, or something can be switched. The first three questions that we ask at the Seder correspond to each of these categories. We begin by asking why on other nights we eat both chometz and matzah, but tonight we take away the chometz and eat only matzah. Next, we ask why on all other nights we consume other types of vegetables, but tonight we switch and eat maror instead. We then ask why on other nights we are unaccustomed to dip even once, yet tonight we add and dip not once, but twice. Each of these first three questions focuses on a change in the meal, while the final question deals with a change in the attendees, namely that on other nights we do not recline while eating, but tonight we do so as a sign of our freedom. In other words, the Abarbanel says that we are not attempting to create an exhaustive and all-encompassing list of every abnormal component of the Seder, but rather to give one example of each type of change that we are experiencing.

Rav Eliezer Ashkenazi takes this concept one step further and suggests that the Abarbanel's explanation can help us understand that the four questions correspond to the four sons. The wise son is satisfied with his lot, so he questions the need to add to it by dipping twice when he is normally quite content without dipping even once. On the other hand, the wicked son is never happy with what he has and always desires more, so he focuses his query on the obligation to take something away, as he asks why we must relinquish the chometz that we are permitted to enjoy throughout the year?

The simple son is unsophisticated and is only capable of inquiring about a switch from that which he is accustomed to, namely why we replace the traditional vegetables with maror. The last son does not even know how to ask a question. The proof of this is that he observes the numerous changes that we make at the Seder, not only to the meal, but also to our bodies when we recline, yet none of them inspires him to ask for an explanation, thereby demonstrating that he is incapable of asking a question.

K'neged arba'ah banim dibrah Torah: echad chacham, v'echad rasha, v'echad tam, v'echad she'eino yodei'a lishol

The Haggadah teaches that the Torah addresses four different types of children and instructs us how to educate each of them about the Exodus from Egypt. Specifically, we say that the Torah discusses four sons: one who is wise, one who is wicked, one who is simple, and one who does not know how to ask a question. Rav Nissan Alpert questions why the Haggadah repeats the word אחד (one) for each son, instead of more concisely stating, "K'neged arba'ah banim dibrah Torah: chacham, rasha, tam, u'shei'eino yodei'a lishol.

Rav Alpert explains that although it appears that we are talking about four different children, in reality we are actually speaking about one child who has four different facets to him. He suggests that this is alluded to by the fact that the numerical value of the word echad (13) multiplied by 4 (for the four times that this word is repeated) yields 52, which is the numerical value of the word ben (son), hinting to the fact that each child is comprised of four different parts.

How can one person contain within him such disparate and even contradictory elements? The answer is that children are still in their formative years and have not yet become established in their identities. Although they have many strengths and talents, they also have deficiencies. Our job as parents is to take each child, with his four different components, and raise him in a manner that will transform his latent potential into future success and accomplishments.

Where does the Seder fit into this process? In advising us how to educate our children, the Torah commands (Shemos 13:8) V'higadta l'bincha ba'yom ha'hu - literally, you should say to your son on that day (Pesach). However, the Avnei Nezer points out that the Targum renders the word v'higadta into Aramaic as v'achvee, which means "to show." In other words, the Targum is telling us that the ideal form of "talking" to our children is not through words, but through actions. We must certainly speak to our children and instruct them how to behave, but that in and of itself is insufficient.

We must additionally show our children through our decisions and our actions that we practice what we preach, just as the Haggadah specifies that the mitzvah of recounting the Exodus from Egypt can only be performed b'sha'ah she'yeish matza u'maror munachim l'fanecha - at the time when you have matzah and maror placed before you - as this enables our children to see that we don't just discuss the mitzvos in an abstract philosophical sense, but that we actually perform them as well.

Hinei anochi makeh b'mateh asher b'yadi al ha'mayim asher baye'or v'nehefchu l'dam (Shemos 7:17)

After tempting Chava to eat from the forbidden Tree of Knowledge, the serpent was cursed that it would travel on its stomach and eat dust all the days of its life (Bereishis 3:14). In what way does this represent a punishment, as other animals must spend days hunting for prey while the snake's diet - dust - can be found wherever it travels?

The Kotzker Rebbe explains that this point is precisely the curse. Other animals are dependent on Hashem to help them find food to eat. The snake, on the other hand, slithers horizontally across the earth. It never goes hungry, never looks upward, and is totally cut off from a relationship with Hashem, and therein lies the greatest curse imaginable.

Rashi writes that the first plague (blood) was directed against the Nile River, which was deified by the Egyptians due to the fact that it never rained in Egypt and their only source of water was the rising Nile. Rav Shimshon Pinkus symbolically explains that just like the serpent, the Egyptians were a totally "natural" people. Because it never rained in their country, they never had to look skyward to see what the clouds foretold. As a result, their hearts never gazed toward the Heavens, which effectively cut them off from perceiving any dependence on or relationship with the Almighty. Everything which occurred in their lives could be explained scientifically and deceptively appeared to be completely "natural."

In light of this, the Exodus from Egypt wasn't merely a physical redemption from agonizing enslavement, but also represented a deeper philosophical departure. The book of Exodus, then, is the story of exchanging a worldview devoid of spirituality, through which everything is understood and explained according to science and nature, for one in which we confidently declare that Hashem runs every aspect of the universe and of our daily lives, and we are proud to be His chosen people.

L'ma'an teida ki ani Hashem b'kerev ha'aretz (8:18)

During his travels, Rav Yisroel Salanter once entered an inn at which he had stayed several times previously. Rav Yisroel noticed that the innkeeper had significantly deteriorated in his level of religious observance since his most recent visit. The innkeeper explained that the change was due to an atheist who had recently lodged there.

The guest spent several days sharing his philosophy about the lack of a Divine system of reward and punishment. Finally, to prove his case, he took out a sandwich filled with non-kosher meat. He announced that if he's wrong, he should choke on the sandwich and die an agonizing death. The atheist proceeded to consume the entire sandwich with no apparent consequences. Ever since, the innkeeper's religious belief and observance had slowly weakened.

Rav Yisroel didn't respond to the story. He chose to wait for the right opportunity, which wasn't long in coming. Later that day, the innkeeper's young daughter returned home from school. She was glowing and excited about receiving her diploma, with especially good marks in the areas of singing and mathematics. Rav Yisroel asked her to sing for him so that he could judge her talents for himself, but she grew bashful and refused. He went to inform the innkeeper that his brazen daughter refused to sing for their respected guest.

The innkeeper summoned his daughter and demanded an explanation. She told him that the entire purpose of her diploma was to prove her talent once and for all. She argued that it was in fact their guest who was being unreasonable in demanding that she perform according to his whims just because he refused to believe her established record.

Hearing this, Rav Yisroel told the innkeeper that two of the great early commentators - the Sefer HaChinuch (Mitzvah 21) and Ramban (Exodus 13:16) - explain that the reason the Torah contains so many mitzvos zecher l'yetzias Mitzrayim - as a remembrance of the Exodus from Egypt - is because it was in Egypt that Hashem proved His power and providence through the numerous miracles he performed for the Jewish people once and for all.

Rav Yisroel concluded by pointing out that just as the innkeeper's daughter rightfully refused to lower herself and perform on demand for whomever may doubt her diploma, so too Hashem already established Himself for all time through the events of the Exodus and has no further need to prove Himself to every doubter who comes along throughout the generations.

Now that we understand the significance of the events which are detailed in these Torah portions, we can appreciate why the Chiddushei HaRim suggests that they be analyzed as comprehensively as yeshiva students study a page of the Gemora with its commentaries. The Chofetz Chaim, wanting to make the events recorded in these portions come alive, actually pictured them occurring in front of his very eyes. These images were so realistic that as he reviewed our portion, which contains the first seven of the ten plagues, he literally laughed out loud as he envisioned the suffering being meted out to Pharaoh and the Egyptians in the middle of his study.

Answers to the weekly Points to Ponder are now available!
To receive the full version with answers email the author at oalport@optonline.net.

Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):

1) How is it possible that a healthy person ate on Yom Kippur a quantity of edible food larger than the size of a large date in a normal manner and in less than two minutes, and yet he is exempt from punishment for eating on Yom Kippur (16:29)? (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 612:6)

2) How is it possible that somebody became Biblically impure and was able to become pure without having to wait for sunset? (Ibn Ezra and Ayeles HaShachar 16:26)

3) Almost all of the forbidden relationships are bi-directional, in that they apply both to older generations and to younger generations. For example, just as one is prohibited to have relations with his mother or mother-in-law, he is also forbidden to have relations with his daughter or daughter-in-law. One notable exception is that a person is forbidden to have relations with his aunt (18:12-14), yet it is permissible to marry one's niece. Why is this prohibition different than all of the others in this regard? (Peirush HaRosh, Seforno 18:6)

4) How is it possible that a person has a perfectly kosher bottle of red wine available at the Seder, yet ideally he should refrain from drinking it? (Mishnah Berurah 175:2)

5) At the end of the Seder, in the section called נרצה, we sing לשנה הבאה בירושלים - next year in Jerusalem. This is one of two times that we express this sentiment, the other being at the end of Yom Kippur. What is unique about these two occasions that specifically motivates us to pray that next year we should be celebrating in Jerusalem, more than on any of the other Yomim Tovim?

6) Is a person obligated to own the matzah that he eats to fulfill his obligation at the Seder (Shemos 12:15), and if so, if he is a guest, is he required to perform an action to acquire the matzah that he will eat? (S'fas Emes Sukkah 35a, Imrei Binah Hilchos Pesach 24, Mishnah Berurah 454:15. Shu"t B'tzeil HaChochmah 4:172, Shu"t Tzitz Eliezer 2:37 and 13:15, Moadim U'Zmanim 3:266, Shu"t Mishneh Halachos 8:191, Piskei Teshuvos 454:2)

7) Although Hashem commanded Moshe (14:16) to lift up his staff and stretch out his arm over the Red Sea in order to split it for the Jewish people, the Torah relates (14:21) only that he stretched out his hand over the sea in order to do so. Did he also raise his staff as he was commanded, and if so, why is no mention made of it in the Torah, and if not, why did he deviate from Hashem's instructions? (Targum Yonason ben Uziel 2:21 14:21, Shemos Rabbah 21:9, Rashi 17:5, Rosh, Rabbeinu Bechaye, Tur HeAruch, Kli Yakar, HaEmek Davar, Ayeles HaShachar)

8) How were Miriam and the women allowed to sing the Shiras HaYam (15:21) when the law is (Even HaEzer 21:1) that a man is forbidden to hear a woman outside of his immediate family singing? (Peninim MiShulchan HaGra, Tiferes Yonason, Nachal Kedumim)

 © 2014 by Oizer Alport. Permission is granted to reproduce and distribute as long as credit is given. To receive weekly via email or to send comments or suggestions, write to parshapotpourri@optonline.net


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