Thoughts on the Weekly Parshah by HaRav Eliezer Chrysler
Formerly Rav of Mercaz Ahavat Torah, Johannesburg

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Vol. 8   No. 15

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Parshas Bo

The Mitzvah of Kidush ha'Chodesh

Rabeinu Bachye cites the opinion of the Ge'onim, who maintain that the mitzvah of Kidush ha'Chodesh comprises the calculation of when the birth of the new moon takes place, and not actually seeing it. The proof for this, he says, lies in the fact that throughout the forty years in the desert, the Clouds of Glory covered them by day and the Pillar of fire, by night, in which case, they never saw the sun or the moon. Consequently, they can only have performed the mitzvah by calculating when the new moon was due. In fact, he says, there is no source for needing to see the moon at all, and when the Torah writes "ha'Chodesh ha'Zeh Lochem Rosh Chodoshim", it is referring to the mitzvah of calculating, exclusively.


There are many difficulties with the opinion of the Ge'onim. To begin with, both Rashi and the Rambam cite the Mechilta, which quotes Hashem as having said to Moshe when showing him the new moon 'ko'Zeh Re'ei ve'Kadeish' ('This is how you should see the new moon before proclaiming Rosh Chodesh'). What better source could one ask for than this to prove that actually seeing the new moon is an integral part of the mitzvah?

Then there are numerous Sugyos in Rosh Hashanah which base Kidush ha'Chodesh on the testimony of witnesses. But above all, the injunction for the witnesses to break Shabbos in order to arrive in Beis-Din on time, should that be necessary, makes the Ge'onim's contention problematic.

Even Rabeinu Bachye's proof is difficult to understand, considering that there was nothing to stop the potential witnesses from going outside the camp in order to see the new moon.

This last kashya I heard from ha'Rav ha'Ga'on Rabbi Mordcai Kornfeld Sh'lita, who has dealt with this topic in detail in his 'Insights to the Daf' in 'Rosh Hashanah', where he lists a number of other proofs cited by the Ge'onim.

Some commentaries attribute the Ge'onim's opinion to their bitter ongoing struggle with the Kara'im, who, like their predecessors the Tzedokim, accepted the written Torah, but not the oral one. This group of Apikorsim plagued the Ge'onim relentlessly in their belief that Kidush ha'Chodesh was based on the sighting of the new moon exclusively, claiming that the calculations of the Ge'onim had no basis. And it was to counter their baseless theories that the Ge'onim presented theirs (in spite of the fact that it is not the absolute truth).

Be that as it may, it is clear that the opinion of the Rambam, who disputes the Ge'onim, conforms more closely with the words of Chazal (as the Meshech Chochmah clearly states).


The Rambam (in chapter 1 of Hilchos Kidush ha'Chodesh), agrees that there is a mitzvah to calculate exactly when the birth of the new moon is due to take place. Nevertheless, he maintains that as long as there was a Sanhedrin, they were obligated to determine Rosh Chodesh by means of witnesses who had seen the new moon (in addition to the calculations), as Chazal taught 'ko'Zeh re'ei ve'kadeish'!

In fact, the calculation according to the Rambam, served a dual purpose. It was necessary to check whether or not, the witnesses were telling the truth (or whether they had perhaps either erred or were simply lying), to which end it was a Mitzvas Asei ("asher tikre'u osam Mikro'ei Kodesh" [Vayikro 23:4]). But it also served as the only means of determining Rosh Chodesh for the era when Beis-Din was no longer capable of accepting witnesses who had seen the moon (in which case it is Halochoh le'Moshe mi'Sinai).

As long as the Sanhedrin functioned however, Rosh Chodesh could only be fixed on the thirtieth day of the outgoing month, with the combination of their calculation and the sighting of the new moon by witnesses. Should no witnesses arrive at Beis-Din on the thirtieth day, the Sanhedrin had no option but to fix the thirtieth-first day as Rosh Chodesh (since no month can extend beyond thirty days). But the thirtieth day could only be declared Rosh Chodesh with the combination of the two, as we explained.


Parshah Pearls

(adapted from the P'ninim mi'Shulchan ha'Gro)
The Plague of Darkness

"And there will darkness over the land of Egypt, and the darkness will dispel (the light)" 10:21 Darkness, the G'ro maintains, is as much a creation as light (a contention with which the philosophers disagree). Generally, G-d decreed that light will dispel the darkness. In Egypt, He reversed their respective roles, ordering the light to withdraw in face of the darkness. That is what the Torah means when it writes "and the darkness shall dispel (the light)".


Tit for Tat

"Please speak in the ears of the people and each man shall borrow from his friend silver and golden vessels and clothes" (11:2).

How is it, asks the G'ro, that so many aspects of the Exodus from Egypt were achieved through trickery: 'Borrowing money'! Leaving Egypt for three days! Turning the Sea into dry land, thereby tricking Par'oh into believing that this was not the Yam-Suf after all, but dry land! To resolve this problem, we need to bear in mind that this was the method employed by Par'oh at just about every stage of his dealings with Yisroel. In order to coerce his Jewish subjects into slavery, he first began working himself, to encourage them to follow suit. Next, to discover their maximum capacity, he offered them lucrative terms, a good price for each brick built, before forcing them to produce that amount of bricks daily, without payment.

After deciding to have the Jewish babies killed, he ordered the Jewish midwives to kill them, promising to defend them and have them exonerated when the parents took them to court.

And he also taught them how to kill the babies before they were born, to lead the unsuspecting mother to believe that her baby had died naturally prior to birth.

All this explains why Hashem dealt with Par'oh in exactly the same way, measure for measure, as is His way. He instructed Yisroel to 'borrow money' without repaying it. He informed Paroh that Yisroel would be leaving Egypt for three days, even though He did not intend them to return. And He turned the Sea into dry land, tricking Par'oh into believing that this was not the Yam-Suf after all, but dry land, and then reverting the sea into its natural state, when the Egyptians were in the middle of it.


The last item explains the juxtaposition of the two phrases in the Shirah: 1) "the depths dried-up in the heart of the Sea"; and 2) "The enemy said, 'I will chase after them, I will catch them and I will divide the spoil". Because when Par'oh saw the dry sea-bed (which had congealed one third of the way down [like the heart of a human body], making it level with the rest of the desert), he thought that he was somewhere in the middle of the desert. In fact, this was the coup de grace that finished Par'oh. It was not they who divided the Jewish spoils, but the Jews who divided theirs, once the water returned to its place, drowning his entire army. That was the ultimate price he had to pay for tricking Yisroel all along the way.


Why Shlep for Nothing?

When Yisroel left Egypt, the Egyptians did indeed 'lend' them their valuables, but against their will, explains the Gemoro in B'rochos (9a). Against whose will? And here the Gemoro cites two opinions. Some say that it was against the will of the Egyptians, who understandably, were not overly keen to 'lend' the fleeing Jews their riches (though the Torah does describe how the Jews found favor in the eyes of the Egyptians, suggesting that they were quite willing to oblige). Others however, maintain that it was Yisroel who borrowed reluctantly (only because they were urged to do so by Moshe. And their reluctance was based on the weight of the burden they would have to carry out of Egypt.

How strange, comments the G'ro. Who has ever heard of someone refusing a gift of a million dollars because of the weight?

We can easily understand this however, when we remember that the bulk of the immense wealth due to Yisroel was the booty that they would take at the Yam-Suf, which surpassed by far what they took out of Egypt, as Chazal have taught. Yisroel's objection was therefore based on the futility of carrying such a heavy load from Egypt to the Yam-Suf, when, whatever they did not take out when they left, the Egyptians would carry there on their behalf.


However, there were two sound reasons as to why Yisroel had to carry the silver and gold out of Egypt (and not the Egyptians). Firstly, as Rashi points out, to satisfy Avrohom (who had been promised that Yisroel would leave Egypt with a great possession, but who had no way of knowing that this promise really pertained to the Yam-Suf). Consequently, to prevent him from arguing that Hashem had kept one half of his promise (to punish the nation who would subjugate them), but not the other half (that they would leave with a great possession), Hashem made sure that they did indeed leave Egypt with a great wealth.

And secondly, the 'borrowed' money would serve as the dangling carrot, to lure Egypt to the Yam-Suf, after the fleeing Jews.


Mum's the Word

"And it will be, when your sons will say to you 'What is this service'? Then you shall say, 'It is the Pesach Sacrifice.'' (12:26-27).

By all the other sons, the G'ro points out, the Torah specifically states to whom the answer is addressed ("And you shall tell your son", "And you shall say to him"), but here the Torah just writes "And you shall say" (omitting the words 'to him').

This is a clear indication that the Torah does not intend us to reply to the rosho (about whom this posuk is speaking), only to strengthen oneself and those in the rosho's vicinity, to prevent them from becoming influenced by his arrogant assertions.

And the reason for this is simple. We are not supposed to answer the rosho, because he does not want an answer. As a matter of fact, it is obvious from the wording of the posuk "And it will be when your sons will 'say' to you" (not 'ask' you). The rosho does not ask questions that require answers, because he is not asking anything. He is telling you what he thinks (when what he should really be doing is trying to discover what you think)!

As long as a Jew asks questions, he is not a rosho. It is when he stops asking you and begins telling you instead, that he adopts that title.


Kimche de'Pischa

"Seven days you shall eat matzos and on the seventh day will be a festival for Hashem. Matzos shall be eaten for seven days" (13:6-7).

Firstly, asks the G'ro, why does the Torah repeat the same mitzvah twice in two consecutive pesukim? Secondly, why, in the first posuk, does the Torah command us to eat matzos (using the active form), and then add that matzos should be eaten (in the passive)? And thirdly, why is the word "matzos" in the first posuk spelt missing a 'vov', whilst in the second posuk, it is spelt with one?

In fact, says the G'ro, the second two questions answer the first one, because the Torah is teaching us two different aspects of the mitzvah. He cites the minhag brought by the Remo in Si'man 429, to purchase wheat and to distribute it to the poor for baking matzos (due to changing circumstances, it has become customary to provide them not with wheat, but with matzos, and all their other Pesach needs too). And it is to this minhag that the Torah refers in the second posuk, instructing every Jew to ensure that not only he eats matzos on Pesach, but that those who cannot afford it will eat matzos too.

First, the Torah commands every Jew to eat matzos for the seven days of Pesach. "Matzos" is written without a 'vov', because a Jew is under no obligation to eat until he is satisfied. On the contrary, one's worldly occupations should be executed with restraint, and that is what the Torah is hinting at, by spelling "Matzos" without a 'vov' as if it was only one matzah. But when it comes to providing the poor with their needs, the Torah writes "matzos" in full, to teach us that one should give them generously, providing them with sufficient food to eat and to be satisfied.


(Adapted from the Seifer ha'Mitzvos ha'Kotzer of the Chofetz Chayim)
(The Mitzvos Lo Sa'aseh)


An error crept into the previous edition of 'the Mitzvos'. With regard to a woman who did not see blood at childbirth, we should have written: 'She makes hefsek taharah immediately, and keeps seven clean days, after which she may tovel, and is permitted to her husband'. (It is unclear however, why, since she did not see blood, she should be obligated to count seven clean days after the seven or fourteen days of Tum'ah, and not incorporate as many clean days as she already counted from the time of the birth [see Yoreh De'ah 194:1]).


It is also not uncommon for this sin to cause a woman to die at childbirth, as Chazal said in Shabbos (31b) 'Three sins cause a woman to die at childbirth: because she is not careful to observe the laws of Nidah, Chalah and the kindling of the Shabbos-lights. And it also results in the death of her children. This does not mean that, if a man sees that his children survive, he may become complacent in this regard, because how does he know what will happen in his later years? And besides, the children that his wife bears him will turn out to be complete resho'im, seeing as they are from 'the nine midos' (one of which is the son of a nidah, whom the posuk in Yechezkel [2:38] refers to as rebels and sinners). And for this, one will suffer terribly in the World to Come. Because, besides sinning all his life, he is also guilty of bringing resho'im into the world, who will rebel against Hashem and His Torah throughout their lives. What's more, all of their sins will be held against him as a reminder of his sins until the end of his days.

And this is what the Zohar writes about him: 'The children that he bears at that time, are enveloped with a spirit of impurity, and all his days they will remain impure, because their foundation is one of great impurity, and is worse than all the impurities in the world'.


Consequently, anyone who calls himself a 'Jew' should take pity on himself and all his generations after him, not to destroy them through his sins. He should overcome his evil inclination, and refrain from transgressing this terrible sin. In this way, it will be good for him in both this world and in the next.

One must therefore go to great lengths to avoid living together with one's wife in a town where there is no kosher Mikveh. Even if someone has a large family and it seems to him that that is where his source of parnosoh lies, he should not exchange an everlasting world for a passing one. For it is inevitable that, with the passing of time, he will contravene an Isur which is punishable by koreis (G-d forbid). He must therefore place his trust in Hashem, who will certainly not forsake him for having faith in Him, and move to a town where he will be able to fulfil this Mitzvah.


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